Tuesday, January 28, 2014

2151 Underhand

I wonder about things sometimes. They say that curiosity killed the cat, but it's been my experience that wondering often leads to a sense of wonder. Of course it leads to confusion too.

Take an innocent word like “underhanded.” I thought about it the other day. What triggered my thought was a catch made by a football player as he was about to go out of bounds. The commentator said that the guy's hand under the ball indicated he had control of it, so the pass should officially be considered complete. 

A time when underhanded is actually good, my brain immediately concluded. Which led me to wonder why it was ever bad. A mystery. Why did the term underhanded come to signify something nefarious?

The etymology dictionary says such meaning dates back to 1540 but that's all. The regular dictionary says it is something done in a treacherous or deceitful manner; sneaky; disreputable; base. All right, but why?

For some reason underhand is viewed as dirty. Perhaps the usage developed because in the less than sanitary days of yore one had to choose which hand to use for which thing. Like Leonardo DiCaprio's rendition of OC germophobe Howard Hughes.

So maybe it has something to do with why the left hand is considered the bad hand in certain Arabic countries. It's the hand one uses to wipe one's underside after doing one's business. Not that doing business is necessarily underhanded, but some business does put the doo in doing.

I'll wonder no more. Theoretically, the underhand is the hand one puts under one's underside. And therefore dirty. The idea flows from there. The mystery is solved.

Oh sure, it all may be a tissue of speculation. But I think I've gotten to the bottom of it.

America, ya gotta love it. 

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