Posted by: Prospector PJ1 AUG 2012
Keen Olympics fans may have noticed a higher prevalence of left-handers in interactive sports such as tennis, badminton and table tennis than is found in
non-interactive one-handed events such as javelin, discus and shot put. This over-representation is increased in interactive sports that have a smaller physical distance between participants, so that, for example, about half of fencers are left-handed.
The advantage for left-handers is that in a population containing around 90 per cent right-handers the left-handers play most of their games against right handers and are well used to the asymmetry, while right-handers only get to practise against left-handers around 10 per cent of the time.
But outside sport, left-handers often find the odds stacked against them. Scissors, for example, are arranged so that the line being cut can be seen by a right-handed user but is obscured by the upper scissor blade in left-handed use. Most guitars, firearms and power tools are also designed for right-handers.
One of the few items in common use that gives an advantage to left-handers is the QWERTY keyboard. More than 3,000 English words can be typed using only the left hand, compared to just 300 words using the right hand alone. And 56 per cent of keystrokes on a QWERTY keyboard are made with the left hand.
It is unclear exactly which factors affect handedness but theories include prenatal hormone imbalance, birth stress, genetic factors and parental and societal pressure.
The prevalence of right-handedness is universal across cultures, although it is less common in primitive cultures. Chimpanzees share a similar pattern to humans.
Being left-handed has had negative connotations throughout history. The Latin word sinistra means both left and unlucky, and the latter meaning survives in the English word sinister; conversely, the word for the direction right also means correct or proper.
In French, gauche means both left and awkward or clumsy, while droit means both right and straight — and also right in the legal sense.
In English, cack-handed is slang for both left-handed and clumsy. This term may derive from the Latin cacare, which refers to washing with the left hand so leaving the right hand clean.
The Left-Handers Club has designated 13 August International Left-Handers’ Day and it has been observed since 1976. This day is intended to promote awareness of the inconveniences facing left-handers while celebrating their difference.