Nothing sinister here. Oh, wait.
Vive la Gauche!
It bespeaks the fundamental cussedness of lefties (and leftists and southpaws) that it was immediately spelt two different ways: ‘Lefthanders’ and ‘Left-Handers.’
This is innate in the leftie soul, since all of life is, to a lefthander (of which, you might have deduced, I hold lifelong membership in, save for baseball, where I use a right-handed mitt, because the left-handed ones were too expensive for my parents’ blood) all of life is an endless series of improvisations and adjustments to the Dominant Right-Handed Regime of Humankind.
I learned to use right-handed scissors, since the class scissors in any school or sunday school I ever attended (and there were a lot of them) had ample, modern, pointy-nose scissors and ONE pair of snub-nose, somewhat rusted, poor-for-cutting pair of “lefty” scissors. Ditto desks. I spent many years in a spinal half-twist, writing my notes perpendicular to the plane of my shoulders in right-handed desks, rather than take the lone broken down, back-of-the-room desk that was there, by statistical fiat (even though in a 30-pupil class, two might seem more apt).
I was making instant potatoes the other night, and for the gazillion time I breathed “[EXPLETIVE] THEM RIGHT-HANDED CHAUVINIST PIGS!” since, as are all measuring cups, measuring out one and one third cups of water and potato flakes (not at the same time) requires you to (at best) ignore the right-handed handle, or else (as is too often the case) wrestle with the sheer awkwardness of it. No gradations on the other side of the cup do me any good.
Alas, I am an American, and have no earthly idea what milliliters are. Centimeters somewhat moreso, but not what you’d call at any fundamentally competent level. Generally, I attempt to reduce myself to the level of the Hottentot, who can only count to three. But Hottentots often have many more livestock than counting numbers, so they do one-to-one correspondences, by taking a bag and putting a stone in for every sheep, goat, cow or whatever Hottentots herd.
This comes in handy in doing instant mashed potatoes, since the recipe invariably calls for 1 and 1/3rd cups of water, 1 and 1/3rd cups of potato flakes and 2/3rds cup of milk (instant or whole or somewhere inbetween), which is an odd way of measuring, when you think about it. But since 2/3rds twice is 4/3rds (or a cup and a third), I just do the proportions unless I feel the need to be humiliated by a common Pyrex® measuring cup. Or: 1 cup of water. 1 cup of potatoes. 1/2 cup of milk, and margerine and spices to taste.
Or, one unit of water, one unit of flakes, and half a unit of milk. (Unit size of your choice.) Butter. Spices. Pepper. Hottentot math.
WHY they don’t bother putting those easy measurements on the box seems a mystery beyond my ken and definitely above my pay grade.
But living life as a lefty — and a liberal leftist lefty at that — is a lot like those box directions: fundamentally awkward.
Gee. Note which hand is used.
The first thing that we left-handers learn when we learn to write is that the heel of your hand smears whatever you just painstakingly wrote, and you’re going to have to find some way of making it work.
No teacher ever tells you what to do, nor generally any adult. Odds are your parents aren’t left-handed and just consider you weird, and if they are of a worrying sort of mind, read up on it, and read a lot of scary stuff about how left-handers used to be considered retarded, and that the syndrome is linked to retardation — at least in the minds of health professionals going back and back and back.
Gauche? The French term for “left” as in “Rive Gauche,” or the “Left Bank.” Sinister? The opposite of Dexter, Latin for “left” and “right” respectively. Righties are dextrous and display wondrous digital dexterity. Lefties are sinister and gauche. “Right” is a thing that you have under government, except in the case of the Theory of the Declaration of Independence, in which certain inalienable (or unalienable) rights are given by nature and nature’s god, including life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
But, if your rights are taken away or don’t get exercised, you are left behind.
The Koran says that you should only always wipe your ass with your left hand.
And, it is well understood throughout the Middle East that eating with your left hand is a high insult, like showing someone the soles of your shoes.
I won’t go into all the slurs, but I will say that it is the perversity of a world that wants one and one third cups of water that creates that “crab-handed” lefty writing I have witnessed my whole life. President Obama does it. I call it the “crab hand” or the “lefty claw.” I don’t do it.
