The Power of the Written Word(s)
I smiled and nodded my head, mentally preparing for my GSI to comment on the less-than-desirable grade I just received on my exam.
“You know, you should really consider turning your handwriting into a font and copyrighting it. It’s so interesting” he said in a surprisingly positive tone.
I stared back at him for what felt like a minute but what was hopefully only a couple of seconds.
“Oh, thank you!” I muttered between fake chuckles and an even faker smile.
At this point in my life, receiving a comment about my handwriting was commonplace. Too many teachers to count had mentioned how unique it is as they passed back assignments, friends had called it “perfect” or “amazing,” and even my family members felt the need to give their input. My two older brothers coined the term “Estes Handwriting” to represent the messy and often illegible writing they both produce, claiming they got it from our doctor-father. I didn’t inherit this particular trait.
I continued walking out of the classroom, too embarrassed to look back at my GSI let alone walk at a normal pace. This wasn’t the first time someone had complimented (it was a compliment, right?) my handwriting. But this was the first time a comment like this came from someone other than a friend or family member. Although he was only a graduate student and not an accomplished professor, this person did hold a position of power, and was someone I looked up to and whose opinion I should value. Looking past the initial shock I felt, as I walked away I thought, if my handwriting is so interesting, what does that say about me as a person? I couldn’t help but wonder why handwriting has become a trait as discernable as someone’s unique voice, and why the act of writing something by hand feels so sacred in today’s society.
The earliest forms of writing developed over 5,000 years ago, and before the printing press existed handwriting was a specialized and labor-intensive action only done by those who committed themselves to the church (Saba). The purpose of writing these texts was to spread the word of God and to regulate the worship of God. It is because of this that handwriting was once strongly connected to religion, and specifically to the collision of the sacred and the secular (Saba). Although handwriting is not thought of as religiously significant today, there is an entire day devoted to celebrating handwriting each year. January 23rd is National Handwriting Day in honor of the first signer of the Declaration of Independence, John Hancock’s, birthday (Grinberg). There is also an actual science behind analyzing different handwriting, and graphology is the study of handwriting for the purpose of character analysis of the writer (“Definition of Graphology”). This “science” is no small feat. The way we write words and even individual letters on the page can reveal over 5,000 different personality traits about ourselves (Armstrong). Although it is not taken as seriously in the United States, countries across the world consider graphology a legitimate way to determine people’s personalities and motivations.
Graphology is used to assess compatibility in personal relationships, in child and family guidance, as a recruitment aid, and even as a security check to evaluate honesty (“What is Graphology?”). Graphology emerged in Europe simultaneously with psychiatry, and scientists as notable as Sigmund Freud believed in its power to uncover aspects of our conscious and subconscious minds (Scanlon). So if it is possible to discern unique qualities about someone based on their handwriting, why were we all taught as kids how to write letters in such specific ways? It’s fascinating to me that something so unique to each individual was once a systemized method we continuously practiced in order to match the level of “perfection” expected by our workbooks or teachers’ instructions. But just like many other personal characteristics, it is the deviations from the predetermined and long-taught norms that ultimately define who we are through our handwriting.
I would guess that no one still writes in the exact way that they learned in grade school. At the time, those perfectly-round “o’s” and the precise placement of the dots above our “i’s” were essential—otherwise, we were not writing correctly. Over time, people gradually alter the way they craft each letter and word. In eighth grade I deliberately tried to transform my writing into “teenager handwriting” with elaborate loops at the end of “g’s” and “y’s,” and by combining cursive and print letters—probably doubling the time it took me to write—in order to fit in with the way my friends wrote. Ignoring the social pressures that caused me to change some aspects of my handwriting, this movement away from “school handwriting” as I like to call it, have come to define an alarming large portion of my identity. A person’s personality is the ultimate influence on his or her handwriting after they are initially taught how to write (“What is Graphology?”). So after all of the years of tirelessly copying down each letter of the alphabet on sheets of paper with abnormally large lines, it is how we defy these rules that reveal our personalities and other significant qualities about ourselves.
Embarrassingly enough, my handwriting is one of the characteristics about myself that the people around me recognize the most. And as much as I appreciate the compliments and do actually wonder about the possibility of turning my handwriting into a font (a girl can dream), I can’t help but hope that the unique way in which I write letters and words correlates with equally unique—and hopefully accurate—personal attributes. I decided to analyze a paragraph I wrote for an assignment earlier in the semester, specifically because I wrote it while in no rush and it is long enough to represent what my writing truly looks like.
Let’s start with the basics.
Slanting: The letters we write can often slope to the left or right, but since my letters tend to be straight, I “don’t let the emotions get the best of me” and I “tend to be logical and practical” (“What Does Your Handwriting Say”).
Okay, so far so good—and pretty accurate.
Size: My writing is average in size, therefore I am well-adjusted and adaptable (“What Does Your Handwriting Say”).
Wow, who doesn’t want to be called well-adjusted?
Spacing: The spaces between my words are typically wide, which means I enjoy my freedom and don’t like to be overwhelmed or crowded (“What Does Your Handwriting Say”).
Yeah, I’m pretty independent.
