Cursive and Characters: Dying Arts

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In "The Case for Cursive," (NYT [April 28, 2011]), Katie Zezima states that:

For centuries, cursive handwriting has been an art. To a growing number of young people, it is a mystery.

The sinuous letters of the cursive alphabet, swirled on countless love letters, credit card slips and banners above elementary school chalk boards are going the way of the quill and inkwell. With computer keyboards and smartphones increasingly occupying young fingers, the gradual death of the fancier ABC’s is revealing some unforeseen challenges.

This immediately reminded me of the lamentations that have been widely voiced over the loss of the ability to write Chinese characters by hand that has been occasioned by the same technologies:

"Character Amnesia"

"In China, Computer Use Erodes Traditional Handwriting, Stirring a Cultural Debate"

"China worries about losing its character(s)"

The difference between the impact of computers and smartphones (also mobile / cell phones) on cursive and on characters is that, in the former case, it is a loss of motor skills and esthetic sensitivity, whereas in the latter case, it is increasingly often the inability to produce many characters at all, whether clumsily or handsomely.

Cursive is merely one form of alphabetical writing; even if one has forgotten cursive script or never mastered it, one can still print the letters of the alphabet in upper and lower case.  I have found, somewhat to my distaste, that most people (especially younger people) now exclusively print when they write.  This may only be my personal prejudice, but printing looks clumsy and inelegant to me (not always, of course, since I've also seen some astonishingly beautiful printing), and — even though my own handwriting is notoriously poor — I much prefer to write in a simple cursive, both because I think it looks nicer and because, at least for me, it is much, much faster than printing.

Chinese characters too have their cursive and regular forms (see the nine styles of calligraphy for mǎ["horse"]) about one quarter of the way down on the left here).  As I mentioned above, however, the impact of computers and mobile phones on character writing is of a completely different order than that of their impact on alphabetical writing.  What is happening in China is that well over 95% of people who use computers and cell phones rely on these devices to write the characters for them by means of Pinyin (alphabetical) inputting.  When one enters an English word or sentence in a computer or cell phone, one is still entering the same letters of the alphabet as if one were writing the word or sentence by hand.  When one enters a Chinese word or sentence in a computer or cell phone, Pinyin acts as a mediating tool to access the characters stored in electronic memory.  Thus, in "writing" Chinese characters nowadays, one is no longer directly relating to the characters themselves.

As quoted by Zezima, Jacqueline DeChiaro, the principal of Van Schaick Elementary School in Cohoes, N.Y., asks, “Is cursive really a 21st-century skill?”  Dare one ask the analogous question for characters?

Just as there are those in our society who make an impassioned plea for the maintenance of the ability to write cursive, so there are those in China who insist upon the importance of students learning to write characters by hand, and not simply relying upon IT to generate characters for them.

[A tip of the hat to John Rohsenow]


  1. Kat said,

    April 29, 2011 @ 10:07 am

    I lost the ability to write in English cursive when I learned Russian (in which cursive is essential). It all comes out in Russian now…

  2. John Cowan said,

    April 29, 2011 @ 10:11 am

    What I find curious is that my distinctive (and distinctly illegible) handwriting style is the same in Latin and Cyrillic, even though I learned cursive Cyrillic so much more recently. Of course, the scripts are siblings: this might not be true in Arabic or Devanagari, could I write them.

  3. Leonardo Boiko said,

    April 29, 2011 @ 10:30 am

    Several people who are into handwriting, myself included, don’t think too high of cursive. I find it hard to read, kitschy flowery (unlike Chinese cǎoshū), and (contrary to what cursive fans claim) not significantly faster to write.

    I’m making slow but steady progress in Japanese calligraphy and handwriting, but until a few months ago my Latin hand was horrible. This incongruous situation was bothering me, so I’ve taught myself to write in a clean italic hand (with no swishes or frills, thank you). It took no more than three weeks; the only difficulty was in achieving a consistent slant. I can now write at my usual speed, and find it more beautiful and legible than either cursive or my old chicken scratches. (A rollerball or fountain pen helps!)

    Here are a few resources about italic handwriting for the curious: 1, 2, 3, 4.

  4. Leonardo Boiko said,

    April 29, 2011 @ 10:32 am

    Er, that was an attempt to link to images, not to a text search: italic hand.

  5. Kai said,

    April 29, 2011 @ 10:35 am

    My grandparents bemoan the falling standards of handwriting, and their grandchildren's inability to write cursive. Their own handwriting is often unintelligible to us (especially my wife, who is less familiar with it). I, on the other hand, can type 50 to 60 WPM, which is not uncommon for my generation, and well beyond the abilities of most of my grandparents' generation.

    If the skill were useful, it wouldn't be falling out of practice. If it's a matter of maintaining tradition, that's a separate argument (although maybe we should reevaluate the tradition.)

  6. octopod said,

    April 29, 2011 @ 10:45 am

    Learning good handwriting is a sadly neglected skill (says the grad student facing a huge pile of hand-written exams), but cursive itself never did much for me either aesthetically or readability-wise. I ditched cursive for italic hand sometime in high school and was much better off for it.

  7. Blake Stacey said,

    April 29, 2011 @ 10:45 am

    I've found cursive an entirely useless skill. It only ever helped with speed because I was taught to print in a cumbersome way (which experience eventually streamlined, making the squigglier kind of handwriting superfluous). If my elementary-school teachers had really wanted to prepare me for adult life, they'd have taught me the Greek alphabet in first grade. That would have given me a necessary skill for a career in science! You have any idea how much suffering is caused by not knowing how to form proper lowercase ξ, or by nus which look too much like vs? Now, there's something we shouldn't have to wait until university to learn.

  8. Damon said,

    April 29, 2011 @ 10:53 am

    I haven't written cursive normally in so long I've noticed that errors have started creeping into the cursive I do write. Namely, my signature.

    As I mentioned above, however, the impact of computers and mobile phones on character writing is of a completely different order than that of their impact on alphabetical writing.

    It is, but there is a similarity in that whether it's Chinese or English, both give us less reason to maintain the skill of writing by hand. In Chinese, because it's just easier to use a Pinyin input method than retain the knowledge of how to write those characters; in English, because the increasing ubiquity of Electronic devices means there's little advantage to be gained from getting stuff down on paper quickly.

    If I had ever managed an even passably attractive style of handwriting, I suppose I would have continued doing it rather than switching to printing everything. My clumsy elementary-school script is far less pleasing to the eye than my (also rather clumsy) printing.

  9. Keith M Ellis said,

    April 29, 2011 @ 11:04 am

    "You have any idea how much suffering is caused by not knowing how to form proper lowercase ξ, or by nus which look too much like vs?"

    When I studied Homeric and Attic Greek in college, there was no guidance on how the students ought to write the language. As a result, I painstakingly copied by hand the typeface that was used in my study materials and used that as my archetype for my written Greek.

    And it looks mighty nice. Much, much more attractive than my written (printed) English. On the other hand, my Greek writing is painfully slow.

  10. Harold said,

    April 29, 2011 @ 11:08 am

    I was someone who, as a child changed schools too often to ever properly learn penmanship and I also don't have good small motor coordination and am a bad typist and speller. Although I was a precocious reader and scored well on tests, throughout my school years my work was penalized, often in a humiliating manner, because of my handwriting. A high school English teacher actually chose my work and that of another student to project on a screen to show to the class how not to write. It was awful.

    To my dismay, when i did some teaching, I found that I, too, was influenced favorably by students with neater handwriting. Presentation is important. It takes a real effort to overcome one's prejudices against less tidy writing, even if one has poor handwriting oneself. And believe me, there are still occasions when one has to write and fill out forms intended for strangers to read.

    As a parent, I suffered vicariously when my seven-year-old's homework was returned repeatedly with "try harder" written on them in big red letters. I knew it was his third or fourth try and he had tried with all his might to write more intelligibly, pressing as hard as he could with sweat pouring down his forehead, practically. Of course, they spent no time at all instructing them to write! The children were expected to just know how, and many of them did. My daughter, for example, had very neat handwriting from the beginning. Both had taught themselves to read and write using block capital letters, and then switching to "ball and stick" printing. My son prints to this day, though oddly, he took some courses in Chinese and Japanese was able to write quite legibly in those languages, since he was motivated to practice like mad.

