I bought a new jacket last week and the first time I wore it, a friend said that she liked it very much and that it did wonders for my figure. Her comment was a left handed compliment because, although it sounds flattering, at closer examination, we find that what she is really saying is that my figure is unattractive and I need improvement from clothing. So a left handed compliment is one that is uncomplimentary. It can also be called a back handed compliment and it is the same as a slap in the face.
Left handed people are different and anything different is often viewed with suspicion. Left has negative connotations and right positive ones. We talk about human rights and the rights of man. People are left out or left alone if they are not all right. If they are far from right they are left out in the cold.
Apart from the more mundane problems left handed people have, with using things like scissors, they are viewed by many cultures as evil. Sinister comes from the Latin word for left and, in English, the word has come to mean something that threatens harm, evil or trouble to someone. The word, dexterity refers to someone who is good with their hands and comes from the Latin for right handed. Gauche, used to describe someone who is clumsy and awkward, comes from the French word for left. Also directly from the French language comes maladroit to describe an inept person. It is literally translated as “bad at the right” and adroit, naturally enough, means skillful and translates as “on the right”.
Your most trusted friend is your right hand man but if he was a terrible dancer he would be described as having two left feet.
In sports a left handed player may be called a southpaw, though this American expression doesn’t seem to have any offensive undertones.
Left handedness isn’t common, less than 10% of the population, but there are some pretty famous names amongst them. US Presidents like Barack Obama and Bill Clinton, musicians like Jimi Hendrix and Paul McCartney, writers like Lewis Carroll and H.G. Wells, artists like Michelangelo and Raphael, actors like Bruce Willis and Marilyn Munroe and sports personalities like Pele and Monica Seles. The list is long and illustrious.
So fellow lefthanders, for I too am one, hold your heads high and mind the elbows of your neighbours when you eat with chopsticks!
Left handed compliment Criticism disguised as compliment
Flattering Excessively complimentary
Back handed compliment Praise with an insulting meaning
Slap in the face Unexpected insult
Connotations Implications, associations
Far from right Very wrong
Left out in the cold Rejected, ignored, forgotten
Mundane Ordinary, commonplace
Sinister Bad, evil, wicked
Dexterity Skilful, graceful in movement
Gauche Clumsy, also lacking social skills
Clumsy Without skill or grace
Awkward Without skill, lacking dexterity
Maladroit Awkward, clumsy
Inept Unsuitable, not apt, unskilled, incapable
Right hand man Best friend
Having two left feet Cannot dance
Southpaw Left handed sportsman
Undertones Underlying quality, feeling or meaning
Illustrious Brilliant, great, celebrated, famous