Septentrional

Septentrional

[sep-ten-tree-on, -uhn]

Septentrional is a word that means "of the north", rarely used in English but commonly used in French. 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 asterism (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, the constellation containing the Big Dipper or Plough, dominates the skies of the North. There doesn't 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, doesn't refer 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's Ulysses, to titillate the verbophiles of the Literary World.

Gene Wolfe used the word in The Book of the New Sun as part of the name of a palace guard. Voltaire used this word in Candide (chapter 11). He used the plural form septentrionaux. It only appears in the French version. In the English version, the word is translated to "northern".

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 ("Occ.") for western.

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