    Because of all this, I became convinced, after reading arguments for it in the NYT, that our schools should adopt italic writing and italic script from the beginning, as they do in Scandinavia, when children first learn to read (usually by writing).That way learners don't have to switch from "ball and stick" printing to "copperplate" script with loops and entirely different letters. Italic has no loops, and its "print" letters are just the same as the script only joined together. I actually bought the series of "teach-yourself" books by Inga Dubay, mentioned in the Times (I think) and we all tried to learn it, though it would have been more effective if it had been part of the curriculum.

    Italic (or chancery) has a long and distinguished history, dating from the time of Charlemagne and perfected during the Italian Renaissance.

    We shouldn't take things things for granted. It is a fallacy that that hand writing skills are obsolete. On the contrary the history of writing, book making, and typefaces are extremely important and are legitimate subjects of learning in themselves. It is very worthwhile to encourage children to produce their own books, written, illustrated, and bound by themselves, and to learn the history of this art. Ideally, they should return to calligraphy in sixth or seventh grade, when their bodies are changing size and they need a little reinforcement.

  11. Tracy said,

    April 29, 2011 @ 11:08 am

    The writing of English has gone downhill since we adopted the Latin alphabet. And even then, we should have had the good sense to stick with Insular script! Kids these days. Sheesh.

  12. Jeff said,

    April 29, 2011 @ 11:11 am

    I was taught cursive in fourth grade and have continued to use it to the present day (college). Though my handwriting is compressed and difficult to read for others in general, it still looks neater and daresay more impressive in cursive. I agree that cursive simply flows better, and while I can't say for sure that it's faster, I find it easier to take legible notes in cursive rather than chicken-scratch print.

    I also type at 133wpm and enjoy (English) calligraphy as a hobby. (I'm shamefully illiterate in Chinese, though I speak it). Maybe I'm just an anomaly, but I wouldn't necessarily say that technology and handwriting are at odds.

  13. blahedo said,

    April 29, 2011 @ 11:12 am

    @Kai "If the skill were useful, it wouldn't be falling out of practice.":

    I only partly agree. If we imagine that reading cursive is a generally useful skill and writing cursive isn't useful for most—but that maintaining the "reading cursive" skill requires *also* practicing and maintaining the "writing cursive" skill, at a cost of some hours of your life, then it is not hard to imagine that the useful skill of reading cursive would fall out of practice despite utility.

    When I need to write comments on student work, I can't really type it. (Maybe in a few more years, but the technology for introducing your own markup to an electronic document is still clunky, awkward, and bad at letting you draw arbitrary connections between things.) So I write it, and I do occasionally and increasingly get comments from students that it's hard to read despite being a basically conventional and legible cursive script. I don't really have any alternative (because printing would be a lot slower and grading already takes up more hours than I really have), and it's not really anyone's fault; it's just that they're out of practice reading cursive.

    Of course, they're also out of practice reading *anything*, but that's a separate problem.

  14. Spell Me Jeff said,

    April 29, 2011 @ 11:18 am

    As a writing teacher I know (and there is literature to back this up) that writers write better when they are able to forget about the more mechanical processes involved in producing a piece of text, such as handwriting or typing.

    If you can type at 30+wpm, you are probably unaware of the typing itself and able to focus cognition on words, sentences, paragraphs, and so on.

    More and more I find my writing students producing really funky text that is remarkably more cumbersome than the language they speak. I suspect that they are drafting their papers on a computer, yet lack the typing skills to work quickly. If you're still searching for a "k," you are less likely to be focused on your sentence as a whole.

    Apart from looking "pretty," cursive is a way of writing quickly. I suspect it evolved for the same reason the fast typing evolved, except that it did so much sooner. When fast handwriting becomes second-nature, here too, cognition can be focused on higher-order writing skills.

    My own handwriting is an appalling kind of "block-printing" (not much blocky about it) with the letters all connected by squiggles that let me keep the pen more-or-less in continuous contact with the paper. You might not call it cursive, but it serves the same function. I drafted all written work by hand (only typing out final copy) until I purchased my first computer in 1989.

    I think our students are disadvantaged when elementary schools give students NO tool for writing quickly, either by neglecting handwriting (of any kind) or by not teaching them to touch-type at a reasonable speed. Whatever the reason, a 19-year-old who still struggles with the production of letters is unlikely to compose a text of any importance at all, in college or on the job.

  15. Ellen said,

    April 29, 2011 @ 11:19 am

    I never used cursive regularly because it was, for me, slower. Once teachers no longer made us use it, I abandoned it. My first name is now the only word I ever write in cursive. (I can't claim the signed version of my last name as writing a word, though my maiden name I could, back when I used it, sign legibly.)

  16. Alan Gunn said,

    April 29, 2011 @ 11:23 am

    I hated most of grade school, and the reason I hated it was cursive. It's probably significant that Katie Zezima is a woman, since in my experience boys were never good at cursive. We used to do moronic and physically painful exercises consisting of drawing countless ovals and slanted lines. Since grade school, I don't think I've ever seen anyone who made a capital Q the way we were taught (sort of like a large, distorted 2 with little circles on top). Good riddance, and I hope somebody drives a stake through its heart.

  17. Cy said,

    April 29, 2011 @ 11:27 am

    @Tracy haha yes exactly. Or an alternate movement where we all try to push for handwritten blackletter, with big fat calligraphy pens and real squid ink.

    I dropped cursive as soon as possible after grade school, so no love lost, and there's so much variation it kills me to devote the resources to it. I think the Chinese situation is much different though, especially if the input is pinyin – I can't write a nice cursive 's' anymore, but if I see a new word in cursive, I can figure out it's an 's' and spell it later. Not so with a new character, although I learned characters much later in life. I'd think I had it memorized, I had all the pieces, but I couldn't string them together on paper.

  18. Dakota said,

    April 29, 2011 @ 11:41 am

    The cursive I learned in the fourth grade, complete with an hourglass-shaped mechanical pencil to teach us how to hold pencils for this new skill, was not the same as the cursive my mother and grandmother used for writing me personal letters, so I learned to read several different styles of cursive. When some of my mother's letters to me in the Middle East disappeared on their way to my post office box, I was very pleased to find out that none of the Arabs I know can read cursive. If you live abroad, you have to assume your mail can be read, but it's a small and comforting layer of privacy to think that, thanks to an archaic system of cursive writing, what your mother divulges to you about her tomato gardening is just between you and her. Alas, she has now learned to email….

  19. ironhorse said,

    April 29, 2011 @ 11:56 am

    Montessori schools teach cursive first, and introduce it by having pupils trace textured letters with their fingers. The explanation for this "backward" approach is that it helps with development of fine motor control. This implies, as does much of Montessori, that the child is learning a skill which contributes to overall development (primarily physical in this case, though often intellectual or both) at an appropriate level. (otoh: This approach does not guarantee that the resultant adults will produce neat and legible handwriting.)

  20. Boris said,

    April 29, 2011 @ 12:03 pm

    Contrary to what some others said, there are people unable to print (almost) at all. I am one of those people when it comes to Russian (which was my first language and the one I learned to write in first) and Hebrew (which I learned to write well after English). I simply cannot write in anything but cursive in either of these languages (though the Hebrew is no doubt dreadful). Oddly, it's easier for me to print when writing English than to write in cursive.

  21. Leonardo Boiko said,

    April 29, 2011 @ 12:29 pm

    It seems prof. Victor hit on a nerve here :) I’m not sure if people are actually reading all comments, but I’d like to insist that there is a world of difference between ad-hoc “print” handwriting and a real, practised italic script handwriting. Both of those look somewhat like modern printed Latin typefaces, and both give more autonomy to each character than cursive (which aids legibility). Also, both of them can be as fast as cursive (people keep saying cursive is faster but I’m yet to see any study with conclusive proof). But, unlike makeshift “print”, italic is beautiful and flows when writing.

