Are you right-handed or left-handed? Chances are you’re probably right-handed.

If so, you probably haven’t given a whole lot of thought to “handedness.” If you’re left-handed, chances are you’ve probably given it quite a bit of thought.

Left-handedness — sometimes called “sinistrality” — means you prefer to use your left hand rather than your right hand for routine activities, such as writing. Most people who have studied left-handedness believe that approximately 10 percent of the people in the world are left-handed.

Experts believe this percentage has remained fairly consistent throughout time. Historically, the left side and left-handedness have been considered a negative thing by many cultures.

For example, the Latin word sinistra originally meant “left” but eventually took on the connotations of “evil” or “unlucky.” This connotation lives on today in the form of the English word “sinister.”

These ancient meanings affected subsequent languages. For example, modern European languages, as well as English, define the word “right” as “correct.” “Right” is also often associated with the concepts of authority and justice.

One popular slang term for left-handers is “southpaw.” This term originated in the sport of baseball.

Because most baseball fields are aligned such that pitchers face west, left-handed pitchers would throw the ball with their hand on the south side — their “south paw.” If you follow baseball, you probably have heard of several famous “southpaw” pitchers, including Randy Johnson, Sandy Koufax, Whitey Ford and Steve Carlton.

Why most people are right-handed and only some are left-handed remains a bit of a mystery. Since scientists have noticed that left-handedness tends to run in families, it’s assumed that left-handedness has a genetic component to it. In other words, left-handers are born that way.

In 2007, scientists discovered a gene that appears to be related to left-handedness. However, researchers are quick to point out that it’s a complex issue and no definite conclusions can be reached yet.

Scientists continue to study handedness. Some believe that rather than looking at handedness as an either-or question — either right or left — it may be better to think of handedness as a spectrum.

Some people may be very strongly right-handed or left-handed, while others may be in between these extremes and have a certain level of comfort with both hands.

At 10 percent of the population, left-handers are definitely a minority. As a minority, left-handers face certain issues that most of us never think about.

For example, most everyday items, such as scissors, cameras, can openers, rulers, computer mice and watches, are mass-produced for right-handed users. Left-handers often have trouble using these objects.

Depending on the object, this trouble can be hazardous to their health. For example, most power tools are made for right-handed users. Left-handers who have trouble with such tools can find themselves in a dangerous situation in a hurry!

Luckily, there are now more manufacturers who make special left-handed versions of many items. Left-handers often have to order these specialty items through catalogs or websites.

 

29 Join the Discussion

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  1. Its amazing how my family is split 50/50. My mom, sister and brother are left handed. My dad, sister and myself are right handed. How does that happen?

    • Those are some pretty cool statistics, Verlinda! It’s very interesting that 50% of your family members are left-handed! Some people say left-handedness runs in families. We think your family is “WRITE” on track with that! :-)

    • In my family, both of my parents were right handed, yet two of their three children (my oldest brother and I) are left handed. None of our children have been so blessed — nary a left hander in the bunch…

  2. I’m right-handed, but I never knew that only 10% of people are left-handed. That amazes me! I guess that’s why you’re called Wonderopolis!! :D :P :)

    • We’re SO GLAD you learned something new about left-handed people today, Kailee! Thank you so much for hanging out in Wonderopolis and for leaving us this AWESOME comment! :-)

  3. I was 100% left-handed until fourth grade. I fractured my left wrist and had to learn to do everything right-handed. Now, over 50 years later I am still right-handed for the most part. When I eat, my fork is in the left hand until I need to cut something, then it moves to the right. I am able to use most hand tools and power tools with either hand which comes in handy when working in tight spaces. You are very right when you mention the problems lefties have using some tools and equipment. Scissors are the worst!

    Nice site! I enjoyed visiting.

    Don Wilcox

    • Welcome to Wonderopolis, Don! We’re so happy that you stopped by this Wonder of the Day® and shared your comment so other Wonder Friends could learn a little about you and what it is like to be able to do important tasks with both hands! Have you tried any special “left-handed” scissors? We know some left-handed Wonder Friends who think they are the best thing since sliced bread! :-)

  4. You neglected to mention that in the past, because being left-handed was considered to be a bad thing, people were actually made to learn to be right-handed.

  5. Hi! I think the Wonder is my favorite! I am left-handed, as are most of my cousins! ( I have a lot!) 50% of my household are left-handed! It is weird that only 10% of all of the people in the World are left-handed. Way more than 10% of the people I know are left-handed! :D I had to learn to use scissors with my right hand because there were no left-handed scissors available! I have taught myself to write with my right hand, too! I am ambidextrous! I really like Wonderopolis! Thanks for teaching us so many things!

    • We really appreciate your comment, Skye! Thank you for sharing your (and your family’s) personal connection to this Wonder about being left-handed! YOU ROCK! :-)

  6. People that are left-handed do have problems sometimes. I know a friend that is left-handed and I ask him why is he left-handed? He says he doesnt knows, but now I’m going to tell him so he can know and see how WONDERful wonderopolis is. By the way im in Mrs. Hess’ class. She loves wonderopolis.
    I had a great time reading and knowing why people are left-handed. Have a WONDERful day. :)
    My name is Carlos M.

