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I've been hearing the phrase "on the wrong side of history" a lot lately, most recently today when President Obama said that Russia was on "the wrong side of history" for its actions in Ukraine.

There is already a question about the meaning of the phrase, but I'm wondering about the origin. When was this phrase first used, and where did it come from?

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According to this Ngram,

n-gram

the phrase first appeared in books in 1935, disappeared until 1949, and experienced an early spike in usage around 1951. A spike reaching a slightly lower peak occurred in 1967, followed by intermittent but generally up-trending popularity until reaching another high point in 1985. A slight drop-off then was followed by a sharp increase from the early 90s up to a historical high in 2000, the last year of Google's Ngram-available data.

It seems the first use noted was in The American Spectator, Volume 3, Issue 34:

The editorial bears the heading, "McDonald and Lenin," and he Times puts itself on the wrong side of history thus: "If the British people regard the advent of Labor Socialists without alarm, on reason is that they know that they have to deal with a Labor government soberly aware of its limitations and its responsibilities...The example of Russia is a virtual guarantee against any tendency on the part..."

Whether the phrase originated with the author of this piece is not evident.

This version of the same Ngram of the phrase “on the wrong side of history” with a "smoothing" of 50, shows the general trend over time from 1800 to 2000. enter image description here

  • Since I can't seem to isolate the source for any of the charted uses aside from the first, I'm not positive I'm correct about that one either. – sarah Mar 4 '14 at 4:30
  • If you didn't already know, you can go direct to Google Books and set a date range there. The three entries before 1935 are all irrelevant contexts - your 1935 citation is the first matching OP's usage. But I think the whole question (and OP's specific version) are trivial issues. The usage history is on our side goes back much further. It's really just an ordinary expression, apart from figuratively casting inanimate/abstract "history" as an "ally". – FumbleFingers Mar 4 '14 at 4:44
  • @FumbleFingers Thanks. I thought that's what I was doing, but I kept not getting any results for time periods that the Ngram showed I should get results. I'm obviously doing something wrong, and I'm terribly sleep-deprived right now, so I doubt I'll figure out my mistake tonight. – sarah Mar 4 '14 at 4:49
  • Try setting "smoothing" to 1 and see if it makes more sense. – FumbleFingers Mar 4 '14 at 4:51
  • @FumbleFingers Also, great point about history is on our side. I am reminded of the idea that there is a great and oft ignored difference between God is on our side, and, We are on God's side. – sarah Mar 4 '14 at 4:54
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It's no more than a clever take on the very well-known idiom: on the wrong side of the law / on the wrong side of someone.

I could say on the wrong side of (an expression limited to my imagination)

See also the bare idiom.

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