A lot of language around the world and throughout history has been very detrimental to left-handers, whether it is the names we are called or the words that are used to mean “left-handed”.
Left Handers do not do any better in foreign languages, as we show below. This is mainly based on personal communications from people who live in the countries concerned and we cannot guarantee it is correct! If you have any more examples or any comments or corrections, please add them using the comments link at the bottom and we will update the main table as appropriate
Left handed terms by country and what they mean
|Country / Language||Words for “Left-Handed”||Meanings|
|Arabic||ShammaliA’asar||Mohammad says: In arabic we call left handed people as (Shammali) or (A’asar) meaning Lefty for both words. The 2nd arabic word might mean Difficult.Marwan said:It is amazing to get to discover items and products that would have made our life easier. In the Arab countries left handers are called â€ feshlawe â€ or â€ A’asar â€ the first word means loser while the second means the one who faces hard times, both words shows who our cultures considers left handers as losers or people with less abilities, while on the contrary we have more skills but we just need suitable tools.|
|Australia||Mollie Dooker||Something to do with having fists like a girl|
|Belarus||Liewsha||Meaning:Sneaky or Mistrustful|
|Botswana||Ntsogotlho and Molema||In the Setswana language, if someone calls you NTSOGOTLHO they mean someone who uses a hand for the loo but if they say MOLEMA it simply means your left-hand.Generally, in Botswana people who are left-handed are considered very intelligent but in some minor tribes they consider us to be handicapped. Before, many would try and force their children to use their right-hand but that has since gone.|
|Bulgarian||In Bulgarian we have three words describing a left-handed person – Ð›ÐµÐ²Ð¸Ñ‡Ð°Ñ€ (Levichar), Ð›ÐµÐ²Ð¾Ð³ÐµÑ€ (Levoger) and Ð›ÐµÐ²Ð°Ðº (Levak). The last one is considered very offensive. We also have a term called Ð»ÐµÑ„Ñ‚ÐµÑ€ÐµÐ½ (lefteren), which describes something that’s not working properly or isn’t strong enough. As you can see, the word is derived from English left.|
|Chinese||In Chinese, the word left is sometimes associated with the “dark side”. There is a phrase that associated the evil with the word left “Zuo”. IF I am not wrong, in Cantonese, the word left also means hindering. But this will require the native Cantonese speaking people to verify.Eva tells us: I am a native Cantonese. I just want to verify that you’re right about the Cantonese saying zuoâ€ it means hindering, in the way of something which is seen as bad.|
|Danish||Venstre-hÃ¥ndetKejthÃ¥ndetAvethÃ¥ndet||neutral, “using the left hand”, to be “kejtet” means to be clumsy, awkward (dialect): “avet” means clumsy, wrong|
|Dutch||Linkshandig||Lefthanded Another meaning of the dutch word “Links” but only in the dialect “Brabants” (from Noord-Brabant, a province of the Netherlands) is “inside-out”, especially used for clothing. Like in: “Je hebt je shirt links aan” (you are wearing your T-shirt inside-out)|
|Finnish||VasenkÃ¤tinen Vasuri||Left-handed “Lefty”|
|Greek||Skaios||Ill-omened, awkward Comment received – there’s no word like that in greek… the word is aristeros, coming from aristos, meaning someone who succeeds.
