Thursday 9 February 2017

A.G. Gardiner: On Shaking Hands

Author introduction:
Alfred George Gardiner (1865–1946) was a British journalist and author. His essays, written under the pen-name Alpha of the Plough, are highly regarded. He was also Chairman of the National Anti-Sweating League, an advocacy group which campaigned for a minimum wage in industry. Gardiner was born in Chelmsford, the son of a cabinet-maker and alcoholic. As a boy he worked at the Chelmsford Chronicle and the Bournemouth Directory. He joined the Northern Daily Telegraph in 1887 which had been founded the year before by Thomas Purvis Ritzema. In 1899, he was appointed editor of the Blackburn Weekly Telegraph. From 1915 he contributed to The Star under the pseudonym Alpha of the Plough.[3] At the time The Star had several anonymous essayists whose pseudonyms were the names of stars. Invited to choose the name of a star as a pseudonym he chose the name of the brightest (alpha) star in the constellation "the Plough." His essays are uniformly elegant, graceful and humorous. His uniqueness lay in his ability to teach the basic truths of life in an easy and amusing manner. Pillars of Society, Pebbles on the Shore, Many Furrows and Leaves in the Wind are some of his best known writings. The narrative skill of the author throughout his writings is intelligent and amusing. 

On Shaking Hands Summary:

In the present essay the author talks about the western practice of shaking hands. To him shaking hands is an age old practice in the west. But of late this facing criticism on the hygienic grounds. He compares this with other types of greetings and customs prevalent in different countries. Subtle humour pervades the entire narration. The oriental salam or salutation or the act of bowing by the Japanese are not as comradely (friendly, neighbourly) as shaking hands. . A.G. Gardiner writes about the practice of shaking hands with a humorous yet true and serious touch.

He says that the custom of shaking hands between two people when they meet or part has become so habitual that it is not at all easy to prevent it. Only a very tough parliamentary act or a heavy penalty can forbade people from shaking hands. There are other types of customary greetings around different parts of the world but A.G. Gardiner in his concluding part asserts that shaking hands is the ‘happy mean’ between the oriental formal salaam and the Russian enormous hug. Shaking hands has warmth and the spirit of human comradeship

The author says that people have got used to the custom of shaking hands so much that it happens more as a reflex action when two friends meet or part. A lot can be learnt about a person by the way he holds and shakes the others’ hands. The hand shake should be firm yet friendly. It has to be free and cozy (giving a feeling of comfort, warmth, and relaxation). Shaking hands comes so naturally and instinctively to the English men that trying to indict this custom would be impossible, concludes the author. Western people are very much acclimatized to shaking hands. It is supposed to be a decent and enviable practice. A.G. Gardiner in this essay tells us that this practice is charged as being an unhygienic custom, so as such we are advised to adopt a healthier mode of expressing our mutual emotion. The writer gives his unbiased views on this deep rooted habit.

The ways in which the hands speak:

A.G. Gardiner writes about the practice of shaking hands with a humorous yet true and serous (of resembling, or producing serum) touch.

Western people are very much acclimatized to shaking hands. It is supposed to be a decent and enviable practice.
A greeting without any grip or warmth in it is repulsive. The author compares this kind of a shaking hand with a ‘step mother’s cold breath’. The indifference of the person can be clearly perceived. Similarly no one likes to shake hand with people having flaccid, bony and energetic hands or with those having cold, dank (unpleasantly damp and cold) hands. It causes a creepy feeling in us. A.G. Gardiner quotes here the repulsive character Uriah of Charles Dickens, David Copperfield whose mere touch of the hand haunts people with a creepy and obscene feeling.

 He says that by shaking hands with some people we can sense their dishonesty and even their health condition. With some personalities the hand shake is so eloquent that everything about him can be discovered. A.G. Gardiner compares some people’s unresponsive handshake with the touch of a jelly fish.
By quoting all these examples of various types of shaking hands A.G. Gardiner drives home the point that hands do speak in the customary process of shaking hands.


1. Uriah means the name Uriah is a Hebrew baby name. In Hebrew the meaning of the name Uriah is: God is my light; light of the Lord. Uriah Heep was the clerk in the novel 'David Copperfield', written by Charles Dickens.
2. serous: of resembling, or producing serum.
3. cozy : giving a feeling of comfort, warmth, and relaxation.
4. comradely: friendly, neighbourly.


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