Odd words: ambisinistrous

The word ambidextrous is familiar to most people: it describes somebody who is be able to use both hands (and sometimes, in the case of soccer, feet) equally well. The word comes from the Latin words ambi meaning “both” (the same root for words like ambivolent) and dexter, meaning “right-handed” or simply “right”. Therefore the literal meaning is “to be right-handed in both hands”.

Since the majority of people are right-handed, being left-handed was often seen as contrary or against the norm. Since a mostly right-handed populace generally means that a society will use tools and implements primarily suited to right-handed people, anything to do with the left side was seen as unfavorable, and even potentially injurious.

This eventually gave rise to the Latin word for “left-handed” or “left”, sinister, having a rather more negative meaning in modern-day English. We use to word to describe a wicked, evil or troublesome person or deed, when the original root word simply refers to a direction.

However, this also means that ambidextrous has a wonderful, if little-known, antonym: ambisinistrous. This means to be equally clumsy or unskilled with both hands!