Definition: Illegible scrawl


Pronunciation: Griff-oh-naj


The word griffonage comes to us in English from the French word griffonage of the same meaning.  That word is derived from the French verb griffonner meaning “to scribble or scrawl”.  The French word was created in the 16th century, and the English version was first used in the 19th century.

Why this word?

I’ve always thought it odd that certain occupations seem to tend towards illegible handwriting.  Does the desire to become a doctor somehow make one lose the facility of penmanship, even while increasing surgical dexterity?  Do lawyers gain oratory faculties while losing manual ones?  Do certain other jobs increase the quality of one’s penmanship, such as teachers or secretaries?  Or is this just a cliché and not actual fact?

Regardless, the word itself reminds me for some obscure reason of a clue in a murder mystery… for instance, “He was almost in the clear until the lab analyzed his griffonage and tied him conclusively to the extortion threat”.  Handwriting is thought by some to reflect the character of the person behind the pen; so what does an illegible scrawl say about the person who is trying to communicate via the written word?

How to use the word griffonage?

“The doctor was well known for his characteristic griffonage, which nurses and pharmacies had spent countless hours deciphering.”


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Written by Kate Fulton

Kate Fulton has a bachelor’s degree in classics and psychology from the University of Massachusetts and is working on a library science degree from Simmons College. She has always been fascinated by words- their usage, spelling, and etymology. Kate may be one of the few people who enjoyed the verbal section of the SAT. Yes, she is a word geek. Currently she bores her husband and young daughter with her love of vocabulary.


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