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More Wrong than Right:
The Left-handed Pencil

Posted by Jennifer Dawson on October 8, 2009

In the enlightened early 21st century, when global numbers of left-handed people are rising due to decreased proselytization by the right, aren't lefties just another niche market? Can't their challenges functioning in a right-handed world be solved by an innovative company and an open wallet?

When it comes to left-handed pencils, the answer seems to be no.

My left-handed informants got an almost embarrassingly eager look on their faces when they learned the subject of this article. They hadn't heard of left-handed pencils before, and it was clear they hoped this innovation would solve some of their writing difficulties.

A survey of more than 1000 people conducted by the British-based website indicates that 88% of left-handed people have problems with smudged work. “There's this burden and shame carried by left-handed people, that the heel of our left hand is always covered in a smear of blue or black,” admits Ryan McGreal, a left-handed editor of an online magazine. He's only half-joking. Whether to avoid the shame or the smudges, McGreal types everything now. He's intrigued by the idea of a left-handed pencil, envisioning a trailing plastic shield that prevents his hand from contacting the paper.

Pam Tuff, a retired elementary teacher, notes that left-handed students must push their pencil across the page and often have their work obscured by their hand as they write. If not taught to position their paper properly, hold their writing instrument far enough from the tip, and keep their wrist straight, children will adopt a “hooked” writing posture that can lead to back ache or fatigue. While Tuff is very familiar with left-handed scissors, she has never heard of a left-handed pencil.

So what is this mystery left-leaning writing tool? Turns out, it's little more than flipping the writing on the pencil so that it can be read properly when the pencil is held in the left hand.

If I was left-handed, I'd be insulted. Even given the witty slogans available on leftie pencils like “It's a left-handed thing, you wouldn't understand,” the fact that the left-handed pencil offers no real technological solution for the problems faced by left-handed writers makes me wonder why left-handers remain, as Canadian psychologist Stanley Coren says, one of the last unorganized minorities in our society.

There are fancy left-handed pens, like the Swan Neck or Yoropen, that promise excellent ink flow, quick dry and no smudge formulas, and ergonomic designs. There are left-handed grips to slide onto your standard pencil. Stabilo makes an ergonomic pencil that reviewers claim has assisted their writing or that of their children, but the left-handed and right-handed models are the same--with the exception of the direction of the writing on the pencil.

If reading the branding or slogan on your pencil matters to you, save your money and make your own left-handed HB. Take an unsharpened pencil, wiggle the eraser end off, crimp it onto the opposite pencil end, and sharpen. Considering the commonly-held belief that left-handed products cost more than those manufactured for righties, you'll have saved yourself some dough. But you'll still wear the graphite on the heel of your hand.

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