A growing list of experiments show orthorhombic electronic anisotropy in the iron pnictides, in some cases at temperatures well above the spin-density-wave transition. These experiments include neutron scattering, resistivity and magnetoresistance measurements, and a variety of spectroscopies. We explore the idea that these anisotropies stem from a common underlying cause: orbital order manifest in an unequal occupation of dxz and dyz orbitals, arising from the coupled spin-orbital degrees of freedom. We emphasize the distinction between the total-orbital occupation (the integrated density of states), where the order parameter may be small and the orbital polarization near the Fermi level which can be more pronounced. We also discuss light-polarization studies of angle-resolved photoemission and demonstrate how x-ray absorption linear dichroism may be used as a method to detect an orbital-order parameter. © 2010 The American Physical Society.