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This week we'll enjoy some words whose roots lie in the points of the compass, or are otherwise directionally-related.

Greek kyon = Latin canis = dog. The Greeks applied the name kynosoura, meaning "dog's tail", to a certain star constellation was (or to the star at the end of the "tail" part; I'm not sure). That star was important, because it happens to be very close to the north celestial pole and so can be used to find the direction of north. Thus the name kynosoura evolved to mean something that serves for guidance or direction; a ‘guiding star’, and from there to its current meaning.

cynosure – a person or thing that is the center of attention or admiration
    … a black-tie benefit for cancer research, where Michael [Jackson] was the cynosure of all eyes …
    – Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, The Michael Jackson Tapes
 
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Saracen – an Arab or Muslim, especially at the time of the Crusades [Wordcrafter note: seems to me to have the sense that the is a military enemy]
[origin uncertain, but the prevailing theory is that this word is from an Arabic word meaning "east, sunrise"]
    "I've been nine years in the Holy Land killing Saracens, killing one or two more makes no difference to me."
    – Christopher Moore, Fool: A Novel

    … the coat of arms he'd designed for himself looked like the shield of some fierce baron who'd spent his life wallowing in Saracen gore, charging from battle to battle down muddy roads lined with groveling peasants and churls.
    – Tobias Wolff, This Boy's Life: A Memoir
 
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Orient – the part of the world east of a particular point
[from the same Indo-European root as Sanskrit for "to raise". The concept is that the east is "where the sun rises".]

The term is now used to mean East Asia, but originally meant the lands immediately east of the Roman Empire (that is, what we now call the Middle East or the Near East). You can see the original sense in name of The Oriental Institute of Chicago, founded in 1919. From its website:
    The Oriental Institute Museum is a world-renowned showcase for the history, art, and archaeology of the ancient Near East. The museum displays objects recovered by Oriental Institute excavations in permanent galleries devoted to ancient Egypt, Nubia, Persia, Mesopotamia, Syria, Anatolia, and the ancient site of Megiddo … .
Occident – the part of the world west of some region [originally, Western Christendom or the Western Roman Empire, or to Europe as opposed to Asia; now usually means Europe and America as opposed to Asia]
[again, with reference to the sun, this time the setting sun]

I assume that Occident and accident are related. According to OED, the former is from Latin occidere to fall towards, go down, set, die, be ruined; and the latter from Latin accidere to fall, to happen.
    … in China "words are not taken literally, meanings are hidden so as not to give offence. It takes time to realise why Chinese people say one thing and mean another". It dictates a dramatically different style of managing staff to that which exists in the occident and our [Australian] negotiating style is entirely inappropriate.
    – The Australian, Sept. 9, 2009
By the way, do you think it's proper to refer to the orient and the occident without capitalizing the first letter?

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Chicago's Oriental Institute is one of my favorites. Visitors know about the major museums, but that one is Chicago's best kept secret. And it's free!

I don't capitalize orient or occident, but I am hardly an expert on that. We have talked about the use of oriental to describe Asian people, I know. It seems to be frowned upon these days, though it used to be the standard.

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. . .As Spanish and Portuguese navigators discovered new lands in the 1400s, the popes issued a series of decrees stating which parts of the to-be-discovered world would be within each nation's "sphere".
. . .On March 15, 1493 Columbus arrived back in Spain, bearing first news of his epochal 1492 New-World discoveries. At that news, Pope Alexander VI quickly issued a May 4 papal bull, drawing a north-south line pole-to-pole through the Atlantic, and allocating to Spain all non-Christian lands west of the line. (Portugal had east-of-the-line under prior bulls).
. . .The bull did not give that line a name, but the nations called it the linea de demarcacion (Sp.) or linha de demarcação (Pg.) And from there, the term passed into English

demarcate – to set the boundaries of; delimit; also, to separate [categories, etc.] clearly, as if by boundary lines
    With so many people packed into each flat, … [c]onflicts, in the nature of border wars, had inevitably broken out. Laundry was hung to demarcate lines of conflict and truce.
    – Michael Chabon, The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay

    The imagery of dreams has specific, personal meanings that defy simple attempts to classify and demarcate.
    –Thomas Hill, What to Expect When Your Wife is Expanding: A Reassuring Month-by-Month Guide for the Father-to-Be, Whether He Wants Advice or Not
 
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Today's word needs no definition. It's presented for its interesting etymology.

The name Vietnam has been used in English, sporadically, at least as far back as 1834. But it was 1954 when it first became a country in the modern sense, when the French pulled out of their colony there. Even then there was no "Vietnam", but rather the two independent nations of North Vietnam and South Vietnam.

Those country names are, etymologically, gibberish. In the local tongue, Viet is the ethnic name of the people, and nam. So the two country names mean "north south Viet" (an oxymoron) and "south south Viet" (a redundancy).

Perhaps this made union inevitable. "What etymology has joined together, let no man put asunder."
 
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meridian – a "great circle" along the earth's surface, passing through both the north pole and the south pole
. . .(thus, running north-south along two opposite longitude lines);
also, a like circle in the sky
. . .(the half of it in the visible sky above passes through the pole and through the point directly overhead)

The word comes from Latin meridies "noon" or "south", which is is a strange pair of meanings. The "noon" meaning makes sense (because noon [Latin meridies] is the "middle" [Latin medius) of the day], and also connects sensibly to "meridian" (because at noon the sun is on the meridian of the sky).

But how did a Latin word meaning "noon" come to mean "south"? My guess is that is the sea to the south of the Romans, between Europe and Africa, was the "middle" of their known world and hence was called the Mediterranean (medius middle + terra land) Sea.

The city of Meridian, Mississippi got its name from a misunderstanding. It was settled in 1854 (under a name that means "Mad River" in Choctaw), but two competing developers proposed new names when a second railroad came to town in 1860 to make a junction and crossing with the first. One proposed to rename the settlement after himself; the other suggested the name "Meridian", apparently thinking it meant "junction". The railroads unsurprisingly favored the latter name, and it was adopted.
 
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But how did a Latin word meaning "noon" come to mean "south"?

At noon in the northern hemisphere (at least above the Tropic of Cancer), your handy time and direction point of reference (the Sun) is directly to the south.

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Myth Jellies
Cerebroplegia--the cure is within our grasp
 
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... and noon is from the Latin (hora) nona, the 9th hour. South in Sanskrit is dakshina 'right (hand)', cf. Latin dexter. The Italians call South Italy il mezzogiorno , literally 'midday', and the French call the South of France le midi, same.


Ceci n'est pas un seing.
 
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