The Untold Truth Of The Handshake

Comedian and TV host Howie Mandel won't do it. Between his OCD and ADHD he obsesses about germs, according to CNN, and so touching another person, even a handshake (maybe even especially a handshake), is taboo. He's got a point. Think about it: How do you know where that other guy's hand has been? On the other hand (so to speak), everybody does it, right? And always has, right? Not so much.

You'd think that something as common as a handshake would have roots in humanity's shared history, and to a certain extent, you'd be right. There are carved records of people shaking hands that date back to Ancient Assyria in the 9th century BCE, as Mental Floss tells us. The Iliad, 100 years younger than the carving, talks about characters clasping hands. Shakespeare himself mentions characters who "shook hands and swore brothers." The question quickly becomes, "What does it mean?" As Shakespeare also said, "Aye, there's the rub."

So should you shake on it?

Just as any organization will have customs and procedures that are murky in their origins, so it is with handshakes. At least one theory attributes men grabbing each other's right hands so that those very same hands can't hold, say, a pointy-stabby thing like a sword or a dagger. Some also say that the actual shaking of the hands, in addition to clasping, would perhaps dislodge something dangerous hidden up a sleeve. Coinage of the Roman Empire displayed handshakes. It could mean a pledge of loyalty and friendship; in some cultures, it was a way to express apology and heal a damaged relationship.

History suggests that the peaceful Quakers popularized the handshake, not only as a sign of amity, but as a sign of equality and egalitarianism, an improvement on bowing and hat-tipping. By Victorian times a handshake was scrutinized: It should be neither too firm nor too boisterous. Nor should it be performed wearing a glove — who knows what might be contained therein, besides fingers?

Popular? Yes. Required? No. A simple smile works, too. Doesn't matter where it's been, either.