A Secret Handshake is a gesture used in greeting between two members of a secret society, or a private club, or a covert organization as a means to identify themselves to one another. In comedies, this secret handshake will be so long and involved that its utterly unlikely anyone would actually perform it for real. This can be Played for Laughs in two ways:
- The excessively elaborate secret handshake is noticed by everyone, advertising rather than concealing the secret.
- The odd ritual is not noticed, to the point where the lack of attention becomes absurd in itself.
Note that the Secret Handshake doesn't have to be an actual handshake, but can be any sort of identifying hand gesture.
A subtrope of Handshake Substitute.
- School of Rock includes one of these.
Dewey: We're going to work on that later, it's a very long shake.
- Miguel and Tulio from The Road to El Dorado have a short one; they use it to seal the promise that "Chel is off-limits." Not that it lasted long.
- One of the main cast of Revenge of the Nerds gains access to Lambda Lambda Lambda because he knows the fraternity's secret handshake.
- Undercover Brother. To prove his worthiness to enter the BROTHERHOOD headquarters, the title character goes through an involved handshake with a mechanical arm.
- The Parent Trap remake included a ridiculously complex secret handshake between Annie and her buddy butler, just to ramp up the logistical difficulty over the original movie in "switching places", since Hallie had to learn it.
- Sin Nombre. Mara Salvatrucha gang members identify each each other with an upside down devils head for "M". Truth in Television
- Sound of My Voice: A cult uses an elaborate secret handshake as admission before any audience with the cult's leader. The handshake becomes an important plot point at the end.
- The main character in Robert A. Heinlein's I Will Fear No Evil proves his/her identity to the judge with a secret fraternity handshake.
- In A Princess of Landover, the two G'home Gnomes have an elaborate secret handshake so that no one else can pretend to be them (leading Princess Mistaya to wonder why anyone would want to be them).
- In Guards! Guards! the main villain creates a secret society made up from people who would be rejected from any other secret society "the sort to dislocate their fingers with even the simplest secret handshake".
- The Freemason Expys in Sherlock Holmes do this. They also have a secret salute and a few sign-countersign phrases. Despite this, they're mostly just an over-ceremonial charity organization - except, of course, for the offshoot featured in the story.
- The actual Freemasons have their own signs to identify other members, including secret handshakes (apparently several of them, in fact). However, in Edgar Allan Poe's '"The Cask of Amontillado": Fortunado makes a gesture Montresor doesn't recognize. Fortunado declares Montresor must not be a mason. Montresor affirms that he is in fact a mason. Fortunato reacts with disbelief and asks for a sign. Montresor reaches into his robes and pulls out a trowel, which Fortunado assumes is a joke. Unfortunately for Fortunado, it doesn't occur to him to wonder why Montresor happened to be carrying a trowel around with him.
- The "be seeing you" okay-sign from The Prisoner.
- Monty Python's Flying Circus Episode 17 had two examples of "Masonic" handshakes, one of which concludes the Architects sketch.
Announcer: Let's have a look at that handshake again in slow motion.
- On an episode of Psych, Shawn manages to fake one of these—using his special brand of commentary—to sneak into a lodge meeting:
Shawn: Hold it, fold it, skim it! Crouching tiger, zookeeper's boy, hairdresser on fire, girlfriend in a coma, slap it on a biscuit.
- Series 4 of Torchwood shows an example of this in a flash back to Captain Jack's life in the 20s, where a trio of men each grasp another's wrist with their hand, forming a triangle between them.
- In My Hero, Ultronians perform a single wave of their elbows directed towards each other as a greeting, joined with the phrase "zneet", or sometimes "zneet znadder zneet".
- In Kamen Rider Fourze, Gentaro and Yuki had a Secret Handshake back in grade school, which they quickly bring into their Kamen Rider Clubnote . Whenever Gentaro does the shake with someone, it marks the moment where they join his ever-expanding circle of friends.
- Murdoch Mysteries: In "Victor, Victorian", Freemasons Brackenreid and Crabtree introduce Detective Murdoch to the head of their lodge just after a sudden death has taken place during an initiation ritual. The head of the lodge shakes hands with Murdoch, who doesn't complete the secret handshake. Crabtree explains why the head of the lodge knew Murdoch isn't a Mason, and the man soon quizzes Murdoch on his religious beliefs. For once, being a "papist" isn't quite a liability, since the lodge head says that's better than being a "stupid atheist".
- Quest for Glory has the Thief Sign, which consists of putting your thumb on your nose, hand perpendicular to the face and fingers outspread, then wiggling your fingers while focusing your eyes on your thumb and patting your belly with the other hand. It's specifically designed to be incredibly silly so non-Thieves will just assume you've having some kind of seizure and dismiss it as nothing.
- In Geist, John Raimi uses a complicated handshake to convince Bryson of his identity. This is tough for Bryson to swallow, since Raimi's inhabiting the body of a woman.
- Snake and Otacon do this right after Otacon's sister dies in his arms as Snake still needs his help. Parodied by hiimdaisy in the page image.
