north-by-northwest is not a real direction?

Edwin

Senior Member
USA / Native Language: English
In a discussion about Alfred Hitchcock's film North by Northwest, a friend told me that Hitchcock once said in an interview that north by northwest is not a true direction.

Can anyone confirm or demolish the statement that north by northwest is not a true direction.

Thanks,

Edwin
 
  • EVAVIGIL

    Senior Member
    Spain / Spanish
    I always thought it is the direction in which Cary Grant's character moves across U.S.A. during the film.
    It is a great movie, isn't it?
    Any more opinions?
    EVA.
     

    Edwin

    Senior Member
    USA / Native Language: English
    EVAVIGIL said:
    I always thought it is the direction in which Cary Grant's character moves across U.S.A. during the film.
    It is a great movie, isn't it?
    Any more opinions?
    EVA.

    Yes, it's a great movie! As for the title of this thread, I should say that one does find in Merriam-Webster Online:

    north-northwest
    Pronunciation: 'north-"nor(th)-'west
    : a compass point that is two points west of due north : N22°30´W

    But the contention is in the use of ''by''. Here's what my friend has to say:

    The use of "by" is one point in that particular direction, and as one travels clockwise on a compass, the points past "west" are "north by west," "north-northwest," and "northwest by north" -- confirming the Hitchcock quote. The abbreviation "NNW" stands for "north-northwest," not "north by northwest."

    This is a very small point, but he asked me if I could verify it. Maybe some here knows the nautical meaning of ''by'' for the points of a compass.
     

    Nick

    Senior Member
    USA, English
    I think "North by Northwest" would mean somewhere between North and Northwest. Maybe NNW, maybe not.
     

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    Edwin

    Senior Member
    USA / Native Language: English
    Nick said:
    I think "North by Northwest" would mean somewhere between North and Northwest. Maybe NNW, maybe not.

    I have since posting the question done some more Googling. In the old days it seems that the directions of the compass were divided into 32 equal ''points''. Naming these 32 points was referred to as "Boxing the compass". The naming was done systematically, and as it turns out the point halfway between North and Northwest is named Northwest by North and not North by Northwest. I guess any old salt would know this. The names of all the points can be found at:

    http://ahoy.tk-jk.net/macslog/BoxingtheCompas.html

    Boxing the compass is apparently a famous maritime expression. Google even leads to a poem named, Boxing the Compass.
     

    Revdocjohn

    New Member
    UK English
    I have a feeling that this title may have something to do with the fact that in the movie there is an airline flight, and that the airline used is North West Airlines. So it may not mean a compass point after all.
     

    xtrasystole

    Senior Member
    France
    This is an excerpt from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/North_By_Northwest :

    "The title, North by Northwest, is often seen as having been taken from a line in Hamlet, a work also concerned with the slippery nature of reality. Hitchcock noted this in an interview with Peter Bogdanovich in 1963.

    [Writer Ernest] Lehman however, states that he used a working title for the film of
    "In a Northwesterly Direction", because the film was to start in New York and end in Alaska.

    Then the head of the story department at MGM suggested
    "North by Northwest", but this was still to be a working title. Other titles were considered, including "The Man on Lincoln's Nose", but "North by Northwest" was kept because, according to Lehman, "We never did find a [better] title".

    The fact that this boxed direction does not exist, was only realised after the film's release. The inaccuracy carries no significance.

    The Northwest Airlines reference in the film plays off of the title."
     

    natkretep

    Moderato con anima (English Only)
    English (Singapore/UK), basic Chinese
    Sorry for resurrecting this old thread, but I was trying to grapple with the terminology for the intermediate points between the main eight points.

    I am pretty sure that I was taught to say, in a clockwise direction: north; north by north-east; north east; east by north-east; east; and so on.

    Nick (#5) gives a different interpretation.

    Wiktionary says that north by northeast means the same thing as north-northeast.

    Is anyone clear on the terminology and what 'north by north-east' means? Is there a BrE and AmE difference here?
     
