For some neurologic reason such person can't tell right side from left side. He may have a ribbon round his wrists to save him trouble.

  • 1
    In the vernacular, just as we assume fat people are like that because they eat too much, we assume hayfoot strawfoot people are like that because they're either very stupid, or very uneducated. But in both cases there's probably a (rare) neurological/glandular condition leading to the same symptoms. Nov 30, 2014 at 23:32
  • 1
    As a pathology: Gerstmann's Syndrome; a condition arising as a result of disease of the dominant parietal lobe at the angular gyrus.There is loss or absence of four sensory abilities, of which : the inability to distinguish between right and left.
    – user66974
    Nov 30, 2014 at 23:35
  • @Josh61 I once heard a slang word for that. I just can't remember it.
    – Centaurus
    Nov 30, 2014 at 23:39
  • I'd be willing to bet that there is a word or phrase for this in the medical world (@medica?). What I'd really like to know is the word for the reminder ribbon worn only to remind of this. ;-)
    – Drew
    Dec 1, 2014 at 0:27
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    @tchrist- Thanks, but that ain't it. I have a good sense of the compass points and where I'm located - just don't know my left from my right.
    – Oldbag
    Dec 1, 2014 at 9:43

3 Answers 3


There is the colloquial phrase directionally challenged for someone who confuses their right and left.

  1. Someone who has difficulty determining right from left

  2. Someone who often confuses directions, and prefers visual aids.

  3. Someone who has great difficulty reading maps and/or driving while listening to directions.


Bonus article: 25 Problems All Directionally Challenged People Can Relate To [buzzfeed]

There is also the phrase "Your other left" in slang. It is not used to define someone but used mockingly when someone confuses their right and left.

Sarcastic phrase; used with the directionally challenged to make them aware of their error.


Further explanation:

Neuroscientists call this phenomenon as left-right confusion (or right-left confusion/disorientation). It is believed that there are neurophysiological explanations or it can be even related to your personality.

  • While there’s actually no definitive answer yet, executive director of the Handedness Research Institute M.K. Holder believes the problem resides in the degree a brain function is “lateralized”, or divided between hemispheres. This explains why women and left-handed people are more likely to have this peculiarity. Men and right-handed people tend to be more strongly lateralized than do women or left-handed people. To put it simply, the more “biased” the brain is towards one hemisphere over the other; the more likely there is to be left/right confusion.1

  • OR, as one more intriguing theory suggests, your left/right confusion may just be due to your SF or NT type personality! As, Phillippe De Sainte Maresville, a Jungian expert with a left/right problem points out, “A researcher told me: “Don’t worry, you’re SF. It comes with the SF package. It is normal. It sometimes may also occur with NTs.” He believes people that combine the (S)ensing method of gathering information and the (F)eeling process of decision making are more prone to this problem of left/right confusion.1

It is also mentioned that the brain region called parietal lobe (specifically left perietal lobe) plays a role in this phenomenon. This region is responsible for spatial sense and navigation (proprioception) and sense of touch (somatosensation).3 It is said that if you are one of the 20% that has a problem detecting left from right, you may very well have the other problems associated with the left parietal lobe.1

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1. "Left or Right? Why Some Smart People Confuse Them" By Erin Froehlich [smartlivingnetwork]
2. "Can't tell your left from your right? You needn't worry about it" By Susan Perry [minnpost]
3. Perietal lobe [wikipedia]

  • "left-right confusion (or right-left confusion/disorientation)" This is joke, right? If they can't tell the difference, how are @Oldbag and I supposed to?
    – Phil Sweet
    Jan 4, 2017 at 6:03

How about "ambidexterous"?
Or, "ambisinstrous" if both hands are equally clumsy (two left hands) instead of equally dexterous (two right hands). [I actually found a cite for that word, and here I thought I'd made it up!]

Usually, people find it easy to tell left from right because one hand (or side) is dominant, then it's just a matter of matching up which hand goes with which term. Those who are actually ambidexterous - that is, can use either hand equally well (from dictionary.com) or even vaguely similarly - may find it harder to tell left from right because there isn't an instinctive "default" to pin those definitions on.

I myself am somewhere between mostly and partly ambidextrous, and I know it took me a lot longer to learn right from left because I had to keep thinking about it, no default to lean on (or reverse) - I might reach out with either hand based on convenience rather than conviction, and I used my watch to keep track of handedness when I was (finally) learning. So this hiccup may hold even with those who do have some preference when actually using their hands, the mixup is more about the instinct-and-impulse that says the directions (or more primally, the hands) are different, instead of the same or equal.

  • The inability to tell left from right has nothing to do with dexterity. Jun 5, 2021 at 18:10

Although this isn't specific to left-right disorientation/confusion, 'Dyspraxia' is a term that could describe this issue.

  • 5
    Your answer would be more useful to the poster and to future readers if you added a dictionary definition of dyspraxia to your answer to clarify why it is relevant to the poster's question.
    – Sven Yargs
    Jan 4, 2017 at 8:05

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