There’s nothing wrong with being cackhanded

3 01 2012

Cackhanded is a term I came to hear quite a bit as a youngster. According to World Wide Words it’s peculiarly British as, let’s face it, many British things are (peculiar I mean. Also Peculier [with an 'e'] if you like beer, but that’s off topic this time). Strictly it means clumsy, but by extension it has come to be attached to left-handed people who struggle daily to fit into a world designed for right-handed people.

About a year ago I was fortunate enough to stay at the Fairmont Chateau, Whistler. A lovely, if ever so slightly over-priced hotel in Vancouver’s playground. For breakfast, they serve you with elegant china by Villeroy & Boch. Lovely stuff. Spot the problem though?

Villeroy & Boch: New Wave cup

Villeroy & Boch: New Wave cup

No? Then you are likely one of the “common” 90%! This cup is nigh-on impossible to lift up if you are left-handed. I’ve become used to struggling with scissors over my lifetime (they dig in, rather than being comfortable), but this was the first time I’d been stumped by a teacup!

Right-handed scissors

Right-handed scissors

Now normally, I’d just “suck it up, buttercup” as my boss once said (I was previously described as being in perfect balance – with a chip on BOTH shoulders), but this was a bloody expensive hotel, and I wasn’t about to miss out on my morning brew just because of some poncy defective teacup. Winding up for a face-off with the manager at some point, I began my opening gambit by complementing the unsuspecting waitress on the fine crockery, but pointing out I was “not as other people”, and did she, by any remote chance, have a left-handed alternative? She didn’t bat an eyelid and completely took the wind out of my sails by replying “Of course sir, I won’t be a moment” and returning with a perfect mirror image of the original vessel.

The Fairmont, Whistler is now my all-time favourite hotel. Not only do they have fancy crockery, they have LEFT-HANDED fancy crockery, AND their staff are well trained to calmly handle awkward gits with dodgy accents! And the tea wasn’t half bad either. And they called me sir…

In Latin, left hand is sinistra, the root of the word “sinister”. In days gone by, it wasn’t enough to have to suffer smudging your writing with the side of your little finger. No – you were burned at the stake. Seems a little harsh for being a messy writer, but I don’t make the rules.

There’s various theories for the 10% of the general population that are left handed. My wife delights in reminding me of an article she read many years ago that suggested oxygen starvation at birth (and therefore by inference “brain damage”) was a potential cause. Recent studies have suggested it’s more likely the obvious thing: genetics.

There are some interesting side-effects of being a leftie (or “southpaw“) though. The brain’s wired a little differently. The left hemisphere of your brain controls the right side of your body and vice versa  (lots of Latin in this post!) So if you’re a leftie, that means your right-brain is getting more of a workout than the left. So what? Well – the right side ALSO controls creativity. Many well known “creatives” were/are lefties:  daVinci (Leonardo, and also Eric, our postman), McCartney, Escher, Hendrix, to name but a few. (As with all things list-worthy, there’s a web page dedicated to enumerating famous lefties, if you really have nothing better to do…)

Reactions are slightly faster too. I remember a really simple measure when I was at school. Hold a ruler vertically in the air, with your fingers pinching it at the zero mark, at the bottom. Now open your fingers to let the ruler drop, and pinch them again to catch it, as fast as you can. You get a really nice measurement (in cm, inches or part-cubits if you prefer) of your reaction speed.

Of course, there’s also a higher rate of mental illness, but genius and madness are closely related – ask my sister.

People have left-handed tendencies, but are rarely totally left-, or for that matter right-handed. For example I’m about as left-handed as can be… but I do two-handed things the “conventional” (right-handed) way. For example, holding a knife and fork, cricket bat, golf club, etc. Single handed things though – leftie. Things like a spoon, tennis racquet, pen (obviously), rubber cosh, Frisbee, etc.

There are a couple of quick tests you can do to test your default handedness beyond simply how you write…

Clasp your hands together. Your dominant hand will have the thumb on top. Just try to clasp them with the other thumb on top. Not so easy, eh?

Clasped Hands

Clasped Hands

Same thing with crossing your arms. Your dominant hand will be on top. Try getting the other hand on top, and see how uncomfortable that feels!

Crossed arms

Crossed arms

Check out Wikipedia if you care enough to know more: Left-handedness – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.

Thanks to Sarah Alice for the inspiration, and my dad for the genes.








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