What's Left?

08/19/2010 01:12 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011
  • K.J. Dwyer K.J. Dwyer is an American living in Argentina with his partner

Having lived in Argentina over the last six years, I'm struck by the power of the "Left/Right" binary of American Politics; more specifically the connotations that accompany the word "left" in English that are virtually non-existent in Spanish.

In English, left is not just the opposite of right. It is the past participle of the verb to leave. As such, if you are left, you are abandoned, like an unloved spouse ("he/she left me") or someone who couldn't make the train in time and was "left behind." You're "who's left" if all the best players have already been chosen for a team and are only grudgingly taken on at the end of a selection and, as such, are also associated with "leavings". "Leavings" are "leftovers" as in a plate of food after a diner has been sated or "residue" as in what's left in a pan after cooking that plate of food; that which can be fed to the dogs or scraped into the trash before scrubbing the dishes and pans clean.

If you attempt to divide a cake proportionally without first determining how many slices you need to cut, you're often left with odd-sized portions or just crumbs. Like in math, after division, you are often left with remainders -- fractions.

As a derivative of leave, left also has the connotation of "let" as in "to allow" ("let in" as opposed to "left out"). There is a sense of late in the United States that the Left exists only insofar as it is allowed to by the Right. By your leave, my liege.

In Spanish, no such connotations for "left" exist. The verb dejar (to leave) has nothing to do with the izquierda/derecha (left/right) binary of any Spanish language politics. Much of the same cultural, class and economic divisions exist with regards to izquierda, however Spanish doesn't by connotation implicitly and subliminally laden you with all the English "left baggage" before you're able to state your case. While I'm told by some Spanish speakers that an archaic use of izquierda could be used to describe something as odd or strange, that use is virtually non-existent today.

The words for "left" in other languages as relate to direction or physical sides have historically had pejorative connotations, as well. In Latin left was sinister, in modern French it is gauche, for instance. As far as I can tell, however, no language overloads the word for "left" the way English does.

Obviously, we all know what's "right." Just in case there are those of us who don't, according to Random House, it is

in accordance with what is good, proper, or just . . . ; in conformity with fact, reason, truth, or some standard or principle . . . ; correct in judgment, opinion, or action . . . ; fitting or appropriate . . . ; suitable . . . ; most convenient, desirable, or favorable . . . ; in a satisfactory state . . . ; in good order . . . ; sound, sane, or normal . . .

..etc. And that's just the adjective. The verb and noun forms are equally positive.

While derecha in Spanish does have a somewhat positive connotation (sigue derecha does not mean follow to the right, but rather follow straight ahead), it does not have anywhere near the over-the-top celebration of all that is "right with the world" that English does.

Many of us on the Left are left angry and confused as we are continually left out of the left-wing political debate. We're told we're out in left field and that the president should be left alone. We should be content with what's left after the Right renders the Left's progressive solutions into crumby leftovers. If this option is all the Left is left with, what's left to be done with what's left of the Left when many of the Left take their leave to leave the Democratic Party and have left?

Quizás que sea mejor que hagan la lengua oficial de los estados unidos español en lugar de inglés. O quizás es solamente una cuestión de tiempo, no?