Orientation

Feeling disoriented? Well if it’s early in the morning, just look for where the sun’s rising, and face that way, and then you’ll be oriented again. Quite literally.

For you see, we used to use the term the Orient quite commonly in English, first to generally refer to anything east of Europe, and later more specifically to refer to East Asia. When to orient, as a verb, first entered the English language, in the early 18th century, it meant to arrange facing east, and only gained its more general meaning of to get one’s bearing in the mid-19th century.

We can still see traces of its original meaning when we break the word down, as it comes from the Latin verb orior (to rise), referring of course to the rising of the sun in the east. This is also the origin of the word… origin! Because of course, the east is where the sun seemed to come from each morning.

And if you’re somewhat familiar with French, you might now be thinking of another outdated geographical term: the Levant, referring to the Mediterranean lands east of Italy. This comes from the Middle French levant, from the verb lever (to rise), in turn from the Latin levare (to raise).

It’s interesting that we don’t use these terms anymore. It’s probably because information about specific countries within these areas is more easily available, so we’re more likely to refer to them individually, and not generalise about particular areas. And of course there’s the fact that when you refer to general geographic areas, you can generalise about the people who live there, and come up with negative stereotypes.

Still though, there’s something quite romantic about referring to the rising of the sun which we’re missing out on.

Oh, and you might have noticed that I said disoriented at the beginning, and not disorientated: are the words different? Not really, both are commonly used, but it’s probably best to use to disorientate as a verb, and disoriented as an adjective. But if you prefer the sound of disorientated, that’s perfectly fine too.

2 thoughts on “Orientation

  1. There is a longstanding contention as to whether the verb is ‘orient’ or ‘orientate’. ‘Orient’ is shorter, but is a simple noun>verb conversion. ‘Orientate’ is longer, but has a verb morpheme. FWIW, Google Ngrams shows that ‘orient’ as a verb is about 10 times as common as ‘orientate’.

    Liked by 1 person

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