Throughout history, the handshake has played a part in uniting people from different cultures. The handshake is a common gesture of non-verbal communication to express greetings or seal an agreement. It is instantly recognized as the international sign of goodwill, peace and respect used by presidents, business leaders and ordinary people. A firm or soft handshake is still used to judge a person’s character as either strong or weak.
In 300 B.C., Egyptians extended and shook the right hand, which signified the phrase “to give.” It was a symbol of handing over power from a god to a human leader. During an annual ceremony, a king would grip the right hand of a statue of Marduk, the lord of lords, to transfer his authority, protection and strength into the next year. When Rome and Greece invaded Egypt, each country carried the custom back to their countries.
Early 6th century Islamic teachings cite the handshake as a way to determine good or evil. The Qur’an associated the left hand with evil, and those who refuse its teachings were sad friends of the left hand. Men and women used the left hand for dirtier daily duties, such as washing themselves. The right hand was reserved for more pure gestures, such as cooking, eating and touching the Qur’an and the hand of a friend. When men met, they shook right hands as a sign of equality and respect.
In Christianity, depictions of the Devil link him to the left hand and often showed him left-handed. Throughout the Bible, passages make more favorable references to the right hand, such as the right hand of the Lord. In 1511, Michelangelo painted the creation of Adam on the Sistine Chapel, showing him receiving life from God’s right hand. Christians followed this tradition by extending their right hands to shake as a gesture of goodness.
During the 14th century, European knights and soldiers extended their hands to indicate that they were unarmed. They grasped each other’s forearms, patted them down to the hand then shook hands to dislodge any hidden weapons. Knights raised their helmet’s visors with the right hand, which eventually became the salute.
The fist bump is a more sanitized way to greet someone without shaking hands, which spread germs. Its origins date to the late 1800s when New York City youths used it as a gang greeting. The bump became common in the 1970s when professional athletes used it with teammates after a great play. Considered a trendy handshake, a number of political figures and celebrities often use the fist bump instead of the handshake, including President Obama, rappers and even the Dali Lama.
- Junkworthknowing.com: Origins of the Handshake
- Templestudy.com: The Origin of the Common Handshake
- “What's up with Your Handshake?”; Mark Jeffries; 2008
- Thinkstock Images/Comstock/Getty Images