This is a simple question.

What would a civilization on a flat world call the directions on a compass?

  • $\begingroup$ Your question makes it sound like the words we use for the directions on a compass have any particular meaning beyond that ascribed to them by common usage. How is this question, as it stands, not idea generation? $\endgroup$ – user Feb 2 '16 at 10:36
  • $\begingroup$ @MichaelKjörling Because I'm trying to come up with world specific name for the directions. The Discworld series has rimward and hubward for north and south, in adition to turnwise and widdershins which I must assume are east and west. $\endgroup$ – Trismegistus Feb 2 '16 at 10:50
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    $\begingroup$ We may not live on a flat world, but we use flat maps constantly and North/South/West/East works fine there (and also when playing bridge). So I'd think the same convention would hold on a flat world, unless the language evolved completely differently? $\endgroup$ – aroth Feb 2 '16 at 11:34
  • $\begingroup$ @aroth I'll take that into consideration. But I was trying to come up with something a bit more world specific. $\endgroup$ – Trismegistus Feb 2 '16 at 12:06
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    $\begingroup$ What is the shape of said flat world? $\endgroup$ – Xandar The Zenon Feb 2 '16 at 13:20

I'm going to avoid Sir Terry's nomenclature, because it is so tied into the Discworld series I think it'd stand out like a sore thumb if anyone else used it:

Axle - towards the centre. Also could actually be the centre; the flat world equivalent of the Arctic - leading logically to:

Antaxle - the edge, and towards the edge.

Spinwards - obviously with the spin.

Backwards - against the spin.

Not really happy with "backwards" though. You could follow the Axle / Antaxle scheme and have Antispinwards, but I like that even less.

I was also thinking you could also use nautical terms if your world is ocean-heavy enough for sailing terms to have plausibly entered common usage:

Runwards - in the direction of spin; running is sailing with the wind, so implies it is the "easy" direction - the one that goes with the flow, as it were.

Beatwise / tackwise / tackwards - against the spin, again using the sailing terms for sailing into the wind - going against the flow.

I quite like "tackwards" as it implies "backwards" while sounding quite fantasy-esque.

Just realised there are two very obvious possible terms for the radial directions:

Out and In

I used this Wikipedia page to ensure I remembered my terms correctly; it's a treasure trove of nautical words!

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  • $\begingroup$ Thank you. I am having a hard time grasping how spin and counter-spin would on a map or compass. $\endgroup$ – Trismegistus Feb 2 '16 at 12:29
  • $\begingroup$ @Trismegistus - Oh, okay, I see your point now. Using the rotational directions is nice and logical but not that practical; to sail due spinwards you'd actually have to be constantly adjusting your course. I can't really think of any way round that without arbitrarily assigning a zero point and just travelling via bearings based on that; which is basically a NESW scheme again. $\endgroup$ – Whelkaholism Feb 2 '16 at 12:36
  • $\begingroup$ I still think that the radial directions would be useful in common language -- "oh, Edgelanders. Cheats, the lot of 'em" - but in terms of directions, not so much; it's unlikely you'll ever be travelling due Edge unless you start at the centre. $\endgroup$ – Whelkaholism Feb 2 '16 at 12:38
  • $\begingroup$ You always have to assign an arbitrary point. The Greenwich Meridian is our basis for navigation, but still ultimately arbitrary. Another point can be assigned relative miles or degrees with/against the turn and miles in/out. $\endgroup$ – Separatrix Feb 2 '16 at 12:39
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    $\begingroup$ 'Spinwards' and 'backwards' seem problematic, as I'd imagine that an observer standing on the surface of the flat world would perceive themselves as being stationary. Similar to how observers standing on Earth don't directly perceive the planet's rotation. The spin will only be observable by looking at the motion of objects in the sky, and that motion will be reversed compared to the actual direction of spin (i.e. the Earth rotates West to East, while celestial objects appear travel East ro West). $\endgroup$ – aroth Feb 2 '16 at 23:58

If compasses work then the Bridge directions are fine. We did not have to discover the north pole to have a north. If the sun rises and sets in the same general places every day then east and west are knowable and the same as ours.

