Gauche

Gauche  /ɡəʊʃ/ Adj.

Left handed people: do not get a good wrap.

You probably already know that left-handed people die seven years younger than their right handed counterparts. Did you also know they’re more likely to suffer from PTSD? That they’re more inhibited? And that even though they only make up roughly 10% of the population they account for 20% of people diagnosed with schizophrenia?

It sucks to be left-handed.

Our transport system, our writing system, our everyday implements are all anti-sinister. Sinister. That is seriously an accepted description of being left-handed, it comes from the Latin sinestra meaning left hand which was, over time, adopted into Middle-English to mean ‘unlucky’ and then that evolved into ‘evil’. But it also retained the whole left-handed side of the deal too. Which is why I’m glad I’m not left-handed. And it’s also why I find the word gauche so interesting.

Gauche (awkwardly trying to pronounce that in your head? Rhymes with the middle syllable of a-troc-ious) has two meanings. The first is left or, more specifically, left-handed. The second, and here’s the punchline, is ‘awkward’. Straight away this word kicks left-handed people in the teeth and as you delve deeper it gets worse. Nowadays the word is typically used to refer to awkwardness of a social nature; a simple faux-pas like asking your colleague how their wife is. Two weeks after they’ve been served with divorce papers. But it comes from French where before it meant socially inept it literally meant to veer or turn while you walked (gauchir) and before that its roots were in blatant trampling and clumsiness.

Its meaning is also in its pronunciation. English speaking tongues aren’t supposed to put those sounds together yet we’ve just plucked it straight from the French, no attempt to transliterate (read: bastardize) as we usually do with our borrowed words. At first glance I pronounced it ‘gorsh’. And by that I mean every time I read it I have to correct myself.

Gauche is the kind of word that is built solely on centuries of prejudice against those born just a little different from us. The left hand has been associated with the Devil since the days when the Devil was a whole range of mischievous spirits in Roman mythology just tearing shit up for fun. Like having two left feet makes you somehow a worse dancer than someone with two right feet. That is how ingrained in our culture the right-side-bias is.

And this word proves it beyond measure.

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