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Recently I have come to the phrase "to the Right of Attila the Hun" which allegedly describes the very conservative or reactionary person. Is it possible to construct similar phrases such as: "to the Left of Che Guevara", "to the Fanatic of Savonarola" or "to the Sex of Cassanova"?

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    I suppose the Che construction works (if that is your thing) but the others don't make sense as they are not prepositions that indicate a position of something on a scale or ranking. – Bruce Murray Jun 15 at 20:41
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    'left' and 'right' are both political and physical positions, so it works for Che Guevara. Sex and Fanaticsm are not physical positions (although they may entail physical positions), so you cannot use those terms this way. You could be 'more forward than Pelé' for instance (although 'more forward than Messi' probably works better) – Strawberry Jun 16 at 11:27
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    "to the Left of Che Guevara" - can work because he is widely accepted to have been on the far left of the political spectrum. With Attila the Hun it doesn't really work, because the current left-right political divide didn't exist in his time period, and it doesn't even make any sense for his time period. – vsz Jun 18 at 7:11
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    @vsz: Whether you believe it makes sense or not, it's an established phrase in the language... – psmears Jun 18 at 10:42
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    @psmears : no, it's not. It's a stellar example of citogenesis. It appeared on Wikipedia, was marked as citation needed a long long time ago, but still some press articles later used it as if it was something established and well known. – vsz Jun 18 at 10:45
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Left or Right are a political spectrum, and there are degrees, so, "to the Left of Che Guevara," is a reasonable comparison.

"More fanatic than Savonarola," is sensible, but simply "fanatic" itself is not comparing anything. You'd need to use comparative adjectives in the sense you want.

"He's faster than a speeding bullet."

"She's brighter than Einstein."

"His humor is beneath slapstick."

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    @bart-leby the construction works for certain directions. Something can be to the left or right of something, both literally (as in physically on that side) or figuratively (as in politically). It also works for directions on a map; Denmark is to the north of Germany – user34258 Jun 16 at 0:42
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    @bart-leby: It's a matter of physical location. If there is a statue "to the right of me", then I am describing its location. This is the same as saying that the statue is "more to the right" than me, which is comparing its location to mine. However, the same logic doesn't apply for adjectives that don't describe a direction. You can be more intelligent than me (comparing your intelligence to mine), but I can't describe your location as "to the intelligent of me" - which would be describing your... location? What location? Intelligence isn't a location. [..] – Flater Jun 16 at 7:55
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    @bart-leby: [..] The political spectrum uses a figurative location on that spectrum, where "left" and "right" express a comparison of location on that spectrum, and thus the same location-based construction makes sense. This applies to all spectrums, e.g. you could say "he's to the left of me on the autism spectrum". However, when you don't mention which spectrum you're talking about, it's generally understood to mean the political spectrum (especially with an appropriate supporting context) – Flater Jun 16 at 7:57
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    @bart-leby - Re "To the Sex of Cassanova," since there isn't an implied spectrum, you'd probably be better off just saying "Randier than Cassanova" or (my preference) "More highly-sexed than Cassanova" (or depending on what you really want to say, "More depraved than ..." "More sexually voracious..."). If you wanted to, you could define a spectrum in the statement itself, e.g. "Further along than even Cassanova on the sex/randiness scale" but it's fairly weak. – T.J. Crowder Jun 16 at 9:04
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    Should mention that the origins of "Left" and "Right" as measurements along the political spectrum can be traced to the French Parliament, where members of the respective parties literally sit on the left or right side of the room. This is not the case in, say, the US congress, where they are organized alphabetically by state. Not sure about other congressional bodies, but I'm sure it varies. – Darrel Hoffman Jun 16 at 13:25
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"Right" and "left" are positions. Here they are being used metaphorically, but let's look at the literal meaning.

You can say "He is standing "to the right of" her" or "in front of" her, or "behind her". The phrase "to the right of" functions as a prepostion. To form a phrase like this you need a word indicating a position:

To the north of / To the side of / to the front of

"Sex" or "fanatic" aren't like that. So you can't say "to the sex of"

In this actual example "right" means politically right wing (ie "conservative" or "authoritarian", "captialist" or "monarchist" depending on which version of right wing you mean) and "left" means politically left wing ("progressive", "liberal" "socialist", "republican" again, there are different versions of the left)

So you can say "To the left of Che Guevara". But note that these expressions are hyperbolic. They are deliberate exaggerations for rhetorical or comic effect.

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  • +1, but I'm not sure this works with the word front. In my experience, you would be "in front" of something, not "to the front of" something. – user34258 Jun 16 at 0:53
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    Yes "in front" is typical. I'd understand "to the front of". Also in expressions like "He sat to the front of the class". – James K Jun 16 at 5:29
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    @user34258 in British English you can say -- for example -- 'the river is to my front (or to my rear)' especially in the military. Also UK estate agents might say there is land to the rear or front of a house. – Michael Harvey Jun 16 at 6:03
  • Yes and I am certain that something like "moved to the front of the house" is perfectly fine. – OmarL Jun 17 at 7:38
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    @user34258 "To the front of the bus" is surely meaningful and distinct from being "in front of the bus". – JimmyJames Jun 17 at 14:40
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As others have pointed out, "to the right of" and "to the left of" refer to relative positions. It's meaningful to say that person A is "to the right of" person B, either in a literal sense -- they're standing next to each other and A is right of B -- or in a political sense -- A is more politically conservative than B.

This works because "right" and "left" denote relative positions. You can't say "to the fanatic of" because "fanatic" does not describe a relative position. A person can be a fanatic, of course. But if you want to describe a relative position, you would have to say "person A is more fanatical than B". Similarly, you could say "person A is more sex-crazed than person B".

