Septentrional is a word that means "of the north
North is a noun, adjective, or adverb indicating direction or geography.North is one of the four cardinal directions or compass points. It is the opposite of south and is perpendicular to east and west.By convention, the top side of a map is north....

", rarely used in English
English language
English is a West Germanic language that arose in the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms of England and spread into what was to become south-east Scotland under the influence of the Anglian medieval kingdom of Northumbria...

 but commonly used in Latin and in the Romance languages
Romance languages
The Romance languages are a branch of the Indo-European language family, more precisely of the Italic languages subfamily, comprising all the languages that descend from Vulgar Latin, the language of ancient Rome...

. 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 "America Septentrionalis", sometimes with slightly alternate spellings. The term septentrional, actually the adjectival form of the noun septentrion, itself refers to the seven stars of the Big Dipper
Big Dipper
The Plough, also known as the Big Dipper or the Saptarishi , is an asterism of seven stars that has been recognized as a distinct grouping in many cultures from time immemorial...

Asterism (astronomy)
In astronomy, an asterism is a pattern of stars recognized on Earth's night sky. It may form part of an official constellation, or be composed of stars from more than one. Like constellations, asterisms are in most cases composed of stars which, while they are visible in the same general direction,...

 (aka "Septentrion").

The OED gives the etymology as
[ad. L. septentrio, sing. of septentriōnēs, orig. septem triōnēs, the seven stars of the constellation of the Great Bear, f. septem seven + triōnes, pl. of trio plough-ox. Cf. F. septentrion.]

"Septentrional" is a more or less interchangeable term with "boreal." Ursa Major
Ursa Major
Ursa Major , also known as the Great Bear, is a constellation visible throughout the year in most of the northern hemisphere. It can best be seen in April...

, the constellation containing the Big Dipper or Plough, dominates the skies of the North. There does not appear to be a truly comparable term linking the regions of the South with some prominent feature of the Southern Sky. The usual antonym for "septentrional" is "meridional." This word, however, refers not to a celestial feature in the South, but to the noonday sun.

"Septentrional" is one of the rare (in English) words which turned up in James Joyce
James Joyce
James Augustine Aloysius Joyce was an Irish novelist and poet, considered to be one of the most influential writers in the modernist avant-garde of the early 20th century...

's Ulysses
Ulysses (novel)
Ulysses is a novel by the Irish author James Joyce. It was first serialised in parts in the American journal The Little Review from March 1918 to December 1920, and then published in its entirety by Sylvia Beach on 2 February 1922, in Paris. One of the most important works of Modernist literature,...

, to titillate the verbophiles of the literary world.

Gene Wolfe
Gene Wolfe
Gene Wolfe is an American science fiction and fantasy writer. He is noted for his dense, allusive prose as well as the strong influence of his Catholic faith, to which he converted after marrying into the religion. He is a prolific short story writer and a novelist, and has won many awards in the...

 used the word in The Book of the New Sun
The Book of the New Sun
The Book of the New Sun is a novel in four parts written by science fiction and fantasy author Gene Wolfe. It chronicles the journey and ascent to power of Severian, a disgraced journeyman torturer who rises to the position of Autarch, the one ruler of the free world...

as part of the name of a palace guard.

The term, sometimes abbreviated to "Sep.", was used in historical astronomy to indicate the northern direction on the celestial globe, together with Meridional ("Mer.") for southern, Oriental ("Ori.") for eastern and Occidental
The term Occidentalism is used in one of two main ways: a) stereotyped and sometimes dehumanizing views on the Western world, including Europe and the English-speaking world; and b), ideologies or visions of the West developed in either the West or non-West. The former definition stresses negative...

 ("Occ.") for western.

See also

  • Boreal ("Northern")
  • meridional or austral
    Austral may refer to:*Austral Islands, the southernmost group of islands in French Polynesia*Austral language, the language of the Austral Islands*Austral, New South Wales, a suburb of Sydney, Australia*Argentine austral, a former currency of Argentina...

  • occidental ("Western")
  • oriental ("Eastern")
  • Septentrionalist
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