Being Left-Handed

One lefty's general thoughts, opinions, and stuff

Southpaws, lefties, sinistrals. All these terms describe a misunderstood group of people: left-handers. Lefties have been unfairly treated for hundreds of years.

Enmity against left-handers is thought to have begun with ancient sun worship. Most of these sun worshippers lived in the Northern Hemisphere and faced south when worshipping the sun. Under these conditions, the sun appears to move from left to right. Since the sun moved toward the right, ancient peoples saw everything related to the right "good" and everything having to do with the left as "bad."

The Bible contains about 25 unfavorable references to the left hand. In the best known example, in the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus says: "When the Son of man shall come in his glory, and all the holy angels with him, then shall he sit upon the throne of his glory: and before him shall be gathered all nations: And he shall separate them one from another, as a shepherd divideth his sheep from the goats: And he shall set the sheep on his right hand, but the goats on the left. Then shall the King say unto them on his right hand, 'Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.' ... Then shall he say also unto them on the left hand, 'Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels.'" (Matthew 25:31-34, 41)

The custom of shaking hands comes from medieval times. When two people met, they would hold each other's right hand. As weapons were usually carried in the right hand, this would show that neither of them was carrying a weapon. Lefties could not be trusted because they could shake their enemy's right hand and hold a sword behind them with their left hand.

This enmity toward lefties can be seen in many languages. For example, in Latin, the word for "left" is sinister, which has come into English meaning "evil." The French word for "left" is gauche, which in English means "awkward" or "tactless." The English word left comes from the Old English left, meaning "weak."

Nowadays, most societies, religions, and cultures no longer scorn left-handedness like they used to. It's something you should take pride in. I am left-handed (why else would I be writing this page?), and though it can be difficult, I like it. You and I are part of an elite 10 percent of the population, along with the ranks of Lewis Carroll, Nelson Rockefeller, Julius Caesar, Charlie Chaplin, H.G. Wells, Paul McCartney, Babe Ruth, 7 U.S. Presidents, and others.

It's important to note here that no one is exactly sure how many lefties there are. Estimates range from 2% to 30%, but 10-12% is the most likely range. That puts the number at about 630 million to 750 million lefties worldwide.

Disadvantages of lefties in society:

  • Pens and pencils: When a lefty writes with a pen or a pencil, his hand trails over the words he has previously written. Depending on the pen or pencil in question, this can lead to smudges all over the paper and the left hand. Erasable ink is notorious among lefties for this reason.
  • Scissors: Many lefties, when learning to use scissors for the first time, pick up a pair of right-handed scissors, place them in their left hand, and start cutting. Using the wrong scissors can cause RSI and carpal tunnel syndrome. If you are a lefty, you would probably be best using left-handed scissors in your left hand.
  • Playing cards: In a card game, when a lefty fans out his cards left-handed style, the numbers and suits cannot be seen. Lefties have to either read the cards upside-down, fan them out the opposite way, or buy left-handed cards with the number and suit in all corners.
  • School desks: Many schools use desks with a chair attached. The desktop is shaped so that you get in on the left side and you can rest your right arm while writing. A lefty's left arm has to stick out off the edge of the desk. Left-handed desks, built the oppposite way, can be very hard to find. The Handedness Research Institute recommends that schools buy unbiased desks instead. For more information about the troubles lefties face when using right-handed desks, see What's Wrong with This Desk? by HRI.
  • Power tools: Many power tools, when held with the left hand, can be very harmful. For example, a circular saw blows sawdust to the right, which is very convenent for a right-hander, but when held in the left hand, makes a mess.

Advantages of lefties in society:

  • Reading and writing backwards and upside-down: Okay, it's not very useful, but it is cool. :) Generally, lefties can more easily write (or at least read) backwards or upside-down. Right-to-left is the natural direction for left-handers.
  • Creativity: Lefties are dominated by the right hemisphere of the brain, which deals with music, art, perception, emotions, and other forms of abstract thinking.
  • Driving: In countries where traffic keeps to the right side of the road (USA, Canada, etc.), lefties are more easily able to hand (or throw) change out to pay a toll, since they use their left hand. In left-side-of-the-road countries (UK, Australia, etc.), righties have this advantage, but lefties are better equipped to use a stick shift.
  • Adaptability: Because their world is dominated by right-handed products, lefties are much more easily adaptable to right-handed tools and utensils than righties are to left-handed products. This can be helpful if a lefty breaks his dominant arm and is temporarily unable to use it.
  • It's cool to be different!

Other lefty links:
Rosemary West's Left Handed Page