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A handshake can be used to convey many things, including friendship, the completion of a business transaction, and even religious devotion. Have you ever wondered how the handshake came about? While it has existed for thousands of years, the actual origins of the handshake aren’t entirely known.
One popular theory is that the handshake likely originated to show that you weren’t holding a weapon. The actual motion of the handshake was supposed to dislodge any weapons a person might be hiding up their sleeve. In other words, it was a way for people to convey that they had peaceful intentions toward one another.
The handshake can also be used to make a promise or an oath. It's a way of giving your word, whether in personal or professional settings. Archaeological evidence has revealed that handshaking practices were utilized in ancient times. The handshake was a common theme in Greek funerary art dating from the fourth and fifth centuries BC, with gravestones depicting the deceased shaking hands with their family members in a final farewell. In ancient Rome, the handshake was a symbol of trust and friendship and was often displayed on coins. Some historians have suggested that the Quakers popularized the handshake in the United States as a more democratic and egalitarian greeting than bowing or doffing your hat. By the 1800s, proper handshaking techniques were included in etiquette manuals.
Handshakes are also utilized as a sign of respect, as seen in politics, business, and sports. Likewise, deciding not to shake hands can be a clear sign of dislike or disrespect. One notable example of this occurred during the final US presidential TV debate between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump in October 2016, when the two didn't shake hands, which spoke volumes about their feelings for each other. Similarly, when sports stars don’t shake hands, such as at the end of a tennis match, it is considered to be unsportsmanlike behavior.
A history of the humble handshake:
- An ancient Assyrian relief of the 9th century BC depicting Assyrian King Shalmaneser III shaking hands with Babylonian King Marduk-Zakir-Shumi is one of the earliest known depictions of a handshake.
- In the Iliad and the Odyssey, the poet Homer often describes handshakes in relation to promises and displays of trust.
- Not every country utilizes the handshake, however, so it is important to be aware of etiquette practices before assuming that handshakes will be welcome. In many conservative Muslim countries, handshakes between men and women are discouraged. In Russia, women rarely engage in handshakes, while in Japan, bowing is the preferred method of greeting.
- The handshake is making a comeback in the aftermath of the Covid-19 pandemic, when concerns about spreading the virus prompted the use of alternative forms of greeting, such as bumping elbows and even the "footshake."