But a significant proportion of left-handers DO. And, just so’s you know: the fundamental awkwardness that it appears to be comes exclusively from you, right-handed world, in handing a left-hander the problem of a writing that is difficult, if not nearly impossible for him.
Were our situations reversed, YOU would look just as silly, pretending to be a literate hermit crab or lobster.
The REASON for the lefty claw writing is that cursive script is — for you Righties — like pulling a rope across a smooth, even floor. For a Lefty, cursive writing is like trying to PUSH a rope across a junkyard. So, many Lefties adapt by twisting the claw around, and THEN they can pull their letters.
Many choose the Crustacean Path to Rightie Writing.
And then there are the Rebels, the Recalcitrant and the Just Plain Mulish — who are generously represented amidst our gauche ranks. (Or, perhaps our rank gaucherie, chéri.)
I was far more radical: I quit writing cursive script, and print exclusively. All caps generally, but sometimes with small caps and capitals. Screw the righties. I write the way that works best for my wretched condition, rather than attempting the crab hand on that Pyrex measuring cup, where the handle MUST be on the right side, perpendicular to the plane of your nose, if you want to measure one and one third cups of water.
I remember going pheasant hunting in Kansas, and missing shot after shot, because, as a left-handed gun, without the “special” leftie edition, reaching around to get the safety off and aim at the fleeing, flying pheasant was damn nigh impossible.
And when I say “missing shot after shot” I don’t mean that I missed; I mean that by the time I was un-safety’d and ready to shoot, it was too late to bother. I conserved round after round that day. Dozens, probably.
All from being left-handed.
Actuaries ascribe an abbreviated aliveness at an annual average of about two.
Years less that I’ll live than my average rightie counterpart. Perhaps it’s environmental stress. Perhaps it’s a Dextrous Hate Group that’s been assassinating us but is a deep dark secret order like in a Stephen Speilberg or Tom Hanks movie. Who knows?
Nonetheless, life as a left-hander presents constant and unexpected troubles and annoyances in a right-handed world, and one is forced to improvise constantly, usually without any assistance — for some reason, left-handers tend to be as solitary as cats when it comes to left-handedness — and until the internet, damn few resources to use collective knowledge to solve whatever new Measuring Cup emergency that has arisen. From carpentry to auto repairs to drafting and dancing and shooting and appliancing, designs inherently are geared to whatever makes the most convenient layout … for a RIGHT HANDER . Generally it’s awkward as hell for US, but we adapt.
Thus, left to my own devices, I strive to pack those extra two years in, here and there, so I don’t get cheated out of them.
I learned to cut with right-handed scissors, and wouldn’t know what to do with a pair of left-handed scissors if they dropped from the sky. For the real precision stuff, I use an X-acto knife, as I’ve been doing since I was 21 years old and pasted up Phonograph Record Magazine on Hollywood Boulevard.
Funny: an awful lot of cartoonists and graphic artists (by proportion, not just some number) are left-handed.
But the hatred of our “sinister” nature continues in the mindless bigotry of our language(s).
In the U.S.A. anything from “the left” or hateful “leftists” is decried and mocked and hated, as we all call them “Righties.” It’s sort of that deeply ingrained into us. Virtually every culture has something awful to say about us, and a raft of uncomplimentary terms.
Oh, all right. I WILL go into all the slurs…
Wikipedia informs us, leftly, that (I have edited it a bit so it would come out “right”):
Historically, the left side, and subsequently left-handedness, was considered negative in many cultures. The Latin word sinistra originally meant “left” but took on meanings of “evil” or “unlucky” by the Classical Latin era, and this double meaning survives in European derivatives of Latin, and in the English word “sinister”. Alternatively, sinister comes from the Latin word sinus meaning “pocket”: a traditional Roman toga had only one pocket, located on the left side. […] This bias is also apparent in the lesser-known antonym “ambisinistrous”, which means “clumsy on both sides”.
In Chinese culture, the adjective “left” (Chinese: ?; pinyin: zu?) sometimes means “improper” or “out of accord”. For instance, the phrase “left path” (Chinese: ??; pinyin: zu?dào) stands for unorthodox or immoral means.
