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Re: Not right bright

Posted by Smokey Stover on December 20, 2008 at 09:06

In Reply to: Not right bright posted by Ro on December 19, 2008 at 22:40:

: Does anyone know the meaning and/or origin of the phrase: "Not right bright"?

The meaning is "not very bright." In British English it's a colloquialism, perhaps dialectal, parallel to the colloquial American expression, "not real bright." In this phrase, "bright" usually means "intelligent," and "not right bright" would mean dumb or ignorant. But the phrase also works with "bright" in the sense of well-illuminated.

"Right" in almost all its senses goes back very far in the history of the language, often to Old English, sometimes to Middle English. The Oxford English Dictionary has sorted the meanings and usages of this word (and many others) in a somewhat hierarchical fashion, under appropriate rubrics and numerical divisions. "Right" as an adverb is organized as follows.

"II. 5. Precisely, exactly, just, quite, altogether, to the full. Now dial. or arch.
In ME. poetry sometimes a mere rime-tag."

Archaic it may be, but the OED includes, after many very old examples, this one:

1854 A. E. BAKER Northampt. Gloss. s.v., He's not right sharp.

Under II. 9 We have:

""9. With intensive force (cf. FULL adv. 1): Very. Now arch. in formal contexts. a. With adverbs . . . "

Since "bright" is not an adverb, let's move to II. 9.b.

"b. With adjectives. Now chiefly U.S. right smart: see SMART a. 7b."

Among the cited examples, going back to the 13th century, are these, which all seem to me to be plainly analogous to your phrase:

1375 BARBOUR Bruce x. 84 Ane vattir.. That..wes rycht styth, bath deip & wyde. c1386 CHAUCER Prol. 288 A Clerk ther was..And he nas nat right fat. c1430 Two Cookery-bks. 5 Take hem and presse hem on a fayre bord, an hew hem ryght smal. . . .
1936 M. MITCHELL Gone with Wind xlii. 755 Miz Wilkes is right sensible, for a woman. 1952 Manch. Guardian Weekly 20 Mar. 4/3 Yes, sir, as far as this state's concerned, he looks right nice where he is.

I hope this has helped you.