A metal device given to schoolchildren to draw circles. Over 75% of compass tools given to children in school under 13, are used as weapons. Along with rubber bands, it is one of the better pain inflicting tools in the "back to school" arsenal.

Compasses come in various flavours, and originated in the 12th century. Apparently discovered / invented independently by both Chinese and European mariners, compasses have come a long way.

The first compasses were basically just a piece of lodestone (a naturally ocurring magnetic ore) floated (usually on a stick) in water. The stone would align itself toward North, because the Earth acts as a giant magnet with a North-South field. Free magnets align themselves along this field, and can thus be used for navigation.

The evolution of the compass (in Europe at least) was largely due to the efforts of English mariners, since England had the largest navy in the world at the time. Early compasses only had North and South marked on their faces, but in time the tally increased to 32.

Although it was discovered in the 15th century that magnetic north and 'true north' weren't always the same, it wasn't until Gowin Knight discovered a way to magnetise steel for long periods of time in 1745 that compass technology seriously progressed.

A modern shipboard compass is usually mounted in a binnacle, which will contain pieces of metal and counter-magnets to neutralise the effects of the metal in the ship (many ships are made of metal, making this essential).

These days compasses can be found in many forms, from the tiny little ones you get in Physics class, to the ones that come mounted in some Swiss Army Knives. Essentially they're the same as the one's used by 12th century mariners, and even though GPS systems and other pathfinding equipment are becoming more affordable, you'd be an idiot to wander into unknown territory without a compass.

Typical compass face layout






The principle points (clockwise from North) are North, East, South and West. This order is usually taught to children in the form of an easy to remember phrase such as "Naughty Elephants Squirt Water". Children actually learn this order through a juvenile corruption of this easy to remember phrase: "Never Ever Suck Willys". Unarguably good advice for young children, it's perhaps not the kind of thing parents want to hear.

turn, turn, turn

I turn and look in each direction
round and round
and people think I'm aimless

winds are blowing hard
and scattering pollen and people
like down, feathers shed

no bugs yet, cold
but the birds are back
discussing the cold and spring

circle three times like a dog
and slow to a stop
and know this is the way

I move in this direction
no doubt things will get confused again
and I will turn in circles waiting

but for now the Beloved
shines sun and moon, way as clear
as moonlight on waves

and I walk on the way

Com"pass (?), n. [F. compas, fr. LL. compassus circle, prop., a stepping together; com- + passus pace, step. See Pace, Pass.]


A passing round; circuit; circuitous course.

They fetched a compass of seven day's journey. 2 Kings iii. 9.

This day I breathed first; time is come round, And where I did begin, there shall I end; My life is run his compass. Shak.


An inclosing limit; boundary; circumference; as, within the compass of an encircling wall.


An inclosed space; an area; extent.

Their wisdom . . . lies in a very narrow compass. Addison.


Extent; reach; sweep; capacity; sphere; as, the compass of his eye; the compass of imagination.

The compass of his argument. Wodsworth.


Moderate bounds, limits of truth; moderation; due limits; -- used with within.

In two hundred years before (I speak within compass), no such commission had been executed. Sir J. Davies.

6. Mus.

The range of notes, or tones, within the capacity of a voice or instument.

You would sound me from my lowest note to the top of my compass. Shak.


An instrument for determining directions upon the cearth's surface by means of a magnetized bar or needle turning freely upon a pivot and pointing in a northerly and southerly direction.

He that firat discovered the use of the compass did more for the supplying and increase of useful commodities than those who built workhouses. Locke.


A pair of compasses.


To fix one foot of their compass wherever they please. Swift.


A circle; a continent.


The tryne compas [the threefold world containing earth, sea, and heaven. Skeat.] Chaucer.

Azimuth compass. See under Azimuth. -- Beam compass. See under Beam. -- Compass card, the eircular card attached to the needles of a mariner's compass, on which are marked the thirty-two points or rhumbs. -- Compass dial, a small pocket compass fitted with a sundial to tell the hour of the day. -- Compass plane Carp., a plane, convex in the direction of its length on the under side, for smoothing the concave faces of curved woodwork. -- Compass plant, Compass flower Bot., a plant of the American prairies (Silphium laciniatum), not unlike a small sunflower; rosinweed. Its lower and root leaves are vertical, and on the prairies are disposed to present their edges north and south.

Its leaves are turned to the north as true as the magnet: This is the compass flower. Longefellow.

-- Compass saw, a saw with a narrow blade, which will cut in a curve; -- called also fret saw and keyhole saw. -- Compass timber Shipbuilding, curved or crooked timber. -- Compass window Arch., a circular bay window or oriel window. It has two or more magnetic needles permanently attached to a card, which moves freely upon a pivot, and is read with reference to a mark on the box representing the ship's head. The card is divided into thirty-two points, called also rhumbs, and the glass-covered box or bowl containing it is suspended in gimbals within the binnacle, in order to preserve its horizontal position. -- Surveyor's compass, an instrument used in surveying for measuring horizontal angles. See Circumferentor. -- Variation compass, a compass of delicate construction, used in observations on the variations of the needle. -- To fetch a compass, to make a circuit.


© Webster 1913.

Com"pass (?), v. t. [imp. & p. p. Compassed (?); p. pr. & vb. n. Compassing.] [F. compasser, LL. compassare.]


To go about or entirely round; to make the circuit of.

Ye shall compass the city seven times. Josh. vi. 4.

We the globe can compass soon. Shak.


To inclose on all sides; to surround; to encircle; to envior; to invest; to besiege; -- used with about, round, around, and round about.

With terrors and with clamors compassed round. Milton.

Now all the blessings Of a glad cast a trench about thee, and compass thee round. Luke xix. 43.


To reach round; to circumvent; to get within one's power; to obtain; to accomplish.

If I can chek my erring love, I will: If not, to compass her I'll use my skill. Shak.

How can you to compass your designs? Denham.


To curve; to bend into a circular form.

[Obs. except in carpentry and shipbuilding.]


5. Law

To purpose; to intend; to imagine; to plot.

Compassing and imagining the death of the king are synonymous terms; compassing signifying the purpose or design of the mind or will, and not, as in common speech, the carrying such design to effect. Blackstone.


© Webster 1913.

Log in or register to write something here or to contact authors.