Update from Katerina in Greece:
I don’t know the word you display for left handed in greek althought I’m a native greek. Aristeros is more used, though the most frequent word is aristeroxeiras which literally means left handed. A rude way to call a left handed is stravosâ€ which means crooked or twisted (I was often called like that by my grandmother when I was trying to help her in the kitchen, although she didn’t mean to be rude)
|Hindi||Ulta Haanth||The left hand in Hindi is called “Ulta Haanth”, which literally translates to the opposite, wrong, bad hand. So much has this permeated that most lefties don’t realise what they’re saying, and wind up using the phrase themselves|
|Hungarian||Hungarian language is quite straightforward: Right – “Jobb” (also a synonym for better) comes from the word “Jo” which means good Left – “Bal” (also a synonym for bad, or used grammatically negative meaning to positive word, for example: Balszerencse – “Left” Luck = disaster Baleset – “Left” event = accident etc….you get the point|
|Indonesia||Kidal||means lefty. It is interesting because in my culture, kidal or lefty also means impolite.Halida from Indonesia tells us “I’d like to comment of the Indonesian meaning for the left-handed term. I’m an Indonesian and it’s true that the word for left-handed is “kidal”. But as far as I know (and I’ve asked my friends from various ethnic groups) it doesn’t have any negative meaning. The official Indonesian dictionary defines “kidal” as “being more skillful with the left side of the body (left hand) rather than the right side”. I am of Minang ethnic group and since a lot of the words in Indonesian language come from Minang language I’m guessing “kidal” in Indonesia comes from the Minang language, “kida” which simply means “left”, no negative meaning whatsoever. The Minang language itself, depending on the region, uses the word “kida” or “kedoh” for left-handed.|
|Iran||Chapool||Arezou from Iran tells us: In my country there is a word “Chapool” ,which means lefty. However, I would like to say that in Iran there is a goood concept about the left handed people and every one believes that left handers are more intelligent than others. This is the opinion which I have heard hundreds of times when people understand that I am left handed. I am 32 years old and I have never heard bad words but only compliments from the people around. Although when I was a child my mother told me to eat my meal with my right hand and it is not good in formal parties to eat with left hand. All I tried to say is that it is not all over the world there are mocking words aligned to left handers. I mean some countries have a positive assumption to the left handed people|
|Irish||CiotÃ³gCitogCithogCloot||In the Gaelic language, pronounced ‘kitt-ogue’ (as in ‘rogue’). Also means “the strange one”. The term is also used by Irish people speaking in English – it would be frequently used in sports commentary and there is a TV production company called Ciotog Films. Left or Stupid is the Irish name for left handers, especially completely left handed people. It’s slightly negative, meaning awkward…I cant work with you. some of my Irish relatives call me caggy mufty [not sure about the spelling!]. ‘Citeog’ is the Irish expression for a leftie. Nobody knows where it first started but its generally an endearing term and not at all offensive ciotÃ³gach = Gaelic (Irish) for left-handed|
|Italian||Mancini||Crooked, maimed Italian for left side is “sinistra”; a like term for sinister.
Update from Esra:
Left handed in Italian is actually either MANCINO (for male ) and MANCINA ( for female).. Mancini is plural form of Mancino which is male.So you should use both il MANCINO (male) la MANCINA (female).
|Japanese||I’ve been learning Japanese; the Japanese for left-handed is “hidari kiki” which as far as I can gather has no negative connotations. Hidari-kiki has no negative connotations, and ‘southpaw’, from the American Baseball term is also often used. An obsolete term, ‘gitcho’ is no longer used, on the assumption that it was derogatory since there was no equivalent term for right-handed. However, the possible origin of the term itself shows no particular bias – the word ‘gitcho’ is the name of the stick used in a Heian era stick and ball game, and ‘hidari-gitcho’ is simply the word used for hitting the ball with the stick in the left hand.|
|Kenya||Njenga in Kantas tell us “Did you know Maasai name for a left hander means a monkey?”|
|Korean||Oen||right – Oreun(in Korean). It means right, correct (it is like English ‘right’). Also, Oreunson(right hand) is often replaced ‘Bareunson’, its mean is perpectly same ‘right’. It is very interesting. left – oen(it sounds like ‘when’) It means ‘wrong’, ‘bad’ in old Korean. It is used in Korean proberb sometimes|
|Latin||Sinister Dexter||On the left-hand side On the right hand side (dextrous)|