Shape: Some of my letters are rounded, meaning I am creative and artistic, and some are pointed, indicating that I am intense, intelligent, and curious (“What Does Your Handwriting Say”).
Well this just keeps getting better and better.
Pressure: I write very lightly, which illustrates that I am sensitive and show empathy towards others but also have a lack of vitality (“What Does Your Handwriting Say”).
What does vitality mean again?
I’m not going to lie; these initial results were pretty uplifting. But I remained skeptical of these methods and as it turns out, the way we “cross our t’s” and “dot our i’s” is more important than we think.
How the “i” is dotted: Since I do not usually dot my “i’s” at all, I am reckless and have a poor memory ("What Does Your Handwriting Say”).
Woah there, you don’t even know me.
How the “t” is crossed: The letter “t” can reveal more about someone than you’d think. I cross my “t’s” right in the middle, therefore I am confident and feel comfortable in my own skin. But since my crosses are typically short, I tend to be lazy and show a lack of determination (“What Does Your Handwriting Say”).
Okay, now I’m a little offended.
How the “o’s” look: My “o’s” are closed, meaning I am very private and limited to sharing my personal feelings (“What Does Your Handwriting Say”).
Page margins: Even without lines to guide me, my writing aligns to the left, which means that I tend to live in the past and have a hard time letting go of things (“What Does Your Handwriting Say”).
Alright, I’m over this.
Clearly this handwriting analysis was a bit of an emotional rollercoaster for me, to say the least. It was most shocking how much—at least at first—that I truly trusted this arbitrary infographic from the Internet in telling me the type of person I am. I was excited to validate my independent nature and equally-split creative and analytical brain. I was intrigued by the fact
that I am adaptable and well-adjusted. And I was even convinced that yes, I don’t let my emotions get the best of me and I definitely show empathy towards other people. Once I read that first accurate analysis about myself, I was immediately hooked. And if I didn’t fit the exact one-sentence description that I was provided, I knew that I could be that way, and maybe soon I will be that way. We are told not to care about what other people think of us, but what about what we think of ourselves, based on someone else’s criteria?
All of the positive characteristics that my handwriting revealed were soon overshadowed and immediately placed under a cloud of doubt when I had some less flattering results. I can get over the fact that I may sometimes be lazy and lack determination (it’s all situational, right?) and that I can be a private person a lot of the time. But the statement that I am reckless and have a poor memory could not be further from the truth. Even the fact that I’m putting so much effort into analyzing each letter I write should show that I overthink everything, and I mean everything. Not to mention my memory is weirdly excellent, and something my friends and family know me to possess. With these few faults in my handwriting analysis, I am left questioning the validity of the many traits I did agree with. Yes, this infographic may not be the most precise or accurate when it comes to graphology. But if this is what I am using for this particular analysis, then I have to accept all of it—both the compliments and the insults.
And isn’t this true about everything in life? How do we really define ourselves?
If someone tells me that I possess a certain quality, such as being outgoing or trustworthy, I value this opinion about myself. From there, I think that I try to embody these qualities even more—whether I realize it or not—in order to meet the identity that someone else created for me. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, as it often pushes me to be the best version of myself. What concerns me is where this process ends. How should I value the results of this handwriting analysis, say, compared to what my mom thinks about me? Or what I think about myself?
There are plenty of ways in which we identify ourselves. In addition to the solid few traits we know we possess, I think we often use outside sources of confirmation—whether that be a friend’s opinion, our horoscope, or even a magazine article that explains our personality based on hair color. But when it comes down to it, it’s up to us to define ourselves, not through arbitrary and arranged labels, but through actions. So if my handwriting proves that I am adaptable and logical, why shouldn’t I try to embody these qualities even further? In other words, the scientific results can only go so far—or they can go nowhere at all.
When it comes down to it, I am more than just someone with intriguing handwriting, and I know that. But what I still am not sure of is how much these seemingly insignificant aspects of ourselves—our handwriting, taste in music, morning routines—can reveal who we truly are without even knowing it ourselves. But when I do receive that next comment or compliment on my handwriting, I will politely thank the person, and silently ponder what I want my handwriting to say about me. Because in the end, the words I write and the ways in which I write them prove to be insignificant if my actions and beliefs do not exist to back them up.
Armstrong, Amelia. “What Does Your Handwriting Say About You?” Real Simple. Time Inc. Lifestyle Group. n.d. Web. 7 March 2016.
“Definition of Graphology.” Merriam-Webster. n.d. Web. 6 March 2016.
Grinberg, Emanuella. “Why Handwriting is Still Important.” CNN. CNN, 23 January 2016. Web.
27 March 2016.
Saba, Michael. “Handwriting Through the Ages: An Abridged History of English Script.” CNN. CNN, 26 August 2011. Web. 27 March 2016.
Scanlon, Matthew. “The Lowdown on Handwriting Analysis.” Psychology Today. Sussex Publishers, LLC. 20 June 2012. Web. 7 March 2016.
“What Does Your Handwriting Say About You?” National Pen. n.d. Web. 6 March 2016. “What is Graphology?” The British Institute of Graphologists. n.d. Web. 6 March 2016.