There is "length", "width", "height", "depth", etc but these words are all relative in respect to the current viewer. The width for one person could be the depth for another person (who is at a 90 degree difference).

There is also "latitude" and "longitude", which describes position in terms of cardinal direction. This is close, but I'm wondering if there are words for describing the length of something in respect to a cardinal axis (north/south and east/west). Essentially "east-west-length" and "north-south-length".

I've had no luck with finding this using search engines. =(

  • Cardinal dimension? There's also the explicit, unambiguous, absolute, "dorsal", "ventral", "lateral", "anterior" and "posterior", though those typically refer to faces of a cube (abstractly; the sides of a body more concretely), rather than dimensions. – Dan Bron Aug 7 '14 at 21:25
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    Yeah basically the cardinal dimension, but specific terms for each axis, rather than a term for describing both. "Dorsal" and friends are relative AFAIK, like "rise", "run", etc. If you rotated yourself around the object, the same terms would describe different faces of the cube. – Wisteso Aug 7 '14 at 21:28
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    There is the term meridian distance for the north-south direction. – Anna Taurogenireva Aug 7 '14 at 21:35
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    Good point. Though something abstract like a cube doesn't really have features that would establish an "underside". If there are no terms for longitudinal / latitudinal dimensions, then I may need to settle for lateral, etc. – Wisteso Aug 7 '14 at 21:36
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    English doesn't have cardinal directions built into the language. English deixis works on right/left, front/back orientations However, there are languages (most Australian languages, for instance) that do orient themselves by cardinal directions. The linguist Eunice Pike tells a story about walking with some Australians she was learning a language from, when one of them said "Look out! A snake. Quick, jump East." – John Lawler Aug 7 '14 at 22:19

The cardinal axes of the Earth, "North-South" and "East-West", are termed "meridional" and "zonal", respectively.

This usage is particularly common in the atmospheric and earth sciences, where the words are used as adjectives to, for example, describe flow of climate and weather patterns; see for example the Wikipedia article on these terms.

But while these terms are usually used to describe movement, they are also used to describe size and extent; for example:

The zonal extent, meridional extent, and depth of the model are Lx = 4400, Ly = 5500, and H = 4000 meters respectively.

Numerical Methods in Atmospheric and Oceanic Modelling, edited by René Laprise, Charles Augustin Lin, Harold Ritchie


Ok, pursuing the anatomical analogy, I found the words you're looking for: "sagittal dimension" (north-south), "coronal dimension" (east-west), and "transversal dimension" (up-down). http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/3/34/BodyPlanes.jpg

Source: Wikipedia article on anatomical terms of location

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    Wouldn't these dimensions remain the same for any rotation though? Whereas longitudinal/latitudinal dimensions could vary depending upon the rotation of the object (unless it was a sphere). – Wisteso Aug 7 '14 at 21:46
  • No, for the same reasons as above. Think about it this way: these terms were specifically, intentionally created in order to have an clear, unambiguous vocabulary for describing the anatomy of a body to others who don't have access to the same specimen. A coroner's autopsy report would be really confusing if the statement "a ventral incision" changed meaning depending on the orientation of the corpse on the table. No: by contrast, when you read "a ventral incision" you know the orientation of the body; it's lying on its back (because otherwise a ventral incision is impossible). – Dan Bron Aug 7 '14 at 21:50
  • Ultimately, this might work. Though the original request was a dimension that actually would change depending upon the rotation. E.G. the longitudinal length and latitudinal length of a rectangle could become flipped if the object was rotated 90 degrees. The coordinates are relative to the cardinal axis rather than the specific object. – Wisteso Aug 7 '14 at 21:54
  • You want a set of terms which are independent of the observer's orientation, but relative to the orientation of the object? Let me think about that (foremost, let me think about whether it's possible, given that orientation fundamentally describes a relationship between observer and observed). – Dan Bron Aug 7 '14 at 21:57
  • Oh, now I get it - you mean literally relative to the North-South axis of the Earth. – Dan Bron Aug 7 '14 at 22:02

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