"Accent is identity; it's a way of encoding and signaling almost completely at an unconscious level for most people, who they feel like they are, who they want to be seen as, what group they feel like they belong to."Read More
HZ: Bruce, where are we?
BRUCE: We’re in the Upper East Side of New York, at a unitarian church, for Lollapuzzoola 10 - an annual crossword puzzle tournament. It’s terrifically fun. 250 people will cram into the basement and not see daylight for six or seven hours while we do crosswords.
Visit theallusionist.org/graphology to read more about and listen to this episode.
This is the Allusionist, in which I, Helen Zaltzman, win a hamper full of language at the village fete.
Oooh listeners, you look nice today. That new beekeeper’s outfit is really working for you. I wonder if you could do me a couple of favours?
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On with the show.
The first time I heard of graphology - the analysis of someone’s character through their handwriting - I was aged about 10, and I had a charity shop book called The Complete Book of Fortune. I read with interest and mild cynicism about how the layout of your moles reveals your personality, about divination from egg whites you’ve left out for 24 hours, and that it’s a portent of terrible times ahead if you dream of a walnut. The graphology chapter of this book didn’t amount to much more than “If your line of handwriting slopes upwards, you’re an optimist! If it slopes down, you’re a pessimist. If it goes up and down and up and down, you’re unstable.”
So that was my first exposure to graphology. My second exposure was in tabloids every so often, when they’d wheel out a graphologist to analyse the handwriting of serial killers. “It was a dead giveaway when he signed his name Ted Bundy.”
Let me warn you, listeners: when you are revealed to be a serial killer, whatever your handwriting is like, it will be interpreted to have been riddled with warning signs.
So, yeah, I didn’t take graphology all that seriously.
ADAM BRAND: It's known as a pseudo science.
HZ: And perhaps nor did Adam Brand, who has been a graphologist for twenty years
ADAM BRAND: Oh yes. It goes back to the 19th century when I think it was a sort of joke subject people did; and it's had that image, and it's therefore been difficult to be taken seriously.
HZ: How do you feel about that?
ADAM BRAND: Well, it doesn't worry me. If people find it a lightweight subject, that's up to them; but there's so much more to it than people realise. It may not be something they can absolutely nail down with a scientific test but I think it's got tremendous value. To prove something is scientific is not easy. So I say it's a useful art.
HZ: Many countries do take graphology quite seriously - Russia, Switzerland, Israel for instance. As a practice, its modern European incarnation first took hold in France, when in 1816 Edouard Hocquart published the first full-length tract about handwriting analysis, The Art of Judging The Mind and Character of Men and Women from their Handwriting. And over the following decades, it veered between being controversial and scientifically legitimate and back again, sometimes enjoying wild popularity with the general public - whereas not everyone could draw up their own astrological chart or phrenologise their own skull or access the nascent psychoanalysis, Victorians could pore over newspaper supplements instructing them how to discover their unique true selves from their handwriting, at a time when the understanding was developing of concepts of the self.
And, simultaneously, handwriting was shifting from being a rare skill to being more and more common. For a while, there were various prescribed styles of handwriting, as exact as typefaces are now: separate hands for legal vs mercantile work, hands for the different social strata, hands for men, hands for women. In contrast, there were crazes amongst the upper classes for messy handwriting, as it showed that you were an original - or at the very least that you were way too posh and rich to have a job. But as the printing press took on more and more production of written materials, handwriting could depart from the exact styles set in handwriting manuals and professional practices, and thus be more revealing about its writer.
ADAM BRAND: Yes, it just told me what an appalling character I am.
HZ: Yeah, that’s the catch.
Before I met Adam, I sent him a sample of my handwriting and he analysed it, and he said:
ADAM BRAND: You'd be glad to hear that graphologists would call that very intelligent writing.
HZ: Ooh actually, I think there might be something in graphology.
ADAM BRAND: It's an intelligent, dynamic, sensitive, going for it writing. Very high form standard. It's excellent writing.
HZ: Oh stop, Adam! (Don’t stop.)
ADAM BRAND: Well my name's Adam Brand; I'm a graphologist, and I work in the area of recruitment, helping companies when they're deciding who to invite for interview. And I also do some work on the forensic side when one's looking to see who might have done graffiti or written an anonymous letter, and the graphological training one has gives you a chance to give some sort of indication as to who a culprit might be.
