Something Sinister

Lindsey walked into her house through the garage door, exhausted by the endless meetings at work. She flipped the light switch in the dark entry way, but nothing happened. After flipping the switch a few more times to confirm that the lightbulb was indeed dead, Lindsey groaned in disgust at having to now replace the bulb. Not an easy task for someone who is five foot two. She had only taken a few steps down the staircase to fetch the lightbulb from the basement, when she heard the scuttling of tiny claws scraping the bare cement. Her stomach twisted, her heart raced and every fiber of her being screamed at her to run back out to the car. No, she would not run away from what was very likely a mouse.The door slammed shut. She knew she wasn't alone.

Her hands trembled as she turned on her phone’s flashlight and continued shakily down the stairs that groaned with each step. Every horror movie she had seen told her this was not a good idea, that she should turn around now and leave the lightbulb for another time. Moving the light around the unfinished basement revealed that she was alone. The mouse had gone. Lindsey let out the breath she hadn’t realized she was holding. She crossed the basement to a shelving unit on the far wall. Suddenly the sound of the door slamming shut behind her rattled her to her core. She knew she was not alone now. She turned around, her flashlight illuminating the large person walking towards her, his sinister laugh echoing through the dingy basement.

Power of a Word

This is a scene we have all seen. Most of us even yell at the idiot who walks right into danger, but this would have been very different if we still understood the word “sinister” as its original definition. Would we have been worried for Lindsey if she had heard a “contrary laugh” instead of a sinister one? Words are powerful things, but they only carry as much power as our understanding of the word allows. Looking at “sinister” we can see how words evolve over time.

Sinister first appeared in the English language in the fifteenth century, rooted in French and Latin. The Latin definition of sinister is: left or on the left side. The word evolved to mean “contrary, false; to the left” in French. By the time sinister integrated with English it had come to indicate something of ill-will or intending to mislead. Somehow “left” and “intending to mislead” just don’t cause goosebumps the way our current understanding of sinister does.

Good and Bad Omens

So how did sinister come to have the terrifying connotation it does now? The practice of augury had a large impact on the word “sinister” in particular. Through attempting to divine an answer by watching the flight patterns of birds, people believed the could tell when good or bad events would take place. If the birds were flying on the right side, it was a good omen. However, it was an ill omen if they flew on the left. Delving further in, many identify light and dark magick as the right-hand and left-hand paths, respectively. Now, the left side, which is also considered to be a self-serving art, has progressed from simply implying bad luck to representing a supernatural evil. Since the fifteenth century we have moved from describing someone as low caliber as a hustler, someone who doesn’t intend physical harm to another person, as sinister to attributing this word to that which is truly evil and intends great harm toward someone.

~ May your Halloween season be spooky and free of any sinister events. ~


Leilah Wright lives in beautiful Colorado Springs where she amasses books like a dragon hoards treasure. She is an editor at Novelesque and is writing her first novel. A true pluviophile, she is happiest on rainy days while drinking obscene amounts of coffee. When not working she enjoys time with her two children, reading, and catching up on shows. Keep up with her on her Blog and on Facebook.