Feeling Left Out: Idioms That Hurt Lefties

Lefties get a bad rap

For a long time, people who favored using their left hand were considered untrustworthy or insincere, and this bias permeated our language: Dexterous comes from the Latin for "right," while sinister comes from the Latin for "left." Point made. While many derogatory, anti-leftie sentiments are in the past, you might be surprised to see how many of these prejudices linger (and continue to be coined) in our language today.

 

Left-handed monkey wrench

If someone asks you to hand them a left-handed monkey wrench, they’re playing a practical joke on you. Why? There’s no such thing as a left-handed monkey wrench, it’s a fictitious tool. Being the target of a practical joke can be embarrassing, but being the joke itself? So much worse.

 

Left-handed compliment

A left-handed compliment is a remark that seems to be a compliment on the surface, but is ultimately unflattering. This is also referred to as a back-handed compliment. More recently, the term negging has taken on a similar meaning as it is applied to a person trying to snare a prospective mate by subtly insulting them in an attempt to play on their perceived insecurities. Don't be that person. Seriously.

Here are some common examples of left-handed compliments:

You’re smart for a girl.

That dress is beautiful! It makes you look so slim.

I’m surprised your son is so handsome.

Have two left feet

If someone says that you have two left feet, they’re saying you’re really clumsy. The idiom is often used to describe an incompetent dancer. Why would having two left feet be worse than two right feet? We aren't sure. Two left hands also means you’re clumsy. Someone might say this to you if you mishandle a ball during a sports game, or spill a bag of popcorn at the movies.

Left hand doesn’t know what the right hand is doing

This idiom actually comes from the King James version of the Bible:

But when thou doest alms, let not thy

left hand know what thy right hand doeth

The verse originally meant that charitable giving should be kept secret (because: modesty). But today the idiom is used for ridiculing bad communication within an organization. For example, when calling customer service, you might get different information from two different departments at the same company. In this case, you'd say their left hand didn't know what their right was doing. Or, more likely, you'd roll your eyes and hang up.

Out of left field

Out of left field is slang for something that's odd, out of place or just unexpected. This idiom comes from the world of baseball—it refers to the area covered by the left fielder who has the farthest throw to first base. If someone says your comments or suggestions are out of left field, they might be saying your ideas are unexpected or unusual, but it’s more likely they mean your ideas are crazy (or, that they just don't agree).

Left-handed oath

As you might now suspect, a left-handed oath is statement or promise that’s not considered to be binding. In courtrooms, before witnesses take the stand to offer testimony, they are asked to “Please raise your right hand to take the oath.” Left-handed people just have to go along with this right-handed ritual, otherwise their oath would be considered left-handed, or illegitimate. 

Get up on the wrong (left) side of the bed

The idiom get up on the wrong side of the bed means you’re in a bad or grumpy mood from the moment you wake up. While this idiom doesn’t have “left” in it, it comes from Roman times when it was considered bad luck to get out of the bed on the left side. It was thought that if you got out of bed on the “wrong,” or left side, you’d have a very bad day.

Keep on the left-hand side of something

The idiom keep on the left-hand side of something is used to refer to someone who won't just follow the herd or conform to what's popular. Lefties are creative and smart. Think of all the past presidents who are or were lefties: Barack Obama, Bill Clinton, George H.W. Bush, Gerald Ford, Harry Truman, Herbert Hoover and James Garfield. There’s also a rumor that Ronald Reagan was born a leftie, but teachers converted him to a righty. Boo.

Swipe left

As much as we like to think leftie-shame is in the past, swipe left is current slang to decline or reject someone or something. Although this phase caught steam on Tinder, the popular dating app, it has expanded its use into all contexts, mobile or otherwise.

Tinder established the left swipe as a way to reject someone in the digital age, probably not out of maliciousness towards left-handed people, but certainly not in their favor.

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