The most famous squiggle of them all

by Toby Manhire / 15 January, 2013
The man set to sign the US dollar bill has an extraordinary signature – and it has sent meme-lovers and graphologists spiralling in delight
Jack Lew's signature moustache

The office of secretary of the US Treasury comes with the task of autographing the dollar bill. And the president’s pick for the job, Jack Lew, writes his name in a shape that looks like the vapour trail of a cartoon stunt aeroplane.

“Jack assured me he is going to work to make at least one letter legible,” joked Obama.

Lew’s scrawl, says Forbes, “sent the internet into a frenzy this week”.

Buzzfeed (drawing, as is their habit, on Reddit) compiled a list of the 14 things that internet users has noticed his signature resembled.

Including this Hostess-brand cupcake:

Yahoo meanwhile built a generator that would answer that most pressing of questions: “What would your signature look like if Jack Lew wrote it?”

Here’s mine:

The “loopy abstraction” had seen the graphologists – “who study the “(pseudo) science of handwriting” – breathless with excitement, says Katy Waldman at Slate. (See this roundup of their enthusiasm at The Week.)

And yet the evidence for the graphology discipline, which can be dated back to the 16thcentury and the physician Paracelsus, who is “credited for developing the ‘doctrine of signatures’” is thin at best, says Waldman.


Multiple studies have debunked the notion that our chicken scratches have much to say about the contents of our souls. In 1988, researchers determined that writing samples held no predictive power when it came to scoring volunteers on the Myers-Briggs personality test. And a further experiment confirmed that experts in graphology could not identify the profession of 40 successful employees any better than chance.

Still, handwriting experts continue to insist that the size, shape, and slant of your script, as well as the pressure with which you press down on paper, can communicate your emotional reality. (A graphologist recently said of Barack Obama’s penmanship that “its cleverly combined letters reveals a quick thinker; a consensus builder who cares about people, but who doesn’t always know when to stop building.”) Some Freudian psychologists have also wondered whether the top part of your letters contain clues about your thoughts, while the middle and bottom parts reveal your feelings and physical sensations, respectively.


But, says Waldman, there can be utility in studying the scrawl for health purposes.

One area in which handwriting analysis may have some validity is in medical diagnosis. Messy penmanship can accompany autism or other disorders that affect motor coordination. And those suffering from cardiac disease may stop and rest their pens—even for just milliseconds—more often than healthy people, which can be detected in their script by a doctor who knows what she’s looking for.

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