|Malaysia||In Malaysia, our local language Bahasa Melayu (Malay Language) term left-handedness as Kidal. (“ki” as in KEY and “dal” as in “DAHL” like Roald Dahl)|
|Mexico||Chueco||Literally, “chueco” means twisted or non-straight.|
|Northern Ireland||I’m from a small town in Northern Ireland where a lot of our dialect is Ulster-Scotch. Every time I went to write, or do anything with my left hand I was called “KITTER FISTED” or “AWKWARD ANNIE”! In fact, I’m only 29 but went to seconday school with a lefty who had the ‘devil beat out of him’and was forced to use his right hand. Oh the ignorance of it all….!!|
|Norwegian||Kjevhendt||Crooked-handed (also advised to us as keivhent, left-hander) In Norwegian it’s more common (and correct)to say “venstrehendt” instead of keivhendt (kjevhendt) “Venstrehendt” simply means left handed as opposed to “hÃ¸yrehendt” which means “righthanded”.|
|Philippines||Kaliwete||Unfortunately, it also has another negative meaning like the other languages. When someone is a “kaliwete,” or mentioned to be “nangangaliwete” (present tense verb form), it can mean that a person is a two-timer or is being unfaithful.|
|Poland||In polish language lefthanded mean leworÄ™czny( correct) also people use words as: maÅ„kut, Å›maja, lewus. The last phrases are offensive for lefthanders. Leworeczcy or mankut in Polish, meaning:illegalUpdate from Paul: You’re wrong – there’s no such word like leworeczcyâ€ or mankutâ€ ( maÅ„kutâ€ is correct). canIf you want to say that something is illegal, you use word lewyâ€ which means leftâ€ in english|
|Portuguese||canhoto||Portuguese “canhoto” meaning; lacking ability or physical co-ordination; clumsy; badly done or made “Canhoto” is a popular name for the Devil here in Portugal and there are many superstitions and even popular festivities in which Canhoto appears as the Devil himself, in rituals such as “queimar o Canhoto” (“burning the Canhoto”), in some regions, a kind of Halloween. Also, when speaking of a potentially terrible event or a bad omen it is a Portuguese traditional gesture to knock three times on wood with the right hand and say “Diabo sejas cego, surdo e mudo! Lagarto, lagarto, lagarto sejas canhoto!” which translates roughly into “Devil be blind, deaf and mute! Lizard, lizard, lizard be left-handed!”. This is probably so because by cursing the Devil to be left-handed it will prevent him from doing harm so efficiently, as is a popular misconception to believe left-handed to be awkward and clumsy. There is also another popular saying – “Figas Canhoto!” (usually accompanied by the gesture of hooking the right forefinger over the (right) thumb which is traditionally used to ward off evil, jinxes, the Devil), “Figas” being the plural name of said gesture and Canhoto the Devil himself. In Portugal we also have the word “Esquerdino” which indicates “someone who habitually uses the left hand”, which is better accepted because “canhoto” is a derogatory definition, but is best used on a daily basis.|
|Romanian||StÃ¢ngaci||which means “left-hander” as well as “unskillful”|
|Russian||in russian LEVSHA.it is meaning not trustworthy.in Ortodoxy church left side is a women`s side In Russia classmates often say about lefthanders: “Ð›ÐµÐ²ÑˆÐ°-ÐºÑ€Ð¸Ð²Ð°Ñ Ð´ÑƒÑˆÐ°”.It means, lefthander has a wry soul 😉 LiefshÃ¡,liewshÃ¡ and lifshÃ¡ are lefties in Russian and meaning:not trustworthy and sneaky.The variant:na lievo,meaning:sneaky|
|Scotland||I’m Scottish and up here left handed people are called corrie-fisted. It comes from the Gaelic cearr meaning left, or wrong hand. There are also some local dialect versions, such as caurrie-haundit and corrie dukit.|
|Serbian||In Serbian we both write and read it the same-LEVORUK if it’s a male or LEVORUKA if it’s female.And that literaly means LEFT HAND!|
|Spanish||Zurdo Siniestro Chueco||Reverse – No Ser Zurdo = Clever. Not usually used in an insulting way. In Argentina, the “zurdos” are seen as quite intelligent people In spanish right handers are called “diestro” (which means= able), and siniestro means creapy, freak TwistedAnother word for lefthanded in spanish is ZOCATO. This means the fruit before is ripe, when is yellow and rough|
|Swahili||left is kushoto, or weak|
|Swedish||vÃ¤nsterhÃ¤nt||left-handed. According to my etymological dictionary the word “vÃ¤nster” (“left”) originally meant “the favourable [side]”, and is related to the word “vÃ¤n” (“friend”). So, maybe you should add a list of languages where the word “left” actually is a positive one! :-)Linnea says: Here in Sweden I have heard another word for lefty that is less nice than the common word vÃ¤nsterhÃ¤ntâ€ and that is felhÃ¤ntâ€ which means wrong-handed.|
|Turkish||Solak||From Esra: Turkish Solak is correct but doesn’t have any other meaning. SOL’s mean is Left in Turkish. Together with AK it means left side user. There is no any other meaning as clumsy or something, just left -side user.
