I am translating a book from Romanian to English. There is a word in the former language that denotes a state of confusion in a human being which could be translated as "without compass".

Is there any word in English which denotes the same idea and through which I could retain the same mental image (being "compass-less")?

EDIT: Context (example sentence) added below:

"We cut the tall bushes at every step with our machetes, forging our path with a thirst for blood. We are boiled up by the anticipation of the fight and psychically prepared. We aren’t anymore the confused prey from last night – vulnerable, frightened and __________ ("without compass"). "

It is a philosophical and psychological novel. That extract is from a certain scene that is related to war.

EDIT 2: More context

The scene which is referenced by "last night" is below.

"During the night, I see shadows that ooze through the forest, close enough to us, the ones that are established on the shore. “Enemies!” I yell from the depths of my lungs and all the soldiers jerk with their weapons drawn and start shooting scaredly without even aiming. The lieutenant endeavours to spot any enemy through the dark and, finally, orders us to cease fire. Lacking experience, but with some instruction, his hands and knees tremble. He never participated in a conflict."

  • 2
    "without a compass" works here too. I think people are quite familiar with the term. Caution though.. here it means more "without a clear direction" than disoriented. More 'aimless" or 'adrift'
    – Tom22
    Feb 3, 2017 at 21:26
  • Just as an aside, I think you want 'prey' rather than 'pray'.
    – user888379
    Feb 3, 2017 at 21:40
  • I am sorry I wasn't clear enough from the beginning. I added an extract so the original question can be better understood.
    – GabrielGhz
    Feb 3, 2017 at 21:40
  • I just spotted that mistake now. Haha. Cheers!
    – GabrielGhz
    Feb 3, 2017 at 21:42
  • 1
    Could you say you were lost last night?
    – Hank
    Feb 3, 2017 at 22:08

11 Answers 11


Disoriented may be the word you're looking for:

(adj.) confused as to time or place; out of touch


  • Thank you for your help. However, I am being extremely picky in regards to the choice of words, given that the book is mine. I am looking for a word that can precisely produce the same mental image to the reader as the aforementioned Romanian word.
    – GabrielGhz
    Feb 3, 2017 at 21:25
  • 2
    @Brocean Then update the post with why these suggestions do not work. Expound more on what type of confusion it causes; we obviously don't know the Romanian word. The more specific you are, the more help we can provide.
    – Hank
    Feb 3, 2017 at 21:32
  • 6
    This answer is very, very close to meaning "compass-less": disoriented comes from orient, which originally meant to line something up so it faced east and still means to set or arrange in any determinate position especially in relation to the points of the compassM-W, bolding added. So if you're disoriented it means you haven't lined yourself up with a compass (literal or figurative).
    – 1006a
    Feb 3, 2017 at 22:51

Consider the idiomatic expression lose one's bearings:

To lose sight of or become unable to determine one's orientation, position, or abilities relative to one's surroundings or situation.

  • as in After we missed the turnpike exit, we completely lost our bearings. These phrases use bearings in the sense of “relative position,” a usage dating from the 1600s.



I would use directionless or aimless were I you. Literally speaking both mean without direction or purpose, and are commonly used in reference to people who seem to lack direction or purpose in their lives.


Very common is the metaphor

All at sea


In a state of confusion and disorder.


All at sea: This is an extension of the nautical phrase 'at sea'. It dates from the days of sail when accurate navigational aids weren't available. Any ship that was out of sight of land was in an uncertain position and in danger of becoming lost.

'At sea' has been in use since the 18th century, as here, in Sir William Blackstone's Commentaries on the laws of England, 1768:

"If a court of equity were still at sea, and floated upon the occasional opinion which the judge who happened to preside might entertain of conscience in every particular case."

The earliest reference to 'all at sea' in print that I can find is from Travel and adventure in south-east Africa, 1893, by Frederick C. Selous:

"I was rather surprised to find that he seemed all at sea, and had no one ready to go with me."

The Phrase Finder

  • 2
    It's a direct equivalent, agreed -- but I would avoid using a nautical metaphor to describe men hacking their way through dense brush.
    – Andrew
    Feb 3, 2017 at 23:28

Sometimes we use "rudderless" to convey the idea of moving without any clear direction or heading, such as in this book title, "The Rudderless Democracy" by Aravind Bhatikar

  • While this is again a good option that definitely means "without compass", a nautical metaphor is distracting when talking about an overland journey.
    – Andrew
    Feb 3, 2017 at 23:28
  • @Andrew, the metaphor is really generally used enough that unless you're literally meaning overland without a compass, in which case you probably wouldn't be looking for a metaphor, it spans the gap of understanding. Feb 4, 2017 at 0:17
  • As a conceptual metaphor, sure, it's used everywhere. The disconnect comes when you set a very specific tableau and then use a metaphor for a very different tableau. I think it's fair to question things like nuance and imagery and overtones and whatnot -- the nitty-gritty of what separates a decent story from a good story. Any competent author can use a suitable word, but a good author will write the word that fits.
    – Andrew
    Feb 4, 2017 at 0:34

In the context of being scared I would suggest


adjective 1. moving from place to place without a fixed plan

Although if you want a word that implies a quicker movement you may consider


verb (used without object), scrambled, scrambling. 1. to climb or move quickly using one's hands and feet

After your edits you seem to want something extremely emotional. If you could include phrases go for the use of


A sudden or complete loss of courage in the face of trouble or danger.

