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.
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!