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Secret Handshake

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Believe it or not, this actually happens mid-serious scene.note 

A Secret Handshake is a gesture used in greeting between two members of a secret society, a private club, a covert organization as a means to identify themselves to one another, or merely something shared between two best friends. 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:

  1. The excessively elaborate secret handshake is noticed by everyone, advertising rather than concealing the secret.
  2. 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. In some cases, this may appear as a form of Bluff the Imposter, if a character asks someone to give the handshake knowing their group doesn't use one. It can also be an example of Something Only They Would Say, when characters saddled with a Forced Transformation, "Freaky Friday" Flip, or some unremovable disguise verify their true identities to their skeptical friends by doing the handshake.


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    Comic Books 
  • Tintin: Captain Haddock greets his old friend Captain Chester with a version that looks like an Attack Hello combined with Dance Battler.
  • The Adventures of D & A: Each rank in the SWSC has its own secret handshake. For Agents of Altruism, you bring your hands around so they clap one another, do a gentle fist bump, shake hands, smile, and say, "Greetings and salutations, fellow agent!" Adam quickly points out how ridiculous this is, but Captain Tim insists it's for security reasons.

    Fan Works 
  • In the Overwatch fanfic A Hint of Hesitation, Tracer and D.Va share an elaborate secret handshake.
    Hana accepts the fistbump, and then the five moves after it; up, down, crossed wrists, clasped hands, and a snap with their free hands before shooting twin finger guns with identical cocky winks.

  • 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.
  • Steven Universe: The Movie: Steven and Amethyst are shown to have developed an elaborate handshake during the Time Skip. The biggest sign that Amethyst is fully recovered from being subjected to Laser-Guided Amnesia is that she remembers how to do the handshake.
  • Tenet is a Trust Password that, when combined with interlacing the fingers, identifies members of the eponymous organisation to each other.

  • 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).
  • Discworld:
    • 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 Thieves Guild Diary describes the very complicated secret handshake used by the Guild. It's a type one Played for Laughs version, which has apparently had elements added to it for the amusement of the crowd that forms.
    • In Small Gods, members of the Turtle Movement signal each other with the old "make your hands look like a turtle" symbol.
  • 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, Fortunato makes a gesture Montresor doesn't recognize. Fortunato 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 Fortunato assumes is a joke. Unfortunately for Fortunato, it doesn't occur to him to wonder why Montresor happened to be carrying a trowel around with him.
  • Finn and Leo from You Have a Match have a handshake involving a complicated pattern of gestures that resembles interpretive dance.
  • In Lily and Dunkin, Lily and her best friend Dare have a secret handshake that they created in fourth grade.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Extraordinary Attorney Woo: Between Geu-ra-mi and Young-woo. Not exactly a handshake per se but still a hammy greeting with several steps and a catchphrase. You can see it here.
  • The "be seeing you" okay-sign from The Prisoner. This one was used as a Shout-Out in Babylon 5, as a means of identifying the conspirators behind the assassination of President Santiago.
  • Community: Parodied. Troy and Abed's secret handshake is not particularly secret, it's just their usual handshake followed by both of them whispering "secret."
  • 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 after seeing it from a distance—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 flashback 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 (2000), 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".
  • The Good Place: Jason Mendoza and his best friend Pillboi have an elaborate one of these which includes dabbing, trust falls and a shout out to their favorite football team the Jacksonville Jaguars.
  • A skit on the Scottish sketch show Scotch & Wry parodied the popular idea that the Masonic handshake involves an arm going under your leg for some reason (because that's not something passers-by would notice) by showing a Lodge Hogmanay party, where the Masons all did this on the "Now here's a hand" part of "For Auld Lang Syne".
  • Broad City:
    • Abbi spends so much time at Bed Bath & Beyond that she shares a different long and elaborate secret handshake with each employee.
    • A fratbro in "Citizen Ship" does one with Jaimé after being convinced by his American accent.
    • Abbi does one with her dad in "Philadelphia."
  • In The Honeymooners Ralph's lodge has an elaborate secret handshake which he keeps muffing, resulting in him thinking he has lost the weekly funds, when actually he has placed the envelope in the chairman's inside pocket when he messes up the handshake.
  • Ghostwriter: Jamal, Lenni, and Alex make up a special Ghostwriter handshake in Part 3 of "Ghost Story".
  • In Odd Squad, secret handshakes are a sign of positive chemistry and show that a strong bond of friendship exists between two Odd Squad Investigation agents who are partners.
    • In Season 1, Olive and Otto have their own handshake that ends with both of them reciting the latter's Mad Libs Catchphrase ("Boom-handshake-a-lotta!").
    • Season 2 has Olympia initially attempting one with her new partner Otis in "First Day". He fails to return it, showing that they aren't necessarily best friends yet and have weak chemistry with each other. However, they eventually come up with one and perform it subconsciously at the end of the episode after they've had time to bond with each other, which Olympia explicitly refers to as "a sign that we are perfect partners". "Agent Orchid's Almost Half-Hour Talent Show" has Olympia and Otis incorporating a new and improved version of their handshake into their act at the eponymous talent show.
    • Season 3 breaks the trend and averts the trope, as none of the Mobile Unit agents are shown to have any secret handshakes between each other despite being partners. Likewise, Opal and Omar in particular aren't shown to have a secret handshake when working as Investigation agents at the Arctic precinct. In spite of this, however, they all work well together as friends.
  • Kevin and Holt have one of these as a way of expressing affection in Brooklyn Nine-Nine. Being two very stoic and unimaginative people, it consists of the standard handshake but their thumbs meet first, and they consider it intimate enough to qualify as PDA.

