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The four cardinal directions, or cardinal points, are the four main directions: , , , and , commonly denoted by their initials N, S, E, and W respectively. Relative to north, the directions east, south, and west are at 90 degree intervals in the direction.

The ordinal directions (also called the intercardinal directions) are northeast (NE), southeast (SE), southwest (SW), and northwest (NW). The intermediate direction of every set of intercardinal and cardinal direction is called a secondary intercardinal direction. These eight shortest points in the shown to the right are:

  1. West-northwest (WNW)
  2. North-northwest (NNW)
  3. North-northeast (NNE)
  4. East-northeast (ENE)
  5. East-southeast (ESE)
  6. South-southeast (SSE)
  7. South-southwest (SSW)
  8. West-southwest (WSW)

Points between the cardinal directions form the points of the compass. Arbitrary horizontal directions may be indicated by their angle value.


Determination

Additional points

Degrees of rotation
The directional names are routinely associated with the degrees of rotation in the , a necessary step for calculations (derived from ) and for use with Global Positioning (GPS) receivers. The four cardinal directions correspond to the following degrees of a compass:
  • North (N): 0° = 360°
  • East (E): 90°
  • South (S): 180°
  • West (W): 270°


Intercardinal directions
The intercardinal (intermediate, or, historically, ordinal) directions are the four intermediate compass directions located halfway between each pair of cardinal directions.
  • Northeast (NE), 45°, halfway between north and east, is the opposite of southwest.
  • Southeast (SE), 135°, halfway between south and east, is the opposite of northwest.
  • Southwest (SW), 225°, halfway between south and west, is the opposite of northeast.
  • Northwest (NW), 315°, halfway between north and west, is the opposite of southeast.

These eight directional names have been further compounded known as tertiary intercardinal directions, resulting in a total of 32 named points evenly spaced around the compass: north (N), north by east (NbE), north-northeast (NNE), northeast by north (NEbN), northeast (NE), northeast by east (NEbE), east-northeast (ENE), east by north (EbN), east (E), etc.


Usefulness
With the cardinal points thus accurately defined; by convention cartographers draw standard with north (N) at the top, and east (E) at the right. In turn, maps provide a systematic means to record where places are, and cardinal directions are the foundation of a structure for telling someone how to find those places. Additionally, in most languages this same cardinal-relative mapping is sometimes used in everyday usage when the speaker uses the cardinal directional term instead of the corresponding body relative directional term, even though a relative directional term already exists in that language.

That being said, in cartography north does not have to be at the top. Most maps in medieval Europe, for example, placed east (E) at the top.Snyder's Medieval Art, 2nd ed. (ed. Luttikhuizen and Verkerk; Prentice Hall, 2006), pp. 226–7. A few cartographers prefer south-up maps. Many portable GPS-based today can be set to maps either conventionally (N always up, E always right) or with the current instantaneous direction of , called the , always up (and whatever direction is +90° from that to the right).

In Canada, New Zealand, and the United States, each direction of travel along a numbered highway is assigned a cardinal direction. This cardinal direction may not necessarily match the road's orientation at every given location (see Wrong-way concurrency).


Beyond geography
Cardinal directions or cardinal points may sometimes be extended to include (, depth): , , , , up and down, or mathematically the six directions of the x-, y-, and z-axes in three-dimensional space. include elevation, typically via .

In , the cardinal points of an astronomical body as seen in the sky are four points defined by the directions toward which the lie relative to the center of the disk of the object in the sky. A line (a on the ) from the center of the disk to the North celestial pole will intersect the edge of the body (the "") at the North point. The North point will then be the point on the limb that is closest to the North celestial pole. Similarly, a line from the center to the South celestial pole will define the South point by its intersection with the limb. The points at right angles to the North and South points are the East and West points. Going around the disk clockwise from the North point, one encounters in order the West point, the South point, and then the East point. This is opposite to the order on a terrestrial map because one is looking up instead of down.

Similarly, when describing the location of one astronomical object relative to another, "north" means closer to the North celestial pole, "east" means at a higher , "south" means closer to the South celestial pole, and "west" means at a lower right ascension. If one is looking at two stars that are below the North Star, for example, the one that is "east" will actually be further to the left.


