FOR some months I’ve had an irritating, long-standing wrist injury that prevents me from using my right hand fully. It’s now annoying but will, I’m told, recover “in time”.

During this period, I’ve had to adjust to using my left hand for doing jobs normally done by my right hand.

Most people are right-handed. Our best estimates are that about 70 to 95 per cent of the population is right-handed, about five to 30 per cent left-handed.

We still do not fully understand the concept of “handedness” and we do not understand why most people are right handed. What we do know is that handedness can, in many instances, be overcome. You can learn to do things left handed even if your natural tendency is to do things with your right hand.

There are people we call ambidextrous – they can swap hands and use instruments or sports bats/racquets with either hand. There are also somewhat odd (some would say awkward) people like myself, who are a mixture of left and right-handed. For example, I would play tennis right handed, baseball left-handed and play golf and cricket naturally left-handed but bowl and throw a ball right-handed. As a child in primary school I started to write left handed but going to a good church school in the 1960s that tendency was literally knocked out of me with numerous sharp raps on my knuckles with the edge of a ruler. My grandfather was left handed so there is a probable genetic influence here. The thinking in my school was that left handedness was a sign of the devil.

Left and right have interesting origins linguistically. Often, the right relates to the compass direction south and the left with north. Right has very positive connotations, whereas left does not. Think about right and righteous, whereas the origin of left in English means “worthless” or “weak”. The word, when associated with hands, sides and so forth is not derived from the past tense of “to leave” but originates from an old English word lyft.

The Latin for left is sinister in late Middle English it meant underhand or malicious. The connection with evil and the devil came later. Our common usage of the word today – that something is sinister has elements of maliciousness or even evil about it. It is also the origin of the tradition in pantomimes for the entrance of the bad or evil character from stage left and the good character such as the fairy godmother from stage right. Even the way we describe left-handed people is less than complimentary... cack-handed; cat-handed; corky-handed. We favour right-handed people.

The Latin for right is dexter, where we get the term dexterous from. Dexterous is a very positive attribute. There is no doubt that right handedness is the dominant form in humans. At one time it was thought to be unique to humans. It was a quality that distinguished us from the other animals and provided us with a special place in nature. More recent studies in animals show that the idea of “handedness” (or “legness”, or indeed, preference for the right-hand side of the body as opposed to the left) is not unique at all and is possibly an evolutionary development.

There are instances of frogs preferring to attack prey on the right, while ignoring similar prey on the left. Some whales show a preference for eating their prey on the right-hand side of the jaw to the left. Even cats will tend to strike out with a preferential paw rather than just randomly, which is what you would expect if handedness was unique to humans. One interesting fact is that in identical twins, who share the exact same set of genes, up to 23 per cent exhibit different “handedness”. We call such twins mirror twins. In his book Alice Through The Looking Glass, it is thought Lewis Carroll wrote Tweedledum and Tweedledee as mirror twins, though this is disputed.

Although we understand that the right side of the brain controls the left side of the body and vice versa, there is a myth that the different hemispheres of the brain control key attributes. Right brain people are said to be creative, left brain people are supposed to be logical. This myth has origins going back to the philosopher Plato. In more recent times, a Scottish doctor called Arthur Ladbroke Wigan wrote a book called Duality of the Mind: A new view of insanity. The book inspired Robert Louis Stevenson to write Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde. Modern studies of the brain show that the two sides do not control or influence things like logical thinking. MRI scans of artists show both sides of the brain working and no overall preference for the right-hand side.