Today is International Left-Handers Day, which was first celebrated in 1992 to promote awareness of left-handedness.
From scissors and cooking utensils to musical instruments and computer mice, left-handed people are disadvantaged as they constantly adapt to a right-handed world. And neat handwriting can be a real challenge as they inadvertently drag the pen over the fresh ink…
A few facts about left-handedness
- 13% of men and 11% of women are left-handed (this compares to under 3% a century ago)
- A common nickname for lefties is southpaw, which was originally a term applied to a left-handed baseball pitcher
- Sinistrophobia is the fear of things at the left side or left-handed people
- Most left-handers draw people facing to the right
- There is a high tendency in twins for one to be left-handed
- Left-handers excel particularly in tennis, baseball, swimming and fencing
- It is against the rules to play polo left-handed
- One in four Apollo astronauts were left-handed (250% more than the normal level)
Many older right-handed people today were originally left-handed but changed their writing hand when they were younger. This largely stems from the long-held belief that there was something wrong with being left-handed.
Up until the Post War period, left-handed children were forced to use their right hand at school, often having their left hand tied behind their back or their knuckles rapped if they picked up a pen in their left hand. The subsequent feeling of inadequacy and insecurity often resulted in bed-wetting and speech impediments.
From my own school days in the early 1970s I can remember left-handed classmates being ‘encouraged’ to hold their pencil with their right hand – despite the fact that it felt unnatural and caused a major setback to their handwriting development.
But, fortunately, common sense eventually prevailed and in most societies these days children are allowed to write with whichever hand feels ‘right’.
Historically, the left side – and by association left-handedness – was considered negative. The word left derives from the Anglo-Saxon word lyft, meaning weak. The Latin adjective sinister/sinistra/sinistrum originally meant left but acquired meanings of evil or unlucky, which has given us the word sinister.
By contrast, dextrous (from the Latin for right) means skillful and co-ordinated, while adroit (derived from the French droit for right) means clever, proper and correct.
There are also a lot of sayings where right is ‘good’ and left is ‘bad’, such as “being in your right mind” and “it will be all right in the end” as opposed to being “left out” or having “two left feet”.
The same negative connotation for left-handedness is evident in other languages. For example, linkish (German) means awkward, mancino (Italian) means crooked and gauche (French) describes someone who is clumsy and ill mannered.
However, don’t despair if you’re left-handed as you’re in good company. There are lots of famous lefties, including a disproportionate number of gifted artists, scientists, musicians and sportsmen. Here are just a few examples:
Actors: Tom Cruise, Robert de Niro, Marilyn Munroe, Julia Roberts
Artists: Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo
Musicians: David Bowie, Sir Paul McCartney, Sting
Politicians/leaders: Joan of Arc, Julius Caesar, Winston Churchill, President Obama
Royalty: Prince William, Queen Mother
Sportsmen: John McEnroe, Rafa Nadal, Martina Navratilova, Pele
Writers: Bill Bryson, Lewis Carroll
Over to you
Are you left-handed? If so, what’s been your biggest obstacle? How did you overcome it?
And no, in case you were wondering, I’m not a lefty but I find the subject fascinating!