Elle s’est levée du pied gauche.
ell say luh-VAY dew peeAY GOHsh.
She got up on the wrong side of the bed.
Happens to the best of us, some days. Who knew that beds have a wrong side and a right side? But that’s not really what the French expression says. Rather, it says She got up on her left foot. And, speaking strictly from a cultural point of view and not at all scientifically, we all know that the left side is the wrong side. Our language says so.
Think about it: gauche in French means not only left but also awkward. Droit (drwah) means not only right (opposite of left), but also right, moral, upstanding. Le droit is law (as in Law School, l’École de Droit).
And if we go back to the Latin, left is sinister, which gives us the English word sinister. In French, un sinistre is an accident, disaster, fire. All good things to avoid! And I could go on…there’s more!
Note the reflexive verb: Elle s’est levée. The s’ (se) represents the same person as the subject of the sentence–she, or elle. The past participle, levée, has to agree with se, so by extension it must agree with elle.
On her left foot? That’s du pied gauche. If you said sur le pied gauche (since sur means on) you would actually be implying that she stepped on her left foot, which was lying on the floor. (Where’s a good cartoonist when I need one?) We need to say du pied gauche, which is kind of like saying that she used her left foot to get up.