Discover now the spooky origin of two adjectives

Photo by Tasos Mansour on Unsplash

It’s October and the spooky season is setting in. Maybe we exaggerated a bit, they are not bad words as in swearing, but they are two pretty negative adjectives. Today, we bring you the curious origins of “nasty” and “sinister”.



Sinister mainly means having an evil appearance or looking likely to cause something bad, harmful, or dangerous to happen (Merriam-Webster dictionary). 

Sinister comes from the Latin word meaning “on the left side.” The earliest uses of the word date back to the 14th century and mostly meant something evil, forboding, or malevolence.

But, why did left equal evil? Due to the majority of the population being right-handed, the use of the left side of the body feels unnatural and awkward. Using the left hand was attributed to demonic possession and witchcraft. Moreover, with the appearance of Eve on Adam’s left side in accounts of Genesis, the Christian tradition finds instances of the left side being pinned to immorality.

It does not help that the right side of the body has opposite connotations: being dexterous (which comes from the Latin dexter, “on the right side”) means skillful and clever. And right also means “correct, true and ethically sound.” This intensifies the meaning of left as evil. Nowadays, it seems unfair, right?



Nasty is a very polysemic adjective, which means it has more than one meaning, all of them negative. According to the Cambridge dictionary, it can mean 1) bad or very unpleasant, 2) unkind, 3) dangerous or violent, or 4) rude or offensive.

As you can see, whether it refers to a situation or a person, it is never good. But where does this word come from and how did it form so many meanings? Let’s dive in!

The Oxford English Dictionary (OED) first attests it in Carleton Brown’s 1390 Religious Lyrics of the 14th Century: “Whon we be nasti, nouȝt at neode, Neore wimmen help, hou schulde we fare?” But we are not certain of its origin. There are 3 main theories:

  1. It comes from the French nastre, meaning “strange, lowly, bad.” It is the abbreviation of villenastre (where villain comes from!), which meant “infamous, ignoble.”
  2. Nasty derives from the Dutch nestig, meaning filthy in the manner of a bird’s nest, although the origin of this word is also unclear.
  3. Nasty (and nestig) could have a Scandinavian source: Swedish naskug, (meaning “dirty”), or nask (“dirt”). Walter Skeat believes that this word lost an initial s- and comes from snaska, “to eat like a pig,” greedily and noisily. Middle English has nasky, a variant of nasty, which suggests some Scandinavian heritage.

Which one do you think is the true origin? Let us know!

For more origins of word, visit this post.

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