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A secret handshake is a distinct form of handshake or greeting which conveys membership in or loyalty to a club, clique or subculture. The typical secret handshake involves placing one's fingers or thumbs in a particular position, one that will be recognized by fellow members while seeming to be a normal handshake to non-members. This is most frequently associated in the popular consciousness with college fraternities, fraternal orders and secret societies.
A secret handshake can also be a useful form of familiar interaction between friends, colleagues, and family members. As a form of cryptography, secret handshakes are shared only with select and elect peoples. Usually a secret handshake has underlying meanings that differ from person to person. Secret handshakes involve a precise, sometimes complex series of movements and contact between two individuals or even a group. Usually, these movements involve the primary use of hands, but could also involve a series of touching feet, elbows, or in some cultures a friendly kiss.
Secret handshakes cannot be traced back to a specific dated origin, but it can be determined that it is as old as any form of greeting or identification. The Freemason Society is one of the most well-known and longstanding implementations of secret handshakes. However, Biblical records also show evidence of secret greetings or handshakes. Although not a technical handshake, the account in the Gospel of John of the kiss of Judas, by which Judas Iscariot betrayed Jesus, can be viewed as a form of secret greeting.
The Freemasons have at least 12 known universal secret handshakes that were implemented in their society. However, there are believed to be many more unrecorded masonic secret handshakes. The secretiveness of this society is prevalent in their greetings. The Freemasons use their set of unique handshakes to not only identify members of the society, but also to identity the different levels, classes, or castes of people within the societies. Fellow masons shake hands using secret handshakes, but within the society, apprentices and masters have distinctly different handshakes to identify one from another. Additionally, the Freemasons make use of the aforementioned secret signals to subtly indicate who is of what level. For instance, one handshake used between a master from an apprentice includes distinct touches on the knuckles.
However, modern manifestations of secret handshakes differ slightly from their historical roots. The same level of formality is not evident in newer versions of secret handshakes. For instance, one common handshake used among college age students and adolescents is the “fist bump.” This handshake, while not secretive in its basic form communicates a form of greeting that is still different from a typical handshake. The fist bump involves the touching of two closed fists. It is a form of handshake designed to place distance between the greeters while allowing for friendly contact.
Handshakes are very common even today. The usage of secret handshakes in modern society is much more informal compared to the historical usage of secret handshakes. Where historically, a secret handshake would have a more formal, serious tone, today, secret handshakes are shared by mostly people in grade school who share a friendship type relational bond with one another. Secret handshakes are not commonly used to gain access to secret meetings today, but are more commonly used in an informal setting. Most likely one will see young school-aged children exchanging a complex, whimsical secret handshake on the playground during recess.
The most common modern term used to identify modern is the word ‘dap’ or dap greeting. This term is used to collectively identify most secret handshakes used today, and usually includes a fist bump somewhere in the sequence of contacts.
- John 18
- "Secret Masonic Handshakes, Passwords, Grips And Signs Of Blue Lodge Masonry". Ephesians 5:11. Retrieved 3 March 2012.
- Ipshita Ghosh (2008). "How Do You Do?". The Viewspaper. India. Retrieved 5 March 2012.