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Give me five, (together with its main variants such as slap me five, give me a five etc.) is a very common way greet or celebrate asking someone to hit their open hand against yours.

Give me five! (mainly AmE, informal):

  • People say give me five! to show that they want you to hit your hand against their hand to show you are pleased about something. Hey, we won! Give me five! (Collins Dictionary)

This gesture is so popular that it’s become common in also other languages such as French “tape m’en cinq”, Italian “dammi un cinque” and Spanish “choca/dame esos cinco”.

Though the interjection is mainly used in spoken language, I’d like to know:

  • when did the expression “give me five” enter the AmE language. What are its earliest documented usages?

  • was the expression coined to informally describe a way of celebrating using open hands which was already common among American people?

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    Related, as a point of interest and to say that it's not a duplicate: Give me five vs Give me a five – Andrew Leach Jul 6 '18 at 17:35
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    It’s the same as a “high five”, which I assume is the earlier expression. – Laurel Jul 6 '18 at 17:38
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    My vague impression is that this originated in the African American community, although I could be totally wrong about this. – Peter Shor Jul 6 '18 at 18:49
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    @DanBron: From a play by Langston Hughes, ca. 1956, "( ... rushes over to congratulate her) ... Gimme five, Miss Mamie, gimme five. (They shake hands)". Not the current usage, but close. And definitely the African American community. – Peter Shor Jul 6 '18 at 19:01
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    You have five fingers on your hand. That's all. – Mitch Jul 6 '18 at 19:04
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Why do we say “gimme five?”

Because there are five fingers on the hand, being placed against the speaker’s open hand as in an act of giving. Same reason a slang synonym is “gimme some skin.” This book claims the basic greeting came from West Africa. This article notes the similarity of the gesture to some Egyptian iconography:

What are its earliest documented usages?

The OED doesn’t have anything about the expression itself but gives the first attestation for “high five” (except as a card game) as

1980 Boston Globe 25 Mar. 38/3

Rodney..clapped his brother the ‘high five’, this year's handslapping motion.

A little bit later, you get “low five

1980 Washington Post 15 Sept. d3/6

The Montrealers exchanged ‘high fives’, ‘low fives’ and ‘sidearm fives’. They didn't want to leave the field as the waves of cheers washed over them.

High fiving” and “to high-five” show up the same year. So 1980 is the big year for what we now think of as a high five.

This article claims that African-Americans had already been “giving skin”—in the form of a low five—since the 1920s and that might be the case, but the OED doesn't find anything in print about “gimme some skin” until the 1940s, when it just meant a handshake. The 1944 Handbook of Harlem Jive notes (p. 85) that “the act of ‘Gimme-some-skin’ involves some theatricals, an intricate sense of timing, plenty of gestures” but it's still just an elaborate/secret handshake. (More.)

It's not until the late '60s that you get anything different

1967 Harper's Mag. Nov. 62/2

Once—when I came in on the break behind him at precisely the right point—Pops gave me some skin. He reached out his dark old hand..and I turned my hand, palm up... Pops lightly brushed my open palm in a half-slap, the jive set's seal of approval.

and televised sports began making it more generally popular

1974 H. L. Foster Ribbin', Jivin', & Playin' Dozens iv. 119

The viewer of TV sporting events will often observe black athletes, and whites too now, giving skin after a home run, a touchdown, or at the start of a basketball game.

tl;dr:

Pace the Egyptians, the current action takes its name from the act of placing one's five fingers into another's hand as a handshake (1930s or '40s) or low-five style ('60s), morphing over into a high five ('70s), and hitting the mainstream in 1980.

4
+100

'Give me five' in 1950s and 1960s popular culture

The expression "Give Me Five" shows up as a song title in "Capacity Throng Hears Four Groups at H.S.'s Annual Winter Concert," in the Irvington [New York] Gazette (January 26, 1967):

The Stage Band, a group of eight featuring Mr. Sprague on the trumpet and Paul Jellinek, drummer, which recently shifted its interest from Dixieland to progressive music, regaled the audience with enthusiastic renditions of “Bittersweet” and “Give Me Five”—both by Dedrick—and “Work Song” by Brown. Other members of this talented combo are saxophonists Helen Graham, Katherine Sheridan and Ephrem Marder, trumpeter Warren Goodell, trombonists Evan Wright and Robert Fox and string bass player Arthur Samuelson, who also doubles on the tuba.

