I was pootling around in a bookshop this afternoon, while my prescription was turned from being two boxes of pills into … two boxes of pills with stickers on … and heard a young girl ask her father what ambidextrous means.
Quick as a flash, he answered neatly and calmly, saying something like ‘Being neither right nor left-handed, but being equally skilled with both hands’. Good job, I thought, but then thought some more.
It doesn’t mean quite what he said, but contains an odd bias.
Ambi means something like ‘on both sides’ while dextrous means ‘like the right hand’, seeing as dexter is the right hand (sinister being the left).
Ambidextrous therefore, if one translates it literally, means ‘on both sides like the right hand’, or, more simply and poetically, ‘having two right hands’.
It is therefore the antithesis of being a bad dancer.
Now, I found it interesting that a word which relates to the equality of two parties can only express it in terms of the party considered superior.
Or, in the words of Rex Harrisson, ‘why can’t a woman, be more like a man?’
This either indicates an intrinsic dualism in language, a dualism which supports if not impels discriminatory behaviour, or suggests that equality is neither desirable or, in fact, possible.
Vive la différence?