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Thread: Preference for "right" over "left" in languages

  1. #1
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    Preference for "right" over "left" in languages

    Hi everybody,


    I have noticed the matter of the preference for "right" over "left" in the languages which I personally know.

    In Arabic we say (يمين Yamiin) which has also the sense of (blessing, good fortune, prosperity).

    In Persian the word (راست Raast) means (right side, true, correct, direct) and many positive meanings. In contrast the word (چپ Chap) > means (left side) and has the sense of falseness and falsehood.

    In both Arabic and Persian the word (left) is used referring to Opposition Parties (mainly communist parties).

    In English the word (right) has many positive meanings as you all know.

    In Islam (religion), the right hand is favored over the left hand, as it is advised to eat with the right hand, to start the "Wudu: ablution" by the right parts of the body, to pray with the right hand over the left and many other rituals and ceremonies.


    I don't know much about other languages and religions but the act of preference for (right) over (left) seems to be global and common amongst almost all the people of the world.

    As we all know, all human beings salute and greet each others by shaking the right hands.

    I would like to know whether other languages (including both modern an old ones) have these characteristics or not, and about the history of this matter in other religions/cultures/traditions.

    Thanks,

  2. #2
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    Re: Preference for "right" over "left" in languages

    Hi,
    in Scandinavian (Norwegian at least) the word for 'right' and 'left' has no other meanings but I looked them up in an etymological dictionary and here is what I found:

    Høyre (right) - comparative form of Old Norse hœgr (comfortable, tractable etc.)
    Venstre (left) - from Old Norse vinstri (related to the word for friend.)

    So the word for 'left' is definitely a lot nicer than in many other languages. However, you can also use keiva (a dysphemism) to refer to the left hand and it is related to the word keiv/skjev (wrong, difficult, intractable etc).

    In the Bible there are many places where the right is associated with good things while the left is associated with something bad or evil. Consequently, in many paintings of the Devil he is left-handed.

  3. #3
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    Re: Preference for "right" over "left" in languages

    Quote Originally Posted by aisha93 View Post

    In both Arabic and Persian the word (left) is used referring to Opposition Parties (mainly communist parties).
    This is true in European languages too, of course. It has its origin in the seating pattern of the parties in parliament, first (I think) in France, and then in other countries. The terms "left" and "right" do not in this context imply a value judgement. The Left sits on the left even when it is not in opposition, but in government.

    Otherwise, what you are saying is correct.

  4. #4
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    Re: Preference for "right" over "left" in languages

    Hungarian:

    jobb - right (literally "better")
    bal - left (originally something like odd, bad ...)

  5. #5
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    Re: Preference for "right" over "left" in languages

    In the Bible there are many places where the right is associated with good things while the left is associated with something bad or evil. Consequently, in many paintings of the Devil he is left-handed.
    That's right, and there is a verse in Bible (Act 7:56) which says: (But he, full of the Holy Spirit, gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God.)

    I really want to know what are the Aramaic words for (right and left), and other ancient languages like Greek, Avestan, Sanskrit, Latin,...etc. And also about the attitude of other ancient religions (other than Abrahamic ones) towards the matter of favoring right side over left side.

    I unfortunately have no idea.

    It has its origin in the seating pattern of the parties in parliament, first (I think) in France, and then in other countries. The terms "left" and "right" do not in this context imply a value judgement.
    Oh, I wasn't aware of this, thank you.

    Hungarian:
    jobb - right (literally "better")
    bal - left (originally something like odd, bad ...)
    It seems that this is a general rule in most of the languages, anyway, I think it is worth waiting for other members from different parts of the world to get a better perspective.

    Thank you all, and I hope you all share your knowledge about this interesting subject to draw a useful conclusion

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    Re: Preference for "right" over "left" in languages

    Quote Originally Posted by fdb View Post
    This is true in European languages too, of course. It has its origin in the seating pattern of the parties in parliament, first (I think) in France, and then in other countries.
    Well, it is said that Charlemagne (circa 800), when visiting a school, divided the pupils in two groups, with the good ones to his right and the bad ones to his left.
    The associations "right [droit]=good" and "left [gauche] = bad" is so deeply rooted in French that it sure predates the French revolution by many centuries (see e.g. être adroit = skillful vs. être gauche = clumsy).
    I would not be surprised to learn that the first French republican parliament had decided to set the bad pupils where they belonged...
    ...Ferme ni plus ni moins que l'étoile du nord.