A high-school jazz band isn't the most likely place to encounter a slang term for the first time, and the context is certainly ambiguous—"give me five" might refer to $5, 5 minutes, a 5/4 time signature, or any of a number of other things. But photographic evidence that "give me five" was in use in 1967 as a request to slap hands in congratulations is evident from a photograph caption in the Santa Cruz [California] Sentinel (October 9, 1967):

Give Me Five, Bob

In the photograph, St. Louis Cardinals pitcher Bob Gibson is slapping hands with first baseman Orlando Cepeda at the close of his complete-game shutout of Boston in game 4 of the 1967 Wold Series. The exchange is neither a high five (head-high or higher) nor a low five (roughly knee-high).

Earlier instances of the expression, however, may refer to clasping or shaking hands rather than slapping hands. For example, from Phil Petty, "Campus Scout," in the [Urbana-Champaign, Illinois] Daily Illini (September 25, 1954):

Miguel, the Hibernian hipster, made his monthly report the other day. He accosted the Scout on the Broadwalk near the Auditorium. He lives in the bushes there, waiting in vain for another jazz show to bring him out of his doldrums.

"Scout, tiger," he yelled. "Gimme five, hombre."

We shook hands.

"What gives with el periodico?" he asked. "How's existance amongst yon rectangles?"

"Wild, amigo," said the Scout.

"Feed me the latest, Padre-o," he went on. "When do we live again?"

"October One," said the Scout. "The Man returns."

"Loco," said Miguel. "Who's with?"

"Tatum, Slam, Ventura, McCall, Shorty, Shelley, and 'Moonlight In Vermont,'" said the Scout.

The specified "who's with" are presumably Art Tatum, Slam Stewart, Charlie Ventura, Mary Ann McCall, Shorty Rogers, and Shelley Mann—jazz musicians of the late bebop era and the cool jazz epoch that followed it. Maybe "the Scout" was too deficient in cool to know how to respond properly to a request to "gimme five," or both he and Miguel the Hibernian hipster were lame poseurs; but on the face of it, their "gimme five" was a grip. The same appears to apply to the instance that Peter Shor notes (in a comment above) from Langston Hughes, Simply Heavenly (1957):

CHARACTER Tch-tch-tch! (Clicking his tongue in disgust, the LITTLE MAN leaves the bar as MAMIE rises and threatens him with her purse. The PIANIST rushes over to congratulate her)

PIANIST Gimme five, Miss Mamie, gimme five! (They shake hands)

MAMIE Solid!


'Give me five' in dictionaries of African American slang

Clarence Major, Juba to Jive: A Dictionary of African-American Slang (1994) has this entry for "give [one] five":

Give [one] five imper., v. (1940s–1950s) a physical show of approval or greeting, enacted when two people slap their hands together.

According to Major, "[to give one] five" is an even older expression:

[To give one] Five v., n. (1930s–1950s) to slap hands together as a form of greeting; the five fingers on a hand.

Other allied expressions that Major notes include these:

Give me five [on the sly] imper., v. (1950s–1990s) a request to slap hands together in agreement or approval.

Give me five [on the soul side] imper., v. (1950s–1990s) a request to slap hands together in agreement.

...

Give [one] some skin imper., v. (1940s–1950s) a request to slap hands in agreement.

...

High five n. (1980s–1990s) palm slap of agreement with arms raised;one's open palm held above one's head, to be slapped against someone else's palm; gesture expresses approval, agreement, greeting.

Although Major seems to view the contact solicited by each of these imperatives to be a similar palms-out hand slap, Geneva Smitherman: Black Talk: Words and Phrases from the Hood to the Amen Corner (1994) notes that certain special movements or hand positions might required:

Five on the Black-Hand Side A FIVE on the outer side of the hand rather than the palm side, that is, on the darker, "Black-hand" side.

Five on the Sly A FIVE with the hands held behind the back, down low, done surreptitiously to assert camaraderie without the awareness of onlookers.

Again, these entries appear 50 years after "gimme five" appeared in the Daily Illini and 47 years after it did in Simply Heavenly, so they may not accurately reflect the earliest understanding of the request to "give me five"—although Smitherman insists that the custom of slapping hands goes back to West Africa:

Five A slapping o palms to show affirmation, strong agreement, celebration of victory; also used as a greeting. Derived from a West African communication style, as in Mandingo i golo don m bolo, literally, "put your skin in my hand," a phrase used to accompany another phrase or statement requesting the listener's show of affirmation.

Perhaps Langston Hughes was out of the loop on that tradition, as Phil Petty at el periodico undoubtedly was. In any case, the earliest mid-century occurrences of "give me five" in the relevant sense that I have been able to find are clustered first in jazz music lingo and second in sports.


Earlier kindred expression in American slang

J. E. Lighter, Random House Historical Dictionary of American Slang (1994) finds instances of "slap me five" going back to the 1959:

slap {or give} five to slap someone's palm or palms in greeting or congratulation. [Earliest cited instance:] 1959 N.Y.C. high school student: Slap me five! Yeah, man!

