Little kids often get confused regarding the fact that “right” refers to a certain direction and also what is good, proper, and just. After all, “left” doesn’t mean wrongright?

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.

(“Gosh” and “golly” are also euphemisms for an important religious word. Learn what they’re short for, here.)

The political sense of both left and right seems to have come from the seating of the members of the French National Assembly in the eighteenth century.

The term “lefty” has its roots in baseball slang from the late nineteenth century. The phrase “right off the bat” evolved from “hot from the bat,” which also came from baseball lingo.

The exclamation “Right on!” entered the slang lexicon in the 1920s, but it was popularized by the Black Panther movement decades later.

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, below.



The Cincinnati Post (Cincinnati, OH) January 5, 2000 Staying in New Orleans’ French Quarter during the holiday season’s kickoff week was an indelible edible experience, as it usually is.

Now I’ve had a little time to try some recipes I brought back from the good-food city, all courtesy of the Gumbo Shop: a never-bland potato salad (thanks to the restaurant’s secret of cooking the red-skin potatoes in crab boil), a fabulous bread pudding made with French bread, of course, and the reddish-style of remoulade sauce to serve over boiled, peeled shrimp on salad greens or as a vegetable dip.

Not having visited the French Quarter for more than a decade, I rushed to dine at a couple of other old-favorite haunts: Cafe du Monde and the Court of Two Sisters.

Filling my holiday-buffet plate in the gorgeous, glassed-in courtyard at the Court of Two Sisters, I carefully trod the ancient stone floor to return to my table beneath a sparkling chandelier. A waiter was simultaneously pouring champagne and fresh orange juice into a crystal pitcher, which he sat in the middle of the round table.

He said, ”We think mimosas are the perfect accompaniment for a heavy holiday dinner.” This proved to be absolutely correct, though mimosas are not a cocktail I would have thought of to sip along with ham, turkey, beef and piles of boiled shrimp and crawfish tails.

A couple hours later, I discovered that the same intense orange sauce for spooning over the Two Sisters’ diminutive, rolled crepes Suzette was just as spectacular drizzled over a warm wedge of pecan pie.

I lived another day to sample some of the Creole city’s newer claims to fame. One was the Food Network’s celebrity chef Emeril’s duck with black beans and mango sauce at Nola’s. This is Emeril Lagasse’s trendy-casual restaurant in a cheerfully made-over French Quarter warehouse. The duck was deliciously messy. Still, it’s the French Quarter’s older haunts that I enjoy.

Stopping by Cafe du Monde’s open-air tables was a priority the first morning, which dawned sunny and mild. I strolled from my cozy red room at the Le Richelieu Inn through the French Market on my way to the cafe’s signature beignets and mugs of cafe au lait. The old marketplace stalls were filled with bags of freshly harvested Louisiana and Texas pecans in their glossy oval shells. Locally grown red chiles were strung by the thousands into holiday wreaths.

Once seated at the nearby cafe, I was reassured that beignets are still being decadently deep-fried and delivered to the table piping hot. The roundish puffs of well-browned fritter batter swiftly melted their heavy, white mantle of powdered sugar, as always. And a single order for a few dollars was still satisfyingly way too many beignets for two people. But you can’t order just one. One plateful, yes. How clever of the cafe’s management.

A breeze licked up enough sugar to cover my burgundy jacket in the sweet white powder, but the thing to concentrate on was the thick mug of steaming cafe au lait. New Orleans’ coffee, with chicory or not, was delicious everywhere it was served. With apologies to Seattle, why doesn’t cafe au lait taste this good anywhere else? here court of two sisters

New Orleans’ French heritage makes dramatic cafe brulot part of its celebratory season. On Dec. 1, the Gumbo Shop, one of my favorite French Quarter restaurants since my first meal there in 1975, joined the citywide ”Christmas New Orleans Style” tradition of offering special Reveillon menus, in addition to regular fare.

An excellent and practical new cookbook just published by the Gumbo Shop president and executive chef, Richard Stewart, gives the recipe for cafe brulot prepared tableside.The Gumbo Shop’s Reveillon menu, served Dec. 1 through Christmas Eve, includes five courses, with cafe brulot as a lagniappe (a little something extra).

