Where Left Meets Right – KABOOM!

Origins of “Right Wing / Left Wing”

Dear Yahoo!:
How did the terms “left wing” and “right wing” come to describe being liberal and conservative?
Michael Gowen, Michigan
Dear Michael:
To answer this question, we turned to several handy sites that explore the origins of words. Regular readers of Ask Yahoo! might recognize these sites because we’ve consulted them for many etymological questions. Word Origins tells us the terms date back to pre-revolutionary France. In 1789, the French National Assembly was created as a parliamentary body to move control of issues, such as taxation, from the king to the citizenry. Inside the chamber where the National Assembly met, members of the Third Estate sat on the left side and members of the First Estate sat on the right. The Third Estate consisted of revolutionaries, while the First Estate were nobles. Thus, the left wing of the room was more liberal, and the right wing was more conservative. In the next few years, the revolutionaries would take over and countless noble heads would roll, but that’s another story.Word Detective corroborates the idea that “left wing” and “right wing” date to the seating arrangements of the 1789 French National Assembly. The Mavens’ Word of the Day also confirms the phrases’ origin.

Word Wizard agrees on the origins of the terms and adds that they have a secondary layer of meanings. “Right” can also mean “correct,” while the Latin term for “left” suggests “sinister” behavior. We suspect that those on the political right wing appreciate these connotations more than those on the left.


October 21, 2007 - Posted by | Uncategorized |

1 Comment »

  1. My understanding of origins of the terms Left Wing & Right Wing differ from what you published. I have read that the more modern rebellious Ivy League college students, in recent history, had decided to sit on the “left” Side (or Left Wing)of the room, in class, to mock the Bible. Jesus determined to separate the Sheep from the Goats and the students, who determined that they were more like the “Goats” moved to the left side of the room and the remainder of the class moved to the right side. This has been determined to be true. Perhaps the French did what they did but the American version of the expression became popular because of the above.

    Comment by Jorge | September 21, 2009

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