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Original Issue

The largest and most neglected of all minority groups finally gets a champion

Up to now virtually every minority group in the world except one has had its spokesmen and its apologists. That single neglected group has now found its special pleader in Michael Barsley, author of The Other Hand, a book about lefties just published by Hawthorn.

There probably are 200 million left-handed people, and they mostly find themselves awkward outsiders in a right-handed world where scissors, can openers, doorknobs, telephone dials and gardening tools seem expressly designed to thwart them.

What comfort, then, for the downtrodden legion of lefties? Only in sport, it seems, have they been accepted as equals—or even as impressive superiors. In baseball, for instance, the left-hander is not only tolerated but sought after. In other fields, with such champions as Jaroslav Drobny, Rod Laver, Freddie Miller, Dennis Compton and Gary Sobers to give him heart, the left-handed sportsman realizes with relief that there are positive advantages in being odd man out. The ancient Romans were careful to issue special instructions to gladiators about how to fight a left-handed opponent. The right-handed boxer, fencer or tennis player has little opportunity to practice against leftist tactics; chances are that only one in 20 of his matches will be against a left-hander. But the left-hander nearly always meets right-handed opponents and can easily perfect his surprise left cross, his unexpected left forehand, his sinister lunge. In cricket, the left-handed bowler can deliver the ball "round" the wicket from an angle impossible to a right-hander.

The connoisseur of useless facts will find plenty in Barsley's book to garnish his collection. Forgers believe that it is easier to copy a left-handed than a right-handed signature. There are nearly twice as many lefties among boys as among girls, and in the U.S. more in the East than the Midwest.

The jargon word for a left-hander, "southpaw," originated in American ball parks where the pitcher generally faced west. The Boy Scouts' left-handed handshake is the survival of an intense campaign in the 1900s to promote ambidexterity. Leonardo first drew the Mona Lisa as a lefty like himself, saw it looked wrong and painted her with her hands folded the opposite way. In conformist Iron Curtain countries, school children are not permitted to write left-handed. Apes are ambidextrous but 80% of rats are right-pawed, and Aristotle was the first to notice that lobsters are right-clawed, too. By the way, in case you're a lefty and want to order this book by mail, you can do it with a special left-handed checkbook.