  22. Mary Bull said,

    April 29, 2011 @ 12:46 pm

    The case against cursive deployed in many of the comments here resonates with me, too. I struggled with trying to master this writing style when I was in grade school and on into high school in Texas (1930s-early 1940s). However, as I was reading the other thoughtful comments in favor of it, one question came to my mind: Is it easier to forge a signature in block printing, or ball-and-stick, than one in cursive? Might be one more advantage to cursive, if that's so.

  23. Wentao said,

    April 29, 2011 @ 12:47 pm

    When I went to primary school in China, my teacher used to say 字如其人, i.e. one's handwriting reflects his personality. At first we weren't allowed to write grass-script 草书 or even walking-script 行书, but had to stuck to the slow and stilted regular-script 楷书. By the time of high school, everyone tends to walking-script (although some people's writings are more visually pleasant than others). The teacher no longer cares, as long as it is legible for marking. However it was always a shame to write terribly, and many pupils undertook handwriting lessons, even in this age of computers. I don't know whether this is also the case in the West. Interestingly, I also observed a resemblance of style between one's writing in Chinese and in English.

    An even more obscure skill would be to write traditional calligraphy with brush.

  24. Mark Dunan said,

    April 29, 2011 @ 12:54 pm

    @ Alan – Not only is it not surprising that she's a woman, but I'd bet my last penny that she's a right-hander, given that she does nothing but extol a skill that was designed exclusively for people like her with no mention of how painful it is for the other side!

    My elementary school graded us in cursive writing from third through fifth grade and I got terrible marks every single quarter, not to mention ink all over the heel of my hand plus severe wrist pains from attempting to hold the pen in the contorted position that was demanded of us.

    Imagine a form of writing that only white people could do well. Still think it would be taught in schools and forced on children from a young age? Yet that's what's going on with righty-centric cursive.

    It was with dread that I attempted it again in college when I took Russian. Fortunately by then I had a few advantages — I was a fully-grown adult, I knew to find a non-ballpoint pen that would glide over the paper with little "push", and (most importantly) no one was standing over you watching the position of your wrist and the paper. As long as my kirillitsa was legible, everything was fine.

    Question for the Chinese enthusiasts here: Vertical writing can be done by either hand just about equally easily. Why did the PRC start making people use horizontal writing in the 1950s? When I write Japanese, I love being able to write it vertically (and hate pre-printed forms that are horizontal). So much easier on the wrists.

  25. B.Ma said,

    April 29, 2011 @ 1:03 pm

    I once had a right-handed teacher who could write in cursive with his left hand, but not print! Not sure if this is relevant but he taught maths and was a heavy smoker…

  26. Erik Zyman Carrasco said,

    April 29, 2011 @ 1:13 pm

    Off topic, but @ John Cowan:

    "this might not be true in Arabic or Devanagari, could I write them."

    Can you really do that sort of counterfactual inversion with could? If so, interesting—I certainly can't! For me it's restricted to cases like had I noticed, were I a bit wiser, and should you have any questions (although the last isn't exactly counterfactual).

    Anyway, my apologies for the brief threadjack.

  27. William Ockham said,

    April 29, 2011 @ 1:14 pm

    As someone who suffers from an idiopathic essential tremor (undiagnosed while in grade school), I despise cursive and love my keyboard. Fortunately, we knew what was up with my sons' tremors and they didn't have to suffer the sort of humiliating tyranny that was inflicted on me 40 years ago.

  28. Leonardo Boiko said,

    April 29, 2011 @ 1:14 pm

    @Mark: I was quite proud of my Japanese hand, but I always wrote on brush or fudepen or at least rollerball, and vertically. Then I started classes and had to write horizontal in pencil. Suddenly it was awful all over again! It took a few months to get used to, and I still hate it. In my opinion the stroke order of hànzì (and kana for that matter) just don’t favour horizontal.

  29. Jason said,

    April 29, 2011 @ 1:14 pm

    Despite giving it an honest effort for years, I have never been able to attain equal speed in cursive as in print. Therefore I have abandoned it as I can find no utility in continuing the attempt.

  30. Theodore said,

    April 29, 2011 @ 1:31 pm

    it is a loss of motor skills and esthetic sensitivity

    Probaly true if you're talking about maintenance of the skill. Students who never acquire cursive writing skill at all will probably also be unable to read it. Not the end of the world, but who wants to hire an expert to transliterate a birthday card from their grandparents?

  31. Ellen K. said,

    April 29, 2011 @ 1:47 pm

    Having looked up on the internet to see what block printing and ball and stick are, I can see why some people think cursive is faster. Why oh why would anyone write the letter w with 4 separate strokes with the pen lifted in between? Seems terribly tedious. My handwriting is almost exactly like the italic handwriting in the New York Times article that Harold linked. (Note that I wrote out the alphabet before I looked at the page.) Most letters do not require lifting the pen.

  32. Mr. Shiny & New said,

    April 29, 2011 @ 1:51 pm

    My handwriting was always awful. It was my worst grade in elementary school. But when I was in grade 4 my teacher encouraged me to learn to type instead and said "One day you won't need to bother writing stuff anymore." That was almost 25 years ago.

  33. Mary Bull said,

    April 29, 2011 @ 1:51 pm

    Erik Zyman Carrasco said,
    "Off topic, but @ John Cowan:
    'this might not be true in Arabic or Devanagari, could I write them.'
    Can you really do that sort of counterfactual inversion with could? If so, interesting—I certainly can't! For me it's restricted to cases like had I noticed, were I a bit wiser, and should you have any questions (although the last isn't exactly counterfactual).
    Anyway, my apologies for the brief threadjack."

    Erik, I was intrigued, and offer my own apologies for participating in the threadjack. I've looked up this conditional use of "could" in The Cambridge Grammar of the English Language (Rodney H. Huddleston and Geoffrey K. Pullum) and, if I'm interpreting page 970 correctly, yes, you can.

    I was gratified to find this, since to my native-speaker ear the construction is entirely natural and normal. There's a hymn line that John Cowan's usage also brought to my mind: "Could we but stand where Moses stood …" — well, I won't bore you by quoting the rest of it.

  34. Dick Margulis said,

    April 29, 2011 @ 1:51 pm

    While I share the aversion of most commenters to writing in cursive myself, being a southpaw with a scrawl even I can't read (I use the excuse that my mother wanted me to be a doctor), my understanding is that there was a recent movement in primary education—I don't know if it is widespread or ongoing—to teach cursive before block printing, on the theory that printing allows letter reversals (individual letters printed in mirror form) and cursive does not. Thus, at least according to the hypothesis of those supporting this idea, cursive is easier to master than printing. So if that movement is still alive and well, I guess children are still learning cursive (better than I did, one hopes).

  35. Robert Harris said,

    April 29, 2011 @ 2:08 pm

    Two comments: My mother (b. 1900) had a cousin who lived about 50 miles away from us (we east of LA, they west side LA) who would now and then send my mother a postcard with a message, usually about visits. The handwriting on this cousin's card always looked to me like a cross-section of the surface of the sea on a calm day, just a series of small peaked waves. My mother could usually make out the gist, though not always the detail. (They were nearly the same age and had attended school in the same small town in S. Dakota.)

    My father wrote a pretty cursive signature, though his ordinary handwriting was not so hot, a bit childish, I think. One day I looked at the cursive my (grown) daughter wrote, and said to myself, "It's hereditary!" Her hand looks almost exactly like mine, and like my fathers. Too bad her children will never learn cursive; it might actually be hereditary.

  36. Andrew Philpot said,

    April 29, 2011 @ 2:51 pm

    Framed hanging on the wall of my office is a handwriting assignment ("Aim to use good arm movement // Become a good penman …") my grandfather completed admirably well, decorated at the top with the teacher's comment "Passed Mch. 12, 1920". My grandfather would have been 19 years old. While cursive might be easier in some respects than printing, doing it well then was apparently understood to require more attention than just a few hours in fourth grade.
    My grandfather took pride in his handwriting, and despaired over our poor technique. and results.
    It's a nice reminder of him and of the ways things are different now.

