I’m a leftie, a scoochy…spuddy-handed, even. These, and more, are names historically been associated with left-handed people – pretty uncomplimentary, really. I’m also a woman, which according to research casts me even further into the depths of the minorities – males are twice as likely to be lefties. But what does it really mean to be left handed? Well, I (and around 8-15%), of the population can tell you.
Pictures from when I was around 3 years, merrily splodging colours onto a piece of paper, show the paintbrush grasped in my chubby left hand. Growing up, my Mum was the lone ‘rightie’ in the household; three of us as left-handed meant it was normal to hear cries of frustration as my Dad couldn’t work out the right-handed tin opener and I would be given a pair of (cool, zig-zag, right-handed) scissors that I couldn’t quite work out how to use.
I’ve become more dextrous as I’ve got older, for example playing guitar and using scissors right-handed. I’ve learnt to accept the way objects are designed; I use a computer mouse with my right hand, but then I’ve never known any different. Everyday inventions created with the majority of the population in mind mean that, for a left-handed person, a large part of getting along in life means adapting to the ‘conventional’ way of doing things.
Years (and years and years) ago, it was not unheard of for left-handed people in certain societies to be outcast, or even killed. ‘Left’ in Latin means ‘sinister’, and in many Latin-language based Catholic countries there were strong associations with left-handedness and the devil. Thankfully, these ridiculous misconceptions have been long since forgotten and, luckily for the left-handed amongst us, we’ve moved on from these dark days.
However, more recent reports of school teachers forcing left-handed students to write with their right hands was not unheard of and even now countries such as China have much lower rates of left-handedness in comparison to more liberal countries, such as Canada. Even when conducting research for this article, I came across comments on blogs questioning the mental stability of left-handers. One woman even asked if it was advisable to encourage her three-year old child to use their right-hand before starting school. Ridiculous on many levels, but especially as one’s genes can’t be altered; the shunning of left-handed people in some cases seems equal to that of many other minoritiy groups.
Yet, it can’t be helped. There’s no doubt there are links between the hand you write with and your genes, as well as biological causes which occur in the womb, with your parentage contributing hugely to your writing hand – you’re much more likely to be left-handed if both, or even one parent, is too.
Barack Obama is perhaps the most powerful, and the most famous, left-handed man in the world. He also continues the trend of left-handed presidents – five of the last seven US presidents have been so – as well as research carried out by St Lawrence University in New York suggesting that there are more left-handed people with an IQ of over 140 than right-handed people. The common perception is that left-handers are more creative and intelligent than their right-handed counterparts (something I’m willing to agree with), but there’s also evidence to suggest that anxiety, depression and paranoia are also more common in this 8-15% of the population.
It’s also thought left-handed people have a higher mortality rate than right-handers, due to the higher number of accidents from using right-handed products, as well as genetics apparently making it more likely for lefties to suffer from certain auto-immune diseases. However, so far there’s not really enough evidence for any of the above claims and the connotations of left-handedness remain slightly dubious.
Lefties may be a minority in a largely right-handed world, but for me it’s just a mild inconvenience. I for one like being left-handed – it makes me different – and knowing that the most powerful man in the world also shares my ‘affliction’ causes a small surge of victory: we’re pretty great, really.