A Salute to Southpaws for Left-Handers' Day

Because the definition of left-handedness varies so much from study to study, it has been estimated that anywhere from 7 to 30 percent of the population is left-handed. It is generally accepted that around 10% of the population currently consider themselves lefties. Unfortunately, language and superstitions have led to misunderstandings and many people hide their left-handedness as a result.

In an effort to bring pride to the neglected and mistreated southpaws of the world, August 13 has been named Left-Handers' Day, and boy, are there tons of famous people who deserve some praise for surviving our world of biased right-handed tools, such as scissors, computer mice and guitars.

Presidents

Four out of the last five American presidents have been left-handed (all except George W. Bush), although Ronald Reagan largely hid his left-preference because his parents and teachers had urged him to suppress it.

While some people have dismissed this information as coincidence, others have recognized its statistical significance and tried to discover why such a disproportionate number of presidents (in recent years), Nobel Prize winners, artists, writers, architects, musicians and mathematicians are left-handed. Most people process language on the left side of their brains, but left-handers process language on both sides of the brain much more frequently than righties. Many people have theorized that this means there is an increased amount of space dedicated to language skills in these individuals. Some people have also suggested that this means these individuals are also capable of more complex reasoning.

Another theory says that left-handers have to find solutions to surviving in a right-dominated world, which provides these individuals with extra mental resilience.

Captains of Industry and Invention

Regardless of the reason that southpaws seem to rise to the top, a number of studies have proven that they are often more intelligent than their right-handed counterparts. In fact, one study showed that 20% of the top-scoring students in the SATs are lefties, which is double their representative population. Another study discovered that righties who attend college but do not complete their degrees are 15% poorer than lefties in the same boat. Of those that do graduate, the discrepancy increases to 25%.

Many successful inventors and captains of industry were left-handed, including Benjamin Franklin and Henry Ford, or ambidextrous, such as Nikola Tesla and Albert Einstein.

Funny People

While sense of humor is probably not improved by handedness, the idea that lefties are better at communicating could also explain why there are so many funny people who are southpaws. Famed left-handed comedians include David Letterman, Jay Leno, Lenny Bruce, George Burns, Larry Fine, Drew Carey, Tim Allen, Dan Aykroyd, Carol Burnett, Howie Mandel, Harpo Marx, Richard Pryor, Charlie Chaplin, Don Rickles, Jerry Seinfeld and, although he's not technically a comedian, it's hard to deny that Matt Groening is a funny guy.

Theatrical Artists

Actors, of course, also need to communicate at a higher level than the average person, and there's an astounding number of celebrity lefties in this field as well. The list includes Matthew Broderick, Robert DeNiro, Richard Dreyfuss, Peter Fonda, Greta Garbo, Whoopi Goldberg, Cary Grant, Mark Hamill, Goldie Hawn, Jim Henson, Rock Hudson, Angelina Jolie, Diane Keaton, Nicole Kidman, Lisa Kudrow, Cloris Leachman, Shirley MacLaine, Sarah Jessica Parker, Luke Perry, Robert Redford, Keanu Reeves, Julia Roberts, Mickey Rourke, Christian Slater, Dick Van Dyke, Wil Wheaton, Bruce Willis and Oprah Winfrey.

Image courtesy of bryanearl's Flickr stream.

Musicians

Jimi Hendrix is perhaps the most famous lefty guitarist—he used a flipped-over right-handed guitar throughout his career—but he is by no means the only famous southpaw musician you know. Lefty composers include Bach and Rachmaninoff. As for rockers, a few popular left-handers include David Byrne, Kurt Cobain, Phil Collins, Billy Corgan, Dick Dale, Paul McCartney, Paul Simon, Robert Plant, Joe Perry and Johnny Rotten.

Artists

Similarly, some of the most gifted artists we know and admire are also lefties, including M.C. Escher, Michelangelo, Raphael , and Leonardo da Vinci. Renoir was not a dedicated left-hander, but he was known for painting for a bit of time with his southpaw anyway.

Athletes

While there are famous left-handers in all sports, baseball seems to have the honor of having the most lefty celebrities.

Getty Images

Some famous lefty baseball players you may recognize include Barry Bonds, Ty Cobb, Wade Boggs, Ken Griffey, Jr., Tony Gwynn, Reggie Jackson, Babe Ruth and Darryl Strawberry. You might notice that most of these players are known for being great at hitting, and there's a reason for that: batters have an advantage when the pitcher is throwing with the opposite hand, and since most people are righties, left-handed batters have all the luck.

Boxers also have an advantage if they adopt the southpaw stance (the right foot in front of the left) against an opponent with a standard right-handed pose. That's part of the reason Oscar de la Hoya and Reggie Johnson have fared so well in the sport. And while he's not a real person, it is worth noting that Rocky Balboa was also a lefty.

Great Warriors

In the same way that many lefty athletes have an advantage over their righty counterparts, warriors also experience this, as most fighters will only be accustomed to fighting someone who is right-handed. It shouldn't be too surprising then that some of the best known military leaders in history were left-handed, including Alexander the Great, Joan of Arc and Napoleon Bonaparte.
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Are you a lefty? If so, how are you planning to celebrate? Might be time to treat yourself to that new lefty can opener.

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August 13, 2010 - 7:18am
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