Once upon a time, we were feared and reviled.
Yet out of the entire population of the world—7.5 billion and counting—there are still 900 million of us out here.
And while it seems that the latter number is a pretty hefty one, it’s really just 12 percent of the populace.
However, we also aren’t going away anytime soon. In fact, our numbers are growing.
Yup, I’m left-handed.
In other words, I’m also known as a southpaw and lefty; other names we’ve been called are clumsy, awkward and even perverse. And let’s not forget the festive phrase “left-handed compliment,” which means taking pleasure in what otherwise is a mistake.
Luckily, I was well into adulthood when I discovered that not so long ago—and still around in some places today—being left-handed was thought to be an affliction.
My own, positive memory is crystal clear.
I am almost five years old, and rays of sunlight are pouring into our first grade classroom from the solid wall of windows, yes, to my left. Miss Kelly has handed out those chunky yellow pencils, perfect for tiny hands and fingers. We also have one sheet of butcher-thin paper on our desks, the kind with broken blue lines to indicate where to draw
“Pick up your pencil in the hand that feels most comfortable to you,” says Miss Kelly.
I’m in the back and don’t think twice; it just feels easy and good to use my left hand. When I look up a few minutes later, I’m surprised that everyone around me is writing with their right hand. Silently, I think, “Oh, that’s interesting,” but that’s about all. (Still, in our very right-hand world, I long ago learned to use this “other” hand for many tasks, including ironing clothes, using a computer mouse and scrubbing floors.)
But others, including my father and The Hubster, had very different experiences.
My right-handed dad—born in 1919—curled his hand into a painful looking, claw-like “C” shape whenever he had to write anything down. When I asked my mother why he held his hand the way he did, she said that he had been forced as a child to do so. There were no other details.
As for my music educator husband, his mother and her four sisters were all left-handed and he was, too. But at the Catholic elementary school he attended in the 1950s, writing this way was considered—and he was told this, flat out—evil. That said, he says that not only has he learned to live with the adjustment forced on him, he has benefitted from
it. “I found it quite easy,” he says, “to learn to play many musical instruments that require small motor skills from
But the blame shouldn’t fall completely on those long-ago teachers and nuns.
After all, they were only ascribing to all of the folklore and superstitions about the awfulness of being left-handed—tales, it turns out, that have been around for thousands of years.
For instance, the forever landlord of Hell—the Devil—has long been portrayed, both in stories and pictures, as being left-handed. As a matter of fact, it was said that he baptized followers with his left hand. Indeed, in France, witches there greeted the Prince of Darkness with their left hand.
Superstitions include the belief that if your right palm itches, you’ll receive money. But beware if your left palm needs to be scratched, because then you’ll be giving money away. Some also believe that it’s bad luck to pass a drink to another person with your left hand.
And when it comes to the tradition of wearing one’s wedding ring on our left ring finger, there’s a reason for that, too. It seems that the ancient Greeks and Romans believed that wearing the marital band in this spot fended off the evils associated with the left hand.
I sort of see where these beliefs may have started.
Because, what do you know, there are several studies that show that we lefties are prone to learning disabilities that the rest of the population doesn’t share.
One, conducted in Australia in 2009, concluded that left-handed children performed worse than right-handers when it came to vocabulary, reading, writing, social development, and gross and fine motor skills. More recently, in 2013, a Yale investigation boasted scarier statistics: its research claimed that we are at a much greater risk for ADHD, mood disorders and dyslexia. Here, scientists also found that a full 40 percent of patients with schizophrenia, or similar brain disorders, wrote with their left hands. Others swear that those with autism tend to favor their left.
On the other hand (pun intended), a whole lot of Very Cool People are left-handed.
There’s Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr, as well as Oprah Winfrey, Seth Rogan and Jon Stewart. Surprising to me, a disproportionate number of our Presidents have also been left handed; we’ve had eight in the White House, including George H. Bush, Bill Clinton and Barack Obama (for the record, Donald Trump is not). And, I also think our numbers are increasing—from four percent in 1920 to 12 percent today—not because there are really more of us. Rather, my theory is that it has more to do with the fact that those born writing with this hand are pretty much no longer being forced to make a change.
One more thing.
I’m honored to be on this list. Heck, I’ve always been a little quirky (although I would hope, especially for friends
and family, that it’s in the best sort of way), and being a southpaw—excuse another pun here—fits right into my
Girl Clown narrative.
Just as snugly as a left-handed baseball mitt.
What are your thoughts about left handedness and left-handed people? I look forward to your stories and comments!
P.S. Yes, it’s true: we lefties even have our very own yearly holiday. Find out more, at