Tuesday 23 May 2017

Southpaws of the world, right is on your side!

From scissors to corkscrews and playing cards to pens - even modern technology designs apps for right-handers and locates buttons on the right side of computers so your left hand blocks the screen (Stock picture)
From scissors to corkscrews and playing cards to pens - even modern technology designs apps for right-handers and locates buttons on the right side of computers so your left hand blocks the screen (Stock picture)

Fiona O'Connell

It's the season for sniffles, but thankfully the only coughing up I did recently was for a check up with the doctor in this country town. Una, the receptionist, wrote me out a receipt afterwards - though not with the hand that roughly 90pc of the world's population uses.

"I'm a leftie," she confirmed cheerfully.

Being left-handed is no big deal for Una - but, unfortunately, it was for one of the nuns who taught her at school. Sewing was Una's favourite subject - until this nun forced her to do it with her right hand. The experience killed Una's love for sewing.

But Una reckons she got off lightly compared with the left-handed boy she knew back then who had the most beautiful handwriting. "They beat and beat his left hand and made him write with the right one," Una remembers. He still does - in an ugly, spidery scrawl.

Yet even in this day and age of supposed equality, left-handers still have to live in a right-handed world. From scissors to corkscrews and playing cards to pens - even modern technology designs apps for right-handers and locates buttons on the right side of computers so your left hand blocks the screen.

Because if might is right, it seems right is doubly so. Even the word 'dexterity' reveals a right-handed bias, where 'dexter' means 'right' and refers to being 'right-handed' on both sides. Which is hardly surprising, when left-handedness has traditionally been viewed as everything from a mark of the devil, to a sign of mental illness and criminality.

Prejudice is embedded in the word itself, with 'sinister' the Latin word for 'left'. This is echoed in English, where it comes from the term for 'weak' or 'broken'. It's no better here, with the Irish for left-handed - 'ciotog' - all too close to 'ciotach', meaning 'clumsy', as well as having connotations as 'the strange one'. Even the Eskimos viewed left-handers as potential sorcerers.

Perhaps this stigma plays a part in why left-handers are more likely to be dyslexic and to stutter. As Una's experience illustrates, many were persecuted in school, where they were forced to write with their right hand and sometimes beaten if they did so badly. Others were made to sit on their left hand.

And while there are saints assigned to everything from abdominal pain to tax collectors, not a single one laments the lot of left-handers. Though it doesn't look like they need it, as being left-handed can indicate creativity and high intelligence. It certainly didn't hurt Albert Einstein, Isaac Newton or Charles Darwin.

Left-handers now celebrate being left field on August 13. And while you might think it's because Mullingar is located in the midlands (thus allowing it to eschew right and left) that led it to host The Left Hand Festival in 2013, the real reason is because 'Mullingar' translates as "the town of the left-hand mill", after a miraculous seventh-century legend.

Because when two wrongs don't make a right, the truth is all that's left.

Sunday Independent

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