01-19-19 – Judith Ashley – My Sanctuaries and Safe Havens: Writing and Spiritual Practices

Friday, October 13, 2017

Right or Left?

Language is fascinating. Being a writer I’ve always been interested in words. It’s interesting how the words come together to form sentences and paragraphs and stories.
I’ve recently been reading a book by Richard Lederer called “The Miracle of Language”. I’ve learned a lot from Mr. Lederer’s writings. Today I’m just going to touch on one of his subjects.
Do you ever think of the English language as being prejudiced? This is not something I had ever thought about until reading his book. I’m talking about individual words, not the concept.
Ten percent of the population is left-handed. In our society there are many devices that lefties can’t use or have a hard time using. Some musical instruments, class room desks, spiral notebooks, ice cream scoopers, baseball mitts in gym class, and jeans zippers, (try zipping your jeans with your left hand, darn near impossible!) These are just a few examples.
Now to get to my blog post, and prejudiced words in the English language. Specifically, today I’m writing about two words, left and right.
Take the word ‘right’. Is it a good word or a bad word? When taking a test you either get the answer ‘right or wrong’. Correct or incorrect. That’s expected and understood in the context of the meaning of ‘right’.
If you apply the right-ness of the word right, what does that do to the word left, and left-handed persons? If someone is awkward at dancing, it’s said ‘he has two left feet’ not two ‘right feet’, even though it would be awkward to dance with two right feet too.
Your boss doesn’t have a left hand man, does he or she? And does her left hand know what her right hand is doing? Maybe her ‘right hand should know what her left hand is doing’, but we don’t say that.
When it’s said someone or something has come ‘out of left field’ it means they are untypical, unusual, or strange.
These types of uses reveal that right has the context of meaning correctness, rectitude and importance, and left does not.

Are you left-handed? What sort of problems have you come across? Or do you know someone who is left-handed?



Judith Ashley said...

Interesting post, Diana. When I had surgery on my right-hand I was grateful I am fairly ambidextrous. I've no idea what that makes me and other's like me-strange? a mixed-bag?

Diana McCollum said...

I can do the adding machine with left or right hand. I am right-handed. When arthritis affected my fingers in my right hand. I could no longer use the adding machine more than a few minutes before pain started. It only took two days to retrain my left hand to do what my right hand had done for 20 some years at work.

My yoga teacher once told me everyone should do things different each day. For instance, If you always put your right sock on first, put your left sock on first. If you stand on your right leg to put your left leg in first, do the opposite. It helps your brain to change it up. I try to print with my left hand now and then, that's a little harder.

Sarah Raplee said...

Interesting post! My husband is left handed, as are some of my grandchildren. It affects using tools like scissors and crank can openers. In this case, society seems to deem "most common" as "better."

This is also unfortunately true when it comes to words like "light" and "dark", "black" and "white" even "brown". What must it feel like to have your skin color carry negative connotations in our language? How much do these connotations influence the way others see us? Words are powerful!

Diana McCollum said...

Thanks for stopping by , Sarah!

Kathy Coatney said...

Intersting post Diana. I am left-handed, but I only write left-handed so I haven't experienced all the problems many left-handed people do. I can eat with either hand, don't know about the zipper. I've never paid attention to which had I use, but will have to try it. I'm very glad I don't have to use left-handed scissors or baseball glove.

Diana McCollum said...

Interesting, Kathy! So do you consider yourself ambidextrous?

Lynn Lovegreen said...

My daughter's a lefty and I started to notice this kind of thing after she was born. Odd that those phrases are still used...

Maggie Lynch said...

What an interesting topic. I think all languages have prejudice. Though we don't have gender associated with nouns in English, many other languages (French, German, Spanish) do. Does it make a difference when objects are given the gender of male or female? And what does that say about how we perceive gender? I haven't studied it, but I'd bet a lot of prejudice and perception is built in that.

My husband is left-handed, as is our youngest son. I think because left-handedness is so difficult to find things for, many left-handed people become somewhat ambidextrous. For example, my husband plays the guitar like all right-handed musicians. He plays golf like a right-handed golfer. But he plays baseball as a left-hander, relegating him primarily to pitching or first base. He writes left-handed. He still has great trouble using right-handed scissors. He prefers a left-handed mouse with his computer but can use a right-handed one.

I remember, growing up, there were still a lot of bad things associated with being left-handed. I heard grandparents saying that is "the devil's hand." In certain cultures, you are taught that the left hand is for personal hygiene/using the toilet, and the right hand is for eating. Because of that, being left-handed is not well tolerated. I grew up in a time when teachers--particularly in catholic school--would rap your knuckles if you used your left-hand to write. Thank goodness that doesn't happen any more.

You are right that the use of language is very important and the work to change it so that prejudice is not built in is very difficult. I have a cousin who identifies as "genderqueer" and prefers the pronouns they/them/theirs when talking about her. Needless to say, this is very hard for most of us who grew up with only him/her/his/hers in our life. But it is important to understand how language like pronouns can be respectful or not. Outside of cousins, most family-relational terms in English are gender assigned: niece and nephew, granddaughter or grandson.

Diana McCollum said...

Thanks for stopping by , Lynn. And those phrases are still used, quite often. In fact a novel I was reading had several of the phrases in. It was a fantasy and like Maggie stated , the left-handed hero was being persecuted for being left-handed.

Maggie, thank you for the wonderful comment! Language is so interesting, and fascinating!