30-Second Word Whoop: “Orient”

IMG_1208First, let’s get oriented. I live in the Western Hemisphere, where fellow juveniles on the playground convinced me I could dig my way to China.

At the time, we imagined China was about as far away from home as we could get. That was before becoming fully educated (China is not directly opposite the U.S. on the globe; rather, you’d “dig” into the Indian Ocean floor). And these days metaphorically we can navigate beyond the stars.


Orienteering home or elsewhere is dependent on the stars, especially the sun, a compass and well-honed instincts. “Orient” literally means to “arise” over the mountains. And it’s because the sun rises in the east that “Orient” with a capital “O” became synonymous with the Far East. Funny, because even in the Far East it was referred to as the Orient.

ORI ShowroomIt’s still fine to refer to rugs as Oriental but not people from the biogeographic region of Southeast Asia south of the Himalayans, the Philippines, Sumatra, Java, Borneo, etc. They are strictly Asian.

An “old poetic” meaning for orient is also decorative: a pearl of high quality or luster — the quality that determines a pearl’s value. Oriental (which rhymes with ornamental) once meant “being corundum of gemstone quality but resembling another gem.”

Interesting how “(C)china” refers both to an Asian country and priceless, decorative dishes.

An “Oriental shorthair” is not one of those slick Asian-style haircuts but a breed of cat, closely related to the Siamese (head shape).CATS-PICTURES.ORG_-_1570-1000x840-oriental+shorthair-solo-miotic+pupil-grey+hair-standing-tailOriental_Shorthair_cat_BrandiBoth well-appointed with lustrous fur and, one might guess, well-adjusted, easily adaptable or acquainted to one’s situation. Probably arise at dawn, too.

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About Terry Byrne

Writer-editor with deep reservations about holding her tongue. Fan of both nature and nurture. Lifelong fascination with gender studies, sexuality, music and brainpower.

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