Why Are Lefties Called Southpaws?

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Many notable individuals throughout history were known to be left handed. Such people were often referred to as “Southpaws”. This eccentric sounding term is still frequently used today, even if most people don’t understand where it originated from.

So why are lefties called Southpaws? There is no definitive answer to this question. However, many believe the term likely stuck because of American sports such as baseball and boxing even if there’s an earlier usage to the term in politics. Read on as we examine this term and its origins in greater detail below.

Southpaw Meaning

The term “Southpaw” is frequently used to refer to left handed people. This term may seem strange as the “South” portion refers to something from below as opposed to the left side. However, the reasons for this will be explained in the later sections of this blog.

While its earliest usage comes from the early 19th century, southpaw is most commonly used for left-handed sportspersons as they’re visibly left-handed in quite a few sports. It may surprise you to know, however, that there are 3 sports where playing left-handed is banned.

Where Did the Term Southpaw Come From?

No one knows where exactly the term Southpaw originates from. This is because it has been used in sports such as boxing and baseball for many decades. Understanding the term’s usage in each of these sports may help us get a better understanding of where it comes from and what it means.

According to Ben Zimmer, the earliest known context for the term “southpaw” appears in an 1813 issue of The Tickler, a 1-sheet Philadelphia newspaper. The actual usage of the terms “right paw” and “south paw” was in a letter to the editor in reference to a peculiar spelling of a phrase for the sake of humor.

There’s also a theory that one of the first times the term was ever used was actually in politics.

As depicted in one of 1848’s political cartoons, Whig vice-presidential candidate Millard Fillmore, who would later become president, was struck on the ground by Lewis Cass’ left hand and lamented, “Curse the Old hoss wot a south paw he has given me!”

Maybe it’s fitting that a large percentage of U.S. presidents have been left-handers.

What Does Southpaw Mean in Boxing?

In the boxing world, Southpaw refers to left handed boxers who lead with their right hand. The term differentiates them from the vast majority of boxers, who happen to be naturally right handed.

A New York Herald reporter reported that in the ninth round of an 1860 bare-knuckle prize fight, David Woods “planted his southpaw under [his opponent’s] chin, laying him out as flat as a pancake.” This is likely the first reference to the term in boxing and maybe even all sports.

Left handed individuals in the boxing world often adopt special stances and movements when fighting their right handed opponents. Such stances can be challenging to adopt, and it used to be said that left handed boxers are fighting an uphill battle with the odds stacked against them. Therefore, the term “Southpaw” may refer to an underdog that is rising from the “South”.

What Does Southpaw Mean in Boxing

What is Southpaw Stance and the Difference Between Orthodox and Southpaw

Boxers utilize different forms of footwork known as “stances” to avoid punches and obtain better reach with their dominant or stronger hand. Left handed boxers often utilize a special “Southpaw” stance when fighting right-handed opponents. This stance differs from the traditional or “orthodox” stance in many ways. Let’s discuss each of these stances in detail below.

Orthodox Boxing Stance

The Orthodox stance is the most frequently used stance in boxing. Boxers who adopt the orthodox stance typically place their left foot in front of their right one. This position allows them to utilize their dominant side and obtain better reach when delivering jabs and punches.

While this stance is favored by most right-handers, some left-handers like Oscar de la Hoya and Miguel Cotto fight with an orthodox stance. This is often because of the lack of trainers who can train fighters in the southpaw stance while coming up in the boxing world. These fighters give up the strategic “southpaw advantage”.

Southpaw Stance

The Southpaw stance involves placing your right foot into front of your left one. This position lets left-handed boxers obtain better reach with their dominant side. Because right-handed fighters don’t meet southpaw stance fighters as often, there’s an element of discomfort that the left-hand dominant fighter may force on his right-handed opponent. This is called the “southpaw advantage”.

However, right-handed boxers may also benefit from adopting a southpaw stance in certain situations. This may be the case if they wish to use their right hand for jabs and their left hand for power shots. The new and unexpected combination of an orthodox and southpaw stance puts the opponent in danger of a knockout from almost every punch no matter which hand it’s coming from.

Are There Right Handed Southpaws?