    I enjoy looking at it both to remem

  37. Ray Girvan said,

    April 29, 2011 @ 2:56 pm

    @ Harold: a child changed schools too often to ever properly learn penmanship and I also don't have good small motor coordination

    Ugh – familar story for me. I've always found handwriting very difficult for the same reasons, and suspect I majorly underachieved at university because of it. I couldn't write fast enough to take lecture notes properly, or fast enough to write proper-length essays in exams (I used to hate the bastards that went up three or four times to get extra paper – although I console myself with the thought that they were probably just excreting memorised material).

  38. blahedo said,

    April 29, 2011 @ 3:33 pm

    Regarding loss of handwriting ability and concomitant loss of access to the historical record, anyone who doesn't already know the story should read about Kurrentschrift and the Sütterlin writing style in Germany:

    This is a total shift that happened recently—in living memory—and which rendered an entire body of information almost entirely unreadable (and didn't even involve a change in alphabet a la Turkey).

  39. Mary Kuhner said,

    April 29, 2011 @ 3:49 pm

    One of my biology students had the most beautiful print handwriting I've ever seen–like a plate from one of the "italic hand" sources cited earlier. I was very surprised when I walked by her while proctoring an exam and discovered that she wrote by turning the paper sideways nearly 90 degrees and writing up the page rather than across it. It was like watching a magic trick!

    I am, despite being in my late 40's, one of the people who never mastered a fluent cursive and habitually prints everything. (I do need to work on my handwriting as too much keyboarding has caused even the printed form to deteriorate, and I don't have a smartboard in the classroom yet.) I even print in Cyrillic, much to my Russian teachers' disgust: my first Russian class was reading-only and to take notes I taught myself to print things that looked like the textbook's Russian font. I never became able to read cursive Cyrillic. I'm amazed anyone can: it all looks like (to quote Peg Bracken) "Mimi made a minimum muumuu."

    I much prefer it when my students type their homework, though the one student was an exception–hers was as clear as could be.

  40. Leonardo Boiko said,

    April 29, 2011 @ 4:08 pm

    @Mary: Most people writing that class of hands like tilting the paper, though perhaps not at an angle so deep as your student. I tried it and found it’s really comfortable, but it drives me crazy when code-switching—in Japanese or Chinese calligraphy one must not tilt the paper under any circumstances!

    @Andrew: Here’s some info on the “arm movement” your grandpa mastered. Western calligraphy is now seen as some kind of arts-and-crafts minor decorative drawing, and thus the emphasis is on the superficial appearance of characters. But back when it was a method of writing, attention was paid to the gestures the hand makes—as it still is in the threatened East Asian tradition. Latin “ductus” was pretty much the same as hànzì stroke order, the “whole arm” technique was crucial for both, and readers would be able to “read” the movements the writer made just like a hunter reads tracks.

    Interested readers are pointed to this book as a DIY introduction to palæography-conscious calligraphy, or this one for anthropological discussion.

  41. Mr Fnortner said,

    April 29, 2011 @ 4:30 pm

    I actually write in cursive very well, having been taught so in the fifties. But my signature is very idiosyncratic. A few people–close friends, family members–have criticized it as illegible. I've responded "good, that's the way I want it, and it's very difficult to copy successfully." But I'm told that it's not right that it can't be read. I'm indifferent to the complaints.

  42. Bob Oboc said,

    April 29, 2011 @ 5:46 pm

    Fewer are mastering cursive now but I doubt it will entirely disappear. Signing your name for all sorts of legal/official documents virtually necessitates cursive. While some do sign by printing it is not usually viewed positively, more akin to signing a big X.
    One of the issues surrounding the dearth of cursive is the printed form itself. Apart from personalized writings such as letters, notes, older handwritten texts, etc., all written media is in printed format. The web isn't to blame for this, books, magazines, comics, and newspapers all use and have used printed type for centuries. Cursive just doesn't lend itself well to fonts and typefaces. Speaking from personal experience, when I learned cursive and was encouraged to stop printing altogether I decided to go with the method most recognizable to myself and most others – printing, which everyone who can read can read. (that sure came out clunky) With the exceptions of necessitated situations (signatures) and artistically inclined writers, highly stylized scripts just aren't that practical.

  43. George Amis said,

    April 29, 2011 @ 7:18 pm

    @Mr Fnortner
    My first wife was a talented artist and a surprisingly good forger. She always claimed that 'illegible' signatures were much easier to copy than legible ones.
    At my public school in the 50's, we were never taught cursive as a matter of principle (a rich retailer who contributed a lot to the school insisted that his clerk's cursive was too difficult to read). As a result, we all developed extremely eccentric forms of rapid handwriting, many of which were very difficult for others to read

  44. Katie said,

    April 29, 2011 @ 7:41 pm

    Curious about this statement:

    "What is happening in China is that well over 95% of people who use computers and cell phones rely on these devices to write the characters for them by means of Pinyin (alphabetical) inputting"

    For some reason I've been under the impression that most people actually use something besides the (rather inefficient) pinyin input system, such as the stroke based input system on my cell phone that I have yet to figure out. But maybe I just thought this because I assumed there must be a better way out there. Not true?

  45. fog said,

    April 29, 2011 @ 8:59 pm

    I learned cursive in the 90s and I still use it all the time. I like how it looks when I have to read my own stuff, and I've never gotten complaints about legibility. (I used to get complaints about legibility back when I preferred printing.)

  46. Adrian Morgan said,

    April 29, 2011 @ 9:05 pm

    In my part of the world, cursive (what people usually think of when they say 'cursive') officially stopped being taught in schools in 1984 or maybe 85. It feels strange, therefore, to read about schools elsewhere giving it up in 2011.

  47. John Burgess said,

    April 29, 2011 @ 9:12 pm

    As a child in the 1950s, I attended parochial schools. I changed schools in 2nd grade, from MI, where we were printing, to MA were my classmates were well into cursive. I had some catching up to do. Being left-handed–the only one in the school, as matter of fact–I had a hard time of it. Lefties have to push pens across the page while righties are dragging it.

    Palmer penmanship classes stared in 3rd grade and passing the national Palmer certification program in 4th was a requirement. It was a bitter, tearful exercise, but I passed it, with flying colors.

    By the time I got to high school, I was back to printing. Mine was a fluid print, with some ligatures, some idiosyncratic letter forms, but legible. Then I found typing. By the time I finished that class, I was typing 125wpm on a manual typewriter. That was good enough for me and prepared me for part-time jobs in college working as typesetter. (Setting type by hand was not a not quite defunct commercial enterprise, but it was going quickly.)

    Learning to write Arabic was a great experience! Here, I was the one pulling the pen while the righties were pushing it. And yes, my sleeves were clean. I'm clearly not alone in feeling this: the incidence of Arabic-speaking/writing, left-handed US Foreign Service Officers is anomalous, to say the least. I never worked in an embassy with fewer than 20% left-handers. At one, the figure was 93%. Whether left-handed people gravitate toward Arabic or we just want clean sleeves, I don't know.

  48. linda seebach said,

    April 29, 2011 @ 10:43 pm

    @Mark Duran: Writing left-handed (including cursive) need not strain the hands and wrist; you just have to tilt the top of the paper to your right instead of your left. Unfortunately, elementary school teachers don't know that; I had a huge fight with mine in second grade. Works for Chinese calligraphy, too, although it made my teacher in Shanghai very unhappy. The result looked like everybody else's right-handed efforts. (And my sleeves stay clean.)

  49. Christopher said,

    April 29, 2011 @ 11:22 pm


    I'm 27, I went to public school, and I was only taught italic script. This probably owes something to the fact that I hail from the same town as Ms. Dubay and Ms. Getty.

    In fact, until reading this very thread, I had just sort of assumed that all US public schools taught italic printing.

    Anyway, the problem with the Dubay-Getty system of cursive italic is that it's basically just connected printing. In fact, loops were very heavily discouraged in my grade school. While this means that anybody who can read print can read cursive italic, it also means that I never was taught to read proper cursive, which does have letterforms that are completely different from any printed versions.

    Because of all this, I wish the case for cursive had been made with more evidence. I mean, people nearing their 30s were never taught cursive, so apparently there's a lot of variation between what schools teach.

    Also, looking at the photo of Ms. Megan Porter's cursive exercise, I have very little trouble reading it. If I were to look at an example of my grandmother's cursive, I would be able to decode it only with great difficulty.

