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  • But why did the nobles sit on the right, and the commoners on the left? Could it equally well have been the other way round? Well, no, actually; that would have been unlikely.

    Interesting words, left and right. ‘Left’, as a directional term, is unrelated to ‘left’ as the past tense / participle of ‘leave’. But the directional and political senses of left, and the current diverse meanings of ‘right’, can all be traced back to a basic perception about the human body.

    For more about this, see http://www.macmillandictionaries.com/MED-Magazine/March2005/28-Feature-Rights.htm

  • Thanks, Jonathan. You’re right (!), it probably couldn’t have been the other way round given the long historical associations of “right” with all things positive. In the Bible, we’re told that Jesus sits at the right hand side of God. Is that because the right hand side was already seen favourably, or is that configuration yet another reason for the right being seen as a position of honour?

  • Well, it seems that “Left is wrong, right is right” isn’t a construct of Christianity. It’s widespread – although not entirely universal – throughout the cultures of the world. But where Christianity became accepted, Biblical references (another one is in Ecclesiastes 10:2: “A wise man’s heart is at his right hand; but a fool’s heart at his left”) must have been high-grade grist to a mill that was already grinding.
    And as to the consequences, the question of who gets to sit where in a parliament is – although certainly of interest – a rather trivial one in comparison with the experience of left-handed children having their left hand tied behind their back so that they’d be forced to use their right hand for writing and other tasks.

  • […] In politics, Mighty Red Pen red-lined Mitt Romney’s grammar (mmm, pizza magnet); John Edwards’s defense team relied on the definition of the; and Barbara Partee at Language Log delved into weak definites. Meanwhile, at the Macmillan Dictionary blog, Stephen Bullon explained the origins of the left and the right. […]