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Put it there, Pal

Hudson Cooper - Columnist
Posted 2/18/21

Many of our habits and basic conventions have been altered by the pandemic. We no longer go to a movie theater choosing instead to watch films on our television or computer screens. Many of us forego …

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Put it there, Pal


Many of our habits and basic conventions have been altered by the pandemic. We no longer go to a movie theater choosing instead to watch films on our television or computer screens. Many of us forego eating in a restaurant but have mastered the art of ordering takeout meals.

Social distancing has made us alter a gesture that historians say go back centuries. The traditional handshake has all but disappeared. I remember as a kid watching John Wayne in some western movie sauntering over to a friend at a saloon, extending his hand saying, “put it there, pal.” They shook hands before ordering a shot of red eye from the bartender.

Nowadays, instead of shaking hands they might bump elbows before ordering a shot of Tito's handmade vodka. In the old west, red eye was also handmade using a combination of raw alcohol, burnt sugar and just a bit of chewing tobacco which, hopefully, had not been previously chewed.

According to Hiram J. Livonia from the Association of Historical Gestures, the handshake originated around 5 B.C. in Greece. Clasping an opponent's hand with the right hand was a sign that neither party was armed. Years later in Medieval Europe the shaking gesture became popular. Knights shook hands to make sure nobody was hiding a concealed weapon.

I have not shaken hands in over a year. Not wanting to risk passing or receiving the COVID-19 disease, I resorted to safer methods of showing friendship. We are social creatures, so we find ways to connect while being socially distant. My gesture of choice was the elbow bump.

I was very happy with the elbow bump until I noticed advertising advising you to sneeze into your bent elbow. So, it was back to the drawing board since I assumed that distributing my elbow germs was not going to help diminish the pandemic.

So, I have experimented with other social bonding gestures. As I approached a friend, I raised my right hand and made the V-shaped gesture with my index and middle finger.

During World War II, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill made the gesture as a way of indicating V for victory. At first, he made the gesture with his palm turned towards him. One of his aides quickly alerted him that making the gesture that way was being rude as if you omitted the index finger, if you get my gist.

Years later the V-shaped gesture was adopted by the youth of the world as the peace sign. Also, around that same time, Commander Spock of Star Trek fame displayed the recognized spreading of the fingers separating them between the middle and ring finger.

I soon figured out that using either V-shaped gesture rarely got a response from my friends. Actually, I thought the Vulcan gesture indicating “live long and prosper” was a nice greeting considering the pandemic.

I began to notice how other people were doing a “hello gesture.” One of the silliest that thankfully has not caught on is the Toe-Tap. Standing close to your target, you both extend one of your feet and tap the toes of you shoes. It looks ridiculous and during the sandal-wearing summer months might lead to many visits to the podiatrist.

I shunned the head-nodding “what's up” gesture. So too I avoided air high fives and the bend at the waist bow. The single-hand chest-pat seemed too aggressive as if I were marking my territory like a silverback gorilla.

Eventually I settled on a simple, friendly gesture that you will witness should I ever meet you on the street. I call it the “wave salute.” Putting my index and middle finger together, I gently tap the side of my forehead before tilting my hand towards you. It lets you know I am greeting you as I respect the required 6 feet of social distancing.

Regardless of which gesture suits you, I wish you peace and that you live long and prosper.


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