    So my question is, does Ms. Porter's ability to produce this particular form of neat cursive actually translate into an ability to read older and more idiosyncratic cursive scripts?

  50. Matt McIrvin said,

    April 29, 2011 @ 11:23 pm

    My problem was that I switched schools between second and third grade, and went from a class that only got around to covering the cursive lowercase letters to one that assumed we already knew how to write the capitals. So I learned to write the capitals by looking at the diagram above the blackboard, and never did pay attention to the arrows that indicated the proper stroke order and direction. (Most of the Palmer cursive capitals are incredibly bizarre-looking, which made them harder to remember. In the version they made us write, the T and F were almost identical; I think curricula later revised them to look a bit more different.)

    So my handwriting was always terrible–particularly terrible in cursive, but never that great in print either. It was always my worst subject in elementary school.

    Touch-typing was incredibly liberating, though I didn't realize it at first; it took me a long time to get around to taking a class in the subject, which turned out to be extremely useful, but it was painful at the time. Part of the problem, in retrospect, was that in the 1980s, touch-typing instruction was still geared toward the instruction of professional typists transcribing from written notes or dictation on typewriters, and therefore emphasized error-free copying from a source document at the maximum possible speed. Whereas when I type, most of the time I'm composing something on a computer and making lots of edits–a very mentally different activity. I only got really fast and accurate during the 1990s when I spent a lot of time on Usenet.

  51. Matt McIrvin said,

    April 29, 2011 @ 11:25 pm

    …Anyway, I think many people would be better served by learning ten-fingered touch-typing at an early age than by learning cursive. I know a great many people who still hunt and peck with two fingers, and insist they do just fine, but I thought that myself before I learned better.

  52. maidhc said,

    April 30, 2011 @ 12:11 am

    I struggled and struggled to learn cursive. I was very slow at it and the results were never very good.

    Then I changed to a school where italic script was taught. I adopted it with feelings of great relief and within weeks I was writing effortlessly–with a fountain pen, no less.

    To me there is some kind of underlying connection between forcing children to write cursive and forcing them to read Strunk and White.

  53. Peter G. Howland said,

    April 30, 2011 @ 5:04 am

    Handwriting …or not.

    I loved my mid-1940s elementary school penmanship lessons and truly enjoyed learning cursive writing. (I also loved my fourth-grade teacher, but that’s another, possibly related, story.) Cursive writing was fun for me because I could do it well and always got good grades in penmanship tests.

    However, possibly influenced by my father’s engineering drawing work (and the stylized printed handwriting of that really cute girl I shared a table with in art class) by early high school I switched to printing. Over the years my “handwriting” has evolved into several different styles, each of which are employed for different purposes.

    For note-taking I use vertically-oriented upper and lower case printing without serifs or embellishments. I also pay particular attention to ascenders and descenders so there’s no confusing an /n/ with an /h/ or an /i/ with a /j/. This is to ensure that I can read it easily in the future and “get it right” when quoting what others’ have said or written.

    For writing original thoughts, my upper and lower case printing is produced with a more natural (for me) italic slant. This handwritten printing is one I can produce more rapidly and frequently incorporates slightly connected characters. It’s somewhat less legible to the uninitiated.

    For reference material, such as new or unfamiliar words or research topics, I print the words in carefully-formed, vertically-oriented all caps. I also use this style for my architectural drafting work, in which legibility is critical.

    Therefore, on any given notepad page, I can readily see what others’ have said, what I have said, and spot stuff I’d like to look up or do further research on.

    I no longer use cursive writing for any practical purpose. Yet, except for the creaky-old-paws business, I can produce it so that it looks both attractive and legible to those familiar with its calligraphic secrets.

    The use of different “type styles” is something I also use when typing. I touch-type relatively error-free as fast as I can think of what I want to say, but even so, I change fonts and styles to separate the “real thing” from asides or notes to myself about what I’m writing. (Yes, we old people who live alone talk to ourselves, even when writing…)


    "I said, ‘we talk to ourselves’."


  54. Mark F. said,

    April 30, 2011 @ 7:01 am

    Can anyone say whether the UK is more consistent than the US about styles of handwriting instruction? I know the US is pretty much a hodgepodge, with different school systems teaching different styles and different teachers within the same school differing on their levels of insistence on one style or another.

    Handwriting is something Wikipedia doesn't cover as well as it could, incidentally. One frustrating thing is that articles on various cursive writing styles insist on referring to printing as "manuscript", which links to the article on manuscripts (i.e., manuscript documents).

  55. Nanani said,

    April 30, 2011 @ 10:10 am

    I learned both cursive (crazy capitals and all) AND touch-typing in elementary school (late 80s/early 90s)

    The touch-typing test involved typewriters and the teacher holding a board above my hands so that I couldn't see my fingers.

    Touch-typing has been much, much more applicable than cursive ever was. I can touch-type in three languages, and use two in my daily work, but I can't remember the last time used cursive for anything other than signing for packages.

  56. Rodger C said,

    April 30, 2011 @ 11:11 am

    I started school when I was five and learned printing before I could hold a pencil properly. This habit persisted and made my Palmer cursive look horrible. Since my main early reading was comic books, I kept private notes in printed capitals. At age 20 I discovered Italic, was charmed by its rationality, replaced my degenerate Palmer hand with it, and can now write legible longhand (a word that oddly hasn't appeared here, I think) on the rare occasions I have to. My private notes are now in a run-together development of printed capitals that looks like a personal letter from the time of Constantine or thereabouts.

  57. Rodger C said,

    April 30, 2011 @ 11:13 am

    As for typing, I still do it with two fingers. (When I was in school, typing classes were for girls that wanted to be secretaries.) Over the years, though, I've gotten up to about 40 wpm, and people watching me are a bit amazed.

  58. JuJuCam said,

    April 30, 2011 @ 11:13 am

    The open hostility towards a writing style that I considered normal, natural and legible confused me to no end until I realised that my definition of "cursive" was too broad – I have always thought it simply meant any handwritten script with letters that were joined together. It turns out that I have never been taught any form of cursive and have rarely had to read it. What I have seen doesn't look attractive to me at all, so I'm not sure what the big deal is. I do see beauty in calligraphy but I doubt anything written on a casual basis with a ballpoint pen could ever impress me.

    I have been witness to a tutor being told by a mother not to bother practicing any sort of joined up writing with her (learning impaired) son, which I thought was a bit of a loss, but if the lad ends up doing much handwriting at all I'm sure he'll develop it into his style in any case.

  59. Weathering said,

    April 30, 2011 @ 3:27 pm

    @Mary Kuhner: When I did more writing by hand (in high school and when taking undergraduate exams) I used to keep the paper tilted about 90 degrees as well. I remember once in high school having my English teacher come by and marvel that I was able to do so — this struck me as strange at the time, since I honestly found it much easier to write at that angle (and it's still the only way I find it natural to produce slanted letters).

    None of my friends my age were properly taught cursive in elementary school, I believe. As an undergraduate I noticed that this had gender-based effects: women I knew had developed relatively neat (though not standardize) writing, while men had what looked to me like extremely juvenile printing styles. I always assumed that girls had been subject to social pressure to be neat and tidy and produce pretty writing (we also practiced varieties of "bubble writing" styles, I recall), while boys hadn't been subject to similar pressure and so never bothered to practice their handwriting.

  60. David Marjanović said,

    April 30, 2011 @ 3:48 pm

    The German language distinguishes Druckschrift ("printing-script") from Schreibschrift ("writing-script"); the latter is cursive, and that's what I was taught to write in a bit more than the first year of school here in Austria. We were never taught to write printed letters by hand, and the idea (common though it is, even here!) still strikes me as completely absurd.

    On the rare occasions that I write by hand, I still use this cursive. (And so does my mother, with a few changes like letters that can flatten out to "~~~".) A big part of the reason is that it doesn't require me to lift the pen off the paper every few dozen milliseconds and put it down again. Every word is a single stroke, except for i/ä/ö/ü dots and other diacritics, x, and a few capital letters.

