orient vs. orientate

Discuss word origins and meanings.

orient vs. orientate

Post by Archived Topic » Sat Nov 13, 2004 9:10 pm

Oriented and orientated are evidently synonymous, but I can't stand it! Can anyone give me some ammunition for my claim that "orientated" came to be accepted only after sufficient misuse? Or at least that "orientated" is a poor substitute for "oriented"?

Keith Allen, Los Angeles
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From the Maven's Word for the Day:

Q: I'm confused about "orient" and "orientate" and "orientation." If I give an orientation, am I orientating or orienting?

A: You are doing either, for orient and orientate have the same meaning in non-technical senses.

These two verbs, drawn from the same base (French orienter 'to place facing the east', originally used of the placement of churches) have developed the same extended sense 'to familiarize with or adjust to new surroundings or circumstances'. The shorter form arose in the eighteenth century, the longer in the nineteenth. Orientate is sometimes criticized, but it is fully standard and has been used by a variety of major authors, including W.H. Auden, Margret Mead, Tennessee Williams, and Aldous Huxley. It is probably more common in England, while orient seems to be the preferred form in the United States.

Robert Burchfield, for many years the Chief Editor of the Oxford English Dictionary, has written that "I have decided to use the shorter form myself in all contexts, but the saving is not great. And one can have no fundamental quarrel with anyone who decides to use the longer of the two words."
Reply from Leif Thorvaldson (Eatonville - U.S.A.)

Leif: Thanks so much for your response. This is the first definitive answer I have received on the subject, despite having asked around for about 15 years.

Previously, the closest I came was someone's opionion that both terms originated in aviation during the first world war.

"Orientated" simply sounds wrong to me. I was never able to convince my friend in South Africa, who prefers "orientated." We have not discussed the issue for years, but I will send him your response.

Keith Allen, Los Angeles
Reply from ( - )

I find myself disposed to using oriented when talking about a person getting their own bearings and orientated when being guided in the process by someone else, however this may just be a personal linguistic quirk.
Reply from Sabine Harmann (Elkhorn, WI - U.S.A.)


In today’s eulogies for Ronald Reagan, I heard Margaret Thatcher use the verb ‘orientate,’ which set me aback, since I have only heard it used a few times in my life and then had thought that it was a mispronunciation of ‘orient,’ used by people who didn’t know any better. Using our Wordwizard search function, however, I did find a good deal of discussion on this topic and learned that ‘orientate’ is or was the preferred usage in Britain. None of the discussions I found, however, went as deeply into the topic as I would have liked, so, at the risk of being a bit repetitious, here’s my take on the subject. For those lovers of the English language who prefer less of its use (<:), search on ‘orient’ for the abridged versions.
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ORIENT: The noun ‘orient’ is derived from the Latin adjective ‘oriens,’ derived from the present participle (‘oriens,’ rising) of the verb ‘oriri’ (from which English also gets the word ‘origin’), ‘to rise or come forth.’ Its earliest English sense is ‘the place on the horizon where the sun rises when it is near one of the equinoxes,’ i.e. the direction of the rising sun, ‘the east.’ And thus it came to be used as it is today, most often capitalized, to refer to the Asian countries to the east of Europe. But to the Romans and back in the 14th century when this English sense of the word first came into use, the ‘the East’ meant just immediately east of the Mediterranean or of Southern Europe.

The word passed into English in the 14th century via Old French as the adjective and noun ‘orient.’ With the spread of Christianity into Europe it became customary to build churches with their longitudinal axes pointing eastward toward Jerusalem. This practice gave rise to the use of ‘orient’ as a verb (via the French ‘orienter,’ a derivative of the adjective ‘orient’— 1727-41) meaning ‘to cause to face or point toward the east,’ to turn east. It was then used by extension (1842) to mean ‘to place or adjust in any particular way with respect to the cardinal points or other defined data.’ And then, finally, in 1850 it came to be used figuratively to mean ‘to adjust, correct, or bring into defined relations, to known facts or principles; to put oneself in the right position or relation; to ascertain one's ‘bearings,’ find out ‘where one is.’”