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    Re: Preference for "right" over "left" in languages

    Quote Originally Posted by aisha93 View Post
    ...

    I really want to know what are the Aramaic words for (right and left), and other ancient languages like Greek, Avestan, Sanskrit, Latin,...etc. And also about the attitude of other ancient religions (other than Abrahamic ones) towards the matter of favoring right side over left side.
    Hi aisha,

    In Greek right is «δεξιός, -ά, -ό» [ðeksi'os ðeksi'a ðeksi'o] (masc. fem. neut.) which is an ancient adj. and noun «δεξιός, -ὰ, -όν» dĕksi'ŏs (masc.), dĕksi'ă (fem.), dĕksi'ŏn (neut.) --> the right hand/side, from PIE root *deks-, right (cf. Lat. dexter > It. destro, Sp. diestro, O.Fr. destre; BCS desni). The stranded fem. adj. «δεξιά» [ðeksi'a] means either the right hand or the right wing in politics.
    Since ancient times, it described the dexterous, skilful, clever person while its superlative «δεξιώτατος» dĕksi'ōtatŏs stood for the courteous and kind person.
    In battles the right wing («δεξιόν κέρας» dĕksi'ŏn 'kĕras --> right horn) was occupied by the bravest and most skilful warriors, it was a position of honour.
    In Modern Greek, a remnant of the said superstition has survived in the wish «όλα να πάνε δεξιά» ['ola na 'pane ðeksi'a] lit. "[I wish] everything went rightwards [for you]", we hear from relatives, friends on the occasion of a new job; every New Year's Day, I remember my grandfather (born in 1910) asking some kid playing out in the street to be the first stranger entering our house "με το δεξί" [me to ðe'ksi] lit. "with the right [foot]", a gesture that simple rural people believed would bring good fortune, abundance of goods/crops for the whole year.
    Also in the liturgy of the Eastern Orthodox rite, when a Bishop is present and during the Hierarchal Trisagion, he chants one of David's psalms (79/80): «Κύριε, Κύριε, ἐπίβλεψον ἐξ οὐρανοῦ καὶ ἵδε, καὶ ἐπίσκεψε τὴν ἄµπελον ταύτην καὶ κατάρτησαι αὐτήν, ἥν ἐφύτευσεν ἡ δεξιὰ σου» (Septuagint).
    "O God of hosts, look down from heaven and see, and visit this vine and the vineyard which Your right hand has planted, and the branch that You made strong for Yourself" (NKJV).
    In Ancient Greek religion and system of belief, the left hand/side «ἀριστερὰ» ăristĕ'ră (in Modern Greek also «αριστερά» [ariste'ra]) was believed that brought bad omens. In fact even the invocation of the name «ἀριστερὰ» was considered it summoned evil spirits, so they replaced it in the colloquial language with the euphemism «εὐώνυμος, -ος, εὐώνυμον» eu'ōnumŏs (masc. & fem.), eu'ōnumŏn (neut.) --> euphemism for left hand/side lit. of good name, e.g. «ἐξ ευωνύμου» --> from the good-named [i.e. side/hand].
    It must be said though that even the name «ἀριστερὰ» is a euphemism as it derives from «ἄριστος» 'ăristŏs --> the best, morally best, bravest (cf. aristocracy). The archaic name for it was «λαιὰ» lǣ'ă (fem.) --> left side/hand (PIE root *leh₂iuo-, left; cf. Lat. lævus, OCS лѣвъ (lěvŭ))
    Last edited by apmoy70; 15th November 2012 at 8:33 PM.
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    Re: Preference for "right" over "left" in languages

    Words in Tamil.

    Vala - right ( Other words like Vallaar(strong), Vallunar (expert) etc...)
    Ida - left (related to restriction, difficulty, not free to move, inbetween etc... as in words like Idai, Idar, Idam)

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    Re: Preference for "right" over "left" in languages

    Quote Originally Posted by JeanDeSponde View Post
    I would not be surprised to learn that the first French republican parliament had decided to set the bad pupils where they belonged...
    It was probably rather a matter of honour and privilege. The seating order existed already in the original assembly of the États Généraux: Nobility and clergy to the right of the king; commoners to the left.

