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.