Aysun tells us: “There is not even a single word in Turkish that insult left handed people”
|Ukrainian||LifshÃ¡||Meaning:Sneaky or Mistrustful|
|Venezuela||MochoLa Mocha||Adolfo tells us: Here in Venezuela we often use the term mochoâ€ to refer to a lefty, or la mochaâ€, to refer to the left hand. Mochoâ€ would roughly translate as maimedâ€, or awkward, clumsyâ€ or stuff like that, and la mochaâ€ would be something like the maimed (hand)â€.|
|Wales||When I was young in Wales I was often referred to as being “llaw bwt” i.e. stump handed. Not very flattering, but as I didn’t speak Welsh at the time it didn’t really mean anything to me! Also the Welsh for LEFT is CHWITH, and if something is O’I CHWITH it is wrong, or out of place|
If you have any more examples or any comments or corrections, please Click here to email Keith to let us know.
Researchers preparing a survey of English dialects found 88 different words for ‘left-handed’ (mostly uncomplimentary) in local use in the 1950’s including the following:
More recently, we have also been told about:
- Gollie Handed (Hull area in N.E. England)
- Because their rudders were attached to the right side, ancient sailing vessels were docked to the left. This side became the ‘port side’. Today left-handers (mostly in the USA) are sometimes called ‘Port Siders’.
- The term ‘Southpaw’ is derived from baseball. Parks were often built with the homeplate in the western corner of the field. When a left-handed pitcher was facing the batter, his throwing arm would be the closest to the south, thus the term ‘Southpaw’ was coined. Another name in America for a left hander playing baseball was to call a left handed batter was a hookerâ€¦.
- When I was growing up in Warwickshire, UK, left handers were always referred to as Keggy or Kack Handed (or sometimes Peg Handed). I still tend to refer to someone left handed as Keggy!
- After reading about other names for left handed, I would like to add SCRAMMY, used in Bristol, UK
- We actually call it Corrie Fisted, but this derives from the name ‘Kerr’ (my surname!). The Kerr family inthe Borders region were mostly left handed – in fact, the built their houses and castle’s with a left handed bias (spiral staircases the ‘wrong’ way round so that they could fight with their swords and defend on the stairs).
- Another name for being left handed is….Taggy handed which is used in Lincolnshire, UK
- In Ancient Hebrew, left-handers were called “Eetair yad y’mini”, i.e.”constricted right-hand”. Ouch!
- Born and raised in central Birmingham, I was always called CAGGY-HANDED as a child – yet another nickname?
- In Fife, Scotland we use corrie fistit (fisted)
- My wife is from the north -east and she calls me cuddy handed and here in Yorkshire I’m cack – handed
- In some parts of the UK (I always thought it was a Scottish term, but a bit of Googling reveals it may be Irish in origin) Catholics are referred to as Left Footersâ€, according to what I found out, it seems the Catholics used spades (possibly for turf or peat cutting, possibly just generally), with a lug for putting your left foot on whilst digging, whilst the Protestants used spades with the lug on the right.
- In America, a left-handed snowboarder is called “Goofy,” and a lefty board is called a “Goofy Board.” This is because the board is designed to slant in the opposite direction of righty boards.
- The same goes for surfing, in the USA a left handed )footed) surfer is called goofy foot. The right foot is forward and the left is used for steering.
- I grew up in Leicestershire and was called â€˜cack-handed’ and â€˜corky dobber’ I’ve never heard the latter since, but my mother used it, as an affectionate term.
- Widdershins is another, meaning anything against the ‘norm’ e.g. anti-clockwise or, indeed left-handed
If you have any more examples or any comments or corrections, please use the comments link at the bottom to add them.
