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Don't Eat With Your Mouth Full

Where can we live but days?

steepholm steepholm
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Crying over Spilt Ink
I enjoyed Anne Rooney's piece at the Awfully Big Blog Adventure yesterday, on living a 1960s day (a British child's one, anyway). It all sounds very familiar - except for the ink-dip pens.

Our desks still had ink wells, but I never got to use them, to my regret - they looked fun. We had fountain pens instead, rather primitive ones that lived up to their name by leaking from many an unexpected orifice. Being left-handed increased the complication, not only because I had to get special nibs but because of the danger of smudging the wet ink with my following hand. Blotting paper was my friend, but often alas a false one.

For decades I assumed that it was my early ink-smudging experiences that caused me, like many lefties (though far less than some), to assume the characteristic "hook" position for writing, which involves looping one's hand up in a wide evasive manoeuvre and surprising the paper from behind. However, I've noticed that almost all my left-handed students continue to write this way (and one or two righties, too), even though they're unlikely to have been traumatised by fountain pens at an impressionable age. So perhaps there's another explanation?

Now I need a Wellcome Trust grant so that I can travel the world watching left-handed children writing in Arabic, Hebrew and Chinese, and produce a learned report about it all. If only boustrophedon were still in common use I could study that too! (I wonder why it isn't?)

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Maybe it's some kind of protectiveness of the written words that makes people sit that way at catching up and hiding what they are doing?

There's a scene in The Caucasian Chalk Circle in which one of the characters is teaching another one how to eat like a poor man, and he tells him he should put his arm round the bowl protectively, as if afraid of its being snatched from his grasp. This does have something of that look, as if lefties are constantly engaged in confiding secrets to a teenage diary.

Left handed and fountains pens?

Oh aye- know that one all too well! :o)

Remember being hit over the hand with a ruler for daring to be left handed, not that it ever stopped me.

And yes, I hook too!

Rather than hooking, I turn the page to an angle that gets the written text out of the way of my hand.

Me too!

I was at school early enough to use a dip pen: those inkwells were always half full of fibrous sludge (blotting paper, possibly), and I was always ink up to the elbow. Mind, that didn't end when I got a fountain pen. That's what your academic gown is for, isn't it, wiping the inl off your hands as you go...

I think people like to be able to see what they've written, so they can keep track of what they've yet to write.

Also, even biros smudge, though not as much as fountain pens.

Good points.

The hook for lefties seems indeed to be natural.

I do know lefties that do it, but neither my father nor my husband (both of whom are left-handers) write like that. They both hold their pens and write exactly the way right-handers do -- except they use their left hands, if you see what I mean. There's no hooking round of the hand at all.

Oh, my. So much of that was true for us over here in SoCal, except for names of things, and boys in shorts. Boys never wore shorts here, ever, except to play basketball. No fountain pens--those were for rich people. We wrote in pencil, with ballpoint pens for very special papers. They were handed out and then collected again. The special paper (white lined) was also rare--most of our work was done on lined newsprint.

The spouse was born before they stopped trying to force lefties to write right. But he only had a year of it, then they gave up. His leftie hook is so pronounced that he writes sideways up a paper, almost backward.

I think my mother (born 1924) was quite lucky in not being forced to write right: it appears to have been extremely common.

Oh, yes. I have a couple of relatives who got the stutter, etc from being forced to right-handedness.

It's only recently occurred to me to wonder how my father (born 1921) managed to avoid being forced to write right-handed. He either had some very enlightened teachers (unlikely in a state school in a poor working class area) or he managed, somehow, to hide his left-handedness whenever a teacher was looking.

My mother, approximately same vintage and also left-handed, wasn't forced either, but that was in the US where the dates may have been quite different. Her father was made to use his right hand, but fortunately he was ambidextrous anyway, as I've no doubt mentioned before.