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How does one correctly form the "north" and "south" forms for which occident and orient are "west" and "east"?

I found boreal and austral, but those look like adjectives and I'm after the nouns.

Bonus: what about "up" and "down"?

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  • 3
    I like 'zenith' and 'nadir' for 'up' and 'down', but definitely 'boreal' and 'austral' for 'north' and 'south'. Bonus points all round. :) May 18, 2012 at 16:48
  • Orient and occident come from Latin for "rising" and "setting". What is the equivalent thing in the north and south?
    – Stuart F
    Nov 8, 2022 at 14:17

6 Answers 6

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The words orient and occident are two of the set of six French words

orient, occident, zénith, nadir, septentrion, midi,

which form the set you were looking for. The word septentrion (north) is obsolete in English, and I can find no evidence that midi (formerly spelled midy) was ever an English word at all.

In Old French, the word méridien was used instead of midi (see wikipedia), so another possible sixth term is meridian, which is indeed an English word which has occasionally been used to mean the opposite of septentrion; see for example this reference from Google books. So maybe the best answer is:

orient, occident, zenith, nadir, septentrion, meridian.

You shouldn't expect anybody to understand the meaning of the last two terms without explanation, though.

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    Midi is in Chambers, defined as "The south (of France)."
    – Bravo
    May 17, 2012 at 11:50
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    @Shyam: that is also the current meaning in French.
    – nico
    May 17, 2012 at 14:26
  • 1
    +1 about the explanation for the last two. Meridian always makes me think of the dividing line or middle.
    – user14070
    May 17, 2012 at 15:49
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    Zenith and nadir are English, but the other two are not recognizable for what they are intended.
    – Mitch
    May 17, 2012 at 16:27
  • 1
    Indeed, if you want to be understood you should use orient, occident, zenith, nadir, north, south. May 17, 2012 at 20:30
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I think boreal and austral may be the closest you'll get.

According to Etymonline, The noun form of austral is an English word:

auster "south wind," late 14c., from L. auster "the south wind; the south country" (see Australia).

However, the noun form of boreal, is only the Latin for north wind, boreas, or the name of the Greek god of the north wind, Boreas.

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  • Boreal and austral are certainly what I’ve always used. Boreal forests and all. Plus the two aurorae.
    – tchrist
    May 17, 2012 at 16:52
  • @tchrist Haha - I'm struck by the idea of an a-boreal forest: a forest with no trees? Oh.. damn: ar-boreal. Doesn't work. :o) May 31, 2012 at 14:46
  • @Callithumpian - I think that's the closest to Orient and Occident - I can imagine trains called 'The Auster Express' or 'The Boreas Express'. Perhaps I'll put them into the novel I'm writing in my copious free time. May 31, 2012 at 14:54
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In Portuguese the words are "meridional" and "setentrional", both with roots on French. I checked on-line and saw that "Meridional" and "Septentrional" are valid English words.

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North and south can both be nouns, enabling us to speak of the North and the South, just as we speak of the Orient and, perhaps less often, the Occident. To be consistent, we'd then have to speak of the East and the West.

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  • But it was precisely 'How would I style a word based on "Boreal" to refer to "The North", and "Austral" to refer to "The South", if I wanted it to be consistent with "The Orient" and "The Occident"' that I sought in asking my question. I already know about 'The East' and 'The West', but those are plain workaday words with no mystique and little poetry. May 18, 2012 at 16:55
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The nouns from which borealis and australis derive are boreas (Greek Βορέᾱς, wind from the North) and auster (Lat. auster, wind from the South). You, probably, can use Boreas and Auster as artistic expressions to denote, metonymously, the North and the South, as in

       ...The man that came from the lands of Boreas... (meaning, probably, Russia or Canada)

This would sound rather quaint—but, for that matter, you do not come across Orient and Occident much in everyday speech, either.

It is interesting that, while the ancient people associated the East and the West with the dawns (Lat. oriens, -tis and occidens, -tis actually mean sunrise and sunset), the North and the South were associated with cold (Northern) and hot (Southern) wind. This is understandable: our ancient ancestors were dependent on the forces of the Nature ☁☀☁ much more, so natural phenomena like where the sun rises and sets, and which wind direction causes warmer or colder weather, were much more meaningful to them than to us city rats.

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  • The ancient Romans also associated North with Ursa Minor; see septentrio, and South with noon; see meridies. Nov 8, 2022 at 17:07
  • Oh, yes, and this still goes on: even nowadays, if you want to find the North at night you look for the Polaris (the tail end of the Ursa Minor), and you know that at noon the shadow points to the South, along your meridian—not everywhere, though, because we now have time zones, and your zone time may differ by an hour from your astronomic time, which causes a 30° deviation (360°/12). This is all interesting, but it takes us still farther away from the original question than my last paragraph did, hehe. Nov 10, 2022 at 18:45
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Perhaps the closest you might get to a modern correspondent to "austral" is "the Antipodes" (and adjective Antipodean).

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    Antipodes just means two opposite points, it says nothing about their absolute position.
    – nico
    May 17, 2012 at 14:30

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