The practice of handshaking is one that baffles many scholars. It’s not that they can’t find a theory for why people do it — in fact, they have many good theories, almost all of which are well-established and ridiculous — but that the scholars can’t understand why they personally have to shake people’s hands.

Scholars, as you are probably aware, are a socially awkward bunch. Preferring to sit in a library pretending to read a book instead of going out and talking to real people, the idea of grabbing someone else’s fist and shaking them up and down is anathema to them. Most would rather put their grandmother in a coolbox and send her hurtling over the edge of the Niagra Falls than have to engage physically with another person — of course, this would require them to engage physically with their grandmother so really the analogy is
questionable at the start.

The first scholar to study the effect of handshaking on society was one Walter P Picklethwait-Krapp. This poor gentlemen had grown up with the unfortunate shortened name of Walter PPK, the make of gun sported by James Bond, and lived in constant fear that someone might notice the connection and choose to shoot him for a joke. His first foray into handshaking occurred when he was less than one year old. As a baby, his hands were very small — as all babies hands are — and his parents and older relatives would often shake his hand with one of their fingers, marvelling at the tininess of his digits. Even before he could think, part of his brain got to work on this unusual act. He thought “Why are these people grabbing and moving my hand up and down?” although, of course, at the time he had no idea what people were, what a hand was, and what it meant to move something up and down. But, you get the idea — he was intrigued.

This interest lay dormant for many years until one day, at a university party when he was lurking in the corner as he always did, a lost lecturer came over to introduce herself to him. She held out her hand and, as convention dictated, Walter took it. Suddenly, his dormant childhood question flooded back into his consciousness. Instead of shaking the lecturer’s hand, he held it tightly, staring intently at her knuckles for an awkward amount of time, until he finally looked up at her and burst into a stream of improvised pontification.

Thankfully, the lecturer took his musings in the manner in which they were intended. She had lived around academics for many years — in fact, she was one — so such behaviour was commonplace, even though it would be thought bizarre in the non-academic world. She encouraged Walter to write up his thoughts on handshaking and perhaps even write a paper or two on the subject.

Walter PPK went on to become the most eminent theorist on the topic of handshakes and even went on to study power poses in the late 2010s, thanks to the fashionable nature of it all.

He now wears gloves everywhere.

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