laterality ‘sidedness’

From Max Vasilatos on Facebook, this sentence from the Wikipedia entry on laterality:

Some types of mastodon indicate laterality through the fossil remains having differing tusk lengths.

Max sent this to me not for its tortured syntax (though that’s interesting in itself) or for the technical term laterality ‘sidedness’ (a bit on that below), but because of my interest in mammuthiana (though that’s not the point of this posting).

The Wikipedia entry begins:

Laterality is the preference that most humans show for one side of their body over the other. Examples include left-handedness or left-footedness. It may also apply to other animals, or to plants.

We start with left- and right-handedness and generalize from there, ultimately to overall left- and right-sidedness, not just for hand preference. The natural further generalization would be to sidedness, and that certainly occurs, for example in this website about

Neuroscience for kids – Sidedness
Educational website about laterality. Includes tests for handedness, footedness, eyedness, and earedness.

But here we see a shift from the formation sidedness, using native English components, to the technical term laterality, using Latin-derived components. On other occasions, I’ve noted this preference in technical contexts for using terms derived from Latin and/or Greek, even when native-English counterparts are available.

(In this case, sidedness has an ambiguity that laterality lacks; it can refer to the number or kind of sides — as in three-sided or flat-sided. But this is only a potential ambiguity; in context, the sense of sidedness will be clear.)

2 Responses to “laterality ‘sidedness’”

  1. maxvasilatos Says:

    I was looking up laterality because I noticed a lot of TV actors seem to be left-handed but that could just be because being unusual makes me notice it. Then I was watching some martial arts (choreographed) fighting, and noticed that individuals favor one kicking leg, as does Lady Gaga in her dancing. Which led me to wonder if that is related to handedness and if leggedness matches or is perhaps opposite handedness, and then I might predict the handedness of the fighters. To some extent apparently I can.

    It struck me as odd that there would be more information on parrots’ and mastodons’ laterality than on, say, apes.

    • arnold zwicky Says:

      A topic I’ve thought about pursuing for some time is handedness in gay porn. I know from real-life experience that men have strong handedness preferences in masturbation, and that are not strongly correlated with hand preferences for other things. Gay porn offers a lot of evidence of jack-off styles, which could (in principle) be compared to hand preferences for other things.

      Or, of course, I could interview men. After getting Human Subjects permission.

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