The Bizarre Origins Of 10 Everyday Traditions

Have you ever wondered why it's customary to shake peoples' hands, or why we cover our mouths when we yawn? The origins of some of our most seemingly mundane traditions are a lot stranger than you'd think, and a few are straight-up disturbing.

Hey, just be happy you weren't asked to be someone's best man back in the day.

1. Shaking hands

The customary handshake is a nearly universal nonverbal greeting of respect, but its ancient origins were far more precautionary in nature. It turns out that offering someone your hand when meeting was done as a way for each party to inspect whether the other was secretly brandishing a weapon in their palm, essentially clearing the air before getting down to business and/or murdering the competition.

2. The high five

There are conflicting stories as to when and who invented the up-high celebratory hand-smack, however, most agree that it's an evolution of the "low five," which has been a part of African American culture since at least World War II. Many claim the first instance of the triumphant high five as we know it occurred between Dodgers players Dusty Baker and Glenn Clark during a game on October 2, 1977. 

3. Pinky swearing

The custom of interlocking pinky fingers to indicate your commitment to a promise exists all around the world, though it's thought to have originated around 1600 in Japan, where it's referred to as "yubikiri," or "finger cutting." The gruesome origins are twofold: during the Edo Period, prostitutes would cut off the tips of their fingers and give them away to customers as a sign of their dedication and affection, and the Yakuza (the Japanese mafia) have been doling out punishment in the form of pinky finger-chopping for centuries.

4. Toasting

The story behind why we toast to our health is a complicated web of traditions. Some say it's long been done as a gesture of honor and health to elders, while others think the clink served as a way to indulge in a full five-sensory experience (sound being the fifth). However even more claim that the sloshing of liquids from one glass to the other was a way for nobles to avoid being poisoned by ensuring their guest was drinking at least some of whatever was in their glass.

5. Being a best man

When a groom bestows the honor of best man to one of his buddies or brothers, it's more of a symbolic gesture. However, back in the day, the groom's choice was a little more calculated. He would pick a man who was "best" at combat skills, as it was customary for 16th century German Goths to kidnap women from neighboring villages for eligible bachelors. What a pal! 

6. Covering your mouth while yawning or sneezing

You do it now because it's courteous and hygienic, but way back when, people were shielding their mouths during a sneeze or yawn for very different reasons. Ancient cultures believed that when you sneezed, you left an empty void inside that could be filled with evil spirits, and that yawning left you susceptible to demons entering through your mouth.

7. Driving on the left side of the road

While driving on the left is customary mostly in Commonwealth countries and former British colonies these days, the practice can be traced back to ancient civilization. In ancient Egypt, Greece, and Rome (as well as medieval Europe), riding your horse or chariot on the left meant your right arm (most peoples' dominant side) was free to combat any potential attackers, so you would never be caught off guard.

8. Trick-or-treating

The tradition of hitting your neighbors up for candy came about through a tradition related to the ancient Gaelic holiday Samhain, which marked the end of the harvest season. The practice of going door to door evolved from the custom of collecting food and firewood for the celebratory Samhain feast and bonfire.

9. Crossing your fingers for good luck

Many believe the superstitious act of twisting your fingers for luck can be traced back to pre-Christian pagans, who held the symbol of the cross in high regard because they thought it embodied a concentration of strength and good spirits. It's also believed that later it became a gesture used by Christians as both a stand-in for a Crucifix to ward off evil and a sly way of identifying yourself as a Christian during periods they were persecuted for their beliefs. 

10. Bridesmaids

Before they were just the bachelorette party-planning BFFs that helped the bride through her big day and bought an assortment of penis-shaped products, bridesmaids were kept around for protection. They were actually requested to wear the same outfit as the bride, so as to confuse evil spirits who wished to do the bride harm.

Joe McGauley is a senior editor at Supercompressor, and always checks for weapons when he shakes.

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