Smell the Glove.

Handshaking may be a chemical as well as a social greeting

GRIP firmly, maintain eye contact. What you do during a handshake is clear. But after? Research published this week suggests that humans, like other animals, use smell when they greet each other.

Noam Sobel of the Weizmann Institute of Science, in Israel, took note of an observation made by epidemiologists in 2008 about just how often people touch their faces. Dr Sobel had a hunch that it might have something to do with the gathering of scents—and could thus bear on the question of whether human beings secrete odiferous signalling molecules, sometimes known as pheromones.

Is there a metaphor it's referencing? I can't think of any. Why is it the title of the article?

  • The full article is not readily available.
    – TimR
    Commented Feb 20, 2019 at 20:52
  • You can get around many paywalls, including the one in this case (I just did it), by Googling some portion of the text, e.g. "What you do during a handshake is clear. But after? Research published this week". While many journal websites discourage direct linking to articles, they are often happy to let people access them via a Google search. Commented Feb 20, 2019 at 22:40

4 Answers 4


This is a reference to the mockumentary film This Is Spinal Tap, where the (fictional) band has an album called Smell The Glove.

  • Since then the phrase can be heard in various contexts. Commented Feb 20, 2019 at 23:17
  • @WeatherVane: as far as I'm aware, it was never a particularly notable phrase until Spinal Tap used it. Hence, everything else is a pop culture reference to it, knowing or unknowing.
    – SamBC
    Commented Feb 20, 2019 at 23:46
  • I'll add my vote, not because I necessarily believe that it's correct, but because I hope that it's true. If we knew whether the article is about misogyny, S/M, or heavy metal, we might be more certain.
    – Juhasz
    Commented Feb 20, 2019 at 23:59
  • Given the subtitle, I rather suspect that the linked article is about how humans (allegedly) subconsciously make use of scent in social interactions. I suspect, from the bits people have pasted, that it's claiming that people smell their hands after shaking someone's hand, and may be assessing the person based on what they smell. The writer (or editor) was then unable to resist making the reference.
    – SamBC
    Commented Feb 21, 2019 at 0:03
  • @Juhasz I’ve added the first couple paragraphs of the article for context.
    – ColleenV
    Commented Feb 21, 2019 at 1:23

As the other answers note, it's a reference to an album name from the movie This is Spinal Tap.

I add a separate answer only to note: in English, it is not uncommon for an article, publication, etc. in some medium on some topic to refer to some essentially unrelated cultural work. It's not necessary for a reference to entirely "fit" the context. (Although a better fit usually makes for a better allusion.)

In this case, the context of the quote invokes "hands" and "smell", but it doesn't invoke gloves, nor does it invoke smelling them. The phrase is close enough to make the headline functional, but there's no inherent connection to rock music mockumentaries.

Instead, here, the allusion is essentially just a shared in-joke with a subset of readers. Readers who aren't aware of Spinal Tap are basically none the worse for it. Readers who are, get to share a laugh with the author.


The "cover" of the fictitious Spinal Tap album "Smell The Glove" was a reference to the accompanying illustration of a woman in the submissive role of an S&M session being forced to smell the leather glove of a Male dominatrix. Hence its use in the referenced article is an incorrect interpretation of the expression. The use of the expression "Smell The Glove" generally means to be dominated or humiliated.


There's no idiom or commonplace metaphor that involves smelling a glove.

  • 1
    I was able to look at the article probably because I block certain tracking cookies. “Research published this week suggests that humans, like other animals, use smell when they greet each other.” I think it’s a pop culture reference en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Smell_the_Glove
    – ColleenV
    Commented Feb 20, 2019 at 22:20
  • @ColleenV - When I saw the title of this question, I immediately thought of Spinal Tap.
    – J.R.
    Commented Feb 20, 2019 at 22:31
  • Well how come I already heard of it, and my comment to that effect was deleted? The phrase can often be heard on British television, but I can't find a reference to it. Commented Feb 20, 2019 at 22:46
  • 2
    @ColleenV: It's not a mainstream idiom or commonplace figure of speech. I stand by my answer to OP's original question in that regard.
    – TimR
    Commented Feb 25, 2019 at 16:24
  • Absolutely correct, which is why I up-voted your answer though some other folks seem not to like it.
    – ColleenV
    Commented Feb 25, 2019 at 16:30

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