Magazine

How significant is a signature?

  • 9 March 2012
  • From the section Magazine
  • comments
Elizabeth I's signature
Image caption Did Elizabeth I have more time on her hands, or have standards slipped?

A letter leaked to the press from Vince Cable criticising the government was signed off by the business secretary with a distinctive moniker akin to a smiley face. So how significant is a signature?

The odd-looking sign-off became a talking point this week, with some people joking about what it might say about Vince Cable.

Is he trying to be cool? Is he too busy?

Maybe he just likes to draw a caricature of a smiling whale at the end of his letters as a reminder to himself and all of us that we are not alone on this planet and all our decisions have impacts on the eco-system.

Whatever it is, his squiggle is sufficiently odd to have people resurrecting that old chestnut: trying to predict personality from handwriting.

I became aware of the "science" of graphology around the time I had to produce my first signature. This was when I opened my first account of any description with a financial institution.

Signing an application form for a Sammy Squirrel Savings Account in the Irish Post Office is not exactly the same as inking a merger between Glencore and Xstrata but nevertheless it was a milestone of sorts.

I didn't make what one would call a cool signature. I just wrote my name a little bit faster. And that is still the case today. Someone analysing my signature now would conclude that I've no strong feelings about anything and that I may not even be a real person.

It's too late to change now and the lack of an impressive signature has affected my life. One of the reasons why I consciously shun the fame that would have otherwise occurred as a natural result of my talent, is that it would take too long for me to sign "all those books".

Image caption Take it easy with the below-the-line loops

As for the rest of my letters, they soon came into focus. My older brother got a book from the library about graphology and a whole new world of navel-gazing opened up. Apparently my backward slanting writing was an indication that I was too focused on the past.

That was uncanny. I did sometimes think about the day before. I started rotating my pages anti-clockwise and immediately felt the past fall like a weight off my 13-year-old shoulders.

Large loops on the below-the-line letters were, according to my brother, a sure sign of a "total pervert". I clamped down on that dark side of me straight away.

For a few weeks when nothing else was happening, I gradually addressed each aspect of my handwriting until, according to the graphology book, I was a cross between Albert Einstein, Marilyn Monroe and Carl Lewis.

You don't see so much about graphology now - a succession of studies in recent decades have emptied a vat of scorn over its ability to describe and predict personality, but perhaps the biggest threat to graphology is not scepticism. It is the March of Time.

With the advent of computers, fewer and fewer people are doing any handwriting beyond their middle-school years, so their penmanship isn't evolving beyond the teenage stage of development either.

This would lead graphology experts analysing future populations to conclude that most of the subjects studied are moody, hard to get up in the mornings and think their parents are an embarrassment (I know what you mean, especially when they're trying to be cool).

Against this background, future pseudoscientific analysis will have to look at our computer-based evidence in order to jump to dodgy conclusions. Take fonts for example. If you want to spot the deranged and the psychopathic now, start with anyone who types exclusively in Wingdings.

Those who employComic Sansare the kind of people who want to make dull activities sound fun. A Comic Sans user may also display passive aggressive tendencies particularly when highlighting falling standards in the canteen. "These cups don't wash themselves" looks cheery in A4 on the wall, but inside the author is a seething cauldron of rage.

Times New Roman? This person is a no-nonsense individual. They believe if a job's worth doing, it's worth doing well and no amount of dressing it up or "design" is going to change that fact. Or it could be someone who has not worked out how to change the font in Microsoft Word.

Apart from font there are other tell-tale signs of personality traits. If someone uses lots of emoticons they're not confident in their ability to convey their meaning to others. DO THEY WRITE IN BLOCK CAPITALS followed by a parade of exclamation marks that looks like a picket fence? Then they are someone who comments on an article on a website. You can leave yours below.