    • We’re so happy to hear that you plan to share this Wonder with your left-handed friend, Carlos! What a cool idea! We bet you two will have a great time talking about lefties, righties, and people who are ambidextrous, too! We are so lucky to have so many great Wonder Friends like you… please say hello to Mrs. Hess for us, too, Carlos! :)

  7. Hi you guys! I am left and right handed or even say both handed, of course! I usualy used my left handed the most, too! And my class, Mrs. Hess’s class, some of my classmates use left handed, too! :) I know Carlos M. in my class, too! I know I used both handed when I grown up that way. Mrs. Hess loves this wonderopolis site and I do, too! :) I have some questions. How many people in this world use both hands? Why do they call left handed? Do they have a nickname for left handed? Do all people write on thier left hands the most? In the left handed, do some people write differently? Who loves to use the left handed the most?

    Tomorrow WONDERS: What is a fog? What does fog mean? Can fog means little water and wind? Where does fog come from? Is fog a huge storm? Is fog important for nature, people, and animals? What is a storm? What is the biggest storm we had? How many type of storms are there? Are some people scared of storms? Who invented storms? What type of storms have damaged things? :( :(

    THANK YOU GUYS! AND HAVE A BEAUTIFUL AND WONDERFUL WEEKDAYS! :) :) :) :)

  8. I’m left handed for writing but, when I do other things I would use my right hand and….. Is there more than one person who operates or something or…. What ever? Or is it just one person and another question if it’s just one person are you a male or a female?

    • We’re glad you learned all about being a south paw today, Kim, but we bet you’re pretty familiar with the left-handed life! There are lots of us here at Wonderopolis, guys and gals of all ages! Thanks for asking! :)

  9. Thanks wonderopolis!!!! I am left handed and I did not know that 10 percent of the people in this world are left handed…….But now I do!!!!!!!

    • How cool, Alix, we’re so glad you learned something new with us today! Are there any other lefties, or southpaws, in your family, Alix? Some of us here at Wonderopolis are lefties, too! We love having a cool connection to you! Thanks for sharing your comment- lefties unite! :)

  10. I am left-handed and was never good at writing right-handed but I do LOVE to write so I might even write a book.

    • Way to go, Zachary, we hope you do write your book! Lots of lefties have written books, and with the help of a computer, you can even type up your entire book! Thanks so much for sharing your connection to this south paw Wonder! Lefties rock! :)

  11. I usually write with my right hand, so I’m right handed. But, there are other tings I’m more comfortable doing with my left hand eg. Cut my meat, open jars, putting on a watch. I can write with my left hand, but I seldom do. Most of the time I favour my right hand. So, am I both handed?

    • Interesting question, Lee! You may be what we call, ambidextrous. This means that you can use both hands equally. Thanks for WONDERing with us today! :-)

  12. My whole family is left-handed, both my parents, my brother and me. One neat thing is my mom and brother bowl and play baseball right-handed. When I tell people we are all left-handed they can’t believe it!

    • Thank you for telling us about your family, Olivia! That’s COOL that you are all lefties! We hope you join us to WONDER again soon! :)

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Have you ever wondered…

  • Why are some people left-handed?
  • What is a southpaw?
  • How many people are left-handed?

Wonder Gallery

little girl drawing with chalk_shutterstock_1241202Vimeo Video

Try It Out

Since about 10 percent of the population is left-handed, it should come as no surprise that there have been many famous lefties over the years. Here are just a few examples:

  • Presidents: Barack Obama, Bill Clinton, George H.W. Bush, Ronald Reagan, Gerald Ford
  • Historical figures: Benjamin Franklin, Joan of Arc, Alexander the Great, Julius Caesar
  • Artists: M.C. Escher, Michelangelo, Raphael, Leonardo da Vinci
  • Actors: Charlie Chaplin, Tom Cruise, Robert De Niro, Harpo Marx, Marilyn Monroe
  • Athletes: Pelé, Mark Spitz, Larry Bird, John McEnroe, Randy Johnson, Lou Brock

Have you ever wondered what it would be like to be left-handed? Or, if you are left-handed, what it would be like to be right-handed?

You never really know what life is like for others until you walk a mile in their shoes… or write an essay with their hands!

Try everyday living using only your nondominant hand for at least an hour. If you’re right-handed, that means living like a left-handed person for an hour. Write with your left hand, eat with your left hand… do everything with your left hand.

What differences do you notice? Do you see how some simple objects seem to be built for those who are right-handed?

Were some things easier or harder than you expected them to be? Do you think you could ever become ambidextrous (able to use both hands equally well)?

 

Still Wondering

Check out Science NetLinks’ Systems of the Human Body lesson to explore the different systems within your body and find out how they work independently and together to form a functioning human body.

 

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