In college, the informant was a member of the Delta Upsilon Fraternity at Bucknell University in Pennsylvania. He joined in his sophomore year (2007-2008).
I first learned about this secret fraternity handshake on my brother’s birthday (Feb. 12). We were at our house in Pasadena for a quiet dinner celebration and I happened to mention that I was collecting folklore for a class project. I asked him if he had any special rituals or ceremonies from his fraternity and he said that they had a secret handshake. He didn’t seem too worried about letting me in on the secret so I asked him more about it. He described the handshake to me, but I really couldn’t picture it. Then, he told me to shake hands with him. I reached my hand out, and he shook it, but left his pinky finger out of the grip, folded under the clasped hands. I followed his example, shaking his hand without using my pinky. This is the Delta Upsilon secret handshake. I then proceeded to ask him some questions regarding the use of the handshake, which I recorded in short hand below:
Me: When would you use the handshake?
Informant: Um, well we first had to learn it during out pledge semester. Any time we came to the house for an event, we would have to shake hands like this with the active members.
Me: So the handshake is passed down from active members to new pledges?
Me: What about after pledging? Do you use the handshake at all?
Informant: Sometimes we’d use it as official frat events, but pretty much during rush week and stuff.
Me: Does it have any special significance for the fraternity members?
Informant: Not really, except for the fact that it shows you’re part of the frat.
Me: So it separates members from non-members?
Informant: Yeah pretty much.
Me: And it’s unique to Delta Upsilon?
Informant: Yeah, or at least I assume it is. Since I’m not a part of another frat, I don’t know what their handshakes are, or even if they have them.
Me: Are there any other reasons the frat has a secret handshake?
Informant: Uhhnn…not that I can think of.
From this brief conversation, I saw that the main function of having a secret handshake is to distinguish fraternity members from outsiders. In this way, the handshake creates a binary of insider versus outsider. Only a member of Delta Upsilon knows the handshake and those outside the fraternity are left out. The handshake works to bind people together through common fraternity knowledge. Also, although the informant did not mention this, it seems to me that the handshake could also possibly be used outside of the fraternity setting, in the real world, to recognize brothers from other chapters of Delta Upsilon.