But remember the earth is not disc shaped but flat and square so it has four actual corners like the bible clearly states. enter image description here

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  • $\begingroup$ This image immediately brought to my mind the concept of the gravity well. $\endgroup$ – user Feb 2 '16 at 13:26
  • $\begingroup$ My thoughts were that the very center of the island is the axis-Pole. $\endgroup$ – Trismegistus Feb 2 '16 at 13:27
  • $\begingroup$ @MichaelKjörling science $\endgroup$ – King-Ink Feb 2 '16 at 13:31
  • $\begingroup$ That was a joke about the bible, right? $\endgroup$ – Xandar The Zenon Feb 2 '16 at 14:18
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    $\begingroup$ @XandarTheZenon every religion has embarrassing proof texts and history. For us Jews one of them is Isaiah 11:12 for y'all Christians who decided to run with it Revelation 7:1. Islam on the other hand, says it shaped like an Ostrich egg Al-Qur’an 79:30. It is a bit unfair because they wrote their stuff much later. $\endgroup$ – King-Ink Feb 2 '16 at 14:29

You've already answered your own question in the comments but I'll elaborate because I'm not sure you've understood them properly.

Assuming your planet is a spinning disk (elephants and turtle not required, what does the turtle stand on anyway*)

Towards the nearest point on the edge

Towards the centre of the disk, the hub of the spin.

In the direction of the spin. You could replace this with clockwise.

Against the direction of the spin.
This is an old English word meaning anticlockwise and implies the "wrong direction".

The Compass
"On the Disc, if you enchant a needle it will point to the hub, where the magical field is strongest", perpendicular to the needle is the tangent to the Turnwise/Widdershins circle.

The Zero Meridian
This is key to navigation, the arbitrary point from which all others are measured. The zero meridian, as per the Greenwich Meridian lies on the line from the hub to the rim through the dominant sea trading city. Everything else is calculated relative to that position. Absolute Grid references can be given as degrees round the circle from that point (Turnwise or Widdershins) and miles from the hub.

It should be noted that navigation on open water is going to be really hard. If you're actually concerned about accuracy in such things you'll have to build a system such that it can be realistically done. Or just ignore it completely, this is probably the better bet.

*It's turtles all the way down

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  • $\begingroup$ Sea turtle are great swimmer. You can imagine that "the sea of stars" is slightly more than a metaphore. $\endgroup$ – MakorDal Feb 2 '16 at 11:32
  • $\begingroup$ I asked the question as a way to see if anyone had cardinal direction for a flat world. For north and south I was going to use something like Edge and Axis. What I didn't have was names for east and west. I am having a hard time imagining what Spinward and Widdershins look like on a map. $\endgroup$ – Trismegistus Feb 2 '16 at 12:25
  • $\begingroup$ Imagine the globe from a view directly over the North Pole. The pole itself is the hub, East and West now map to Turnwise and Widdershins. Moving with the sun is against the turn, though the discworld spins for seasons rather than days. They're not straight, they go round the circle. $\endgroup$ – Separatrix Feb 2 '16 at 12:31
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    $\begingroup$ This might help visualize. (source) $\endgroup$ – Kelly Thomas Feb 2 '16 at 12:36
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    $\begingroup$ "The turtle SWIMS. It's a TURTLE." $\endgroup$ – Whelkaholism Feb 2 '16 at 12:50

Island nations like Hawai'i use it all the time: ocean-side (makai) and volcano-side (mauka, toward the center of the island).

So your flat world would have one important direction towards the center.

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  • $\begingroup$ What of east and west. $\endgroup$ – Trismegistus Feb 2 '16 at 15:57
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    $\begingroup$ East and West are relater to the movements of the sun. So it depends how sun works on your world. Does it rotate around flat plate? Is it being swallowed in the center? Is it in same place, just turning on and off? $\endgroup$ – Peter M. - stands for Monica Feb 2 '16 at 16:42
  • $\begingroup$ The world slow turns, the sun always appears to be directly overhead, rather rise or set the sun's light waxes and wanes. $\endgroup$ – Trismegistus Feb 2 '16 at 22:12
  • $\begingroup$ The sun appears to be in the same place waxing on and waning off. $\endgroup$ – Trismegistus Feb 2 '16 at 22:13

Given fact in many languages names of directions are referring to position of sun on sky, and they are originated in times when people believed earth is flat. There is big possibility, directions will be same as ours.

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