Germanic origin of names
During the , the Germanic names for the cardinal directions entered the Romance languages, where they replaced the names borealis (or septentrionalis) with north, australis (or meridionalis) with south, occidentalis with west and orientalis with east. It is possible that some northern people used the Germanic names for the intermediate directions. Medieval Scandinavian orientation would thus have involved a 45 degree rotation of cardinal directions.See e.g. Weibull, Lauritz. De gamle nordbornas väderstrecksbegrepp. Scandia 1/1928; Ekblom, R. Alfred the Great as Geographer. Studia Neophilologica 14/1941-2; Ekblom, R. Den forntida nordiska orientering och Wulfstans resa till Truso. Förnvännen. 33/1938; Sköld, Tryggve. Isländska väderstreck. Scripta Islandica. Isländska sällskapets årsbok 16/1965.
  • north ( *norþ-) from the proto-Indo-European * nórto-s 'submerged' from the root * ner- 'left, below, to the left of the rising sun' whence comes the name .entries 765-66 of the Indogermanisches etymologisches Wörterbuch
  • east ( *aus-t-) from the word for . The proto-Indo-European form is * austo-s from the root * aues- 'shine (red)'.entries 86-7 of the Indogermanisches etymologisches Wörterbuch See Ēostre.
  • south ( *sunþ-), derived from proto-Indo-European * sú-n-to-s from the root * seu- 'seethe, boil'.entries 914-15 of the Indogermanisches etymologisches Wörterbuch Cognate with this root is the word , thus "the region of the Sun".
  • west ( *wes-t-) from a word for "evening". The proto-Indo-European form is * uestos from the root *ues- 'shine (red)',entries 1173 of the Indogermanisches etymologisches Wörterbuch itself a form of * aues-.entries 86-7 of the Indogermanisches etymologisches Wörterbuch Cognate with the root are the words and and the , and .


Cultural variations
In many regions of the world, prevalent winds change direction seasonally, and consequently many cultures associate specific named with cardinal and intercardinal directions. For example, characterized these winds as .

In pre-modern Europe more generally, between eight and 32 points of the compass – cardinal and intercardinal directions – were given names. These often corresponded to the directional winds of the Mediterranean Sea (for example, southeast was linked to the , a wind from the Sahara).

Particular are associated in some traditions with the cardinal points. These are typically "natural colors" of human perception rather than optical .

Many cultures, especially in , include the center as a fifth cardinal point.


Northern Eurasia
Ukrainian Soviet Encyclopedic dictionary, Kiev, 1987.
 
     
 
     
Krupp, E. C.: "Beyond the Blue Horizon: Myths and Legends of the Sun, Moon, Stars, and Planets", page 371. Oxford University Press, 1992
, and North East Asian cultures frequently have traditions associating colors with four or five cardinal points.

Systems with five cardinal points (four directions and the center) include those from pre-modern China, as well as traditional , and cultures. In Chinese tradition, the five cardinal point system is related to , the Wu Xing and the five . In traditional Chinese astrology, the zodiacal belt is divided into the four constellation groups corresponding to the directions.

Each direction is often identified with a color, and (at least in China) with a mythological creature of that color. Geographical or ethnic terms may contain the name of the color instead of the name of the corresponding direction.


Examples
East: ( "qīng" corresponds to both green and blue); Spring; Wood
(Tsingtao): "Green Island", a city on the east coast of China

South: ; Summer; Fire

Red River (Asia): south of China
: a semi-mythological group of Jews

West: ; Autumn; Metal

, meaning 'White Sea': Mediterranean Sea in
, words containing the stem balt- ("white")

North: ; Winter; Water

: "Black Dragon River" province in , also the
Kara-Khitan Khanate: "Black Khitans" who originated in Northern China
, literally meaning 'Black Sea': in

Center: ; Earth

: "Yellow Mountain" in central China
: "Yellow River" in central China
: "Central Army" of the Mongols


Arabic world
Countries where Arabic is used refer to the cardinal directions as Ash Shamal (N), Al Gharb (W), Ash Sharq (E) and Al Janoob (S). Additionally, Al Wusta is used for the center. All five are used for geographic subdivision names ( , states, regions, governorates, provinces, districts or even towns), and some are the origin of some Southern Iberian place names (such as , Portugal and Axarquía, Spain).


