1902 Encyclopedia > Salutations


SALUTATIONS, or greetings, are customary forms of kindly or respectful address, especially on meeting or parting or on occasions of ceremonious approach. Etymologically the word salutation (Lat. salutatio, " wishing health") refers to words spoken, but the conventional gestures are even more purposeful, and both should be considered together. The principal modes of saluting, when classified, fall into a few groups, with well-defined meanings, the examination of which explains the practice of any particular tribe or nation.

Forms of salutation frequent among savages and bar-barians may last on almost unchanged in civilized custom, or may be found in modified shapes, while in other cases they may have disappeared altogether and been replaced by new greetings. The habit of affectionate clasping or embracing is seen at the meetings of the rude Andamaners and Australians, or where the Fuegians in friendly salute hug "like the grip of a bear." This natural gesture appears in old Semitic and Aryan custom :—"Esau ran to meet him (Jacob) and embraced him, and fell on his neck, and kissed him, and they wept" (Gen. xxxiii. 4); so, when Ulysses makes himself known, Philcetius and Eumaeus cast their arms round him with kisses on the head, hands, and shoulders (Odyss., xxi. 223) :—


The embrace continues habitual through later ages, and, though in modern times a good deal restricted, it still marks the meetings of near kinsfolk and lovers. But the kiss, associated with it in passages like those just cited, has no such universality. The idea of the kiss being an instinctive gesture is negatived by its being unknown over half the world, where the prevailing salute is that by smelling or sniffing (often called by travellers "rubbing noses"), which belongs to Polynesians, Malays, Burmese and other Indo-Chinese, Mongols, &c, extending thence eastward to the Eskimo and westward to Lapland, where Linnaeus saw relatives saluting by putting their noses together. This seems the only appearance of the habit in Europe. On the other hand the kiss, the salute by tasting, appears constantly in Semitic and Aryan antiquity, as in the above cases from the book of Genesis and the Odyssey, or in Herodotus's description of the Persians of his time kissing one another—if equals on the mouth, if one was somewhat inferior on the cheek (Herod., i. 134). In Greece in the classic period it became customary to kiss the hand, breast, or knee of a superior. In Rome the kisses of in-feriors became a burdensome civility (Martial, xii. 59):— " Te vieinia tota, te pilosus Hircoso premit osculo colonus.'"

The early Christians made it the sign of fellowship : " greet all the brethren with an holy kiss " (1 Thess. v. 26; cf. Rom. xvi. 16, &c.); and this may even now be seen among Anabaptists, who make an effort to retain primitive Christian habit. It early passed into more ceremonial form in the kiss of peace given to the newly baptized and in the celebration of the Eucharist ; this is retained by the Oriental Church. After a time, however, its indiscriminate use between the sexes gave rise to scandals, and it was restricted by ecclesiastical regulations—men being only allowed to kiss men, and women women, and eventually in the Roman Church the ceremonial kiss at the communion being only exchanged by the ministers, but a relic or cross called an osculatorium or pax being carried to the people to be kissed. While the kiss has thus been adopted as a religious rite, its original social use has continued. Among men, however, it has become less effusive, the alteration being marked in England at the end of the 17th century by such passages as the advice to Sir Wilfull by his London-bred brother :—" in the country, where great lubberly brothers slabber and kiss one another when they meet; . . . 'T is not the fashion here." The kiss on both cheeks between parents and children on Continental railway platforms now surprises the undemonstrative Englishman, who, when servants sometimes kiss his hand in southern Europe, is even more struck by this relic of servile ages. Court ceremonial keeps up the kiss on the cheek between sovereigns and the kissing of the hand by subjects, and the pope, like a Roman emperor, receives the kiss on his foot. A curious trace which these osculations have left behind is that when ceasing to be performed they are still talked of by way of politeness : Austrians say, " küss d'Hand !" and Spaniards, "beso a Vd. las manos!" "I kiss your hands!"

Strokings, pattings, and other caresses have been turned to use as salutations, but have not a wide enough range to make them important. Weeping for joy, often occurring naturally at meetings, is sometimes affected as a salutation; but this seems to be different from the highly ceremonious weeping performed by several rude races when, meeting after absence, they renew the lamentations over those friends who have died in the meantime. The typical case is that of the Australians, where the male nearest of kin presses his breast to the new comer's, and the nearest female relative, with piteous lamentations, embraces his knees with one hand, while with the other she scratches her face till the blood drops. Obviously this is no joy-weeping, but mourning, and the same is true of the New Zealand tangi, which is performed at the reception of a distinguished visitor, whether he has really dead friends to mourn or not.
Cowering or crouching is a natural gesture of fear or inability to resist that belongs to the brutes as well as man ; its extreme form is lying prostrate face to ground. In barbaric society, as soon as distinctions are marked between master and slave, chief and commoner, these tokens of submission become salutations. The sculptures of Egypt and Assyria show the lowly prostrations of the ancient East, while in modern Dahomey or Siam subjects crawl before the king, and even Siberian peasants grovel and kiss the dust before a noble. A later stage is to suggest, but not actually perform, the prostration, as the Arab bends his hand to the ground and puts it to his lips or forehead, or the Tongan would touch the sole of a chief's foot, thus symbolically placing himself under his feet. Kneeling prevails in the middle stages of culture, as in the ceremonial of China; Hebrew custom sets it rather apart as an act of homage to a deity (1 Kings xix. 18 ; Isa. xlv. 23); mediaeval Europe distinguishes between kneeling in worship on both knees and on one knee only in homage, as in the Boke of Gurtasye (15th century) :—

" Be curtayse to god, and knele doun On bothe knees with grete deuocioun; To mon bou shalle knele opon be ton, be tober to by self bou halde aloii."