”The wonderful aroma of the simmering spices and citrus fill the dining room with Christmas cheer. If you don’t have a brulot pot, use a small chafing dish or a fondue pot,” Stewart writes.

The Gumbo Shop’s version of cafe brulot – good all winter for dramatic dinners – calls for muddling a 4-inch cinnamon stick, 12 whole cloves, the peel of 2 oranges and 2 lemons (cut in thin slivers) and 6 teaspoons sugar in a small round chafing dish set over a low flame. Add 8 ounces of brandy and 2 ounces of orange Curacao (a liqueur), mixing well. Carefully ignite the mixture and stir until the sugar dissolves. If you have difficulty lighting it, advises Stewart, you can add a little 151 proof rum to help, but be very careful. Slowly pour in 4 cups hot, strong coffee while continuously stirring until the flames die out. Serve in demitasse cups. website court of two sisters

The reason I’ve always loved the Gumbo Shop is because the Creole recipes, including many different gumbos, are well prepared and swiftly served to the many New Orleans natives seated at the crowded tables.

Prices are reasonable compared to other French Quarter restaurants. You enter the Gumbo Shop in a Louisiana Colonial townhouse at 630 St. Peter St. through a stone-floored carriageway. It’s one of a handful of 18th-century buildings left in the Quarter, according to the cookbook’s foreword.

There’s a tropical feel inside with many potted banana trees. The golden-toned walls are hand-painted murals of New Orleans’ past. These were done in 1925 by a local artist on burlap wrappings of cotton bales. Now that’s atmosphere.

Stewart is able to ship the $15.95 cookbook for $3.75. To order, phone (800) 55-GUMBO or visit the Web site at www.gumboshop.com.

Text of fax box follows:

Gumbo Shop’s Remoulade Sauce 1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons Creole mustard (see note) 1/2 cup real mayonnaise 1/3 cup cooking oil 1 tablespoon olive oil 3 tablespoons minced celery 3 tablespoons minced green onion 1 teaspoon minced garlic 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice 1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce 1 teaspoon Tabasco sauce 2 tablespoons paprika 1 teaspoon white pepper 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper 1 teaspoon salt Yield: 2 cups Combine all ingredients in a stainless steel, glass or crockery bowl. Cover and refrigerate for 4 hours or overnight before serving. This makes enough for 1 pound of boiled, peeled shrimp or crawfish tails.

To serve, mix the shrimp with the sauce and divide among six or eight chilled salad plates lined with chopped lettuces. Garnish with lemon wedges. Also wonderful as a dip for raw or lightly steamed vegetables.

Note: Creole mustard prepared only from brown mustard seeds, vinegar and salt is essential for authentic New Orleans remoulade sauce. Zatarain, P.O.Box 347, Gretna, La. 70053, provides a quality Creole mustard and crab boil. Phone (504) 367-2950 or visit www.zatarain.com.

Donna’s Spicy Potato Salad 2-1/2 pounds small red potatoes 1/4 cup salt 1/2 tablespoon cayenne pepper 1 (3-oz.) package dry crab boil 3/4 cup real mayonnaise 1 cup chopped celery 1/2 cup chopped green onions 1/4 cup yellow mustard 1/2 teaspoon black pepper 1 teaspoon salt 4 hard-cooked eggs, chopped Yield: 2 quarts Bring enough water to cover the potatoes to a boil in a stock pot with the salt, cayenne pepper and dry crab boil. Do not add the potatoes yet, but simply boil the water with the spices. The longer the spice packet of crab boil cooks in the water, the more intense the flavor.

Add the potatoes, scrubbed and left whole. Cover and cook until potatoes are done, about 25 minutes. Drain the potatoes, discarding the spicy liquid. Allow potatoes to cool to room temperature.

Dice the potatoes coarsely, leaving the red skins on, into a medium bowl. In a large bowl, combine all the remaining ingredients (the mayo, celery, green onions, yellow mustard, the 1/2 teaspoon black pepper and 1 teaspoon salt) and mix well. Add the potatoes and mix well again, but gently. Cover and salad and refrigerate for 4 hours before serving.

