This archived article was written by: Carlie Miller
(Part one of a two-part series)
Cack-handed, weirdo, goofy, unconventional, southpaw, and leftie. Less than ten percent of the population hear these words spoken to them or about them. Probably a very few of you understand the meaning of these words in both definition and personal experience so I will explain. Cack-handed, weirdo, goofy, and unconventional are used as negative slurs for the rare “disability” of left-handedness or to use another; offhandedness. Southpaw and leftie are slang that, while not politically correct, are usually acceptable by left-handers.
Besides being only 10 percent of the population, what is the significance of “backhanders” ? Life cannot be any different for lefties than “normal” people, right? Wrong. Lefties have been suppressed throughout human history, forced to use scissors with the right, shake hands with the right, play an instrument with the right, use weapons with the right, walk and drive on the right, and the worst – write with the right hand. Lefties have been maimed by right-handed weapons used in the left hand, manufacturing machines made for the right-handed have forced lefties to lose jobs and even caused the death of many lefties. Physical discomfort is not the only thing lefties have to live with, emotional and physiological scars have been part of a leftie’s life since he or she was discovered to be a leftie.
“Of or pertaining to one who uses his or her left hand in preference to, or more skillfully than, his or her right; Intended to be worn on, or used by, the left hand; Turning or spiraling from right to left; anticlockwise; Awkward or maladroit.” The definition of left-handedness varies but this definition from the internet fits both the actual and negative meanings.
Being left-handed is not regarded as a good thing in most parts of the world. Even here in the States being “left” is considered unnatural and even evil. The English offensive connotation of the word “left” and “left-handed” seems to come from the Latin word sinestra (left) which also spawned “sinistral” (another English word for left-handed).
Ambidexterity also defines lefties because most left-handers display ambidextrous abilities. Even this word is biased though it means, to English-speaking people, “skillful on both sides” though it contains the Latin root “dexter” (right) so it really means “right on both sides” (or right-handed on both sides). Another word ambisinistrous (an antonym) means “clumsy, awkward or wrong on both sides” because of the use of the Latin sinsestra (once again, meaning left).
As a side note, sinsestra also gave its name to “sinister” which ALSO means “left” but took on the meanings of evil and unlucky in the English language.
More negativity was brought by the Christians who were influenced by the Hebrew, Semitic and Mesopotamian languages. These languages considered “hand” to be a symbol for power and great ability so the left hand symbolized the ability or power to shame as well as being a natural evil and punishment from the gods.
Later on in history, the contributors to the negative “left” feelings (the Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, Irish, French, Welsh, Danish, Dutch, Finnish, Hungarian and Swedish to name a few) saw “right” as a synonym for correctness and righteousness as well as authority and justice, the left stands for “clumsy”, “not right” and also evil, cheating, is considered a bad omen and in the case of religion, represents the devil (in fact in Portuguese, the common term for a leftie is canhoto which was once used to identify the devil).
Apparently being left-handed has been bad from the start, so why are there still lefties despite most societies trying to snuff it out? Early on, it was thought that using the left-hand was a bad habit and rude because before the wonderful invention of toilet paper, and before Sears, your hand is what you had and since most people are righties, they shook hands with the right and saved the left for the restroom. Rude gestures like “flipping” someone off were usually done with the left hand to add to the rudeness of the gesture.
Early teachers and parents thought a leftie child simply used the wrong hand to pickup a writing utensil and so they must be taught a “proper” writing habit. Breaking the “habit” of using the left hand went on for centuries and even continues today despite scientific research and separate religious study. Researchers developed several theories on the causes of left-handedness, the most recent being the discovery of the gene LRRTM1 which greatly increases the odds of being left-handed.
Scientists believe that hand orientation is developed in the womb, the hand closest to the mouth is commonly the dominant hand.
Norman Geschwind proposed the Geschwind theory that exposure to abnormal amounts of testosterone before birth can lead to left-handedness of the child. Testosterone suppresses the development of the leftside of the brain so the neurons move to the rightside of the brain. The rightside is now more highly developed and functions as the center of hand orientation so the child is most likely a leftie because the right side of the brain controls the left half of the body.
Though there are some parents and teachers that still try to correct a lefties “defect,” more are realizing being left-handed is a natural thing and so lefties seem to be popping up everywhere; in school, in the news, and in the numbers of celebrities. Scissors, desks, guitars, and can openers just to name a few of the countless items being made especially for lefties. This is good news for left-handed people though there is still much to be done in the way of educating and supplying lefties.
Be sure to pick up the newspaper next time for part two of this article in which I will write about the uniqueness of lefties, the day-to-day obstacles and frustrations that right-handers take for granted, what it is like growing up a leftie, and of course the prominent lefties that have and are making a difference in the world and are shining examples of what left-handers offer.