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a. A device used to determine geographic direction, usually consisting of a magnetic needle or needles horizontally mounted or suspended and free to pivot until aligned with the earth's magnetic field.
b. Another device, such as a radio compass or a gyrocompass, used for determining geographic direction.
2. A V-shaped device for describing circles or circular arcs and for taking measurements, consisting of a pair of rigid, end-hinged legs, one of which is equipped with a pen, pencil, or other marker and the other with a sharp point providing a pivot about which the drawing leg is turned. Also called pair of compasses.
3. Awareness or understanding of one's purpose or objectives: "Lacking a coherent intellectual and moral commitment, [he] was forced to find his compass in personal experience" (Doris Kearns Goodwin).
a. An enclosing line or boundary; a circumference: outside the compass of the fence. See Synonyms at circumference.
b. A restricted space or area: four huge crates within the compass of the elevator.
c. Range or scope, as of understanding, perception, or authority: The subject falls outside the compass of this study. See Synonyms at range.
5. Music See range.
tr.v. com·passed, com·pass·ing, com·pass·es
1. To make a circuit of; circle: The sailboat compassed the island.
2. To surround; encircle: The trees compass the grave.
3. To understand; comprehend: "God ... is too great a profundity to be compassed by human cerebration" (Flann O'Brian).
a. To accomplish or bring about: "He compassed his end only by the exercise of gentle violence" (Henry James).
b. To gain or achieve: "She had compassed the high felicity of seeing the two men beautifully take to each another" (Henry James).
5. To scheme; plot: compass the death of the king.
Forming a curve.
[Middle English compas, circle, compass, from Old French, from compasser, to measure, from Vulgar Latin *compassāre, to pace off : Latin com-, com- + Latin passus, step; see pace1.]
American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fifth Edition. Copyright © 2016 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.