Happy Left Handers’ Day

I was planning to launch a new regular feature for if all else fails… today, but then I heard over the radio this morning (yes, I sometimes get information from other locations than the interwebs) that today is International Left Handers’ Day.  I couldn’t let the opportunity pass.

Lefties have always been discriminated against.  In ancient Hebrew culture the left side of the body was considered unclean and during the Middle Ages many lefties were executed for witchcraft simply because they preferred to use a different hand when wielding a sword, swinging an axe, or brushing their teeth.  (Hang on.  Did people brush their teeth in the Middle Ages?)

keep left and carry onThroughout all the British Empire, former and current, we still drive on the left side of the road because knights in a joust held their lances on their right.  On the other hand (see what I did there?) this could be considered a victory for Lefties as we consider the left side of the road to be the right one when driving, while we consider driving on the right side like the Yanks completely wrong.  (Shame on America for discriminating against lefties like that!)

Let us not even start on scissors, computer mice, musical instruments, can openers and even corkscrews which are all designed for right-handed people to use and a right pain in the behind if you’re a southpaw (BTW, living in the Southern Hemisphere myself I really wonder what’s so bad about the south that it was allocated to lefties).  And have you tried writing from left to right using your left hand?  I wonder how many lefties lost marks for poor writing at school after achieving a task that should actually be impossible.

This discrimination shines through in language as well.  The Latin-speaking Romans used the words dextra for right and sinistram for left (Latin scholars reading this must please excuse me if I mixed up nouns and adjectives there – blame Google Translate).  Today, “dexterous” means able, graceful, skilful; “sinister” means dubious, untrustworthy, maybe even evil.  And when someone is equally able with both hands?  Ambidextrous.  I don’t know about you, but I only see one side represented in that word!

left handed dictionary entryIf someone has two left feet he’s clumsy (as opposed to all the people with two right feet who are paragons of grace and…well…dexterity).  Unexpected difficulties always come in from left field, and people or ideas from the same place are considered weird.  (Lefties are apparently more prone to develop schizophrenia, so perhaps calling left-field weird is not that far off.)

If you’re having a bad day in English, you say you got out of bed with the wrong foot, but the related expression in German, Spanish, French and Hungarian all specify this wrong foot to be the left foot.  A left-handed compliment is a compliment that actually isn’t and if you’re left-wing you’re one of those crazy commie-hippy-liberals who want to ruin the economy and destroy healthy moral values.

But lefties get their own back.  Left-handed people tend to be more creative and are much better with visual puzzles than right-handers.  Southpaws also have a distinct advantage in combat sports, and any other sport where two opponents face off against each other, like tennis, squash, and even cricket.  That’s because they attack from a direction righties aren’t used to defending.  And port, that beverage of the gods, is always passed to the left, so that side can’t be all bad.

only left handers in their right mindsFamous lefties include Billy the Kid, Alexander the Great, Friedrich Nietzsche, Queen Victoria, Benjamin Franklin, Mahatma Ghandi and Joan of Arc.  (Jack the Ripper and George Bush also, but let’s not hold that against the rest.)  Also Marie Curie, Albert Einstein, Henry Ford, Bill Gates and “Buzz” Aldrin.  And then there’s Leonardo Da Vinci (but he was actually ambidextrous according to many sources), MC Escher (that explains a few things), Charlie Chaplin, Morgan Freeman, Wolverine (sorry, Hugh Jackman), Whoopi Goldberg (again, explains a lot), the Olsen twins, Oprah Winfrey and Bart Simpson (yeah, I know he’s fictional.  Your point?)  Left-handed authors include Douglas Adams and Lewis Carroll (I’m gaining understanding in leaps and bounds here), Peter Benchley, Mark Twain and H.G. Wells.

But my favourite historical lefty was a biblical assassin.  In the book of Judges we read of Ehud.  In a time when everyone wore their swords on their left (for easy drawing with the right hand), Ehud managed to sneak a weapon past an oppressive king’s security by wearing it on his right.  He came at the king from left field, so to speak, and showed him you underestimate lefties at your peril.  (Incidentally, this event also gave rise to the full-body pat-down employed today by law enforcement and security forces the world over, so next time you’re being groped by airport security, be sure to thank the nearest lefty for that 😉 )

(In the spirit of full disclosure: I’m actually right-handed, but that doesn’t mean I can’t throw the lefties a bone.  After all, they only have this one day a year to feel special…)

  • All images in this post courtesy of the official Left Handers’ Day website
  • All comments not posted using only the left hand will automatically be redirected to Spam. 
  • Be sure to tune in again next week for the first ever edition of Percussive Etymology.

17 thoughts on “Happy Left Handers’ Day

  1. Factoid for you:
    In mediaeval times castles had clockwise spiral staircases so that defenders might weild their sword hands freely but attackers were hindered by the wall during a battle. Ferniehirst castle in scotland is built with the spiral going anticlockwise owing to the prevalence of lefties in the Kerr Clan (owners of said castle). They too are the origin of the terms Kerr-handed, Kerry-fisted, Corry-fisted.

    Scottish Poet James Hogg (1770-1835) wrote, in The Raid of the Kerrs:

    But the Kerrs were aye the deadliest foes
    That e’er to Englishmen were known
    For they were all bred left handed men
    And fence [defence] against them there was none

    and Walter Laidlaw wrote, in The Reprisal:

    So well the Kerrs their left-hands ply
    The dead and dying round them lie


  2. Sir, can I award you the medal I just made up for Honorary Left Handedness… A spot on description of my life…I am typing this with my left hand, being left handed. An interesting challenge in life.


    1. I had a feeling you might be a southpaw. I gladly accept your award. As I play the piano my left hand does have greater dexterity (sorry) than most righties, after all. 😀


      1. The biggest challenge for me was always record players…the tone arm was always on the wrong side. A problem that went away with CDs and solid state. Apropos piano – same for me but the other way around. I had to learn to do musically useful stuff with my right hand. But i can’t write with my right despite the massive and determined effort my primary school made to get me to do so. They did stop ne writing legibly with my left, but that wasn’t quite the same thing…


      2. I’ve never considered that it would make record players awkward but I can totally see that. And have you ever tried to restring a guitar for a lefty? Flipping the saddle around is easy enough (though many acoustics use a saddle that actually has a right and left side so flipping it doesn’t work) but the nut is glued in place so if you reverse the string order the bass strings don’t fit in the grooves, making the instrument nigh-impossible to accurately tune. I’m getting more and more upset about this 😉


      3. I never learned guitar because of the stringing and playing upside down issue. I know the theory and did once manage to bash out the ‘Smoke on the water’ riff on my wife’s ukelele. But that was purely pluck and hope to hit the note driven by my sense of absurd humour and not musical in any sense, including John Cage’s.


  3. Ha, loved this! So many fun facts you’ve come up with. I’m a leftie too, when I was younger people would always try to make me write with my other hand. I also remember the first time in school when I was allowed to use an GROWN UP ink pen and I kept smudging everything I wrote because my hand passed over it!

    I’m one of those weird people that even though I’m a leftie, I can’t use left handed scissors! I swear those things are useless.


    1. Teachers forcing left-handed kids to write right-handed is probably one of the biggest injustices lefties had been forced to endure. And even today there are still teachers who do that. I’ve stood amazed at some of the contortions left-handed people achieve in order to write.

      Left-handed scissors were probably invented by someone right-handed…


Comments are closed.