20

I just wondered: in the sixth movie, how come Harry (and Ron, and Hermione) didn't recognize Snape's handwriting in his Potions book, effectively finding out that the latter was the Half-Blood Prince? He took Snape's classes during all his years in Hogwarts, and also during the period while the book was used. Granted, everything written was very small, difficulting the reading, but still...

Is that a gap, or I missed something?

  • 3
    20 years changes a person's handwriting? – Catija Apr 7 '16 at 23:33
  • I'd guess it depends on the person. But good point. – Ivo Terek Apr 7 '16 at 23:34
  • Asked and answered on another SE. (I borrowed from the answers there in writing mine here.) – Rand al'Thor Apr 7 '16 at 23:58
  • 2
    This seems like a ridiculous question, there are only about 2 people's handwriting I could recognise other than my own. None of those are any of my teachers. – JamesRyan Apr 8 '16 at 21:01
  • But harry saw teenage snapes handwriting when he was in snapes memory he even described it in both scenarios as small and cramped – Erynn Jun 8 '17 at 1:20
21

Snape's handwriting changed a lot over the course of 20 years.

A relevant passage from the book HP and the Half-Blood Prince1:

Although Harry had offered to share his book with both of them, Ron had more difficulty deciphering the handwriting than Harry did, and could not keep asking Harry to read aloud or it might look suspicious.

This likely wouldn't be the case if the handwriting in the book was identical or similar to that of the adult Snape, who'd been teaching both Harry and Ron classes for the last 5 years. If it was, they'd probably both be able to read it as easily as each other.

A person's handwriting can certainly change a lot from their teens to adulthood; you can see a real-life example in this answer from another SE.

In fact, it can change a lot from one situation to another even at the same stage in a person's life. I once had a teacher whose handwriting was almost illegible (roughly a horizontal line with the occasional wiggle) when she was writing on paper but perfectly clear and readable when she wrote on a blackboard.2 I suspect she was making a conscious effort to write more clearly when she was at a blackboard in front of a larger audience. So either of the following could be the explanation:

  • Snape's adult handwriting on paper looked similar to how it did when he was a teenager, but his writing on a board (which Harry and Ron were more used to) was very different. IIRC he never wrote very much on their homework when marking it, so it's plausible they never saw much of his writing on paper.
  • Snape's natural handwriting was still as cramped and hard to read as when he was a teenager, but he made an effort to make it more legible for the sake of his students.3


1 Kudos to @alexwlchan in his answer on another SE for finding this quote.

2 No pictures, sorry.

3 The Slytherin ones, at least.

  • Thanks a lot. Do you have a reference for observation 3? I didn't found anything on this in the linked answers. – Ivo Terek Apr 8 '16 at 0:04
  • @IvoTerek Sorry, what do you mean by observation 3? – Rand al'Thor Apr 8 '16 at 0:07
  • About Snape trying to make his handwriting more legible at least for Slytherin students. – Ivo Terek Apr 8 '16 at 0:07
  • 1
    @IvoTerek Ah. No, no reference for that. Both of the bullet points are speculation really, just plausible explanations since we don't have anything in canon. Although knowing Snape's character, I doubt he'd bother trying to help any non-Slytherin students by making his writing more legible! – Rand al'Thor Apr 8 '16 at 0:10
  • Ok, don't worry. Makes sense. – Ivo Terek Apr 8 '16 at 0:11
11

Handwriting changes significantly, year to year. Worse for longer gaps. And not just age, but mental state.

Samples of [CBS "The Early Show"] co-anchor Erica Hill's handwriting over the years. enter image description here

Medical studies (targeting both old age, and neurological issues) have confirmed this:

Wills signed by elderly people are often contested on the grounds the the signature is different from their earlier specimen signatures. Neurological disease, which can affect handwriting, is very common and progressive amongst elderly people. Handwriting change due to old age and neurological disease is poorly understood. To better understand this subject, we carried out a large methodical study based on almost 200 handwriting specimens of Parkinson patients and age-matched controls. Interestingly, our findings indicate that some of the handwriting changes which occur in these populations tend to resemble forgery indicia although upon close inspection they are distinguishable from them. Thus, document examiners are urged to exercise caution in assessing purported forgeries on wills and other documents signed of written during older age or a writer suffering from neurological disease.

Emotional state dictates how you write as well: enter image description here

As it relates to Snape:

20 years is significant enough that Snape's ~40 year old adult writing, most often seen on the board and not on parchment, would be remarkably different from Snape's ~15 year old teen age scribbling.

As emotional outlook goes, teenage Snape was still a bit optimistic compared to post-Lily-ended-friendship, or post-Lily-got-married-and-had-a-kid, and especially post-Lily's-Death. Super morose adult Snape would not have slightly optimistic teen Snape's emotional state, so his handwriting would change (ignoring age related changes).

One of the things in the Harry Potter movies is that everything has a subliminal message. Much like Snape's (J.K.R.'s) use of Flower Language to tell Potter he's bitter/sorry about Lily's Death. And he continues to feel this way his entire adult life. After all this time? Always. At the time of writing the notes in the book, he doesn't have this motivation yet.

Also, Harry is dense.

  • Thanks a lot for the answer and references. I didn't knew much of these things. +1 – Ivo Terek Apr 8 '16 at 0:06
  • 6
    That stuff about handwriting slants and shapes is surely complete nonsense. Though it would make sense that your emotional state would impact how carefully you write. – curiousdannii Apr 8 '16 at 12:11
  • @curiousdannii it's sometimes recognized in court rooms by expert witnesses – cde Apr 8 '16 at 17:30
  • @curiousdannii No. In my experience it's incredibly accurate and can be used to deduce a great deal about people's character and personality. – Rand al'Thor Apr 8 '16 at 19:45
  • 2
    The only thing I'd see getting from the slant is whether someone was writing with their left or right hand. Lefties tend to back-slant while righties more often slant forward. Back-slant is a natural result of having to keep your wrist higher off the paper so you can still see what you're writing (and avoid smudging it.) I'd imagine the opposite is likely the case for Arabic or Hebrew, but that's just guessing. – Darrel Hoffman Apr 8 '16 at 21:13

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .