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What's the correct meaning of the right in the following sentence:

"when the right virtuous Edward Wotton and I were at the Emperor's Court together ".

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  • It's an honorific. Related: The Right Honourable.
    – Lawrence
    Mar 7, 2017 at 5:15
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    See also "Right Honourable". Right honourable and right virtuous are honorifics; right is an intensifier, like "very."
    – Xanne
    Mar 7, 2017 at 5:16

1 Answer 1

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In this context, right is an intensifier. If you have a copy of the Oxford English Dictionary handy, this is sense A.III.13.a of "right, adj. and int.":

Of a person: justly entitled to a name or title; having the true character of; true, real, veritable.

So, the Right Virtuous Edward Wotton is truly virtuous.

The OED then goes on to say (and I agree with this impressionistically) that it is weakened in later use, where it approaches sense A.III.13.e:

colloq. (chiefly Brit. and Irish English). As an intensifier (usu. in derogatory and ironical contexts): complete, absolute, total, utter. Cf. right Charley at Charley n. 6.

I would say that the honorific use is a fossilised relic, and that right is only used now in the derogatory or ironic sense. For example:

1973 Observer 14 Jan. 1/4 ‘The Government did not know that there was no settlement in writing, and how could an order apply to something which did not exist,’ he said. ‘The Government made a right mess of it.’

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