The ampersand (&) is a symbol that provides excellent material for clues
to tricks and mannerisms. It varies in form from a mere _v_-shaped tick
of almost indeterminate character to an ornate thing of loops and
flourishes. It is very sparingly employed by illiterate persons, and
some educated writers avoid its use under the impression that, like the
abbreviation of words, it is vulgar. In a few high-class ladies' schools
its use is sternly repressed, and there are many fluent and habitual
writers who never employ this sign. This in itself supplies a useful
clue to characterisation. Others, again, only employ it in such
combinations as "& Co.," "&c.," though this latter abbreviation is, as
often as not, written "etc." by many persons.
The dash (--) occurs very largely in many writings, and particularly in
those of ladies, who regard it as a universal punctuation mark, and
employ it indiscriminately as comma and full stop. Many persons of both
sexes invariably make a dash below the address on an envelope, using it
as a kind of final flourish. A close examination of the samples provided
in such a writing will reveal many valuable idiosyncrasies. It may be a
bold, firm horizontal line, a curve with a tick at either end, or both;
a wavy line or even an upward or downward line. Note, also, the ragged
edge, as it affords an important clue to the style of holding the pen.
The dash is so essentially an unpremeditated and mechanically-formed
hand-gesture that it often betrays more of the character of the writer
than any other letter. Cases have been known in which the writer of an
anonymous letter has successfully concealed all his characteristics,
but in putting the final stroke in the form of a dash he has so far
forgotten himself as to produce, quite unconsciously, what was probably
one of his most pronounced hand-gestures, thus providing a clue which
led to ultimate conviction.
Punctuation is rarely a marked feature of English handwriting. It is
said that many of our leading literary men practically leave this
important phase of their work to the printer's proof-reader. An
examination of a hundred private letters by different hands will show a
marvellous scarcity of punctuation marks, and few correspondents use or
appear to know the use of any stop other than the comma and full point,
the dash being made to do service for all else. The mark of
interrogation is fairly often used, and its formation gives scope and
material for careful examination. The examples offer suggestions of the
form and direction eccentricity sometimes takes.
The colon and semicolon are very little used by average writers, and
when they are, it is generally inaccurately, but nearly always under the
same circumstances, which should be carefully noted. The quotation marks
(" ") are still more rarely employed, and it will be found on
examination that most people form them wrongly. The accurate style is
this, “ ”, but as often as not the initial quotation has the dot at the
top instead of the bottom.
Another almost universal omission is that of the full point after
initials to a name, after "Esq.," and in the initials of postal
districts, as E.C., W.C. The addressing of an envelope affords
interesting and valuable material for clues, for it will generally be
found that a writer who uses punctuation marks at all will do so with
automatic regularity under the same circumstances.
The shape and general formation of stops and marks must be carefully
examined and classified, for they belong to the significant
unpremeditated class of hand-gestures, and are, therefore, valuable as
clues to peculiarities.
The "Esq." that generally follows a man's name on a letter addressed to
him partakes much of the character of a symbol like the "?" or "!", and,
being automatic through usage, is therefore valuable. Most writers use a
uniform style in shaping it, and the three letters that go to make up
the abbreviation are fortunately of a kind that lend themselves to
Notice, also, the position of the possessive sign in such words as
"men's," "writer's." If accurately placed, the writer may be presumed to
understand punctuation, and will give evidence of it in a long writing.