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Automotive Cartography Location Glossary Weekend Reads

12 mapping words to learn and use

Like any specialisation, cartography has its own terms that you won’t hear in day-to-day conversation. Learn them, slip them into dinner-time discussions and amaze your friends with your geo-sophistication.

Gores – gores are a 2-sided shape that go to make up the paper map stuck onto a globe of the world. The word refers to the shape, so hot-air balloons and parachutes are also constructed using gores.


Graticule – the graticule of a map is the grid of latitude and longitude lines. Bet you thought that didn’t have a name, eh?

Theodolite – a precision instrument for measuring angles: it’s effectively a telescope attached to a protractor. Used for triangulation, the foundation of traditional mapmaking.


Rectification – readjusting aerial and satellite photography to correct it for the height and tilt of the vessel taking the photograph. Fitting together a bunch of these photographs to make sure they overlap correctly and have the same scale is called creating a mosaic.

Small scale – a small scale map shows a large area, weirdly enough, but compensates by showing less detail. A large scale map shows a high amount of detail in a smaller area.


Longitude and Latitude – Longitude is the vertical lines on a map, that converge at the poles. Latitude is the horizontal lines, up and down from the equator. One way to remember: the longest lines go North to South.

True north – the North Pole, the axis on which the Earth spins. Unfortunately, compasses (even those included in your smartphone) actually point towards somewhere different – the Magnetic north. The location of Magnetic north varies from place to place because the earth’s magnetic fields are distorted by a whole heap of different factors. The angle between True north and Magnetic north at any one point is called the magnetic declination.


Compass rose – on old maps and every legitimate treasure map, this is the drawing of decorative compass directions.

Cartouche – the decorative elements added to old maps to liven up empty or unmapped stretches. Sea monsters or a decorative title box are cartouches.


Chloropleth map – a map with a theme (e.g. population density) that uses colours or shades to show this theme.

Isopleth map – a map that joins together points with the same value with a line. Weather maps use these to show bands of air pressure. Walking maps use them to show height variations.

Westend – still good reach but tricky to get east

Cadastral map – a map that shows the man-made or legal boundaries and sub-divisions of land. Mainly of interest to land-owners, of course, but political maps are also cadastral.

We chose these words and terms because they’re fun, unusual or sound interesting. But of course, there are many, many more you might want to learn.

Any favourites you think we should add to the list?

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