My Left Hand

This past Monday I had surgery done on my right hand. Since I am right-handed, this has provided a good opportunity to get to know my left hand a little better. Though we’ve known one another for many years, I hardly ever talk to it. My right hand is much more sociable. But my left hand is always there when I need it, so I had little doubt that it would step up and do all the heavy work.

There are a few things that are difficult to do with one hand: bathing, getting dressed, typing, playing piano, opening jars. Since I do many of these things in an ordinary day, my left hand, though willing to help, was at once at a disadvantage. My right hand would have trouble doing all these things by itself, too, but my left hand would get the blame in any case.

But there are many one-handed tasks which (in theory) ought to be as easily performed with the left hand as the right hand. It just takes practice – right?


I can text left-handed, but my spelling is awful. Maybe that doesn’t matter in texting, but most people would agree that spelling is somewhat important to communication. When my phone tries to guess what I’m saying it often gets it wrong. “Cingular he boob?” may be an interesting word puzzle, but it doesn’t communicate much.

On the computer, it’s a little better, but slow. I can type more than 70 words a minute with two hands. With my right hand alone, I could probably do 30-40 words. My left hand can barely manage 30.

My left hand is a little slow — not as smart as my right hand. I have always known that it’s less dextrous (a little right-handed joke), but even taking lack of coordination into account, it is a terrible writer. It doesn’t remember how to spell things. When I type with two hands, I don’t have to look at the screen to know when I’ve misspelled a word. With my left hand, I have to stop and think. Is it ocassionally or occasionally? Definately or definitely? Neither one looks right. Sinisterity gets poor grades in spelling.

My right hand has better manners. It is used to handling forks and spoons. If I had been brought up on the other side of the Atlantic, my left hand would be used to picking up with the fork what the right hand cuts. (I don’t know what Europeans do with spoons. I never notice. Perhaps their left hands are only fork-dextrous, not spoon-dextrous.) At any rate, my left hand doesn’t have a lot to do during meals. It holds the fork when I’m cutting with my right hand, then allows my right hand to have the fork back for eating. Even so, I didn’t think my left hand would let the rest of me starve if it were given responsibility for getting food into my mouth. It appears that I was wrong about that. Since eating is important, my right hand tries to intervene:

Left hand: Let’s see. Which is the fork?

Right hand: The one with the pointy things on it.

Left hand: Maybe I should use the round one.

Right hand (getting impatient): Fine. Now, put the spoon — the round thingy — under the macaroni — those are the little tubular cheesy things – and raise it. No – that’s our chin. You want the mouth. Wrong angle — use the thumb and forefinger.

Left hand: I got it.

Right hand: You’re going to miss.

Left hand: I got it — oh. I dropped the little tubular thingies. How’d I miss?

Right hand: Here – let me do it. (Grabs spoon.) Ow. (mutters to self) Stupid left hand…

Left hand: You’re supposed to be resting.

Right hand: I’m hungry. You’re supposed to be feeding us.

Left hand: I told you it would be easier to skip the spoon/fork issue. (Uses fingers to pick up tubular thingy.)

Why can’t we use both hands equally well? Why do we even have two hands if one of them is an idiot?

“Handedness” is not completely understood. Only 8-15% of people are left-handed (according to Wikipedia). Historically, being left handed has been regarded as unlucky, possibly evil. Sinister is the Latin word for ‘left,’ while dexter, ‘right,’ give us ‘dextrous’ and ‘dexterity.’ A person who is ambidextrous has ‘both right hands’ — they can use both hands equally well. There are people who are ambisinister (both left hands) — they are ‘clumsy and unskilled.’

Still, there must be some advantages to being left-handed, or all lefties would have been eaten by saber-tooth tigers or trampled by mammoths. Left-handers appear to be better at combat, partly because most of their opponents will be right-handed. Castles are made with clockwise spiraling staircases for this reason: right-handed defenders coming down the stairs will have free hands to swing at the right-handed intruders, whose right arms are inhibited by the wall as they go up the stairs. Thus, as intruders lefties have an advantage.

Though there are many suggested causes for the dominance of the right hand in most people, it is clearly related to the hemispheric specialization of our brains. The left brain, the language specialist, controls the right side of the body. There is a theory that the way a person holds a pen gives a clue to which side of the brain is dominant for language. The majority of right handers hold their pens the ‘proper’ way, as they used to teach in school. The majority of lefties hold their pens the ‘improper’ way, so the end of the pen points back and away from the page. Since in most people, right or left handed, the left brain specializes in linguistic tasks, the left eye is also dominant. The pen is held in the way that allows the brain to best process what is being written.

What about those who hold their pen opposite to what we would expect – lefties who hold it ‘properly’ and righties who hold it ‘improperly’? First, the ‘proper’ lefties will be praised for trying, while the ‘improper’ righties will get D’s in penmanship. My report card can bear witness to this, for I am a right-handed improper pen-holder. My hand-writing is quite legible, but that did not stop all my elementary school teachers from considering me obstinate and unwilling to learn. But what it might mean is quite simple, actually: these individuals have their hemispheres switched – right is dominant for language, not left. The right eye is dominant, and the pen is held to allow that eye to see the paper without the writing hand in the way.

That’s a theory, at least. I’m sure my third-grade teacher would not agree. Part of the problem is that English is written left-to-right, so smearing what I’ve just written is likely, a problem lefties also face. Do languages that go right-to-left have a higher proportion of lefties? Apparently not. Though Arabic is easier for lefties to write, in Islam the right hand is preferred for eating and drinking, while left hand is assigned to hold the toilet paper (though not simultaneously).

My left hand has an inferiority complex. With most tasks, it gives up quickly and defers to the right hand. My right hand stoically attempts to do it all, even with pain, only complaining when there are dishes to be washed. Right now, my right hand is telling my left hand that we should have been done typing this an hour ago.

My left hand replies: I’m getting surgery next, so hw lmuio twrulisj.


3 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Animevenus93
    Apr 25, 2010 @ 08:42:37

    NIce post! 🙂

    hows your right hand now?


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