HZ: In both lines of work, Adam studies the shape of letters, the size, the way the writer formed them, the spacing of characters and words and punctuation, the pressure of the pen on the page - it’s not that any of these features in isolation equates to a particular personality trait, but he looks at them in context and the way they mitigate each other and from the overall picture, he deduces certain things about the writer. When working on legal cases, it’s not so much personality he’s looking for, rather he might need to establish whether or not someone was the person who did graffiti or wrote a particular piece of evidence or committed a forgery. For example, Adam was called in to one case where somebody was accused of stealing packages, and he had to work out whether they had written fraudulent signatures to receive them. Adam analysed the signature on the delivery form for the package, and then he watched the suspect write signatures over and over again.
ADAM BRAND: Somebody denied that they'd taken packages from another flat in their building and all these signatures came and they said it wasn't theirs. But actually, when I got them to fill in these little boxes about 40 times, they then started to slide into their own way of writing.
HZ: Often forgers will adopt handwriting characteristics they think are as dissimilar as possible to their own, which can instead be a real giveaway - especially if a graphologist is watching them while they write.
ADAM BRAND: If you start slowing your writing down, one of the things that you're checking in dishonesty is speed. And if somebody suddenly slows down it's a sign of, hang on, what's going on, they're covering up, you see. So if you start pretending that you've got lovely writing, people start getting immediately very suspicious because the speed is all wrong.
HZ: So if you’re planning to forge, practice your new style until you can go at competent speed. Don’t go in cold. You’ve got to rehearse for live performance as well.
In the recruitment side of Adam’s work, he’s looking for clues about the writer’s personality and emotional landscape.
ADAM BRAND: So companies that are interviewing people and they want to check what we call red flags - do we have a problem here that we haven't picked up in interview? Has this person got a temper? Are they prepared to work in a group? So it's more of the things you can’t really find out. And the classic one is do they have a tendency to dishonesty, because it's very difficult to ask somebody "Are you honest?" because what's the answer?
HZ: And even if they say “No, I’m not,” can you believe them?
But, while I am rather dubious of making decisions about a person based on a graphologist’s interpretation, I can’t throw out graphology with my bowlful of fortune-telling day old egg whites. Because when we see handwriting, we do make conscious or subconscious judgements about the person who wrote it.
ADAM BRAND: It's sort of frozen body language; that's what handwriting analysis is about.
HZ: Back in my youth, a man chatted me up on the basis of my handwriting. We’d been passing acquaintances for a little while, but seeing me countersign a cheque was his “Why Miss Zaltzman…” moment.
That worked out quite well for us both. Whereas a less fun example of handwriting judgement happened in 2013 after the birth of Prince George, the child who is third in line to the British throne. Most birth certificates in Britain are filled in electronically now, but for King Baby, the superintendent registrar of Westminster Council, Alison Cathcart, had to go to Kensington Palace and fill it in by hand. And because of her handwriting, she had people saying she should be fired, that it looked like a cat written it - she even received death threats.
Looking at Prince George’s birth certificate, the thing I’m judgemental about is that any parent can still fill in the box for occupation with ‘prince’ and ‘princess’, but whatever, kill the woman for her handwriting.
To my eyes, it’s perfectly fine, legible handwriting. But should Westminster Council have ditched Alison Cathcart in favour of a superintendent registrar with perfect copybook handwriting?
ADAM BRAND: But then of course that's dangerous because they would have been boring administrative dull people.
HZ: Can’t win!
ADAM BRAND: But often when you see writing that's very sort of - how can I say - irregular, people get very worried and I say, "no it's really rich writing that you've got." So don't feel upset when people say "What irregular writing you've got." Because it can be quite a good sign.
HZ: Although not necessarily. I’ve certainly noticed that throughout my life, during periods of turmoil or depression, my handwriting will be all out of whack. It’ll be uglier, messier, then after a while resolve again. Or another example: my father has Parkinson’s Disease. For years before he was officially diagnosed, we knew something was wrong with him, we just didn't know what; people associate Parkinson’s with tremors, which not every sufferer has. But the first real sign was that dad’s handwriting had transformed from swooping and dramatic to small and crabbed. There are many ways in which your brain betrays itself in your body, and because writing uses such fine motor control, something is more evident than in, say, the motion of your elbows.
ADAM BRAND: Yes, the nerve endings go into your hand, if you open them up, are the size - each hand has the size of a large umbrella. And I gather there are more there than anywhere else apart from, I think, the eye. So the connection to the brain is incredibly complicated. And that is absolutely why you know that close connection means that you can see things in your handwriting you haven't even noticed.
HZ: Or that you couldn’t control if you tried. We’re taught how to form letter shapes; eventually we come to do so without even thinking about it - and even if the shapes are the same and the method of teaching is the same, we all end up doing it differently. It’s this minute, involuntary demonstration of individuality
ADAM BRAND: Clearly your brain is doing the writing. If you pick up a pen with your mouth you can have the same movement. If you write with your feet - and some peopledo write with their feet.