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    jmeco73

    New Member
    English
    i recently had a similar thought. North by northwest is indeed NOT a real direction. north-northwest is a point but the direction is northwest by north. even though i haven't read or had this idea confirmed i believe it is a "mix-up" in the same way that our protagonist's id was "mixed up" hitchcock is telling you in the title itself that "there has been a mix up and this movie is all about it"
     

    mplsray

    Senior Member
    Thanks, panj, for the link. So wiktionary is wrong then?

    I don't know what the philosophy of Wiktionary is, but most modern dictionaries follow the practice of reporting actual usage, and "north by northeast" does indeed seem to have been used when speaking of the direction between north and northeast, as can be seen in a Google search here, where I have limited the search to books written before 1900.

    The claim that it is not correct appears to be based upon a reform where the use of "by" was deliberately limited. Even with that, however, some people obviously still consider "north by northeast" and "north by northwest" to be legitimate compass directions. For example, the following is from page 159 of The Dangerous Book for Boys (2007) by Conn Iggulden, Hal Iggulden


    KEY: Read the word "by" for the symbol -, so N-NW is north by northwest

    A search via Google and Google books turns up other modern examples.

    In short, saying "'North by northwest' is not an actual compass point." is a bit like saying "There's no such animal as a North American buffalo." By some official standards those statements may be correct, but by the actual usage of educated speakers of English those statements are false.
     

    Thomas Tompion

    Senior Member
    English - England
    That's most interesting, Mplsray. Thank you.

    I was also interested by the earlier suggestion that Hitchcock took the title from Hamlet, because Hamlet says:

    I am but mad north-north-west. When the wind is southerly I know a hawk from a handsaw.

    A handsaw was a heron.

    No by, notice.
     

    mplsray

    Senior Member
    That's most interesting, Mplsray. Thank you.

    I was also interested by the earlier suggestion that Hitchcock took the title from Hamlet, because Hamlet says:

    I am but mad north-north-west. When the wind is southerly I know a hawk from a handsaw.

    A handsaw was a heron.

    No by, notice.

    Of etymological interest:

    The earliest example I can find in the Oxford English Dictionary of a minor compass point which we would now write with a hyphen is in the entry "north-north-west, n., adj., and adv." which gives the date of first attribution as a1387[1] (definition 9.b., spelled "north norþeweste").

    The first use of by when indicating a point of the compass is "northwest and by north," c1475 (entry "by, prep. and adv.," definition I.9.b.).

    Note: [1] I don't know what the a in "a1387" means.
     

    knowall

    New Member
    english-english
    Starting with West and going clockwise to North, we have:
    WEST
    WEST x(by) NORTH
    WEST-NORTH-WEST
    NORTH-WEST x WEST
    NORTH WEST
    NORTH-WEST x NORTH
    NORTH-NORTH-WEST
    NORTH x WEST
    NORTH
    So, no NORTH x NORTH-WEST !!
     

    Thomas Tompion

    Senior Member
    English - England
    Knowall's suggestion of how the compass is boxed accords with the Wiki page on the subject.

    In normal speech I'm not used to hearing more than four subdivisions of the quadrant. I'd not familiar with the four minor points, and, of those, North by West, and West by North sound quite odd. Until today I wouldn't have been sure what they meant.
     

    panjandrum

    Lapsed Moderator
    English-Ireland (top end)
    There are the ways people express directions and there are the standard names of the directions.
    Both are real.

    The links provided here (including far above at post #11 :)) give the standard names. North by northwest is not one of them, neither is north by northeast.
     

    Andygc

    Senior Member
    British English
    For example, the following is from page 159 of The Dangerous Book for Boys (2007) by Conn Iggulden, Hal Iggulden

    KEY: Read the word "by" for the symbol -, so N-NW is north by northwest
    That is actually strange. The notation N-NW is not conventional and if I saw it used instead of NNW I would expect "-" to be read as a hyphen, so North-Northwest. The conventional notation for "by" is "x" as in NxW = North by West. It seems that the Igguldens have created their own notation, guaranteed to result in confusion when their readers turn to other books.

    However, that does not prevent north by northwest being a real English usage, albeit likely to cause confusion, especially to those familiar with the maritime use of the compass. (ie does it mean NNW or NxW?)
     
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