Many Americans may only know one thing about Jack Lew: that his signature has got more loops than Toucan Sam. So while TIME’s political team provided more objective assessments of Obama’s Treasury Secretary nominee, NewsFeed tried to suss out more unorthodox insights that Lew’s unique autograph might yield.
Welcome to graphology, a certain branch of handwriting analysis. Graphologists’ basic theory is that handwriting–with all its slants, ornamentation and, of course, loops–can reveal truths about one’s personality. But like many tests of personality, the results are inconclusive. Graphology has been lumped in with crafts like astrology and phrenology–or as a CIA officer once put it, “systems for reading character from physical characteristics such as length of fingers or color of hair.” But that doesn’t make the practice any less fun.
Eileen Page is a graphologist living in Scituate, Mass. She says she’s been practicing graphology for about 20 years and teaches a class on handwriting for a program associated with Framingham State University. When Page examined Lew’s letter-less scrawl, she did not see the “childish loop-de-loop” that many amateurs have. “When you look at people who have high position jobs, their signature takes on a logo factor,” she says. “Once you see that, you’re always going to know it’s his.” And that much is certainly true: it’s the Dali mustache of signatures.
Instead of being “alarmed” by the fact that it’s completely illegible, she says, we might instead infer that Lew is a private, guarded person—that the public Lew is protecting the true Lew behind a row of faceless circles. The consistency and rhythm set Lew apart from the scribbles of 8 year olds, she says. He packs no fewer than eight loops into his signature, perhaps one for every letter in his full name, Jacob Lew. Most kids’ loopy signatures presumably contain a maximum of two or three.
Lew also starts and finishes his tightly bound curves on the same baseline — i.e. the imaginary line in space that the bottoms of the first and last loops touch. Lew thus thrusts the majority of his autograph into the “upper zone” where we typically dot our i’s and cross our t’s. And the upper zone, Page says, is the “theoretical area” where thinkers tend to linger: “His signature shows a lot of imagination.” Indeed.
Page cautions that there are at least two sides to every trait. While the loops convey creativity to her, they could also be interpreted as signaling the worry or anxiety of someone who is mentally “just spinning his wheels.” In this case, both sides would fit his task as a high-placed financial official, Page concludes. “He’s obviously a thinker and obviously dealing in the Treasury warrants some worry,” she says, “especially the way our Treasury is now.”
Celebrity signatures, she says, are often dynamic in the area below the baseline, which conveys a more social personality. And she theorizes that Lew might have some trouble with the more public portions of his role. Yet this baseline-based analysis inevitably leads us to some of graphology’s limitations: were Jack to write the traditional representation of his name, only the cursive J would dip into the social zone. What does that tell us?
On the far right of Lew’s signature is a line that extends away from the loop-fest. Page sees this as a hand sticking out, one advising caution and conveying a man who is careful and take times to think things through. This insight would also seem to fit a person of his accomplishments–even if Lew’s signature has brazenly defied the alphabet.