I've got a photograph of a man who had both his hands blown off, and the writing before his hands were blown off, and after he had prosthetics put on, the writing is graphologically the same. So here you have the mind coming down into the handwriting. And it doesn't change even though mechanically it's using a different system.
HZ: So your brain governs your handwriting very strongly, but let’s follow this thought down the logical path: does it work the other way round? If your personality shapes your handwriting, can your handwriting shape your personality?
ADAM BRAND: I think the French would agree as you can, because they have a school called graphotherapy where they look at your writing and say, "Hang on there are problems here," and they give you a sort of yoga type relaxing, to try and get you to rethink the way you write.
HZ: Some believe that graphotherapy can counteract depression, low confidence, introversion, by retraining the way you form words on the page. For instance, if you want to improve your powers of concentration, make sure you are conscientious about dotting your ‘I’s. But deploy graphotherapy cautiously.
ADAM BRAND: Some people have a very low T bar. In other words, their self-esteem is very low. The graphotherapist would say, "try and lift that up, try and get that T bar up," and it's quite difficult for somebody to lift that T bar and get it up there. And there was a case - a couple - where the wife was taught how to lift her T bar, and it did have an impact on her, and after about six or seven months - because she realized that she's being pushed around by her husband - and she said, "I've had enough!" Her self-esteem increased; she had enough; and she got a divorce. And you think, hang on, this is rather a dangerous thing to do!
HZ: Grounds for divorce: irreconcilable differences in calligraphy.
Adam Brand is a graphologist based in London; his website is adambrand.co.uk. you can hire him to analyse handwriting of job applicants; you can hire him to analyse your handwriting; just don’t blame him if he uncovers your true terrible self.
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Your randomly selected word from the dictionary today is…
jink, i. verb: change direction suddenly and nimbly; ii. noun: a sudden quick change of direction.
Try using it in an email today.
This episode was produced by me, Helen Zaltzman. The music is by Martin Austwick. Many thanks to Cheeka Eyers. Find me online - seek out facebook.com/allusionistshow and twitter.com/allusionistshow - and pay a home visit to theallusionist.org.
When we get a bit lost up among the big numbers, rather than using a specific like quadrillion or quattuorvigintillion (that has 75 zeros behind it!), we might use a word that suggests a really big number, such as zillion, jillion or squillion. These are known as indefinite hyperbolic numerals.
STEPHEN CHRISOMALIS: Indefinite hyperbolic numerals are words that have the form of numerals; they act like numerals; but as their name would suggest, they're indefinite. They don't have a definite numerical reference, and they're hyperbolic. In other words, whatever they are, however big they are, they're really big.Read More
CAETANO GALINDO: It's really difficult not to like the things you have translated, and it's not just an ego thing. The point is you had to put things apart. You had to really understand everything. Translators have no alibis. You have to at least convince yourself that you have a working explanation to everything and you have a theory to understand everything, because you cannot just skip it and say, “Oh, later we'll see how it goes.” You have to propose something; you have to offer a solution. And when you get to that level of reading, you come to love everything; you come to see what was there and that you as a reader sometimes was not able to see.
HZ: And then I guess if you're a translator you have to ignore your own ego, because if you've done your job well, you're almost invisible.
CAETANO GALINDO: Yeah! Yeah. And that may sound like some sort of a curse to some people; but to me that's probably the best part of it, because I don't have to worry about how I am being perceived or how I am coming through as a speaker or as a writer. When I write these days, I tend to be really tired of my style, my choices, my words, my sentences. But when I'm writing other people's books, they've made the tough choices for me. I only have to clothe their books or their stories with a new language, with the new prose.
LAUREN MARKS: Words were everything in my life. It was all day, every day, on stage, off stage, on the page...
HZ: Let's go back to what happened.
LAUREN MARKS: Oh, sure.
HZ: How old were you?
LAUREN MARKS: I was 27. I was an actress and a director and a PhD student in New York. And there was absolutely no warning. I mean, I was actually performing on stage when it happened. I went onstage to perform a karaoke duet.
HZ: What was the song?
LAUREN MARKS: It was ‘Total Eclipse of the Heart’.
HZ: Wrong organ.
LAUREN MARKS: I know… No, it's OK to laugh, because I just really am glad I didn't die doing that. So anyways, I was on stage, I was singing... I was up, singing the song... and then I was down.
I collapsed immediately, because it was not known to me at the time but an aneurysm had ruptured in my brain and it was hemorrhaging.
