These terms, which also mean clumsy and malign or suggestive of evil respectively, can also mean “left”.
In heraldry, sinister means “on the left” as opposed to dexter, which refers to something on the right side of the coat of arms. Dexter is also quite a widely encountered surname, unlike Sinister.
Being a southpaw used to have a bad reputation and many of us felt like misfits. Since 90% of the general population are right handed, the artifacts of the world have been designed for their comfort and convenience.
Around 10% of people are left handed. Someone who uses both hands is referred to as ambidextrous.
Assorted studies indicate that the proportion of left handers is higher among certain groups. For instance roughly 21% of twins, both identical and fraternal types, are left handed. However, in many cases one twin may use a different dominant hand to the other one.
Around 40% of schizophrenia sufferers use their left hand. A number of surveys have indicated a higher proportion of both left handed homosexual males and females as well as transgendered people than the general “typical” population. Other groups exhibiting higher proportions of left or mixed handedness include paedophiles as well as those people who are asexual in behaviour (those who have no interest in sex).
It also appears evident that a higher proportion of folk on the autism / Asperger spectrum have a dominant left hand. Genetics appear to play a fairly minor role in determining which hand will be dominant, and accounts for about 25% of cases.
Many studies have produced mixed or inconclusive results, making the real reasons for left handedness quite difficult to determine. Some evidence exists that it is linked to ADHD and dyslexia, among other conditions.
A Swedish study showed a higher incidence of left or “other” handedness among children of mothers who were super-stressed or depressed during their pregnancy, as well as among babies born underweight and those born to older mothers.
I have always done all my writing with the left hand because I can only produce illegible swirls with the right. They resemble the patterns a stunned housefly makes when it’s been sideswiped with a rolled up newspaper. I was writing well before I started school and luckily in my day there was no pressure to use the right.
I use a scissors as well as a mouse with my right hand only. Before the mouse made its appearance as a computer accessory as opposed to a cheese-loving rodent there was no work for my right hand to do. Today my right wrist often aches from overuse. I cannot operate a scissors or mouse with my left, or writing, hand, because that would short-circuit my brain. Thus I qualify as a left hander or possibly more accurately as someone who uses both hands, but not for the same tasks.
Some well known people from history were left handed at the time when it was considered “unnatural” in some circles. Famous lefties of the past include Michelangelo, Albert Einstein, Alan Turing, Benjamin Franklin, Winston Churchill, Mahatma Gandhi, Marilyn Monroe, Herbert Hoover and the Queen Mother.
The Bulldog,the Brain and the Bowes-Lyon
For further evidence that we’re in exalted company, left handers in our contemporary world include Barack Obama, Oprah Winfrey, Prince William, Julia Roberts, Celine Dion, Matthew Broderick, Keanu Reeves and Bruce Willis.
Other southpaws include Patricia Routledge, Jay Leno, Julie Sawalha, Paul McCartney, Angelina Jolie, Matt Groening, Dan Aykroyd and Carol Burnett.
Today there is a higher incidence of lefties than in the past, probably because many schools in the past tried to override one’s natural inclinations and force conformity onto everyone, never mind how untidy their handwriting turned out to be.
Luckily, we have more sense today to let people be themselves and not try to roll out carbon copies of what society thought is right. Just because they form a majority doesn’t mean righties are always right!
It’s all a matter of perspective because if you have a right-hand man, he will appear on my left if I’m looking at you! In one Agatha Christie mystery, an alphabet brooch seen in reverse in a mirror proves crucial in determining who strung a string across the top of the stairs.
The annual International Left Handers Day, when southpaws can celebrate their uniqueness is celebrated on 13 August.