Reading Between the Lines

January 12, 2000|By Jonathan Pitts | Jonathan Pitts,Sun Staff

A week ago, a Sun editorial compared Mayor Martin O'Malley to a playground bully, implying that a political grudge drove his dismissal of school board member Edward J. Brody. O'Malley extended the schoolyard metaphor in his retort, which appeared in this handwritten form the next day.

In the interest of halting the sand-slinging -- and offering readers a fuller context within which to view the exchange -- we took the mayor's postcard to a disinterested party, handwriting analyst Katherine Koppenhaver of Joppa. A certified document examiner and graphologist who works extensively in the courts system, Koppenhaver analyzed the body of the mayor's writing sample without knowing the author's identity -- she didn't see the signature until after the analysis.

Because "you can't tell the gender of a writer through graphology," Koppenhaver says, she refers to the author as "he" only to simplify her grammatical task. Highlights of her findings and comments follow.

No lead-in strokes to most letters:

"This is a very direct person, that's for sure," says Koppenhaver. "He cuts through red tape, doesn't waste time beating around the bush."

"Middle-zone" letters: 'm,' 'n,' and 'r':

The sharp tops of these letters -- also called "needlepoints" -- suggest penetrating insight, intelligence and analytical ability. "The 'n' looks almost like a 'u,'" says Koppenhaver; such sharpness means "the ability to pick out what's important, to discard what is trivial." The writer has "good diagnostic skill and catches on quickly. Tell this person something once, he understands it."

The 't' and the 't-bar':

The writer crosses 't's' vigorously, sometimes extending the bar beyond other letters. This suggests great enthusiasm. The bars are set high but not above the stem, implying lofty goals the writer brings within reach. "He's idealistic, but probably more a pragmatist than a realist," says Koppenhaver. The "tapering" of some "t-bars" may indicate wit or sarcasm but falls short of suggesting a sense of humor. "I'd have to see more samples to know that," she says.

Baseline and rhythm:

"You've got a nice, even baseline here," says Koppenhaver. "This is definitely not an unbalanced person" but one who is extremely dependable. The even return to the baseline shows control, self-discipline and a tendency to work strongly and effectively toward goals.

The signature:

The signature is the persona one wants the world to see; the writing itself shows one's real personality. Here, there are disparities, but none to be alarmed about. "This is a very stylized signature, which shows showmanship," says Koppenhaver. "It's in the extravagance, the skill level. But it's not ridiculously elaborate." There's more idealism in the signature than in the writing, as seen in the large upper and lower loops. "He's more practical than he pretends to be," says Koppenhaver. But the middle letters here are similar to the ones in the text.

The horizontal vs. the vertical:

The strokes are not extremely deep; the writing is more horizontal than vertical. He covers a lot more territory than most people but tends not to go into great detail. "What he analyzes, he analyzes well," says Koppenhaver.

"Loop" letters, especially 'd':

Letters with loops refer to imagination and sensitivity. This person is somewhat sensitive to criticism. A loop this large relates to how the writer perceives others' comments to him. "Someone else might take a remark at face value," she says, "but [the writer] might ask, 'Is this person criticizing me?'" This trait stems from imagination, but "he needs to toughen his skin."

"Circle" letters:

This person is frank and honest in his speech. He says what he believes to be the truth, and he can be trusted with confidences.

Spacing between lines; spacing between words:

"Overall," says Koppenhaver, "the spacing is very regular and a bit wider than normal. This person is good at organizing his time. He doesn't overextend himself" and "knows how to use his time and resources." Spacing between the words -- again, a bit wide -- shows the writer's need for private space. "He's not antisocial," Koppenhaver says. "There are signs he reaches out to people. But he'd rather spend the day with a good book than with good company."

Dash, not colon, after salutation:

This indicates a person who pays close attention to details but can be impatient, especially with those who don't catch on to things as quickly as he does.

In the final analysis ...

Martin O'Malley thought it best not to comment on his own analysis, but his mother, Barbara O'Malley of Rockville, says she was "amazed at the accuracy" of Koppenhaver's readings. Even the graphologist's advice that her son harden himself to criticism sits well with her. "You always need that in politics," she says, adding that she's "glad to see my son inherited my best qualities."

In Koppenhaver's view, those include the writer's strong willpower and capacity to keep his emotions under control. "He's not the kind who would fly off the handle and do something rash," she says. "I don't see signs of a temper, of a person who'll do something he regrets." He's clear and direct. He tends to think objectively. He likes other people but is close to only a few.

Finally, his writing shows a strong sense of pride in who he is and what he does. In order to have this level of rhythm in his writing, the analyst says, a person must have self-control. "With self-control and willpower," she adds, "you can achieve anything you want. This is a person who's going places."

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