Contempt for the left hand as compared with the 'right is found in most cultures, past and present, and may have arisen simply because most people let its strength and skill remain relatively undeveloped; the English word comes from a root whose primary meaning is 'weak, worthless'. To this basic concept further meanings were added; already in the classical world the left was unlucky, ominous, and less honourable than the right, while Christianity associated it with moral evil through its description of a Last Judgement where the damned ('goats') are sent to the left, and the saved ('sheep') to the right (Matthew 25: 33).
   English traditions reflect all these ideas. It is presumably because girls are weaker than boys and (formerly) less valued in a family that pseudo-medical lore about 'conception and ' pregnancy links female foetuses to the left side of the mother's body. Though it is not said here that the left hand is 'unclean' (as it is in many non-European cultures), nevertheless it is never used in situations involving honour and respect, for example shaking hands, saluting, taking an oath, etc.
   The connection with bad luck is found, for instance, in the belief that a baby who grips with the left hand before the right will grow up unlucky; that if the first 'cuckoo calls on one's left this is ominous; that 'first footing is only effective if done with the right foot; and many others. The association of left-handed gestures with black magic is found in some ' witchcraft trials, and more consistently among learned occultists of the 19th and 20th centuries, who commonly speak of 'the left-hand path' to mean the use of magic for evil purposes; it is now well known through popular writers and film-makers.
   There is nevertheless one very striking exception to this trend: it is upon the left hand that, in Britain, engagement and wedding rings must be worn.

A Dictionary of English folklore. . 2014.

Look at other dictionaries:

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