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Looking at the list of definitions for "due" (e.g. https://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/due#Adjective), the "due east" sense seems to be the odd one out. "Due" east isn't "owed", "appropriate", or "expected". It seems to mean something more like "exact". What is the origin of the use of "due" in this context?

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    All the points on a compass can be preceded by due: east, north, south, west
    – Lambie
    May 13 at 22:39
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    @Lambie Not all of them, I would suggest. I've only heard the term applied to the cardinal points (north, south, east and west). I believe that the term 'due' is used to distinguish the cardinal points from the ordinal and other points such as southeast and west-by-southwest so saying "due southeast" to indicate exactly southeast is not really correct.
    – BoldBen
    May 14 at 8:24
  • @BoldBen That is exactly what I said: the points on a compass known as north, south, east and west can be preceded by the word due. You just say cardinal, which is the technical term. but I never said what you imply.
    – Lambie
    May 14 at 15:04
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    I've never heard or read it used except for the four cardinal points, but based on the etymonline explanation, I don't see any technical reason it couldn't be used with any direction at all. "Due 23.1 degrees" for example...
    – monguin
    2 days ago
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    I'm noot sure I understand why this was closed. The user is giving a reasonable reference and research. This is an interesting question...pressing the 'close' button is short-sighted. Not everyone has access to the OED or even knows about etymonline.
    – Mitch
    2 days ago

1 Answer 1

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The sense of due in due east/south etc. appears to be of nautical origin:

due (adv.):

1590s, "duly," from due (adj.). In reference to points of the compass, "directly, exactly" (as in due east) it is attested from c. 1600, originally nautical, from notion of "fitting, rightful."

(Etymonline)

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  • Thanks, I did briefly check etymonline, I must have skimmed that section too quickly.
    – monguin
    2 days ago

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