- Minecraft: Story Mode: After Olivia complains that the build crew doesn't have a special handshake like the Ocelots do, Jesse comes up with one on the spot. No matter which option you choose, the game will always inform you that none of the characters will remember it. Axel actually does remember it, he and Jesse are able to do it.
- Homestar Runner and the King of Town actually do this at the very beginning of Ever and More as part of a recruiting ceremony performed by the Brothernal Order of Different Helmets. And yes, neither of them have arms.
- In Steven Universe, Steven tries to get a high-five from Lars, who refuses, so he high-fives Lars's chest instead. Later in the same episode, when Steven offers a high-five, Lars shakes his head, smiles, then puts his hand on Steven's chest. This gesture appears more as Steven and Lars continue to interact. This is most notable during the "Wanted"-arc, where Steven and Lars are trapped on Homeworld. Steven comforts Lars with the gesture as he's having a panic attack, and when Steven has to leave Lars behind on Homeworld, he attempts the gesture again. Lars pushes his hand away, then gives him a hug instead.
- The Simpsons: after Homer joins the Stonecutters, he gives the secret handshake to his plumber so the plumber will fix his leaky basement pipes for free.
- In another episode, another billionaire asks Mr Burns to perform the "billionnaire's secret handshake". Something very acrobatic ensues, which ends with their combined hands forming a $.
- Bender proves he was part of the Robot House Fraternity in Futurama with this. His version is described as "close enough" — and he accidentally tears one of the other guy's fingers off.
- In one episode of Sonic Sat AM, Robotnik replaces Sally with a robot duplicate. It's good enough to pass muster for most of the episode, but when it fails to perform the secret handshake, Sonic realizes something's up.
- On Jimmy Two-Shoes, Lucius does this with a mechanical hand as a means of getting into his vault.
- On The Ren & Stimpy Show, Stimpy and Ren's cousin Sven are members of the Loyal Order of Stupids. Their "secret handshake" consists of gently biting the inflated gloves on each others' heads.
- One Robot Chicken sketch features a two men who recognize each other from their college days and do their fraternity's secret handshake, which devolves into face-slaps, punches, and kneeing each other in the groin.
- In a SpongeBob SquarePants episode, Patrick tries to test Mr. Krabs' coolness by seeing if he knows the "secret cool-guy handshake". As a shot in the dark, Mr. Krabs just shakes Patrick's hand as straightforward as possible and passes.
Mr. Krabs: Uhh... how do you do?Patrick: Fine, and you? All right, you're in.
- Not to mention the six and a half hour long secret handshake between Spongebob and the robotic Mr. Krabs, which involves standing on one leg, putting a glass of chocolate milk on your head, singing the National Anthem of Bikini Bottom, shooting from a cannon through a ring of fire, eating 105 black licorice jellybeans through a straw, and (if it's the third Wednesday in January, and it's not raining) gargling with vanilla pudding.
- In the season 2 finale of My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic, Twilight Sparkle and Princess Cadance have a variation, though they don't actually shake hoofs the idea is more-or-less the same. This also serves as both the first clue to Twilight that the first Cadance is a fake when she doesn't recognize the "hoofshake" and how the real Cadance convinces Twilight that she's the real one, by performing the sequence for her.
"Sunshine! Sunshine! Ladybugs awake! Clap your hooves and do a little shake!"
- An episode of Camp Lazlo has Lumpus trying to create a new handshake for Jelly Cabin after they accidentally figure his club's secret handshake. The new handshake includes jumping through a ring of fire, riding another camper like a horse, and throwing a fit.
- In Avatar: The Last Airbender, members of the Order of the White Lotus identify each other through a board game called Pai Sho. The secret handshake begins by opening with the white lotus tile (which the order is named after) placed in the center space, and forming a pattern across the board resembling a large flower.
- Basically any secret society will have a form of greeting for fellow members, or a way of testing to see if a new arrival is one. The Freemasons are the secret society that's best-known and there have been stories about what their Secret Handshake might be. This was because when the Masons were still a society of architects and builders, the members had to travel long distances for jobs and the only way someone at each job site can determine whether you are a qualified architect is to check if you have been taught the secret codes and gestures of the society. It's supposedly a regular handshake, but the ring finger is... wait, who's that at the door? WHAT? NO! NOT YOU! (Troper screams) (disappears)
- According to some ancient accounts, the Christian fish symbol was used for discreet recognition during periods of Roman persecution: one person drew an arc in the dirt, and the other would complete the symbol.
- So why a fish? In Greek, the word for fish is an acronym of "Jesus Christ, God's Son, Savior" (also in Greek, of course; the Greek word for fish isn't "jcgss"). Almost all other acronym stories ... "For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge", "Port Out, Starboard Home", and the like ... were invented well after the fact and indeed after about 1900, but in this case Augustine, who lived around 400 AD ... only about 100 years after the persecution ... wrote about it as if the story were true. The fact that several of the apostles actually were fishermen probably helped.
- Not strictly secret, but the Boy Scouts of America uses an unusual handshake between members, with the first three fingers of the hand extended along the other person's wrist (the three fingers extended thing is based on the Scout Sign, a much more visible hand gesture associated with the Boy Scouts).