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    Re: Preference for "right" over "left" in languages

    It works the same way in Italian:
    Destra - right (comes from Latin dexter, from which comes the word dexterous)
    Sinistra - left (cognate with English word sinister, which means something bad)

    I really don't know what's going on with these words for directions..

  11. #11
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    Re: Preference for "right" over "left" in languages

    Quote Originally Posted by nnikolov30 View Post
    It works the same way in Italian:
    Destra - right (comes from Latin dexter, from which comes the word dexterous)
    Sinistra - left (cognate with English word sinister, which means something bad)

    I really don't know what's going on with these words for directions..
    This is amazing.
    It appears to be almost the same for most (or maybe all) of the Indo-European languages, according to Google Dictionary.

    Thank you very much for your reply, a very good piece of linguistic information.

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    Re: Preference for "right" over "left" in languages

    Quote Originally Posted by aisha93 View Post
    It appears to be almost the same for most (or maybe all) of the Indo-European languages, according to Google Dictionary.
    Apparently also many Semitic languages: Arabic, Hebrew, Ugaritic, Aramaic, Akkadian.

    http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/...7_0_16755.html
    http://starling.rinet.ru/cgi-bin/res...mber&ic_any=on

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    Re: Preference for "right" over "left" in languages

    There were rules among old Turks in which different people had their yurts on the right or left side of the Khan's yurt according to what their role was. (actually it was a three dimensional system also with height) I don't remember the exact rules but we also have some superstitions regarding right and left.

    In Turkish:

    sağ: right side, alive, to milk
    sağlık: health, vigor
    sağlam: solid, strong, stable, durable, trustworthy
    sağ ol: thank you (be right, be healthy)

    sol: left side, wither
    soluk: breath

    solugay (Mongolian) : against, reverse, imperfect, opposite
    Last edited by ancalimon; 18th November 2012 at 5:23 PM.

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    Re: Preference for "right" over "left" in languages

    In Japanese (and possibly in Chinese) the words "right" (direction) and "correct" are written with the same character.

    However, notice that the Greek for left is "aristera" which is very close to the w. "ariston, arista etc" (the best). Those Greeks are sinister, aren't they?

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    Re: Preference for "right" over "left" in languages

    Quote Originally Posted by sotos View Post
    However, notice that the Greek for left is "aristera" which is very close to the w. "ariston, arista etc" (the best). Those Greeks are sinister, aren't they?
    Strong's explains: Apparently a comparative of the same as ariston; the left hand (as second-best) -- left (hand).

    http://biblesuite.com/greek/710.htm

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    Re: Preference for "right" over "left" in languages

    In Polish right is prawy, which also means righteous, and is the stem of the word prawda (truth).
    Left is lewy (compare Latin laevus), which means illegal in colloquial language (lewe interesy= illegal business).

  17. #17
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    Re: Preference for "right" over "left" in languages

    In Urdu (possibly Hindi too?) there are at least two popular ways to refer to right and left

    1. daa'eN (right) and baa'eN (left). [N=nasal n]. These two words seem to simply refer to right and left (as in direction), and are not loaded with other meanings.

    2. seedhaa (right), and ulta (left). Especially when referring to hands. Here the loaded meaning is very much present. seedha also meaning upright, and ulta upside-down.
    Last edited by UrduMedium; 19th November 2012 at 7:28 PM.

  18. #18
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    Re: Preference for "right" over "left" in languages

    I can't find any other direction related value judgements in Swedish than vänsterprassla (vänstra): cheat; to have an extramarital affair. That's vänster = left For höger = right, there's the figurative någons högra hand, somebody's foremost help(er).

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    Re: Preference for "right" over "left" in languages

    there's the figurative någons högra hand, somebody's foremost help(er).
    This is interesting.
    In Arabic we say ذراع اليمين (right arm), for example: أنت ذراعي اليمين (literally: you're my right arm) which means: you're my truest/most faithful/best helper or assistant.

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    Re: Preference for "right" over "left" in languages

    Quote Originally Posted by aisha93 View Post
    ... In Arabic we say ذراع اليمين (right arm), for example: أنت ذراعي اليمين (literally: you're my right arm) which means: you're my truest/most faithful/best helper or assistant.
    This exists also in Hungarian: te vagy a jobbkezem (lit. you are my right hand)

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