I've read the following sentences from a book:

I wanted it so bad, I’d throw myself into practicing but somehow never got good —while other kids who weren’t putting in nearly the same amount of dedicated time picked up the skills without seeming to sweat the details. Were they just … naturals? Did they have private teachers? Secret handshakes?

Does this phrase have a literal meaning? I've tried to think that way, but it doesn't seem to make sense in this context.

I'd appreciate your help.

  • 2
    Secret handshake is the code that allows entry into a private club. But the passage means it figuratively, as though they had a skeleton key that let them in on acquiring those skills and talent with less work. Commented Mar 16, 2017 at 16:49
  • 1
    I agree with @YosefBaskin In this case, I think the author means that the students may have had private study groups and/or clubs for studying that gave them an advantage. Without knowing more context, though, I can't be certain if this is an accurate interpretation. Commented Mar 16, 2017 at 16:51
  • Thank you both of you!! The author doesn't provide any more clarification. So I think I can only guess the meaning.
    – user225598
    Commented Mar 16, 2017 at 17:00
  • Supposedly many "secret societies" in the past had "secret handshakes" (a handshake with the hands held in a certain position) which served as a code to identify members of the society. It is now almost always used in a metaphorical sense to mean some code, password, or just attitude which serves to allow members of a group to identify each other.
    – Hot Licks
    Commented Mar 16, 2017 at 17:18
  • @HotLicks "It is now almost always used in a metaphorical sense..." Ever heard of freemasonry?
    – WS2
    Commented Mar 16, 2017 at 17:46

2 Answers 2


A secret handshake is used by members of a secret organization, for example the freemasons, to discreetly identify oneself to other members:

enter image description here

Freemasons allegedly give preferential treatment to other members, for example by helping them into better jobs than they are really qualified for.

So, if somebody gets are really good job and it's hard to understand how they got it, you could suggest that they know the secret handshake.

That's the literal meaning: it doesn't seem to work very well for your text, as the other kids really did seem to learn quickly. I would assume that the metaphorical meaning is that the other kids seem to have have some hidden advantage that is not available to the writer.


The kids who picked up the skills might have got help from private teachers or wide friends circle.

In today's perspective the term secret handshake may mean the 'fist bump', a form of handshaking or greetings common among college age students and adolescents.

Two friends exchange a fist bump: (Wikipedia)

enter image description here

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