Left hand, right hand

Subject: Left hand, right hand
From: Joanna Sheldon <cjs10 -at- CORNELL -dot- EDU>
Date: Thu, 16 Feb 1995 06:29:25 -0500

>Date: Wed, 15 Feb 1995 10:50:36 MST
>Reply-To: Beverly Parks <bparks -at- HUACHUCA-EMH1 -dot- ARMY -dot- MIL>
>Sender: "Technical Writers List; for all Technical Communication issues"
<TECHWR-L -at- VM1 -dot- ucc -dot- okstate -dot- edu>
>X-PH: V4 -dot- 1 -at- cornell -dot- edu (Cornell Modified)
>From: Beverly Parks <bparks -at- HUACHUCA-EMH1 -dot- ARMY -dot- MIL>
>Subject: Left hand side
>Comments: To: TechWrite List <techwr-l -at- vm1 -dot- ucc -dot- okstate -dot- edu>,
>Apparently-To: cjs10 -at- postoffice3 -dot- mail -dot- cornell -dot- edu

>CopyEditing List <copyediting-l -at- cornell -dot- edu>
>To: Multiple recipients of list TECHWR-L <TECHWR-L -at- VM1 -dot- ucc -dot- okstate -dot- edu>

>Does anyone else out there have a problem with saying

> "...on the left hand side of...." (or right hand side; no matter)?

>Whenever I encounter it I yank out the "hand." Once we get
>beyond first grade, I think it's extraneous. However, I see it
>everywhere.

>Comments?

Well, "on the left (right) side..." is just as common in spoken language as
"on the left (right) hand side," which makes "hand" unnecessary, so I'd
leave it out, too, in this example. But in phrases designating a specific
point, usually a corner of a flat surface, the "hand" is always there, in
every-day speech -- and writers should beware of straying too far from the
sound of the spoken language.

The "hand" in left hand and right hand is a vestigial trace of Anglo Saxon
(and not elementary school) concreteness, which makes it just, well,
English, to say: "the upper right-hand corner of the page," " the lower
left-hand corner of the bill-board." In fact, because it doesn't comply
with common usage, it's unidiomatic to say "the upper right corner," the
lower right corner" -- which I read in technical manuals all the time.

...JS


Joanna Sheldon cjs10 -at- cornell -dot- edu
Technical writer, Translator French, Italian, German

"A language is a dialect with an army and a navy." -- Max Weinreich


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