Friday, 13 June 2008

WRONG: Right-handers live longer than left-handers

Left-handers have not been treated well by language. The Romans considered right good and left bad, as indicated by their words for the two: dexter (right) led to dextrous, and sinister speaks for itself. In Old English, riht (from the Latin rectus) denoted anything straight or true, and left was a word meaning weak or worthless. The French gauche still means both “left” and “socially clumsy”. It was long believed that left-handers died younger, and many will still pass along the information as fact, but the death rate is actually more or less the same for both lefties and righties. The belief may have begun because many elderly left-handers were forced to become right-handed in childhood. Though the practice is more-or-less defunct, it artificially skewed the statistics and made it seem like there were more right-handers than lefties in the upper age brackets. Those viewing the statistics inferred wrongly that the lefties must have died earlier.

Having said that, it was recently demonstrated that the gene most closely associated with left-handedness also carries with it a slightly increased risk of schizophrenia. On the plus side, another study shows that left-handers are historically more likely to be high achievers, and yet another that lefty men are on average at least 15 per cent richer than right-handed men. The rule doesn’t appear to apply to women, which seems harsh.

Studies of stroke victims have opened a debate on the whole nature of left and right. In The Man Who Mistook His Wife For A Hat, Oliver Sacks reported the case of Mrs S, who had no concept of “left” at all. She ignored the food on the left half of her plate, made up only half her face and, if she lost something, turned round to the right until she found it. It wasn’t simply that she couldn’t see things on her left – she couldn’t even conceive of there being a “left” side to anything. Which begs the question of how she therefore managed to understand “right”.

1 comment:

Carole Seawert said...

Here are some more snippets of info that show how uncomplimentary the world is to left handers.

You pay someone a ’left-handed compliment’ when you’re concealing an insult.

If you’re not picked for something, you’re ‘left out’.

Left handers are often described as ‘cack handed’

Latin for ‘left’ is ‘sinister’.

In French, left is ‘gauche’ which also means ‘awkward’ or ‘clumsy’.

If you can’t dance, you have ‘two left feet’.

In German, ‘links’ (left) is also synonymous with ‘awkward’ or ‘clumsy’.

In Italian, left handed is ‘mancino’ which has additional meanings of ‘treacherous’ or ‘dirty’.

In Spanish ‘left handed’ is ‘zurdo’. There is also a phrase ‘no ser zurdo’ which translates literally as ‘not to be left handed’ but actually means ‘to be very clever’.

Portuguese for left handed is ‘canhoto’ or ‘weak’.