We have found a witch, may we burn her?
How do you know she is a witch?
She looks like one!
“Monty Python and the Holy Grail”
Hmm… what exactly does a witch look like?
The sad truth is that by most estimates, up through the 1700s, 40,000 or more people were executed under suspicion of practicing witchcraft; based primarily upon their religious beliefs, independent or rebellious behaviors, and some interesting physical characteristics including… left-handedness.
Being a southpaw myself, I’ve always been somewhat fascinated by societal views of left-handedness. However, it was not until I read a recent news article that I came to understand that left-handers have been feared and persecuted for thousands of years.
In the English language, the term left is derived from the Anglo-Saxon lyft meaning to be weak or broken. But it’s not just limited to the English language: The German for “left-handed’ is linkisch, which means awkward, clumsy, and maladroit. In Italian, mancino is derived from crooked or maimed. In Russian, to be called a left-hander (levja) is a term of insult.
It’s a wonder that left-handedness hasn’t been wiped out – after all only 10% of the population is left-handed. However, scholars note it appears we’ve held steady at this percentage for about 30,000 years (Coren, Stanley. 1992. The Left-Hander Syndrome: The Causes and Consequences of Left-Handedness. Detroit, MI: Free Press). Despite the persecution, the fear (left-handedness having once been considered the mark of the devil), and a propensity to be accident prone, we’ve survived. There are a few theories as to why this is true:
- It’s genetic. One premise is that the gene LRRTM1 is a strong contributing factor for left-handedness. Scientists discovered the gene during a study of dyslexic children; it is believed to be inherited from the father. At the most, this seems to account for 25% of all lefties. In my family, the only other leftie I’ve ever been able to identify is my Uncle Tommy, on my mama’s side; so go figure.
- It’s the environment. There might be conditions during pregnancy that contribute to developing into a left-hander. Here is my favorite: left-handers were originally in the womb with a twin that did not survive, or a “Vanishing Twin.” Two of me? I do not think my mother would have survived two teenage Kimbas.
- It’s a choice. For whatever reason, some infants may just chose to be lefties. Are we more rebellious? Are we stubborn? Do we choose to be left-handed because we are more creative? I find this one particularly funny because I can tell you: I was born a leftie. I’ve never been able to do anything right-handed. For me it would be like trying to choose my eye color or my height or my shoe size. My GeeGee tried desperately to teach me to knit. I remember clearly the day she exclaimed, quite exasperated;
Kim, you’re just going to have to choose to knit right-handed.
My response: No Grandma, you’re gonna have to choose to teach me left-handed.
To this day “knit one, purl two” is lost on me.
It’s not all gloom, doom, and bad luck for us lefties – though I admit it’s hard to ignore sayings like this Scottish one: “He’s so unlucky, he must have been baptized by a left-handed priest.” There have in fact been quite a few famous and successful people who are or were left-handed, including: scientists –Albert Einstein, Benjamin Franklin, and Marie Curie; presidents – four of the past seven have been southpaws including Ford, Bush (Sr.), Clinton, and Obama; and actors such as Cary Grant, Marilyn Monroe, and a personal favorite Hugh Jackman.
I’ll admit, I may have just been looking for any excuse to post a picture of Hugh Jackman here …
The truth is, I like being unique. I like being tall, big footed, green-eyed and yes, left-handed. To celebrate our uniqueness, we even have our own day: August 13th is International Left-Handers Day (I am sure that unlucky thirteen must have been chosen on purpose here). I’m happy to represent just 10% of the population; and have you noticed that I haven’t exactly denied the whole witch thing….
What makes you unique? What characteristics and attributes do you celebrate?