Some things deserve to go

Jazz Shaw is lamenting the loss of cursive.  I don’t.  Cursive was not a good thing — it was a good enough thing.

Cursive isn’t artistic.  Calligraphy is artistic.  Cursive is not easy to read.  It never has been.  There’s a reason that things like architectural drawings and drafted plans have used printed letters for hundreds of years — because cursive is too imprecise to be clearly legible.  Look at this plate from 1900.  That should have been the height of cursive, right?  All printed labels. Why?  To be legible.

I started printing everything about the time I hit Junior High (and was no longer forced to write my answers in cursive.)  I stopped getting marked down for illegible handwriting.

So what is the point of cursive?  To write quickly.  That’s it.  Everything associated with it has to do with it being harder to do and read.  It’s a class thing.  If your cursive writing is flowing and graceful, it means that you write all the time, and probably write for a living — marking you as upper class.  It denotes class because it took practice and time that poor people didn’t have.  It’s snobbery.

Writing sets and such?  Still useful.  I do send handwritten notes.  I print them, because the words on them are important and I want them understood.  I don’t feel any need to try to fancy it up beyond that.  Hell, I carry a fountain pen (it is a superior writing instrument, and I print faster with it — plus it is cheaper over the long run) but I don’t carry on with this old fashioned foolishness about cursive.

It’s nostalgic simply because you were forced to learn it.  You might as well be nostalgic about shorthand — it’s even less common and even more illegible.

We don’t write quick letters by hand anymore.  We make a phone call or send an email.  If you are going to send a handwritten letter, take a little time on it and print it.

How long has cursive been illegible?  At least 2200 years.  This is from Pseudolus:

Calidorus: Take these letters, then tell yourself what misery and concern are wasting me away.
Pseudolus: I will do this for you. But what is this, I ask?
Calidorus: What’s wrong?
Pseudolus: In my opinion, these letters are seeking children for themselves: one mounts the other.
Calidorus: Are you mocking me with your teasing?
Pseudolus: Indeed, by Pollux I believe that unless the Sibyl can read these letters, nobody else can understand them.
Calidorus: Why do you speak harshly about these charming letters and charming tablets, written by a charming hand?
Pseudolus: By Hercules I beg you, do even hens have hands like these? For indeed a hen wrote these letters.

Chicken scratch.  Has been for two millenia.


  1. Kevin Baker says:

    I can’t say precisely when I lost the ability to write, or better stated, scrawl in cursive. My mother told me that with my penmanship, I should become a doctor. Instead I became an engineer. I took two semesters of typing in Junior High because I knew that being able to type would be a useful skill for me later on in life. Little did I know . . . . I can print, slowly and legibly, or I can print quickly and barely legibly. My cursive was at best barely legible.

    Since the advent of computers, my ability to write in cursive has gone completely away from lack of use.

    Cursive was invented, as I understand it, to reduce blotting when using quill pens. Every time you pick up or set down the point of a quill, it leaves a blot. Cursive minimized this. I don’t think that modern fountain pens have the same problem, but I believe they exhibit it more than ballpoints.

  2. Phelps says:

    I don’t have a problem with placement blots. I think it has more to do with modern, fast drying ink than the pen, though. Some ink spots worse than others.

  3. mikee says:

    Calidorus and his modern compatriots did not have Sister Mary Concilia teaching them cursive in elementary school. If they had, this issue of illegible cursive writing would not be under discussion.

  4. Eric says:

    …. I love writing in cursive……. it makes me feel civil…..