[FOUNTAIN]Sinister, dexterous politicians

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[FOUNTAIN]Sinister, dexterous politicians

The order in which people name the four directions varies by country. In Korea and Japan, people recite the four cardinal compass points as east, west, south and north. Chinese will say east, south, west and north. English speakers say they are north, south, east and west.

Supposedly knights in medieval Europe kept to the left when walking or riding down the road, because they usually wore their swords on their left side. If a knight kept to the right, his sword might bang into that of another knight passing him, with the risk of a fight developing. In addition, keeping to the left allowed right-handers to draw their swords more easily in an emergency. Samurai, the warriors of old Japan, also kept to the left on the road for the same reason.

Since right-handers are an overwhelming majority, right is preferred to left in all countries of the world. In Korea, jwaumyeong means literally "a proverb that you keep at your right side." In other words, a jwaumyeong is one's set of core values. In English, one's "right-hand man" is a person's closest and most important aide. Jwacheon, which literally means shifting to the left, means a demotion. Muslims and Hindus regard the right hand as clean and the left hand as dirty. The English word dexterous, meaning skillful, comes from the Latin word dexter, the right side. "Sinister," literally on the other hand, means menacing and is derived from the Latin word for the left side.

The words, "left-wing" and "right-wing" originated during the French Revolution of 1789. At a national political convention in 1792, the Jacobins, the radicals, sat on the left side of the hall and the Girondists, the moderates, sat on the right side. Accordingly, Jacobins were called left-wingers and Girondists right-wingers.

In the primaries of the ruling Millennium Democratic Party, Rhee In-je, a presidential candidate, called his rival, Roh Moo-hyun, a "radical left-winger." A few days ago, Lee Hoi-chang, a presidential contender and de facto leader of the main opposition Grand National Party, said the Kim Dae-jung administration and Mr. Roh are "left-wing" and "radical." Those remarks have triggered a lot of sound and fury among Korea's political circles. It is not proper to criticize someone for expressing his view on the political inclination of a presidential hopeful.

It makes me nervous to see politicians struggle with tedious ideological wrangling; we need constructive debate over policy issues. A bird needs both his left and his right wings to fly.

The writer is a deputy international news editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Noh Jae-hyun

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