    I have the same distinctive handwriting in Latin letters as in (Russian) Cyrillic, even though I only learned the latter in 9th grade. It's ugly, but unlike many people I refuse to write so fast that I can't read it myself. Even my signature is legible. And yes, I once failed a university exam by a particularly nutty professor because of this.

    I was very happy when teachers started allowing me to write homework on a computer… touch-typing is just so much faster than handwriting and so much easier on all the musculature in the right hand.

    It's probably significant that Katie Zezima is a woman, since in my experience boys were never good at cursive.

    Tsss. You're doing statistics with a sample size of how many?

    Since grade school, I don't think I've ever seen anyone who made a capital Q the way we were taught (sort of like a large, distorted 2 with little circles on top). Good riddance, and I hope somebody drives a stake through its heart.

    I was taught, and still write, Q as an upside-down (mirrored) O – with the loop at the bottom instead of at the top.

    I was very surprised when I walked by her while proctoring an exam and discovered that she wrote by turning the paper sideways nearly 90 degrees and writing up the page rather than across it. It was like watching a magic trick!

    Lots of people do that (not all of them to the extreme of "nearly 90 degrees", but still) for very different handwriting styles. I'm actually unusual in not turning the paper at all.

    Lefties have to push pens across the page while righties are dragging it.

    Not if you put the hand under the line so that the pen points straight up the page.

    That's also how right-handed people write Arabic.

  61. David Marjanović said,

    April 30, 2011 @ 3:52 pm

    and it's still the only way I find it natural to produce slanted letters

    Why would anyone want to produce slanted letters? Not that there's anything wrong with them, but this is the first time I see someone imply they're more desirable than vertical ones.

  62. Barbara Phillips Long said,

    April 30, 2011 @ 4:00 pm

    My elementary school used the Palmer Method in the 1950s and as far as I know it is still the dominant form of cursive. I don't particularly care for it, and I think italic would be a better choice for public education. I think I read an article in Time magazine extolling italic while I was still in high school.

    I reverted to printing in junior high or high school. I've developed some ligatures that make my signature distinctive, and I have more ligatures when I'm taking notes quickly. Cursive would be faster than printing for me, but only if the cursive hand was more similar to my printing.

    I think some letters in the Palmer Method are hard to read, particularly certain capital letters. I suspect that the increasing importance of typing/keyboarding skills diminished any incentive to develop a better alternative to the Palmer Method, other than italic. In these days of "evidence-based" curricula, it is interesting that there's no new standard for handwriting.

  63. Craig said,

    May 1, 2011 @ 4:53 am

    The fact that our taste in handwriting styles changes over time – and sometimes quite rapidly – is nothing new to me.

    When I was in graduate school, I earned money occasionally by translating genealogical documents from French, German, and Latin. Every document presented a new challenge in reading defunct handwriting styles.

    At the time, I could read most German blackletter handwriting with ease, but as I just discovered, I've lost my knack over the last decade. Varieties of such writing, e.g. Sütterlin, were used until about 40 years ago, but they've fallen into such disuse that modern Germans struggle to read them.

    As for my own handwriting, although I learned to write in Zaner-Bloser cursive (and manuscript) in the 1970s, most of the time I now write in a semi-joined manuscript for legibility. I only switch to my less legible cursive hand when I have to take rapid notes.

    (Interestingly, I just noticed that I address envelopes – another extremely rare task nowadays – in an idiosyncratic form of semi-joined small-caps block printing.)

  64. Victor Mair said,

    May 1, 2011 @ 6:34 am

    @all: I have been deeply gratified by your overwhelming response to this post. I have learned so much from all of thoughtful, revealing, informative comments. This is one of the reasons why I consider it a great privilege to write for Language Log.

    BTW, in my original post, I did not emphasize sufficiently how PAINFUL and SLOW it is for me to print. I actually hate it when a form asks me to fill out something in printing. It's all that I can do to resist breaking out into cursive.

    As for my cursive hand, as I indicated in the original post, it really stinks, but I have nothing else to offer. When I was going to school back in the late 40s and 50s, my teachers in rural Osnaburg, Ohio tried very hard to teach me to write a respectable cursive, and we certainly did a fair amount of practice (far too much for my taste). I was a model student in all other respects, and my teachers actually loved me for being so, but they nearly weeped over my handwriting.

    It's odd, but perhaps also telling, that my two older brothers, who were both cutups in high school, write with readable cursive, my older sister and my younger sister both have beautiful cursive, my next youngest brother prints everything (I don't think that he can do cursive at all; he's an ex-Marine, so maybe that has something to do with it), and my youngest brother, a poet, writes chicken scratches that vie with mine for illegibility and demonstrably bad appearance.

    I'm a very fast touch typist, but I never came to rely on it as a substitute for handwriting because I didn't like the trouble of going back and fixing even occasional typos. I was very late coming to computers, but I find that they have essentially rescued me from my poor handwriting. Still, when I'm compsing a serious paper, I always prefer to write it out longhand on yellow legal pads with my treasured extra fine tip Rotring calligraphic ink pen. I also strongly prefer writing letters with an ink pen.

    As for writing Chinese characters, that is for me a very labored, mechanical task, and I prefer to use a Pilot Hi-Tec-C 0.4 needle nose pen. It is a slow and methodical process, but — though blockish — my characters actually come out looking pretty good and are generally more readable than my rushed cursive in English.

    @Katie "For some reason I've been under the impression that most people actually use something besides the (rather inefficient) pinyin input system, such as the stroke based input system on my cell phone that I have yet to figure out. But maybe I just thought this because I assumed there must be a better way out there. Not true?"

    Not true, Katie. Your impression is badly mistaken in several regards. There are actually very few people who use shape / stroke-based inputting systems, and I have touched upon the reasons for that in many previous posts. Many pinyin input systems, such as Key (developed by Peter Leimbigler), are actually highly efficient in converting word-based pinyin inputting to characters. It is telling that you say you "have yet to figure out" the stroke-based input system on your cell phone. The learning curve on shape / stroke-based inputting systems is almost always *very high*, and they also lead to all sorts of frustrations even after one has supposedly mastered them.

  65. Margaret L said,

    May 1, 2011 @ 9:03 am

    Late to the party, but the comments from lefties interested me. Any thoughts on what's best to teach a left-handed child? I'm liking the arguments in favor of italics in general (i.e. for right-handers), but what about for lefties?

  66. Matt McIrvin said,

    May 1, 2011 @ 11:22 am

    Part of the problem in discussing the subject is that some people are like JuJuCam and regard any joined writing (such as italic, or the pseudo-italic forms that people evolve in an ad hoc way) as "cursive", whereas people brought up in something like the US school curriculum in use when I was a kid do not know there are any formally taught writing styles other than block printing and Palmer cursive. So people end up talking past each other.

  67. Gene Hill said,

    May 1, 2011 @ 11:32 am

    Print vs Cursive, very interesting array of perspectives from all the above scholars. Indulge me if you will to offer yet another.
    My earliest memories of cursive and print were in my Father's hand. In 1943, when I was three years old, my Father went on an errand to assist General Patton. His body was away from us but his mind flowed into our mail box almost daily. The military provided a simple form stationary that folded into its own envelope. Space at a premium. But my Father must have had unlimited access and they would arrive in clusters. Some addressed directly to me. Inside would be large print in various styles. My Mother's were written in his beautiful cursive. Even those varied depending on the content. For a yesteryear cowboy he was a masterful communicator. So I learned to read and write and print sitting in my Mother's lap and going over my Father's post.
    The thing about cursive is that it can convey more than cold facts. There is a chance to express emotions. It's the difference between a bland reading and dramatic presentation. Even the simplest handwriting annalist can read much of the writer's personality. Choice of pens reflects much: broad heady strokes for the sensual, fine points for the concise. High looped L's for the idealistic and positive. Cursive makes a musical score for the emotions.
    I recall one sentence of post from Dad where the cursive was intentionally loose and sprawled all over the page. It announced, "Yesterday we liberated one of the finest wine cellars in France; our casualties were 100% this morning".
    Perhaps you are right. I suppose there are less people writing cursive in this modern age, but I'm sure it will survive as long as there are those who wish to express themselves in a wider artistic form.

