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Old 10-09-2019, 10:02 AM
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In what languages are "left and right" literally "wrong and right"?


In several European languages general "handedness" is referenced with words that also have at least some connotation of "correctness", such as English "right". And some have a clear good - bad connotation, such as French "droit" and "gauche".

In Norwegian any such etymological link is more masked. Norwegian for right, "høyre" is similar to (in some dialects homophonic) and etymologically related to Norwegian for "higher". But there's no contrast with "venstre", which is apparently etymologically related to "friend", an equally positive word.

What are the connotations and etymological roots of words for "left" and "right" in other languages?
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Old 10-09-2019, 10:17 AM
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In Spanish, derecho means "right" or "straight ahead." As an adjective it also means upright or honest, and as a noun a law, or a right in the sense of something one is entitled to.

On the other hand (pun intended), izquierda simply means the direction "left" with no other connotations. (As an aside, it is one of the few Spanish words derived from Basque.)

Last edited by Colibri; 10-09-2019 at 10:19 AM.
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Old 10-09-2019, 10:25 AM
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"Sinister" means both "left" and "malicious". This appears to come from French, "sinister" is still in use in English as "malicious" but also had archaic use in English for "left" in heraldic terms.
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Old 10-09-2019, 10:32 AM
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Sinister is originally Latin, in which language it means both "left" and also "awkward", "unlucky", "harmful", "evil", and "wrong". While dexter meant both "right" and also "skillful", "suitable", "proper" and "lucky".

Last edited by markn+; 10-09-2019 at 10:34 AM.
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Old 10-09-2019, 10:33 AM
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As you say, in French the connotations are very clear :
"droit" (right) not only also means moral rectitude, as well as right in the legal sense of the word ; but it also spawned "adroit" which means clever with one's hands. By contrast, "gauche" means clumsy or malajusted or uncomfortable.

This is of course clearly derived directly from the Latin words : dexter (right) gave dexterous (or dextre/dextérité in French) while sinister (left) has come to mean something else entirely - although I'm quite partial to the word "ambisinister" i.e. someone who's equally terrible with both hands . I would strongly suspect all romance languages carry these connotations ; whereas non-Romance don't - I do believe this duality is based on Greco-Roman culture/weltanschauung. Which is kind of harmful, as over the centuries southpaws have faced a lot of discrimination (including trying to "correct" their handedness) due to this concept that left is "wrong".

@Colibri : cheers ! I'd always wondered where izquierda came from, since it's such a "weird" word. I'd assumed it was an Arabic loanword.

ETA : damn those Roman ninjas !

Last edited by Kobal2; 10-09-2019 at 10:33 AM.
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Old 10-09-2019, 11:01 AM
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Originally Posted by Colibri View Post
In Spanish, derecho means "right" or "straight ahead."
This seems like it would be confusing when giving directions.
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Old 10-10-2019, 03:55 AM
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Originally Posted by Colibri View Post
In Spanish, derecho means "right" or "straight ahead." As an adjective it also means upright or honest, and as a noun a law, or a right in the sense of something one is entitled to.
It can also mean the body of law, or the legal profession; in this case it's often capitalized. Estudia Derecho = (S)he is in Law School. Es conforme a Derecho = This is in accordance with the Law.



Hermitian, that is one of the bits that map programs often get wrong in the first versions (it usually ends up being corrected). I've used programs which said "make a right" where they meant "go straight" and vice versa, both in Spanish and in French (I don't know about other languages).
Siga derecho, todo derecho, derecho: go on straight.
Vaya a la derecha, gire a la derecha, a la derecha: make a right.
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Last edited by Nava; 10-10-2019 at 03:56 AM.
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Old 10-10-2019, 04:08 AM
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Hermitian, that is one of the bits that map programs often get wrong in the first versions (it usually ends up being corrected). I've used programs which said "make a right" where they meant "go straight" and vice versa, both in Spanish and in French (I don't know about other languages).
Siga derecho, todo derecho, derecho: go on straight.
Vaya a la derecha, gire a la derecha, a la derecha: make a right.
Wow, that sounds even more confusing than when you are confirming in English the direction you need to take at an intersection:

"So, when I get to the stop sign, I take a left?"
"Rig......errr, that's correct."
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Old 10-10-2019, 04:10 AM
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Not for those of us who grew up speaking the language. To me, the difference between derechO and derechA is huge, and the bits before are also different. You find it confusing because it's not your language.

