This question is in reference to the use of the word "hand" in "right-hand side" (and applies equally to the left).

My question is what does "right-hand side" say/imply that "right side" doesn't?

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    If you mean this question to apply to "left/left-hand" as well, you will need to say so. "Why do we insert hand into these phrases when it's superfluous?" – Andrew Leach Aug 24 '12 at 17:22
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    It gets worse when people refer to right-hand and left-hand pedals... – Brian Nixon Aug 25 '12 at 11:23
  • Because they're superfluous idiots that want to be slapped with your right hand hand. – user46074 Jun 14 '13 at 16:37
  • Does anyone think it could have something to do with the cadence in "right-hand side"? In "right side" there is a longer pause between the words. Consider also for instance the fact that people tend to say, "Where's it at?" and not "Where's it?" – Kaiser Octavius Jun 14 '13 at 16:57
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    because language naturally contains lots of redundancy to ensure a good signal-to-noise ratio. – endolith Jul 22 '14 at 1:47

I suppose that hand is used to distinguish from right as in correct.

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    By that logic, we use hand on the other side, too, to distinguish from left as in remaining. :^) – J.R. Aug 24 '12 at 18:38
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    @J.R. oooh! Yes. – cornbread ninja 麵包忍者 Aug 24 '12 at 18:40
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    Or these days, to remove the political connotation – Kevin Aug 24 '12 at 19:41

Handedness is perhaps the most common way of teaching someone left from right. While there are other natural things that exhibit consistant directionality (the circular flow of water in a drain in a given hemisphere; the rotation of the earth when seen from above a particular pole, etc.) none is as readily accessible to the viewer as her or his own handedness. Most of us know from an early age which of our hands is dominant, and that is labeled by our elders as either right or left, depending on our proclivities (let's skip the brain dominance discussion for now).

We can then identify whether the direction or side we are considering corresponds to our right or left side, based on our knowledge of our dominant hand.

I think the hand reference when discussing side is a reflection (residual) of this basic analysis we learned in our youth.

  • Not all cultures have "right" and "left". Some refer exclusively to geographic direction, like "your north hand", which changes depending on which direction you're facing. – endolith Jul 22 '14 at 1:52
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    @endolith That's very interesting. Which cultures? And what happens when you are facing north or south? – bib Jul 22 '14 at 2:06
  • it would become your "east hand" or "west hand" en.wikipedia.org/wiki/… nytimes.com/2010/08/29/magazine/… or other cultures use "uphill" and "downhill"? geo-mexico.com/?p=3680 – endolith Jul 22 '14 at 13:28

I always thought right/left hand side was used instead of right/left side so you could be clear about a location.

For example, when something is on the right hand side of the dresser, if you are facing the dresser, it will be to your right, not on the actual right side of the dresser from its point of view, facing you.


My husband and I have been 'discussing' this for years. If you look at a 'thing', e.g. car or boat, the right or starboard side of the boat is on the left hand side as you face the boat, but it is still the right side of the boat. I say the right side of the boat is always the right side. Key word is 'OF' - the side belongs to the boat. Same with a piece of furniture, etc., but as you face a piece of furniture, the left hand side is relative to the person facing the furniture. Same with N, S, E, and W on a map. E is on the left side OF the map but it is on the left hand side as one faces it.

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