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North is a noun
Noun
In linguistics, a noun is a member of a large, open lexical category whose members can occur as the main word in the subject of a clause, the object of a verb, or the object of a preposition .Lexical categories are defined in terms of how their members combine with other kinds of...

, adjective
Adjective
In grammar, an adjective is a 'describing' word; the main syntactic role of which is to qualify a noun or noun phrase, giving more information about the object signified....

, or adverb
Adverb
An adverb is a part of speech that modifies verbs or any part of speech other than a noun . Adverbs can modify verbs, adjectives , clauses, sentences, and other adverbs....

 indicating direction
Direction (geometry, geography)
Direction is the information contained in the relative position of one point with respect to another point without the distance information. Directions may be either relative to some indicated reference , or absolute according to some previously agreed upon frame of reference Direction is the...

 or geography
Geography
Geography is the science that studies the lands, features, inhabitants, and phenomena of Earth. A literal translation would be "to describe or write about the Earth". The first person to use the word "geography" was Eratosthenes...

.

North is one of the four cardinal directions or compass
Compass
A compass is a navigational instrument that shows directions in a frame of reference that is stationary relative to the surface of the earth. The frame of reference defines the four cardinal directions – north, south, east, and west. Intermediate directions are also defined...

 points. It is the opposite of south
South
South is a noun, adjective, or adverb indicating direction or geography.South is one of the four cardinal directions or compass points. It is the opposite of north and is perpendicular to east and west.By convention, the bottom side of a map is south....

 and is perpendicular
Perpendicular
In geometry, two lines or planes are considered perpendicular to each other if they form congruent adjacent angles . The term may be used as a noun or adjective...

 to east
East
East is a noun, adjective, or adverb indicating direction or geography.East is one of the four cardinal directions or compass points. It is the opposite of west and is perpendicular to north and south.By convention, the right side of a map is east....

 and west
West
West is a noun, adjective, or adverb indicating direction or geography.West is one of the four cardinal directions or compass points. It is the opposite of east and is perpendicular to north and south.By convention, the left side of a map is west....

.

By convention
Norm (sociology)
Social norms are the accepted behaviors within a society or group. This sociological and social psychological term has been defined as "the rules that a group uses for appropriate and inappropriate values, beliefs, attitudes and behaviors. These rules may be explicit or implicit...

, the top side of a map
Map
A map is a visual representation of an area—a symbolic depiction highlighting relationships between elements of that space such as objects, regions, and themes....

 is north.

To go north using a compass for navigation
Navigation
Navigation is the process of monitoring and controlling the movement of a craft or vehicle from one place to another. It is also the term of art used for the specialized knowledge used by navigators to perform navigation tasks...

, set a bearing
Bearing (navigation)
In marine navigation, a bearing is the direction one object is from another object, usually, the direction of an object from one's own vessel. In aircraft navigation, a bearing is the actual compass direction of the forward course of the aircraft...

 or azimuth of 0° or 360°.

North is specifically the direction that, in Western culture
Western culture
Western culture, sometimes equated with Western civilization or European civilization, refers to cultures of European origin and is used very broadly to refer to a heritage of social norms, ethical values, traditional customs, religious beliefs, political systems, and specific artifacts and...

, is treated as the fundamental direction:
  • North is used (explicitly or implicitly) to define all other directions.
  • The (visual) top edges of map
    Map
    A map is a visual representation of an area—a symbolic depiction highlighting relationships between elements of that space such as objects, regions, and themes....

    s usually correspond to the northern edge of the area represented, unless explicitly stated otherwise or landmarks are considered more useful for that territory than specific directions.
  • On any rotating object, north denotes the side appearing to rotate counter-clockwise
    Clockwise
    Circular motion can occur in two possible directions. A clockwise motion is one that proceeds in the same direction as a clock's hands: from the top to the right, then down and then to the left, and back to the top...

     when viewed from afar along the axis of rotation.