Bowing, as a salute of reverence, appears in its extreme in Oriental custom, as among the ancient Israelites: " bowed himself to the ground seven times " (Gen. xxxiii. 3). The Chinese according to the degree of respect implied bow kneeling or standing. The bowing salutation, varying in Europe from something less than the Eastern salaam down to the slightest inclination of the head, is interesting from being given mutually, the two saluters each making the sign of submission to the other, which would have been absurd till the sign passed into mere civility. Uncovering is a common mode of salutation, originally a sign of disarming or defencelessness or destitution in the presence of a superior. Polynesian or African chiefs require more or less stripping, such as the uncovering to the waist which Captain Cook describes in Tahiti. Taking off the hat by men has for ages been the accepted mode in the Western world, done in a frequent,, demonstrative way by such as make a show of politeness, and who by being " free of cappe and full of curtesye " pay cheaply social debts; but modern society has moderated this bowing and scraping (the scrape is throwing back the right leg as the body is bent forward), as well as the curtseys (courtoisie) of women. Eastern nations are apt to see disrespect in baring the head, but insist on the feet being uncovered; the importance attached to entering barefoot is well known to English officials in India; Burmah was agitated for years by "the great shoe question," whether Europeans should be called on to conform to native custom, rather than their own, by taking off their shoes to enter the royal presence. Grasping hands is a gesture which makes its appearance in antiquity as a legal act symbolic of the parties joining in compact, peace, or friendship; this is well seen in marriage, where the hand grasp was part of the ancient Hindu ceremony, as was the "dextrarum. junctio" in Rome, which passed on into the Christian rite. In the classic world we see it passing into a mere salutation, as where the tiresome acquaintance met by Horace on his stroll along the Via Sacra seizes his hand (Hor., Sat, i. 9):— "Arreptaque manu,' Quid agis, dulcissime rerum ?"' Giving the right hand of fellowship (Gal. ii. 9) passed naturally into a salutation throughout Christendom, and spread, probably from Byzantium, over the Moslem world. The emphatic form of the original gesture in "striking hands" is still used to make the greeting more hearty. The variety called in English "shaking hands" (Germ. Händeschütteln) only appears to have become usual in the Middle Ages. In the Moslem legal form of joining hands, the parties press their thumbs together.8 This has been adopted as a salute by African tribes. But it has been especially English traders and missionaries who of late years have introduced shaking hands far and wide in the world, so that even such rude peoples as Australians and Hottentots, Eskimo and Fuegians, unite in practising this modern civilized custom.

As to words of salutation, it is found even among the lower races that certain ordinary phrases have passed into formal greetings. Thus among the Tupis of Brazil, after the stranger's silent arrival in the hut, the master, who for a time had taken no notice of him, would say " Ere-ioube?" that is, " Art thou come?" to which the proper reply was, " Yes, I am come !" Many formulas express difference of rank and consequent respect, as where the Basuto salute their chiefs with "Tama sevata!" i.e., " Greeting, wild beast! " Congo negroes returning from a journey salute their wives with an affectionate Okowe! but they meekly kneeling round him may not repeat the word, but must say Ka! ka/& Among cultured nations, salutations are apt to be expressions of peace and goodwill, as in the Biblical instances, "Is it well with thee ?" (2 Kings iv. 26); "Peace to thee, and peace to thine house," &c. (1 Sam. xxv. 6; see Ezra iv. 17). Such formulas run on from age to age, and the latter may be traced on to the Moslem greeting, "Salam 'alaikum!" The peace be on you," to which the reply is Wa-alaikum as-saiam! "And on you be the peace (sc. of God)!"6 This is an example how a greeting may become a password among fellow-believers, for it is usually held that it may not be used by or to an infidel. From an epigram of Meleager (Anth., ed. Jacobs, vii. 119 ; cf. Plautus, Pcen., -v., passim) we learn that, while the Syrian salutation was Shelom ("Peace!"), the Phoenicians greeted by wishing life (_____, ____, &c, of Neo-Punic gravestones). The cognate Babylonian form, "O king, live for ever !" (Dan. iii. 9), represents a series of phrases which continue still in the Vivat rex! "Long live the king !" The Greeks said _____ "Be joyful!" both at meeting and parting; the Pythagorean _____ and the Platonic _____ wish health; at a later time _____, " I greet!" came into fashion. The Romans applied Salve! "Be in health!" especially to meeting, and Vale! "Be well!" to parting. In the modern civilized world, everywhere, the old inquiry after health appears, the "How do you do?" becoming so formal as often to be said on both sides without either waiting for an answer.

Hardly less wide in range is the set of phrases "Good day!" "Good night!" &c, varying according to the hour, and translating into every language of Christendom. Among other European phrases, some correspond to our "welcome!" and "farewell!" while the religious element enters into another class, exemplified by our "Good-bye!" ("God be with you!"), and French Adieu! Attempts have been made to shape European greetings into expressions of orthodoxy, or even tests of belief, but they have had no great success. Examples are a Protestant German salutation "Lobe Jesum Christum!" answered by "In Ewigkeit, Amen!" and the formula which in Spain enforces the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception, " Ave Maria purisima !" answered by " Sin pecado concebida !" On the whole, though the half-meaningless forms of salu- tation may often seem ridiculous, society would not carry them on so universally unless it found them useful. In fact, they serve the substantial purpose of keeping up social intercourse, and establishing relations between the parties in an interview, of which their tone may strike the key note. Montaigne, a master of the courtesy of an age more ceremonious than ours, truly asserts their importance, " C'est au demourant une tres utile science que la science de l'entregent." (E. B. T.)


3 Lane, Mod. Eg., vol. i. p. 219. 4 Jean de Lery, part ii. p. 204.

The above article was written by: E. B. tylor, d.C.L., LL.D., F.R.S.

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