right, left (connotations)

Cecilio

Senior Member
Spanish, Valencian/Catalan
Hello everybody!

All languages (or at least all languages that I know) have some words to describe the "right side" or the "left side" of something, especially the human body or parts of the human body. But generally these words develop other meanings.

The "right" side is often given a positive appreciation. Notice for example the meanings of English "right" or German "Recht". In many languages, the word for "right" has the meaning of "good", "lawful", "correct", etc. (Spanish "derecho" comes from Latin "directus", from "rectus").

The "left" side has very often developed negative characteristics. The English word "sinister", for example, derives from the Latin word for "left", but in English it has a very negative meaning. Similar developments can be seen in many languages, where the word for "left" has acquired such negative implications that a new word, normally from another language, has been introduced to convey the initial meaning of "left".

In this first contribution, I'll try to explain the situation in Spanish (I will focus on the Spanish we speak in Spain; I'm sure there are regional variations in Latin- America that I have never heard of; contributions from these countries would be more than welcome here).


1.- We have the word "siniestro/a" from Latin, but, very much like in Britain and other places, this word has basically a meaning of 'evil', 'dangerous', etc. (Un "siniestro", for example, is a serious accident; a formal word). However, in a few cases, this word keeps its original spatial meaning, for example in the expression "a diestro y siniestro". But, apart from a set expression like that one, using "siniestro" for "left" is felt as something quite archaic. A phrase "la mano siniestra" would be understood, but it would seem quite odd in colloquial Spanish.

2.- The general term for "left" in Spanish is "izquierda", with its corresponding adjectives "izquierdo/a". This word comes from Basque ("ezkerra") and it covers basically the same meanings as Eng. "left", including political concepts like "left-wing". Espressions like "mano izquierda", "girar a la izquierda", etc. are considered standard Spanish expressions.

3.- There is another word, "zurdo", which is generally used to describe people who write with their left hand or people who, in general, use their left hands or legs (for example in football) rather than their right counterparts. We can say that someone is "zurdo" or "zurda", but we can also use the expression "la zurda" to refer to "la mano izquierda" or "la pierna izquierda".
 
  • robbie_SWE

    Senior Member
    Trilingual: Swedish, Romanian & English
    The same thing can absolutely be said about Romanian.

    stânga = left (dereived odly enough from Lat.*stancus, meaning "tired")
    dreapta = right (derived from Lat. directus)

    stângaci = left-handed person (often seen as evil, also called neîndemânatic which means "unbalansed" or "unsuccesful")

    sinistru/funest = sinister (derived from Fr. sinistre and Lat. funebris)

    A călca cu stangul = to do something wrong (literally "to walk on the left").

    "Left" is seen as something negative in most cultures and languages around the world. What really surprises me, is the fact that the Romanian "stânga" derives from "stancus". Did the "hatred" against "left" already start at that level??!!

    Hope this helped!

    :) robbie
     

    jazyk

    Senior Member
    Brazílie, portugalština
    In Portuguese:

    left - esquerdo (political views as well)
    left hand - mão esquerda
    left-handed, leftie - canhoto
    sinister - sinistro
    An accident can also sometimes be described as sinistro.
     

    Jana337

    Senior Member
    čeština
    In Czech:
    left (hand) - levý
    right (hand) - pravý

    left (political) - levicový
    right (political) - pravicový

    They are not identical words but they are derived from the same stem.

    Moreover, levý can be used in some negative contexts, like manually inept. Levárna is a colloquial word for trickery.

    Pravý, on the other hand, has many positive meanings, like genuine and proper.

    Jana
     

    Honour

    Senior Member
    Türkçe, Türkiye
    Turkish: Sol, both for politics and direction
    For directional meaning, it could be used as itself as well as with other words yan(side), taraf(again; side). Sol yan, sol taraf.
     

    panjabigator

    Senior Member
    Am. English
    I do not remember what the word was in Catalan, but I think it is similar to "izquierda."

    Hindi/Udu
    Left: /bayaaN/

    Panjabi
    Left: /khabbe/

    We also use /taraf/ in both languages.
     

    linguist786

    Senior Member
    English, Gujarati & Urdu
    panjabigator said:
    I do not remember what the word was in Catalan, but I think it is similar to "izquierda."

