The English language is peculiar to languages insofar as there are so many words pronounced exactly the same and with so many different meanings. I had a German friend, Harold, and he was one of the funniest people I have ever known because he specialised in playing with those words in conversation.

Language evolves, and as well as the multi-meaning words in everyday use; some words can come to mean something different over the generations. ‘Left, right’ – and particularly ‘far left’ and ‘far right’ have taken on an exacting political connotation. But for the purpose of this exercise, ‘left and right’ will simply mean the favoured hand – as in left or right-handed.

Ten per cent of people are left-handed. My brother Sean is one of them. Now, Sean is not the sort of guy who allows himself to become embroiled in rows, controversies, campaigns, or causes. He does however carry around a small grievance with him, and that is his contention that left-handed people are discriminated against! It isn’t only in this life, according to Sean, but even in the hereafter, ‘lefties’ will be ‘left’ (see what I mean about words?) feeling that they are not as important as those who are ‘right’

Sean devoted a lot of his working life to sourcing left-handed tools for the workplace; with only very limited success. But the fact is that he does have a case. Left-handers do have to navigate a world designed for right-handed people.

A 1991 study found that lefties are more prone to accidents and serious injuries – especially from power tools. It gets worse … Further research went so far as to suggest that a ‘CITÓG’ has a life expectancy nine years less than their right-handed counterparts.

At least in this day and age, children are allowed to use whichever hand comes naturally as their favoured hand. It wasn’t so back in my schooldays. Our infant’s teacher, Mrs McCormack forced every pupil to learn to write with their right hand. (‘Write and ‘right’ … two more words for Harold!) How tough was that on little children, already struggling to navigate the school jungle. This had to have a detrimental effect on the future development of many of these children.

There are some things about left-handers that cannot be explained. A study in the British Medical Journal claimed that left-handers suffer higher rates of depression, drug abuse, allergies and schizophrenia. When I asked Mrs Google about this, I was astonished to find that a British study in 2001 found that left-handers are twice as likely to suffer from Crohn’s Disease. Sean knows all about that one …

But hold on a minute, Sean … and the rest of you lefties. The same study showed that lefties have a higher IQ and achieve greater academic success than the average person. A separate study agreed with this finding which showed that this minority group are equipped with better verbal skills. (That’d be right, Sean!) Five of the last dozen US presidents have been left-handed. No bad for a 10 per cent minority!

The third category that has to get a mention are the one per cent of the population who are ambidextrous. This means that this very exclusive minority can use either hand with the same dexterity. I played with a couple of squash players who would change racquet hands during a rally.

I remember a funny ‘which hand’ incident during my school stint in Ballinvalley. Master Lawlor was talking to us, as gaeilge, about the human hand – or more accurately, ‘lamh.’ How many of you are right-handed he asked? Most hands went up. ‘How many left-handed? – and a sprinkling of hands were raised. But one boy had put up his hand twice! It was one of those rare occasions when the master chuckled so hard that his entire body shook. He said nothing, but went down and shook that boy’s hand. Joe McNeice only had one arm!

Back to Sean’s grievance and his taking exception to Almighty God segregating all the bad people to his left hand on Judgement Day. Those bound for hell’s damnation are to his left hand, whilst those about to be issued with a ticket through Heaven’s Golden Gate are called to the right hand! I think it says somewhere in the bible about ‘the goats to the left hand and the sheep to the right hand!’

I prefer the following story and we’ll give the last say to the late Frank Mahon. Frank swore this story to be true! An Irish dance teacher, separating the dancers (mostly women) into two groups for a ‘Siege of Ennis’ instructed his class as follows  ‘Right  … we’ll have the Rhode women on my left-hand side and the Clane girls over here on my right!’

I suppose I could have ‘left’ that one? … ‘Right’ …!

Don’t Forget

Many people are flexible. They can put either foot in their mouth.