Apr 28, 2007

Right and Left

by Anna Arnett

When I responded to Donna’s blog this evening, I started with: “How right you are, Donna. To write daily is the right way to write. Right?”

I felt so self-conscious of this play on words, I amended it to merely, “We do need to exercise our right to write.”

I'm reminded of the Aussie who, when I commented that at home we drive on the right, shot back with, "Does that make us wrong?"

I quickly answered, "No, you merely drive on the left."

Later, I pondered the various meanings of 'left':

left out,
left behind,
politically left winged,
or a left-handed compliment.

So today I looked in Webster's, and smiled to see 'left' came from the Old English word 'lyft' meaning 'weak'. Then I chuckled over the primary definition: "of or on the side that is toward the west when one faces north."

Left also happens to be the past tense of leave.

Left used all of eight column lines, with fifteen more for other versions.

By then I was hooked. I simply had to look up 'right'. This same paperback, pocket-sized New World Dictionary gave seven definitions of 'right' as an adjective (with the 7th being divided into a, b, and c.); four different meanings as a noun; six as an adverb; and three definitions as a transitive verb.

Whew! Right also came from an Old English word--'riht', meaning 'straight'.

However it evolved, ‘right’ ascended way above ‘left’. Of course, lost under adjective definition number 7, 'right' is defined as 'on the east side when facing north'. Still, while ‘left’ was shortchanged, look at all the wonderful, positive definitions ‘right’ managed to collect:

mentally or physically sound,
the power or privilege under law,
the side designed to be seen,
very (in titles such as ‘the right honorable’,
to put in order,
most helpful and reliable (the president’s right-hand man)
having correct views or sound principles (right-minded)
and, of course, ‘right-of-way.
Also, don't forget 'right on’(you're right)
or 'right away'.

No wonder we strive to “Choose the Right.”


  1. Sorry I didn't read this a third time before posting. I'm amazed at all the errors that slipped by me. I should have asked for a preview. Oh well, y'all know how to forgive. You can also add the definition of 'immediately' for 'right now.'

  2. Write on, Anna! You are always so right on! I love it!

    You reminded me about an experience we had with one of our Korean foster daughters. Something the girls were doing one day made me suspect that one of them was left-handed, even though both of them were using their right. When I asked if she was left-handed, she hung her head as if ashamed! Her sister spoke up and explained that in Korea they wre taught that using the left hand was a bad thing. The light went on my my head! This was the young lady who struggled daily with many cognitive tasks...especially reading. Needless to say we encouraged her to use her left hand.

  3. If I remember my Latin, right is dexter and left is sinister. How's that for a negative connotation for left-handedness.

    Great posting, Anna. We use language so much that we forget the power of words. Thanks for the reminder!

  4. I'm feeling quite concerned, now, that I'm left handed!

  5. Don't be concerned, Faith. I admire those who can use their left hand so flawlessly. All we need to do is change the terminology. I wonder from whence 'south paw' came?

    (Since I sprained my right wrist, my left hand is still much the stronger. I think becoming ambidexterous is my most cherished ideal.)


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