The Orient means "the East." It is a traditional designation for anything that belongs to the Eastern world or the Far East, in relation to Europe. In English it is a metonym that means various parts of Asia.



The term "Orient" derives from the Latin word oriens meaning "east" (lit. "rising" < orior "rise"). The use of the word for "rising" to refer to the east (where the sun rises) has analogs from many languages: compare the terms "Levant" (< French levant "rising"), "Vostok" Russian: Восток (< Russian voskhod Russian: восход "sunrise"), "Anatolia" (< Greek anatole), "mizrahi" in Hebrew ("zriha" meaning sunrise), "sharq" Arabic: شرق‎ (< Arabic yashruq يشرق "rise", shurooq Arabic: شروق "rising"), "shygys" Kazakh: шығыс (< Kazakh shygu Kazakh: шығу "come out"), Chinese: (pinyin: dōng, a pictograph of the sun rising behind a tree[1]) and "The Land of the Rising Sun" to refer to Japan. Also, many ancient temples, including pagan temples and the Jewish Temple in Jerusalem, were built with their main entrances facing the East. To situate them in such a manner was to "orient" them in the proper direction. When something was facing the correct direction, it was said to be in the proper "orientation".

The opposite term "Occident" is derived from the Latin word occidens meaning "west" (lit. "setting" < "occido" "fall/set"). This term was once used to mean the West (where the sun sets) but has fallen into disuse in English.

History of the term

Harem Pool by the Orientalist painter Jean-Léon Gérôme c. 1876; naked females in harem or bathing settings are a staple of much Orientalist painting

In the later Roman Empire, the Praetorian prefecture of the East, the Praefectura Praetorio Orientis, included most of the Eastern Roman Empire from the eastern Balkans eastwards; its easternmost part was the Diocese of the East, the Dioecesis Orientis, corresponding roughly to Greater Syria. Over time, the common understanding of 'the Orient' has continually shifted eastwards, as Western explorers traveled farther into Asia. It finally reached the Pacific Ocean, in what Westerners came to call 'the Far East'. These shifts in time and identification sometimes confuse the scope (historical and geographic) of Oriental Studies. Yet there remain contexts where 'the Orient' and 'Oriental' have kept their older meanings, e.g. 'Oriental spices' typically are from the regions extending from the Middle East to sub-continental India to Indo-China. Travelers may again take the Orient Express train from Paris to its terminus in the European part of Istanbul, a route established in the early 20th century.

In European historiography the meaning of "the Orient" changed in scope several times. Originally the term referred to Egypt, the Levant, and adjoining areas.[2] Later the term became synonymous with Islam and its scope expanded both eastward and westward to include all non-European areas of Eurasian civilization, including North Africa as far west as Morocco.[2] During the 1800s India, and to a lesser extent China, began to displace the Levant as the primary subject of Orientalist research. By the mid-20th century Western scholars generally considered "the Orient" as just East Asia, Southeast Asia, and eastern Central Asia.[2] As recently as the early 20th century the term "Orient" continued to often used in ways that included North Africa and even parts of southeastern Europe. Today the term primarily evokes images of China, Korea, Japan, and peninsular Southeast Asia.[2] Throughout the history of the changing sense of the term, "the Orient" was never equivalent to Asia as a whole. Being largely a cultural term, large parts of Asia—Siberia most notably—were excluded from the scholarly notion of "the Orient".[2]

Equally valid terms for the Orient still exist in the English language in such collocations as Oriental studies (now Asian Studies in some countries).

The adjectival term Oriental has been used by the West to mean cultures, peoples, countries, and goods from the Orient. "Oriental" means generally "eastern". It is a traditional designation (especially when capitalized) for anything belonging to the Orient or "East" (for Asia), and especially of its Eastern culture. It indicated the eastern direction in historical astronomy, often abbreviated "Ori."[3] In contemporary English, Oriental usually refers to things from the parts of East Asia traditionally occupied by East Asians and most Central Asians and Southeast Asians racially categorized as "Mongoloid". This excludes Indians, Arabs, most other West Asian peoples. Because of historical discrimination against Chinese and Japanese, in some parts of the United States, the term is considered derogatory; for example, Washington state prohibits use of the word "Oriental" in legislation and government documentation, preferring the word "Asian" instead.[4]

