Posted by: Jack Henry | October 21, 2021

Editor’s Corner: Sins and Sinisterity

One of you wonderful people introduced Donna and me to a daily email called “A.Word.A.Day with Anu Garg.” One of the recent words, sinisterity, made me very curious because of my Catholic upbringing and my left-handed brother. I don’t know if the church still teaches that left-handedness and the left side are evil, but the definition of sinisterity led me down that rabbit hole I often end up in.

To prevent the rest of you from getting too dirty, I created this table. Information from the emails and my favorite etymology site: Online Etymology Dictionary.

Word Definition Etymology
sinisterity 1. Left-handedness.
2. Skillfulness in the use of the left hand.
3. Awkwardness or clumsiness.
4. Evilness, unluckiness, etc.
From Latin sinister (left, left hand, unlucky). Earliest documented use: 1623. Some related words are ambisinistrous/ambisinister (clumsy with both hands) and dexterous.
dexterity skill in performing tasks, especially with the hands. 1520s, "manual skill, skill in using the hands; physical adroitness in general," from French dexterité (16c.), from Latin dexteritatem (nominative dexteritas) "readiness, skillfulness, prosperity," from dexter "skillful," also "right (hand),"
dexterous 1. Skillful or adroit, mentally or bodily.

2. Right-handed.

From Latin dexter (right-hand, skillful).
ambidextrous 1.Able to use both hands equally.
2. Unusually skillful

3. characterized by duplicity; double-dealing

Medieval Latin ambidexter, literally "right-handed on both sides," from ambi- "both, on both sides" (see ambi-) + dexter "right-handed" (from PIE root *deks- "right; south"). An earlier English use of ambidexter (adj.) meant "double-dealer, one who takes both sides in a conflict" (late 14c.).
ambisinistrous, ambisinister, ambilevous Clumsy with both hands. Modeled after ambidextrous (able to use both hands with equal ease), from Latin ambi– (both) + sinister (left). Earliest documented use: 1863.

Ambilevous: from Latin laevus (left). A similar expression is “to have two left feet” (to be clumsy, especially while dancing).

And back to Catholicism for a minute. From the 1920s all the way through the 1970s, Catholic schools still taught that “left” was evil. My grandfather and brother were both forced to write with their right hands, even though they were already identified as “lefties.” The result for both? Ambidexterity. Grandpa could even write at the same time with both hands.

Kara Church

Pronouns: she/her

Technical Editor, Advisory

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