    Hindi/Udu
    Left: /bayaaN/

    Panjabi
    Left: /khabbe/

    We also use /taraf/ in both languages.
    Without sounding like an ass, "bayaan" actually means "speech"! It's important to be careful with lengths of vowel sounds. "Left" is actually "baayaaN" (باياں) and the thing you said about "taraf" is absolutely right, but you forgot to mention that it changes to "baayee taraf" ;).The literal meaning is kind of like "towards the left" but we kind of just use it to mean "leftwards". The word for "right" is "daaeeN" (daaeeN taraf) (داءيں طرف in Urdu).

    About the two words having positive/negative connotations, I would say you're kind of right. From an Islamic point of view, the right hand is used to do good/clean things and the left is used to do unclean things (even something as simple as picking a pair of shoes) - I guess this has led to the words "right" and "left" having positive and negative connotations respectively.
     

    linguist786

    Senior Member
    English, Gujarati & Urdu
    panjabigator said:
    oh boy! This is why I hate transliteration...when I reread it, I didnt see it as beeing bayaan but instead baayaaN. Thanks.

    What is it in Gujarati?
    Hehe.. well noticed. I mis-quoted you there :p I deserve a slap :D I actually did that on purpose because when I first wrote it, I said "bayaaN" means "speech".. but of course that's only if it isn't a nasalised "n" but a "solid" n - so I changed it... although my aim was to point out the the fact that the length of the vowel sounds can change the meaning.

    Anyway, the Gujarati is kind of similar:

    LEFT: baayo (baayee taraf IN URDU= baayee baaju IN GUJARATI)
    RIGHT: daayo (daayee taraf IN URDU = daayee baaju IN GUJARATI)

    The words can change according to name, gender and number. So "right hand" is "baayo haat" since it is masculine, but for feminine it would be "baayee" and neuter = "baayaa" (as is the plural) - although I can't imagine using the word "left" with feminine/neuter/plural words..
     

    Whodunit

    Senior Member
    Deutschland ~ Deutsch/Sächsisch
    In German:

    left = links (left-hand and left-wing)
    right = rechts (right-hand and right-wing)

    You are right that the German word "rechts" is derived from "recht" (meaning "right/correct/proper"). This, in turn, is derived from Indo-European *reĝ- (meaning "to erect", see German "aufrichten", or "to rule/judge", see German "Richter"). To sum it up: "right" is positive.

    The word "links" could have to do with the Modern High German adjective "link(isch)," which means "underhanded/mean/nasty," so it is quite negative.
     

    Maja

    Senior Member
    Serbian, Serbia
    In Serbian:

    left (window/side/wing) - levi prozor/leva strana/levo krilo
    right (window/side/wing) - desni prozor/desna strana/desno krilo

    left hand (in boxing) - levica
    right hand (in boxing) - desnica

    left (direction) - levo
    right (direction) - desno

    left-handed - levoruk (f. levoruka)
    right-handed - desnoruk (f. desnoruka)

    left (political) - levica
    right (political) - desnica
     

    Flaminius

    coclea mod
    日本語 / japāniski / יפנית
    Latvian
    Left: kreiss
    There is a connotation of being the wrong side.

    Japanese
    Left: hidari (左、ひだり)

    Right and left have more complicated signification in Japanese. While in some phrase left is treated as an auspicious side, other expressions suggest the opposite:
    左大臣 (sadaijin): minister on the left side. Superior to udaijin or minister on the right side.
    左前になる (hidari-mae-ni naru): (for business) to get in bad circumstances
    左遷 (sasen): demotion, or literally to move leftwards.
     

    Akialuz

    Senior Member
    Puerto Rico - Spanish
    we use the expression: a diestra y siniestra meaning from side to side, but usually with a negative connotation.
    ¡Fué repartiedo fuete a diestra y siniestra!
    ~Akialuz
     

    Bienvenidos

    Senior Member
    USA
    English
    linguist786 said:
    LOL.. in Urdu/Hindi, that means "shut up" :D
    :) Well there's a very similar word in Farsi that means shut up, too (so maybe we're thinking of the same word, but there's an issue with transliteration?)