In more local uses, "oriental" is also used for eastern parts of the Mediterranean Sea, Morocco's Oriental Region. Oriental is also used as an adjective akin to "eastern," especially in the Spanish-speaking world. For example, the Philippine islands of Mindoro and Negros are each divided into two provinces whose titles include the words "oriental" and "occidental" respectively. The official name of Uruguay is the República Oriental del Uruguay or Oriental Republic of Uruguay because it is east of the Uruguay River.[5]

Since the 19th century, "orientalist" has been the traditional term for a scholar of Oriental studies, however the use in English of "Orientalism" to describe academic "Oriental studies" is rare; the Oxford English Dictionary cites only one such usage, by Lord Byron in 1812. Orientalism is more widely used to refer to the works of the many 19th century artists, who specialized in "Oriental" subjects, often drawing on their travels to North Africa and Western Asia. Artists as well as scholars were already described as "Orientalists" in the 19th century. In 1978, Palestinian-American scholar Edward Said published his influential and controversial book, Orientalism; he used the term to describe a pervasive Western tradition, both academic and artistic, of prejudiced outsider interpretations of the East, shaped by the attitudes of European imperialism in the 18th and 19th centuries.[6]

Current usage

American English

While a small number of reference works used in the United States describe Oriental as pejorative, or antiquated but not necessarily offensive, the American Heritage Book of English Usage notes that:

It is worth remembering, though, that Oriental is not an ethnic slur to be avoided in all situations. It is most objectionable in contemporary contexts and when used as a noun, as in the appointment of an Oriental to head the commission. But in certain historical contexts, or when its exotic connotations are integral to the topic, Oriental remains a useful term.[7]

Random House's Guide to Sensitive Language states "Other words (e.g., Oriental, colored) are outdated or inaccurate." This Guide to Sensitive Language suggests the use of "Asian or more specific designation such as Pacific Islander, Chinese American, [or] Korean".[8] Merriam-Webster describes the term as "sometimes offensive."[9]

British English

In British English, the term Oriental is not considered pejorative or offensive, and refers to people from East and Southeast Asia. Asian is generally used only to mean people from South Asia.[10] This usage reflects historic immigration into the UK, since more than 50% of the non-European population is British Asian, whereas East and Southeast Asians comprise only 5-6% of the non-European population. Of those, the majority are of Chinese descent.[11]

Australian English

In Australian English, the term "Asian" generally refers to people of Chinese, Korean, and Japanese ethnicity. Australians generally refer to people of Korean, Japanese, or Chinese descent as Asian, and persons of Indian, Pakistani or Sri Lankan descent by their respective demonym but without explicit knowledge, are inconfidently inferred as Indian.

The word Oriental, in place of Asian, is seldom used in colloquial conversation in Australia and is understood, but considered anachronistic rather than offensive, similar to Grecian in place of Greek.[citation needed]

Canadian English

In Canadian English, as with Australian English, "Asian" most often refers to people of eastern or southeastern Asian descent. It can be expanded, however, such as when referring to colonial times, to include south Asian countries such as India and Sri Lanka, as is common usage by South Asians themselves. In modern Canadian usage, according to the Canadian Oxford Dictionary, the term "Oriental" is considered offensive when applied to a person of East Asian ancestry.[12]


In German Orient is usually used synonymously with the Arab World and Persia. The term Asiaten means the people of East Asia and Southeast Asia. Another word for Orient in German is Morgenland, which literally translates as "morning land".

