To be hated cordially, is only a left-handed compliment.
– Herman Melville
Today is International Left-Handers Day.
As a left-hander, I am very happy that we now have our own day — we are still an under-served minority, but things have certainly improved since I was struggling with right-handed scissors in Kindergarten. Eventually, I learned to use scissors right-handed because it was just easier than fighting the tool, but I was never very handy with them.
My first pair of left-handed scissors were a revelation! And now, we have finally gone back to scissors which work for either hand (yes, originally scissors were not discriminatory).
I keep seeing statistics that say boys are more likely to be left-handed than girls, but I wonder if it’s because girls are more pressured to conform. In my generation on my mother’s side, all the boys are right-handed, and all the girls are left-handed, so we don’t fit the “norm.”
Estimates of how many left-handed people there are range between 8 and 15 %, but it’s impossible to know how many children are born lefties, then get switched over to using their right hands.
One of the theories about why there are so many more right-handers is that it was necessary to have all the fighters to use the same hand in a shield wall, but that doesn’t account for the paucity of left-handed women, and shield walls seem a bit late in our military history to have had such an impact. More likely this started when humans were living in caves, but I haven’t seen much scientific speculation on what the “advantage” of right over left might have been.
“They” say left-handed people are more likely to be super-smart — I think we just have to be more flexible, because we’re always working out how to do things that are set up for right-handed people, so we have to do a lot more problem-solving as children.
“They” also say we are more prone to accidents, mental illness, and learning disabilities — well, when you live in a world which isn’t designed for you, those do seem like possible outcomes. Tall people injure their heads more often than short people; short people get elbows in their faces in crowds.
It’s harder to learn a new skill when the teacher uses a different hand from the student. My mother gave up on teaching me to knit because she could never figure out how I had gone wrong. From tying shoelaces to tennis lessons where I was the only left-hander in the class – try reversing instructions given for the right hand in your head to use them left-handed, and you’ll begin to see what I mean.
As a word-lover, I find the discrimination against us in language the most offensive, because it seems more deliberate than right-handed tool-makers designing tools that work for them without considering what it would be like to use the tools with their other hand.
What am I talking about? Well, the correct answer is the “right” one for starters.
“Righteous” – the quality of being morally right or justifiable – righteous indignation
“Out of left field”
Using “Left” to mean abandoned, overlooked or shunned, as in “left behind”- “left out” -“left alone”
The word “sinister” means “Left” in Latin – one modern definition of sinister is underhanded.
Then there’s “bar sinister” and “born on the left side of the blanket” which both mean illegitimate, a bastard child
In French, “Gauche” literally means Left, but is used to mean “lacking grace”- “unsophisticated and socially awkward”- “ungainly”- “klutzy”
When shaking hands, I start to reach out automatically with my left hand, then have to change to my right, while the other person is thinking I’m gauche.
Even food – “left-overs”
In countless ways, our language is designed for right-handed people. Contrary to the old “sticks and stones” rhyme, words do hurt people.
Handwriting in English and most European languages is designed for the right hand. I was harassed in school by teachers who insisted my left-handed writing had to look as if it were written by a right-handed person. The only way to get the “correct” slant which they insisted on with my left hand was to keep my hand above the line I was writing, curled into a very cramped position. Then I got docked for smearing the words in the previous lines as my curled-over fist and forearm moved across them.
It’s made me wonder how many children have just given up and become righties in their early school years.
I always notice which hand a person uses, but I’ve had right-handed friends for years who suddenly one day realize I’m left-handed – “Oh, I never knew you were left-handed!”
I once worked in an office where four out of the five of us were left-handed, so we set it up as such as possible for lefties. The rightie got an inkling of how the other hand lives, but with righthand-designed equipment, there was only so much we could change.
On the plus side, I’ve known all my life what it’s like not to fit in, and that’s made me more aware of discrimination and oppression of all kinds, and almost inevitable that I would “lean left” politically.
Left-Handers of the World, Unite!