HZ: An aneurysm is a weakness in a blood vessel in the brain. It’s estimated that one in fifty people have such a weakness, but most will never even know about it - only around 1 in 25,000 aneurysms causes trouble.
As she later found out, Lauren Marks had two, and one of them was that 1 in 25,000. It ruptured, and she had a stroke.
Karaoke interrupted, Lauren was taken to hospital. When she woke up, she had undergone brain surgery; but something else had changed.
LAUREN MARKS: When I woke up in the Edinburgh hospital, I had very little language: speaking, reading, writing were all dramatically affected. I probably only had about 40 or 50 words at my disposal.Read More
There’s something I trip over regularly in the Allusionist.
It comes up often in this show: “A bit of ancient Greek happened in 350 BC! A word came into English via French in 700 AD!”
That’s 350 Before Christ, 700 Anno Domini, the year of the lord (the lord also being Christ, in case you were expecting it to be the New Zealand singer Lorde).
The thing that makes me pause: Christ… he’s not my guy. I’m not religious at all. So every time I label a year BC or AD, I think, “Am I really allowed to, having not opted into the religion whose figurehead’s putative birthdate is the fulcrum for this whole system?”
And I know some of you will be screaming at me, “Helen! Just substitute BC and AD with BCE and ACE, Before Common Era and After Common Era! If it’s good enough for the United Nations, it’s good enough for you!”
But here’s my issue with BCE and ACE: they are still referring to the same Christ-based dating practices. They might not be using Christy language, but the language it is using aligns commonality with Christianity.
I’m not trying to erase the contributions of Jesus Christ to the culture in which I live. I merely want to know how he came to be so integral to our system of dating.Read More
LEE: Hello, my name is Lee. I'm a genderqueer trans masculine gay guy and it's time for me to talk to Helen Zaltzman about my genitals.
So there's actually a lot of different contexts in which genitals come up, and there's different language for each of them. For me as someone who was assigned female at birth and has a vagina has a uterus but mostly passes as male, there's a lot of different things that go into what I'm choosing to call my genitals.
LORELEI: I sometimes like to refer to my genitalia as “anachronistic”, which seems to fit perfectly. I have a friend who refers to my genitalia as “the factory-installed equipment.”Read More
HRISHIKESH HIRWAY: My name is Hrishikesh Hirway. I'm the host of Song Exploder. Helen, I can't stand the word ‘namaste’.
HZ: Really? Why?
HRISHIKESH HIRWAY: Well, first of all most of the time when you hear it in America it's not even pronounced correctly. People say nama.... I can't even do it. Na Mas Te. NAMASTE!
HZ: What are we supposed to say?
HRISHIKESH HIRWAY: Namaste. Namaste. The T has a little T-H. Namaste.
HZ: I’m going to have to practise in my own time. That is a difficult consonant to achieve. I’ll practise by myself; it’ll be less humiliating than with you here, with pity in your eyes.
HRISHIKESH HIRWAY: That’s not pity, it’s judgement.
HZ: OK. It's mispronounced. That's the first problem.
HRISHIKESH HIRWAY: All the time. And then it gets used. You know, I live in LA, which is probably the global hub of McDonald's yoga; and every time it's said you know with this sanctimonious kind of, "Oh, namaste," and I'm like, first, if you're going to use it in this kind of faux profound way, please learn to say it correctly.
HZ: Do you attend yoga classes ever?
HRISHIKESH HIRWAY: I do sometimes go because in things both linguistic and physical, I'm not very flexible.
HZ: So it's trying in two ways.
HRISHIKESH HIRWAY: Yeah.
HZ: And what happens if someone says it to you?
HRISHIKESH HIRWAY: I stay silent. I'm like, do you do you notice that the only Indian person in this room is not saying it?
KORY STAMPER: Sometimes you want to make the dictionary sexy but it's just not a sexy thing. That's OK.
HZ: It's got rude words in it.
KORY STAMPER: It does have rude words in it. But they're defined really unsexily. There's no oomph to any of the rude words. Alas.
HZ: But it is deliberate that there is no oomph.
KORY STAMPER: Absolutely. The dictionary shouldn't have narrative interest, and you really want - especially with profanity - you really want those definitions to be very clear. But you don't want them to detract from the other definitions around them. Nothing should really stand out in the dictionary as being more interesting or having more narrative interests than any other entry. So they're very deliberately boring. We do deliberately boring very well.
HZ: Why does it have to be boring?
KORY STAMPER: That's a good question.
EMMA BRIANT: The category of migrant is one that embraces a lot of different groups. This is simply just somebody who is moving one place to another, and that might be internally within a country, or it might be between countries.
HZ: What does 'immigrant' mean?
