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Wave goodbye to the handshake?

Our coronavirus-inspired social distancing practices make shaking hands off limits. When things return to normal, will the handshake remain a part of everyday life?

The likelihood is to say yes, of course it will. But, why should it?

That’s a question posed recently by John Tierney, contributing editor at City Journal, who would prefer to see folks resort instead to a simple wave — bend the right arm along your side and show an open palm.

“Displaying an open palm is the simplest, safest and surest way to say hello now and after the pandemic ends — a greeting that crosses cultural boundaries, reduces social anxiety, and leaves everyone healthy,” Tierney writes.

He suggests using a handshake for special occasions only — “when you have a deal to seal, a friendship to pledge or a joint accomplishment to celebrate” — which would restore meaning to the gesture. Otherwise, the simple wave will suffice.

What’s the deal with hand-shaking, anyway?

The website, which helps people learn the English language, says the handshake dates to the 5th century B.C. in Greece:

“It was a symbol of peace, showing that neither person was carrying a weapon. During the Roman era, the handshake was actually more of an arm grab. It involved grabbing each other’s forearms to check that neither man had a knife hidden up his sleeve. Some say that the shaking gesture of the handshake started in Medieval Europe. Knights would shake the hand of others in an attempt to shake loose any hidden weapons.”

Tierney says the handshake’s use as a regular greeting became commonplace in recent centuries. As it became more popular in England and Europe, “there were new rules and anxieties.”

“A man would shake with another man of the same social class, for example, but if he met a woman, only she could initiate the handshake — and then only if she deemed him fit for the honor. Exactly how to shake hands became a complex subject for Victorian arbiters of manners, and the angst has never gone away. Who shakes with whom? How firm should the grip be? How long should it be held?”

Indeed, parents teach their children to give a firm handshake when they meet someone. You don’t want your kids offering someone a "dead fish" or “wet noodle,” because for many, a handshake says a lot about a person. Former Oklahoma running back Adrian Peterson’s lore was only heightened by the disclosure that he had a crushing handshake.

Tierney notes that etiquette expert Emily Post offers a four-step guide to shaking hands.

“Why go through all this trouble with someone at a cocktail party who you’ll never see again?” he writes. “Why risk inadvertently sending the wrong message — or picking up the wrong pathogen?”

Wave goodbye to the handshake? It’s an interesting argument in these interesting times.

The Oklahoman Editorial Board

The Oklahoman Editorial Board consists of Kelly Dyer Fry, Publisher, Editor and Vice President of News; Owen Canfield, Opinion Editor; and Ray Carter, Chief Editorial Writer.. To submit a letter to the editor, go to this page or email... Read more ›