The origin of handshaking
Handshaking seems like a gesture that has been around forever. Indeed, a throne base from the reign of ancient Assyria's Shalmaneser III in the 9th century BC clearly shows two figures clasping hands. As an ancient custom, the root of handshaking seems lost to the sands of time.
Historians who have pored over old etiquette books have noticed that handshaking in the modern sense of a greeting doesn't appear until the mid-19th century, when it was considered a slightly improper gesture that should only be used with friends.
Traditionally, the origin of handshaking is often given to the Quakers. But as Dutch sociologist Herman Roodenburg—the chief authority for the history of handshaking—wrote in a chapter of an anthology called A Cultural History of Gesture, "More than in any other field, that of the study of gesture is one in which the historian has to make the most of only a few clues".
One of the earliest clues he cites is a 16th-century German translation of the French writer Rabelais's Gargantua and Pantagruel. When one character meets Gargantua, Rabelais writes (in one modern English translation), "he was greeted with a thousand caresses, a thousand embraces, a thousand good-days."
There's additional evidence for a handshaking tradition in that era: In 1607 the author James Cleland (believed to have been a Scotsman living in England) proclaimed that instead of things like bowing down to everyone's shoes and kissing hands, he'd rather "retain our good old Scottish shaking of the two right hands together at meeting".
A popular hypothesis suggests that Cleland's statements against bowing were actually a wish to go back to a potentially very traditional (though poorly recorded) method of greeting in Europe. As the centuries progressed, handshaking was replaced by more 'hierarchical' ways of greeting—like bowing. According to Roodenburg, handshaking survived in a few niches, like in Dutch towns where they'd use the gesture to reconcile after disagreements. Around the same time, the Quakers—who valued equality—also made use of the handshake. Then, as the hierarchies of the continent weakened, the handshake re-emerged as a standard greeting among equals—the way it remains today.
As for why shaking hands was deemed a good method of greeting, rather than some other gesture, the most popular explanation is that it incapacitates the right hand, making it useless for weapon holding. In the 19th century it was argued that shaking hands without removing gloves was quite rude and required an immediate apology. One 1870 text explains that "this idea would also seem to be an occult remnant of the old notion that the glove might conceal a weapon."
1. reign n. 君主统治时期
2. throne n. 王座
3. etiquette n. 礼节
4. hypothesis n. 假说
5. hierarchical adj. 分层的
6. reconcile vt. 使和解
7. incapacitate vt. 使不能
8. occult adj. 神秘的