Etymology


The word north is related
Etymology
Etymology is the study of the history of words, their origins, and how their form and meaning have changed over time.For languages with a long written history, etymologists make use of texts in these languages and texts about the languages to gather knowledge about how words were used during...

 to the Old High German
Old High German
The term Old High German refers to the earliest stage of the German language and it conventionally covers the period from around 500 to 1050. Coherent written texts do not appear until the second half of the 8th century, and some treat the period before 750 as 'prehistoric' and date the start of...

 nord, both descending from the Proto-Indo-European
Proto-Indo-European language
The Proto-Indo-European language is the reconstructed common ancestor of the Indo-European languages, spoken by the Proto-Indo-Europeans...

 unit ner-, meaning "down" (or "under"). (Presumably a natural primitive description of its concept is "to the left of the rising sun".)

Latin borealis is from Greek boreas "north wind, north", in mythology (according to Ovid
Ovid
Publius Ovidius Naso , known as Ovid in the English-speaking world, was a Roman poet who is best known as the author of the three major collections of erotic poetry: Heroides, Amores, and Ars Amatoria...

) personified as the son of the river-god Strymon
Strymon (mythology)
For the river, see Strymon/StrumaStrymon, son of Oceanus and Tethys, was a river god and king of Thrace. By the muses Euterpe or Calliope, he became the father of Rhesus, Brangas, and Olynthus, and by Neaera of Evadne....

, and father of Calais and Zetes; septentrionalis is from septentriones, "the seven plow oxen", a name of Ursa Maior. Greek arktikos "northern" is named for the same constellation (c.f. Arctic
Arctic
The Arctic is a region located at the northern-most part of the Earth. The Arctic consists of the Arctic Ocean and parts of Canada, Russia, Greenland, the United States, Norway, Sweden, Finland, and Iceland. The Arctic region consists of a vast, ice-covered ocean, surrounded by treeless permafrost...

).

Other languages have sometimes more interesting derivations. For example, in Lezgian kefer can mean both 'disbelief' and 'north', since north of Muslim Lezgians there are areas inhabited by non-Muslim (until recently) Caucasian peoples, such as Avars and Chechens; as well as pagan Turkic peoples. In many languages of Mesoamerica
Mesoamerica
Mesoamerica is a region and culture area in the Americas, extending approximately from central Mexico to Belize, Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, and Costa Rica, within which a number of pre-Columbian societies flourished before the Spanish colonization of the Americas in the 15th and...

, 'north' also means 'up'.

Magnetic north and declination


Magnetic north is of interest because it is the direction indicated as north on a properly functioning (but uncorrected) magnetic compass
Compass
A compass is a navigational instrument that shows directions in a frame of reference that is stationary relative to the surface of the earth. The frame of reference defines the four cardinal directions – north, south, east, and west. Intermediate directions are also defined...

. The difference between it and true north is called the magnetic declination
Magnetic declination
Magnetic declination is the angle between magnetic north and true north. The declination is positive when the magnetic north is east of true north. The term magnetic variation is a synonym, and is more often used in navigation...

 (or simply the declination where the context is clear). For many purposes and physical circumstances, the error in direction that results from ignoring the distinction is tolerable; in others a mental or instrument compensation, based on assumed knowledge of the applicable declination, can solve all the problems. But simple generalizations on the subject should be treated as unsound, and as likely to reflect popular misconceptions about terrestrial magnetism.

Maps intended for usage in orienteering by compass will clearly indicate the local declination for easy correction to true north.

Roles of north as prime direction


The visible rotation of the night sky around the visible celestial pole
Celestial pole
The north and south celestial poles are the two imaginary points in the sky where the Earth's axis of rotation, indefinitely extended, intersects the imaginary rotating sphere of stars called the celestial sphere...

 provides a vivid metaphor of that direction corresponding to up. Thus the choice of the north as corresponding to up in the northern hemisphere
Northern Hemisphere
The Northern Hemisphere is the half of a planet that is north of its equator—the word hemisphere literally means “half sphere”. It is also that half of the celestial sphere north of the celestial equator...

, or of south in that role in the southern, is, prior to world-wide communication, anything but an arbitrary one. On the contrary, it is of interest that Chinese and Islamic culture even considered south as the proper top end for maps.

