an instrument for determining directions, as by means of a freely rotating magnetized needle that indicates magnetic north.
the enclosing line or limits of any area; perimeter: You can find anything you want downtown within the compass of ten square blocks.
space within limits; area; extent; range; scope: the narrow compass of the strait; the broad compass of the novel.
Also called range. the total range of tones of a voice or of a musical instrument.
due or proper limits; moderate bounds: Their behavior stayed within the compass of propriety.
a passing round; circuit: the compass of a year.
Often, compasses. an instrument for drawing or describing circles, measuring distances, etc., consisting generally of two movable, rigid legs hinged to each other at one end (usually used with pair of ): to spread the legs of a compass and draw a larger circle.
(initial capital letter) Astronomy.
Also called Mariner's Compass. the constellation Pyxis.
Compasses, the constellation Circinus.
curved; forming a curve or arc: a compass timber; compass roof.
verb (used with object)
to go or move round; make the circuit of: It would take a week to compass his property on foot.
to extend or stretch around; hem in; surround; encircle: An old stone wall compasses their property.
to attain or achieve; accomplish; obtain.
to contrive; plot; scheme: to compass a treacherous plan.
to make curved or circular.
to comprehend; to grasp, as with the mind: His mind could not compass the extent of the disaster.

1250–1300; (v.) Middle English compassen < Old French compasser to measure < Vulgar Latin *compāssāre, equivalent to compāss(us) equal step (Latin com- com- + pāssus pace1) + -āre v. suffix; (noun) Middle English compas < Old French, derivative of compasser

compassable, adjective
compassless, adjective
outcompass, verb (used with object)
precompass, verb (used with object), noun
uncompassable, adjective

3. See range.
Dictionary.com Unabridged
Based on the Random House Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2014.
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World English Dictionary
compass (ˈkʌmpəs)
1.  an instrument for finding direction, usually having a magnetized needle which points to magnetic north swinging freely on a pivot
2.  (often plural) Also called: pair of compasses an instrument used for drawing circles, measuring distances, etc, that consists of two arms, joined at one end, one arm of which serves as a pivot or stationary reference point, while the other is extended or describes a circle
3.  limits or range: within the compass of education
4.  music the interval between the lowest and highest note attainable by a voice or musical instrument
5.  archaic a circular course
6.  to encircle or surround; hem in
7.  to comprehend or grasp mentally
8.  to achieve; attain; accomplish
9.  obsolete to plot
[C13: from Old French compas, from compasser to measure, from Vulgar Latin compassāre (unattested) to pace out, ultimately from Latin passus step]

Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 10th Edition
2009 © William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins
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Word Origin & History

c.1300, "space, area, extent," from O.Fr. compas, from compasser "to go around, measure, divide equally," from V.L. *compassare "to pace out," from L. com- "together" + passus "a step." The mathematical instrument so called from late 14c. The mariners' directional tool (so called since early 15c.) took
the name, perhaps, because it's round and has a point like the mathematical instrument. The word is in most European languages, with a mathematical sense in Romance, a nautical sense in Germanic, and both in English.
Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper
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American Heritage
Science Dictionary
compass   (kŭm'pəs)  Pronunciation Key 
  1. A device used to determine geographical direction, usually consisting of a magnetic needle mounted on a pivot, aligning itself naturally with the Earth's magnetic field so that it points to the Earth's geomagnetic north or south pole.

  2. A device used for drawing circles and arcs and for measuring distances on maps, consisting of two legs hinged together at one end.

The American Heritage® Science Dictionary
Copyright © 2002. Published by Houghton Mifflin. All rights reserved.
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