  68. Dakota said,

    May 1, 2011 @ 12:25 pm

    Zaner-Bloser. Yes! That's what we learned (although I am not sure how this is different from Palmer cursive). An ugly and juvenile looking script. As an alternative (for years of note-taking), I have taught myself to print very fast but legibly, but wish for a more attractive writing style.

    @Rodger C
    As for typing, I still do it with two fingers.
    This used to be a matter of prestige in a computer setting where I used to work, and differentiated us from the mere secretaries. Anyone who knew how to touch type never did it in front of anyone, anyhow I think it's faster unless you are very very good at touch typing.

  69. Alan Gunn said,

    May 1, 2011 @ 3:28 pm

    "Even the simplest Handwriting annalist can read much of the writer's personality."

    Sure they can. And if that doesn't work there are always Ouija boards and horoscopes.

    Even the matter of determining whether a particular person wrote a document is much tougher than most people think. Although some courts allow testimony from self-proclaimed "experts" on this, there are in fact no universities with departments of handwriting identification and no established standards or procedures for doing that, and cases in which supposed experts were certain but wrong abound (Hitler's diaries and Clifford Irving's faked Howard Hughes autobiography come to mind). But even those charlatans don't claim they can "read" personalities from handwriting.

    If the demise of cursive (by which I mean the Palmer method) helps to lessen belief in superstitions, we have yet another reason toe at its passing.

  70. Alan Gunn said,

    May 1, 2011 @ 3:29 pm

    "to rejoice at its passing."

  71. Gene Hill said,

    May 1, 2011 @ 7:07 pm

    Allen, I am so sorry for you. I can only assume that the only love letter you ever received was in cut and paste ransom note style.

  72. D said,

    May 1, 2011 @ 8:11 pm

    As a child (female, now 25) who spent a lot of time writing as well as drawing (although my "incorrect" method of holding a pen aggravated my teachers no end, as they were not able to make any lasting corrections to it), I always cared about how my handwriting looked — but I don't think I ever achieved a truly consistent, pleasing cursive hand until I took up studying Russian as a teenager. Now my English writing continues to be strongly marked by some Cyrillic-style features, and people frequently comment that it's quite pretty. However, I don't really have a hand between my fairly formal cursive and all-capital block letters, so when I have to fill out forms that request printing, I'm afraid it looks a bit savage.

  73. un malpaso said,

    May 1, 2011 @ 8:25 pm

    The exact same thing happened to me. When I learned Russian in high school/college, it displaced most of my residual English cursive skills from my brain. Now, even when I try to write something simple like my signature, my hand almost feels forced to do it in Cyrillic. Looks pretty, though!

  74. Ellen K. said,

    May 1, 2011 @ 8:51 pm

    Gene Hill, having received a hand written love letter does not automatically mean reading emotions into the handwriting.

  75. Gene Hill said,

    May 1, 2011 @ 9:20 pm

    Well true Ellen, One would first need to be emotionally literate, unless it were written in pheromone perfume.

  76. Ben Hemmens said,

    May 2, 2011 @ 3:08 am

    I recently read in The Shaking Woman by Siri Hustvedt that there are people whose memory was seriously impaired who could nonetheless write down memories without, so to speak, being conscious of them.

    I often feel that I edit texts better on paper and that doodling on paper helps me compose a piece of writing much better. So maybe there's something about the physical act of moving a pen or pencil around on paper that taps into different mental reserves than are available when using an input of naked characters (as in a keyboard).

    But even characters have more life in them than you might think. I was fascinated to read a book by the type designer Adrian Frutiger. He developed some of the most successful "modern" sans-serif typefaces: the eponymous one and for example, Univers. Univers seems extremely clean and regular at first glance; but if you look closely, it's not geometrical at all. The arms of the U's and N's, etc., the curves of the letters, etc. are not parallel, but were tweaked purely by eye by Frutiger (in great detail) to look natural. And the secret of the very good legibility of such typefaces is exactly in these little tweaks.

  77. Victor Mair said,

    May 2, 2011 @ 5:53 am

    I was impressed by how many of the commenters in this thread emphasized the impact of Russian calligraphic writing upon them, beginning with the first two at the very top, and continuing conspicuously right down to the remarks of D. I called this interesting fact to the attention of my former graduate students from Russia. Here is the reply I received from one of them:

    "Yes, it was considered to be a shame not to write in cursive in Russian; even those who were only slightly literate would do so. But when I went to college I discovered that many of my classmates were writing in block letters; it should be related to computers."

  78. Jongseong Park said,

    May 2, 2011 @ 7:29 am

    I have to echo the sentiments of some of those who have commented that the discussion here is difficult to follow because people are using different definitions of cursive. 'Cursive' refers to any of a huge variety of handwriting styles spanning centuries and cultures. To many people, though, 'cursive' seems to mean the standardized style taught in schools complete with guidelines. Penmanship models based on the Palmer method (the Zaner-Bloser cursive seems to be the same thing) predominate in the US, but I've seen cursive manuals in different countries that use the Roman alphabet that are based on slightly different styles.

    The discussion of 'Italic handwriting' is interesting. Maybe this refers to handwriting that imitates Italic type, which allows one to join up the separate letters as much as possible if so desired. This is not at all surprising, because Italic type is based on the Italian chancery cursive. If one writes in 'Italic' and joins up the letters (thereby restoring the aspect of the original cursive that was lost in the transition to type due to technical limitations), then one is writing in cursive. A quick glance at some samples of Italic handwriting suggests that most of it is indeed joined-up writing.

    If on the other hand 'Italic handwriting' simply means handwriting based on the Italian chancery cursive model (minus the requirement of a broad-nib pen), then it is even more evident that it is a form of cursive writing. So it is confusing to see the terms 'cursive' and 'Italic' put in opposition, even though I understand why people do so.

    I happened to go to school in the US in 2nd and 3rd grade and was taught cursive. I still write in semi-cursive or cursive and find it unnatural to do complete block writing. My father, who did graduate studies in the US, told me that he was required there to do block writing for reasons of legibility. So he taught himself a quick block-writing hand, although I'd still characterize it as semi-cursive.

    My own style of (semi-)cursive is the product of similar efforts to make it more legible for others who are not used to reading cursive, so I use an Italic-style 'r' and most capital letters are written basically as block letters. It is also only slightly slanted, is largely devoid of loops and has very long and prominent extenders (the ascenders of letters like 'b' and the descenders of letters like 'p') that are at least twice the x-height (the height of a small letter 'x').

  79. Gene Hill said,

    May 2, 2011 @ 8:08 am

    I recently read in The Shaking Woman by Siri Hustvedt that there are people whose memory was seriously impaired who could nonetheless write down memories without, so to speak, being conscious of them.

    Haven't read "Shaking Woman" yet. But read several excerpts from it, while exploring concords of modern neural studies and mysticism.
    Yes I agree evoking muscle memory, through doodling is much like athletes visualizing the physical act before execution. And it warms up the needed muscles, enabling the body and brain to better perform the will of mind. Pre creation of memory if you will.
    I could never write fast enough to take notes. However I could doodle little symbols while lessoning or reading. When reviewed later they seem to fire the first synapse to that neural pathway. Or ignite the right brain emotional response to produce a total solution much as a savant.

  80. John Swindle said,

    May 2, 2011 @ 8:13 am

    Victor, I can see how practical pinyin entry must be for texting in Chinese characters–for Mandarin speakers. But how does that work for speakers of Cantonese and so on? In principle they have a common written language, but would one really use Mandarin-based pinyin to enter the characters?

  81. Victor Mair said,

    May 2, 2011 @ 8:46 am

    We used to refer to the two finger typing method as "hunt and peck", as Matt McIrvin noted. My high school band director, Donald Kennedy, used that method, and I was amazed at how fast he could go, probably about 40 words per minute. But then I took a touch typing class and soared away at speeds of over a hundred words per minute, after which I felt sorry for Mr. Kennedy.

