Some languages use a the same word to mean both "a fundamental right" and "the opposite of left". (English, German, French, Russian (as a calque from the German))

I am fascinated, and I have so many questions!

  • Who was the first person to use a word like this?
  • What language did they speak and what was the word in that language?
  • Did they explain why they were using the same word as 'opposite of left'?
  • How did this migrate to French, English, German, and Russian? (I know Russian got it as a calque, but that's got to be a fun story too. Who encountered the usage in German and said 'we need this back home'?)
  • Anything else you can add will be greatly appreciated!


  • I posted this to r/etymology, and a fellow redditor suggested I come here.
  • I originally assumed this would be an Enlightenment Era phenomenon, with someone saying "I declare these natural privileges to be 'rights' as it is good and proper for us to enjoy them"
  • But another redditor found the earliest use in French came from the Song of Roland, so it's much, much older
  • My amateur sleuthing took me to a Wikipedia and the Latin word 'ius'.
  • The wikipedia page lists a single source which claims without evidence that 'ius' was used both to mean what the laws tells you to do and what the privileges the law grants you.
  • This seems to be backed up by the expression "ius Latii" which is usually translated into English as Latin Rights
  • So we've got the concept of "a right" which is literally ancient
  • We've got the word 'droit' being used to describe this concept about 1,000 years later
  • What happened in between?
  • Who was the first person to use 'right' in this way?
  • The etymology of "right" is well known: IE *reg "move in a straight line". The rest is not linguistics, it's legal history, about first use of the word in Germanic law, knowledge which is however lost is the mist of time due to lack of writing in the years BC.
    – user6726
    Commented Jan 3, 2023 at 15:44
  • Thank you @SirCornflakes. That discussion is fascinating, but it doesn't quite help me get from Latin 'ius' to French 'un droit'. There's some missing piece, and I'm not sure whether it's a citation showing the first time Latin used 'dextre' to mean 'a right' or whether this transformation happens in a Latin-derived language. Commented Jan 3, 2023 at 15:48
  • Thank you @user6726. The straight etymology isn't at all in question. You're right of course about that. I'll respectfully disagree with your suggestion that the evolution of usage isn't a linguistic question. Commented Jan 3, 2023 at 15:53
  • Just to keep it straight: The French word droit is not a direct continuation of Latin dexter, it comes from directus instead. Commented Jan 3, 2023 at 15:58


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