This is a name that is still in common usage in the UK and seems to have variants all round the world. It is actually quite offensive and one explanation I have found is:
|The direct association is with cack, another fine Old English term, for excrement or dung. Cachus was Old English for a privy, and both words come from Latin cacare, to defecate. It almost certainly comes from the very ancient tradition, which has developed among peoples who were mainly right-handed, that one reserved the left hand for cleaning oneself after defecating and used the right hand for all other purposes. At various times this has been known in most cultures. Some consider it rude even to be given something using the left hand. So to be left-handed was to use the cack hand or be cack-handed.|
Not very nice! We have also been advised of other similar usages…
- In Thailand we do not have any nick name for the L/H but we have one word to amuse the L/H people that “E SAI PAI KEE ” it’s mean the people who use the hand which touch the [excrement]
A more subtle way of downplaying left-handedness is by praising the right. Thus we have:
- Dextrous, dexterity – skillful in performing tasks, especially with the hands – from the Latin “dexter”: right.
- Ambidextrous – having two right hands.
- Adroit – skillful – from the French “droit”: right.
- The Queen’s motto: Dieu et mon droit – God and my right
- To sit on the right hand side of someone is an especially favoured position.
On the other hand! – Here is the etymology of the word left from Wiktionary: From Middle English, left, lift, luft; from Anglo-Saxon, left, lyft lit. worthless, weak. Says it all really! The English word “adroit” meaning skillful, comes from the French ” a droit,” meaning to the right. ~~likewise,~~ The English “maladroit” meaning clumsy comes from French “mal a droit,” literally meaning “bad at right.”
|Might is left-handed||Wait for Mr Left to come along||The divine left of Kings|
|His heart is in the left place||He’s not in his left mind||It will all come left in the end|
|Right in the lurch||He was right at the post||The right luggage office|
|Nothing but cold right-overs||A right-handed compliment||A man with two right feet|
We have been hunting for positive language references to left-handed but are struggling to find any!
- “Out of left field” (a baseball expression?) means unexpected and often novel, but it isn’t definitely positive
- “The only positive use of “left” I know of is that “aristocrat” has the Greek word for “left” in its root, but then Greece was the birthplace of democracy – they may not have meant “aristocrat” to be complimentary either.” Unfortunately, even this ‘positive’ is flawed: – “Aristocrat is from aristo- meaning “best” and krat- meaning “rule”. Aristeros does mean left, but it’s not the root here.” More on this from Catherine at UCLA… I was intrigued by your claim in this month’s LHC Newsletter that “aristocracy” has a root meaning “left”, but I am not sure you are right. “Aristos” means “best” (the superlative of “agathos” meaning “good”) and “kratia” is “rule, mastery”, and I think you may have confused “aristos” with “aristeros”, which means “left”; but, interestingly, “aristeros” is a euphemism (the Greeks were fond of theseâ€”thus the Furies were called “the kindly ones”, “Eumenides”). Since something on the left (e.g. a portent) was unlucky (!), one didn’t refer to it as such, but as “aristeros”â€”that is, using a fake comparative of “aristos”: roughly, “bester”. “EuÃ´numos” meaning “of good name, honoured, fortunate” was also used. So I’m afraid the ancient Greeks were as leftist as everyone else seems to be.
- Have you heard anything about the Russian writer Leskov and his The Tale of Cross-eyed Lefty from Tula and the Steel Flea? You can find some information in English following this wikipedia link: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Levsha What I can add to this is that Leskov was a lefty himself. In that time when he wrote his story about the Levsha (Lefty) the word “levsha” (Rus. left-handed, lefty) was used in reference to a bad, unskillful and poor craftsman and one of the implications of the tale was that even a bad Russian craftsman was better that an English one. But, lefty Leskov played some kind of a trick with the word “levsha” because very soon after the tale had been published and read, the word “levsha” changed its meaning absolutely radically!!!! Ever since then, it has meant a skillful, artful, experienced, trustful craftsman. Nowadays a lot of workshops are called Levsha (Lefty) to attract more customers/clients because it means that very professional guys work there! 🙂 So, at least we have some positive meaning of the word “lefty” thanks to Nikolai Leskov.
If you come across any more, please add them as comments to this page.
Articles on Left Handed Language
Left handed journalist Gary Nunn wrote an excellent article in The Guardian, Jan 2013 titled “Clumsy and cack-handed? Lefties are leaders, not losers“