In Hebrew, as well as in other ancient Semitic and Mesopotamian languages, the term “left” was a symbol of power or custody. The left hand symbolized the power to shame society, and was used as a metaphor for misfortune, natural evil, or punishment from the gods. This metaphor survived ancient culture and was integrated into mainstream Christianity by early Catholictheologians, such as Ambrose of Milan, to modern Protestant theologians, such as Karl Barth, to attribute natural evil to God in explaining God’s omnipotence over the universe.
There are many colloquial terms used to refer to a left-handed person, e.g. “southpaw” or “goofy” (USA). Some are just slang or jargon words, while other references may be offensive or demeaning, either in context or in origin. In some parts of the English-speaking world, “cack-handed” is slang for left-handed, and is also used to mean clumsy.
The origin of this term is disputed, but some suggest it is derived from the Latin cacare, in reference to the habit of performing ablutions with the left hand, leaving the right hand “clean”. However, other sources suggest that it is derived from the Old Norse word keikr, meaning “bent backwards”. Some Australians use “cacky-handed”. An alternative Australian slang word for a left-handed individual is the term Molly-Duker.
But wait, it gets worse:
In French, droit(e) (cognate to English direct) means both “right” and “straight”, as well as “law” and the legal sense of “right”, while gauche means “left” and is also a synonym of maladroit, literally “not right”, meaning “clumsy”. Spanish, Italian, Portuguese and German have similar constructs. The Spanish term diestro and the Italian term destro mean both “right-handed” and “skillful”. The contemporary Italian word sinistra has both meanings of sinister and left (the masculine adjective for sinister being sinistro), and maldestro means “clumsy”. The Spanish siniestra has both, too, although the “left” meaning is less common and is usually expressed by izquierda, a Basque word that made its way into Portuguese as well. In some Spanish-speaking countries, to do something por izquierda means to engage in corrupt conduct or employ illegitimate means, whereas por derecha or a derechas means to do it the right (legitimate) way. In Portuguese, the most common word for left-handed person, canhoto, was once used to identify the devil, and canhestro, a related word, means “clumsy”. In German, recht means “right” (direction) and “right” (correct), while the word link means “left” and that someone is back-stabbing or a liar.
The Dutch word links also means “left” and “clumsy” or “awkward”. In Irish, deas means “right side” and “nice”. Ciotóg is the left hand and is related to ciotach meaning “awkward”; ciotógach (kyut-OH-goch) is the term for left-handed. In Welsh, the word chwith means “left”, but can also mean “strange”, “awkward”, or “wrong”. The Scots term for left-handedness is corrie fistit. The term can be used to convey clumsiness.
In Finnish, the word oikea means both “right” (okay, correct) and “right” (the opposite of left). In Swedish, vänster means “left”. The term vänsterprassel means “infidelity”, “adultery” and “cheating”. From this term the verb vänstra (lit. “lefting”) is derived.
In Hungarian, the word for right is jobb, which also means “better”. The word for left is bal, which also means “bad”. In Polish, the word prawo means: right as well as law, prawy means: lawful; the word lewymeans: left (opposite of right), and colloquial “illegal” (opposite of legal). In Estonian, the word pahem stands for both “left” and “worse” and the word parem stands for both “right” and “better”.
In Chinese culture, the adjective “left” (Chinese character: ?, Mandarin: zu?) sometimes means “improper” or “out of accord”. For instance, the phrase “left path” (??, zu?dao) stands for unorthodox or immoral means.
In Korean, the word for right is oreun (??), to be compared to the word meaning morally proper, oreheun (??) which shares the same pronunciation.
In fact, the superstitious fear and loathing of the left would have guaranteed our extermination eons ago, save for one salient fact.
We’re clever little [EXPLETIVE DELETED]s.
My Left Hand Masquerading as my Right Hand.
A writer, published author, novelist, literary critic and political observer for a quarter of a quarter-century more than a quarter-century, Hart Williams has lived in the American West for his entire life. Having grown up in Wyoming, Kansas and New Mexico, a survivor of Texas and a veteran of Hollywood, Mr. Williams currently lives in Oregon, along with an astonishing amount of pollen. He has a lively blog His Vorpal Sword. This is cross-posted from his blog.