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While the handshake has a long history, a fist bump might be a safer option this flu season. File/AP

This flu season, we’re all — rightfully — sensitive to being around each other. We open doors with our elbows and keep tissues at the ready. Some of us have actually started wearing infection-fighting masks as an extra layer of protection.

At a recent church service, hand sanitizer was placed at each end of the pew. During the normal meet-and-greet moment of the service, congregants were encouraged not to shake hands, but perhaps to touch elbows.

We all seem to eventually discuss whether we’ve had the flu shot or we haven’t. No family seems unaffected and every business, school, team or church has felt the flu’s impact.

I actually received a small bottle of hand sanitizer in my stocking for Christmas. It was a perfect and thoughtful gift because I shake more hands than I care to count some days.

Last week, I decided to go a different direction. Until the flu season passes, I’m all about the fist bump.

Ever wonder when the first fist bump surfaced? We’ve seen presidents and athletes popularize it. Doctors encourage it and say it is infinitely more hygienic than a handshake because there’s less contact and reduced skin surface exposure.

Not just for the germaphobe

If we’re going to replace the handshake, let’s at least explore its history. It was an ancient gesture, originally designed to reveal that a person wasn’t concealing a saber.

Declining to shake someone’s hand is extremely awkward.

What’s equally uncomfortable is trying to figure out why someone is squeezing your hand so hard or doesn’t seem to know how long to keep shaking it. It’s not a competition, just a polite way to say "How ya’ doin?"

To get to where we are with the fist bump, we have to appreciate how we got here. It’s an evolution of sorts, and for that we are forced to use the ever-popular word "begat." That’s right, the handshake begat the palm slap, which begat the high-five, which begat the fist bump.

High-five’s were popularized in athletics, but over-exuberant competitors were sometimes left with dislocated digits. High-five’s also favored tall people, leaving those vertically-challenged unfulfilled.

Some alternative options have surfaced, including the elbow tap. There’s also the hip bump, which seems to work in pro sports but doesn’t quite translate in most office settings.

The fist bump checks all the boxes and seems to communicate the proper signal whether it be a greeting, an approval or a victory. Plus, it puts the bumper and the bumpee on equal terms — knuckle to knuckle.

Fist to fist

If the eventual effort is battling bacteria, it seems fitting that we ball up our fists for the fight.

The untold backstory to all of this is that none of us probably washes our hands as often or as long as we should. Doctors recommend a hand-washing that should last as long as it takes to sing the A-B-C song twice. I rarely last long enough to get past the L-M-N-O-P portion of that song on the first go-round.

An open, extended hand is a welcoming, friendly gesture. It’s probably not the cleanest or most considerate form of greeting, however.

So here’s to another couple months of fist bumps. It’s better for all of us. And when the flu season ends, we can all run, in slow motion, to each other with open arms.

Reach Warren Peper at peperwarren@gmail.com.