Left-handers: the only ones in our right minds

2010-08-13 00:00

TODAY, for those of you unfortunates who are not blessed to know or want to know, is International Left-handers Day. Although it clearly doesn’t rank up there with Youth Day or Freedom Day, it’s also a day based on the need to combat ignorance and discrimination. Wikipedia notes: “As its name suggests, it is meant to promote awareness of the inconveniences facing left-handers in a predominantly right-handed world. It celebrates the uniqueness and difference of those who form seven to 10% of the world’s popu- lation.”

If you’re a right-hander who is about to snort derisively and turn to the sports pages, I challenge you not to. Read on and be conscientised.

There have been negative connotations that are associated with left-handedness throughout history in many different cultures. According to the Collins Dictionary, left-handed has come to mean awkward or clumsy, and an insult or put-down is known as a left-handed compliment.

In ancient Rome, the word meaning left was sinister, highlighting the less than positive associations the condition has. The Italian words for left and left-handed are mancino and mancini, which translate to defective and deceitful. Once the French word for left, gauche, meant bent. Now it means socially inept or awkward. In North American sign language, a raised right hand means powerful and brave. A left hand place over a right hand means burial and death. In Australian terms, a lefty is a molly-dooker or sissy-fisted. The Spanish­ word for left-handed is zurdo or wrong.

Lefties in the United States are called southpaws, wrong-way drivers and portsiders. The German­ word for left is link, which means awkward. The word for right is recht, which means true, good and just. In Japan­, there was a time when a wife being left-handed was grounds for a divorce. Today the prejudice against lefties has lessened. Native Americans used to discourage left-handedness by strapping the left hand of an infant to its cradleboard, while leaving the right hand free.

Although schools today are accommodating of lefties, this wasn’t always the case. A newsroom colleague recounted how, when she was a child in Standard I, the nuns at the convent she attended “kept putting the pencil in my right hand. I told my mother who paid them a visit. The told her it was “evil” to write with your left hand. In high school my sewing teacher wanted me to put the needle in my right hand and she couldn’t help me with some of the sewing techniques because she was right-handed.”

As Wikipedia notes, being a left-hander living in a right-handed world is inconvenient. The design and placement of everyday objects such as ticket dispensers in underground stations, door handles, hot water taps, can openers, pens chained down in banks and post offices, ringbound notebooks and even the printing on promotional pens is created for right-handers.

Lefties often struggle to use equipment or utensils designed for righties, giving rise to a thriving industry of stuff for lefties. For example­, lefties who are serious about playing golf or the guitar have to get specially designed clubs and instruments. I for example, have my own scissors and vegetable peeler, because the blades on conventional ones won’t work for me. I carry a left-handed cheque book, with stubs at the top, and one year I was even able to find a left-handed diary, ringbound on the right rather than on the left, making it easier to write in. I use my computer mouse on a left-handed setting, which is useful as it discourages others from using my personal computer.

That said, I am also proud of being a leftie, since we are a unique minority and number among us some of the world’s most famous and successful. According   to   school  ability   test (SAT) results in the United States, left-handed pupils have higher maths scores than right-handed pupils. Twenty percent of all Mensa members are left-handed and most champion fencers are left-handed. Lefties have also done well in tennis, including John McEnroe, Goran Ivanisevic, Monica Seles, Roscoe­ Tanner, Guillermo Vilas, Rafael­ Nadal and the two Woodies — Todd Woodbridge and Mark Woodford.

I have a favourite poster that says: “If the right hemisphere of the brain controls the left side of the body, then lefties are the only ones in their right minds.”

Happy Left-handers Day.

— Additional reporting by Lynnette Hitchcock.



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