Just a side note: The phrase "to the right of Attila the Hun" doesn't make a lot of literal sensse. The wording implies that Attilla the Hun was an extreme conservative. But was he? In the context of modern American politics, was Attila in favor of limiting government spending, defending the right to bear arms, opposing abortion, affirming free markets, etc? I don't know what Attila's positions were on any of those issues, or if he had positions on those issues. None of them are what Attila is remembered for. As a joke by a left-winger trying to compare a conservative to someone very out-of-date, maybe it works. But if I was engaging in serious political discussion, even trying to use exageration for humorous effect, I might say "to the right of Ronald Reagan" or "Margaret Thatcher" or "Adam Smith". Likewise I might say someone is "to the left of Karl Marx" or "Franklin Roosevelt".

And of course, if I was trying to be literal, I'd pick someone they really were left or right of.

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    does everything have to make sense in the context of modern American politics? – Michael Harvey Jun 16 at 6:04
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    Does ANYTHING make sense in that context? :-( – Phil Perry Jun 16 at 13:08
  • Does the politics of other countries make more sense? Is there any place where people say, "I hope my son grows up to be an honest, upright, hard-working man -- like a politician"? – Jay Jun 17 at 16:14
  • I would be proud if my son became a British Labour Party politician. – Michael Harvey Jun 18 at 6:29
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I first encountered this phrase in the musical 'Evita' with lyrics by Tim Rice. I don't know if he was the first to use it. I can't find anything online about its origin. Rice later revised the scenario to make the narrator an everyman named Che, but in the original version, he was a fictionalised version of the historical Che Guevara.

I would add that Attila wasn't a politician, so was wasn't 'right' or 'left', but militaristic empires are usually seen as right-wing.

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Lots and none at all. My daddy always said he stood "15 steps to the right of Genghis Khan", meaning exactly the same as your "to the Right of Attila…" except that the "15 steps" is stonger.

Either happens to describe a strong right-winger - by no means anything like your "… conservative or reactionary person…" though that matters not at all.

What matters is the process of comparison, not the content of the things being compared.

As with "… to the Left of Che Guevara", the phrase is a simple comparison… "… more than Attila…" or "… more than Che…". Please note, there can be no question of one being more or the other less because they happen to be left-and-right "opposites". The phrases are purely about strength or quantity, not subject or quality.

Quite separately, neither "to the Fanatic of Savonarola" or "to the Sex of Cassanova" could ever work, nor even be comparable.

For those ideas, you would first drop the capitals and then use "… the fanaticism of Savonarola" or "… the sexiness of Cassanova".

Do the differences between "fanatic" and "fanaticism" or "sex" and "sexiness" make sense to you?

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  • Really, Michael? In British humour, we sometimes say 'it's hotter than a really hot thing' or 'he's uglier than King Ugly of Uglyland'? Can you find two or three examples outside Blackadder, showing that theme in British humour in general? In 60 years of listening, I've never heard those forms used anywhere but in Blackadder… and of course, "Boaty McBoatface" and is that not clearly derived from Blackadder? – Robbie Goodwin Jul 29 at 20:45
  • Thanks, Michael. Even if "bigger than a big thing in Big Land" was 15 examples and any were good, don't you see how poor that one is? The point is not how that Blackadder formula works, but whether it's true that "In British humour, we sometimes subvert the often clichéd nature of this type of comparison by saying, eg, 'it's hotter than a really hot thing' " In fact "we" do that only when "we" are hoping to emulate Blackadder and even then, not very often. If you meant not "we" but rather "one of two of us" you might get away with it. Otherwise, not sure who you're trying to kid. – Robbie Goodwin Jul 30 at 22:07
  • Your'e really having a go, Michael, aren't you? Perhaps you'd like to find some evidence for your view? – Robbie Goodwin Aug 2 at 20:15
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The asker seems to understand what right-wing means. The question is about the difference between "far to the right" and "to the right of Attila the Hun". What to we gain by adding a famous historical figure?

It's humor. Instead of saying "Something is X" you say "something is more X than Y", where Y is something unexpected and funny-sounding. "To the left of Che" is only a little funny (he wasn't a politician). "To the left of Robin Hood" is better, since he's not real. But "to the left of Santa Clause" is the best -- red suit, free stuff, magic reindeer -- that's funny. In the original, we could have used Genghis Khan, but Attila the Hun sounds funnier. Mussolini might have worked (funny-sounding and only one word).

We changed "more right-wing than" into "to the right of" because good humor makes you work a little to figure it out: it's not positionally to the right -- there's an extra step to know it's about politics. Then we bring up a slavering warlord who swept through Europe to attack Rome. What? That's unexpected and funny since it's so extreme. Plus we have to know that right-wing politics is traditionally pro-military (without that, its not funny at all. "To the right of Ted Bundy" isn't a joke).

Part of why "more X than Y" works is that you don't need to understand Y. It's obvious what "hotter than Jayne Mansfield covered in Vegemite" means, even if you've never heard of either. As a bonus, I've implied she's nude (clever word-play is funny) and that I've got some sort of fetish (those are always funny, if subtle).

Similar phrases might be "older than dirt" (?? dirt doesn't have an age. But with some decoding it means "older than the planet"). "Sexier than a Trans-Am full of drugs" (an unexpected funny image, conjuring a Wild Party eventually leading to sexy people). "Uglier than parallel parking your mom's station wagon" (uses an alternate meaning of ugly, and paints a humorous picture of a 1980's teen-ager learning to drive). For fanatic, maybe "more fanatic than your kid's first time at a waterpark" (that's not funny, yet, but "Mommy -- watch me!" isn't the fanaticism we were expecting).

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