Left, Left, Left-Right-Left

I’ve never been a baseball fan, but I do like the nostalgic origin of the term “southpaw”. Baseball claims the word because early ballparks oriented their fields with the batter facing east (to avoid the setting sun).  That put the pitcher facing west, and in the case of a lefty, his pitching “paw” to the south.

30 - sinistral

I am a southpaw myself.  The more formal term for me and my left-handed brethren is sinistral.  We are the ten percent of the world’s population who curse as we ladle from the punch bowl, write in our spiral-bound notebooks, or cut that not-so-straight line with our scissors.  We are the annoying person to your right at dinner parties; the one who bumps your elbow every time we lift our fork.

Handedness is often determined in the womb but almost always by the age of two.  Handedness suggests a tendency towards the opposite side of the brain (that is, left-handed people are more “right-brain” and vice-versa).  But it is also believed that left-handed people have the hemispheres of the brain reversed, so that their right-brain skills actually reside in their left hemisphere.  Confusing, no?

Whether left or right, the connotations go beyond the body itself.  Left-brain people favor analysis, logic, and facts, while right-brains favor creativity, imagination, and feelings.  I generally behave left-brain (which would confirm that reversed-hemisphere notion), but just to be sure I took the following 30-second test: http://braintest.sommer-sommer.com/en/ .  Try it yourself.  It tells me I am 59% right-brain.  Huh?  Then again – to squash this approach completely – logic tells me a right-brain person would not even subscribe to the idea that a test can determine these distinctions.

When we lived in San Francisco there was a small shop in Fisherman’s Wharf called “The Left-Hand Store”.  Among its more popular products: watches that could be set from the left, measuring cups that could be read when held in the left hand, and notebooks spiral-bound on the right.  They also sold an impressive selection of scissors and cutlery with the cutting edge on the -ahem – correct side.  Finally, they sold a “Super Power” hoodie proclaiming “Left is Right”, which is really just a desperate plea for sympathy from all you righties.

We lefties may need super power to overcome the perception that we are out of favor in a right-handed world.  After all, “right” connotes “correct” and “proper”, while sinistral connotes “unlucky” and “clumsy”.  The English derived “sinister” from sinistral, while the French termed “gauche” for “left”, but also for “awkward”.  Black magic is sometimes referred to as the “left-hand path”.  Many cultures seek to convert their left-handed children to the right.  Why is it never vice-versa?  Hence the perception.

Admittedly, some tasks remain nightmarish when performed from the left.  I will never again take chalk to board (as most ends up on my hand).  My spiral notebooks will always be bound from the top, to avoid the indent of metal wire on the edges of my palm.  My writing will forever be illegible since my hand curves awkwardly around the words I write, (to avoid smearing).  And if I ever wish to play the guitar – or the accordion – I need to play them upside-down for the benefit of my more dexterous hand.  At least Sir Paul McCartney feels my pain.

Here’s an interesting premise.  It is said that more left-handed drivers die in accidents than right-handed drivers.  Why?  Because in the effort to avoid that head-on collision, we southpaws instinctively pull the wheel down to the left… which takes our car into oncoming traffic.  At least in America.  Perhaps I should move to England.

From the Facebook community That’s One Awesome Mommy, we read “Left-handers are wired into the artistic half of the brain, which makes them imaginative, creative, surprising, ambiguous, exasperating, stubborn, emotional, witty, obsessive, infuriating, delightful, original, but never, never dull.”  Whoa.  Now that’s what I’d call a left-handed compliment!

Author: Dave

Three hundred posts would suggest I have something to say… This blog was born from a desire to elevate the English language, highlighting eloquent words from days gone by. The stories I share are snippets of life itself, and each comes with a bonus: a dusted-off word I hope you’ll go on to use more often. Read “Deutschland-ish Improvements” to learn about my backyard European wish list. Try “Slush Fun” for the throwback years of the 7-Eleven convenience store. Or drink in "Iced Coffee" to discover the plight of the rural French cafe. On the lighter side, read "Late Night Racquet Sports" for my adventures with our latest moth invasion. As Walt Whitman said, “That the powerful play goes on, and you may contribute a verse.” Here then, my verse. Welcome to Life In A Word.

3 thoughts on “Left, Left, Left-Right-Left”

  1. Great post, Dave. My Mom said my twin brother wanted to be left handed, but when we were little right handed was better, so she kept encouraging him to use the right hand and he is right handed now. For sure, I know he is better at Technology than I am, so maybe in the end he got the benefit of using BOTH his right and left brain. Go Lefties!


  2. Dave:
    A left handed “way to go”. Not only do we share a name but also left-handedness (a virtue in my book). I was not aware of the hemisphere switching hypothesis. I have read that “sinistral”, same root as sinister, came out of military fighting where soldiers were trained to watch out for attack by the right hand of an opponent. We sneaky lefty’s could sneak in a thrust or cut from the left side. Left being associated with bad or evil is found in the Bible as for an example in Matthew 25:31-46 where Jesus says God will put the sheep on His right and the goats on His left in the judgement to come. The sheep will be welcomed in heaven and the goats cast out. I am confident that God has room for us lefties in heaven anyhow. Paul says there are no longer Greeks or Jews, men or women … but all are equal in the kingdom of heaven. In that spirit I would add there are neither lefties or righties in God’s eyes. You started with a baseball analogy so I will end with one. The single most valuable and highest paid players in the major leagues are good southpaw pitchers.


    1. David:
      Thanks for the additional background on lefthandedness. I did not know about the military fighting, nor the apparent discrimination in the Bible verses (but thanks to Paul I’ll feel a little more comfortable in church on Sunday). In addition to pitchers, I wonder if tennis players have an advantage playing with the left hand. I’d think a right-handed opponent would have a tougher time gauging the return of the ball from the right (from their perspective, that is).


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