Today is International Left-Handers Day, a day for 10 per cent of the population, including Prince William and Barack Obama, to celebrate uniqueness. HELEN MCGURK reports
Trying to do dance manoeuvres was straight-up mortifying. I just couldn’t get my lefts and rights; I was all over the place, like a galumphing hippopotamus in a roomful of graceful gazelles. The only calories I burnt were through the sheer sweat of shame.
When I did my driving test I had to write ‘left’ and ‘right’ on the backs of my hands, much in the manner of comedian Jimmy Cricket with his famous ‘L’ and ‘R’ wellies.
Only recently did it dawn on me why I might be such flummoxing klutz - I was born left-handed, but forced to change to my right.
In primary school my teachers and mother decided I would have an easier ride through life if I was a rightie. And so, one day the stubby Crayola Crayon was snatched from my little left hand and I joined the ranks of the right-handed majority.
Also, from my ultra superstitious mother’s point of view, she believed there was something if not evil, but strange or bad about being left-handed. She was not alone in this perception.
Both the word for left-handed, sinistrad, and for menacing, sinister, come from the Latin for left.
There are 100 favourable references to the right hand in the Bible, and 25 unfavourable references to the left.
Indeed the devil is said to lurk over a person’s left shoulder. That is why a pinch of salt is thrown over the left shoulder.
According to research, the prejudice toward left-handed people was not very strong until the 18th and 19th centuries.
When the so-called science of comparing the human body to the human mind appeared, left-handedness was considered a mark of pathological, savage behaviour.
Nearly all cultures associate left-handedness with degrees of nastiness. Right is right and the rest is left - a word that meant ‘weak’ and ‘worthless’. In Roget’s Thesaurus, left-handed leads us to ‘oblique’, ‘insincere’, ‘clumsy’ and ‘insulting’.
A left-handed compliment is back-handed, a left-handed sugar bowl is a chamber pot, a left-handed wife is a mistress and a left-handed marriage one of social unequals.
Catholics are left-footers, though they call themselves ‘right-handers’. Gauche is our direct 18th-century adoption of the French word for it - and that comes from gauchir , meaning ‘warp’.
The French, German and Dutch all share our right/good, left/bad perspective. Even history’s minorities have a thing against lefties. The Hebrew for a left-hander is eetair yad yemino - a person not right-handed.
Alexander the Great was the first left-hander on record, though the Bible tells us that Benjamin’s army included a 700-strong group of left-handed slingshotters.
I have two children. They’ve both got strawberry blonde hair and blue eyes, but they’re far from identical. My daughter sings, plays the piano and is a total drama queen. The other likes doing mental arithmetic and is a contrary so and so, who would argue a black crow white.
My daughter, the musical one, is right-handed; my son is the leftie - which means, according to the research I have read, he has more creative clout - yet he doesn’t seem to have an artistic bone in his little body.
Research would suggest he is more likely to be drawn to a career in art, music, sport and IT; he is also meant to get angrier and embarrassed quicker than a right-handed person; this is definitely true.
But it’s true being left-handers in a right-handed world, isn’t straightforward. On a practical level, kitchen equipment is set up for right-handers; scissors don’t cut for lefties, they bend and tear - although, it is now possible to buy various left handed implements, including scissors, guitars and even pens.
The editor of this newspaper, Alistair Bushe is left-handed, he says: ‘‘Life as a left-hander presented many challenges in childhood. I felt awkward carrying out some mundane tasks, from tying my shoelaces to learning to put on a tie properly. My handwriting was never good, and remains poor to this day.
‘‘I believe my particular struggles in subjects like art and craft, design and technology at school were down to my left-handedness.’’
So are there any advantages in being left-handed?
Well, it’s better for writing on a blackboard. And it’s better for some sports - though lefties are banned in polo on safety grounds. Left-handed boxers, cricketers, baseball and tennis players seem to have distinct advantages over right-handed colleagues or competitors. Some say that’s because right-handers have less experience of lefties than vice versa.
I don’t know if forcing me to the right has had a tremendous impact on my life. People often ask me if I am ambidextrous. I am not. But strangely I do still perform many tasks with my left, rather than my right hand. I carry my handbag with my left; I drink tea with my left and a medical examination revealed my left arm is much stronger than my right.
One thing is for sure though - I’ll never make a professional Zumba dancer.