• orient •
or-ee-yent • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Verb
Meaning: 1. [Intransitive] To situate facing the east. 2. [Transitive] To focus on or situate facing a specific object. 3. [Transitive] To adjust in the right direction.
Notes: Today's Good Word has a sister, orientate, which many feel is an improper, a misguided back-derivation from orientation. Although orientate clearly was back-derived, it has been with us on both sides of the Atlantic since the mid-19th century. Still, most of us prefer using the bare root, orient, as a verb. Two other troublesome back derivations gaining wider recognition are commentate and coronate.
In Play: The first sense of today's word is most often used in reference to religious objects like churches and coffins: "The parson was dismayed to discover that some of the coffins in the cemetery were not oriented." However, the second and third senses are by far the more common: "The new Wal-Mart store was oriented away from the Target store, which was already there." Orient may simply refer to general alignment: "The new president is just trying to get himself oriented during his first month in office."
Word History: Today's Good Word was copied from Latin oriens, orient- "rising, east", the present participle of oriri "to arise, be born". The same original root gave us early in English and, possibly, are, an odd form of to be. In fact, it is not a stretch to suppose that the R switched places with the vowel (metathesis) before the same stem went on to become raise and rise, with an ancient suffix -s found in other words. (We are glad that Kyle McDonald is oriented toward alphaDictionary and rose to the occasion of suggesting today's Good Word.)
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