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Published on Jul 23, 2013 in News, North America

The Origin of the Handshake

We usually don’t think about handshakes. It’s something we do sub-consciously and without much forethought. It’s, for the most part, automatic. In fact, it’s the most common form of communication we use. It conveys hello, goodbye, congratulations, and we agree.

Archaeological excavations show that handshaking was practiced as far back as the 5th century BC in ancient Greece where, in an early stone carving, two soldiers can be seen shaking hands. Other excavations from around this time have shown similar handshaking gestures depicted in funerary steles (stone or wooden slabs erected for commemorative or funeral purposes which contain carvings of laws, events, boundaries, names, and other forms communication).

Egyptian hieroglyphics also seem to show the use of a handshake from at least as far back as 1800 BC. In surrounding societies, such as Babylonia (Iraq), the handshake was thought to convey the handing over of power from a god. Therefore, in Babylonian rituals, the king would clasp the hand of a statue representing god, during the New Year’s festival, so that the deity’s power was transferred him again for the coming next year. The Assyrians eventually defeated the Babylonians, but maintained this ritual for fear of offending the gods.

handshakeHandshaking continued to evolve and was put into common usage during the time when people carried weapons for self-defense. The handshake was thought to convey a gesture of peace showing that neither side had a weapon in their hands. This gesture more than likely began, according to Patti Wood, with the Romans, who clasped arms to show that neither party was holding a weapon. Medieval knights, who some credit with initiating the handshake, are responsible for shifting from arm clasping to hand clasping, and then later to shaking. Subsequently, when a knight shook another’s hand, he was trying to determine if there was a weapon in the other person’s sleeve. If there was, it would fall out during the hand shake. Therefore, shaking one’s hand was initially meant as a weapons check of sort. As time went on the hand shake transformed from a check for weapons, to simply a polite greeting. The handshake continues to progress, especially among men, with high fives, soul shakes, and secret brotherhood shakes also being practiced.

According to Andy Headworth and Dr. Gregory Stebbins, there are 10 different types of handshakes, with each revealing something about the personality of the hand shaker.

For example, the first type of handshake is the sweaty palm shake where a person is nervous and his hands begin to sweat. You might experience this when you’re under tension and have a high degree of stress.

The second type is what’s known as the dead fish handshake where you feel that the person’s hand you’re shaking has no bones. This handshake is sometimes made by people who make their living with their hands, such as a surgeon or musician. It can also be made by someone who is not people-focused.

The third type of handshake is the brush off which is a quick grasp and release of the hand. This handshake is used mostly in power plays with a person quickly grasping and releasing the hand and showing that he’s the one in control.

The fourth type is the controller. With this handshake the person shaking your hand is guiding you either towards him, or in a different direction conveying that he wants to dominate the situation.

The fifth type of handshake is the politician. This is a firm handshake where the other hand covers yours or is placed on your forearm or shoulder. In this handshake the person is attempting to communicate to you that you both have a deeper relationship than you actually do. It’s a form of false sincerity. The one exception might be George Washington who didn’t normally shake people’s hands, but preferred to bow when greeting people in public.

The sixth type of handshake is the finger vice. This handshake occurs when someone grabs your fingers instead of your hands, a gesture normally done by insecure people who want to keep you at a distance. If they crush your fingers in the process, then they’re trying to also convey a sense of power along with their desire to keep you at a distance.

The seventh type of handshake is the bone crusher. This is done by a person who squeezes your hand until you cringe, demonstrating how strong they are and sending a message of intimidation.

The eight type is the lobster claw. This occurs when the other person’s thumb and fingers touches the palm of your hand. Normally, the person with the lobster claw grip is conveying his fear of connecting with the other person at a deeper level.

The ninth type of handshake is the hand wrestler. The person shaking your hand will take your hand and twist it under theirs. This is meant to convey to you that they want to be on top, or in charge, of whatever you’re pursuing.

The last type of handshake is the teacup. In this handshake there’s no palm to palm contact as the person has his palm cupped, like a teacup. This handshake is a subliminal form of someone hiding something from you, but is also performed by someone who is shy.

It’s universally considered rude to have your free hand in your pocket while shaking hands.

In addition to different types of handshakes, different countries have different customs with regards to a handshake. For example:

In China handshakes are often weak, but a Chinese person may tend to hold onto your hand a little longer than normal after the initial handshake.

In Japan, a weak handshake is also preferred, but the Japanese want to be the one who initiate the handshake.

South Koreans also prefer a weak handshake, which is almost always initiated by the senior person present. If that person grasps your right arm with his left hand, then this is considered to be a sign of respect.

In Arabic-speaking countries, as well as Turkey, the handshake hand tension is somewhere between the weak Chinese handshake and a Western firm handshake. If you grip the hand too firmly, it will be considered rude.

In Switzerland, if you’re in a group with both men and women, you shake the women’s hands first. In Austria, moreover, you would also shake hands with any children who are immediately present.

In Morocco you would not only shake hands, but also give a kiss on each cheek along with the handshake.

Not everyone likes a handshake. Donald Trump, for example, regards the hand-to-hand greeting of people as barbaric and has described it as one of the curses of American society. This is primarily because hand-to-hand contact could lead to catching infections.

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