Whats with the clapping?
By Simonbook - 03 Nov 2015 in
Why is it we strike our hands together violently to indicate we're appreciative of what someone did? It’s an odd thing, an arbitrary cultural act that could have been just about anything. Slapping knees, howling, headbutting, all could have been the tradition just as easily as clapping.
In a recent article in Esquire, Elwyn Simons, head of Duke University's Division of Fossil Primates, says "We don’t know know how far back it goes… but you don't find primates doing it unless they've been taught to do it. They do not clap hands in the wild. It's not to applaud something. It's because they’re frightened or want to call attention to food".
Jay Fisher, a professor at Yale University, dates the custom to the 3rd century BC, where (Greek?) plays ended with a request, plaudite, for the audience to clap.
Various cultures throughout history have had alternatives to clapping. Some articles mentions the Romans snapped their fingers. Bruce Springsteen fans yell "Bruuuuuce" at his concerts, which to many people new to his concerts, sounds exactly like people booing, as they should.
I also find it interesting, when I'm an audience, to try and be the first person to clap. Often there's silence when performances, or lectures, end, and whoever claps first can always start a good number of people clapping. It's a strange phenomenon.