On shaking hands and chancing your arm

Last weekend, in the world of Premier League football, there was the issue of a handshake that didn’t happen. Without going into the details or the rights and wrongs of the story, it’s enough to know that there is a breakdown of communication between John Terry (Chelsea) and Rio Ferdinand (Queen’s Park Rangers). The Big Question was whether they would shake hands during the pre-match formalities: the Big Answer was no.

In the picture, you can see John Terry’s unshaken hand.

There is another story – much older – about a proffered hand. It comes from an episode in Irish history when there was a feud between two families, the Ormonds and the Kildares. In 1492, the Earl of Ormond, Sir James Butler, and his men took refuge in St Patrick’s Cathedral, locking themselves inside. After the siege had gone on for some time, the Earl of Kildare, Gerald Fitzgerald, spoke to Butler in an attempt to break the stalemate.

Butler didn’t answer.

Kildare took his spear, cut a hole in the door, and put his hand through.

It was received by a hand inside the church. The door opened and the two men embraced in a gesture of reconciliation.

From this incident, they say, comes the expression “chancing one’s arm.”


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