Written by Ruth Bratt

In The News

On the other hand…

On National Lefthanders Day, Ruth Bratt talks about the sinister, the righteous and bloody tin openers.

left-handed writingWhen I started writing this, it was just a lighthearted piece about how tough it is being left-handed and all the funny things I do with my stupid cack-handed lack of dexterity.

I burn my hand on the kettle every time I use it after my fella because he’s right-handed and puts the kettle on the stand with the handle on the wrong side for me.

Maybe I should just look at the kettle before I pick it up – or we should get one of those round kettles with the handle on the top.

I tie my shoelaces in what I think is a perfectly acceptable and intuitive way, but according to right-handers who watch me, it is really weird. When I write with a pen, I look like a strange claw-hand witch and I end up with an imprint of whatever I’ve written up my arm, as I smudge across it. And you should see the clashing fun we have with chopsticks on a round table – chicken and tofu chunks flying. Oh, the laughs we’ve had!

Before I went to school, my mum could see that I was favouring my left hand. For a while, she would pass things to my right hand, hoping to sway the balance. She gave up when I started taking things in my right hand, passing them to my left and getting on with whatever three-year-olds get on with. Because of this I do some things with my right hand – sewing, playing tennis, playing banjo (well, I will when I’ve learned it…), but I’m mostly left.

Mum thought that being right-handed would make life easier and in many ways I think she may be right. I mean in the grand scheme of things, it’s hardly worth mentioning; it’s not debilitating or painful, but there are definitely challenges to being a leftie.

“In medieval times, left-handers weren’t to be trusted, because they could shake your right hand and still be holding a sword in their left with which they could really skilfully kill you.”

As a left-hander, anything you’re taught to do, you have to work out how to relate that to your left hand. Writing – “push the pen, then pull the pen” is how we were taught, but that has to be translated into “pull the pen, then push the pen” – it’s all backwards. You have to mirror what you are being told to do and work out where to put your hand so you can see what you’ve written and not smudge it. In my school, you only got a pen when your writing was neat enough, so my best friend (also a lefty) and I wrote in pencil until we were 10 – the last in the class.

I cannot really describe the relief when we moved to America and I learned that a) I was an oppressed minority and needed to stand up for myself and b) there was a shop for left-handed people. Left-handed scissors! Oh, the joy of a left-handed tin opener that I didn’t break. And the left-handed ruler! That was a revelation – given that I’d spent up ‘til then subtracting in order to get lines to be the right length, you’d think I’d be better at maths. I know it sounds silly, but the left-handed ruler still remains my favourite invention ever.

They had T-shirts that celebrated the famous left-handed – “Leonardo da Vinci, Harpo Marx, Marilyn and – ME!” was the one I wore. And Mum bought me some Post-It-notes that said, “Left handers do it SDRAWKCAB” (a little inappropriate for a 12-year-old but I don’t think she really knew what it meant!).

So far, so whimsical. But there is a history of enmity against left-handers. Two of my grandparents had their left hands tied behind their backs so that they wouldn’t be left-handed. Many lefties were beaten to stop them using their left. I wasn’t beaten, though my gran would make me eat with my spoon in my right hand, as using the left was impolite and incorrect. I would purposely spill soup/ice-cream/custard all down my front in silent rebellion. So I had it easy. But historically, we’ve had a bit of a tough time.

The theory is it all stems from sun worship, where you’d face south to praise the sun, which would then go from left to right. Then in medieval times, left-handers weren’t to be trusted, because they could shake your right hand and still be holding a sword in their left with which they could really skilfully kill you (apparently that’s why we shake hands with the right hand, to show we’re not going to stab each other).

“In my school, you only got a pen when your writing was neat enough, so my best friend (also a lefty) and I wrote in pencil until we were 10 – the last in the class.”

Language always favours the right-handed. The word right means correct, of course, so that’s the right hand to use. The word dexterity comes from the Latin for right. Whereas the Latin for left is ‘sinistra’ and we all know what that means. French for left is ‘gauche’ which is ‘awkward’ and the Old English ‘lyft’ means ‘weak’. The Catholic Church a few centuries ago declared that being left-handed made you a servant of the devil and in the Bible God puts the people he likes on the right and the ones he doesn’t on the left.

The Incas liked left-handed people – they thought we were magical and could do healing – but pretty much every other culture sees left-handedness as a sign of sorcery, or evil, or just being rude and using the same hand that you use to wipe your bum to eat with. And to be fair, that is a bit disgusting.

I thought this was all historical, but then, as one can on the internet, I stumbled upon this beauty. I thought it might be a joke, but I’ve a horrible feeling it’s real…

If you don’t want to trawl through the hate (and I don’t blame you) they are basically saying that people choose to be left-handed to be unique and special and that God hates them, that they are evil and will go to hell and that they should probably be beaten.

It’s not as bad as the “Keep the FAGS out of the boy scouts” thread, or the thread that is just for men (I tried to check it out but no women are allowed and I couldn’t be bothered to come up with a fake email just to read their anger), but it is amazing how frothy-mouthed some people get about something that is just a brain-development difference. It takes someone really angry to suggest that left-handed people are evil, but someone less angry can come up with all sorts of other prejudices, that are less easy to laugh off. The sliding scale of hate, validated by being righteous (there’s that little word again…).

But really, it’s not that bad is it? Especially now they’ve put the pens-on-chains on both sides of the desk in the bank.


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Written by Ruth Bratt

Ruth is an improviser, comedian, actor, writer and the short half of double act Trodd en Bratt. She is rapidly becoming a middle class cliche who likes to bake and knit. Ruth is in Showstopper! The Improvised Musical currently in Edinburgh and about to embark on a West End run. www.theshowstoppers.org