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Wednesday, September 14, 2016


Azimuth & Elevation
I never liked 'azimuth'. I mean, what kind of word is it anyway? I've never heard of any word that sounds remotely like it, and if you mean horizontal angle, why don't you just say that? Azimuth, pizzimut. If you are standing on the surface of the Earth (as opposed to being a traveler in the 5th Dimension or Lost in Space), azimuth is simply your compass heading. Where did we get such an effed up word anyway? We got it from the French, who got it from the Arabs, and it simply means 'the way'.
    I suppose if you are travelling through some trackless Arabian desert knowing 'the way' could be kind of important. For instance, if you were a Frenchy traveling with some Arabs across this desert, and you were losing faith that you would ever see anything besides sand, and your repeated inquiries to 'are we there yet?' always brought the same response 'al-samt', that phrase could make an impression on your mind. And if, when you got back to Paris and you are hob-nobbing with society and in response to their inquiries about your trip to Arabia, all you ever say is 'al-samt', you could see how that word could work its way into the language.
     You might be wondering why I care. Since I don't like it so much, why not just not use it? Well, see, it crops up continually in subjects I have a passing interest in, like astronomy, artillery, rockets and surveying. In these cases Azimuth is always paired with Elevation, which is a much better word. We use it all the time for all kinds of things. It simple means 'how high'. In the topics just mentioned, how high is not measured in feet, but in degrees above the horizontal. If you are walking on flat ground, your elevation, as a component of your directional vector, is zero, even if your elevation, as in height above sea level is some thousands of feet. Elevation is usually some positive value for artillery and rocketry. You want to be able to hit your target, be it a building full of terrorists or an orbital rendezvous.

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