Nowadays we say that maps are ‘oriented’ toward north, but it is interesting to note that before the widespread use of the magnetic compass enabled people to easily determine the direction of north, many European maps had east at the top, since the direction could be easily established by watching the sun rise, or on a cloudy days simply by noting the ‘orientation’ (mid-19th century) of the nearest church.

The word ORIENTATE (1849) came much later to the ‘orient’ game than the verb ‘orient’ and is believed to be a ‘backformation’ of ‘orientation’ (where ‘orientation’s was either borrowed from the French or an ‘-ation’ was tacked on to the English word – circa 1830s-40s). In other words the verb, ‘orientate’ only probably arose as a result of the noun ‘orientation’ (as the verb ‘typewrite’ followed from and a backformation of the noun ‘typewriter) – I knew there was something I didn’t like about that word. (&lt) Back-formations (or is it ‘backformations’ or is it ‘back formations’ – dictionaries don’t agree) are sometimes revolting at first – and then somehow, sometimes, you get used to them! I’m finally getting used to ‘baby-sit’ from baby-sitter’ (1940s). However, some remain sickening forever (e.g. ‘enthuse’ from ‘enthusiasm’ – 1827, ‘surveil’ from ‘surveillance’ – 1960s). But I’m cool with the verb ‘diagnose’ (1861) from ‘diagnosis,’ ‘donate’ (1785) from ‘donation,’ and ‘reminisce’ (1829) ‘reminiscence’ (1829), and a few others (grumble!).

Note: Oriental: adjective (1386), borrowed from Old French ‘oriental,’ and directly from Latin ‘orientalis,’ of the East, from ‘orientem,’ the East.
<1727-41 “In most religions, particular care has been taken to have their temples oriented.—St. Gregory Thaumaturgus is said to have made a mountain give way, because it prevented the ORIENTING of a church he was building.”—‘Chambers Cyclopedia’ under ‘Orienting’>

<1842 “In surveying, to ORIENT a plan signifies to mark its situation or bearing with respect to the four cardinal points.”—‘A Dictionary of Science, Literature, and Art’ by Brande. page 857/2>

<1850 “It seems to me you might, in this way, ‘ORIENT’ yourself before the public.”—‘Letters,’ 9 Sept. by T. Parker, in ‘Life of H. Mann’ (1865), page 325>
(Barnhart Concise Dictionary of Etymology, Ayto’s Dictionary of Word Origins, Merriam-Webster New Book of Word Histories, Oxford English Dictionary, Merriam-Webster’s and Random House Unabridged Dictionaries, Barbara Wallraff’s Word Court)
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Ken G – June 11, 2004
Submitted by Ken Greenwald (Fort Collins, CO - U.S.A.)
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orient vs. orientate

Post by Archived Reply » Sat Nov 13, 2004 9:25 pm

"Orientate" still sounds wrong to me, even after learning that it is acceptable. About fifteen years ago, I had a long running disagreement with a South African friend who used the term. I insisted that it was a non word which had crept into acceptance because it was so commonly used. Much like 'normalcy' in the place of 'normality."

To my chagrin, I finally learned that it is the preferred usage in South Africa just as it is in Great Britain.
Reply from Keith Allen (Los Angeles - U.S.A.)
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orient vs. orientate

Post by Archived Reply » Sat Nov 13, 2004 9:39 pm

East is East and West is West, Keith. The alternative usage, "orient" (verb), has always jarred with me (this may be the first time I've agreed with something Baroness Thatcher has said). Or would you say "alternate" instead of "alternative"? You may place the question-mark - sorry, query - within the inverted commas. I mean quotes.
There are times when English is frustratingly ambiguous. The Economist.com style website has some common examples, and advises communicators to avoid using, for instance :
"biannual" ("once every two years" OR "twice a year"!)
"table" (a motion) - means "put forward" (UK) ; "shelve" (US).
The website also advises on many issues of style, but I think the way we use English should be like our driving a car - we should aim to be accurate, courteous, have a reasonably clean vehicle, but choose our own model and have fun.
And everybody should drive on the left.
Reply from Edwin Ashworth (Oldham - England)
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orient vs. orientate

