“Five of the last seven Presidents of the U.S. were left-handed and that speaks for itself!”
I’m sure I must have several friends and relations who are left-handed, but I try to keep the proportion of lefts to rights no greater than the Western norm of about 10 percent of the population to limit my risks. That way I can’t be accused of not being politically correct or providing equivalent opportunity for friendship. “Why?” you may question. I’m so glad you asked that.
Historically, the right-handed community has always considered the left-handed as unlucky or even malicious. In many European languages, including English, the word for the direction right also means “correct,” being “right” is positive, and “rights” are good things you are entitled to, while being left-handed was considered negative or even evil. The Latin word for left is sinister, but it also means “unlucky,” “perverse,” “bad.” Several European languages, including a large slice of English, are derived from Latin, and this double meaning survives in them. In French, gauche means “left,” but also “awkward” or “clumsy;” droit means “right,” “straight” and “law;” being adroit, mentally or physically, is a good thing.
Take heraldry, which took off in the 12th/13th centuries:1 the “dexter” side is the right-hand side of the arms bearer, while “sinister” is the left. The “baton sinister” is a charge on the shield like a diagonal bar, not quite reaching the edges of the shield, angled down from the bearer’s left to the right—it was a mark of illegitimacy. The “left-hand path” is “black magic;” having “two left feet” means awkward or clumsy; a left-handed compliment is one that has two meanings, one of which is unflattering. Who wouldn’t want to limit friends like that? Five of the last seven Presidents of the U.S. were left-handed and that speaks for itself! To be dexterous is to demonstrate manual or mental agility, a positive thing. Being a “right-hand man (or woman)” is complimentary, and being seated “at the right hand of God” is a desirable goal for Christians. Of course, I jest, or perhaps today’s phrase is “I’m just messing with your head.” I have no idea who among my friends and relations is left-handed. It just goes to show what a bad rap left-handers have had throughout history and it’s not the only downside.
Society has been slow to acknowledge the very real problems that right-handed tools and equipment pose for the left-handed. These range from writing left to right with the left hand (legions of nuns have tried hard to enforce right-handed writing and done more harm than good) through most hand-tools, to a study by Durham University in England that concluded left-handed men were twice as likely to die in war. A U.S. study on sailors showed they were 34 percent more likely to suffer serious accidents than their right-handed counterparts. One wonders what the military does with left-handed recruits; everything from saluting and rifle drill to firing any piece of armament designed for the right-handed must require awkward adaptation.
There is no accepted theory as to how left-handers come to be. Some researchers say up to 40 genes could be involved. Left-handedness has shown correlation with mothers who suffered stress or depression during pregnancy. It is a fact that handedness first develops in utero. Early in the second trimester, a fetus can display preference for one hand in touching its face or thumb-sucking and that has been shown to be an accurate marker of later preference. A 2013 study showed 39 percent of babies were demonstrating hand preference at 6-14 months and 97 percent had confirmed handedness at 18-24 months.
Activities of the left and right brain hemispheres of left-handers have been observed as better connected and more coordinated in regions involving language and predicting superior verbal skills, says one study. Another recent large U.K. study demonstrated a link between regions of the brain involved in left-handedness and mood swings, restlessness and neuroticism. Left-handers also seem to be more prone to breast cancer and bowel problems, and schizophrenia is apparently a tendency.
The truly ambidextrous number only about 1 percent of the Western population and that figure is about the same for those who have an inconsistent dominant hand. The latter appear to be more at risk of health concerns than the right- or left-handed or the truly ambidextrous; for instance, they are twice as likely to be dyslexic.
Research studies are all very well, but there are a lot of conflicting conclusions about left-handers and the correlations identified are generally weak. Left-handers remain a mystery in many ways. They are obliged to be more adaptable simply due to the fact that they are in a small minority of the population; the implements of life are designed for the majority and the adaptability necessitated can be of benefit to them in other aspects of life. In most sports, lefties can be hard to handle and demonstrate clear advantages. In important sectors of life, such as IQ, intelligence and motor skills, there is little difference between right- and left-handed people, and where there is a slight difference, it is marginal. Nowadays, there are sources for many simple, day-to-day left-handed needs, such as scissors.2 Many left-handers may be convinced that all is well in their lives by the elimination of the historical slurs and myths and the availability of left-handed corkscrews.
- Colorado Serenity, November 2020:
“A Picture Worth a Thousand Words”
- Source for left-handed items:
- With apologies to my left-handed friends!
© David Cuin 2021