Left-handers are a much-misunderstood minority. The ancient Egyptians, Greeks, and Romans associated the left hand with inferiority, evil, and witchcraft, and the belief persisted for centuries. As late as the early- to mid-20th century, doctors believed left-handed children would grow up to be mentally deficient, and advised parents to train their progeny to become righties (even if it meant tying their left hands behind their backs). Fortunately, that practice has gone out of style, and we're learning a lot of interesting things about being left-handed.
Still, old stigmas die hard. While lefties have gained acceptance in American society, there are many countries where the left hand is considered "dirty," and inappropriate to use for eating or offering to someone, reported Smithsonian magazine. Emory University professor Howard Kushner recently published an article in Endeavour magazine reporting on the lack of left-handed people in China (only an estimated 1 percent are southpaws, as compared to the estimated 10 to 12 percent of the entire world population who are). He explains that because Chinese characters are easier to write with the right hand, left-handed people make the switch as a practical choice. As for our part of the globe, our vocabulary is biased toward righties. The words sinister and gauche come from the Latin and French for "left-handed." If you're clumsy, you have "two left feet"; if you give a "left-handed compliment," it's a bit of barbed flattery.
Hopefully, the day will soon come when all the world will see southpaws for the uniquely cool people they are. There's a lot to be said for left-handedness, and these are just a few of the not-so-sinister facts.
1. You're In Good Company
Left-handers make up only about one-tenth of the population, but some of the world's most accomplished people have been among them. According to the Left Handers Day website, the list of celebrated lefties includes artists Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, and Vincent Van Gogh; tech giants Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, and Mark Zuckerberg; and celebs like Oprah, Angelina Jolie, Lady Gaga, Justin Bieber, Prince William, Scarlett Johansson, and Hugh Jackman. Two of the three first men to walk on the moon were left-handed.
Eight U.S. presidents are in this category, including George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton, and Barack Obama. As Government Technology magazine explained, there may have been other left-handed Commanders-in-Chief who were forced to switch hands because of the prevailing bias against lefties.
2. You've Been Left-Handed Since Before Birth
Speaking of Lady Gaga, it seems she really was born this way, and so was every other lefty. German geneticists studying fetal development found that gene expression in the spinal cord may be what determines handedness. Even before the frontal lobe of the brain connects to the spine — which helps us control motor movements — a fetus can favor one hand over the other.
3. Your Stomach And Joints Are Healthier
According to a large 2011 British study, left-handers had significantly lower rates of ulcers and arthritis than their righty counterparts, although the reason behind the handedness connection isn't yet clear. But being left-handed doesn't exempt you from sneezing and watery eyes: The same researchers determined that lefties are just as likely to develop allergies as righties.
4. Daily Life Is Tougher For You
Most of us go through life blithely performing tasks such as writing, cutting coupons, and slicing bread without a second thought. Not so for left-handers. As Mental Floss pointed out, many of our everyday objects are designed for right-handers: knives and scissors, notebooks, can openers, buttons on clothes, car cup holders. The Simpsons creator Matt Groening, a lefty himself, addressed this struggle in the episode "When Flanders Failed." Simpsons neighbor Ned Flanders opens The Leftorium, a store with left-handed merchandise, but business is so slow that he nearly faces bankruptcy.
5. You Earn Less Than Righties (Maybe)
Researchers and economists have come up with different statistics over the years on the earning power of left-handers. In 2006, a study from the National Bureau of Economic Research found that well-educated left-handed men earned more than right-handed employees, although the same wasn't true of left-handed women. More recently, however, a professor of public policy at Harvard published a paper in the Journal of Economic Perspectives reporting that left-handers earn 10-12 percent less than righties. Why the gap? The professor pointed to statistics showing higher rates of learning and behavioral disabilities, such as dyslexia and ADHD, among left-handed people, which may affect hiring potential. He also found that left-handers were more likely to work in manual labor jobs.
6. You Have Your Own Day
Alas, you've missed it this year, but mark your 2019 calendar so you can properly celebrate International Left-Handers Day on August 13. Ever since the day was established in 1989, southpaws have honored the occasion with parades, T-shirts, and more recently, memes and hashtags.
7. You Have A Town Named For You
Thinking of relocating? You could make your home in the most appropriate of places: Left Hand, West Virginia. The little town has only 612 residents, per Best Places, so traffic and overcrowding are a non-issue. Be warned, however: Left Hand (which is actually named for the nearby Left Hand Run Creek) doesn't do anything special to mark Left-Handers Day.
8. You Might Be Better At Sports
Famous southpaw sports stars, such as LeBron James, Pele, John McEnroe, Rafael Nadal, Babe Ruth, Ronda Rousey, and Martina Navratilova, may have their handedness to thank for their success. As How Stuff Works explained, since right-handedness is the norm, most athletes practice against righties during training, and come to expect the reflexes and moves of a right-handed opponent. When they go up against a left-hander, the lefty has the element of surprise in their favor, giving them an advantage on the court or the field.
9. You Might Qualify For A Scholarship
High school senior southpaws might want to put Juniata College on their wish list. The small Pennsylvania liberal-arts college offers a scholarship fund specifically for left-handed sophomores, juniors and seniors. The unusual student aid comes courtesy of an alumna, Mary Francis Beckley, who established it in her will. Seems she and a fellow left-hander were paired together in their tennis class, and it proved to be a true love-all. They married, and Beckley decided that future lefty Juniata students deserved a share of their happiness.
10. You're A Good Problem-Solver
As reported in The Independent, researcher Alan Searleman, Ph.D., studied both right- and left-handers and found that "true" lefties (ones who favor their left side of the body for most tasks) had a better vocabulary and solved problems more easily than the right-handers. He suggested that this could explain the widespread belief that left-handed people are drawn to artistic professions.
11. You Should Avoid Horror Films
Skip the blood-and-gore films and stick with comedies if you're a left-hander. As reported by The Telegraph, Scottish researchers discovered that left-handed people showed signs of PSTD, such as "making errors in verbal recall," after being shown a clip from The Silence of the Lambs. The scientists theorize that the right side of the brain, which is dominant in lefties, may affect the way in which frightening memories are stored.
12. Your Lifespan Isn't Affected
It was once thought that left-handers were more likely to die early than righties, perhaps because of the stereotype of lefty clumsiness or because of an old study that linked left-handedness to earlier mortality. But a later study published in the British Medical Journal examined the death rate of cricket players over a span of more than 100 years, and found that left-handers were no more likely to die young than the right-handed players.