The History of Lefthandedness

Living in a world designed for things that don’t work well for you, like being left handed, is tricky.

It is not just left handers who feel like life is stacked against them, but they encounter challenges that most of us do not!

As a family of five, we often run into issues when we travel; the world is geared toward families of four.

Hotel rooms, restaurant tables, amusement park rides, and even giveaway prizes are designed for families of four.

But thankfully, for the most part, there are simple workarounds we can find that meet our needs.

However, that’s not always true for everyone—like all the lefties out there in the world.

If you’re one of the 10% of people who is lefthand dominant, you know exactly what I’m talking about. 

  • Scissors
  • Bumping elbows with the person next to you
  • Smudges on your hands from writing
  • Spiral notebooks
  • Can openers
  • Zippers
  • The number pad on laptops

The list of things that cause challenges for lefties goes on and on.

In fact, if you’re left handed, I’m sure a challenge came to your mind immediately.

But those challenges are minor compared to what lefties of the past—and lefties in some regions of the world—experience.

The shocking history of being left handed

There is a dark past surrounding the treatment of left handers.

Throughout the middle ages, oppression was the story for those who were left hand dominant. 

People believed that those who used their left hand were connected with the devil

When the 15th and 16th centuries came around, it was believed that women with left-handedness could be accused of being a witch because of it.

While that seems bad enough, as the 18th and 19th centuries rolled around, oppression of left-handedness spread to the education system. 

Children were taught to use their right hands, even to the point of teachers tying a child’s left hand to keep them from using it.

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And the oppression and mistreatment of lefties wasn’t contained to one country—it was worldwide.

Countries across the world worked to teach children to be right handed.

So, how did left handedness get caught up in being tied to evil?

Let’s start by looking at where the word “left” derives from.

An unfortunate wording

The Merriam-Webster dictionary shares, “The word sinister, suggestive of darkness or evil, comes from a Latin word meaning ‘on the left side.’ The association of ‘left’ with ‘evil’ is likely because of the dominance of right-handed people within a population.”

  • Old English lyft means “weak; foolish”
  • Dutch loof means “weak, worthless”
  • Lettish kreilis means “twisted, crooked”
  • French gauche means clumsy, shy, gawky

So, from dark and evil to weak and worthless, the meaning of the word “left” paints a bad picture.

And if you look at some of the sayings we use, you’ll see the same problems about how we talk about and refer to the left and lefties:

  • “Left-handed monkey wrench” is a practical joke meant to make people look stupid
  • A “left-handed compliment” is when someone says something that seems like a compliment but also includes a slight
  • Having “two left feet” means you’re clumsy or you can’t dance
  • “The left hand doesn’t know what the right hand is doing” is used to show a breakdown in communication within an organization or group
  • A “left-handed oath” means an illegitimate oath

And it doesn’t stop with sayings from the past; in recent years, the saying “swipe left” has become known for disapproving of people.

Religious ties

Religion also played a role—and continues to play—in the oppression of lefties.

The Bible mentions the right hand 100 times in the Bible in a positive light while negatively mentioning the left hand 25 times.

In the book of Matthew, it’s shared that on Judgement Day, the people will be separated, those on the right will enter heaven, and those on the left will go into the eternal fire with the devil.

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But it’s not just the Christian Bible that refers to the left this way.

Judaism associates godliness and strength with the right and weakness with the left.

Islamic texts connect the left with uncleanliness. 

Throughout history, some people twisted the texts to believe that left-handedness was evil.

It’s still happening today

This information surprised me as I read through the history of left handedness!

However, what shocked me the most was that some still believe these things today.

One article I stumbled upon shared that a teacher told a four-year-old in Oklahoma to write with his right hand because the left hand was terrible. 

When the mother questioned the teacher about it, the teacher sent home an article that referred to being lefthanded as “sinister” and “evil” and even when as far as to mention that the devil is often mentioned as being left-handed.

And it’s not just happening in America; some countries continue to push righthandness on their people today. 

For example, an article in Smithsonian Magazine shares that China “claims that less than one percent of students are left-handed.”

This is a hard statistic to believe when research worldwide shows that 10-12 percent of the population is left-handed.

Children are continuing to be encouraged in right-handedness.

The article also shares that parts of the world are offensive to others if you offer your left hand to them.

As you can see, even though we’ve made progress toward eliminating such ridiculous discrimination, it still exists today.

The fact people are still passing these lies around is unbelievable. 

But if you’re a lefty, don’t worry; your lefthanded uniqueness also brings some exciting benefits.

The advantages of being left handed

I want to leave you on a positive note after all the craziness associated with the left hand throughout the years.

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Some fantastic benefits come with being a lefty.

Your brain works differently

This may not sound good at first glance, but keep reading.

Scientists have discovered that lefties have less lateralization in the brain, meaning lefties use their right and left hemispheres of the brain together more than right-handers.

It’s believed that this leads to higher creativity in the lefties.

Studies have connected left-handedness with a more robust performance in mathematics and complex reasoning skills.

You have an advantage in sports

Because most of the population is right-handed, lefties have an edge when facing a right-handed opponent in sports.

People are better at predicting the movements of right-handed people because there are so many of them.

So, when someone is playing against a lefthand-dominant person, it catches them off guard as they have to compensate for the difference in movements. 

This has been found to be accurate, from how pitchers throw the ball to how boxers throw a punch.

Added health benefits

Scientists have found intriguing connections between left handedness and reduced risk for arthritis and ulcers and a quicker recovery from brain issues such as strokes.

It’s thought that the DNA linked with left handedness gives lefties the edge in this area, in addition to how the brain functions differently.

So next time you’re frustrated by the difficulties you face as a lefthander in a righthand world, remember that you have some critical advantages over the majority.

While the history of left-handedness may be dark, we don’t have to continue down that path.

Thankfully, more and more companies are providing left-handed alternatives, from kitchen supplies to school desks, to eliminate some of the daily struggles lefties deal with. 

So it’s time to ditch those lefthanded stigmas of the past and embrace what makes you unique!

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