On the other hand: it's time to laud the left

On the other hand: it's time to laud the left

By Stephanie Grimes | Posted - Aug. 13, 2012 at 2:42 p.m.



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SALT LAKE CITY — Lefties sometimes get a raw deal.

The 10 percent of people who write with their left hand tolerate teasing and sometimes attempts to rewire their handedness, but on Aug. 13 they have the upper hand: it's International Left Handers Day.

The day was launched in 1992 so "left-handers everywhere can celebrate their sinistrality and increase public awareness of the advantages and disadvantages of being left-handed," according to the Left-Handers Club.

No one knows exactly why people are born left-handed. The trait tends to run in families, suggesting a genetic link, and can sometimes be spotted via ultrasound before birth. One theory, supported by some studies, is that stress in the womb can influence the favored hand: left-handedness hass been linked to a higher risk of developmental disorders and mental illness, and left-handers are more likely to be born prematurely or have a low birth weight.

Until recently, historically speaking, being left-handed was seen as undesirable — evil, even.

The Latin word for left is "sinister"; In Italian, it's "sinistra." The French word for "sinister" is "sinestre," with the same connotations.

Famous left-handers

  • The most powerful left-handed American? Pres. Barack Obama, who is often photographed signing bills into law with his left hand. Obama isn't the first left-handed president, though: at least seven U.S. presidents have been lefties.

    Other U.S. politicians to have favored the left include Benjamin Franklin and Sam Adams, as well Colin Powell and Bob Dole.

  • The entertainment industry is crawling with lefties: Angelina Jolie, Bruce Willis and Ashley Tisdale all count themselves among the ranks of the left.

    Musicians including Jimi Hendrix, Lady Gaga and Justin Bieber have been left-handed, as well. Hendrix was known to play a Fender Stratocaster guitar turned upside down and restrung so it could be played left-handed.

  • Some of the most famous left-handers come from the world of sports: Babe Ruth immediately comes to mind. Former BYU Cougar and San Francisco 49er Steve Young was a lefty, and on Feb. 5, 2005, became the first left-handed quarterback to be elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Former Boston Celtic Larry Bird and former boxer Oscar de la Hoya also count themselves among the left-handed.

The devil has been associated for thousands of years with the left hand, and has often been portrayed in art as being left-handed himself. It was thought in the 17th century that the devil baptized his followers with his left hand, and those convicted as heretics were often portrayed as being left handed. And where does Jesus sit? At the right hand of God.

There are plenty of myths surrounding the left hand:

  • Getting out of bed on the wrong side — with your left foot — is said to predict a bad day.
  • An itchy left palm is said to mean you will have to give money, while an itchy right palm means money will be received.
  • If the left eye twitches, an enemy will appear, while if the right eye twitches, a friend will soon be seen.
  • Passing a drink with your left hand, or counterclockwise around a table, is said to bring bad luck. Of course, we've come a long way from the days of shunning people for being left-handed, but our culture continues to see the influence of our historical beliefs. Do you wear a wedding ring on your left hand? Ancient Greeks and Romans started the practice to fend off the evil associated with the left side of the body.

In Spanish culture, you can tell someone not to be stupid by saying, "No se zurdo." Literally translated, it means "Don't be left-handed."

Have you ever said you have two left feet? How about that something came out of left field? And have you ever been offended by a left-handed compliment?

Some cultures have historically seen being left-handed as a blessing, though: Incas gave such people a positive name — lloq'e — and Buddhists believe the left hand represents wisdom. In Russia, a skilled craftsman can be called a "levsha," or lefty. And people of the Andes believe left-handers possess special spiritual abilities, such as magic or healing.

Most negative beliefs surrounding left-handedness have been debunked, and left-handers today are more likely to excel in music, mathematics and athletics, according to studies. The trait is tenuously linked to intelligence and creativity, too: the left hand is guided by the right side of the brain, which is thought to be more creative and less logic driven than the left side of the brain.

So, here's to the lefties. As lefty Steve Jobs may have put it: "The misfits. The rebels. The troublemakers. The round pegs in the square holes."

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Stephanie Grimes

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