I’m watching my son use his tools carefully. Pencils, forks, the fiddly bits on his toys. I’m not just doing this for our benefit – although his propensity for scribbling on our sofa is prodigious – but because I’m doing important science.
My wife first noticed his left-handedness a few weeks ago. Since then, we’ve been watching him closely to confirm her hypothesis. It’s harder to determine than you might imagine. I, for example, write and eat with my right hand, but throw or kick a football, with my left hand or foot. My son isn’t particularly proficient in any of those disciplines, but appears to be my opposite – left-handed, right-footed, ambidextrous only when it comes to hurling Ready Brek with his fists.
It’s remarkable we noticed to be honest. My wife can hardly tell her left from her right; a situation so pronounced her driving instructor has taken to writing L and R on her hands at the start of each lesson. For my part, I don’t think I’ve ever noticed if someone was left or right-handed, a fact confirmed when I’ve mentioned my son’s left-handedness to friends and had them remind me they themselves are left-handed and it never bothered them, other than when spiral notebooks leave them with dimpled forearms.
Finding left-handedness unremarkable is an alarmingly recent development in human history. The word ‘sinister’ derives from the Latin for left-handed, its opposite being ‘dexter’, as in dextrous, meaning our forebears weren’t content with making lefties pariahs, they also patted themselves on the back for being right-handed. Over their left shoulder, presumably.
Our language is littered with anti-left slurs. Both ‘gauche’ and ‘maladroit’ come from French words for left-handedness. In Irish, a leftie is a citóg, a term that carried a degree of pity, reflected in the fact that the word for awkward is ciotach.
Folk suspicions about there being something nefarious, demonic or, yes, sinister about left-handedness appear universal. Odder still, these traditions stem from a pre-literate age, meaning people were pilloried for the way they held an axe or a broom, reinforcing my suspicion that the people of the past had too much time on their hands, whichever one they favoured.
Current science rejects the demonic theory, and suggests hand dominance is established from gene expression in the womb around the eighth to 12th week of pregnancy, before the brain is even connected to the hands. It’s odd to think of that little blob, still weeks away from having all its bones or intestines, already destined to find spiral notebooks a faff.
In any case, we don’t find anything sinister about it. We’re excited to have discovered something new about our son. Whichever hand he writes with, we just hope he’ll stop drawing on the sofa. Until then, we’ll play the hand we’re dealt.
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