Why Do We Say “Orientate” and Not “Occidentate”?

Does our language reveal our fascination with the Inscrutable East? Or hidden desires for imperialistic adventures?

No. It does not. The sun rises in the east. Our language got it right. We do not want the setting sun – decline, fatigue, decadence – to determine our bearings.

From the online etymological dictionary:

Orient (v.): c. 1727, originally “to arrange facing east,” from French s’orienter “to take one’s bearings,” literally “to face the east” (also the source of German orientierung), from Old French orient “east,” from Latin orientum (see Orient (n.)). Extended meaning “determine bearings” first attested 1842; figurative sense is from 1850.

Occident (n.): late 14c., “western part” (of the heavens or earth), from Old French occident (12c.) or directly from Latin occidentem (nominative occidens) “western sky, sunset, part of the sky in which the sun sets,” noun use of adjective meaning “setting,” from present participle of occidere “fall down, go down.”


8 responses to “Why Do We Say “Orientate” and Not “Occidentate”?

  1. Elisabeth Ecker

    Thanks for pointing this out. Makes sense.

  2. But in Canada we go down east, up north and out west.

  3. At the risk of showing how disoriented I am, an ask a two- part question. To a person at the easternmost point of the globe, where is east? Contrary to what we have been told, does the twain, in fact, meet?

  4. Michael Gundy

    Remembering Edward Said’s 1978 book “Orientalism, he recalls the Western flawed perceptions of the East. On the other hand, “Occidentalism: A Short History of Anti-Westernism” pubklished 2004 by Ian Buruma and Avishai Margalit addresses the flawed view of the West by Easterners.

  5. When and why did ‘Asian’ replace ‘Oriental’ as an adjective (or noun)? ‘Oriental’ is now considered politically incorrect, even though plenty of Asians I know don’t mind it and never did.

  6. My father would be appalled. The verb is “orient,” he would say, “not orientate.” It’s not “transportate,” either.

  7. Jan Krouzil

    What difference, one may ask, does it make to the summer solstice?

  8. The Indo-European sky god Deus (aka Theos, Dieu, Tiu –as in Tuesday– etc.) abandons us to darkness and danger every evening. It’s true he reappears with perfect regularity a few hours later…. but always in the east and never in the west! Surely this must have been very disquieting to those who lived on the extreme left of the Eurasian landmass before the ‘new world’ was discovered. Perhaps fears about Der Untergang des Abendlandes just come with the territory.