“I had plenty of pimples as a kid. One day I fell asleep in the library. When I woke up, a blind man was reading my face.”  Rodney Dangerfield
Were you aware there are two versions of a lowercase G? I hope so. Believe it or not, there are a lot of folks out there who are clueless. It’s almost as if they’re blind while they’re reading.
In a recent study by Johns Hopkins University, published with the ever-so-clever title The Devil’s in the g-tails, researchers discovered a surprising number of adults couldn’t pick a lowercase G from a lineup. In fact, many of the adults tested weren’t aware there are two versions of a lowercase G and don’t know how to write the less common one.
In case you’d forgotten, there are two lowercase Gs. There’s the one that almost everyone writes by hand, which is a circle with a tail that curves to the left. It’s like the G in the Helvetica font and called “opentail.” The other one, called “looptail,” is the kind you see in a font like Times New Roman, consisting of two circles connected by a short line on the left (correct answer: 3).
The Johns Hopkins study had three parts. First, the researchers asked 38 adults to list letters that have two lowercase versions. Of the 38 participants, only two people listed the letter G.
Next, 16 new volunteers silently read a paragraph that had 14 looptail Gs. They had to say each word with a G aloud, then write the G they just saw on a piece of paper. Half of them wrote the opentail type, even though the words had a looptail G, and those who tried to write the correct version failed. Only one person could do it.
In the last part, 25 participants took the multiple-choice test pictured above, where they were asked to pick the right lowercase G from the lineup. Only seven people picked the correct answer.
Well, all of this is very interesting, but what does it prove? For one thing, the study demonstrated poor knowledge or memory despite extensive exposure. The thing is, nobody has trouble recognizing the letter G no matter how it’s written. It’s not like we see a word containing a lowercase G, as in the font Times New Roman, and suddenly lose the ability to read the word. But the study shows, for some reason, most people don’t really know what the letter G looks like.
The Chinese experience a similar phenomenon because their written language consists of such complex characters. There, people can develop character amnesia because they’re so used to typing on the computer. For example, if you input the Romanized spelling for a Chinese word, the computer will show you a few different character options and you can pick the correct one. As a result, many Chinese can still recognize the character, but they don’t know the exact strokes anymore.
Obviously, the Johns Hopkins folks will do more studies to explain this phenomenon. Right now, they’re speculating it may be because we’re writing by hand less as we use electronic devices more. I think it may be because we are relying more and more on symbols, icons, emoji, SMS and infographics to communicate. As long as we get the message, who cares about the details. After all, NIKE has dropped their name from their logo in almost all instances. When people see the Swoosh, their brain automatically thinks: NIKE.
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