I am not, and have never been, left-handed. I grew up with a left-handed younger brother, however, and married a left-handed woman, so I have spent most of the days of my life experiencing, second hand, the frustration of living in a world designed for some one else. (I also took Hebrew classes all through grade school, so I know the experience all too well of dragging your hand through fresh graphite or ink.)
Having the sympathy that I do for the left-handed among us, I’ve always tried my best to stock my home with tools that my wife can actually use as well, such as a can opener designed to work in either direction, or an extra pair of left-handed scissors that don’t hurt her hand to use. When I first got in to fountain pens I wanted to share the journey with her as well, so I sought out a couple of left-handed fountain pens. I bought her a pink Pelikano with an L nib, and a Petrol Lamy Safari with a black LH nib to match the black clip.
For those of you unfamiliar, I won’t bury the lede any deeper; left-handed nibbed pens are not as useful for left-handed people as a left-handed can-opener or left-handed scissors. I’ve heard different things about what a left-handed nib is intended to do. The Lamy left-handed nib, for example, is variously billed as being both “slightly oblique” and “more rounded”. The idea for the first case is that it is designed for the way that left-handers are expected to rotate their pens (although anyone who has payed even cursory attention will notice that pretty much every single left-hander has a different grip and writing style.) For the second case, the idea is that right-handers “pull” their nibs across the page but left-handers “push” their nibs, so rounding out the tipping more makes that push easier. It’s not impossible for an oblique nib to also be round, of course, but considering that Lamy’s standard medium nibs are already quite round, it seems like maybe the marketing is being laid on a little thick.
That’s not to say that left-handed nibs are worthless; if you are left-handed and you find them easier to use then that is wonderful. But consider that Hebrew and Arabic are two languages that are written right to left, causing the same issues for right-handers that the Romance languages cause for left-handers, and yet the “specialty” nibs that exist for Hebrew and Arabic are actually less forgiving architect style nibs, which provide the thin upstrokes and thick cross strokes that are present in more traditional examples of middle eastern scripts. If a slight oblique and rounder tipping were absolutely necessary to push a nib across a page, surely a Hebrew or Arabic nib would look very different from how it actually does.
The one other point I have to share about left-handed writing I touched on briefly last week. My wife prefers to do her office work in pencil, and as a long time mechanical-pencil-head, I’ve always been very happy to present her with all manner of exciting contraptions (when she would just as happily use the disposable Bics with the colored clips.) One pencil that I gave her within the last couple of years was an Uni Kuru Toga Roulette, featuring Uni’s updated rotation engine, which rotates your lead each time you lift it from the page. She really liked this pencil, but she also confessed to me that because of how she writes combined with the pencil’s rotation, the nose of the pencil would constantly unscrew itself. One more tool designed without the left-handers of the world in mind. I replaced her Roulette with a rOtring 600, and she loves it. Her unscrewing problem is solved by the fact that the nose piece of the 600 goes far enough back that it includes the knurled grip where she holds the pencil. I can’t say whether rOtring designed this pencil with left handers in mind or not, but you have to give good design credit. If you design a product well enough, you may end up solving problems you hadn’t even considered.
Happy International Left-Handers Day one and all!