When Right is Right

As many left-handed people can verify, this is predominantly a right-handers' world, with the prejudice ranging from lefties who were encouraged or forced to write with their right hands as children to lefties who must contend with can openers and refrigerator handles designed for right-handed people. For thousands of years, the "left" has been considered by western societies, and a number of non-western societies, to be "inferior to the right." Somewhat anecdotally:
First, let me say that the Latin word for left is sinister. The connection between the English word and the Latin word are obvious, but this reasoning breaks down when other languages are examined. Raymond...tells the following story: Roman priests/fortune-tellers used to point a square wooden frame towards the sky and thus watch birds fly by. If the birds came from the left (sinister), it meant trouble (sinister). If they came from the right (latin dexter if I remember well), everything was OK.

Raymond...also tells me that the French word "sinistre" means sinister with the obvious Latin root. Also, someone who is considered not skillful is called "gauche" (left) in French.

Rob Jordan...offers this explanation. It also has to do with shaking hands. It seems that one explanation for the origin of shaking hands (according to a Latin teacher at the high school I went to) is that people would shake hands on meeting to show that they didn't have a dagger (or similar weapon) in their (right) hand so they couldn't stab you right off as they met you. However if you were left handed, you could shake someone's hand (with your right hand) and still be able to effectively use your left hand to stab someone. Therefore left-handed people were considered
potentially more dangerous and "sinister".
The prejudice against the "left" has become ingrained in the English language. For instance, related to "right" (the direction), we have such positive terms "right" (as in correct), "upright," "right" (as in a "human right"), "upright", and "righteous," as well as "dexterous," and "dexterity" from the Latin "dexter," and "adroit" from French "droit" (right).

Few "complimentary" terms, in contrast, exist with connotations involving the "left." Instead, we have words such as the aforementioned "gauche" and "sinister," as well as "maladroit" ("not right"). While ambidextrous (with "dexter" as the root) means skilled with both hands, "ambisinistrous" (with "sinister" as the root) means "clumsy with both hands.

The anti-left bias is hardly restricted to English, and an extensive list of examples of negative words and terms related to the left or left-handedness in a wide variety of languages has been compiled at Wikipedia.

An exception, in a way, could be the political connotations of "left" and "right," depending on perspective. In English, as well as Spanish and a number of other languages, "left" and "right" tend to refer to liberal and conservative politics, respectively. To some, "leftist" or "left-wing" may be seen as insulting, whereas to others, "right-wing" may be pejorative.

It is curious that, in today's era of heightened linguistic sensitivities fueled by political correctness, the anti-left bias remains firmly intact.

(Posted by language fan and friend Silas McCracken.)

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