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What is a High Five?

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  • Written By: Michael Pollick
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 31 August 2016
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When two or more people feel the sudden need to celebrate, perhaps after a scored point or an exciting announcement, they may engage in a celebratory gesture known as a high five. A high five involves one person holding his or her hand high in the air and allowing another person to slap it with his or her own. The "high" in a high five refers to the height of the slap, and the "five" means the five fingers used by each slapper. Sometimes the action of a high five is a mutual hand slap, but it may also be a less ostentatious meeting of open palms. Whatever the energy level of a high five, the important thing is that both participants agree it's about to happen.

A high five may be followed by any number of other gestures or rehearsed routines. Some people may interlock their fingers in a further show of solidarity. Others follow up a traditional high five slap with a windmill gesture ending in a second and much lower slap known as a low five. It's even possible that two participants will deliberately miss the high five signal altogether to perform a low five instead. There is also the dreaded maneuver where a potential high fiver is left hanging in mid-air when the other side suddenly balks.

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There is a surprising amount of debate over the origins of the high five, although most sources agree that it most likely came from the world of sports. Some believe the high five was first seen on a public scale during a baseball game in which two fielders congratulated each other with a high hand slap. Others suggest it was first used by basketball players who used their height advantage to slap their hands together over the heads of their opponents. Some say a high five gesture didn't become popular until the 1970s, but others say rudimentary forms of a high hand slap can be seen on 1950s era television shows.

The high five gesture has waxed and waned in popularity over the years, often replaced with more elaborate hand-slapping routines or other forms of contact such as fists, chests or forearms. Some sports team members routinely celebrate points with high five gestures, most notably volleyball and basketball players. It is also interesting to note that the third Thursday in April has been officially recognized as National High Five Day by the United States government.

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anon7605
Post 3

Thanks for the email, very interesting!

olittlewood
Post 2

there's nothing like a high-five to get your spirits up! i know it sounds cornball, but it changes my kids' moods immediately if i ask for a high five. they especially like the up high/down low combo. i love the seinfeld episode when puddy was all about the high fives -- he was right on!

anon7381
Post 1

The high five is an "open hand" gesture. Like other open hand gestures, it indicates that one is not hiding anything in one's hand. The act of showing an open hand can be symbolic of a standoff, relief, welcome, or happiness.

The open hand developed around Britain and France in the medieval period, or possibly earlier. In those days, horsemen and horse-drawn traffic passed each other on their respective right-hand side (this may have evolved into the present, and may be why the British drive on the left side of the road).

As most people are right-handed, when mounted on horseback most riders would hang their scabbards on their left, and draw the sword with the right

hand across their front from left to right. When one horseman would approach another, the empty right hand would clearly show that the sword-drawing hand was far away from the rider's sword, and that there was little threat of a sword being drawn without a large sweeping motion of the rider's arm.

So this then is the history of the open right hand, which became a waving of the (usually) right hand, which is today a handshake, or a high five.

Moderator's reply: interesting! thanks for sharing that bit of history behind the high five!

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