Well, not exactly.
“Left” comes from the Old English lyft, which means “weak, idle, foolish.” Whereas, the Old English riht means “just, good, fair, proper, fitting, straight.” In the 13th century “left” replaced the Old English word winestra as the common word for “the opposite of right.” Winestra literally meant “friendlier,” and linguists theorize that it was used as a euphemism to avoid referring to the side considered bad luck. Winestra survives in “sinister.”
The original version of “left” itself may have been simply a euphemistic taboo word, a kind of placeholder that allowed people to refer to something unlucky without naming or invoking it. In some religious practice, the name of a god is replaced by a substitute for related reasons.
People who struggle to distinguish the difference between left and right are said to have left-right confusion. According to one researcher, about 15% of the population is afflicted with the condition.
You may be wondering, “do other basic English words have such complex backgrounds?” The answer is a resounding yes. Get the alarming story behind “hello,” here. Even the most fundamental aspects of language, like numbers, have a deeper meaning. For example, here’s our explanation of what “twen-” and “ty” in “twenty” each mean on their own.
Are there seemingly simple parts of communication you’re curious about and would like to see explored right here? Let us know, below.
I know how you can tell the diffrence between right and right. Just use it in a sentence.
awesome…..thanks for such a nice explanation of “left” and “right”.
I love the relationship between different languages:
1. à droite (French) = derecha (Spanish) = right (opposite of left direction, English)
2. droit (French) = derecho (Spanish) = law (English)
3. tout droit(French) = derecho (Spanish) = straight (as in straight ahead, English)
4. “gauche” in French, although it means “left” (opposite of right direction), still also means clumsy.
However, I have no idea where “izquierda” (gauche/left in Spanish) comes from!
Another fun pair: cabello/caballo (hair/horse, in Spanish) = cheveu/cheval (hair/horse, in French).
I could go on and on. I wish I were paid to study this!
love this site
The “right” is right, and the “left” is wrong, so even though it’s not a grammatical correlation, in this case it works out.
[...] URL: What right and left really mean | The Hot Word 13th, a-literally-meant, and-linguists, avoid-referring, english-, literally-meant, opposite, [...]
What about the meaning of human “rights”?
me:I am going to turn left next?
by the way,
what about sides of a brain; the left correlate to the right side of a body.
They call it right because of when they used to tell time, which was part of nature, clockwise always go right. Time is like a universal law that cannot be wronged so they call it right.
dude i love left 4 dead
I don’t care what you say DICTIONARYCOM the left IS ALWAYS WRONG, in America!! We are Being Led down a Path of Socialism and Aborshins by commrad obama and the San franciso elitist Nancy Palossi and We are Sick of it!!
You’re website, is making kid’s think that ITS OK to live with the Left! Who are out To Get US!
READ A BOOK, MORANS!
using the left hand is often scolded in many cultures, no doubt something “weak” and “not good.” peoples in some parts of the world eat only with their right hand, something do to with god and or wiping their ass with their left.
So wat is da answa?
Easy way to remember which is left:
With your left hand, using your index finger and thumb, you can make a shape that, facing you, forms the letter ‘L.’ (L for Left, of course.)
My math tutor had been having that problem for 40 years until I told him that trick
well the argument on “right” meanings as “unuseful, idle, weak” could possibly be related to the contingent of a dexter writing society in england to be huge – as this conception “worthless” is just seen in english.
That- is wierd, but OK.
Once I was driving and I asked someone for directions, so I said, “To reach XXX, do you turn left?” He replied, “Right,” which totally got me confused.
[...] ways back when we learned Civics and Social Studies. — They drew on the BLACK BOARD with White Chalk — The far left was them dirty Commies [...]
Hmmm… in Mandarin Chinese, there doesn’t seem to be any associations with left/bad and right/good. Which is interesting, ’cause Chinese children aren’t encouraged to write left-handed. In fact, they’re often punished for it in school.
In spite of the lack of negative/positive connotations, based on the characters themselves, there does seem to be a connection between the left (左) hand being used for working, and the right (右) hand being used for eating.
