Who Invented Clapping?

When I think you have done something well, I will do one of two things:

  1. Tell you how well you did
  2. Smash the palms of my hands together over and over in rapid succession.


At first glance, #2 seems a little odd. How did we decide that clapping, aka, creating noise by hitting our hands together, is a symbol for approval? Let’s find out in today’s Wonder Why Wednesday…

Who Invented Clapping?

Turns out, Bob Barker and The Price is Right invented clapping. Okay, so not really. Applause, called “a remarkably stable facet of human culture” actually predates the showcase showdown by thousands of years.

The Bible even makes reference to clapping in 2 Kings 11:12 — “Then he brought the king’s son out and put the crown on him and gave him the testimony; and they made him king and anointed him, and they clapped their hands and said, ‘Long live the king!'”

It is difficult to trace clapping back to one person or one specific date, but the general thought is that it was popularized in Ancient Roman theaters. Before the invention of the electronic applause sign, a play would end with the chief actor would yelling, “Valete et plaudite!” (“Goodbye and applause!”). This was a way to let the audience know that it was time to give praise and then get out.

The Roman Empire also used applause to get a sense of the popularity of their leaders. An article in The Atlantic states, “One of the chief methods politicians used to evaluate their standing with the people was by gauging the greetings they got when they entered the arena…Leaders became astute human applause-o-meters, reading the volume — and the speed, and the rhythm, and the length — of the crowd’s claps for clues about their political fortunes.”

Crazy to think of a world before Gallup polls and thumbs up emoji.

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