Armenian Language Corner

Only Right Guides Admitted

The word arachnort (առաջնորդ) has several meanings in Armenian: “guide,” “leader,” “chief,” “head,” and by extension, “head of an ecclesiastic division.” It is, obviously, a composition of the word arachin (առաջին “first”) and the suffix ord (որդ): arachin + ort = arachnort. Interestingly, one of its English equivalents, primate (“head of an ecclesiastic division”), is a French word that came from Latin primat (“of the first rank”), a derivation from Latin primus (“first”).

It is interesting to compare the roots of both words: primus is related to Latin pre (“before”), which has generated a lot of English words (predict, prescribe, prevention, and so on and so forth), while arachin literally means “towards the right.” It is another compound word: ar (առ) + ach (աջ) + in (ին). The prefix ar is a Classical Armenian term that means “towards” (today we use tebi-դէպի in Modern Armenian) and ach is, of course, the side contrary to the left.

An arachnort, then, was the person who guided, led, or headed correctly (“to the right”), be it a tourist guide, a political leader, an administrative head, or a primate or prelate.

As the reader probably knows, anything related to the left (ձախ-tsakh) had a bad press until recent times: left-handed people were forced to become right-handed, for instance. The verb “to fail” is tsakhoghil (ձախողիլ) in Armenian, whose root is, indeed, tsakh. Left was synonymous with inaccurate and incorrect, anything that was not… right.

This is why the word achaguits (աջակից “assistant, supporter”) is formed by the combination of ach (աջ) and gits (կից “to join, to attach”). The person who assisted or supported someone was supposed to help from the right side. Nobody would have dared to call her tsakhaguits; it would have probably attracted bad luck from the very beginning.