• sinister •
Part of Speech: Adjective
Meaning: 1. Evil or presaging evil, suggesting wickedness, depravity. 2. Presaging something very bad or disastrous. 3. (Heraldry) Sinistral, to the left of the wearer (the right of the onlooker) on a coat of arms or shield.
Notes: Today's word is a left-handed recognition of left-handers. It originally meant simply "left, left-handed", as does its cousin sinistral today. However, left-handedness, like blackness, has been associated with evil for centuries in Europe and its former colonies have inherited that association. Nonetheless, this Good Word comes with an adverb, sinisterly, and two nouns, the lovely sinisterity and the rather ordinary sinisterness.
In Play: This word is usually saved for things portending evil: "Moshe, do you sense something sinister about the man in the mask holding a gun over there?" It need not be, however; it can also refer to anything threatening: "There is something sinister about the clouds hanging over the horizon; I think I'll carry my umbrella and an anchor."
Word History: One of the few overlooked persecuted minorities left in the world is left-handers. Only recently have US schools begun to provide desks for left-handers in the classroom but the speech police have not yet begun to investigate the sinistrally prejudicial words in English. Sinister began as the Latin word for "left" or "left-handed", then expanded to mean "presaging evil". A "left-handed compliment" is one with a hidden insult. Finally, there is the French word for "left-handed", gauche, which means "awkward, inept, clumsy". Should we quarantine these words as we do slurs against other minorities? (No one knows where Latin got this word but our gratitude to Perry Dror for getting it to us is as 'right-handed' as it is sincere.)
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