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southpaw

[ south-paw ]
/ ˈsaʊθˌpɔ /
Informal.
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noun
a person who is left-handed.
Sports.
  1. a player who throws with the left hand, especially a pitcher.
  2. Boxing. a boxer who leads with the right hand and stands with the right foot forward, using the left hand for the most powerful blows.
adjective
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Origin of southpaw

An Americanism dating back to 1880–85; south + paw1
Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2021

MORE ABOUT SOUTHPAW

What does southpaw mean?

A southpaw is a left-handed person, especially a boxer or baseball pitcher. It is also an adjective meaning “left-handed.”

What are other words are related to southpaw:

  • pitcher
  • boxing
  • baseball

Where does southpaw come from?

The term southpaw has referred to a person’s left hand since the 1800s. The paw in southpaw is slang for “hand,” but what does south refer to?

It’s popularly said that southpaw is related to baseball diamonds facing west in the 1800s so that batters didn’t have to look into the sun (before lighting made night games possible). That meant left-handed pitchers would have been positioned south in their windup.

It’s a clever story, but evidence suggests that southpaw began in boxing. The south may have characterized the left hand as “lesser” or “lower” than the right hand.

In boxing, left-handed fighters learn what’s called the southpaw stance, involving leading with the right hand and foot but delivering the most powerful punches with the left fist. As most people are right-handed, the southpaw stance can be very advantageous (as pitching southpaw is in baseball, too), and so right-handed pugilists (who typically fight in what’s called the orthodox stance) may learn the stance, too. Famous southpaws in boxing include Ruslan Chagaev, Héctor Camacho, and Manny Pacquiao.

How is southpaw used in real life?

If you encounter southpaw, it’s likely in a sports context, typically boxing or baseball. Everyone from fans to players to broadcasters may use the term.

Southpaw is occasionally used in general contexts as a colloquial term for “left-handed (person).”

 

In the 1976 movie Rocky, the title character is a southpaw. In typical Rocky style, he creates his own origin story for this term, stating there was once a left-handed fighter in Philadelphia whose “arm was facing towards New Jersey,” so they called him a southpaw.

The 2015 movie Southpaw, starring Jake Gyllenhaal, is about a left-handed fighter from New York who struggles after his wife dies.

Southpaw is also the name of the Chicago White Sox’s mascot.

Modeled after southpaw, the term northpaw can refer to a right-handed person.


More examples of southpaw:

“Bellew admits he has in the past faced a “massive problem” in dealing with fighters—like Usyk—who sport a southpaw stance. He says he has overcome the issue since working with trainer Coldwell but the clash of orthodox versus southpaw can historically present problems.”

—Luke Reddy, BBC, November 2018

How to use southpaw in a sentence

British Dictionary definitions for southpaw

southpaw
/ (ˈsaʊθˌpɔː) informal /

noun
a boxer who leads with his right hand and off his right foot as opposed to the orthodox style of leading with the left
any left-handed person
adjective
of or relating to a southpaw

Word Origin for southpaw

C20: from paw (in the sense: hand): originally a term applied to a left-handed baseball player: perhaps so called because baseball pitchers traditionally face west, so that a left-handed pitcher would throw with the hand on the south side of his body
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition © William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012
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