# How do you memorize the meaning of longitude and latitude? [closed]

Longitude and latitude are concepts I usually don't need to remember them. However I sometimes suddenly need to learn their meaning for a period of time because I am using them.

Is there an aide-memoire(memory - aid) to finally remember their meaning until the end of my days?

What is the etymology of these two terms?

• @PolyGeo I would agree with you if it said best or easiest memory aid. However is just asks for any memory aid, and while you're correct that there can be a lot of answers, that doesn't mean there can't be a lot of good or right answers. While they are opinion based, they're all ways to remember, and they'll all be more or less effective for different individuals. I've seen this distinction made several times on GIS.SE. I'd encourage you to post your method as an answer - maybe it's better or easier than the rest. – Chris W Jul 21 '14 at 21:30
• The etymology is explained at gis.stackexchange.com/questions/60796/…. Understanding this can also help you remember which is which reliably. – whuber Jul 21 '14 at 21:32
• A big problem with many of the answers so far is that they do not distinguish between the directions in which the coordinates change and the directions in which their isolines are oriented (which are the orthogonal directions), making them utterly useless (or worse, misleading). As with many technical terms, actually understanding them is far better than trying to memorize some bit of doggerel. – whuber Jul 21 '14 at 21:38
• @whuber That's a valid point, that the answers thusfar don't address the full definition/explanation. There's a further step of once you remember which is which, connecting that with the coordinate change. But to me, memory aids break larger information down to smaller chunks and that's what these answers do, so I wouldn't consider them useless. After all, I understand the difference between it's and its, but I still have to think about which is which sometimes. – Chris W Jul 21 '14 at 22:03
• I think a better place to ask about this and word origins is on the english.stackexchange.com site – user17915 Jul 22 '14 at 2:31

I always remember Longtitude as being "Long", where the lines do not change in length, and circle the globe. Also, Latitude being lateral, i.e. sideways

• I guess this is also the etymology of those terms – Raffael Jul 21 '14 at 20:07
• @Raffael, close: Latitude & Longitude etymologies. – Paul Jul 21 '14 at 20:09
• "The dimensions of the habitable world then were much greater, measured from west to east, than from south to north. Accordingly, early geographers called the greater dimension, or the east and west line, the length, longitudo, of the earth, the shorter dimension, or the north and south line, they denominated its breadth, latitudo." - etymonline.com/word/latitude – Brian Burns May 26 '18 at 17:20

A lat lays flat. Can't think of a matching one for longitude.

• What do you mean by "a lat lays flat"? – Paul Jul 21 '14 at 20:04
• I use a similar correlation to this, but with fat instead. Lat = fat = width. Latitude = fatitude. Picture the earth as a fat man whose width is measured as "fatitude" lines and you will never confuse them again. – Conor Jul 21 '14 at 20:10
• I use lat/flat too. Polar axis being 'vertical' (or tall, high, up and down, etc.) and the equator is 'flat' (horizontal). But that's based on my default (simplified) mental image of the earth/globe where the north pole is up and the south pole is down. Just like on a map the default up is north unless something says different (cartographic convention debates are that way ---> ). – Chris W Jul 21 '14 at 20:22
• similar, from elementary school, latitude has an attitude and always lays down. – Dean MacGregor Jul 22 '14 at 12:31

The trick of remembering latitude as 'ladder'tude always helped me. Think of a ladder standing up and the rungs of the ladder representing the E-W latitude lines.

• My 6th grade science teacher used the ladder mnemonic in class. Mr Reilly. Only 40 yrs ago. Probably I remember that moment because the mnemonic was so improbable to me. He actually made hand motions as though grasping the rungs of a ladder. – som-snytt Jul 22 '14 at 4:32

From 3rd grade: lOngitude goes nOrth-sOuth

• 'Runs' might be better than 'goes', and perhaps adding the word lines in there. This gets to a point whuber makes in his question comment about distinction between the way the lines run vs what they're measuring (ie, lines running north/south actually measure east/west). Also related to danrockstheplanet's answer. – Chris W Jul 21 '14 at 21:54

This is how I was taught in school:

Try to say "laaaatitude".The corners of your lips go wide. Your mouth is a horizontal line, and so are lines of latitudes.