    Farsi: SHUT UP - choop [bosh] --or-- choop [shao]
    (the oo pronounced as the oo in book)

    :)

    Bien
     

    Cecilio

    Senior Member
    Spanish, Valencian/Catalan
    linguist786 said:
    So "right hand" is "baayo haat" since it is masculine, but for feminine it would be "baayee" and neuter = "baayaa" (as is the plural) - although I can't imagine using the word "left" with feminine/neuter/plural words..
    Why not with feminine/neuter/plural words? Is it purely a grammatical issue or are there any other things involved?
     

    karuna

    Senior Member
    Latvian, Latvia
    Flaminius said:
    Latvian
    Left: kreiss
    There is a connotation of being the wrong side.
    Normally, the word kreiss by itself doesn't have negative connotation in Latvian today despite linguists telling that it comes from the PIE root *krei [to sieve, discriminate, distinguish]. But many things connected with the left side are interesting:

    kreisā puse – left side, but can also mean the wrong side of clothing (or inside-out)
    laist pa kreisi [go left side] – cheat your spouse
    kreisā prece [left side goods] – illegal goods (as contraband or counterfeit)
    izkāpt no gultas ar kreiso kāju [to get out of bed with the left leg] – to get out of bed on the wrong side.

     

    janek

    Member
    Polish, Poland
    In Polish:

    Left - Lewo (adv.), lewy (adj.),
    Right - Prawo (adv.), prawy (adj.)

    Also:

    Lewica - left hand, but also the Left (as in political affiliations)
    Prawica - right hand, but also the Right (conservatives)

    Lewy can also mean: wrong, bad, fishy, not original, or stolen. Example:
    To jakaś lewa sprawa - [col.] It's some fishy business
    Lewe papiery - [col.] counterfeit documents
    Lewy towar - [col.] goods that have been stolen and are being resold to unaware clients;
    Prawy means also righteous, just.

    [zrobić] na lewo - do something in an illicit, or quasi-legal way
    Robić na lewo - to work illegaly [avoiding the taxes]
    Wstać lewą nogą - lit. To get up with your left foot (To get up on the wrong side of bed)
    Mieć dwie lewe ręce - lit. To have both left hands (to be clumsy or bad at work)
    lewa strona [ubrania] - the inside-out of a piece of garment
     

    linguist786

    Senior Member
    English, Gujarati & Urdu
    Bienvenidos said:
    :) Well there's a very similar word in Farsi that means shut up, too (so maybe we're thinking of the same word, but there's an issue with transliteration?)

    Farsi: SHUT UP - choop [bosh] --or-- choop [shao]
    (the oo pronounced as the oo in book)

    :)

    Bien
    In Hindi/Urdu/Gujarati, it's exactly the same pronunciation! So it's the same word in Persian, right? That's interesting.

    (چُپ = Urdu, चुप = Hindi, ચુપ = Gujarati)
     

    Cecilio

    Senior Member
    Spanish, Valencian/Catalan
    Flaminius said:
    While we are still at it, I think it is worth a while to note that Chinese too seems uncertain whether left is superior or inferior to right.

    左衽(袵) (Mandarin zuŏrèn; Japanese sajin)
    Wearing a shirt with the left half over the right half (direnctions when seen from the front, therefore right-over-left from the wearer's view point). This is how the deceased is closed for the funeral, as opposed to those who are alive. Considered inauspicious.

    左袒 (Mandarin zuŏtăn; Japanese satan)
    To support or take sides with. Literally bearing one's left shoulder. Historical expression dating back to Han dynasty. Chines natives, could I prevail upon you to ask if this expression related to 佐?
    Personally, I get quite lost in these explanations about Chinese and Japanese. The idea of opening a new thread about the issue is very good, but it would be interesting, for this thread, to have a more or less clearer acount of the whole thing. So maybe you can provide this let's say basic explanation about Japanese and Chinese, and then move the other posts to the other thread.

    Thanks in advance!
     

    optimistique

    Senior Member
    I don't think Dutch really follows this trend. The only (slightly) negative thing I can think of for the Dutch left (which is links, just as in German) is the expression:

    twee linkerhanden hebben - to have two left hands

    this means 'to be unhandy'.

    And further:

    iemand links laten liggen - to leave somebody left, meaning 'to ignore somebody'


    Concerning the political side 'links', I think personally that it is more positive than the right-side (rechts). 'Left' are the social parties, the more progressive parties. 'Right' are the conservative, the religious, the capitalists. 'Extreme right' are the skin-heads and the neo-nazis, so I think that political right is far more negative than left, but other people might disagree (Discussion on this belongs more in the cultural forum than here, I guess;) ).
     

