I won’t say I’ve had it rough, but I belong to an enigmatic minority group. Many think we’re absentminded, clumsy, lack certain job skills, are more prone to illness and injury, and won’t live as long as members of the majority will (or can) do. Some of the more charming words wielded against us include the Greek Skaios, which means “ill-omened”; the French gauche, “awkward”; even the Gaelic Ciotóg, which means “the strange one” (shame on my ancestors for that one, I guess). When I was just a small fry, I learned that names can’t hurt me – which is good, because I also learned that I am left-handed, and that, I couldn’t change.
I’m exaggerating about the ’embattled’ part, sure; this does not rise to the level of ethnic or gender struggles. In fact, this seems to be a good time to be a southpaw; I trust my brother Chris, also a lefty, would agree.
The bias against left-handedness isn’t as intense now as it was in, for instance, ancient Roman times, when a southpaw was “sinister” while a right-hander was a “dexter“. Today, you might say a smooth or skillful act was “dexterous”, but a foiled effort was “maladroit”, i.e. bad-right, and where else would your “bad” right be, if not to the left of your “good” one?
It’s tough to be a southpaw at first, even in a forgiving atmosphere, discovering how much of the world is engineered to make dexters happy. Keys for doors and car engines are designed for right-hand use, which means a lefty has to get better at right-handed manipulation, which is a good thing. Writing by hand, of course, can be just ridiculous – on right-handed desks, in particular, it’s a fine way to get ink on oneself and, even worse, get a sore neck from having to turn sideways. Scissors, saws and many other hand tools, automated teller machines, and loads of other things are not built to appeal to our “niche market”, but we’re nothing if not stubborn, and willing to learn.
The bright side of being a southpaw, of course, is the company one keeps. Something about being perceived and treated as kooky outsiders seems to bring out the best in left-handed folks. We may never hear of a brilliant left-handed saxophone player, given the current lack of left-handed saxophones, but I bet you’ve enjoyed the music of Ludwig van Beethoven, Sergei Rachmaninoff, Maurice Ravel, Erroll Garner, Ornette Coleman, Bob Dylan, Beatles Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr, Jimi Hendrix, Paul Simon, Led Zeppelin’s Robert Plant, Iggy Pop, Black Sabbath’s Tony Iommi, and Kurt Cobain. Southpaw artists:
Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, Raphael, Albrecht Dürer, and M. C. Escher. Lewis Carroll was left-handed; so was Mark Twain. Ramses II, Alexander the Great, Julius Caesar, Joan of Arc, Charlemagne and Lord Horatio Nelson (who had to switch over from the right hand he lost) were world-shaking lefty warriors; southpaw Mohandas Gandhi shook the world, too, but for peace.
Sir Isaac Newton’s laws of gravity and motion must have sprung from his over-active right-brain, which of course governs left-sided functioning. Left-handed entrepreneurs include Henry Ford, who mass-produced cars, and Bill Gates, who did likewise for computers. “Gentleman” Jim Corbett and Oscar de la Hoya left their mark in professional boxing; lefties Ben Hogan and Phil Mickelson are two of my dad’s golf icons; Babe Ruth, Casey Stengel and Reggie Jackson are famous baseball players. The movies made lefties Charlie Chaplin, Greta Garbo, Harpo Marx, Robert Redford, Dick Van Dyke, Carol Burnett, Robert De Niro, and Whoopi Goldberg famous. Left-handed U.S. Presidents include not only Barack Obama, but James A. Garfield, Harry Truman, Gerald Ford, Ronald Reagan (if memory serves), George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton as well.
Being a southpaw would seem to be, to say the least, a surmountable obstacle. So: even though it’s taken up my entire evening to write this, I’d like to wish everyone a Happy International Left–Handers Day… yes, even if you’re right-handed!
- Give lefties a hand; it’s International Left-Handers Day (readingeagle.com)
- Happy Left-Hander’s Day! What Science Says About Handedness (healthland.time.com)
- 8 Facts About Southpaws to Celebrate International Left-Handers Day (blogs.howstuffworks.com)