Bread Pudding with Whiskey Sauce 1/4 cup real butter 3 cups milk 2 quarts day-old French bread, cut into 1-inch cubes 1/2 cup cubed pineapple (canned is fine) 1/2 cup raisins Pinch of salt 1/2 cup sugar 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg 1 teaspoon vanilla extract 3 large eggs, beaten to blend Whiskey Sauce:

1/4 cup real butter, softened 2 cups powdered sugar 1 jigger bourbon Yield: 8 servings Combine the milk and butter in a saucepan and heat until the butter is melted. In a large mixing bowl, combine the bread cubes, pineapple and raisins; toss to mix. Add the milk mixture, stir and let stand for several minutes, allowing the bread to absorb the liquid.

Mix the sugar, salt, cinnamon and nutmeg. Add vanilla to the beaten eggs, then mix in the sugar and spices. Pour all this over the bread and mix well.

Transfer the pudding to a greased 1-1/2-quart baking pan and bake at 350 degrees for 40 minutes or until golden brown. Serve warm, topped with about 3 tablespoons of Whiskey Sauce.

Whiskey Sauce: Using an electric mixer, slowly beat the powdered sugar into the softened butter. Slowly beat in the bourbon.

Recipes from the new cookbook: ”Gumbo Shop: Traditional and Contemporary Creole Cuisine” by Gumbo Shop chef Richard Stewart (published by the Gumbo Shop, 1999, $15.95 softcover).


  1. Teivous -  May 16, 2011 - 5:48 am

    From now on, I am only going to pick right, like if I am in a secret passage, and “Which way to go?” Because left is wrong.

  2. Espoir -  May 11, 2011 - 3:37 pm

    There is an interesting evolutionary argument for the ‘rightness’ of the right hand and it does have to do with homosexuality.

    Right-handedness is intuitively linked with heterosexuality and left-handedness with homosexuality, probably because all penises with a curve turn towards the right.

    Since homosexuality works contra reproduction, and left-handedness which like is seen in the same deviant pattern, the hand thus became associated at an unconscious level with the preference.

    Furthermore, it has been abundantly proven that masturbation is mostly carried out with the left hand and the fact that when one is masturbating they cannot protect themselves or their family must have played a role in the lack of ‘rightness’ in left, either that or I am in dire need of a shrink!!!

  3. David -  May 10, 2011 - 8:17 am

    I’m left handed and I hate the definition. But at least being left handed has some good attributes.

  4. Miss Misunderestimated -  December 1, 2010 - 6:36 am

    Y’know, many people have misunderestimated the meaning of right and left. But, if left means right and right means wrong, what does WRITE mean?

  5. DMARTINI -  October 29, 2010 - 8:57 am

    2 wrongs dont make a right but 3 lefts do.

  6. Nye -  October 27, 2010 - 8:33 am

    @Rick lol you chose such a random article to blow up on.

  7. Amy-Lou -  October 26, 2010 - 7:02 am

    If left is right and right is left then does that mean wrong is right and right is wrong???? Think about it.

  8. sweetpea -  October 25, 2010 - 10:33 pm

    I agrre with seth on “thanks” and “thank you”

  9. crabber1967 -  October 25, 2010 - 7:25 pm

    Sinister is from the Latin for Left: “sinistrata”

  10. Amy-Lou -  October 25, 2010 - 8:04 am


  11. maggie -  October 25, 2010 - 3:18 am

    @WCHUNG Question, if three lefts make a right does that mean three wrongs make a right??!!??

  12. maggie -  October 25, 2010 - 3:16 am

    so the point of this is i mean i get it i think but whoever wrote that just wasted their time when they could be doin somethin to help the world i mean come on peoples!!!!!!!!

  13. Curly Hair -  October 24, 2010 - 2:49 pm

    @JD: What makes you so sure that the dagger was eighteen inches long?

    And just a cute little joke I can’t help telling:

    Two wrongs never made a right, but what did two rights make? The first airplane (Wright).

1 2 3

Leave A Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked (required):

Related articles

Back to Top