    Whodunit

    Senior Member
    Deutschland ~ Deutsch/Sächsisch
    optimistique said:
    I don't think Dutch really follows this trend. The only (slightly) negative thing I can think of for the Dutch left (which is links, just as in German) is the expression:

    twee linkerhanden hebben - to have two left hands

    this means 'to be unhandy'.
    We use the same expression in German: "zwei linke Hände haben." But don't you have a negative adjactive that corresponds to German "link" (nasty/mean)?
     

    optimistique

    Senior Member
    In fact, we do have! I just found it in my dictionnary, but it (link) means: clever (schlau), handy. But I have to say I only know it in the meaning of 'dangerous/risky'. It definitely has a negative connotation, for a clever, handy guy is typically the one who swindles you in doing business with him.
     

    chaya

    Senior Member
    english (UK) French Spanish Italian
    I am reminded of an old US military marching song:

    left, left,
    I had a good home and I left.
    I left because I thought it was right..........

    Does anyone know the next line?
     

    papillon

    Senior Member
    Russian (Ukraine)
    Russian is similar to other Slavic languages:
    left: levyi
    right: pravyi.
    We pretty much follow the trend, where right is "good" and left is "bad".
    "You are right" translaght directly into Ty prav.

    The negative connotation for left in Russian revolves around the meaning "illegal" or "counterfeit". So a "levyi biznes" is an unregistered business (you're not paying taxes), and a "levak" can mean an unregistered cab driver. More recently, the word "levyi" (left) became a slang word to denote a range of negative qualities, from plain strange to uncool! Finally there is the
    idti nalevo -- go (to the) left, cheat on one's spouse.
     

    elpoderoso

    Senior Member
    English
    I'm not sure if this question belongs in this particular forum, but here goes anyway.
    In English the word right apart from meaning the direction right also has other uses with a positive twist to them (I hope you understand what I mean by this)
    Some examples
    Correct (like German ''Richtig'')
    Rights i.e Human rights

    Left, on the other hand (pun very much intended) may have negative connotations in other languages (I'm not sure about the origins of English ''left'' but I think it comes from a Germanic root meaning ''light'' or ''lift'')
    I do know however that the English word ''sinister'' comes from the Latin for left.
    I would therefore like to know What the words ''left'' and ''right'' are in your language and if they have other related words with positive or negative attributes.

    Moderator Note:
    The discussion now explicitly includes nuances of right as well as that of left. It has been referred to in several posts but that was not the scope of the original question.
     

    Nizo

    Senior Member
    In Esperanto:
    The word for right (direction, tendancy) is dekstra, which comes from the Latin dextĕr. The word left (direction, tendancy) takes the opposites prefix mal-: maldekstra. This has no connection with the word which means correct or truthful, which is prava.

    right (adj.) = dekstra
    left (adj.) = maldekstra
    right (adv.) = dekstre, or when indicating motion, dekstren
    left (adv.) = maldekstre, or when indicating motion towards, maldekstren

    My right hand. Mia dekstra mano.

    People take the ending –ulo, meaning a person.
    a right hander, a conservative (member of the Right) = dekstrulo (m), dekstrulino (f)
    a left hander, a liberal (member of the Left) = maldekstrulo (m), maldekstrulino (f)

    the Left (Pol.) = la maldekstrularo
    the Right (Pol.) = la dekstrularo
     

    Kriviq

    Senior Member
    Bulgarian, Bulgaria
    Imo, a complex mixture of truths, semi-truths and total misconceptions, concerning the ancient dualistic religions, has led to the following chains:
    concept of good -> male principle -> right
    concept of bad -> female principle -> left.
    In Bulgarian, left/ляв has no negative connotations, except for the derisive phrase left threaded/лява резба, meaning a gay person.
    Right/десен has no other meanings bar the spatial and political aspects.
     

    Jeedade

    Member
    Dutch, the Netherlands
    But I have to say I only know it in the meaning of 'dangerous/risky'.
    A frequently used expression is "linke soep", which means risky business.

    In Italian, as mentioned above, left means sinistro/a, it also has the connotation of sinister. A lefthanded person is a mancino, this word also has a connotation of treacherous, dirty, as in a "tiro mancino", i.e. a dirty trick.
     

