Why do some Spanish/English words share the same multiple meanings?

For example, in English the word right (opposite of left) and right (privileges, as in human rights) are homonyms. In Spanish, derecho/a also means both of those things. Don’t the concepts behind those words predate the cross-pollination of the two languages? Why do they share this homonym quality?


You might find this video interesting:



I think the short answer is that we all speak “Latin” and the various empires, especially Roman, spread cultural concepts across Europe that would be durable for some degree for centuries.

Counterpoint, there are also plenty of false cognates between any given European languages.

There is also convergence, as another commentor pointed out. If something is invented in the US in 1970, or introduced to the US in 1970, there’s a good chance people aren’t going to give it a name in their language: they will just call it what it was called to them.

I don’t think “loan words” explain your example, but you can imagine that if what is now Spain and France had the same rulers, they’d develop similar legal culture later on, and then if France conquered what is now England, that eventually English would inehrit specific quirks common to Spanish


I have done professional and amateur translation work in a couple of different languages. In addition to what others say, it seems like many languages go through a type of convergent evolution. For people who live in completely different cultures, with completely different histories and values, it is amazing to see how many words expressing abstract concepts can be exact translations in almost every way. It is just my intuition, but I believe translators play a key in a language’s evolution.


I don’t recall all of the fun fine details of it, but waaaaaaaay back when, there was a math nerd who was also just as much of a religious nut. He’s the main idea behind why graphs work the way they do. Up and to the right is good, where as down and the left is bad. The direction right became synonymous with godliness and the left direction was for evil, just like up and down. In a weird way, math is hella religious


That doesn’t sound right (heh). Left to right was probably from writing being left to right. Up for increasing number just seems natural, maybe because we build up from the ground, stack things up from the bottom.

@AllNewTypeFace@leminal.space avatar

I’m guessing that in texts in right-to-left languages like Arabic and Hebrew, graphs would be drawn the other way around, the X axis increasing leftward.


I’ll let you make a post asking.


As an Arabic speaker, our graphs also go from left to right. That said for some reason our number are written from left to right for some reason.

@FuglyDuck@lemmy.world avatar

Right hands became right because most people used them for dexterous tasks- they were correct. Left hands were ‘sinister’- as in the opposite of correct(more accurately: contrary/false/unfavorable. It comes from the Latin sinister which was the opposite of “dexter”,)

Charts were left-to-right in large part because most of the languages/alphabets in surrounding the chart were also left to right- Greek and Latin alphabets come to mind. (Arabic would be a noted exception. IIRC Asian alphabets tend to write top down first.)

I assume that most languages were written left to right simply because it was cleaner- ask a lefty about their troubles. Left to right and top to bottom keeps your hand from going over and maybe smudging freshly written text for a right handed person.

lvxferre, (edited )
@lvxferre@lemmy.ml avatar

[advertisement] !linguistics welcomes this sort of question [advertisement]

That said, look at Latin:

  • dexter - right side, but also: favourable, fitting, proper (cf Spanish diestro)
  • sinister - left side, but also: adverse, hostile, bad (cf Spanish siniestro)

The “privileges” that you see in derecho and right are an extension of what Latin already associated with dexter - things that are proper to do or to get. For example if I got a right to freedom, that means that it’s fitting for me to get freedom, you know?

Based on that odds are that Spanish simply inherited the association, and kept it as such even after borrowing izquierdo from Basque and shifting directus→derecho from “straight” to “right”. While English borrowed it, either from Latin or some Gallo-Romance language.

And overall you’ll see a fair bit of that in the Western European languages, regardless of phylogenetic association, since languages clustered near each other (i.e. a Sprachbund) will often borrow concepts and associations from either each other or from a common source.

Also, note that right “as side” and “as privilege” are not homonyms. Those aren’t different words from different sources, it’s the same word with two different meanings, this is called polysemy. The same applies to derecho.

@Bunnylux@lemmy.world avatar

THANK YOU what a great answer, I will check out your community

@Coki91@dormi.zone avatar

Just a tiny correction, sinester in spanish is “Siniestro”

@lvxferre@lemmy.ml avatar

Fix’d - thanks!

@ademir@lemmy.eco.br avatar



directus→derecho from “straight” to “right”

So that’s why “straight on” and “on the right” are the maddeningly confusable “a derecha” and “en derecho”. Such a pain when following directions.

@lvxferre@lemmy.ml avatar

It could be worse.

That word was originally a verb, it’s the perfect participle of Latin dirigo “to lay straight”, “to direct”, “to steer”. The verb itself kicked the bucket; if it didn’t, it would’ve been something like *dereger in Spanish, with the past participle *derecho.

So “driven straight to the right” would’ve become *“derecho en derecho a la derecha”.

(Thankfully the verb got replaced by its own reborrowed version dirigir “to drive”, “to direct”, so the sentence is a bit less maddening: dirigido en derecho a la derecha.)

[inb4 I’m not a native speaker so if anyone finds a mistake please do tell me out. I’m a bit too prone to portuñol.]

  • All
  • Subscribed
  • Moderated
  • Favorites
  • nostupidquestions@lemmy.world
  • rosin
  • InstantRegret
  • everett
  • khanakhh
  • DreamBathrooms
  • Youngstown
  • ethstaker
  • magazineikmin
  • slotface
  • mdbf
  • tacticalgear
  • kavyap
  • thenastyranch
  • rhentai
  • bokunoheroacademia
  • Durango
  • tester
  • GTA5RPClips
  • cisconetworking
  • cubers
  • modclub
  • osvaldo12
  • normalnudes
  • relationshipadvice
  • Leos
  • lostlight
  • HellsKitchen
  • sketchdaily
  • All magazines