Native Americans
In and , a number of traditional indigenous cosmologies include four cardinal directions and a center. Some may also include "above" and "below" as directions, and therefore focus on a cosmology of seven directions. Among the of the Southwestern United States, the four named cardinal directions are not North, South, East and West but are the four directions associated with the places of sunrise and sunset at the winter and summer solstices. Each direction may be associated with a color, which can vary widely between nations, but which is usually one of the basic colors found in nature and natural pigments, such as black, red, white, and yellow, with occasional appearances of blue, green, or other hues. There can be great variety in color symbolism, even among cultures that are close neighbors geographically.


India
Ten , known as the "Dikpālas", have been recognized in classical Indian scriptures, symbolizing the four cardinal and four intercardinal directions with the additional directions of and . Each of the ten directions has its own name in .


Indigenous Australia
Some indigenous Australians have cardinal directions deeply embedded in their culture. For example, the have a cultural philosophy deeply connected to the four cardinal directions Ngurra-kurlu: A way of working with Warlpiri people Pawu-Kurlpurlurnu WJ, Holmes M and Box L. 2008, Desert Knowledge CRC Report 41, Alice Springs and the Guugu Yimithirr people use cardinal directions rather than relative direction even when indicating the position of an object close to their body. (For more information, see: Cultures without relative directions.)

The precise direction of the cardinal points appears to be important in Aboriginal stone arrangements.

Many aboriginal languages contain words for the usual four cardinal directions, but some contain words for 5 or even 6 cardinal directions.Orientations of linear stone arrangements in New South Wales Hamacher et al., 2013, Australian Archaeology, 75, 46–54


Unique (non-compound) names of intercardinal directions
In some , such as Estonian, and , the intercardinal directions have names that are not compounds of the names of the cardinal directions (as, for instance, northeast is compounded from north and east). In Estonian, those are kirre (northeast), kagu (southeast), edel (southwest), and loe (northwest), in Finnish koillinen (northeast), kaakko (southeast), lounas (southwest), and luode (northwest). In Japanese, there is the interesting situation that native Japanese words (, kun readings of kanji) are used for the cardinal directions (such as minami for 南, south), but borrowed Chinese words (on readings of kanji) are used for intercardinal directions (such as tō-nan for 東南, southeast, lit. "east-south"). In the , adding laut (sea) to either east ( timur) or west ( barat) results in northeast or northwest, respectively, whereas adding daya to west (giving barat daya) results in southwest. Southeast has a special word: tenggara.

Sanskrit and other Indian languages that borrow from it use the names of the gods associated with each direction: east (Indra), southeast (Agni), south (Yama/Dharma), southwest (Nirrti), west (Varuna), northwest (Vayu), north (Kubera/Heaven) and northeast (Ishana/Shiva). North is associated with the Himalayas and heaven while the south is associated with the underworld or land of the fathers (Pitr loka). The directions are named by adding "disha" to the names of each god or entity: e.g. Indradisha (direction of Indra) or Pitrdisha (direction of the forefathers i.e. south).

The cardinal directions of the and the spoken by the are related to the places of sunrise and sunset at the solstices, and correspond approximately to the European intercardinal directions.


Non-compass directional systems
Use of the compass directions is common and deeply embedded in European and Chinese culture (see south-pointing chariot). Some other cultures make greater use of other referents, such as toward the sea or toward the mountains (, ), or upstream and downstream (most notably in ancient Egypt, also in the and languages). (Guadalcanal, Solomon Islands) has four non-compass directions: landward, seaward, upcoast, and downcoast.

Some languages lack words for body-relative directions such as left/right, and use geographical directions instead.


See also
  • Classical compass winds – an early source of cardinal directions
  • – the mapping information ignored by the cardinal point system
  • – an international hobby
  • Geographic Information System (GIS)
  • and
  • List of cartographers – famous map makers through history
  • List of international common standards
  • Magnetic deviation – explanation of the slight misalignment of a compass with the Earth's north and south poles
  • – an international hobby/sport that depends on knowledge of cardinal directions and how to locate them
  • Relative direction
  • Uses of trigonometry

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