Take the 2-minute tour ×
French Language Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for students, teachers, and linguists wanting to discuss the finer points of the French language. It's 100% free, no registration required.

This is both an EL&U question and a FL&U question, so I've double-posted accordingly to maximize visibility.

Here's the thing that struck me as odd today.

In English, we would say "his right arm." But we would also say "he has the right to something."

In French, we would say "le bras droit." And we would say "Il a le droit de quelque chose."

So, given that the English "right" is not (so far as I can tell) in any way similar to the French "droit," how is it that they both happen to have these two disparate meanings in both languages? I'm inclined to say it's not a coincidence. How would that happen?

share|improve this question
I don't know for english, but gauche has also two meanings in french. –  mouviciel Jan 7 '13 at 0:00
The same is true with "bien antérieure" ("well before," i.e. a long time before). –  user1778 Jan 8 '13 at 7:05

2 Answers 2

up vote 2 down vote accepted

The same reasons gave the same meanings to a similar concept in both languages, may I guess.

Both senses are driven by the correctness of something. The right to do something is obviously matching the fact that it is right for one to do so, and on the same hand, it's the right arm that shall be used to do anything among decent men. Not that I'm able to document it in any way, but i'm pretty sure left-handed people were hunted down for sorcery or something in some ancient time.

Similarly, the rightful mind matches un esprit droit (the opposite of un esprit mal tourné), still within the same semantic concept.

share|improve this answer
Is the same pattern present in non-IE languages? –  Evpok Jan 6 '13 at 18:15

Droit et right ont la même racine indo-européenne, ainsi que l'allemand Recht, l'espagnol derecho, l'italien destro et les mots équivalents dans beaucoup d'autres langues issues du germanique ou du latin.
La consultation d'un dictionnaire - ou en ligne des différents wiktionnaires - indique que l'indo-européen h₃reǵtós (aller en ligne droite) a donné le germanique rehtaz, le grec ὀρεκτός d'où a dérivé le latin dirēctus et le français droit.

Both words have the same Proto-Indo-European root meaning "move in a straight line" that has given the Germanic rehtaz (hence the German Recht and the English right), the Greek ὀρεκτός and latin dirēctus (hence the French droit, Spanish derecho, etc...).

See Proto-Indo-European h₃reǵtós on wiktionary.

share|improve this answer
Interesting affairs, which enlights my own answer with the the actual root I'm talking about. (The “how comes disparate meanings are matching” part of the question still holds, as these senses probably didn't exist at that time.) –  Nikana Reklawyks Jan 6 '13 at 8:14
@NikanaReklawyks:Meanings don't seem to be disparate at all. Both meanings existed in the Indo-European root which meant to straighten, direct. Position : right handed people being by far the most numerous in the human species they will use their right arm to direct to something. Law: to straighten is to make right something that isn't right. –  Laure Jan 6 '13 at 8:35
Si on veut être plus précis, droit ne vient pas directement de *h₃reǵ- mais du Latin directus formé de rectus qui vient bien de *h₃reǵ- et de dis-, qui vient de *dwis et a ici le sens de plus, encore, davantage. –  Evpok Jan 6 '13 at 11:18
@Laure: My point exactly. –  Nikana Reklawyks Jan 6 '13 at 13:57

Your Answer


By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.