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In The Guardian, I read the following passage

The former Leicester, Everton, Spurs and Barcelona striker, also vowed to continue to “speak up for refugees and immigrants and British values of tolerance and free speech”.

The [Daily Mail] article devotes 17 paragraphs to recounting what the rightwing newspaper calls Lineker’s “leftwing take on global politics” and “oh-so right-on views” before first mention of the 55-year-old presenter’s alleged tax affairs.

It seems that in British English, the expression "right-on" is used to mean:

(chiefly Britain, often pejorative) Possessing political and social views that are considered to be fashionable and left-wing.

However, how did this phrase come to have this meaning in the first place? IMO there doesn't appear to be such a clear link between the original expression "right-on" and this pejorative meaning.

Edit: Sources

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    Could you please cite your source? – Cascabel Feb 9 '17 at 23:01
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    Beats the heck out of me. In the US, "Right on!" is an exclamation meaning, roughly, "excellent" or "very true". – Hot Licks Feb 9 '17 at 23:07
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    @HotLicks Of course I know that. That's why I'm curious as why it evolved this meaning, and why I specifically added the "british-english" tag! I only knew it for the first time as well when I was reading this article: theguardian.com/football/2017/feb/09/… – xji Feb 9 '17 at 23:13
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    @Clare Oh yeah? How about The Guardian or Collins which basically say the same thing then. Did you check them before downvoting? So you downvoted just because of this one reason? That's very harsh to say the least. I just didn't find the wording of Collins as good as that from Wiktionary. – xji Feb 9 '17 at 23:20
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    Writing as a Brit, it's often used in Britain to suggest that someone or a group is being pretentiously liberal or left wing. – Chris M Feb 10 '17 at 3:02
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WordReference.com has interesting discussion of a similar question about the meaning of "right-on". It appears that the compound adjective usage, with possible pejorative overtones, is predominately British: the Guardian article link in the post includes usage of “leftwing take on global politics” and “oh-so right-on views” referring to the same person.

How the British usage of the term may have come about seems clear enough. Left wing student type demonstrators, and hippies, in both the UK and Australia, after being exposed to the US idiom "right on" or "right on brother/sister" in film, television and music, adopted its use in their youth. Some of these will have continued to use the phrase in later life.

So it is hardly surprising "right-on" has come to mean a person with left wing or hippy-type values in some vernaculars, even if the person no longer uses the phrase to express total agreement.

It does, however, appear to be British usage and has not been adopted in Australia. Here the media tend to use "tree-hugger" (figuratively) in similar perjorative contexts.

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Per the Oxford English Dictionary (OED), in 1970 Time magazine had an article with

In Boston, Homans is known as a ‘right-on lawyer’—he defends blacks, war protestors and poor people.

Note all three groups mentioned are, generally speaking, connected (rightly or wrongly) with liberal politics.

Given that the expression right on meaning "enthusiastic approval" originated among African-American speakers of English (OED)–a group that, at large, is often connected with liberal politics (Cf Mr Obama), it seems the extended usage is obvious.

The OED's definition of the usage you ask about is

Admirable, worthy of approval. Hence: fashionable, ‘with it’, esp. in reflecting politically an approved liberal or radical stance. Sometimes mildly derogatory.

The usage is not necessarily pejorative. Presumably it is only pejorative when said in a pejorative manner.

  • Wrt the question of how it (apparently) came to have a pejorative meaning in BrE: could it be perhaps because it is an AmE expression? ;-) – Drew Feb 10 '17 at 0:49
  • @Drew I fancy it's a sneer at the enthusiastic beliefs of the sort of people who say "right on!" in much the same way as SJW (Social Justice Warrior) became a sneer of the gamergate crowd. – StoneyB Feb 10 '17 at 2:34
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    Why the need to mention Obama? The concept of liberalism existed before the Obama administration. And why "Mr. Obama", is he no longer the former president of the USA? Seems a slightly disrespectful way to address him. – Mari-Lou A Feb 10 '17 at 7:08
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It is a BrE usage and it appears to have developed from the expression "to be right on (a political issue) expressed in an arrogant way.

Right on:

  • (British English) someone who is right on supports social justice, equal rights, the protection of the environment etc – often used to show disapproval because someone does this in an extreme way

    • It’s one of those annoyingly right-on magazines about the environment.

Longman Dictionary

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    IMHO it is not primarily or originally BrE. Quite the opposite. It is AmE by origin and in widespread use (at least in the 60s-80s). If it is often used in BrE to show disapproval..., I'd say that's an exception to its use, not the rule. In fact, if you look at the reference you cite, it says that that particular definition is BrE. And it cites AmE usage. It does not at all say that the expression "is a BrE usage*", as you claim. – Drew Feb 10 '17 at 0:44
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    @Drew - all Dictionaries say it is a BrE usage and I could not find any evidence of what you are suggesting..did you? – user66974 Feb 10 '17 at 6:37
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    The usage of the expression to mean what you suggest is (apparently) BrE. The usage of the expression in general is not BrE. It is incorrect to say "It (the expression right on) is a BrE usage". – Drew Feb 10 '17 at 14:54
  • @Drew - I am trying to answer the question which is clearly about "right on" usage in British English which, in my opinion, has little if nothing to do with the AmE expression. The following link may help: dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/english/right-on – user66974 Feb 10 '17 at 14:57
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    This is misleading: It is a BrE usage. And this is, I believe, wrong (and is in any case unsupported, so far): and it appears to have developed from the expression "to be right on (a political issue). Anyway, I've given my feedback. Whether and how you might want to improve your answer is obviously up to you. – Drew Feb 10 '17 at 17:22

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