Cursive Coda

I've written quite a few posts about the horror that is cursive handwriting. The gist of those posts were that

  1. I stopped writing in cursive as soon as I could
  2. Cursive handwriting is dying out

Those posts stand up pretty well, I think, and now I have some company. Sacha Chua has a nice post that echos some of the same themes I wrote about in my posts. Like me, her cursive is, um, not the best and being a pragmatic woman she simply stopped using it. When she writes, as she does a lot in her sketchnotes for instance, she prints.

What's noteworthy is that people think her handwriting is excellent. I've seen the same thing: people think I have excellent penmanship but that's because I print. If they saw my cursive, they'd run screaming from the room. In a great comment to one of my posts, Kate Gladstone notes that the fastest and most legible handwriters avoid cursive. Instead, they use what she describes as “semi-cursive” where only some letters are joined and the printed letter forms are used.

Gladstone runs a handwriting improvement service and has a lot of useful and interesting things to say about handwriting. As I've mentioned in my posts, the question of cursive or not invokes vehement and hostile reactions on both sides. Gladstone, unlike most people commenting on the controversy, has documentable facts on her side.

Here in the U.S., school systems are abandoning cursive in increasing numbers. I don't know what the situation is in the Philippines where Chua learned to write but I'd be surprised if the situation is much different.

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  • I don't recall ever saying, or writing, "semi-cursive" — though other people have offered that descriptor for what I'm talking about. (I do, sometimes, say, "semi-joined.")
    It's of interest that the first handwriting textbooks ever published in our alphabet (these were during the a Renaissance — initially in Italy, then all over Europe for at least a century thereafter) taught a semi-joined and decidedly "print-like" style: today called "italic" from its Italian origins. (There are people and organizations reviving italic handwriting as a teaching form today — for a few, see http://www.BFHhandwriting.com, http://www.handwritingsuccess.com, http://www.briem.net, http://www.HandwritingThatWorks.com, http://www.italic-handwriting.org, and http://www.studioarts.net/calligraphy/italic/hwlesson.html )
    Not until sometime in the Baroque Era do we see styles that begin to resemble the cursive that you and I were led (as children) to suppose had always existed. (It is quite annoying to the cursive-crusader types to have their noses rubbed in this. Back in the 1990s, in fact, when two of my colleagues and I were interviewed by a well-known women's magazine for an article on handwriting, before publication it was made plain to us that the magazine's editor — a Ms. Martha Stewart — had decided she "needed" to reverse the handwriting history that she had asked me to provide. She "needed," we were told, to rewrite my response in order to backdate the conventional textbook cursive to the origins of handwriting itself, with italic then claimed to have originated only recently. We were forced to take stern measures against her — namely, withholding permission to use any of our material until she consented to portray the history correctly — and this in fact succeeded, but not without struggle. I was later informed, by the lead reporter on the story, that this was the first time Ms. Stewart had EVER been persuaded to let an interviewee overrule her on any matter of fact — at which moment, I turned towards my husband, who had been there with me as the phone rang from Ms. Stewart's office — summarized the conversation, and said to him: "Sooner or later, this Martha Stewart's going to land in jail." (This was years before she in fact added a prison sentence to her otherwise sparkling résumé.)

    • jcs

      I don't know where I got the term semi-cursive. I was probably just describing it as I saw it and then attributed the term to you. Sorry.

      As for Italic, it's ironic that it is so much more beautiful than today's cursive. It does, in fact, resemble, to my mind, some of the samples on your site.

      Thanks for sharing the Martha Stewart story. I just don't get this emotional attraction that some people have to cursive.