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Contagious Ideas

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Rodeo hands wearing cowboy hats Rodeo hands wearing cowboy hats (emilio labrador/flickr/CC-BY-2.0)

We're left wondering, what would happen if you were to treat a good idea like an infectious disease? Could you trace it back to one individual, and one flash of insight? Jon Mooallem tells us about his quest to track down the origin of the high five--a story that starts with one of the most celebratory gestures imaginable ... and ends with a choice that pits a happy ending against a more complicated reality. Lutha Davis, Greg Harrell-Edge, Nolan Smith, and Kathy Gregory all weigh in with competing explanations. And Tim Hemmes and Katie Schaffer tell a moving story about the power of their very own first high five.

All this leaves us with an inevitable, but unsettling question. A question that Jonnie Hughes helps answer with a broadminded look at the history of the cowboy hat.

Read More:

Jonnie Hughes, The Origin of Teepees

Debbie Henderson, Hat Talk

Tim Hemmes and Katie Schaffer give each other a high five (listen before you watch the video):


Kathy Gregory, Greg Harrell-Edge, Jonnie Hughes, Jon Mooallem and Nolan Smith

Comments [5]

Theodore Norvell from St. John's

I recently watched The Wild One (1953). There is a very clear high five in the scene where members of Black Rebels Motorcycle Club are showing Jimmy the ill-fated dishwasher various greeting rituals. I didn't quite catch the name they gave it.

Jan. 25 2013 01:09 PM
Grace from Colorado

A while after listening to this episode,I stumbled upon a video of Cab Calloway performing "Minnie the Moocher" in which he gives the announcer a high five after running onstage. This was filmed in 1958, I believe. Here's the video:
Just thought this might be interesting.

Nov. 08 2012 11:43 PM
Kerri McDMcDougald from Tampa Bay FL

Great stories this Sunday

May. 27 2012 11:56 AM
Mac from Brooklyn

The third theory of the cowboy hat's origins reminds me of the anthropic principle. not a perfect analog, I realize, but there's something there.

You guys are amazing. thanks for your work and come back to NYC with the live program!!

Jan. 25 2012 06:23 PM

I teach Information Literacy and I asked my students to listen to this segment as an example of "honest research." I was trying to get them to see that when they have a predetermined outcome to their research and cherry-pick results, that's not honest. I wanted them to focus on the way this program kept digging for the "real" origin of the high-five instead of stopping when they had an answer. Unfortunately, my students focused on how no sources were presented and that it was all word-of-mouth. I can't fault them for that -- I'm trying to teach them to be critical! So, my question for you is: how do we find the sources you used for your programs? If I want to point my students toward another episode, how do I also share with them the research that you did?

Jan. 25 2012 12:11 PM

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