Don't Eat With Your Mouth Full

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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?)

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.

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