Wednesday, January 03, 2007

My Right Hand Man Has Two Left Feet

If you ever had any doubt about prejudice against lefthanders, study some words that relate to handedness, at least etymologically.

adroit: “possessing address or readiness of resource, either bodily or mental; having ready skill, dexterous, active, clever.” It comes from a French word meaning right.
• The word dexterous, used in the definition above, comes from a Latin word meaning the right hand, and it is defined as “deft or nimble of hand, neat-handed; hence skilful in the use of the limbs and in bodily movements generally.”
Right-hand man: “a person of usefulness or importance; an efficient or indispensable helper or aid.”

On the other hand, we have

Sinister, which comes from the Latin for left hand: “dishonest, unfair; not straightforward, underhand; dark.”
Gauche: “wanting in tact or in ease and grace of manner, awkward, clumsy.” Guess what the original French word meant. That’s right (or should I say that’s correct?)--left hand.
• A left-handed compliment is actually an insult or lack of endorsement.
• To have two left feet is to be incredibly clumsy.
Obscene means “offensively or grossly indecent, lewd.” It is probably connected with the Latin scaevus, on the left. That Latin word also led to the now-obsolete word scaevity, meaning awkward, perverse, and unlucky.
• In fact, the word left itself comes from a Frisian word meaning weak and worthless, practically paralyzed.

The Bible reflects judgment about handedness in passage after passage. Throughout the Old Testament, anointings were done with the right hand, God’s help was dispensed with His right hand, and a guest of honor was always placed on the host’s right side. In the New Testament, we are told that Jesus sits at the right hand of the Father. And in Matthew 25:31-46, we witness a handy case of discrimination:

“When the Son of man shall come in his glory, and all the holy angels with him, then shall he sit upon the throne of his glory. And before him shall be gathered all nations: and he shall separate them one from another, as a shepherd divideth his sheep from the goats: And he shall set the sheep on his right hand, but the goats on the left. Then shall the King say unto them on his right hand, ‘Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world’ . . . . Then shall he say also unto them on the left hand, ‘Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels’ . . .”
[Play the free arcade game Sheep Go To Heaven]

The only source at hand more cruel than that is the 19th century criminologist Cesare Lombroso: "The percentage of left-handedness is much higher in the abnormal class of people, eg: mental defectives, the insane, incorrigibles, criminals, etc."

Fight discrimination: get out there and buy a left-handed hammer, screwdriver, or paint brush.

SIDEBAR 1: The Sinister Hand (interview)

SIDEBAR 2: Handedness and Cerebral Dominance (article)

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