See also


  1. ^ Harbaugh, Rick (1998). "東". Chinese Characters: A Genealogy and Dictionary. Han Lu Book & Pub. Co.. pp. 227. ISBN 0-9660750-0-5. http://zhongwen.com/d/170/x70.htm. Retrieved 2010-10-26. 
  2. ^ a b c d e Lewis, Martin W.; Wigen, Kären (1997). The myth of continents: a critique of metageography. University of California Press. pp. 53–58. ISBN 978-0-520-20743-1. http://books.google.com/books?id=C2as0sWxFBAC&pg=PA53. Retrieved 8 November 2011. 
  3. ^ Hooke, Robert. 1666. Drawing of Saturn in Philosophical Transactions (Royal Society publication) Volume 1
  4. ^ Senate bill (pdf file)
  5. ^ CIA - The World Factbook - Uruguay
  6. ^ Nosal, K R. American Criticism, New York Standard, New York. 2002
  7. ^ Asian, The American Heritage Book of English Usage
  8. ^ Race, Ethnicity, and National Origin Sensitive Language, Random House[dead link]
  9. ^ Oriental Merriam-Webster
  10. ^ BBC - Asian Network
  11. ^ National Statistics Online - Population Size
  12. ^ Barber, K. (ed.) (2004). The Canadian Oxford Dictionary, Second Edition. Oxford University Press Canada.

References and further reading

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Look at other dictionaries:

  • orient — [ ɔrjɑ̃ ] n. m. • 1080; lat. oriens, p. prés. de oriri « surgir, se lever » I ♦ 1 ♦ Poét. Côté de l horizon où le soleil se lève. ⇒ levant; est. L orient et l occident. Fig. « Tant de choses éclatantes ont eu leur orient et leur couchant »… …   Encyclopédie Universelle

  • Orient — (von lat. oriens ‚Osten‘, ‚Morgen‘, dies Partizip Präsens von oriri‚ aufgehen, sich erheben‘; eigentlich sol oriens, ‚aufgehende Sonne‘), später auch Morgenland genannt, ist dem Okzident (Abendland, von occidens sol, ‚untergehende Sonne‘), der… …   Deutsch Wikipedia

  • Orient — Watch Co. Ltd …   Википедия

  • orient — ORIENT. s. m. Le point du Ciel, la partie du Ciel où le Soleil se leve sur l horison. L orient d esté. l orient d hyver. On dit, qu Un pays est à l orient de l autre, pour dire, qu Il est situé du costé de l Orient à son égard. La Suisse est à l… …   Dictionnaire de l'Académie française

  • orient — ORIÉNT s.n. Unul dintre cele patru puncte cardinale, situat în direcţia în care răsare soarele; răsărit, est; p. ext. spaţiul geografic situat la est faţă de un punct de referinţă (îndeosebi Asia şi estul Africii); nume generic pentru ţările sau… …   Dicționar Român

  • Orient — Orient, NY U.S. Census Designated Place in New York Population (2000): 709 Housing Units (2000): 673 Land area (2000): 5.092565 sq. miles (13.189682 sq. km) Water area (2000): 1.025585 sq. miles (2.656254 sq. km) Total area (2000): 6.118150 sq.… …   StarDict's U.S. Gazetteer Places

  • orient — orient, oriental Both words now sound dated and have an exotic 18c or 19c aura more associated with the world of empire and romantic adventure than with factual description. In ordinary writing it is often better to use more neutral terms such as …   Modern English usage

  • Orient — Sm std. (12. Jh.), mhd. orient Entlehnung. Ist entlehnt aus l. oriēns (orientis), Partizip von l. orīrī sich erheben, aufgehen , wohl aus Wendungen wie l. in oriente sōle in Richtung der aufgehenden Sonne . Einwohnerbezeichnung: Orientale;… …   Etymologisches Wörterbuch der deutschen sprache

  • Orient — O ri*ent ([=o] r[i^]*ent), a. [F., fr. L. oriens, entis, p. pr. of oriri to rise. See {Origin}.] 1. Rising, as the sun. [1913 Webster] Moon, that now meet st the orient sun. Milton. [1913 Webster] 2. Eastern; oriental. The orient part. Hakluyt.… …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • Orĭent — (lat.), zunächst die Himmelsgegend, wo die Sonne scheinbar ausgeht, der Osten oder Morgen; dann soviel wie Morgenland, im Gegensatz zum Abendland (s. Okzident). Obwohl der Begriff O. im Laufe der Geschichte je nach dem Standpunkte des… …   Meyers Großes Konversations-Lexikon

  • orient — (v.) c.1727, originally to arrange facing east, from Fr. s orienter to take one s bearings, lit. to face the east (also the source of Ger. orientierung), from O.Fr. orient east, from L. orientum (see ORIENT (Cf. Orient) (n.)). Meaning determine… …   Etymology dictionary

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