Introduction: Q3

Q3: How is the fact men usually have clothes with buttons on the right, and women usually have buttons on the left, relevant to why we have double-entry accounting today?


We need to remember we are not born into a world with a big blank page in front of us. Many, many people have lived before us. The first civilizations of people sprung up in a few parts of the world about 5,500 years ago. Our societies, our cultures, the ‘way-we-do-things’ have developed over many generations, with each generation starting with what the previous generation had left it with. Our generation is no different.

Have you ever noticed that on shirts, buttons are generally on the left for women and on the right for men? Yes, that is right; to the person wearing them, men’s shirts have their buttons on the right and women’s shirts have them on the left. Why is this? In the 19th century, buttons were very expensive and quality women’s clothing had plenty of them. Wealthy women usually had staff (a maid) to dress them, and so the buttons had to be done up by someone facing them. As most people are right-handed (including wealthy women’s maids), women’s buttons were placed on the left, to make it easier for the maids to do them up. Alternatively, most wealthy men dressed themselves, so the buttons were placed on the right to make it easier for the man to do up the buttons themselves. Again, this was based on most men being right-handed.

Today, buttons are much simpler and easier to do up. Also, women’s clothes are generally not as elaborate in the buttons department today; and, of course, most women (whether wealthy or not) generally now dress themselves. So why, in modern times, do we still have men’s buttons on the right, and women’s buttons on the left? This applies not just to shirts but also to modern jeans and trousers (which usually button on opposite sides for men and women), school uniforms and other clothing. The reason is, we do not start life with a blank piece of paper; indeed, the past always gently rolls up behind us as we step day-by-day into the future. The practice of buttons on the right for men and on the left for women has continued to the present, as that is what we are all used to; and why make the effort to change this practice?

It is the same with double-entry bookkeeping. The process belongs to the world of the past. Yet we are caught up in that past and it constrains and leads us forwards as we participate in the digital age. So today computers do a lot of the steps of double-entry accounting or bookkeeping for us. But we need to understand how these things work because our whole accounting system is built on these ideas. If there is nothing else you remember from reading this chapter, you should remember that ideas are powerful. If we had computers to keep the records of businesses a thousand years ago we may well have gone about it very differently, perhaps using quite different ideas. But we did not.