Post by Archived Reply » Sat Nov 13, 2004 9:53 pm

Right, Edwin.
Reply from Erik Kowal ( - England)
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orient vs. orientate

Post by Archived Reply » Sat Nov 13, 2004 10:08 pm

.. as in UK so be it in Aus .. we would "orientate a map" when when turning the map so north on the map was in fact pointing to magnetic north .. never orient a map .. orient is a place isn't it ?? .. or the name of a ship ??
WoZ of Aus. 15/06/04
Reply from Wizard of Oz (Newcastle - Australia)
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orient vs. orientate

Post by Archived Reply » Sat Nov 13, 2004 10:22 pm

Edwin, I need to get in touch with you and th email you supplied when you registered does not seem to be valid. If it is, just answer a yes here and I´ll try again
Jim Ransom - admin
Reply from jim Ransom (London - England)
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orient vs. orientate

Post by Archived Reply » Sat Nov 13, 2004 10:37 pm

Unless I made a mistake then, Jim, it should be OK.
Reply from Edwin Ashworth (Oldham - England)
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orient vs. orientate

Post by Archived Reply » Sat Nov 13, 2004 10:51 pm

It's funny that you good-natured Brits and Aussies should compare the use of the English language to the way we should drive our cars. As we all know, the best parts of the world have our steering wheels on the "right" side of the car and as well, drive on the correct side of the road. And by the way, it's not "aluminIum", it's "aluminum". There is no need for that extra "i". Alcoa doesn't use it, nor should you.
Reply from Jeanette Labuguen (Chicago - U.S.A.)
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orient vs. orientate

Post by robert_boot@hotmail.com » Wed Apr 11, 2007 5:51 am

Jeanette,

Two thousand years ago as the Romans built the first roads, they drove their carriages on the on the left hand side of the road. It is you noisy Americans and unwashed Europeans who decided to do your own thing.

Robert Boot, Melbourne, AUS.
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orient vs. orientate

Post by Erik_Kowal » Wed Apr 11, 2007 6:13 am

Yes, you put the boot in, Robert! ;-)
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orient vs. orientate

Post by nicktecky » Wed Apr 11, 2007 8:28 am

I think you'll also find that more than half of the world's population are in left-driving jurisdictions.
The vital message that a gentleman always keeps his sword arm free to defend his lady seems to have been lost on our transatlantic chums. And there's never been any fathoming the French. Perhaps it was the price Americans had to pay for having the French Navy win their war of independence for them!

Still, chin chin, old boy, mine's a pinkers! ;-)
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orient vs. orientate

Post by Bobinwales » Wed Apr 11, 2007 8:46 am

Archived Reply wrote: It's funny that you good-natured Brits and Aussies should compare the use of the English language to the way we should drive our cars. As we all know, the best parts of the world have our steering wheels on the "right" side of the car and as well, drive on the correct side of the road.
Reply from Jeanette Labuguen (Chicago - U.S.A.)
That is perfectly correct, the steering wheel should be on the right. I wonder where the argument lay.
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Bob in Wales

orient vs. orientate

Post by gdwdwrkr » Wed Apr 11, 2007 11:32 am

It lay on St.Thomas, where the steering wheel is on the left, and they drive on the "wrong" (left) side of the road.
On second thought, there are no arguments....the good St. Thomasers will stop, honk, and wave you on , even if you need to turn across their lane and they're in the only oncoming car!!
Anyone else second-guess himself ( I know...theirself) after driving on the wrong side in a foreign place and then coming home? I had a few times (out in the couontry, alone) when I could not figure out which side I should be on!!
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orient vs. orientate

Post by hsargent » Wed Apr 11, 2007 1:49 pm

A synonym phrase for orientate would be to get my bearings.

Another factode I have heard is that while Orient refers to the East and early maps had East drawn to the top of the page.
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orient vs. orientate

Post by zmjezhd » Wed Apr 11, 2007 1:56 pm

The past passive participle of Latin orior 'to rise' is ortus, so if you were going to coin an abstract noun from the verb it would've been ortion.
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