Back in the 2008 presidential campaign, candidate Barack Obama launched a media storm when he nonchalantly fist bumped his wife Michelle. “Obama’s Fist-bump Rocks The Nation!: The Huffington Post exclaimed. “Is the fist bump the new high-five?” NPR’s Laura Silverman asked.
Obama has done it again.
Earlier this month he cemented the gesture as part of his presidential persona when he fist bumped an employee at an Austin barbecue restaurant. Before taking Obama’s order, Daniel Rugg said, “Equal rights for gay people,” the Austin Chronicle reported. Then the presidential bump followed.
All this fist-to-fist action got us thinking: Where did the fist bump come from? Why is it so appealing that the president uses it? And do other cultures have similar nonverbal gestures?
The modern fist bump most likely evolved from the high-five in the sports world, says David Givens, an anthropologist with the Center for Nonverbal Studies in Spokane, Washington. The 1970s Baltimore Bullets guard Fred Carter was an early bumper, Time reported back in 2008. Eventually the fist bump became a way for friends to greet each other.
Givens believes that the fist bump stands out in the world of nonverbal gestures. “The fist bump is one of the few gestures that is equal,” he tells Goats and Sodas. “You could do it with President Obama, and you’d both be equals at that time.”
That’s because the knuckles are meeting at the same level — neither bumper has the upper hand, so to speak.
Photo by Meredith Rizzo/NPR