Most people touch the side of their hand to the page as they write with a pen or pencil. Latin is written from left to right, and culturally its heritage somewhat demonizes left-handers ("sinister"). Left-handers also have difficulty writing LTR with wet ink, because their hand smears the ink as it crosses the page. (I bet this once made for a lot of enthusiastic left-handed European students of Arabic and Hebrew.)

Two apparent remedies are writing without touching the page at all, and learning to write with the nondominant hand. At least for me, both of these are quite challenging. (Two more modern adaptions are the ballpoint pen, whose ink dries rapidly, and pencils, whose deposit is not wet.)

What tools or techniques existed in the brush, reed, quill or fountain pen eras to allow left-handers to write LTR text, or vice-versa? Similarly, how did Greeks with reed pens manage to scribe a boustrophedonic text, which alternates between directions?

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    One way is the write very carefully & to use the correct technique. The alternate question that could have been asked is "how did past & present right handed writers of Hebrew or the Arabic script write with wet ink without smudging the ink?" – Fred Jul 10 '16 at 5:59
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    Goulet Pen Company has a video about this in relation to fountain pens: youtu.be/QemooqfJcfg – Benjamin Jul 10 '16 at 23:38

I am left-handed, and never experienced this problem with dip-pens or fountain pens as a child /young woman, since the hand is below the current writing line. The main problem is not being able to see what you have just written. Some left-hander do adopt the "over the top" grip illustrated, I never have.

However, it was not just in the Soviet Union lefties were forced to write with their right hand. My mother, born 1920, was, and even in the 40s/50s it was not uncommon - I started school in1954/55 and suspect I was among the first cohorts allowed to write with my left. George VI was forced to write with his right hand, which may have contributed to his speech difficulties in adulthood.

Given the history of imposing right-handedness, and the "sinister" connotations of the left - still prevalent, I believe in the Islamic world - it may well be that writing with the left hand was simply not an option until modern times, so no adaptation was needed.

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    The worst trouble I used to have was with soft lead pencils, and with "erasable ink". I'd get more of that stuff on my hand than on the page. – T.E.D. Sep 8 '17 at 14:23
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    Arabic (as is Hebrew) is written right-to-left - which favours left handers and hinders right handers. Sinister derives directly from the Latin, so there are no Semitic , Arabic, or Islamic connotations to the word, and it doesn't exist in those cultures as a cognate of left-handed. – Pieter Geerkens Sep 14 '17 at 2:24
  • @PieterGeerkens This would appear to disagree islamqa.info/en/82120 – TheHonRose Sep 14 '17 at 16:58
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    @TheHonRose: It's your claim that persecution derives from the word sinister, as it has in English, that I dispute. Your link is irrelevant to that. – Pieter Geerkens Sep 14 '17 at 20:49
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    @PieterGeerkens In Islam the right hand is considered more "noble" than the left,which is to be used for "dirtier" tasks - using the lavatory, blowing the nose, etc - so you seem to be arguing a distinction without a difference. – TheHonRose Sep 14 '17 at 23:09

The two lefthanders in my high school class wrote with their left hand curled completely around the paper to place the left hand above and to the right of the line being written.

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  • Likewise when I was at school, one left hander did the same. – Fred Jul 10 '16 at 5:54
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    As a lefty myself, this is also how I write. Or at least used to. Almost never use a pencil or pen now, except when signing things. I'll add a picture of a lefty writing to help illustrate this. – T.E.D. Jul 10 '16 at 23:59
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    As another lefty, I generally work with my hand below the line of writing. Depending on how neat I'm trying to be I either write with a strong back-slant, or I have the paper angled to have a "proper" slant (this method is slower). I've written a lot with fountain pens, and the method works well for me. – Kate Paulk Jul 11 '16 at 11:36
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    I am left handed, and I would never write like that, period. My hand is in the same position as right handed people, but mirrored. – Bregalad Jul 12 '16 at 17:02
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    @Bregalad: And if I was left handed, neither would I - my wrist isn't flexible enough; but both my friends did. – Pieter Geerkens Jul 12 '16 at 20:00

In Soviet Union in 1970-s all schoolchildren were taught to write with their right hand, no matter whether they were right or left handed by birth. Until the 5-th grade we could only write with steel dip pen. Since the 5-th grade fountain pens were permitted.

When I traveled abroad for the first time in 1990, I was very surprised to see a substantial number of people who write with their left hand.

EDIT. Here is a photo of the standard Soviet school dip pen: http://img11.nnm.me/8/3/3/c/9/233294a1325d7e86402ab2a2624.jpg

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    Same for other countries of the eastern block (probably learning from the great brother). Yet it does not really answer the question. – Ghanima Jul 10 '16 at 20:41
  • What type of fountain pens and dip pens were available? With what sized nibs? Where the fountain pens cartridge pens? If not, what type of filling mechanism did they have? – Benjamin Jul 10 '16 at 23:39
  • I do not know how to describe the types of dip pens in English:-) Speaking of fountain pens, there was no restriction on type, but cartridge pens were rare or not available. We had to fill our pens from an ink pot. The pens had a little pump for this. (Of course our fingers were permanently dirty with ink:-) – Alex Jul 11 '16 at 21:08
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    The same was true in West Virginia circa 1950. My Grandmother nearly had to threaten revolution to get them to not beat my mother for writing with her left hand. – Mark C. Wallace Sep 7 '17 at 21:04

I imagine that writing slowly, therefore allowing the ink to dry, would me one means of allowing left-handers to write with wet ink.

  • Would you like to expand on this? – Benjamin Jul 10 '16 at 23:35

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