As mentioned above, some right-handed boxers may be considered Southpaws if they adopt the Southpaw stance. Such boxers often switch from an orthodox stance to a Southpaw stance in the middle of a match to take advantage of their opponent’s lack of experience fighting against such stances.

Professional boxers such as Terence Crawford and Roy Jone Jr. often adopted the Southpaw stance in their matches. They would start by striking their opponent with a swift right hand jab followed up by a strong cross using their left hand. When performed correctly, this maneuver would cause their opponents to fall outside their left side and lose the fight.

The Southpaw stance can be difficult for right-handed boxers to master, so many novice boxers refrain from using the Southpaw stance in fights until they are confident about their skills. This stance can also be disadvantageous for right-handed boxers as their right hand jab will have a short travel distance, resulting in a weaker blow compared to their left hand strike.

What is a Southpaw in Baseball?

Many people believe that the term Southpaw actually originated from the sport of baseball. This explanation has to do with the way baseball players were oriented on the field.

It was thought that batters were traditionally positioned to face East to avoid the setting sun. This meant the pitchers opposite to them were facing West. Therefore, right-handed pitchers would have their pitching hand or “paw” leaning north. Conversely, left-handed pitchers would have their pitching hand leaning towards the south of the diamond. This led to them being referred to as “Southpaws”.

What is a Southpaw in Baseball

It should be noted that this explanation from the American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language has been disputed over the years. Many MLB stadiums in the United States were not oriented in the manner mentioned above. Therefore, the term would have likely originated from a specific stadium that included such an orientation and before being adopted by other prominent stadiums in the baseball world. That specific stadium is thought to be Chicago’s West Side Park from the 1880s.

There is some evidence that “Southpaw” first appeared in baseball in 1858, in the New York Atlas, referring to a left-handed first baseman, not a pitcher. And according to former baseball player Tim Murnane, a St. Louis newspaper referred to him in 1875 as a “southpaw” for being left-handed because he was a left-handed batter. Then Murnane adopted the term as a description of left-handed pitchers and not because of any orientation towards the south in certain stadiums.

Southpaw the White Sox Mascot

The Chicago White Sox baseball team has an official mascot named Southpaw. This mascot is said to resemble a frog or an alligator, but is generally referred to as a “big fuzzy green dude”.

Southpaw the White Sox Mascot
stringbot on Flickr, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Southpaw is believed to be left-handed, and was likely named by his parents accordingly. He made his Major League debut in June 2004 and has attended nearly every home game in Chicago.

Southpaw likes to visit children and their families at the ballpark when he isn’t supporting his favorite team during baseball season.

Why is the Movie Southpaw Called Southpaw?

Hollywood actor Jake Gyllenhaal starred in the 2005 film Southpaw. The film centers around a champion boxer Billy Hope and his journey to revive his boxing career. Based on the film’s name, one may assume that Billy is a left-handed boxer. However, the character is actually right-handed and uses the orthodox stance throughout most of the film.

The film’s title is a reference to the Southpaw stance that Billy adopts during his final fight in the film. Billy defeats his opponent using this stance after being instructed to do so by his trainer.

FAQs

Are all lefties southpaws?

Southpaw is often used as a slang term to reference left handed people. It is commonly used as such in the baseball world, especially with regards to left handed pitchers.

In the boxing world, Southpaw generally refers to boxers who adopt the Southpaw stance. Most left handed boxers adopt the Southpaw stance because it feels more natural for them. However, some right handed boxers may adopt the Southpaw stance to exploit their opponent’s weakness. Such right banded boxers may also be called Southpaws.

Therefore, not all lefties are southpaws and some right-handed people may use their left hand or southpaw.

What does Northpaw mean?

In the baseball world, Northpaw generally refers to right-handed pitchers. Such pitchers face West when pitching, meaning that their right hand leans North.

Are southpaw boxers better?

Many left handed boxers adopt the Southpaw stance out of necessity. Such boxers may not necessarily be better than right handed ones who follow the orthodox stance. However, many right handed boxers train hard using the Southpaw stance as it gives them an advantage in fights. Such boxers are usually quite skilled by the time they master this stance.

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