The handshake: A eulogy

Shaking someone’s hand possessed a certain timelessness of authority and purpose. But it has been abruptly taken from us. On March 14, 2020, President Trump paid tribute to the handshake, seemingly as “Amazing Grace” played in the background, remarking that though he was a “non-hand-shaker,” once he became a politician, he developed a “natural reflex.” But now, Trump, with the biggest presidential hands in history according to the Babylon Bee, has waved goodbye to the handshake, saying, “Maybe people shouldn’t be shaking hands for the long term.” Dr. Anthony Fauci pronounced the handshake gone. “I don’t think we should ever shake hands again,” he has said.

In its sudden passing, we look to history. What was a sign of peace in ancient Greece to concede that neither man was carrying a weapon developed into a more intimate forearm embrace in Rome (S.P.Q.Rmus, amiright?). In the Middle East and Europe in the Dark Ages, the handshake was apparently used to shake out concealed weapons. Similarly, in the Boy Scouts, we shook with our left hands. Legend had it that our founder, Lord Baden-Powell, shook hands with African leaders with his left as a sign of respect, as one would have to lower his shield, typically held in the left hand, to shake. 17th century Quakers have been credited with mainstreaming the handshake, “view[ing] a simple handclasp as a more egalitarian alternative to bowing or tipping a hat.” In modern times, it has been commonplace and expected to extend a hand to men and women to greet one another and to curate trust.

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