  • Thanks for contributing to this topic. I added another extract to clarify the context even more. The word I am looking for expresses a deep confusion while retaining the mental image of being "without compass".
    – GabrielGhz
    Feb 3, 2017 at 22:14
  • 2
    @Brocean I will keep looking, so far i think disoriented is pretty good. As an aside, I would suggest finding a word to replace scaredly. Also, including phrases in the search may help.
    – Jordan.J.D
    Feb 3, 2017 at 22:21
  • And maybe look through this: thesaurus.com/browse/run%20scared
    – Jordan.J.D
    Feb 3, 2017 at 22:27
  • 1
    Cheers for the help! I am considering "dismay" to be the best option so far, along with "disoriented". However, I will wait for more suggestions just to make sure.
    – GabrielGhz
    Feb 3, 2017 at 22:28

Interestingly enough, for the notion of "without direction or purpose", English seems to like a lot of nautical metaphors: "at sea", "rudderless", "adrift", etc. As I mentioned in the comments, I'm not sure I would mix these with a tale about an overland journey.

But in terms of what you are trying to say, you might like "forlorn":

1. Desolate or dreary; unhappy or miserable, as in feeling, condition, or appearance.
2. Lonely and sad; forsaken.
3. Expressive of hopelessness; despairing
4. Bereft; destitute:

"Vulnerable, frightened, and forlorn" has a nice ring to it.


When I read the first two sentences of the question, my first thought was clueless.  But, after reading the context, it occurred to me that befuddled might be more appropriate:

Cambridge English Dictionary:

    confused and unable to think clearly:
    The director was sitting there looking somewhat befuddled.

Befuddled is, obviously, the past participle of befuddle:


  1. to muddle or stupefy with or as if with drink
    < … befuddled with drink all the time. — Ellen Glasgow>
  2. confuse, perplex <a problem that still befuddles the experts>

Oxford Dictionaries:

(usually as adjective befuddled)

    Cause to become unable to think clearly:
    ‘even in my befuddled state I could see that they meant trouble’

… and, from the M-W definition, we get a couple more candidates: stupefied and perplexed.


If you fail to find the perfect single word, you could consider off course or unsure of our way, both of which could possibly work in your sentence.

We aren’t anymore the confused prey from last night – vulnerable, frightened and off course.

We aren’t anymore the confused prey from last night – vulnerable, frightened and unsure of our way.

off course

  1. Lit. not going in the right direction. (*Typically: be ~; drift ~; get ~.) The ship is off course and may strike the reef!

  2. Fig. not following the plan correctly. (*Typically: be ~; get ~.) The project is off course and won't be finished ontime. l am off course and doing poorly. See also: course, off (from McGraw-Hill Dictionary of American Idioms and Phrasal Verbs via The Free Dictionary by Farlex) © 2002 by The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.

Example usage of “unsure of our way” from libertichurch.org (paragraph 2):

Walking in darkness, we’re unsure of our way, on alert for unexpected obstacles, suspicious of every sudden movement, sound, or stranger that crosses our path.

Please note that although the perhaps more idiomatic “unsure of ourselves" {from Merriam-Webster} could replace “unsure of our way” in your sentence, it wouldn’t capture as well the notion of “without compass,” in my opinion.

(cf: If you were translating this into Scottish, perhaps “will [or “wil” or “wull”] would work: “adj. 1. (1) Of persons: astray, straying, lost, unsure of one's way or whereabouts, wandering” from * Dictionary of the Scots Language *)


From the context it appears that they were clueless.

"We cut the tall bushes at every step with our machetes, forging our path with a thirst for blood. We are boiled up by the anticipation of the fight and psychically prepared. We aren’t anymore the confused prey from last night – vulnerable, frightened and clueless."


clueless adjective

2 : completely or hopelessly bewildered, unaware, ignorant, or foolish : clueless about what they want

They were clueless about what to do.


clueless (in American English) adjective

2. b. Informal ignorant or uninformed, specif. regarding a certain situation or matter
clueless about baseball

Webster’s New World College Dictionary, 4th Edition. Copyright © 2010 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. All rights reserved.


Consider 'lost in the wood'.
It is a slang but a good metaphor meaning:

in a state of confusion and/or purposelessess that aids your emotions and/or current situation, some say it helps you see the path. others may prefer to live looking at the short term as their long term situation is bleak/dire.
(Source: Urban dictionary)

'...the confused prey from last night – vulnerable, frightened and lost in the woods.'

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