The handshake has been in existence for thousands of years but historians are not entirely sure of how and why it originated. Some claim that the gesture began as a way to convey peaceful intentions. By extending their empty right hand, strangers signaled to each other that they are not holding a weapon and that they are coming in peace. The up and down motion was the final proof no one was hiding a knife or a dagger up their sleeve. Historians believe that the handshake as we know it today became popular in the 17th century, originally among Quakers who began using it as a more ‘egalitarian’ way of greeting each other. What we know for certain is that by the 19th century, the handshake was a universal commonplace greeting.
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Is all that about to change? It seems likely. Only a couple of weeks ago Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease was quoted saying “As a society, just forget about shaking hands, we've got to break that custom. Because as a matter of fact, that is one of the major ways you can transmit a respiratory-borne illness”.
A recent survey conducted by Business Insider and Survey Monkey showed the American public tends to agree with Dr. Fauci. Over 1,000 participants were faced with the question "Given that they can be a vector for transmission of disease, some public health officials have suggested replacing the customary handshake with an alternative greeting. What are your views on this?" More than half of the respondents said they believe handshakes should stay gone after the Pandemic ends. The precise results are as follows: 11% said "I think we should continue shaking hands as a greeting”,36% said "I'm not sure" and 54% said “I think we should transition to an alternative greeting”, and were then asked to suggest an alternative.
There are quite a few interesting ideas for a new form of greeting that a society can adopt after Covid-19. 22% of the respondents offered a wave, while 15% agreed a verbal greeting is sufficient and 14% suggested a bow. Just over 4% thought a fist bump should replace the handshake. It is not yet clear if this offer is relevant, as it too requires some physical touch.
If these options seem dull to you, don’t worry there were some more creative ones, too.
One person offered “jazz hands” and 6 people suggested the “Vulcan Salute”, a gesture popularized in the 1960s through the TV series ‘Star Trek’. It consists of a raised hand with the palm forward and the thumb extended, while the fingers are parted between the middle and ring finger (see image above for an illustration).
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Another participant suggested the replacement of handshakes should be crossing the arms over one’s chest in an X formation. This gesture is also known as a hug in American sign language, and to some, it is known as the ‘Wakanda Forever Salute’. It was popularized in the 2018 Marvel movie 'Black Panther'. Ryan Coogler, the film's director, said in 2018 that the salute was inspired by the way pharaohs are laid to rest.