IT IS VERY INTERESTING TO READ SUCH AN EXPLANATION OF RIGHT AND WRONG
WHAT A REMARCABLE DETAILS!
Always wondered where the phrase And How! came from…
To Solange Escandón
The Spanish “Izquierda” was borrowed from the Basque “ezkerra” (= left) because of the latin word for “left” (sinister) always had the meaning of something bad. Romans believed that a flock of birds flying to the left direction was a bad omen.
Nowadays in Spain “siniestro” commonly means sinister, except in an old saying: “a diestro y siniestro” that means literally “to the left and the right” in which the word “siniestro” retains its original meaning.
right and left is a very interesting subject to discuss left is the one to get where the right is we all talk about rights we all have had borned with untchanchable rights including the right to be born are we not the ones that complein about rich to be or getting richer every day,left and right are possitions we create in our mind but also rights that are necessary in every contry or pais for a healthy social every day life.rights are there is up to everyone to go the way one choose because we are free no body is dictaring us what to think what to eat or what to say. if one complains that is left aside get up think no bdy is perfect but be happy we ahave a costitution that protect us no matter what. here in usa it is called constitution in otre contries is called the magna carta and is a copy of ours but with the difference that in other contries they can change it to their own benefits the ones on the right but no for the left. thanks
there is right way and left way. Most times, left way is the right way.
RIGHT RIGHT HE IS RIGHT
BUT WHO IS WRONG?
What about words like southpaw? I think it has baseball origins, but I’m not sure.
It would’ve been interesting to learn why phrases with left in it carry negative connotations whereas right carries positive connations – examples include “leftovers,” “left behind” and left-handed compliment” versus “right-side up” and “right on!” and shaking hands with the right hand.
By the way, one of the heroes in Jewish literature – the Judge Ehud found in Judges of the Jewish Pentatuch & the Christian Bible, who “delivered Israel” because Israel’s enemies didn’t think to check his left hand for a sword he hid there. Only since Medievel times has left-handedness carried negative connotations.
Wow, Vince. Thanks for making such a great factual explanation of our shared language as politicized as possible. You’re really doing a lot to bridge divides.
odd……….. but, it seems to work out!
I like the saying: “War does not decide who is right, but who is left.”
@vince – I heard William F. Buckley make the same argument. It’s just as insipid when declaimed in a patrician Connecticut accent.
this webite rocks.
I often pondered the roots of “thank you” or “thanks”. It has always seemed that “thanks” sounds better but always comes off as informal where as “thank you” (in itself) seems like a failed attempt at a sentence.
Hello dictionary, can i get something that will interest me?
Sinister is Latin for left-hand. Latin for right-hand is dexter (get it? dexterous)
For centuries, soldiers, etc. fought with their weapon in their right hand– which is why we greet each other with a right-handed grasp — you can’t grab your weapon if your ‘dexterous’ (i.e. fighting) hand is in my hand.
Gauche meaning awkward derives from the French left-hand, which is more awkward to use if you are right-handed (as the majority of people were until we stopped forcing it on children). And the French for right hand became adroit in English.
Huh, I figured there would be at least one troll here. I’m actually surprised so many etymologists legitimately took interest in this story.
And let me just say that if you didn’t vote for Obama specifically because he was black or a socialist, your pen slipped.
The third chapter of the Book of Judges describes how a lefthanded man named Ehud delivered the children of Israel from Eglon, the king of Moab. Ehud strapped a long dagger to his right thigh. He then brought a present to Eglon – a very fat man. Ehud told Eglon he had a secret message for him, thus the king sent away his guards. Ehud then drew the dagger from his right side using his left hand and thrust it into the evil king’s belly. The unsuspecting king was so fat that the entire eighteen inch dagger and hilt were swallowed up in the fat.
So many people have left comments about the different meanings of left and right. Left and right are probably some of the most confusing words in the English language. Am I right?
