Background : I used to think that employing the word "right" to speak about good thinks was only an arabic culture trait - for instance the Quran describes good people with the expression "people of the right" in opposition with "the people of the left" who are the bad ones and when someone is seeing that something bode well or bring good omens we use "يتيمن" which means literally that "he goes right-handed with it",indeed the Arabic word for "right" is "يمين",a word that is also bound to the "south" cardinal direction.

Ironically,the word "omen" with its latin origins but undefined etymology sounds insanely - almost - the same as "يمين" !

When examining the french word "droit" , my intuition becomes just stronger : "droit" that means "right" and comes from the latin "directus"("in straight line") is the same word for "law","wright","jurisdiction","dexterous" and "erect".

When we go further,to say "left" in french we use these days "gauche" but the original word was "senestre" which bears a profound pejorative connotation (yes,it's the word for "sinister")...

It seems that English is not an exception ; "right" comes from the old word "riht" thus "good" while "left" comes from a whole family of pejorative vocabulary (weak,bad...)

Is there any other language (except those derived from Latin or semetic ones) that have the same trait ?

Is this the result of a psychological phenomenon or just a legacy from one very ancestral common language ?

  • I think it is a chance that Arabic and French have similar semes for a same morpheme. Because the meaning good in French comes from the meaning straight and not from the spatial position right. The semantic shift in French is probably: spatial position > straight > good. I think in Arabic the path of the semantic shift is different.
    – amegnunsen
    Commented Mar 31, 2019 at 18:40
  • and what about the english case ? Commented Mar 31, 2019 at 20:34
  • 2
    Possible duplicate of Connection between right (opposite of left) and right (legal term)? Commented Apr 1, 2019 at 11:35
  • It would help me if you'd transcribe and gloss the Arabic, or at least link each to a dictionary that has it.
    – vectory
    Commented Apr 1, 2019 at 23:43
  • @amegnunsen what makes you think the semantic shift happened in French? Is there any evidence of a word for "right (hand (side))" in PIE?
    – vectory
    Commented Apr 1, 2019 at 23:44

2 Answers 2


The Latin word omen (< *Ho:-mn) has clear counterparts in Anatolian languages and it has nothing to do with the word yaman. But you are indeed right that rightside is often linked with good or correct, and leftside with bad or clumsy.

  • 1
    can you please,share a link for the etymology of "omen" even in anatolian Commented Mar 31, 2019 at 20:33
  • 2
    I remember Benveniste wrote something about an Anatolian verb ha-, but this was quite long ago. Not sure I can find the reference. I'll try. In Hittite, there's a verb ha- "to hold for true", from which Latin omen "augur, sign" can be derived.
    – user23769
    Commented Apr 1, 2019 at 5:25
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    Perhaps it's notable that "yaman" is also the primeeval human twin in the vedas, akin to the word gemini "twin" The root for avus is rather distant from *swe ~ *sew "self", but contains an -s at least (in *Hews if I remember correctly), that might be a remnant of a compound with the aforementioned. Notable only because *swen- supposedly means "strength, truth", too. I'm not making sense.
    – vectory
    Commented Apr 1, 2019 at 23:40
  • 1
    @jihedgasmi: Arnaud Fournet did not claim the augur were etymologically related to omen, the use of quotation marks indicates a translation here. Commented Apr 2, 2019 at 13:41
  • 1
    But how does this etymology explain the (attested!) Old Latin form osmen (see perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/… )? Commented Apr 5, 2019 at 16:13

Persian has this too, as does German. Mongolian and Chinese do not have it, but they use left and right for points of the compass (left is east, right is west)

I think the explanation why many languages have this conection is because in some cultures, you are supposed to keep you right hand clean(er) and use only the left hand for unhygienic stuff.

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