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Chrysti The Wordsmith: Southpaw

The left side has been associated with calamity, evil, and clumsiness in almost every culture. The Latin word for left is sinister; in French it’s gauche, and the German linkischmeans both “left” and “clumsy”. The modern English word left comes from the ancient Germanic term lyft meaning “broken.”

A left-handed compliment is a thinly veiled insult, and if you got up on the wrong side of the bed, you have arisen from your mattress on the left, the side that our predecessors associated with misadventure and calamity.

In the roster of all the biased etymologies aimed at left-handers, the nickname southpaw may be the kindest of all. Southpaw is a good-natured, old-fashioned moniker for lefties, and it’s been a player in the American slang vocabulary for over a century.

Its source is the game of baseball. An entry in a dictionary called Sports Talk, A Dictionary of Sports Metaphors indicates its birthplace is Chicago’s Comisky Park. Pitchers playing that field faced west. A left-hander, therefore, threw the ball with the hand or “paw” that pointed south. Finley Peter Dunne, humorist and sports writer for the Chicago News is credited for inventing the whimsical title southpaw in the 1880’s.

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