Right vs. rite

Some writers are so used to hearing about “rights” that they forget about “rites.”


The Declaration of Independence enshrined the idea of inalienable rights. The U.S. Constitution has a Bill of Rights that gives citizens such things as freedom of speech, freedom of religion and the right to a jury trial. Those are a birthright (a word that emerged in the 1500s) for anyone born in the United States. The Fourteenth Amendment clarified that birthright, although conservatives are challenging it in the debate over illegal immigration.

In all these cases, right means a guarantee or a claim.

Right also means correct or proper or suitable, as in the right answer or the right person for the job.

It has other meanings, of course – the opposite of left; to correct a wrong; immediately (as in right now) – and that’s the point: Right overshadows rite.

We can’t forget rite, though.

Rite means a ceremony or practice. You’ll often hear it in a religious context: last rites, rites of baptism.

And don’t forget rites of passage, a relatively new term (1950s) and the one the writer of the article above was after.

Next time you see it, you’ll be sure to take your time and do it right.

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