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On Fri, 19 Apr 2019 11:25:36 -0400, Alex Fink <[log in to unmask]> wrote:

>On Fri, 19 Apr 2019 09:56:02 -0400, Alex Fink <[log in to unmask]> wrote:
>
>>So the question becomes: were "northeast" and "eastnorth", or antecedents thereto, *both* attested, so that they could compete with each other?  And the answer is, evidently, yes!  Bosworth and Toller's Anglo-Saxon dictionary has entries for both orders in all four of these compounds.  Interesting.
>
>Aha, OED points out that in Old English, pairs like "northeast" and "eastnorth" may not have been synonymous!
>
>| The modern English system of compass points comprising four cardinal
>| points bisected by four intermediate points denominated by compounds
>| (_north-east, south-east, south-west, north-west_) was in use at least by
>| the early 12th cent. It superseded an older twelve-point system (with its
>| origin in the twelve winds of antiquity) in which each quadrant was
>| subdivided by two intermediate points at 30° intervals (again denominated
>| by compounds: _north-east, east-north; east-south, south-east; south-west,
>| west-south; west-north, north-west_, although it is unclear with what
>| degree of exactitude these terms were applied, as the surviving texts
>| evince much confusion); see further A. K. Brown 'The English Compass
>| Points' in _Medium Ævum_ *47* (1978) 221–46.
>
>Brown's article is <https://www.jstor.org/stable/43631332>.  
>
>It seems that all of these systems of compound names should be regarded as technical terms in origin, and very intentional creations by individual translators, rather than something organic.  In Old English, e.g. "southeast" was regarded as high-falutin' compared to "south and east".  
>
>To attempt to summarise Brown, the first Western list of compass directions was Aristotle's list of twelve, associated with winds, although only he actually only gave names to ten of them, leaving nameless the two either side of cardinal south.  This engendered many errors in subsequent scholarship, with the two missing names being filled with various compounds and all of the names jumping around and changing position.  Words like "south-west" and "west-south" are first attested as glosses in manuscripts to these Greek wind names, their compound formation probably being suggested by the compounds among the Greek names.  

The idea of a system with only eight directions is also fairly old, and may have originated in surveying, thus originally being a 'practical' system contrasting with the more 'literary' twelve-direction one. 

>The Venerable Bede (c. 673--735) was the first author to systematically handle the non-cardinal directions as 'in between' two cardinal directions, rather than as companions of a single cardinal direction, though his writings maintain both systems, eight geometric directions but twelve winds, still in uneasy tension.  (It's noteworthy that Aristotle defined the directions 30° either side to east and west as the directions of sunrise and sunset at the solstices.  This is tolerably close to true in the Mediterranean, but in Northumbria the deviations at the solstice were basically 45°, and this may have been what enabled Bede to fit the eight-direction system into the Greek scholarship to begin with.)  
>
>Brown credits Alfred the Great with a step towards the modern system for his simplification to exclusive use of the eight-direction system in his translation of Boethius (c. 880 to 950); Alfred chose to exclusively use "northeast"-type compounds rather than "eastnorth"-type ones.  The eight-direction system with "northeast"-type compounds become "suddenly popular" in the 11th century, which "may well be due to their having become firmly attached to the present intermediate directions at the royal court of Alfred or his successors, or in the subsequent Benedictine reform of learning".  There were some isolated survivals of the twelve-direction system well past that; astronomers were said to still be using it in the 16th century, and there are apparent traces in Finistère and Vestfirðir in the 19th or 20th centuries.
>
>Alex