• adjective clumsy, inept. The term originally meant left-handed, probably deriving from the idea of handling cack (excrement). Although the connection seems obvious, this expression is probably too old to be influenced by reports of the Muslim practice of eating with the right hand, wiping away excrement with the left. This pejorative adjective seems to be country dialect in origin; it is now fairly widespread and not particularly offensive.

Origin & History of “cack-handed”

Cack comes from a 15th-century dialect verb meaning ‘defecate’, which probably came from middle Dutch cacken. It goes back via Latin cacāre to an ultimate Indo-European base *kak-, from which a lot of other Indo-European languages get words connected with ‘excrement’. The connection with cack-handed is usually explained as being that clumsy people make a mess; on this view ‘left-handed’, which cack-handed also means, is a secondary sense derived from ‘clumsy’. It may be nearer the mark to place ‘left-handed’ first, however, bearing in mind the traditional role of the left hand in many cultures for wiping the anus.