Understanding the Idiom: "go left" - Meaning, Origins, and Usage

Idiom language: English
Etymology: Possibly an alteration of go wrong using an antonym of a different sense of the adjective right.
  • go south

The origins of this idiom are unclear, but it has been in use for many years. It is often associated with driving directions, where turning left instead of right can lead you down the wrong path. However, it can also be applied to other situations where a choice needs to be made.

Understanding the nuances of this idiom is important for effective communication in English language. By exploring its various meanings and contexts, we can gain a better understanding of how it is used and avoid misunderstandings when using it ourselves.

Origins and Historical Context of the Idiom “go left”

The phrase “go left” is a common idiom used in English to indicate turning or moving towards the left side. This expression has been around for centuries, and its origins can be traced back to various historical events and cultural practices.

One possible origin of this idiom dates back to ancient times when people believed that the left side was associated with evil or bad luck. In many cultures, the right hand was considered pure and clean while the left hand was seen as unclean and impure. Therefore, going towards the left side was often viewed as a negative action.

However, over time, this negative connotation attached to the left side started fading away. The French Revolution played a significant role in changing people’s perception of what it means to go left. During this period, those who supported radical political changes sat on the left-hand side of parliament while those who opposed such changes sat on the right-hand side.

Today, “go left” is commonly used in everyday language without any negative connotations attached to it. It simply means turning or moving towards one’s left direction.

To summarize, while there are several theories about how this idiom came into existence, its meaning has evolved over time from being associated with negativity to becoming an ordinary expression used in daily conversations.

Usage and Variations of the Idiom “go left”


One of the most common uses of the idiom “go left” is when giving directions. If someone tells you to “go left,” they are instructing you to turn in that direction. However, there are also variations on this phrase that can be used depending on the situation. For example, if someone says “take a hard left,” they mean that you should turn sharply or quickly in that direction.


Another way that the idiom “go left” is often used is in discussions about politics. In this context, it refers to having more liberal or progressive views on social issues such as healthcare, education, and civil rights. People who identify as being on the political left tend to support policies that promote equality and fairness for all individuals.


In addition to its literal and political meanings, the idiom “go left” has also become part of modern slang culture. It can be used as an expression of surprise or disbelief when something unexpected happens or goes wrong. For example, if your friend spills coffee all over themselves while walking down the street, you might say “wow, things really went left there!”

Synonyms, Antonyms, and Cultural Insights for the Idiom “go left”

When it comes to synonyms for “go left”, there are several options. One could say “turn left”, “take a left”, or even use the colloquialism “hang a Louie” (which is derived from the name Louis). On the other hand, antonyms for this phrase would include “go right” or simply saying “don’t go left”.

Culturally speaking, the direction of turning left has taken on different meanings in various parts of the world. In Western cultures, turning left is generally associated with making a political statement or being progressive. However, in some Eastern cultures such as Japan and Korea, turning left can be seen as unlucky or even taboo due to its association with death.

Understanding these nuances can help individuals navigate conversations and situations where this idiom may arise.

Practical Exercises for the Idiom “go left”

Exercise 1: Fill in the blanks

In this exercise, you will fill in the blanks with appropriate words that complete the sentences using the idiom “go left”. This exercise will help you understand how to use the phrase correctly.

Example: When driving on a new road, always remember to _____ at the first intersection.

Answer: go left

1. If you want to get to my house, _____ at the traffic light and then take a right turn.

2. The shortcut to our office is easy – just _____ after crossing two blocks.

3. I was lost in a new city until someone told me to _____ at the next corner.

4. To reach your destination faster, it’s better if you _____ from here instead of going straight.

Exercise 2: Create your own sentences

In this exercise, you will create your own sentences using “go left” that demonstrate your understanding of how and when to use it. You can use any context or situation that comes into your mind.

Example: Yesterday while walking down Main Street I saw an interesting store so I decided to _______ and check it out.

Answer: go left

1. Whenever I’m stuck in traffic on my way home from work, I usually _______ towards an alternate route.

2. My friend suggested we should _______ at a certain point during our hike so we could see a beautiful view of nature.

3. In order not to miss my flight last week, I had no choice but _______ even though I was in a hurry.

4. During my morning jog, I usually _______ at the park to take a break and enjoy the scenery.

These exercises will help you practice using “go left” in different situations and contexts. With regular practice, you will be able to use this idiom confidently and naturally in your conversations.

Common Mistakes to Avoid When Using the Idiom “go left”

When using idioms in a conversation, it is important to understand their meaning and usage. The idiom “go left” is commonly used in English language and it refers to taking an unconventional or unexpected approach towards something. However, there are some common mistakes that people make when using this idiom which can lead to confusion and miscommunication.

Mistake 1: Taking the Literal Meaning

One of the most common mistakes people make when using the idiom “go left” is taking its literal meaning. This can happen when someone who is not familiar with this expression tries to interpret it based on its literal sense. It is important to remember that idioms have a figurative meaning which may not be directly related to their literal interpretation.

Mistake 2: Using it Out of Context

Another mistake people make while using the idiom “go left” is using it out of context. This can happen when someone uses this expression without understanding its appropriate usage or situation where it fits best. In order to use an idiom correctly, one needs to understand its context and apply it accordingly.

  • Avoid using “go left” in situations where it doesn’t fit.
  • Understand the context before applying this idiom.
  • Use idioms appropriately for effective communication.


  1. Ben Zimmer (May 5, 2017), “The Sinister History of ‘Going Left’”, in The Wall Street Jourrnal?1: “Ja Rule is not the first to use ‘go left’ to mean ‘go wrong,’ playing on the double meaning of ‘right.’ ”
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