high-five (n. Slang): a gesture of greeting, elation, or victory in which one person slaps an upraised palm against that of another person.
The high five is ubiquitous. It’s a gesture that permeates every social environment — the workplace, the bar, the middle school kickball field — and it seems to be appropriate in almost any situation. Your friend got married? High five. You chugged an entire liter of IPA? High five. You just re-enacted, word-for-word, the opening sequence of A Clockwork Orange? High five! Since its inception, the hand-slapping maneuver has taken on multiple iterations and has never fallen out of style.
But tracing the origins of the high five reveals a riveting, heroic, dark story that seems to be everything the joyous gesture is not.
The motion of slapping hands with someone else has been around for thousands of years, and is nearly impossible to trace. Ancient Egyptian hieroglyphics dating as far back as 3200 B.C. depict such gestures, though it is academically unconfirmed as to whether or not these qualified as modern-day high-fives. These ancient drawings also indicate little in the way of proof of origin; most depicted hands, like those below, linger inches apart, perennially etched in time as contact-less orbs of flesh.
Eras later, the “low five” — essentially the same as a high five, but underhand and below the waist — was penned in the 1920s, and was used in the African-American community as a symbol of unity. But the gesture, also known as “giving skin,” was exclusive and underground, and never experienced the widespread acceptance of its more upward twin.
Mental will is a muscle that needs exercise, just like the muscles of the body.