    Jeedade

    Member
    Dutch, the Netherlands
    In Esperanto:
    The word for right (direction, tendancy) is dekstra, which comes from the Latin dextĕr. The word left (direction, tendancy) takes the opposites prefix mal-: maldekstra.
    Does the prefix mal- have a negative connotation in Esperanto (like in the Romance languages)?
     

    jonquiliser

    Senior Member
    Svediż tal-Finlandja
    Swedish 'right' = höger, 'left' = vänster.
    The only figurative use I can think of (besides politics) is the verb vänstra 'be unfaithful'.
    I always heard "vänsterprassla", "vänstra" is new to me. Then there's of course the expression "to be someone's right hand", though I don't think that's specific to Swedish. Nor the fact that Jesus sits by God's right side.
     

    elpoderoso

    Senior Member
    English
    I always heard "vänsterprassla", "vänstra" is new to me. Then there's of course the expression "to be someone's right hand", though I don't think that's specific to Swedish. Nor the fact that Jesus sits by God's right side.
    If Jesus sits by God's right side, is this because the language in which the original biblical texts were written already had an idea of right being more powerful than left ?
    If that is the case do the modern cultures/languages have a similar belief because of these biblical passages or because of an earlier cultural idea of right being ''better'' than left, maybe from there being more right handed people than left handed?
     

    Flaminius

    coclea mod
    日本語 / japāniski / יפנית
    I am not sure if sitting on the right side is a Biblical Hebrew phraseology but I know of a similar preference of the right side. Psalm 121:5 reads, "The LORD watches over you—the LORD is your shade at your right hand;"
     

    elpoderoso

    Senior Member
    English
    I am not sure if sitting on the right side is a Biblical Hebrew phraseology but I know of a similar preference of the right side. Psalm 121:5 reads, "The LORD watches over you—the LORD is your shade at your right hand;"
    In Ephesians there is a mention of Jesus sitting at God's right hand. However I don't know if this was written in Greek or Hebrew.
     

    Moogle

    Member
    Canada / English / French / Vietnamese
    For directions in Vietnamese (this is the pronunciation in English form):

    Right = Fye *say this in a hard manner*
    Left = Chye

    Correctness:

    Right / correct: Fye *same as direction like in English*
    Wrong: Khong Fye *which is basically saying NOT RIGHT*
    Wrong: Sye
     

    sean de lier

    Member
    Philippines (Tagalog, English)
    In Tagalog:

    left = 'kaliwa'
    right = 'kanan'

    Though the words themselves evoke no extreme connotation (at least in my experience), "kaliwa" may be used colloquially as a verb to denote having an affair (or being cheated) as in this case: "Si Maria ay kinakaliwa ng kanyang asawa." = Mary is being cheated by her husband.

    "Kanan" may have positive connotations, as in the idiom "Kanang-kamay" (literally "Right Hand") which is used to describe a trusted assistant.
     

    Nizo

    Senior Member
    Does the prefix mal- have a negative connotation in Esperanto (like in the Romance languages)?
    No. In Esperanto, the prefix mal- means opposite. Here are some examples:

    varma/malvarma: hot/cold
    bona/malbona: good/bad
    granda/malgranda: big/small
    bela/malbela: beautiful/ugly

    So, the contrast between dekstra/maldekstra is not one of good and bad, but one of opposite.
     

    J.F. de TROYES

    Senior Member
    francais-France
    In French:

    On the right : à droite.
    On the left : à gauche.

    "droit(-e,-s,-es)" as an adjective has also positive connotations : "un homme droit" is a morally good person and the derived noun "doiture" means honesty , integrity. On the other hand "gauche(-s)" denotes someone clumsy, unhandy and differs from "gaucher (masc.) / gauchère (fem.) which means only left-handed.


    In Arabic:

    On the right: إلى اليمين ( 'ila-l-yamiin )
    On the left: إلى اليسار( 'ila-l-yasaar) or إلى الشمال(ila-sh-shimaal )

    The root of يمين is related to the right side and to the political right-wing, but also to the idea of being auspicious ( a derived adjective مَيمون (maimuun) , means well-off, fortunate ) .
    الشمال ( ash-shimaal ) means north and is also used with the meaning of left, because when one turns eastwards to find one’s direction, the North is on the left side ; maybe first it denoted a northen wind. Using eitherيسار( yasaar) or شمال (shimaal) depends on countriesor areas. As far as I know, no negative connotation is related to both words;
    اليسار ( al- yasaar ) is only politically used.
     
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