SCIENCE
04/04/2018 05:13 EDT

There's One Letter In The Alphabet That Almost No One Can Write

Meet the most mysterious letter in the English language.

It’s a letter everyone can read, but a new study finds almost no one can write it.

The lowercase letter “g” has two forms: the “opentail” one most people use, and the “looptail” form commonly seen in print and online in fonts such as Times New Roman and Calibri:

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Researchers from Johns Hopkins University found that while everyone can read the looptail g just fine, most people can’t write it or even correctly identify when it’s on its own.

“We think that if we look at something enough, especially if we have to pay attention to its shape as we do during reading, then we would know what it looks like,” Johns Hopkins cognitive scientist Michael McCloskey, the study’s senior author, said in a news release. “But our results suggest that’s not always the case.”

When presented with four versions of it ― three of them incorrect ― 7 out of 25 people were able to pick the right “g.” 

“They don’t entirely know what this letter looks like, even though they can read it,” said cognitive science graduate student Gali Ellenblum. “This is not true of letters in general. What’s going on here?”

You can test yourself here:

In another experiment, only 2 of 38 adults named “g” when they were asked to list letters with two lowercase forms, and only one could write both. 

“We would say: ‘There’re two forms of g. Can you write them?’ And people would look at us and just stare for a moment because they had no idea,” Kimberly Wong, a junior undergraduate at Johns Hopkins, said in a news release. “Once you really nudged them on, insisting there are two types of g, some would still insist there is no second g.”

In yet another experiment, 16 people were given a paragraph that showed the looptail g 14 times. Respondents were asked to speak each word aloud, then researchers requested that they write the letter. Half wrote the opentail form anyway, and while the rest attempted the looptail g, only one wrote it correctly.

“Our findings give us an intriguing way of looking at questions about the importance of writing for reading,” McCloskey said. “Here is a naturally occurring situation where, unlike most letters, this is a letter we don’t write. We could ask whether children have some reading disadvantage with this form of g.”