Pleasures of Life Dept.
A Southpaw’s Lament
On the wrong side of history
By Scott Sheffield
It’s high time somebody spoke up for us. We have been neglected and marginalized for far too long. We, the people of the left-handed persuasion. Depending on your source, left-handed people comprise roughly 10 percent of the world’s population. Nobody knows the troubles we’ve seen — unless you’re one of us. Try walking a day in our gloves.
It started during the Roman Empire. The Latin word for right was “dexter” and the word for left was “sinister.” As time went on, dexter started taking on the connotation of “proper” and “correct,” while sinister became synonymous with “unlucky” and even “evil.” This perception of the word sinister, and by extension the people who were left-handed, reached a pervasive level during the Middle or Dark Ages, when belief in the existence of sorcery and black magic was at its peak. Abnormalities were viewed as vile, even dangerous. Because only a small percentage of the population was left-handed or “sinistral,” left-handedness was considered an abnormality, and those who exhibited the trait were shunned and vilified.
A negative view of left-handedness persisted into the 20th century. A couple of my elementary school teachers tried to get us left-handed kids to write with our other (wrong, right?) hand by scolding, or worse, a rap on the knuckles. No amount of chastisement was sufficient to compel me, or many of the other brave resisters in my class, to change hands.
As time went on, the slights piled up. I was dismayed to learn that “left-handed compliment” basically meant an insulting statement disguised as praise. I discovered that many ordinary consumer products were made specifically for righties, or “dextrals.” Scissors, for example. The blades are fiendishly aligned to benefit the right-handed. If you doubt me, trying using your left. How does that make your thumb feel? And what about the common soup ladle? The lip is always on the left side, the way a right-hander would pour. If left-handed folks do that they end with untidy consequences. Manual can openers are right-hand, too. In yet another power move the handle must be held in the left hand while the user turns the crank with the right.
How about clothes? Belts, for example. I once bought a belt with a decorative buckle, but if I slid the belt strap through the pant loops to the right, which is the natural way for a left-hander to put on a belt, when I got around to fastening the belt to the buckle, the design was upside down. The belt was meant to be put on from right to left. And shirts. A standard man’s shirt has its buttons on the right, buttonholes on the left. It’s designed to be buttoned from the right. Trying to button my shirt with my left hand ties my fingers in knots. That goes for suit jackets, too. Yes, yes, standard women’s shirts have their buttons on the left, but that’s not to help out left-handed ladies, it’s just tradition.
Tools, machines and even some weapons are configured for the dextrals. Not long ago, when I was checking out my order at the grocery store and when the payment device asked me to sign my name, my hand bumped into the plastic COVID shield that separates shoppers from the clerk. It was nearly impossible to write my signature. Was this a plot hatched by Apple Pay?
There have been some bright spots for me as a left-hander. On a business trip to San Francisco many years ago, one of my co-workers and I went to Fisherman’s Wharf for a seafood dinner. Afterward, we attempted to walk off our sumptuous meals by strolling around the piers. At Pier 39 I noticed a sign written in bright yellow script that said “Lefty’s.” Below the name, in somewhat smaller, bright purple block print, were the words “San Francisco Left Hand Store.” Everything in the store, EVERYTHING, was left-hand oriented. It was the materialization of Homer Simpson’s neighbor, Ned Flanders’, Leftorium.
I was like a kid in a candy shop. I had to be dragged out of the store by my right-handed friend. While surfing the net recently, I was happy to see that Lefty’s is still there.
Of course, we were thrown a bone with International Left-handers Day. It was originally observed in 1976 to celebrate the uniqueness and differences of left-handed people. You 90-percenters may not celebrate it, but it’s a national holiday in my house.
In fairness, I have to give grudging credit to this right-handed world for one thing — out of necessity I’ve become quasi-ambidextrous. But let’s hope that the only left-handers who are considered vile or dangerous today are the ones who are, well, vile or dangerous. PS
Scott Sheffield is a contributing writer for PineStraw and The Pilot. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.