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How did “left” and “right” come to represent the ends of the political spectrum?

Dear Cecil:

How did "left" and "right" come to represent the ends of the political spectrum that they do?

Lisa Martinovic, Lafeyette, California

Cecil replies:

The Oxford English Dictionary explains it this way: “This use originated in the French National Assembly of 1789, in which the nobles as a body took the position of honour on the President’s right, and the Third Estate sat on his left. The significance of these positions, which was at first merely ceremonial, soon became political.”

Cecil Adams

Send questions to Cecil via cecil@straightdope.com.