Discussions of “Rights” are sometimes tricky. Discussions of “Rites” are often equally complicated. Discussions of why I capitalized both of those words might be intimidating. But discussing the differences between “rights” and “rites” shouldn’t be a matter that mystifies us.
- “Right” can mean correct; it can mean the opposite of left. It can also mean what is just, fair, and proper, or the embodiment of something that you can claim as your due.
- “Rite” is often (but not always) used in a religious sense, as a ceremonial act or initiation that one goes through.
Once these definitions are sorted out, we can tackle the question of a “Right” or “Rite” of Passage.
- A “Rite of Passage” is a moment or ritual that acts as a crossover to a new stage of life. A religious confirmation is a rite of passage, as is marriage, as is a middle school grilling in grammarian jargon that may or may not shape your excitement about the English language. This is a phrase that was first used in 1909, but I’m guessing it wasn’t because of that last example. Let’s all take a deep breath and move past the memory of that last example. I know many of you have lived through it.
- A “Right of Passage” doesn’t come up nearly as much as the first. It could refer to the ability or permission to cross through a certain territory. In fantasy writing, it might include trolls that are blocking a bridge. Or, in other writing, it might be a typo.
Yes, you can get this right. Correct language use is not a rite of passage—the understanding of “moot” vs. “mute” or “hone” vs. “home” as a gateway to adulthood?—but maybe it should be. Personally, I like the idea. What can we do to make that happen?