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Left Handedness

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A left-handed writer noting Left Handers Day

Handedness is the tendency to use one hand or the other to perform various everyday activities or tasks, such as writing. Writing alone, however, can not be used to determine handedness. Some people write with the hand they don't use for most other things, and some people have been forced to write with their 'wrong' hand.

Left-handers and the Bias Against Them

Approximately nine out of every ten people are naturally right-handed. The remainder are left-handed, and have to try to fit in the best they can in a right-handed world. Most everyday equipment, such as scissors, potato peelers and rulers are made for the right-hander. They are totally unusable by a 'leftie' who is using their left hand. Either left-handers can't use these important pieces of equipment, are forced to use them with the 'wrong' hand, thereby decreasing control and accuracy, or must search in special shops for left-handed versions of that particular product, if they are available at all.

Since early times, there has been a strong bias against left-handers. One only needs to look at the word 'left', and where it is derived from in various languages, to see this. In French 'left' is gauche which can also mean 'ugly', 'clumsy' or 'uncouth'. In Italian 'left' is sinistra which is where our word 'sinister', meaning evil, comes from. This is similar in many other Latin-based languages. Our English word 'left' itself comes from the Anglo-Saxon word lyft, meaning 'weak'.

A 'left-handed compliment' actually means an insult, whereas someone's 'right-hand man' means their most important, loyal and useful follower. Pictures of Satan, the devil, depict him as a left-hander.

It is due to this that the natural left-handers in society have sometimes been treated differently, as outcasts or evil people. In previous times, probably due to Satan being a left-hander, they were said to have been 'doing the devil's work'. It is therefore not surprising that so many left-handed people have been forced to write and eat with their right hand. Changing a person's handedness forces them to use a different brain hemisphere, and often causes stuttering or other learning difficulties.

Another major difficulty faced by left-handers in our society is the fact that English writing (and the writing of many European languages) goes from left to right. A natural left-hander will probably want to pull the pen across the page, which means if they are using an ink pen they will smudge their writing. It is because of this that some lefties have adopted a hooked wrist for writing, so their hand goes up and over their writing rather than on top of it. With writing going from left to right, a left-hander's left hand may obscure their view of what they are writing. Add this to the smudging problem, and it's no wonder that left-handers often have messy writing, often causing them to be labelled as 'clumsy', 'dumb' or 'stupid'.

The chance of serious accidents happening to a left-hander is much higher than the chance of it happening to a right-hander, due to the right-handed world in which lefties have to live. Most mechanical tools used for woodwork or metalwork have the handle used to control the cutting on the right side. A left-hander's inability to control the cutter with their right hand may cause the blade to slip and slice them, or crossing their left arm over to use it to control the machine places their left arm in front of the blade, creating even more risk of a cutting accident.

Even if left-handers aren't placed at risk by the right-handed equipment they are using, they may find it uncomfortable. Large folders, files or ring-binders with two binders in the middle mean that a left-hander will have to use the folder from back to front, writing on the other side of the page, so the clips in the middle won't get in the way of their hand. Most televisions have their controls placed on the right hand side of the screen. Video cameras are made so they can only be held with the right hand and looked through by the right eye. Computers have the number pad and arrows on the right-hand side of the keyboard.

Most musical instruments have a right-handed bias too. The violin is bowed with the right hand. The guitar is strummed with the right hand. (Although both those instruments use the left hand for complicated movements on the string, it would probably feel most natural to a left-handed child to pick up the bow in their left hand, or strum with their left hand.) The right hand controls the keys on a trumpet or cornet. The right hand is dominant on the piano, usually playing complicated melodies while the left hand does simple chords. The drum kit is generally set up for the convenience of a right-hander. Indeed, probably the only instrument which shows a left-handed bias is the French horn, where the right hand is jammed into the funnel end and the left hand does the keys.

Most instruments can be made to suit left-handers, but they usually cost more because they are less common.

Do Left-handers Die Younger?

There is also a theory that left-handers die younger. According to some studies done in the USA, right-handers live on average nine years longer than left-handers. Whether this is natural, handedness-related, or just because the right-handed environment is hazardous to 'southpaws', is unclear.

Well-known left-handers

Some well-known natural left-handers (some were changed) include William Bonney (Billy the Kid), Jack the Ripper, Prince Charles, Prince William, Queen Victoria, Pablo Picasso, Charlie Chaplin, Benjamin Franklin, Babe Ruth, Paul McCartney, Leonardo da Vinci (who was supposedly ambidextrous), Marilyn Monroe, and, of course, Douglas Adams.

On Tuesday, 22 January, 2009, Barack Obama took his place as President of the United States of America, being that country's first black president, and also continuing a recent run of left-handers. Four out of the last six presidents have been sinistral: Bill Clinton, George HW Bush, Ronald Reagan and Gerald Ford. Since only 10% of the general population is left-handed, this could indicate that left-handedness is a key attribute for those occupying the position of 'most powerful leader in the world'.

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