This blog is for everyone who uses words.

The ordinary-sized words are for everyone, but the big ones are especially for children.

Wednesday, 6 July 2011

Nuts and Bolts: a sinister delight.

The English language hasn't been kind to left-handed people. Sinister used to mean left. So did gauche, and cack-handed.

Sinister came from the Latin word sinus, which means pocket. (A toga had its pocket on the left side.) My Latin teacher told me once that if a Roman used his left hand his toga fell off, and perhaps this is why sinister began to have its current threatening meaning.

Gauche is a French word which means awkward (though it still means left, too). It's from the Old French gauchir to swerve.

Cack-handed means clumsy, as well as left-handed, and probably has an even less complimentary origin than the others.

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. 

And of course if you're writing Arabic, Persian, Urdu or Hebrew, which run right to left, then being a left-hander might even be an advantage.

There's some research to suggest that clever left-handers earn more, too.

I'm beginning to feel quite left-out!*

Word To Use Today: sinister is a great word, and luckily, like gauche, it's now lost its shades of left-handedness.

*Do feel free to groan.


  1. I must say that I find it very hard to believe that Romans could have had the empire they did if their togas kept on falling off!:) It's almost impossible NOT TO USE YOUR LEFT HAND AT ALL. Or were the soldiers, who weren't in togas, responsible for all the Empire building? Maybe only very few Romans actually wore them...all very interesting in any case!

  2. You're quite right, Adele! Togas were the equivalent of dinner jackets, just for special occasions. They were, practically, pretty much useless.

  3. The Welsh for left is chwith, which can also mean wrong, strange or sad.

  4. Sounds a very useful word, Sophie!