Well, not exactly.
“Left” comes from the Old English lyft, which means “weak, idle, foolish.” Whereas, the Old English riht means “just, good, fair, proper, fitting, straight.” In the 13th century “left” replaced the Old English word winestra as the common word for “the opposite of right.” Winestra literally meant “friendlier,” and linguists theorize that it was used as a euphemism to avoid referring to the side considered bad luck. Winestra survives in “sinister.”
The original version of “left” itself may have been simply a euphemistic taboo word, a kind of placeholder that allowed people to refer to something unlucky without naming or invoking it. In some religious practice, the name of a god is replaced by a substitute for related reasons.
People who struggle to distinguish the difference between left and right are said to have left-right confusion. According to one researcher, about 15% of the population is afflicted with the condition.
You may be wondering, “do other basic English words have such complex backgrounds?” The answer is a resounding yes. Get the alarming story behind “hello,” here. Even the most fundamental aspects of language, like numbers, have a deeper meaning. For example, here’s our explanation of what “twen-” and “ty” in “twenty” each mean on their own.
Are there seemingly simple parts of communication you’re curious about and would like to see explored right here? Let us know!