August 13 is Left-handers’ Day, a day for left-handed people the world over to forget about the right-handed world they live in and celebrate the difference. Here are 13 facts you may not know about your left-handed friends and siblings.
Studies suggest that between 10 percent and 12 percent of the world’s population is left-handed. Whether you are left- or right-handed is decided in the womb, according to scientists who isolated the genes that determine manual dexterity. However, they don’t yet know why right-handedness is so dominant or why men are slightly more likely than women to be left-handed.
Humans are one of the few animals to show a bias between left- and right-handedness. Most creatures, even our primate cousins, exhibit a 50-50 split when it comes to which hand, foot or paw they use the most. The only other animal to show a distinct left-/right-handed split is the parrot – in tests 90 percent of birds used their left foot for picking things up.
Good news lefties, the number of left-handed people is on the rise, with one American study indicating that 15 percent of under-30s were left-handed compared to just 6% of over-65s; a century ago, the figure stood at just 2%. But this is no genetic trend – until relatively recently there was a stigma around left-handedness which saw children forced to write with their right hands.
Certain sports have an over-representation of successful left-handers. It has been argued that in individual sports such as tennis, the lack of left-handed practice partners makes it harder for right-handed players to adapt to their lefty opponents.
Others claim that the dominance of the right-side of the brain in left-handers gives them greater spatial awareness. Left-handed hockey players have no such advantage – the rules of the game dictate that for reasons of safety, all sticks are right-handed.
Everyday items that can be bought in left-handed versions include spiral-bound notebooks with the spine on the right so as not to interfere with the writer’s hand, corkscrews that turn in the opposite direction to ‘normal’, can openers with the twisty bit on the left, scissors that are a mirror image of a regular pair and rulers with the order of the numbers reversed to run from right to left.
A survey in 1940 found 87 separate terms for left-handedness across the UK. They ranged from the still-common ‘southpaw’ and ‘cack-handed’ to the sadly lost ‘gibble-fisted’, ‘cow-pawed’ and ‘ballock-handed’. In contrast there were just two terms for right-handed people. ‘Cack-handed’ itself is derived from the Latin cacere, to defecate, and carries with it derogatory connotations of the use of the left hand in some countries to clean oneself after defecation.
Left-handers have had a raw deal from European languages since the Latin word for left, ‘sinistra’, came to mean ‘unlucky’ or ‘unfortunate’ and eventually ‘evil’. Our word ‘sinister’ has the same root, while English has also adopted the French word for left, ‘gauche’, to mean ‘clumsy’ or ‘ill-mannered’. The Italian word for left-hander, ‘mancino’, also means treacherous or deceitful, while the German word for left, ‘linkisch’ means ‘awkward’.
Four of the last five presidents of the USA have been left-handers, George W. Bush being the one exception. David Cameron is the first left-handed British Prime Minister since 1970s premier James Callaghan, while Prince William is also a lefty.
William’s great-grandfather George VI was naturally left-handed, but his father George V forced him to write with his right hand. (For more world famous lefthanders turn to the next page)
August 13 marks the 23rd Left-handers’ Day, a global celebration of all things sinistral first held in 1976 and now an annual event. The day also has a serious side as a way of raising awareness of the talents and needs of left-handed people, especially children.