When we travel around, some people get lost much more easily than others, since they cannot remember directions correctly. Is there any specific word for these kind of people?


It seems from looking at answers to identical questions asked elsewhere (see here and here) that there is no single word that describes this kind of a person.

I would usually say:

He/she has a poor sense of direction

and leave it at that.

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I would go with directionally challenged. I've never heard of locationally or positionally challenged, but I've been called directionally challenged more times than I'd like to recall. It appears as a suggestion in the forum threads Urbycoz linked to.

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    People would know what you meant, but it's certainly not a common or conventional term. It would be a joking description. – Jay Dec 20 '11 at 22:23
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    @Jay I don't know about that. I work for a GPS device manufacturer, and when they ask me about our units, a solid majority of them tell me, "I'm directionally challenged." I guess it's preferable to admitting that you have no sense of direction. – Gnawme Dec 21 '11 at 1:19

Such a person would be the locationally-challenged or the positionally-challenged.

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There is a cluster of developmental disabilities which include this symptom. The proper word depends on the cause.

Dyscalculia is a disability of number sense. The person is likely to have difficulty remembering directions properly. They can confuse left and right and compass directions, and make very poor estimates of distance traveled.

Dyspraxia is a disability of movement. The person is likely to forget instructions, especially those which involve a sequence of steps. Like dyscalculia, dyspraxia creates confusion of left and right, compass directions, and distance estimates.

There are other disabilities, such as dementia, which can have this effect, but I assume you are not limiting your inquiry to people with a degenerative disease.

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Topographical Agnosia or topographical disorientation. The actual term to describe this person is probably "Topographically Agnostic" or "Topographically Disoriented". It is a family of different problems. Some people are quite able to navigate by using GPS but cannot navigate by listening to directions or memory. It is similar to the problem that some people need to write each telephone number on a piece of paper while others can recall many telephone numbers that were only mentioned once.

It is a process of differential sensory (visual and auditory), memory and computational skills. The visual inputs of the brain are processed in a different area from the auditory inputs.

Wikipedia has an excellent discussion of this.

Anterograde Disorientation is this problem but only for location navigation after an event. This is what is typical of a patient with dementia. This is distinct from people who always experienced this process.

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  • Except that an agnosia is a neuropsychological disorder, which does not apply to all people who are "bad with directions". As an aside, you could really boost your answer by providing links (at least for the Wikipedia article you mention). – nxx Mar 7 '14 at 18:26

Since I have had this all my life I would call someone who suffers from lack of directional memory "directional dyslexic". This phenomenon would be 'directional dyslexia".

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  • Is this the generally accepted term? – MetaEd Apr 9 '16 at 13:55

You might use knight errant, where errant means wandering or roving.

You might also refer to them ironically, using the name of an explorer, such as Magellan.

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    Well, you could, but few would understand your intent. – slim Dec 20 '11 at 12:51
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    -1: A knight errant roves by choice/necessity, not because he's lost. And I'm pretty sure the OP was asking for a literal, not ironic, definition. – Lynn Dec 20 '11 at 14:21
  • @slim, Let's assume that you were waiting in an almost-full tour bus, waiting for the last two stragglers who have gotten lost at two of the past four stops. If the tour guide rolls his eyes and says with frustration in his voice, "Still waiting for Lewis and Clark," everyone in the bus would know the cause of the delay. – rajah9 Dec 20 '11 at 14:52
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    @Lynn, if there is no single word to express the literal meaning, then an ironic, opposite, or contrasting word may sometimes come to the rescue. It seems that a single word is not forthcoming. I suppose that I could literally answer the OP with "No" to answer his/her question (e.g., "No, there is no single word satisfying your criterion."), But some of the joy of reading the questions or providing answers in EL&U is in coming close or providing an alternate idea. – rajah9 Dec 20 '11 at 15:00
  • @rajah9: I understand where you're coming from but I must respectfully disagree. Of course part of the beauty of EL&U for me is that there is no right/wrong answer, everyone is entitled to post their own answers and let the voting chips fall where they may. I was simply providing an explanation for why I down-voted the answer. – Lynn Dec 20 '11 at 21:51

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