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Is there any difference between these three expressions?

  • to find one's bearings
  • to get one's bearings
  • to take one's bearings
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  • There is never a difference among any expressions. There can only be a difference between them.
    – RegDwigнt
    Nov 8, 2013 at 13:17

1 Answer 1

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In this context, bearings means

the direction or position of something, or the direction of movement, relative to a fixed point. It is usually measured in degrees, typically with magnetic north as zero:

the Point is on a bearing of 015°

there were no steeples or bridges from which to take a bearing

(one's bearings) awareness of one’s position relative to one’s surroundings:

he flashed the torch around, trying to get his bearings

While there is no rigid distinction between these phrases, the connotation seems to be as follows:

find one's bearings - to settle into a direction or path (literally or figuratively), usually after being disoriented

get one's bearings - again to settle into a direction, but with less suggestion of previously being lost or disoriented

take one's bearings - to be in the process of gauging orientation or direction, also with little suggestion of disorientation; you would take your bearings before finding your bearings or getting your bearings

The distinctions are subtle at best, and the terms may often be used interchangeably with little confusion, especially the first two. Get seems to be the most common form.

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  • Is there a source? Nov 8, 2013 at 16:36
  • @JohnLawler Not much. The terms seems to be interchanged quite a bit. I have added a few more links, but nothing definitive.
    – bib
    Nov 8, 2013 at 17:34
  • The definitions are OED, then? I hadn't checked. Nov 8, 2013 at 17:49
  • @JohnLawler bearings is ODO. The others are misc. online dicts.
    – bib
    Nov 8, 2013 at 19:01
  • It is all anachronistic. You just need to learn how to enter an address or postcode in the satellite navigation device!
    – WS2
    Nov 8, 2013 at 22:50

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