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Orient, Orientate, and Oriental

One of these is not like the others! And since language is a living thing, and societies and cultures change, one has fallen into disuse and disfavor.


  • I will be ready in a minute; I just need to orientate myself.
  • We just returned from the most exotic and mysterious visit to the Orient!
  • Confucius was one of most influential Oriental people.


If to orient oneself means “learning one’s environment,” to orientate means to do the same thing in the British-speaking world as a back-formation from orientation. They mean the same thing, but each one is “wrong” in the other context. Furthermore, British English differentiates between “Asians” (South Asians) and “Orientals” (East Asians). It is fine to use oriental anywhere in the English-speaking world, but with rugs only. If you wish to use the Orient, use quotation marks to add a hint of irony. Ha! He longs to go to “the Orient”!


Oriental refers to the rising sun, which is in the East. Using of the Orient assumes a western viewpoint, looking eastward. Asians are not “east” from their perspective; they are at home.

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