I am one of a minority of people who have been feared, rejected or regarded as undesirable due to a genetic condition. Many of us have been subjected to attempts to correct what was and often is still regarded as an evil imperfection, so evil that the condition’s name in Latin conveys this perfectly: sinister, which also means ‘left’.
Yes, I am a lefty, a ‘southpaw’ in America, a ‘molly dooker’ in Australia, supposedly sinister and evil while the rest of you ‘righties’ are, well, all right! About 10 per cent of the world are lefties and if you are amongst the other 90 per cent then you have no idea of the challenges and problems we have faced.
Why are there lefties at all? Why aren’t we all simply righties, or all lefties? Why are lefties the minority and not the righties? Better still, why aren’t there equal numbers of lefties and righties? Why is one side favoured over the other? Some scientists have their theories, but regardless of the reasons, we lefties exist, and being a lefty hasn’t been easy.
There are vestiges of the belief that lefties are, in fact, sinister. Today we shake hands with our right hands and swear on the holy book with our right hand. We give left handed compliments, or say something inappropriate, ‘gauche’ (French for ‘left’). It’s a compliment to be someone’s right-hand man, but where are the left-hand men?
When we were taught in school how to write, many of us were forced to use our right hands. Some youngsters had their left hands tied to the bodies to prevent them from using the evil hand. I was allowed to use my left hand, but I never could master the beautiful flowing, curving, cursive letters. To worsen the situation, when I advanced to writing with a pen, my left hand, pushing the pen forward and trailing the words across the paper would smudge the still damp ink, adding a blue-black smear on the page and on the side of my hand (unlike the righties, whose right hands ‘pulled’ and led the pen).
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Other tasks and tools were also problematic. Did you know that scissors are designed for righties? When we cut, our thumb and fingers don’t just open and close the blades. They push the blades against themselves when they cut. If you use your scissors in your left hand you will find it very difficult at first to cut. I figured out a way but just can’t explain what it is!
Even bread knives are designed for righties. I know, because I received from my sister a left handed bread knife from Paris (where else!?). When we slice, the knife doesn’t just descend, it moves down and inwards to the midline of the body. The typical ‘righties’ blade is serrated on one side to compensate for this. The serrations force the knife away from the midline just the right amount to make an even slice. When I slice with the righties’ knife, the slice starts thin at the top and finishes wider at the bottom, a thick wedge. My left handed knife, with the serrations on the other side, prevents this.
Adding to these challenges is that I wasn’t identified as a lefty at first. How was it discovered? I loved baseball as a kid, and my father bought for me my first baseball mitt. Now in baseball, like in cricket, if you throw with the left hand, the glove is worn on the right hand. We’d catch the ball in the glove on our right hand, take the ball in our left and throw it to a teammate. Easy, right? My Dad bought me my first glove and I told him it felt strange, and I couldn’t use it. He didn’t know that I wore it reversed, on my right hand. We went back to the store and the salesman couldn’t see anything wrong with the glove. So he handed me a ball and told me to throw it to him, which I promptly did: with my left hand. “The kid’s a lefty!” he said to my father. “Didn’t you know?!” No, Dad didn’t even know! To this day I can’t understand how he didn’t know his son was a lefty. (By the way, the term ‘southpaw’ has baseball related origins).
There are some advantages, however. Lefties, it is said, are more creative. On the other hand, it was claimed that our life spans are a shorter, though this has since been debunked. However, it could be that we are more accident prone in a world which has been designed by righties, for righties. Who knows? Whether shorter or longer, the lefty’s life, for this southpaw at least, hasn’t been sinister, but it has certainly been interesting!
Tell us, are you a rightie or a leftie?