Monday, 6 October 2014

Dexterity - What's Right Is Right


Noun. Early 16th century.
[French dextérité from Latin dexteritas; also Greek dexios.]

1 Mental adroitness or skill, cleverness. E16

2 Manual or manipulative skill or adroitness; good physical coordination. M16

3 A skilful, adroit, or clever act. Usually in plural. L16

4 Right-handedness, the using of the right hand. rare. L19

It's fitting that the word adroit, previously covered in Lexicolatry, should be used so liberally in the definition of dexterity, as it too reflects the odd linguistic prejudices that left is bad and right is good. Right is also more skilful and dexterous, while left is awkward, clumsy and cack-handed. And yes, I say cack-handed intentionally, because that's exactly what cack-handed means.

Oh dear. Lefts. Rights. Can't we just all get along?


  1. It's the same in Irish. The word for left handedness or a left handed person is ciotógach or ciotach for short and just so happens to also mean clumsy or soft headed.
    You big ciotóg!
    No offense.

    1. Oh if I spoke Irish, A.N ... I'd have such a witty comeback ... oh boy ... would I burn you ...

      But as it happens I don't.

  2. On the other hand (sorry!) an Inca left-hander can do magic and heal people; in some sorts of Buddhism left-handers are known for their wisdom; in Japan the left hand is the hand of work; and in Russia levsha, a lefty, means a skilled craftsman.

    1. Not so long ago teachers and even parents were instructed to tie the left hand of the child in the back to encourage the use of the right hand... that led to generations that yes learned how to write and use their right hand but had, somehow, their other skills cut short.
      One shudders to think the capacities cut short by ignorance.

    2. That's very interesting, Sally. Although there can be odd anti-right prejudice too. I remember telling a painter once that I wrote stories, and she remarked that seemed unlikely because I was right handed. In fairness, though, she was really odd.

      And, yes, Teresa, I've read about that practice of forcing left-handed children to write with their right. I can only shudder at how humiliating that must have been.

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