In Western culture:
  • Maps tend to be drawn for viewing with either true north or magnetic north at the top
  • Globe
    Globe
    A globe is a three-dimensional scale model of Earth or other spheroid celestial body such as a planet, star, or moon...

    s of the earth have the North Pole at the top, or if the Earth's axis is represented as inclined from vertical (normally by the angle it has relative to the axis of the Earth's orbit), in the top half.
  • Maps are usually labelled to indicate which direction on the map corresponds to a direction on the earth,
    • usually with a single arrow oriented to the map's representation of true north,
    • occasionally with a single arrow oriented to the map's representation of magnetic north, or two arrows oriented to true and magnetic north respectively,
    • occasionally with a compass rose
      Compass rose
      A compass rose, sometimes called a windrose, is a figure on a compass, map, nautical chart or monument used to display the orientation of the cardinal directions — North, East, South and West - and their intermediate points. It is also the term for the graduated markings found on the traditional...

      , but if so, usually on a map with north at the top and usually with north decorated more prominently than any other compass point.
  • Up is a metaphor for north. The notion that north should always be up and east at the right was established by the Greek astronomer Ptolemy
    Ptolemy
    Claudius Ptolemy , was a Roman citizen of Egypt who wrote in Greek. He was a mathematician, astronomer, geographer, astrologer, and poet of a single epigram in the Greek Anthology. He lived in Egypt under Roman rule, and is believed to have been born in the town of Ptolemais Hermiou in the...

    . The historian Daniel Boorstin suggests that perhaps this was because the better-known places in his world were in the northern hemisphere, and on a flat map these were most convenient for study if they were in the upper right-hand corner.

Roles of east and west as inherently subsidiary directions


While the choice of north over south as prime direction reflects quite arbitrary historical factors, east and west are not nearly as natural alternatives as first glance might suggest. Their folk definitions are, respectively, "where the sun rises" and "where it sets". Except on the Equator, however, these definitions, taken together, would imply that
  • east and west would not be 180 degrees apart, but instead would differ from that by up to twice the degrees of latitude of the location in question, and
  • they would each move slightly from day to day and, in the temperate zones, markedly over the course of the year.


Reasonably accurate folk astronomy, such as is usually attributed to Stone Age
Stone Age
The Stone Age is a broad prehistoric period, lasting about 2.5 million years , during which humans and their predecessor species in the genus Homo, as well as the earlier partly contemporary genera Australopithecus and Paranthropus, widely used exclusively stone as their hard material in the...

 peoples or later Celts, would arrive at east and west by noting the directions of rising and setting (preferably more than once each) and choosing as prime direction one of the two mutually opposite directions that lie halfway between those two. The true folk-astronomical definitions of east and west are "the directions, a right angle from the prime direction, that are closest to the rising and setting, respectively, of the sun (or moon).

Cultural references


Being the "default" direction on the compass, North is referred to frequently in Western popular culture. Some examples include:
  • The phrase "north of X" is often used to mean "more than X" or "greater than X", i.e. "The world population is north of 6 billion people."

See also

  • "The North
    The North
    The North may refer to:* a geographical section of the world * the wealthy and technologically advanced nations of the world, as contrasted with the nations comprising the South...

    ", a sense of the term that refers to the Northern part of the world, as contrasted to the South
  • Nordicity
    Nordicity
    Nordicity is the degree of northernness. The concept was developed by Canadian geographer Louis-Edmond Hamelin in the 1960s based on previous work done in the Soviet Union...

  • List of northernmost items
  • Nordicism
  • Septentrional
    Septentrional
    Septentrional is a word that means "of the north", rarely used in English but commonly used in Latin and in the Romance languages. Early maps of North America, mostly those before 1700, often refer to the northern- or northwestern-most unexplored areas of the continent at "Septentrional" or...

  • Arctic
    Arctic
    The Arctic is a region located at the northern-most part of the Earth. The Arctic consists of the Arctic Ocean and parts of Canada, Russia, Greenland, the United States, Norway, Sweden, Finland, and Iceland. The Arctic region consists of a vast, ice-covered ocean, surrounded by treeless permafrost...