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The Nature of Words
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The Nature of Words
by Laurel Stoddard, CET

My father was left-handed, and he was certain that one of his three children also would be so. Alas, we are all right-hand dominant. Scientists are not of a consensus what percentage of the population is left-handed; the number varies from 5 to 30 percent. I've noticed I wear out left-hand gardening gloves well before the right-hand ones, so there must be some ambidexterity there.

Language has long expressed a prejudice toward right-handedness, due in part to suspicions of those who are different. The Latin adjectives sinister and dexter meant left and right in terms of the relationship of the sides of an escutcheon with a coat of arms to its bearer. English synonyms for sinister are ominous, evil, wicked, and unfortunate, while dexterous means skillful or adroit. Dexterity, a noun in use since the 13th century, refers to skill, readiness, or cleverness. Adroit, English since the mid-17th century, came from Old French, droit, meaning just and correct. In today's French the right hand is droite, and the left is gauche. Current English usage of gauche means awkward, crude or lacking grace.

Right, in use since the 10th century, comes by way of Middle and Old English from the Latin rectus, and means correct, just, good, or proper, in addition to defining the side that is not the left. The word left, came along a couple of hundred years later, with a pejorative bent from the Middle English left, lift, luft, by way of the Old English left, meaning idle, weak or useless.

It is far more likely that lefties are more adroit and certainly less idle than the majority of the population which is right-handed, simply because they must adapt or adapt to any number of common items produced for right-handed use. This is just another example of the power of words, for good or ill.




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