Does anyone know of a connection, or some sort of established historical/etymological explanation why in a few languages, "the opposite of left" and "truthful claim to" are the same or seemingly related words? Do they all have a common root? Did they develop independently?


  • English: right - right
  • French: droit - droit
  • German: rechts - Recht
  • Polish: prawo - prawo
  • Russian: право - право
  • Portuguese: direita - direito

Maybe some people can enhance this list by adding more examples?

My question also on linguistics.stackexchange.

  • 1
    Does etymonline.com/index.php?term=right not explain this? That is, the right hand is the correct hand: that concept may be common to many cultures and incorporated into language.
    – Andrew Leach
    Sep 14 '12 at 8:14
  • Good analogy, and also thnx for the link. Sep 14 '12 at 8:35
  • This question is more suited on Linguistics SE as is, since you're asking for multiple languages.
    – Alenanno
    Sep 14 '12 at 10:31

A wiki article covers this topic by mentioning:

The Modern English word right derives from Old English riht or reht, in turn from Proto-Germanic *riχtaz meaning "right" or "direct", and ultimately from Proto-Indo-European *reg-to- meaning "having moved in a straight line", in turn from *(o)reg'(a)- meaning "to straighten or direct". In several different Indo-European languages, a single word derived from the same root means both "right" and "law", such as French droit, Spanish derecho, and German recht.

Since it mentiones the Proto-Indo-European language, I must elaborate a little.

The Proto-Indo-European language is the common ancestor of Indo-European languages, which include, among others, the Balto-Slavic, the Italic, and the Germanic branches, so basically it's the ancestor of all languages that are now present in Europe. There's some good coverage on wiki that you can check.

So basically, this word has the same meaning in so many languages, because it came into them since the Proto-Indo-European. Since then, of course, each concrete word in each concrete language has undergone different changes, which resulted in modern words looking different in different languages now, but still sharing the same meaning.

  • I understand then, that the words were first used to describe left and right, and then through the historical notion of right being better than left, did further uses and meanings develop from "right". Sep 14 '12 at 8:33
  • @Rafael, yes, I would think so too. Sep 14 '12 at 8:39
  • 1
    @Rafael Actually etymonline states it's the opposite, "right" and "left" come from roots meaning roughly "correct" and "weak", respectively, which came to be applied to hands and then, by analogy, to directions.
    – augurar
    Feb 21 '19 at 9:07

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