Sunday, May 06, 2007

Today's French

There is an interesting post today on the Le Monde blog Langue Sauce Piquante on Droit/Gauche, which mean Right and Left respectively.

The medieval French terms were Dextre/Sinestre, deriving from the Latin Dexter (qui est du côté droit), and Sinister (which is the left side). Unless I am mistaken, the reason that sinister means what it does in English, and what sinistre means in French, is because the left side was the side of evil. This is why God condemns with His left hand and blesses with His right, and why Catholic school children used to have to learn to write with their right hand, if they were left-handed. The implications carried over when French switched to the more recent terms, gauche and droit. A marriage “par la main gauche” was one that was a poor match, for example. And you can understand where we get the term 'gauche' and 'adroit'. The French made the switch from the more Latinate to the newer terms in the 15th century, although nobody is entirely sure why.

And, yes, the political 'left' and 'right' indeed derive directly from where people were sitting in the assembly during the French Revolution.

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