The verb to orient (often spelled oryente, oriente, orientst, orien, or oriyenst in the early days) came from French orienter in the 1740s. For all intents and purposes, that had the same definition as our word, but more literally, it translated to "to face the east". That's because it comes from the Latin word orientem, meaning "east". Orientem is also the etymon of the noun Orient and the adjective Oriental, which originally just referred to things in the east, but became associated with Asia after increased interaction with Europe. Going back further, orientem served as the accusative present participle of oriri, meaning "to rise" (the connection being that the sun rises in the east, of course). Finally, that's from the Proto-Indo-European root heri, also "rise" (and the root of words like abort and origin).
Hello! I'm Adam Aleksic, a senior studying government and linguistics at Harvard University, where I co-founded the Harvard Undergraduate Linguistics Society. In addition to etymology, I also really enjoy trivia, politics, vexillology, geography, board games, conlanging, art history, and law.