instrument for determining latitude in navigation and surveying, 1620s, from Modern Latin sextans, which is said to have been first used in this sense c. 1600 by Danish astronomer Tycho Brahe, from Latin sextans "a sixth, a sixth part," from sex "six" (see six). So called because the sextans has a graduated arc equal to a sixth part of a circle. In ancient Rome, sextans also was the name of a coin of the republic worth one-sixth of an as. Related: Sextantal.
updated on July 11, 2022