A lot of journalists, by the very nature of their jobs, are word nerds. We're constantly trying to think of just the right words to convey the facts of the matter at hand in news stories, or our opinions in columns. Because of that, some of us get more than a little upset when heartless editors (ahem, me, sometimes) kill our darlings because they're unnecessary, used incorrectly (as Inigo Montoya would say, I do not think that word means what you think it means) or don't make much sense in context or tone.
How dare they!
When journalists work remotely for long periods of time, as our newsroom has since March, we tend to gravitate toward social media and our virtual workspace to talk to each other (as I'm no social butterfly, I've talked more on Slack with some of my co-workers than I have in real life). It's there we learn a lot we didn't know about each other, including how many of us might be a little too obsessed with words (is there such a thing?).
OK, that's mostly me, but still ...
On Thursday, an offhand comment started one such discussion (edited for space, and without commenters' names, though my comment should be obvious):
"Happy International Lefthanders Day to all you southpaws out there. I think there are quite a few of us here, right?"
"I'm largely ambidextrous. Do I celebrate, maybe, just 12 hours today?"
"Ambidextrous is 'hand-ist.' It means 'two right hands'."
"That doesn't sound right ... But it is. What?!"
"'Dexter' is 'right' in Latin. Do you know what 'left' is in Latin? 'Sinister'."
"I'm sinister ... I mean a leftie!"
"Word Nerd checking in. From the Online Etymology Dictionary, this tidbit: 'Its opposite, ambilevous 'left-handed on both sides,' hence 'clumsy' (1640s) is rare'."
"Rare and, if you'll pardon the expression, clumsy. ... A long, long history of discrimination. Don't get me started on 'left-handed compliments'."
Or "out of left field," "sheep to the right and goats to the left," among others.
Much more discussion followed, as well as my quick newsroom survey of handedness (we seem to be overwhelmingly right-handed, with some left-handed and a few ambidextrous). That fits with statistics; about 10 percent of the world is believed to be left-handed. The Netherlands and U.S. surpass that percentage, though, according to Statista, coming in at 13.23 and 13.1 percent respectively. Only 3.5 percent of Chinese are considered left-handed.
While some cultures, such as the Incas, have revered left-handers, there has indeed been discrimination, most notably in the practice, common not that long ago in the U.S. and Europe, of forcing left-handers to learn to write with their right hands. In China, says Discovery News, many Chinese characters require use of the right hand to write, so it's more difficult for a left-hander to stick with the naturally dominant hand. In other parts of the world, the left hand is considered "dirty," or as the Latin suggested, "sinister."
One of my colleagues at the paper, Religion Editor Francisca Jones, had a taste of that belief, telling me, "When my niece was 6 or 7, she saw me write something and told me I was using 'the Devil's hand'."
It doesn't help when the medical term for left-handedness is "sinistrality." None of the lefties I know are the least bit sinister. Darkly humorous, maybe ...
Schoolmate Jan Austin Fields told me she was a lefty, but her four older sisters were all right-handed, "so I learned most things right-handed. Like throwing a ball. Using scissors. I write like a right-handed person as well. No smudges on my hand if I turn my paper sideways. I can shoot a pistol with either hand. I bat right-handed. Being ambidextrous has its perks."
My nephew Dalton's fiancee Amanda told me on Facebook, "I remember it was always hard for teachers to teach me instruments or how to use racquets, bats, serve in volleyball, etc., in school."
Let's Talk columnist Helaine Williams, told me, "I started hearing 'Oh, you're left-handed!' as a child and wondered why it was such a big deal. I also received many compliments on my handwriting; some would say I had beautiful handwriting 'for a left-hander.' ...
"School desks were usually a nightmare. Ms. S., the woman who went on to be my favorite elementary school teacher (fourth and sixth grades), had a fantastic sense of humor ... but she also was short on patience and had a hot temper. One of my first exchanges with her was my complaining about my right-hand-configured desk and her popping off something to the effect of 'Well, maybe you need to get your mother to pay for a desk that would better suit you'.'"
Those desks were horrific for chubby kids too, so I feel her pain. And the world wasn't built for short people, either. Then again, I don't have to deal with trying to use things like scissors or golf clubs or guitars that weren't made to take my handedness into consideration. One ambidextrous colleague told me that the older he gets, the more he uses his right hand because it's just easier.
I can imagine it would be, (almost) all being right in the world, after all.
Assistant Editor Brenda Looper is editor of the Voices page. Read her blog at blooper0223.wordpress.com. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.