Apropos the OE word winestra: The Norwegian word for left is venstre
Wow Thank You Rick…I love it when people tell others to “READ A BOOK MORANS!” You’re joking right Rick….tell me you’re trying to be funny.
awesome this explanation and helpful
Hmmm… Three rights make a left and three lefts make a right… xD Very interesting to find out where our Language comes from and how it’s evolved. Though, languages are very unpredictable, one moment a word could mean one thing, suddenly its the latest style to use it for another meaning, I almost pitty those learning out language… =\
Wow! Did Rick really tell us all to read a book, and then misspell the word “moron”? And I believe he meant to say Your website, not “You’re website”. It is always funny when political zealots reveal their ignorance via their awesome rants. All that aside, I found the right/left lesson interesting. Keep it up!
RIGHT and LEFT are assumed, meanings: The origin of RIGHT is based on something else like dominion, royal vs. loyal, up vs. down (aright vs. alight, erect vs. elect), slow vs. fast (repti- vs. lepto-) …
In protolinguistics, R is round (Ra the sun, Ar the eye), L is vague, ungrabbable, filling, presence, unseen (Ilu El the god, Lil the air)….
In an antimatter universe, mankind would most-likely be our-lefthanded, but to themselves their-righthanded: because of their-sense-of-dominion.
(I meant in the sense of which-handed would be right-handed.)
Thanks for this information. I’m a rightie myself, and am constantly battling lefties. I always knew they were on the dark side and now I have proof.
@ Rick – What the heck? WHAT is the connection between this article and your political views?
How incredibly interesting! in Italian left is “sinistra” I tell students that writing with the left hand is difficult for most, it’s “sinister”
@Rick – Although what you said has no relation to this article whatsoever, it did give me a good laugh. We may need to “read a book,” but you most certainly need to learn how to spell.
Very interesting article, by the way.
Doesn’t anyone realize three lefts make a right!! but three rights don’t make a wrong!! LOL.
@JD: What makes you so sure that the dagger was eighteen inches long?
And just a cute little joke I can’t help telling:
Two wrongs never made a right, but what did two rights make? The first airplane (Wright).
so the point of this is i mean i get it i think but whoever wrote that just wasted their time when they could be doin somethin to help the world i mean come on peoples!!!!!!!!
@WCHUNG Question, if three lefts make a right does that mean three wrongs make a right??!!??
OKAY DID YOU KNOW IF YOU WRITE THE WORD BLUE WITH A GREEN MARKER AND THEN ASK SOMEONE TO SAY WHAT COLOR IS WRITTEN THEY CAN’T!!! IT IS HARD FOR THEM TO SAY BECAUSE HALF OF THERE BRAIN IS TRYING TO SAY BLUE WHILE THE OTHER HALF IS TRYING TO SAY GREEN. IT WORKS WITH ANY COLOR AND ITS REALLY FUNNY WATCH YOUR FRIENDS SAY THE WRONG THING. LOL.
Sinister is from the Latin for Left: “sinistrata”
I agrre with seth on “thanks” and “thank you”
If left is right and right is left then does that mean wrong is right and right is wrong???? Think about it.
@Rick lol you chose such a random article to blow up on.
2 wrongs dont make a right but 3 lefts do.
Y’know, many people have misunderestimated the meaning of right and left. But, if left means right and right means wrong, what does WRITE mean?
I’m left handed and I hate the definition. But at least being left handed has some good attributes.
There is an interesting evolutionary argument for the ‘rightness’ of the right hand and it does have to do with homosexuality.
Right-handedness is intuitively linked with heterosexuality and left-handedness with homosexuality, probably because all penises with a curve turn towards the right.
Since homosexuality works contra reproduction, and left-handedness which like is seen in the same deviant pattern, the hand thus became associated at an unconscious level with the preference.
Furthermore, it has been abundantly proven that masturbation is mostly carried out with the left hand and the fact that when one is masturbating they cannot protect themselves or their family must have played a role in the lack of ‘rightness’ in left, either that or I am in dire need of a shrink!!!
From now on, I am only going to pick right, like if I am in a secret passage, and “Which way to go?” Because left is wrong.