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Left handed history and customs

History is littered with strange attitudes and goings on to do with left-handedness – here are some of the interesting ones that we have come across




It was no coincidence that the fourth finger of the left-hand was chosen for the wedding finger in 300BC. Doctors at that time believed a nerve from this finger ran directly to the heart!

Napoleon Bonaparte and Josephine de Beauharnais, are one of the most famous left-handed couple in history. They married on 9th March more than 200 years ago.

The Romans were responsible for a lot of anti-left customs. They were the most militantly right-handed people in history. Romans invented the right handed handshake, the fascist salute, and that right to left alphabet that still causes a lot of trouble!



Whilst Julius Caesar was left-handed it was he who instructed all of his Roman subjects to adopt the right-handed handshake. Maybe this was because it left his weapon hand free whether greeting either friend or foe? Similarly it is though that a reason for preferring the right-hand greeting is that this generally was the weapon hand thus clasping them together allowed neither party an advantage on meeting for the first time. Interestingly Lord Baden Powell chose the left-hand for the Scouting handshake. Two theories exist. One that the left hand is nearer to the heart and the second is that using the non-weapon hand was a sign of trust.

Driving on the left / right

The origin of the rule of the road dates back to how people travelled in violent feudal societies. As most people are right handed it made sense to carry any protective weapon in this hand. When passing a stranger on the road, it would be safer to walk on the left, so ensuring that your weapon was between yourself and a possible opponent. Jousting knights would hold their lances in their right hand, therefore passing on each others' right.

Revolutionary France was to overturn this historic practice, as part of its social rethink. Their military general and self-proclaimed Emperor, Napoleon Bonaparte was left handed, therefore his armies had to march on the right so he could keep his sword arm between him and the advancing enemy. From this time any part of the world that was colonised by the French would travel on the right, the rest would remain travelling on the left.


In the French parliament before the revolution, the nobles sat in the right side of the king, while the capitalists sat on the left. The right became associated with the prevalent social order, and the left with the subversive elements wanting to change it.


A mole on your left eyebrow reveals that you will always have problems in love and marriage!

An old Italian proverb claims ‘The left-hand is the hand of the heart'

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9 comments on “History and customs
  1. Diane Nichols says:

    I think one of the reasons lefties got a bad rap was because sinister is Latin for left and Dexter is Latin for right. From Dexter we get dexterity, ambidextrous, etc. Of course sinister is associated with evil.

  2. Budley says:

    No. Sewing machines are left-handed, and, in fact, there have been right-handed models. I, for example, learned on my mom’s right-handed machine and subsequently bought a right-handed model when I moved out. Now, I am screwed because I only know how to sew right-handed. I cannot tell you how intuitive it is for a right-handed person to do all the feeding, threading-the-needle, changing bobbins, feeding material, everything with your right hand. The left hand operates controls and the wheel when occasionally necessary, but usually helps line up material or to keep material tight for the right hand. So, no, almost all sewing machines are left-handed.

  3. steve saunders says:

    how sinister. how about sinister?

  4. TJ says:

    Actually it’s not true that jousting knights would pass each other on their right, quite the opposite, they would pass each other on their respective left. Easily visible in every Stechzeug, as it has a special plate on the knights left shoulder which the opponent would aim on to score. If the knights would pass each other on their right, that would have never worked, and be way more dangerous too, basically ending in a blunt decapitation of the less lucky one, instead of a clear braking lance or getting pushed out of the saddle. It is right though that in warfare, a lance would have been held and pointed down on the one one side that the knight would be stronger on.

  5. Andrea says:

    Sewing Machines are left-handed.
    Elias Howe, the inventor, was left-handed and he made the free arm on the left, so that the fabric could be held and manoeuvered with the left hand. All the dials and stuff are on the right-hand-side so that they’re out of the way.
    Try using a sewing machine with your right hand holding the fabric, you’ll see that the bulk of the machinery is in your way.

    • Bethany says:

      That is not true. Sewing machines are very much right handed. All of the controls, buttons, cords, and switches are on the right side allowing you to do everything with your right hand. I’m left handed and I use a sewing machine daily.

      • Crayon says:

        Sewing machines are indeed left -handed devices. Accomodating for the lack of space on my right side as a right handed person has been one of the hardest adjustments i’ve had to make while learning how to sew.

  6. Jennifer says:

    The Proverb comment also refers to the fact that you have an artery that runs from your left hand, directly to your heart. Also a reason that the wedding ring is on the left hand. Closest access to your heart.

  7. Spud the 100% lefty says:

    Romans are evil!!!! They don’t/didn’t like left handers!!! Shon the non-believers!

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    […] Driving on the left – started so that horse riders could use their whips in the right-hand to fend off other road users – see more about this […]

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