compass points used as a metaphor

Dymn

Senior Member
In English, the verb to orient / orientate and its derived words come from the Latin word for "east", showing thus a link between one of the compass points and a metaphorical sense of knowing one's way and direction. The same words also exist in Romance languages.

Besides, in Spanish, perder el norte ("to lose the north") means losing one's way, going crazy. Desnortado is someone without a north, clueless and aimless. What's more, in Portuguese nortear is a somewhat frequent synonym of orientar.

What about other languages? What other metaphors are there with compass points? Do any speakers find their direction in life by looking to the south or west? :)
 
  • apmoy70

    Senior Member
    Greek
    Greek:

    To orientate: «Προσανατολίζομαι» [prɔ.sa.na.tɔˈli.zɔ.me] (deponent v.) --> to move-toward-the-east a modern calque (1854) for the Fr. orienter (Classical prefix & preposition «πρός» prόs + «ἀνατολή» ănătŏlḗ).

    Orientation: «Προσανατολισμός» [prɔ.sa.na.tɔ.lizˈmɔs] (masc.) MoGr calque for the Fr. orientation.

    «Δυσμαί του βίου» [ðizˈme tu ˈvi.u] --> (poetic) the end οf one's life lit. the West of life («δυσμαί» is fem. nom. pl. and is used in pl. only in poetry for the West). Often in everyday speech is found in accusative: «βαδίζω προς τας δυσμάς του βίου μου» [vaˈði.zɔ prɔs tas ðizˈmas tu ˈvi.u mu] --> to walk toward the West of my life.

    «Ανατολή ανατολών» [a.na.tɔˈli a.na.tɔˈlɔn] --> East of Easts an epithet of Jesus Christ (Who is the Sun of Righteousness).

    ΜοGr v. «νοτίζω» [nɔˈti.zɔ] --> (transit.) to moisten, (intrans.) to be wet lit. to South-ise (in Greek weather conditions the South wind brings mist, wetness and rain) < Classical v. «νοτίζω» nŏtízō (idem) < Classical masc. «Νότος» Nótŏs --> South, south wind (from a possible PIE *sneh₂- to swim and with possible connection the Proto-Armenian *noto- wet).

    Can't think of anything with North, really
     

    Yendred

    Senior Member
    Français - France
    Besides, in Spanish, perder el norte ("to lose the north") means losing one's way, going crazy.
    Same for French. We say "perdre le nord" with the same metaphorical meaning.

    But we also say in this case "être complétement à l'ouest" (to be completely in the west), this one being more colloquial than the first.

    Don't ask me why it is more colloquial to be in the west than to lose the north, but this is it ;)

    EDIT: Apparently, "être à l'ouest" comes from the English urban slang expression "going west", which means you have taken drugs and have lost your mind, thus the more colloquial aspect of it. "perdre le nord" has a far more ancient origin, as it is essentially a reference to the Pole Star/North Star (Alpha star of the Ursa Minor constellation), the travelers' point of reference for thousands of years.
     
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    Yendred

    Senior Member
    Français - France
    so for now, the north and east have positive connotations, whereas the south and west have negative ones.
    Interesting, yes. Maybe linked to the fact that in ancient Europe, north and east territories were known to a certain extent, but the west (the ocean) and the south (Africa from Sahara and further south) were not. Traditionally, what is not known inspires fear and negative feelings.
     
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    Circunflejo

    Senior Member
    Castellano de Castilla
    Maybe it's not exactly what you are looking for but in Spanish there's an obvious connection between levantarse (to get up) and levante (East).
     

    Yendred

    Senior Member
    Français - France
    > Circunflejo

    Spanish levante comes from Latin levare (levantarse), apparently through French "levant". Indeed, in French, we say "le soleil se lève" (the sun is rising, el sol está saliendo), as we say "mon frère se lève" (my brother is getting up), and the French word "levant" denotes the place where the sun rises (the East).
    For example, Japan, also called "the Land of the Rising Sun", or "el pais del sol naciente" is called in French "le pays du soleil levant" (literally "the country of the rising sun").
     
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    ThomasK

    Senior Member
    Belgium, Dutch
    Not much in Dutch:
    - buiten westen (outside the West): lost consciousness (no the east! ;-))
    - met de noorderzon vertrekken: leaving stealthily (the north sun)
    I cannot see more right now…
     

    TheCrociato91

    Senior Member
    Italian - Northern Italy
    When it comes to Italian, all I can think of is: perdere la bussola (lit. "lose the compass"), which means to get lost / become disoriented or, figuratively, lose the ability to think straight.

    Although not strictly connected with the compass: perdere la tramontana (a wind blowing from the North), meaning to lose one's way / bearings or, figuratively, lose control or lose one's patience.

    Hopefully other Italians will chime in.
     

    Nanon

    Senior Member
    français (France)
    But we also say in this case "être complètement à l'ouest" (to be completely in the west), this one being more colloquial than the first.

    EDIT: Apparently, "être à l'ouest" comes from the English urban slang expression "going west", which means you have taken drugs and have lost your mind, thus the more colloquial aspect of it.
    Curiously, this meaning of being lost, not being aware of something... translates into European Portuguese as "estar a leste", i.e. East instead of West :D

    perdere la bussola
    ES perder la brújula, FR perdre la boussole... we also have the verb déboussoler, mostly used in passive voice: je suis complètement déboussolé(e).
     
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