  • In the Twenty One Pilots video "Stressed Out", the music stops for about ten seconds while Tyler and Josh perform an extremely elaborate handshake.

  • Kingmaker: The Dumbwaiter Fraternity, a secret society of former royal kitchen staff in Velouria founded after the revolution left them temporarily unemployed, has a secret handshake. The narrator doesn't even bother to try describing it, but it's preceded by a verbal call-and-response that is stated.
    Maitre'd: "You can never use too much salt."
    Telesphore: "But you can have too much pepper."

    Tabletop Games 
  • Given the numerous Secret Societies in Alpha Complex, Paranoia can be rife with these. Devious GMs are encouraged to give the players' societies secret handshakes that are very similar to some other group's handshake, then direct them to find an ally and sit back as Hilarity Ensues.

    Video Games 
  • 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.
  • In Gabriel Knight Blood of the Sacred, Blood of the Damned, Gabriel has an opportunity to see a secret handshake performed by two people he's observing. If you're able to recreate the handshake later for Detective Mosley, he reveals that it's Masonic (as in the Freemasons).

    Web Animation 
  • 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.


    Web Video 
  • In Community Channel video "Must Contain One Uppercase Letter", Natalie suggests that handshakes should be used instead of passwords and security questions. A scene plays out where she performs an elaborate handshake with a hand coming out of a computer screen before reading that it doesn't meet the requirements.
    Natalie: Handshake must contain three fistbumps, two backslaps and at least one hi-five...

    Western Animation 
  • 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.
  • Bob's Burgers: In "Tina Tailor Soldier Spy", the rival Thunder Girls from Troop 257 have a secret handshake... that turns out to take the form of doing the "pull my finger" gag three times in a row, then shouting "Troop Two-Fifty-Seven!" This comes in handy, as Louise uses the troop's reflexive reaction to it in order to help Tina out the "mole" who's been leaking Troop 119's cookie-selling leads to Troop 257.
  • In Camp Lazlo episode "Slap Happy", the Jelly Cabin invents an Accidental Dance Craze which, by Contrived Coincidence, is the same as the Legume Council's secret handshake. To ensure he won't be blamed for a security breach, Scoutmaster Lumpus tries to teach Jelly Cabin a new dance craze, which ends up including jumping through a ring of fire, riding another camper like a horse, and throwing a fit.
  • Bender proves he was part of the Robot House Fraternity in Futurama episode "Mars University" with this. His version is described as "close enough" — and he accidentally tears one of the other guy's fingers off.
  • On Jimmy Two-Shoes, Lucius does this with a mechanical hand as a means of getting into his vault.
  • Miraculous Ladybug: In Optygami, we discover that Alya and Nino have their own secret handshake, which usually ends with them giggling. Becomes a Chekhov's Gun later in the episode, as Nino has been replaced by a sentimonster created by Shadow Moth, which means that he doesn't know the secret handshake. This is what tips Ladybug off that he isn't what he seems.
  • Molly of Denali: In "A Song For Lola," Miranda and Midge demonstrate their secret handshake, a testament to their strong friendship.
  • 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!"
  • 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.
  • 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 $.
  • Sofia the First: In "Four's a Crowd", Sofia, Ruby, and Jade have one as a clapping game, but Sofia gets jealous when the latter two teach it to Amber and leave her out.
    Like three birdies in a nest
    Three friends are the very best
    Like three berries on a vine
    Three friends always make it fine
    One, two, three! It's how we're meant to be!
  • Sonic the Hedgehog (SatAM): In one episode, Sonic the Hedgehog (SatAM), 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.
  • In the Steven Universe episode "Lars and the Cool Kids", 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.
  • SpongeBob SquarePants:
    • In "Mid-Life Crustacean", 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.
    • In "Imitation Krabs", we have 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.
    • The episode "Cephalopod Lodge", the titular club has one that involves slapping their tentacles and suction cups together. SpongeBob and Patrick try to create one that is essentially patty-cake. When Squidward points out that flaw, SpongeBob tries to justify it by saying they don't use their pinkies.

    Real Life 
  • 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)
  • Similarly, in martial arts, a 'form' (called a kata in Japanese, a taolu in Chinese, and a hyung or tul in Korean) is a routine performed to demonstrate skill. Executing a form requires balance, body control, and precise movements, and in some schools are taken more seriously than sparring.
  • 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").note  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).


Blu and Linda's Handshake

Blu and Linda have a secret handshake that is shown 3 times in the film.

How well does it match the trope?

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