Right & Left: More Than Just Directions

Hey everyone. Welcome to this week’s edition of Bill’s Bologna.

This week, rather than addressing the meaning of a specific phrase, I’m going to dive into a topic which spawned many phrases & expressions. That would be right versus left. Almost every expression, phrase or singular word involving right versus left stems from the same notion & the same time period.

That time period would be Ancient Rome. See, back in the days of the Roman Empire, anything to do with the left hand side was considered to be a sign of bad luck & evil. Let’s start with the most basic root.

The Latin translation for the word left is sinister. Don’t believe me? Check out Google Translate. It’s the third translation down the list. In Latin, the left hand was called manus sinistra. Here’s where all the connections start to be made: People who were born left-handed in the Roman Empire were considered unlucky or cursed & were usually avoided. Fast forward to the fall of the Empire & put yourself in the middle ages & religion started to slip into the superstition. By then, left-handed people were considered straight up evil & avoided like the plague (all pun intended).


I tried to find the most sinister looking picture of a left hand. I think I did okay.

The tradition of teaching left-handed students to use their right hand dates back to Rome as well, &  it’s only recently been phased out. I highly doubt that modern teachers realized that doing this stems back to the notion of “curing” the left-handedness out of someone.

By the way, there’s this phrase that goes something like this: “Hey, it looks like someone rolled out of the wrong side of the bed.” I bet you can guess which side is the wrong one. If you guessed the right side, then you somehow missed the point of the past four paragraphs. Ancient Romans believed that if you woke up & got out of bed on the left side, your entire day was ruined. Apparently, Augustus Caesar was especially mindful of this rule.

When you put your best foot forward, you’re stepping with your right foot. It was considered bad luck to to enter a house & exit a house starting with your left foot. It was also unlucky to put your left shoe on first. Basically, if you started walking anywhere with your left foot first, your trip was cursed.

You know how we use the word “right” as a synonym for the word “correct”? Same roots. Doing something the correct way is directly associated with the right side, as opposed to the the incorrect way, which would be associated with the left.

The same can be said about rights, as in legal rights or First Amendment rights. That also stems from being correct. You have your First Amendment Rights, which implies that you are correct, or right to assume you can speak freely… etc.

As you can see, left versus right is, or at least was a much deeper issue than what we now know is about which side of the brain is dominant.

I’ll leave you guys with that.

Now you know; you’re welcome.


Leave a comment

Filed under Etymology

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s