A Word of Advice about Being Right

rogersgeorge on August 6th, 2017

The word “right” has at least three reasonably unrelated meanings, though they share a derivation. Right can refer to your political leanings, it can mean the opposite of left, and it is a synonym for being correct. (the shared derivation is not etymological but cultural in the case of politics, which used to refer to the right-hand side of the aisle.) And then there’s pun-fodder in the homonym “rite.”

Here’s an example of confusing right and left from good old Gasoline Alley:

So we have a situation ripe for ambiguity, which is the enemy of good expository writing. In spoken language you can get away with it (ahem, usually) because you have the aid of tone of voice, but when you’re writing, here’s my advice:

When that’s what you mean, always write “correct” instead of “right.”

I remember watching a John Cleese movie that ended with a scene of a (humorous) almost-car crash because the driver and passenger confused the meaning of “right.”

Maybe you should always use “correct” when that’s what you mean.

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One Response to “A Word of Advice about Being Right”

  1. The terms “right” and “left” stem from the British House of Commons, where Conservative and Labour parties sit on opposite sides of the debating chamber. Maybe the US adopted the same practice.

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