It struck me as an odd question: “Are you right-handed or left-handed?” I was asked that by a neurologist who was investigating a medical issue I was having — one that didn’t have anything to do with which of my hands holds a pencil. The doctor explained that a right-handed person is typically left-brain dominant, and vice versa. That means that the nooks and crannies in the left side of the brain send signals that influence right-handedness, and left-handedness is characterized by neurons flashing in the right side of the brain. That’s the prevailing theory, anyway.
I happen to be among the relative few who are left-handed. It’s generally believed that about one person in ten is left-handed, although some recent studies have pegged the percentage slightly higher. That number may be skewed, because over the centuries attempts were made to correct left-handedness; it was considered a shameful — or at least unfortunate — condition, like buck teeth or syphilis.
This bias is reflected in word meanings: the Latin word for “on the left side” is sinister, and French for “left” is gauche, which has also come to mean awkward or clumsy; lacking social grace. In spite of right-handers’ efforts to cure (or stigmatize) left-handedness, though, some of us have managed to infiltrate world history and culture at a rate disproportionate to the population.
Eight of forty-four U.S. presidents (18%) have been lefties: James Garfield, Herbert Hoover, Harry Truman, Gerald Ford, Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton, and Barack Obama. So was Benjamin Franklin, by the way. And how’s this for a partial list of left-handed world leaders: Alexander the Great, Charlemagne, Julius Caesar, and Queen Victoria? Philosophers who jotted their musings with the wrong hand include Aristotle and Gandhi. Left-handed athletes are too numerous to mention, but artists include Michelangelo, Hans Holbein, Raphael, and Albrecht Dürer.
Among the lefty musicians are Mozart, McCartney, and Cole Porter. If you thought there was something sinister about Steve McQueen, you’re correct, and that goes for many more entertainers from Marilyn Monroe to Cary Grant, not to mention Jay Leno, W.C. Fields, Julia Roberts, Dick Van Dyke, Jerry Seinfeld, and Oprah Winfrey. One out of four Apollo astronauts were left-handers — as was Albert Einstein. And Mark Twain. And, I reluctantly admit, John Dillinger.
In recognition of (or sympathy for) alternative-hand users, there is even an International Left Handers Day, celebrated annually on August 13th. I should have put up this post then, but you know how we lefties are… not quite right.