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COVID won’t kill the handshake. It has survived worse PR problems

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Shake My Hand

COVID is no match for the enduring power of the handshake. It has survived cholera, the 1918 pandemic, and Donald Trump’s lengthy grip. It has thrived when other shakes, snaps, and pats have failed, such as the penis handshake and the beard-and-pat.

The handshake is our most enduring symbol of egalitarianism and brotherhood. It has helped elect politicians to office, to seal the deal on contracts, and grease the wheels of women’s suffrage.

The handshake has been around for seven million years, says Ella Al-Shamahi, author of The Handshake: A Gripping History. Scientists trace it to chimps, our closest living relatives, and the Neanderthals. COVID is no match for something so deeply ingrained into our DNA. The handshake is here to stay.

This hour, the history and symbolism of the handshake, including the “dap.”


  • Ella Al-Shamahi - A National Geographic Explorer, a TV presenter, palaeo-anthropologist, evolutionary biologist, and a stand-up comic, who has taken four shows to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival; her latest book is The Handshake: A Gripping History
  • Tyler D. Parry - Assistant Professor of African American and African Diaspora Studies within the Interdisciplinary, Gender, and Ethnic Studies Department, at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas; he’s the author of Jumping the Broom: The Surprising Multicultural Origins of a Black Wedding Ritual

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Colin McEnroe and Cat Pastor contributed to this show.

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Betsy started as an intern at WNPR in 2011 after earning a Master's Degree in American and Museum Studies from Trinity College. She served as the Senior Producer for 'The Colin McEnroe Show' for several years before stepping down in 2021 and returning to her previous career as a registered nurse. She still produces shows with Colin and the team when her schedule allows.
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