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North is one of the four primary cardinal directions, specifically the direction treated, in Western culture, as the primary direction and used (explicitly or implicitly) to define all other directions. (As to the arbitrary nature of this choice, and psycho-social consequences of it, see boreocentrism.)

Table of contents
1 Definitions
2 Magnetic North and Declination
3 Roles of North as Prime Direction
4 Roles of East and West as Inherantly Subsidiary Directions


North can mean:
  1. true north, the direction along the earth's surface toward one pole of the earth's rotation, namely the pole that is clearly on one's left when standing at the Equator while facing the rising sun.
  2. magnetic north, the direction along the earth's surface in which horizontal magnetic field strength has its most positive value (but see Flipping of planetary magnetic poles for an eventual event, so rare as to make unlikely any advance agreement on whether one or two retronyms would be involved in the replacement terminology)
  3. a loosely specified direction, usually within half a right angle of true north, especially when stating travel instructions in an area where directions of travel are constrained by an approximately rectangular grid of streets, hallways, etc.
  4. the orientation of a traveller with respect to a visible or otherwise definite continuous two-way route, such that sustained travel over the whole of the route produces a change of position to a location further north, even if that involves travelling a part of the route in another direction, even straight south; often termed "northbound".
  5. pertaining to the part of a route mainly or exclusively used by northbound traffic, where southbound traffic is separated by barriers, or where both are encouraged to stay mostly in one portion by rules of the road; often termed "northbound".

Magnetic North and Declination

Magnetic north is of interest because it is the direction indicated as north on a properly functioning (but uncorrected) magnetic compass. The difference between it and true north is called the magnetic declination (or simply the declination where the context is clear). For many purposes and physical circumstances, the error in direction that results from ignoring the distinction is tolerable; in others a mental or instrument compensation, based on assumed knowledge of the applicable declination, can solve all the problems. But simple generalizations on the subject should be treated as unsound, and as likely to reflect popular misconceptions about terrestrial magnetism.

Roles of North as Prime Direction

The visible rotation of the night sky about the visible celestial pole provides a vivid metaphor of that direction corresponding to up. Thus the choice of the north as corresponding to up in the northern hemisphere, or of south in that role in the southern, is, prior to world-wide communication, anything but an arbitrary one. On the contrary, it is of interest that Chinese culture ever considered south as the proper top end for maps.
In Western culture (unless making a point about harmful effects, or the arbitrary nature, of boreocentrism):

Roles of East and West as Inherantly Subsidiary Directions

It is worth noting that while the choice of north over south as prime direction reflects quite arbitrary historical factors, east and west are not nearly as natural alternatives as first glance might suggest. Their folk definitions are, respectively, "where the sun rises" and "where it sets". Except on the Equator, however, these definitions, taken together, would imply that Reasonably accurate folk astronomy, such as is usually attributed to
Stone Age Celts, would arrive at east and west by noting the directions of rising and setting (preferably more than once each) and choosing as prime direction one of the two mutually opposite directions that lie halfway between those two. The true folk-astronomical definitions of east and west are "the directions, a right angle from the prime direction, that are closest to the rising and setting, respectively, of the sun (or moon).

See also: "The North", a sense of the term that refers to the wealthy and powerful "North" of the world, as contrasted to the poorer "South".)