compass points used as a metaphor

Discussion in 'All Languages' started by Dymn, Jan 6, 2019.

  1. Dymn

    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? :)
  2. apmoy70

    apmoy70 Senior Member


    To orientate: «Προσανατολίζομαι» [prɔɔˈli.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» [prɔɔ.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» [ɔˈliɔˈlɔn] --> 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
  3. Yendred Senior Member

    Français - France
    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.
    Last edited: Jan 7, 2019
  4. Dymn

    Dymn Senior Member

    This reminds me of English go south... so for now, the north and east have positive connotations, whereas the south and west have negative ones.
  5. Yendred Senior Member

    Français - France
    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.
    Last edited: Jan 7, 2019
  6. 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).
  7. 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").
    Last edited: Jan 7, 2019
  8. Circunflejo Senior Member

    Castellano de Castilla
    Yes, and there's also the verb levar in Spanish.
  9. ThomasK Senior Member

    (near) Kortrijk, Belgium
    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…
  10. TheCrociato91 Senior Member

    Brescia, Italy
    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.
  11. Nanon

    Nanon Senior Member

    Entre Paris et Lisbonne
    français (France)
    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

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

    Français - France
    As I said in another thread, this confirms the legendary rivalry of the Portuguese against the Spanish ;)
  13. TheCrociato91 Senior Member

    Brescia, Italy
    Italian - Northern Italy
    Which made me think of the Italian counterpart: scombussolato (from the infinitive: scombussolare).
  14. Yendred Senior Member

    Français - France
    Which made me discover this English word I didn't know: discombobulated (same meaning). I'd be curious to know the etymology of it.

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