You may not realize it, but there are two forms of the print version of the lowercase letter "g"—and though you've likely seen one of those forms millions of times, chances are you can't write it, a new study finds. One version is the "opentail" one typically used when writing by hand; the other is the "looptail" one often used in typeset forms of the letter—meaning you encounter it in many of the books, newspapers, magazines, websites, and emails you read. (The Week notes that the only other letter with two lowercase printed forms is "a.") Per a press release, the looptail version of "g" is "by far the more common" of the two. Yet when researchers from Johns Hopkins conducted a three-part experiment, first asking 38 adults to list letters with two lowercase print versions, only two of them said "g," and only one of them could correctly write both forms. Some participants went so far as to insist there weren't two forms of the letter, a researcher says.
"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," the researcher says. In the second part of the experiment, researchers found that even after reading a paragraph that included 14 of the looptail version, and saying each word that contained a "g" out loud, only half of them even attempted to write the looptail version of the letter when asked to write the type of "g" they had just encountered multiple times. Of those, just one person wrote it correctly. Finally, 25 participants were asked to identify the correct version of a looptail "g" when given four options (see all four at the Verge); only seven could. "They don't entirely know what this letter looks like, even though they can read it," the study co-author says. Researchers say the study highlights the importance of writing when it comes to learning letters—and suggest that, as writing declines with the popularity of electronic devices, reading might suffer.