Similarly, say "loooongitude". Your mouth is more vertical than horizontal. And lines of longitude are vertical.

A latitude-longitude pair is always expressed as e.g. "24 degrees 16 minutes north, 79 degrees 41 minutes west". ALWAYS North/South followed by East/West. So you just need to remember it's latitude-then-longitude, and thus latitude measures degrees north or south of the equator, and longitude measures degrees east or west of the prime meridian. That's how I learned it Back In The Day when I was a midshipman, and it's stuck with me ever since. (Back when shooting sun lines was an entertaining way to torture junior middies during a long afternoon watch in the mid-Pacific. Now, true sadists would have them up at oh-dark-thirty to compute a star fix... "Mr. Midshipman Jones, can you tell us our position? Is that so, sir? Mr. Midshipman Jones, please be advised that we are 3 degrees north of the equator - not three degrees north of the Arctic Circle as your calculations seem to indicate! Do it again, Mr. Jones - do it again..." Of course, I never did such a thing... :-).

I just think of the Corona Extra commercials where they say "change your whole latitude" and show a tropical beach scene.

Unless you live in the tropics, that should help you remember :)

• Jimmy Buffett had a song with a similar play on words. – Bjorn Jul 22 '14 at 19:52

```|_|
|_|
|_|
|_|
| |
```

So as you can see, longitude are the two "long" poles. Latitude is just "the other one", in this case the horizontal rungs or in your case the horizontal lines.

(the most northern and southern climates are referred to this way)
e.g. "Sky watchers in the northern latitudes will have a good chance of seeing Aurora Borealis."
If the northern/southern latitudes are measured by the lat lines then they cannot use the vertical lines. They are horizontal and measure from equator north and south 0-90

Sorry, I don't have an easy mnemonic to share. I just remember what I have learn in Geodetic Astronomy. Latitude is the "easy one" to measure, all you need is to measure the angle between the horizontal plan and the North Star (North Hemisphere ofc). Navigators would do it using an astrolabe. Longitude is far more complicated than that.

It is better to conceive of the earth on its axis, spinning in space around an orbit of the sun. In other words think about the earth in motion. Understand that there is a top and a bottom corresponding with North and South poles, or essentially where the axis around which the earth spins is located. Longitudinal lines emerge from these poles/locations of the axis rotation and define the rotation of the earth. Latitudinal lines radiate concentrically from these poles/locations of axis of rotation and define position/location on the earth's surface relative to the rotation of the earth, but do not describe the motion of the earth (purely conceptually speaking).

• It may be better to conceive of it that way, but speaking purely conceptually, it would not help me remember up from down. An interesting use of radiate, as I usually think of radial lines radiating. – som-snytt Jul 22 '14 at 4:45

LATitude runs LATerally (sideways).

• well, that's actually wrong I think - at least if you look at the earth standing in front of you N to S. – Raffael Jul 21 '14 at 21:27
• Yes that is incorrect. – XNSTT Jul 21 '14 at 22:27
• Someone I spoke with this afternoon also uses lateral with latitude. But I think the 'moves' here causes confusion and might be better as 'runs' (though I guess that could just as easily be mistaken - the distinction seems natural to me, but English is my first language). As I mentioned in another comment and whuber pointed out, the way the lines run and what they actually measure are opposite of each other. – Chris W Jul 22 '14 at 4:57
• Ah yes, I see the confusion. Changed 'moves' to 'runs'. – danrockstheplanet Jul 22 '14 at 19:27
• Yes--but the latitude coordinate "runs" north-south (up and down on many maps), not sideways, because that is the direction in which it is changing. Lines of constant latitude extend left-right on such maps. The failure to distinguish between the coordinate and its isolines (elements of its graticule) creates more confusion rather than being of any help. – whuber Jul 23 '14 at 12:59