Is graphology still relevant?

Some may say it never was; they lump it together with card tricks, astrology, palmistry and other trivial pursuits. But handwriting analysis as practiced by serious, well-educated professionals is neither a party-trick nor trivial. At its best, it can help identify forgeries and questioned documents, and serves as a worthwhile complementary tool in personality evaluation. At its worst, when practiced by charlatans, it is indeed worthless; when practiced by professionals it might fall short of expectations.

And who am I to make such statements about graphology? Years ago, I worked for one of the best, if not the best, handwriting analyst that ever lived in Israel: the late Dr. Aryeh Naftali. [Photo copyright: the Naftali family.]

I got to thinking of him last weekend, when the J. Post carried an interview with his daughter and successor, Michal Naftali. Not that I needed any reminding. Things that I learnt from Dr. Naftali, affectionately called "Abba" (Dad) even in the office, are with me constantly. For example, the relaxation exercises which he taught me, and which I practice nearly every day. What does that have to do with handwriting analysis? Probably nothing; but Dr. Naftali was far more than a handwriting analyst; among other things, he was a doctor of medicine who believed in the healing power of relaxation exercises, sphincter muscle exercises (the Paula Garbourg method), breathing and developing proper vocal technique.

I'm sorry I can't give you a link to the article by Larry Derfner; searching for it shows that it's in the paper's Premium Zone, i.e. for paying customers only. As an aside: I have no idea whether Derfner interviewed Michal in Hebrew or in English; I assume his Hebrew is good by now, and Michal (a classmate of mine at Tel Aviv University) always had a good command of English; nonetheless, a few expressions in the text sounded very much like literal translation from Hebrew. But that's neither here nor there.

Back to graphology. Dr. Naftali, bless him, hired me on the strength of a sample of my handwriting, and despite what he saw in it. As he dictated to me (remember, this was way back when, well before personal computers), he used to sometimes comment half-jokingly on my handwriting: "I gather you had a good night's sleep? You're very focused and relaxed today." Or: "What's wrong, Nina? Aren't you feeling well?"

When I was agonizing over my separation from Husband No. 1, considering divorce, Dr. Naftali examined my husband's handwriting, and gave me the straight dope: This man is (a), (b) and (c). He's not very likely to change in this respect. It's up to you: are you willing and able to live with these aspects of his personality? He didn't really tell me anything I didn't know about my husband. But he sure put things in perspective.

And now for my question: Is graphology still relevant? I ask because to some extent, I feel it has lost its power, through no intrinsic fault of its own. The reason is our addiction to typing… Most of us hardly write by hand anymore, aside from scribbling a note here and there. We use our fingers to "text" (SMS, or "lesames", to Israelis) and to type. When we do occasionally have to hand-write anything, our fingers feel stiff, and the handwriting comes out sloppy, the letters not as well-formed as they used to be.

This isn't true, of course, of all people. Some are less affected than others. If a graphologist is analyzing the handwriting of a hi-tech person or a university professor, chances are their handwriting has deteriorated. But if the analyzed sample belongs to a person whose vocation and avocation don't call for much writing, be it by hand or by keyboard, then I suppose his/her handwriting is the same as it ever was or would be.

I assume professionals like Michal Naftali and her brother Jonathan are well aware of these factors, and compensate for them, to the extent possible, in their analysis. What is "the extent possible"? I have no idea. Maybe I should pick up the phone and ask Michal, since the issue did not come up in the interview.

Naftali Institute of Graphology (Hebrew only)
Naftali Institute of Forensic Graphology

Writing for Hotels

It's very difficult to write fresh, convincing copy for Israel's hotel industry. Probably for the hotel industry everywhere, but my experience has been mainly with Israeli hotels and resorts.

Whatever you do, it all tends to come out sounding the same… How many different adjectives can you use to describe the "sumptuous" rooms (or meals), the "breathtaking" view, the "sophisticated" equipment in the gym or in the business lounge, and so on?...

The other day I was asked to translate (Hebrew>English) a promotional text about a certain hotel chain I'd never heard of, let's call it The Hercules Heights. Unsurprisingly, the Hebrew text was a disaster: muddled and badly written. Looking for help online, I found that the hotel chain actually had a pretty decent website, written in pretty decent English and employing all the usual suspects -- I mean adjectives -- in a relatively creative way. No idea who wrote it, but someone both professional and imaginative. The website helped me bypass the hurdles of the Hebrew text and produce an acceptable English version. (Thank you, Mysterious Colleague, whoever you are.)

Thursday morning, leafing through the J. Post's Weekend magazine, I came across a one-page promotional text about a different hotel, let's call it The Tantalus Towers. Guess what: it contained nearly the same description as the stuff written about the Hercules. Let me be clear: I am not for a moment suggesting that the writer borrowed text from that, or any other, similar hotel website. It's just that, well, they all use the same phrases… (Actually, it just occurred to me that both texts may have been written by the same writer!)

Be that as it may, it would be nice if we could restrain ourselves and try, from now on, to produce text that's a bit less pretentious and trite:

  • Try not to go overboard with your praise. Don't exaggerate. Not every view of a bit of sand and sea is "breathtaking" or "spectacular".
  • Think twice before applying an overly liberal dose of: luxurious, sumptuous, opulent, pampering, sophisticated, innovative, unique, exclusive, etc.

Of course, if your client – the hotel – feels gypped by the tame nature of the adjectives you've chosen, you may have no choice but to recant.

Now, I may be picky, but something bothered me about the penultimate sentence of the article:

"Those wanting a massage can close their eyes, snuggle in a cozy robe and slippers, and listen to the rainforest while sipping hot tea."

Why don't you read it again and try to imagine the scenario: You want a massage. Presumably, you go down to the Spa. You close your eyes, then you lie/sit down in robe and slippers, listen to the rainforest (?), and sip hot tea. End of story.

I wonder whether an editor/proofreader who was in a hurry, or perhaps a layout person, just chopped off a few words in order to make the story fit better on the page (and the hell with logic.)