RE: writing direction

From: Philippe Verdy (
Date: Wed Mar 25 2009 - 02:04:54 CST

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    It's probably in India and in the Arabic world that the taboo is the most
    important: there's a right hand (the "pure" hand) for eating and drinking
    (don't forget that people traditionally eat with their fingers, without
    uisng a fork), and the other left hand (the "impure" hand) is reserved for
    cleaning one's genital or anal parts.
    In the Christian world, the right hand was necessary for signing the cross
    on one's head, chest and shoulders, but I can't see any symbolic reason for
    it, and this tradition is not always observed now. I do agree however that
    this is a very ancient taboo (sinistro is a good example in Roman Latin, but
    there are other examples in Old Greek, and probably even older in Phoenician
    if this tradition has spread throughout all Indo-European, and Semitic
    In French the "droite" direction is also the same feminine as the adjectif
    "droit" (used also as a name to designate the domain of laws studied by
    jurists, just like the "right" in English), and also related to "adroit" and
    "dexterité" (the personal ability to do something correctly). In older
    French it was "dextre". It evidently comes from Latin. The same would apply
    to all Romance languages, but is true as well in Germanic languages ("recht"
    in German), or Nordic languages.
    Does it also apply in Japan, or in China, or in Mongolian old traditions? Or
    in even older Amerindian and Australasian aboriginal cultures?


    De : [] De la
    part de Aviah Morag - TransLink
    Envoyé : mercredi 25 mars 2009 07:34
    À : Zabeeh Khan
    Cc :
    Objet : Re: writing direction

    Interesting. The taboo regarding the left is pretty ubiquitous, regardless
    of language direction. It exists on some level almost everywhere in the
    world - shaking your hand with the right hand, right being a synonym for
    "correct" (and left being a synonym for "bad" - cf gauche, sinistro et al)
    in a huge number of languages. I don't think that it has anything to do with
    writing direction, through. I'm not aware of any source for the historical
    reasons for choosing one over the other, if there was even any ideology
    behind it at all. I'd be happy to hear about any (offlist).

    One advantage to being a southpaw (lefty) and writing in Hebrew - no
    pencil/ink smudges! (Except when embedding LTR, of course...)


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