Thursday, 7 April 2011

Oh, did I mention I'm sinister?

Pronunciation: /ˈsɪnɪstə/ 
Origin: late Middle English (in the sense ‘malicious, underhand’): from Old French sinistre or Latin sinister 'left' 

I write with my left hand.

It wasn't a conscious decision - I wasn't being bloody-minded, whatever my parents might tell you - that's just the way I was made, in the same way as I have brown hair and brown eyes.

It has never really been a problem, except at school when we moved from using pencils to fountain pens. Fountain pens. Imagine. I had two problems with that instrument-of-torture: the ink would smudge as my hand moved across the page, and the nib would scratch the paper. The teacher told me off, which seems strange now. Had she never encountered a left-handed pupil? It never occurred to me that I was left-handed - why should it?

Anyway, the reason I'm here is not moan about my lot in life. (I'm actually not that left-handed. For instance, while I find my left-handed cheque book - yes, really - much more comfortable to use that a standard one, the idea of left-handed scissors makes my brain hurt: I physically wouldn't know what to do with them.)

No, I'm here, gentle reader, because of something I read recently in the Left Handers Club Newsletter, from the wonderful Anything Left-Handed, a specialist left-handers' website run by Keith and Lauren Milsom. The article discussed the number of everyday words and phrases, the world over, which link left-handedness with everything from clumsiness and poor dancing, to being bad luck and having a sneaky nature.

The list of things we're meant to be guilty of is fascinating. Shall we take a little tour?

Many languages, it turns out, have an expression which translates as 'to have two left hands', or in other words, to be clumsy: Polish: 'mieć dwie lewe ręce'; Dutch: twee linkerhanden hebben' (which, admittedly, scans beautifully, but that's not the point); German: 'zwei linke Hände haben'; Bulgarian: 'dve levi ratse';  French: 'avoir deux mains gauches' (gauches?!); Hungarian: 'kétbalkezes'; Czech: 'Mít obě ruce levé'. Huh.

It's not just hands either; feet get a look-in, too. Several countries have an expression which means 'to have got up on the left foot', similar to our idea of getting out of bed on the wrong side. Germany, Spain and France all have them, but my prize goes to the Hungarian 'bal lábbal kel fel' which fair trips off the tongue, I'm sure you'll agree.

In Wales, instead of saying something is inside-out, they say it is 'tu chwith allan', which means, yes, you've guessed it, 'left-side out'. In Russian, the term 'nalyevo' means 'on the left', but also has connotations of bribe-taking and surreptitious behavior.

Finally, the Hungarians - for whose country, I must stress, I have a deep and abiding affection - have a word meaning bad luck: Balszerencse.  If I tell you that 'Szerencse' is Hungarian for 'luck' and 'bal' means 'left'... Well, it doesn't take much working out, does it?

Oh well, never mind. I was encouraged by a later item in the Newsletter, which stated that lefties apparently have much to recommend them. Hurrah! For instance, they have an excellent sense of direction and are apparently better than average at sports which rely on hand-eye co-ordination. (As someone who invariably gets lost on a trip round John Lewis, and who can't hit or catch a ball of any size, under any circumstances, I began to wonder...)

I shall console myself with the intriguing fact that left-handed people apparently adjust more easily than right-handed people... to seeing underwater. This could be really, really useful.

Well, there we are. Hope you enjoyed it. No left-handed compliments, thank you.

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