Last edited by Nava; 10-10-2019 at 04:14 AM.
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Old 10-10-2019, 06:10 AM
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Tangentially, on the various meanings of right: in the U.S., there is a convention at all-way stops that if two vehicles arrive simultaneously, the driver on the right has right of way. This is of course an arbitrary convention. As a foreign driver arriving in the U.S., I simply had to learn the convention. But I have met some Americans who don't grasp that this is arbitrary, and express surprise that I would need to learn it, that it's not some kind of fundamental god-given principle. Perhaps that's why roundabouts seem to confuse many Americans, since the driver on the left effectively has priority.
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Old 10-10-2019, 07:14 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Hermitian View Post
This seems like it would be confusing when giving directions.
It's the same in French - 'droite' is right, 'tout droit' is straight ahead. They are pronounced differently, the 't' being silent in the latter.
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Old 10-10-2019, 07:58 AM
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It's the same in French - 'droite' is right, 'tout droit' is straight ahead. They are pronounced differently, the 't' being silent in the latter.
Come to think of it, we do the same in English; 'Go right ahead'.
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Old 10-10-2019, 08:28 AM
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Not for those of us who grew up speaking the language. To me, the difference between derechO and derechA is huge,

It's a good thing that mano is feminine.
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Old 10-10-2019, 08:56 AM
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Originally Posted by Nava View Post
Not for those of us who grew up speaking the language. To me, the difference between derechO and derechA is huge, and the bits before are also different. You find it confusing because it's not your language.
I think they found hard to distinguish between "derechO" and "derechA" due to the non-phonetic nature of English, in an English word only God knows how that "A" or "O" will sound (ex: the "o" in "woman" and the "o" in "pony"), whereas in Spanish "A" always sounds like "A" and "O" always sounds like "O".

Last edited by Frodo; 10-10-2019 at 08:57 AM.
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Old 10-10-2019, 09:12 AM
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Turkish for right is sağ, which also means "healthy, alive, safe". The word for left (sol) doesn't really have a double-meaning, though several idioms imply that the left side is the "wrong" side.
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Old 10-10-2019, 01:55 PM
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In German, "rechts" has the same positive connotations as "right" in English, as in "das Recht" (the law) or "Es ist recht" (it is right/just). "Links" carries negative connotations in variations like "linkisch" (awkward, clumsy) and the verb "linken" (to cheat, to screw s. b.).
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Old 10-10-2019, 03:24 PM
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I don't know Hebrew, but translations of Ecclesiastes 10.2 seem to imply that there is some connotation right/good and left/bad in the original text.
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Old 10-10-2019, 03:34 PM
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Originally Posted by Riemann View Post
Tangentially, on the various meanings of right: in the U.S., there is a convention at all-way stops that if two vehicles arrive simultaneously, the driver on the right has right of way.
This is the law, but the convention nowhere. Two cars never arrive simultaneously, and the more aggressive driver usually assumes the right of way. If you were confused at all, in practice, the other driver is either going to way you ahead or just go.
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Old 10-10-2019, 03:36 PM
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Originally Posted by Colibri View Post
It's a good thing that mano is feminine.
...except when not But when not, it's a completely different meaning.


SPOILER:
As apocope of hermano, that is, exact equivalent of the English-language "bro", it's masculine.

In the meaning of "hand; side, direction", it's feminine.
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Old 10-10-2019, 04:19 PM
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Ignotus:

Quote:
I don't know Hebrew, but translations of Ecclesiastes 10.2 seem to imply that there is some connotation right/good and left/bad in the original text.
I do know Hebrew, and it's right-wise and left-foolish, not directly correlated with good and evil.
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Old 10-10-2019, 05:27 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Ignotus
I don't know Hebrew, but translations of Ecclesiastes 10.2 seem to imply that there is some connotation right/good and left/bad in the original text.
I do know Hebrew, and it's right-wise and left-foolish, not directly correlated with good and evil.

I would think that "wise" is something with a connotation of "good," whereas "foolish" is something with a connotation of "bad."
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Old 10-10-2019, 10:20 PM
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I'd say that wisdom is considered a good thing and lack thereof a bad thing, but wise people can still be evil, and fools can be well-meaning, if not necessarily as good as they might be were they wise.
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Old 10-10-2019, 10:42 PM
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I think Romanian would make a good example of language where the words used to indicate handedness have moral connotations. The term right-handed also means straight (as opposed to crooked), just, or fair, whereas the word term left-handed is widely used to refer to someone lacking dexterity or smarts.
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Old 10-10-2019, 11:04 PM
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In Japanese you have a phrase similar to the English "things went left" to mean they went badly.
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Old 10-11-2019, 08:00 AM
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In Italian destra/sinistra can mean dexterous/sinister but are rarely used with those meanings.
A left-handed person is called a mancino, a right-handed one a destrorso.
The old terms dritta/mancina are obsolete synonims of right/left, surviving only in a few expressions like "tiro mancino" (left-handed shot) meaning a ruse, and "a destra e a manca" meaning "from all sides", "all around", "left and right".
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