How did "sinister" migrate from the Latin for "left" to English for "evil"?

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    How did gauche migrate from the French for "left" to tactless. How did the Anglo-Saxon word lyft, meaning weak or foolish turn into the English word for left? May 8, 2015 at 14:45
  • It's just culture. 'Left' is considered in a negative light in most cultures (for whatever reason), and so by semantic shift gets associated with other negative things. I've heard that, because people tend to be right handed, it is easier to defend with a sword to the left, and so you put your enemy on the left. That is a bit of an extended folk-explanation. It's probably simpler, that left is just considered 'weaker' in general, and words change towards similar things.
    – Mitch
    May 8, 2015 at 14:56
  • @Mitch: I'm inclined to believe the right-hand/sword explanation (I reckon that's the underlying reason we Brits drive on the left). I've also heard that in some [primitive] cultures the left hand is reserved for "toilet duty", so it would be disrespectful to offer it for a potentially contaminated handshake. That one seems like a bit of extended folk-explanation to me. May 8, 2015 at 15:29
  • This question may have an answer here. See the answer by SAH english.stackexchange.com/questions/209021/…
    – Centaurus
    May 8, 2015 at 16:18

1 Answer 1


From Etymonline:

The Latin word was used in augury in the sense of "unlucky, unfavorable" (omens, especially bird flights, seen on the left hand were regarded as portending misfortune), and thus sinister acquired a sense of "harmful, unfavorable, adverse." This was from Greek influence, reflecting the early Greek practice of facing north when observing omens. In genuine Roman auspices, the augurs faced south and left was favorable. Thus sinister also retained a secondary sense in Latin of "favorable, auspicious, fortunate, lucky."

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