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I've been hearing the words "deosil" used for clockwise and "widdershins" for anticlockwise, but where do they come from?

I'm told that "widdershins" is from a Scottish term meaning "against the way", is this correct?

I can't find any evidence of the origin of deosil. Where did it come from? Did it originally mean something else?

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What about the etymonline explanation was untrustworthy? The wikipedia entry seems to follow it, and etymonline lists its sources somewhere. –  Mitch Mar 10 '12 at 15:42
If OP doesn't want to trust Wiktionary, OED gives widdershins, withershins 2: In a direction contrary to the apparent course of the sun (considered as unlucky or causing disaster). And deasil, deiseal, deisal, deisul Righthandwise, towards the right; motion with continuous turning to the right, as in going round an object with the right hand towards it, or in the same direction as the hands of a clock, or the apparent course of the sun (a practice held auspicious by the Celts). –  FumbleFingers Mar 11 '12 at 22:14
I wonder if indigenous southern-hemisphere languages consider the opposte direction auspicious, since the "apparent direction of the sun" is opposite to that in the northern hemisphere. –  GEdgar Jun 16 '12 at 13:25
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2 Answers

up vote 3 down vote accepted

A simple Wikipedia search finds this.

Before clocks were commonplace, the terms "sunwise" and "deiseil" and even "doecil" from the Scottish Gaelic language and from the same root as the Latin "dexter" ("right") were used for clockwise. "Widdershins" or "withershins" (from Middle Low German "weddersinnes", "opposite course") was used for counterclockwise.

This seems to be consistent with Etymonline on deasil and widdershins.

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Wikipedia is not a reliable source, and there is no citation given for the origin of the phrase. Can you cite a source other then wikipedia? –  Benubird Mar 10 '12 at 14:14
Added references to Etymonline. –  CesarGon Mar 10 '12 at 16:25
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Wiktionary shows this from Gaelic deiseil, which comes from Old Irish dessel.


Middle Low German weddersinnes, from Middle High German widersinnes : wider, back (from Old High German widar; see wi- in Indo-European roots) + sinnes, in the direction of (from sin, direction, from Old High German; see sent- in Indo-European roots).

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