But Lighter notes that "slip [or give or lay] five" as slang for shaking hands goes back to the first quarter of the twentieth century:

slip {or give or lay} five to shake hands.—usu. imper. [First four cited instances:] 1918 in A[merican S[peech] (Oct. 1933) 31: H'are yuh, buddy? Slip me five. 1926 Maines & Grant Wise-Crack Dict[ionary] 13: Slip us five: request for a handshake. 1928 A[merican] S[peech] III (Feb.)221: To shake hands. Hello, Herb! Slip me five!" 1935 in Paxton Sport 202: Put it there, doc....Give me five. I congratulate you, doggone it. 1959 L. Hughes Simply Heavenly 126: Gimme five, Miss Mamie, gimme five!

A couple of additional sources corroborate Lighter's entry for "slip five." From U.S. Military Prison, Stray Shots, volumes 7–8 (1919[–1920?]) [combined snippets]:

"Hi Simons," the veteran secretary of the 1st gang is leaving us this month. Those of us who have come to look forward to his genial smile and "Slip me five, kid," do not know quite what we will do without him. However, we know that big things await him in Chicago where he is bound.

...

Dictionary of Prison Slang

The following words and their meanings have come in to us during the past month for the Slang Dictionary:

...

Slip me five—shake hands

And from Missouri-Kansas-Texas Railroad, M.K. and T. Employes' Magazine, volume 8 (1920):

The past few days of balmy spring weather heralds the approach of the baseball season. It will not be long until the thud of the horsehide against the leather gloves and the clear crack of the hickory bats will echo from all available sand lots and corners. The next few weeks will wind up the most successful basketball season the Katy team has ever had. To date the records show nine clear victories and no defeats. Are we going to have a winning baseball team? Slip me five!

In Lighter's telling, then, the pianist's delighted "gimme five" in Hughes's play is not a restrained variant of the African American request for a palm slap, but a version of an older request of unspecified ethnic origin to shake hands in congratulation.


Conclusions

The expression "give me five" is widely understood today to be of African American origin—perhaps from as early as the 1930s—and to serve as an invitation to slap palms in triumph, amity, or approval. The earliest historical occurrences of the phrase used in this precise sense that I have been able to find, however, are from 1967.

Instances of "give me five" from a decade earlier explicitly involve shaking hands, not slapping palms. And those instances may be variants of the similar expression "slip me five"—also carrying the sense "shake hands"—from as early as 1918 and 1919.

But there are further complications to the story before 1918. Evidently "slip me five" was understood in at least some quarters in the early twentieth century to mean "pay me $5." For example, from Frank Finnegan, "'Props' Makes a Plaint," in Green Book Magazine (March 1910):

"'That's all he has to do [on stage],' he says, 'and of course I can't afford to take an extra man all over the country just to play that little bit."

"'Can you afford to slip me five?' I says.

"'Sure,' he says, producin' the shoestring and we went right into rehearsal.

...

"'Say,' I says, holdin' out a bunch of bills, 'here's four back out of your five-spot—I'll need the other one for arnica and court-plaster—and I'm resignin' from your 'Co.'

The farther back you follow the trail of "give me five," the hazier its origin becomes. Perhaps the phrase arose independently in separate American milieus in overlapping decades to mean coincidentally similar things. Or perhaps it began with a single ancestral form and meaning long ago and has generated a series of variants and offshoots over the course of more than a century of existence. I can't confidently rule out either possibility.

  • That Sentinel thing is not giving five. Long before, and even now, a person sticks out his or her palm and gets it slapped. That is completely different than giving five. – Lambie Aug 10 '18 at 16:13
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    @Lambie: It is certainly possible that the caption writer for the Sentinel didn't know what he or she was talking about when giving the photo the caption title "Give Me Five, Bob." On the other hand, slang is peculiarly subject to regional variations in meaning, since—especially at early stages in the popularization of an expression—understood meanings tend to be passed by word of mouth rather than by resort to a dictionary. In any event, rightly or wrongly, the caption writer in Santa Cruz, California, in 1967 seems to have thought that the photo captured Gibson giving Cepeda five. – Sven Yargs Aug 10 '18 at 17:11
  • Palm slapping has been around a very long time in American culture. But, the hands are not the same as the contemporary give me five. I am sure the caption writer did know it. It is your answer that does not explain the difference between a vertical "give me five" and a horizontal "give me five". The horizontal position of the hands preceded the vertical one. – Lambie Aug 11 '18 at 14:45
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Give me five and its variant slap me five, high five etc

At first blush one is led to:

"High five" comes from U.S. basketball slang, 1980 as a noun, '81 as a verb.

see dictionary.com tweet

But then further researching the variations of same, one can find conflicting claims of credit. wikipedia

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.

