The word orient comes to us along a path that goes back to Middle English via Old French via Latin, from oriens-orientis meaning ‘rising, sunrise, east’. Thank you, my New Zealand Oxford dictionary, which will be the source of all the definitions in this entry.
Orient is a transitive verb, ie the verb takes an object. Its meaning according to my dictionary is as follows:
1. To place or exactly determine the position of with the aid of a compass; settle or find the bearings of;
2. To bring (oneself, different elements etc) into a clearly understood relationship or position; to direct.
And according to my dictionary orientate equals orient and is most probably a back-formation of orientation.
Disorient has fewer ‘technical’ associations in its meaning:
1. To confuse a person as to his or her whereabouts or bearings;
2. To confuse
As with the antonym, disorient equals disorientate.
As a purely personal preference, I prefer orient because I think orientate sounds ugly, and it appears to be just as foolishly personal as that. I was surprised to find out that orientate is not a ‘new’ construction. Have a quote from this website:
The shorter verb (orient) dates from 1727; the longer one came later, in 1849, when it was printed in the very same journal that seems to have introduced orientation. Since then, orientate has been used by writers such as Aldous Huxley, Margaret Mead, Tennessee Williams, and Randolph Quirk, but this has not stopped it from being criticised.
Some sites suggest that orientate/disorientate are more acceptable in UK usage, but even this appears to be a subject of dispute. In the case of this usage, it really does appear to be a case of use whichever version you like.
Let’s finish up with some examples of usage using characters from Maiden Rose:
Taki quickly learned the skill of orienting himself and his crew in the confusion of battle – his people depended upon him and he wouldn’t let them down.
Klaus might be disorientated by the fading drug rush, the cold, and the foreign voices shouting around him, but the sound of Taki’s name brought him quickly to a sharper awareness.