What's Left?

by Don Meyer, Ph.D. | May 05, 2012

“To be hated cordially is only a left-handed compliment.”
Herman Melville

If someone told me I had sinistrality or sinistromanuality or mancinism, I might be tempted to see a doctor.  But rather than finding out I had some rare disease, I would discover I simply had the preference for my left hand over my right for everyday activities, also known as left-handedness.

It is estimated that 10% of the world’s population is left-handed.  Since the dominant area of a left-hander’s brain is the right side, W.C. Fields quipped that it means southpaws are the only ones who are in their right minds.

My father was left-handed.  I can still see him throw a softball and swing a bat with his left hand.  I think it is because of those memories that I always notice left-handers.  Over the years I have noticed left-handed college students who have an odd look on their faces when I ask them, “Does this school allow left-handers to attend here?” And after they say “I hope so” I always tell them about my father.

If you are a left-handed baseball player when you complete swinging a bat you are already facing first base.  A left-handed pitcher is already facing first base and thus will always have a head start over right-handers.  A left-handed pitcher can keep an eye on first base during his wind-up and keep a runner from stealing second.  A first baseman who is a lefty can cover a large amount of the field with their glove on the right hand and they also have an advantage when throwing to second base for a double play.

Our grandson, Noah, is a left-hander.  For as early as we can remember he favored his left hand over his right.  Not only does he throw a ball left-handed, he kicks a ball with his left foot.  I am always amazed at how natural his motions are with the left side of his body.

Some of the wealthiest people are left-handed like Bill Gates and Oprah Winfrey.  A recent study revealed that lefties with a college education earned 10 to 15% more than their right-handed counterparts. 

New research suggests that left-handed people often perform better than right-handers at fast or difficult tasks like fast computer games, talking while driving in heavy traffic and flying a jet fighter. 

The cause of left-handedness is felt by researchers to be linked to prenatal hormone imbalances which may play a role in gene expression for left-handedness.  While the Geschwind-Galaburda testosterone hypothesis is often cited as cause, there isn’t any evidence to support the theory.  More recent research suggests that high prenatal estrogen exposure is a plausible alternative to Geschwind.  Hand orientation is developed in fetuses, most commonly determined by observing which hand is predominantly held close to the mouth.

Historically the left side and subsequently left-handedness was considered negative in many cultures.  Many languages use expressions for left-handedness which are not complimentary, i.e. Dutch (to have two left hands or clumsiness), French (clumsy; graceless; awkward); Chinese (improper; out of accord); Portuguese (waking up in a bad mood); Hebrew (metaphor for misfortune).

Did you know that:

  • Cars are driven on the left side of the road in Great Britain, India, Australia, the Bahamas, Japan, South Africa, and Kenya.
  • It is illegal to play polo left-handed.
  • A left-handed monkey wrench has never been invented.
  • America’s first left-handed president was James Garfield.
  • Babe Ruth was the first southpaw inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame.
  • Harpo Marx, Marcel Marceau, Albert Einstein, and Shirley MacLaine were all left-handed.
  • The left hand contains 27 bones but the right hand only has 26.
  • The first left-handed astronaut to walk on the moon was Buzz Aldrin.

Someone said if being left-handed is wrong, I don’t want to be right.

Does this essay merit a left-handed compliment?  If you think it does, might I suggest you keep it to yourself.

Think about it.

Dr. Don Meyer is President of 
Valley Forge Christian College, Phoenixville, PA 
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