[correct, morally correct, direct] Old English riht, of actions, "just, good, fair, in conformity with moral law; proper, fitting, according to standard; rightful, legitimate, lawful; correct in belief, orthodox;" of persons or their characters, "disposed to do what is good or just;" also literal, "straight, not bent; direct, being the shortest course; erect," from Proto-Germanic *rehtan (source also of Old Frisian riucht "right," Old Saxon reht, Middle Dutch and Dutch recht, Old High German reht, German recht, Old Norse rettr, Gothic raihts), from PIE root *reg- "move in a straight line," also "to rule, to lead straight, to put right" (source also of Greek orektos "stretched out, upright;" Latin rectus "straight, right;" Old Persian rasta- "straight; right," aršta- "rectitude;" Old Irish recht "law;" Welsh rhaith, Breton reiz "just, righteous, wise").
Compare slang straight (adj.1) "honest, morally upright," and Latin rectus "right," literally "straight," Lithuanian teisus "right, true," literally "straight." Greek dikaios "just" (in the moral and legal sense) is from dike "custom."
By 1580s as "in conformity with truth, fact, or reason; correct, not erroneous;" of persons, "thinking or acting in accordance with truth or the facts of the case," 1590s. Of solid figures, "having the base at right angle with the axis," 1670s. The sense of "leading in the proper or desired direction" is by 1814. As an emphatic, meaning "you are right," it is recorded from 1580s; use as a question meaning "am I not right?" is by 1961. Extended colloquial form righto is attested by 1896.
The sense in right whale (by 1733) is said in dictionaries to be "justly entitled to the name" (a sense that goes back to Old English); earliest sources for the term, in New England whaling publications, list it first among whales and compare the others to it. Of persons who are socially acceptable and potentially influential (the right people) by 1842.
Right stuff "best human ingredients" is from 1848, popularized by Tom Wolfe's 1979 book about the first astronauts. Right angle is from late 14c. The right way originally was "the way of moral righteousness, the path to salvation" (Old English); the sense of "correct method, what is most conducive to the end in vision" is by 1560s. The sense in in one's right mind is of "mentally normal or sound" (1660s).
"opposite of left," early 12c., riht, from Old English riht, which did not have this sense but meant "good, proper, fitting, straight" (see right (adj.1)). It is a specialized development of the adjective that apparently began in late Old English on the notion of the right hand as normally the stronger of the two, or perhaps the "correct," hand. By c. 1200 this was extended to that side of the body, then to its limbs, clothing, etc., and then transferred to other objects.
The usual Old English word for the opposite of left was swiþra, literally "stronger." "The history of words for 'right' and 'left' shows that they were used primarily with reference to the hands" [Buck]. Similar sense evolution in Dutch recht, German recht "right (not left)," from Old High German reht, which meant only "straight, just." Compare Latin rectus "straight; right," also from the same PIE root.
The usual PIE root (*deks-) is represented by Latin dexter. Other derivations on a similar pattern to English right are French droit, from Latin directus "straight;" Lithuanian labas, literally "good;" and Slavic words (Bohemian pravy, Polish prawy, Russian pravyj) from Old Church Slavonic pravu, literally "straight" (from PIE *pro-, from root *per- (1) "forward," hence "in front of, before, first, chief").
The political sense of "conservative" is recorded by 1794 (adj.), 1825 (n.), a translation of French Droit "the Right, Conservative Party" in the French National Assembly (1789; see left (adj.)).
Old English rihtan "to straighten (a path); rule, set up, set right, amend; guide, govern; restore, replace," from riht (adj.); see right (adj.1). Compare Old Norse retta "to straighten," Old Saxon rihtian, Old Frisian riuchta, German richten, Gothic garaihtjan.
From late 14c. as "avenge or redress" (a wrong or injury). The meaning "bring (a ship) back to an upright position" is by 1745; the sense of "recover one's balance or footing" is by 1805. The meaning "restore (something) to proper position after a fall, etc." is by 1823. Related: Righted; righting.
Old English riht (West Saxon, Kentish), reht (Anglian), "that which is morally right, duty, obligation," also "rule of conduct; law of a land;" also "what someone deserves; a just claim, what is due, equitable treatment;" also "correctness, truth;" also "a legal entitlement (to possession of property, etc.), a privilege," from Proto-Germanic *rehtan (see right (adj.1)). In Middle English often contrasted to might or wrong. From early 14c. as "a right action, a good deed," hence the right "that which is just or true, righteousness."
From what has been said it will be seen that the adjective right has a much wider signification than the substantive Right. Every thing is right which is conformable to the Supreme Rule of human action ; but that only is a Right which, being conformable to the Supreme Rule, is realized in Society, and vested in a particular person. Hence the two words may often be properly opposed. We may say that a poor man has no Right to relief, but it is right he should have it. A rich man has a Right to destroy the harvest of his fields, but to do so would not be right. [William Whewell, "Elements of Morality," 1858]
The meaning "the right hand or right side" (as opposed to the left) is from mid-13c.; see right (adj.2) for sense development. As "the right wing of an army" by 1707. Political use is from 1825. Meaning "a blow with the right fist" is from 1898; the meaning "a right-hand turn" is by 1961. The phrase to rights "at once, straightway" is 1660s, from an earlier meaning "in a proper manner" (Middle English). Adjectival phrase right-to-work is attested from 1958; right-to-die by 1976. To do or something in one's own right (1610s) is from the legal use for "title or claim to something possessed by one or more" (12c.).
Old English rehte, rihte "in a straight or direct manner; in a right manner, justly; precisely, exactly" (as in right now); "according to rule; according to fact or truth, correctly," from right (adj.1). Compare Old Saxon rehto, Old Frisian riuchte, Middle Dutch richte, German recht, adverbs from the adjectives.
Its use with adjectives (right smart, right nice, etc.) now is U.S. colloquial but dates to c. 1200 and is in Chaucer, Malory, Jonson, Coleridge. In titles of address from late 14c. Right on as an exclamation of approval is recorded by 1925 in African-American vernacular, popularized mid-1960s by the Black Panther movement.
updated on August 23, 2021
Dictionary entries near right
right of way