EMMA BRIANT: 'Immigrant' is relational. So it's somebody who's coming into the country. So when the British media is talking about immigrants, they're talking about people coming to Britain. When the French media is talking about immigrants, they're talking people coming into France. ‘Emigrant’ means people leaving, so people who migrate from Britain to France or to anywhere are emigrating to that country. So it is just about the direction of travel basically.
HZ: And what’s the distinction between ‘asylum seeker’ and ‘refugee’?
EMMA BRIANT: A refugee is somebody who, according to the Refugee Convention, is fleeing war and persecution, torture, this kind of thing; political oppression. And that is a category they have to prove they are in that position. So somebody who is trying to become a refugee is called an asylum seeker. So they haven't had their case heard yet. And once their application has been heard, if it's worked successfully and it's not rejected, then they become a refugee, and they are entitled to be treated the same as any other citizen in the country, so they should be entitled to everything another citizen would get. These kinds of categories get used very indistinctly, and I think there's an awful lot of misunderstanding.
HZ: How do you make the words tormenting your brain behave themselves?
JANE GREGORY: It’s basically stripping it of any meaning at all, reducing it back down to a series of letters or a string of letters that don’t actually have to mean anything. If you have a random thought that doesn’t mean anything to you, eg the sky is orange, you don’t latch onto that and think, “What’s wrong with me, thinking the sky is orange?” or “The sky must be orange, because I had that thought”. But if you had the thought, “I’m a failure,” when that pops into your mind, for some reason you pay attention to that as if that’s true.Read More
With the term ‘sanctuary cities’ in the news a lot in the past few weeks, our Radiotopian sibling 99% Invisible just made a two-parter tracing the origins of the modern sanctuary movement, which provides refuge for the persecuted, the vulnerable and, lately in particular, undocumented immigrants. So I wanted to dig further into the word ‘sanctuary’, which derives from the Latin ‘sanctuarium’, a sacred or private space. Its root was the Latin word ‘sanctus’, meaning ‘holy’.
That there is a religious element in ‘sanctuary’ isn’t surprising: buildings of worship provide protection and safety during the modern sanctuary movement, as they have throughout history.
Since the mid-16th century, the word ‘sanctuary’ has carried the more general sense of a place of refuge, not necessarily a religious one.
But before then, the word had a meaning that is a pretty big contrast to the modern sanctuary movement: for at least a thousand years in England, until James I abolished it in 1623, sanctuary was not for people fleeing injustice, but for people fleeing justice.
JOHN JENKINS: If you'd committed a crime, if you could get yourself to a place of religious significance - a church, a cathedral, even things like a monastery or an abbot's house or in some respects, even just land that belonged to the church or was near to it, then you were able to effectively evade justice for a period of time.
KAITLIN PREST: It's hard to describe feelings with words, with the English language that we have.
HZ: Oh good. It's not just me.
KAITLIN PREST: No! Oh my god! I've dedicated my entire life to trying to do this and I still find it close to impossible. It's hard to take a physical experience that is quite vivid and try to filter it through our brain, which is rational and intellectual, and then come out with a piece of language that can get at even the beginning of what that physical experience is like.
HZ: Stupid useless language!
KAITLIN PREST: I have had to face the question of “how do I translate this experience in writing?” I've done a million pieces about masturbating, like how do you how do you put to words what's going on here in a way that actually translates the experience? The experience of masturbating is really sexy, but even the word 'masturbate' is disgusting. It's my favorite thing to do. Least favorite thing to say.
HZ: So do you have a word that you prefer for it?
KAITLIN PREST: But that's the thing! There's no alternative that feels right to me. No.
LEAH KOCH: There is a certain amount of defense in being a romance fan; if you're going to be a vocal romance fan, unfortunately, you're going to have to spend some of that time explaining to people why what you like is valid and why their opinion is stupid.
HZ: Do it.
LEAH KOCH: OK! The most basic response is: "Why on Earth do you care what I am reading?" I never say that, but that is the honest question - it's like, why do you care? I like it! But let's get slightly more academic than that. Romance is primarily written by women for women. Let's not diminish the contributions of men, but let's set them aside for a second. It's a female-dominated genre.
BEA KOCH: And historically it's associated with a female readership, which is very important in the critical perception of the genre.
LEAH KOCH: Right. So it's books where women's thoughts, emotions, sexuality, take centre stage; and there's a lot of other stuff that happens around it, you know, that's what subgenres are. So it's surrounded by carriages and dresses or surrounded by vampires and werewolves or surrounded by FBI guys on the run, whatever: that's all secondary. The thing at the heart of it is a woman's experience.