Armenian Language Corner


You have heard or seen the saying: “If the right side of the brain controls the left side of the body, then only left-handed people are in their right minds.” However, as we all know, everything associated with the left has bad press. Two random examples: the word “sinister” comes from the same Latin word meaning “left,” and until a few decades ago, left-handed children were forced to become right-handed. Of course, “right” means “correct, true,” and the direction to the right reflects the fact that it is… the true direction, with “left” coming from Old English lyft, meaning “weak.”

If you go to the Armenian language, the situation is similar. While do not know the etymological origin of the word ձախ (tzakh, “left”), we know that its meaning was related to negative understandings, while the word աջ (ach, “right”) is connected to what is positive and correct: “After the Lord Jesus had spoken to them, he was taken up into heaven and he sat at the right hand [ach goghmuh] of God” (Mk 16:19).

We have the word առաջ (arach “forward, ahead”), which etymologically means “towards right” (առ-աջ/ar-ach) and is the key component of յառաջդիմութիւն (harachtimootyoon), a compound word with the addition of prefix and suffix (h-arach-tem-ootyoon) meaning “progress.” Since the idea of progress is inseparable from time, arach also means “previously, before” in Modern Armenian. The idea of beginning is expressed by the word առաջին (arachin “first,” ar-ach-in), which is the source of a well-known word even for English-speaking Armenians: առաջնորդ (arachnort, “primate, prelate,” from arachin and the suffix ort).

Of course, it is not by chance that when some work is on the correct track, then it is յաջող (hachogh, “successful,” h-ach-ogh), and the supporter of a given work is called աջակից (achageets, ach-a-geets).

One may hardly think that the structure of the language will ever change, and it is natural to assume that ach, like “right,” will keep its privileged position. However, if we bear in mind that some famous people in the world, from Aristotle to Leonardo da Vinci and from Napoleon to Diego Maradona and Lionel Messi, have been or are left-handed or left-footed, then we can conclude that left and right are simply two parts of the whole that complement each other and success is not linked to a particular side of the body. If there is a failure—which in Armenian is also linked to the concept of left in the word ձախողութիւն (tzakhoghootuyoon, tzakh-օgh-ootyoon)—it should be found somewhere else.