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The high five is a celebratory hand gesture that occurs when two people simultaneously raise one hand each, about head-high, and push, slide, or slap the flat of their palm against the flat palm of the other person. The gesture is often preceded verbally by a phrase like "Give me five" or "High five."
There are many origin stories of the high five, but the two most documented candidates are Dusty Baker and Glenn Burke of the Los Angeles Dodgers professional baseball team on October 2, 1977, and Wiley Brown and Derek Smith of the Louisville Cardinals men's college basketball team during the 1978–1979 season.
The use of the phrase as a noun has been part of the Oxford English Dictionary since 1980 and as a verb since 1981. The phrase is related to the slang "give me five" which is a request for some form of handshake – variations include "slap me five," "slip me five," "give me (some) skin" – with 'five' referring to the number of fingers on a hand. The high five is opposed to the "low" five which has been a part of the African-American culture since at least World War II. It's probably impossible to know exactly when the low first transitioned to a high, but there are many theories about its inception. Magic Johnson once suggested that he invented the high five at Michigan State. Others have suggested it originated in the women's volleyball circuit of the 1960s.
As journalist Jon Mooallem tells the story:
After retiring from baseball, Burke, who was one of the first openly gay professional athletes, used the high five with other gay residents of the Castro district of San Francisco, where for many it became a symbol of gay pride and identification.
Another origin story places it at a University of Louisville Cardinals basketball practice during the 1978–79 season. Forward Wiley Brown went to give a plain old low five to his teammate Derek Smith, but suddenly Smith looked Brown in the eye and said, "No. Up high." Brown thought, "yeah, why are we staying down low? We jump so high," raised his hand and the high five was supposedly born. High fives can be seen in highlight reels of the 1978–79 Louisville team. During a telecast of a 1980 game, announcer Al McGuire shouted: "Mr. Brown came to play! And they're giving him the high-five handshake. High five!"
Sometime after 2002, the Burke story was challenged by Lamont Sleets, who played basketball for Murray State University. He claimed to be the originator of the high five in the 1960s because his father's Vietnam buddies were called The Five and the young Sleets would jump up and slap their hands and say "Hi, Five!". However the Sleets story was a hoax, a publicity stunt concocted by the founders of the "National High Five Day" (est. 2002) – they needed a 'founder' and so invented the story and plugged in Sleets' name. "We just found the guy [Sleets] and made up a story," said Conor Lastowka, a founder of National High Five Day and professional comedy writer.
Antecedents of the physical gesture of slapping palms together predates 1970s (when the high five originated) for example it can be seen in the 1960 French Nouvelle vague movie Breathless. However these earlier cases were never called "high fives" because the term had not yet been coined, and they lack the cultural context and meaning surrounding a gesture that originated in America in the late 1970s and 1980s independent of usage elsewhere.
In addition to the standard high five several other types of "five" exist.
The "low five" had already been known since at least the 1920s; written evidence can be found in Cab Calloway's 1938 Hepster's Dictionary. In the 1927 film The Jazz Singer, actor Al Jolson is seen performing the low five in celebration of the news of a Broadway audition. In African-American Vernacular English (AAVE) this was known as "giving skin" or "slapping skin".
If one initiates a high five (or any variation thereof) by offering a hand(s), and no reciprocal hand appears to consummate the gesture, the initiator is said to have been "left hanging". This could be interpreted as an insult, friendly joke or form of enlightenment, depending on the context of its use.
Another variation is the "self high five". The action consists of raising one hand, generally the right hand, and tagging it with the other. It was often used by Diamond Dallas Page as part of his persona, such as in his WCW theme song "Self High Five". A variation of this variation was explored by Turkish artist Deniz Ozuygur who built a "Self High-five Machine", which was exhibited in New York City in 2010. It is a robotic arm that spins in circles striking another robotic arm, both of which are rubber casts of Ozuygur's own arms.
The "too slow" variation is a sequence of high five and low five, often accompanied by a rhyme such as "Up High. Down Low..." then, during the down low sequence, the initiator will surprise the counter-party by pulling their hand back at the last moment, thus tricking the other person to swipe empty air, completing the rhyme "Too slow!". There are variations on this theme, with additions of "at the side" and other hand positions for the partner to contact the initiator's hand.
"Too slow." (With gun-fingers.)
The too slow variation of the high five originated sometime after the late 1970s, when the high five itself originated. Certain notable sources have made reference to it, for example the title song for Lay on Five, a BBC children's television programme broadcast in 1985–86 featuring Floella Benjamin, ended "..too slow to Lay on Five". In the New York Times archives, the earliest reference is from 1993 when Arnold Schwarzenegger did it with the son of a film-crew member while on the set of Last Action Hero, saying: "Let's have five. Five high. Five low," at which point Arnold pulled his hand away saying "Too slow." The boy reportedly laughed. Arnold did it originally in the 1991 film Terminator 2: Judgment Day, when John Connor (Edward Furlong) teaches the Terminator (Arnold Schwarzenegger) to "Gimme five. Up high, down low, too slow." In 2008, They Might Be Giants released the song "High Five!" on an album for children titled Here Come the 123s, with lyrics "High five! Low five! Slap me five! Down low! Too slow!", a gesture described in the song as "old school" a slang term usually meaning something from a prior generation.
An air five is a variation where the hands of the participants never physically touch, needing only line of sight to make the gesture. It has an advantage for participants who are otherwise too far apart to achieve physical contact at the moment of the gesture. The participants may simply pretend to high five, or add an imitation sound of hand slapping. Also known as the wi-five, a mix of "wireless" and "high five" with a pun on wi-fi, a wireless computer technology.