Other credits from the same wikipedia link:

African-American culture since at least World War II

Magic Johnson > ~1970

French movie "Breathless" 1960

the low five in ~1920

in Tokyo > WW2 "hai tatchi"

Abbott and Costello

Plays by Langston Hughes ~ 1956


My sense is it was popularized by sports in Ame in the early 70ies, but its antecedents occurred in earlier 120th century in Ame and Black America.

Humans have always had hands! No telling how the connection of 2 different hand connected in greeting and celebrations during the millenia.

enter image description here

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    It is not clear what you mean by “other credits” and where you took them from. – user240918 Jul 6 '18 at 19:35
  • @user110518 from the same wikipedia link earlier in my answer. I so edited – lbf Jul 6 '18 at 19:44
  • …in the early 70ies, but its antecedents occurred in earlier 120th century in Ame and Black America. Spot the errors! – Mari-Lou A Aug 9 '18 at 20:15
  • @Mari-LouA. Black America n. (also with lower-case initial in the first element) the black population of the United States, esp. considered as a cultural or political entity. OED – lbf Aug 9 '18 at 20:19
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    Why is everyone so picky? – Lambie Aug 10 '18 at 16:14
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Some claim the gesture was invented by Los Angeles Dodgers outfielder Glenn Burke when he spontaneously high-fived fellow outfielder Dusty Baker after a home run during a game in 1977. Others claim the 1978-79 Louisville basketball team started it on the court.

This is taken from the Business Insider, "Where Does the High Five Come From?" (April 19, 2018):

Thursday is National High Five Day, celebrating one of the most ubiquitous hand gestures in the world.

But while plenty of people have high-fived before, few know the high five's surprising history.

There are various origin stories to the gesture, but the most widely accepted one pins the high five to a 1977 baseball game between the Los Angeles Dodgers and the Houston Astros.

It was the last game of the season, and Dodgers outfielder Dusty Baker had just hit a home run - his 30th of the season. The accomplishment made the Dodgers the first team in Major League history to have four players hit 30 homers.

Baker's rookie teammate Glenn Burke was waiting for him on deck, and as Baker crossed home plate, Burke triumphantly lifted his hands in the air.

"The way the legend goes … Glenn put his arm high in the air, and Dusty didn't know what to do, so he slapped it," Dodgers historian Mark Langill said in the ESPN documentary "The High Five."

Although slapping hands as a type of handshake dates back to at least the 1920s, there was something different about the way Burke and Baker did it that instantly caught the public's attention.

"It was such a moment. It was the energy of it, and it was just this explosion of emotion," Dodgers reporter Lyle Spencer told ESPN. "It was something just unique."

Jon Mooallem, a journalist who has documented the high five's history, relayed Burke's thoughts about the historic moment.

"The way he used to tell the story of that first high five with Dusty Baker, wasn't necessarily that he had innovated something, so much as that he was so overwhelmed with joy and pride of what Dusty had just done, that the high five came out of him, that Dusty had brought it out of him," he told ESPN.

From there, the Dodgers quickly adopted the high five as a symbol of team pride, and performed it regularly over the next few seasons, to the delight of the media and fans of the team.

Burke's tenure with the Dodgers was short-lived, however, and his demise is mired in controversy. Burke was openly gay among his teammates. In 1978, despite being an up-and-coming contributor to the team, he was traded to the Oakland Athletics. Some of Burke's teammates maintain to this day he was traded because of his sexuality.

In the Bay Area, Burke became an icon in the gay community, and he brought his famous high five with him. In San Francisco's Castro district, the high five became "a defiant symbol of gay pride," as Mooallem wrote for ESPN in 2011.

Burke received little playing time in Oakland, and fell out of the major leagues after five seasons. He died from complications from AIDS in 1995, at the age of 42.

Forty years after he helped invent the high five, his gesture remains a universal symbol of celebration.

  • Hello! You can post the link to Business Insider, just copy and paste the url in the answer itself. If the text is copied verbatim from the site, we prefer that you to use block quotes, see Sven Yarg's and IIy's answers to get an idea of what quoted text looks like. – Mari-Lou A Aug 10 '18 at 12:48
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    -1 because it's not clear that the entire answer is copy and pasted from the site. uk.businessinsider.com/… – Mari-Lou A Aug 10 '18 at 13:24
  • The question is about 'gimme five', not the related but distinct 'high five'. – Mitch Jan 16 at 13:14

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