or left hand?
the things I look for in infants is their hand preference. In my experience
this does not usually begin to assert itself until about the age of 12 months,
though people far more expert than me say that it shows at 6 months. Some even
suggest that it is apparent in the womb. Until a preference begins to be established,
the child handles everything in either hand with equal ease. Even at four years
old it may not be confirmed. I have seen children start to write across a sheet
with the left hand and continue with the right hand with no hesitation or
difficulty or discernible difference in letter formation or size.
When I was
teaching I was always aware of a child’s hand preference and made sure to seat left-handed
children to the left of right-handers so that they were not bumped as they
of people being ‘dexterous’, meaning adept or nimble-fingered. ‘Dexter’ is Latin
for right. Another synonym for dexterous is ‘adroit’, from the mid-17th
century French ‘à droit’ for ‘according to right’ or ‘proper’. So we can see
that it is ‘good’ and ‘proper’ to be right-handed.
English ‘sinister’ carried the meaning of ‘malicious’ or ‘underhand’, deriving
from the Latin ‘sinister’ and Old French ‘sinistre’ for left. If something is
described as sinister it is assumed to be evil and better not encountered.
25, Jesus spoke of the Day of Judgement, when people would be separated into
sheep and goats, the sheep to the right and the goats to the left, the sheep
for glory, the goats for damnation.
in the world, in Muslim countries, the left hand is still considered dirty. It is
discourteous to offer that hand to help someone or to eat with it. In modern
China there are virtually no left-handers.
late 80s I was told that a left-handed Japanese little girl in my class
educated in England and returning to Japan would have to adopt right-handed
ways for calligraphy. When I queried this, the child’s mother shrugged and said,
‘I had to do it’.
1950 British left-handed children were forced to use the right hand, the left
hand being tied back to prevent it being used. This custom was still in use when
my husband went to school, but it didn’t work for him and he remained
resolutely left-handed. The practice continued until the 1970s in Canada.
‘The methods used to obtain
this result were often tortuous, including tying a resistant child’s left hand
to immobilise it. Typical of the reasoning to justify such practices is a 1924
letter to the British Medical
Journal endorsing “retraining” of left-handers to
write with their right hands, because otherwise the left-handed child would
risk “retardation in mental development; in some cases…actual
feeble-mindedness”. As late as 1946 the former chief psychiatrist of the New
York City Board of Education, Abram Blau, warned that, unless retrained,
left-handed children risked severe developmental and learning disabilities and
insisted that “children should be encouraged in their early years to adopt
dextrality…in order to become better equipped to live in our right-sided world”’
King George VI was naturally left-handed but forced to become
right-handed. Did this contribute to his terrible stammer? It seems at least
The reasons for handedness are complicated and there seem to be no
definitive answers other than it is determined by genes and environment. About 50%
more males than females are left-handed and 17% of twins.
The Netherlands has one of the highest incidences of left-handedness, followed by the USA and Canada, all around 13%. The UK is just below 13%.
I am intrigued by the question of hand preference. My husband and the
youngest of our four children – a daughter - are left-handed. All my family, as
far back as I know, were right-handed and that was the case for Barry’s family.
So far, none of our grandchildren or great-grandchildren have proved to be
How many of you are left-handed?