Recently someone came up to me exclaiming “You’re left handed!” I hadn’t heard this for ages, and for some reason it started me thinking about this aspect of my persona that, frankly, I have never once considered. I don’t notice if others are right or left handed to the extent that I am told that of my three sons, two of them are lefties, but I don’t know which ones.
For centuries afflicted souls like me have been subjected to prejudice that continues even today – most cultures employ negative words to describe us, suggesting characteristics including stupidity, dishonesty, awkwardness, bad luck and even evil.
The Latin for ‘right’ is DEXTER – dextrous being a positive attribute. The Latin for left is SINISTER, derived originally from the word SINUS (Pocket) which in Roman times was located on the left side of the toga. Over the years, however, the meaning altered to imply menace.
In French ‘right’ is DROIT, meaning straight or correct, but left is GAUCHE – awkward.
German for ‘right’ is RECHT. Left is links, LINK being a liar.
Hungarian for ‘right’ is JOBB, meaning better – left is BAL meaning bad.
In English, to call someone your ‘right hand man’ is a compliment but to say that he has ‘two left feet’ is an insult.
This list is endless with additional negative connotations in Spanish, Dutch, Welsh, Turkish, Sanskrit, Irish, Chinese and more.
As late as the 1960’s many lefties were physically forced to use their right hand. Many left-handers report that teachers used to smack their left hands, often with a ruler. Another recalls being hit on the head with a dictionary – the teacher being convinced that the boy was connected to Satan. Such pressure on children to conform often led to the development of speech disorders such as stuttering and dyslexia. This process is still followed in Taiwan where a 2007 study showed that 59.3% of all left handed children are still being forced to convert. In China, not unexpectedly, there are no left-handers whatsoever. Everyone there must conform.
The only time I remember being smacked with a ruler was at Cheder (Hebrew school), but this was probably due to my lack of attention rather than any digital considerations.
We lefties are still discriminated against when it comes to using a wide range of implements such as scissors, computer input devices, knives, cameras, musical instruments and sports goods. It makes me wonder how my ten percent of the population manage to survive and I haven’t even begun to venture into the hazardous world of weapons, power tools and circular saws, almost all manufactured to suit right-handers.
However just as I was beginning to feel really disadvantaged I discovered that one or two cultures take the opposite view – the Incas (which doesn’t help much today), Buddhism and, hooray, Judaism.
In the Bible, it says that the right hand is the hand of strength (Exodus15:6). In Genesis it states that this hand is valued being the dominant arm, but in spite of this I found not one negative implication about lefties. Quite the reverse – Ehud, a Judge and mighty soldier (and a leftie) told of the “700 left handed warriors who could sling at a hair breadth and not miss”, referring to the tribesmen of Benjamin. (First Chronicles 12:2) Here it was seen as an advantage providing an element of surprise in battle. Ehud is also credited with the deliverance of the Jews from the Moabite King Eglon, whom he assassinated by thrusting a knife into him with his left hand – a tale that is rather too graphically described for my taste, in Judges 2 20:28.
True there is the Biblical injunction – “If I forget thee, Jerusalem, let my RIGHT hand lose its cunning”, but this is regarded as a reflection of the fact that 90% of the population were right handed, rather than any derogation of the left hand.
There are,however, certain advantages to being a Leftie. Our brains are wired differently – we use the right side, which apparently widens our range of talents. We can, so they say, multi-task with ease, (true in my case) and we also have the ability to see under water much better than right-handers. I have yet to work out how the value of this characteristic can improve my quality of life.
We are also more likely to end up as creative geniuses. Four of the original designers of the Mac computer were left-handed as were four of the Apollo astronauts. Impressive, but something that is somewhat outside my immediate career plans.
One area where I could benefit is in the field of writing Hebrew script. It is supposedly easier for us, as the text travels from right to left across the page. But in practice, any advantage I might gain is cancelled out as I have yet to master the Hebrew alphabet. We also, apparently, excel in music and maths. Here I can boast a fifty percent success rate. I passed my singing exams at the Guildhall School of Music recently, but I only got 11 percent in my school maths exam – and that was probably because I managed to write my name and address correctly at the top of the page.
What is certain, is that I am part of a gifted group excelling in creativity and intellect. I follow in the illustrious footsteps of Aristotle, Leonardo Da Vinci, Joan of Arc, Toulouse Lautrec, Charlie Chaplin, Robert de Niro, Winston Churchill, Albert Einstein and best of all, Paul McCartney.
For obvious reasons I have excluded Jack the Ripper from the list. He features in a selection of well known ‘aggressive’ lefties including Bonaparte, Alexander the Great, and John McEnroe the tennis player. Researchers conclude that this characteristic predominates amongst lefties in ‘violent societies’.
Interestingly, a large number of world leaders are left handed, notably five of the last seven US Presidents, including Barack Obama. In the UK we have David Cameron and overseas we must not forget Benjamin Netanyahu or Mahmoud Abbas. I leave you dear reader, to classify them as you think fit, but it is comforting to know that at least in one small respect Netanyahu and Obama have something in common.
A high percentage of Lefties excel in close contact sports such as boxing and fencing, but as the distance between players increases, the percentage drops. Incidentally the one sport where I admit to a definite killer instinct is scrabble, which I suppose can be considered close contact.
Today, organisations for left-handers proliferate. There is a Secret Society of Left Handed People – a Klan, (”One day we shall rule the world, says their internet site), a Left Hander Liberation Society – and more. I could never join any of these groups. I am not a joiner, never having felt the need to associate with like-minded devotees. I guess I agree with Groucho Marx who once famously declared “I refuse to join any club that would have me as a member”.
The same goes for the annual Left Handers Day, celebrated on 13thAugust. Unfortunately I will miss it since I have other pressing engagements for that date ad infinitum.
Not so, however, the lady who advertised recently in the paper for a partner.
‘Left handed Jewish lesbian gardener seeks similar to share in life’s surprises’.
What can one say? except perhaps to fall back on the old northern adage ‘There’s now’t so queer as folks’!