The History of the Hand-Shake

It will be a long time, if ever, until we shake hands with people again. How did the handshake, which is such a common habit, come into existence? A recent article in the New York Times shared the history of this common practice.

The article, “Let’s (Not) Shake on It: The simple handshake, once an offer of peace, now carries a threat of contagion,” by appeared in the Times on May 2. Following is the beginning of the article. Read the full article here.

Handshaking for self-protection became anachronistic long before Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s leading infectious-disease expert, said wistfully in early April that as far as even greeting one another, “we may never shake hands again.” As a personal defense mechanism and for sealing deals, though, it was outdated as soon as people began openly brandishing guns and hiring lawyers to vet contracts.

Habits are hard to break, however. We still hear “Bless you” in response to sneezes, although hardly anyone still believes Pope Gregory’s guidance that the expression would help ward off the plague. Also, this is not the first time in our history that an epidemic has weaponized a custom that originated as a means of assuring two strangers that neither was armed. After the 1793 yellow fever epidemic in Philadelphia, the publisher Matthew Carey wrote, “The old custom of shaking hands fell into such general disuse, that many shrank back with affright at even the offer of the hand.”



Jeff McKinney is a Realtor in Columbia County, NY (Beach & Bartolo Realtors ~ 34 Main St., Chatham NY 12037 ~ 518-392-2700). Connect with him on Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, or Pinterest

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