  82. Victor Mair said,

    May 2, 2011 @ 9:58 am

    @John Swindle
    Cantonese speakers use a variety of means to input Chinese characters, including special characters that are used only for Cantonese. Just as Cantonese speakers have to become literate in Mandarin to write normal "Chinese", so many of them learn the Pinyin sounds / spelling to enter the characters, either for writing "Chinese" (Modern Standard Mandarin) or for the standard characters that are used in Cantonese. But that is not to write Cantonese, and it is a drag for Cantonese speakers to have to learn Mandarin pronunciation to enter the characters, though I know many Cantonese who have forced themselves to do that, and do it fairly well, even though they may speak Mandarin with a very heavy Cantonese accent.

    Cantonese speakers also enter characters through Jyutpin and other spelling systems designed just for Cantonese, and they use shape-based systems such as Cangjie / Ts'ang-chieh as well. Believe it or not, I also have met Cantonese speakers and programs that enter Cantonese through English; they enter an English word and ask the computer to convert (translate) that into Cantonese. I myself could scarcely believe that anyone would resort to such an arcane method, but it does happen.

  83. Ray Dillinger said,

    May 2, 2011 @ 10:24 am

    The lefties in our school were encouraged to rotate their pages 90 degrees clockwise and write in a downward direction. Their first impulse was to curl their left hand above the line and write with the pen point facing toward them on an upright page, or to rotate the page counterclockwise and write in an upward direction. But rotating the page clockwise and writing lines from top to bottom seemed to work better once they got practice with it. I didn't see any of them going back to one of the other styles later.

    I have mixed feelings about the passage of cursive. I learned it, and it's pretty, and there are contexts in which it's socially encouraged, and the snob in me is a little bit proud to know it. But, looking at it from another perspective, historical documents in variant writing styles, from tyron's notes to shorthand to blackletter, and many others, present an obstacle for modern scholars. Complex writing systems limit literacy, in the worst cases, to adults who've spent years studying them. Chinese scholars rage about the Chinese Characters. And, generally, when you are representing information the simplest, easiest representation that fully expresses it is the best representation to use. So … Even though I like it, I have to admit that the passage of cursive is probably a good thing.

  84. J. Goard said,

    May 2, 2011 @ 10:40 am

    I typically write in a somewhat idiosyncratic cursive italic developed while teaching elementary school EFL, which the students found very legible and attractive. Sometimes a student would get marked by another teacher for imitating my rounded "w" and "y" (including capitals) — I dislike the angular versions, though not nearly to the level of loathing I have for single-story "a"!

  85. Mark Dunan said,

    May 2, 2011 @ 12:37 pm

    I just tried writing out a single 40-word paragraph, not copying from something else but making it up as I went, and I noticed two things: (1) a gradually intensifying pain in my hand, no matter what angle I held the paper at, that probably would have prevented me from going on much longer, and (2) irritation at having to leave the dots off the i's and the crosses off the t's while I finished the word and then had to go back to add them. *Very* distracting, as normally I write them before going on to the next letter (and, in fact, write the dot before the rest of the i; same with lowercase j).

    Touch-typers — have any of you lost the ability to touch-type after using a keyboard other than the one you're used to? I learned in the US on an ASCII keyboard and could touch-type reasonable well; now in Japan we have JIS keyboard most of the time, and while the alphabet is in the same position, the spacebar is smaller and nearly all the non-alphabet symbols are in different positions. The apostrophe is at Shift-7; the parentheses are over 8 and 9 rather than 9 and 0; the colon is to the right of the semicolon, unshifted. The spacebar is smaller, as there are several kana-to-kanji conversion-related keys around it. All these things have really short-circuited my touch-typing ability, and I've lost lots of speed. Has this happened to anyone else?

  86. Leonardo Boiko said,

    May 2, 2011 @ 1:34 pm

    @Mark: I could touch-type fluently in BR-ABNT2, JIS and US keyboards. But those days I restrict myself to US, in old IBM buckling-spring hardware (which I find much more comfortable than the modern rubber-based keyboards). I slow down when going to ABNT or JIS, but that doesn’t impair my US ability in any way. Perhaps growing up here helps; many Brazilian computer people are keyboard-bilingual (since both ABNT and US models are popular).

  87. Leonardo Boiko said,

    May 2, 2011 @ 3:24 pm


    If on the other hand 'Italic handwriting' simply means handwriting based on the Italian chancery cursive model (minus the requirement of a broad-nib pen), then it is even more evident that it is a form of cursive writing. So it is confusing to see the terms 'cursive' and 'Italic' put in opposition, even though I understand why people do so.

    It is indeed that the definition of italic that’s being used; I don’t know how recent the usage is, but it’s followed by e.g. The Society for Italic Handwriting and recent-ish handwriting manuals and charts I’ve seen. It’s considered a revival of what you’re calling the Italian chancery, though people I’ve seen just call that one “italic” too and not “chancery cursive” or “chancery italic”. The revival movement naturally forgoes the broad nib (though I think it looks best with one, but you know), and joining the letters appears to be considered optional.

    When “italic handwriting” is being opposed to “cursive” we mean the extremes of the cursive scale as regularly taught for schoolchildren in the West, including Palmer, Spencer and the like, with a lot of loops and what is called in Japanese “destroyed” (くずし) characters. In my mind italic handwriting is akin to Chinese/Japanese running hand or “semicursive” (行書)—characters might join up or not, but they’re still allowed to stand up individually.

  88. army1987 said,

    May 2, 2011 @ 4:25 pm

    I still write in cursive occasionally (and for me, while handsome cursive is slower than handsome block letters, merely decently legible cursive is faster than merely decently legible block letters), but I've stopped using cursive capital letters (using a block capital even in words the rest of which is in lowercase cursive) since about fourth grade, and now I wouldn't even be able to write a decent cursive capital H.

  89. CT said,

    May 2, 2011 @ 6:19 pm

    I stopped writing cursive when I realized I couldn't read my own writing and probably never would be able to. Part of it is that my attention deficit disorder makes it harder to master the kinds of motor skills and write with any speed.

    I can read other people's cursive just fine.

    I think kids should try to learn it and be forced to work with it for some time just because it's nice to be able to read what others have written but it's not an indispensable skill in modern society.

  90. Jongseong Park said,

    May 3, 2011 @ 3:50 am

    @J. Goard: I dislike the angular versions, though not nearly to the level of loathing I have for single-story "a"!

    Really? Outside of mannered calligraphy, the lowercase 'a' takes the single-storey form (like the phonetic symbol 'ɑ') in virtually all handwriting one encounters.

    @Leonard Boiko: I'm surely not the only one who is more familiar with the use of the term 'italic' in typography, where it broadly refers to slanted semi-cursive typefaces that today are used as companions, most often for emphasis, to the upright 'roman' typefaces (those which are merely slanted and follow the roman construction are properly 'oblique' typefaces, not true italics).

    Historically, this comes from the Italic type based on the Italian chancery cursive, which provided a nice contrast to the Roman type based on upright humanist letterforms. My usual term for the handwritten style is simply 'chancery cursive'; I added the 'Italian' to hint at the origin and connection to Italic type and because apparently there are other chancery cursive styles. I think the term 'italic' may be in vogue because it is so familiar through its use in typography, although it is possible it has been used all along for the handwritten style.

  91. Mark Dunan said,

    May 3, 2011 @ 4:08 am

    @Leonardo – Oh, yeah, I love mechanical keyboards. I'd use one at home if they weren't loud enough to wake anyone sleeping nearby in my tiny apartment!

    The only "misplaced" JIS keys that really bother me are the apostrophe and the double quote. I used to touch-type those with my right pinky without thinking, and when I started on JIS I would always be typing "don:t" and "isn:t" all the time.*

    I'm hoping to see italic get more use in elementary schools. At the very least, they could have left-handers learn (and get graded on) italic while right-handers learn cursive.

    I get fulsome praise for my Japanese 行書 (gyōsho). It's actually easier for a lefty than standard 楷書 (kaisho) as a lot of the left-to-right push-strokes are smoothed out, and of course the vertical direction is a pleasure. Never tried 草書 (sōsho), though.

    (* – In typing those examples on an ASCII keyboard just now, and making use of both the quote and the colon while remembering mis-typing the quote and colon on another layout, twice I typed the wrong thing and had to fix it. ^_^;)

  92. Annabelle said,

    May 3, 2011 @ 9:22 am

    As a Chemistry student, I take notes in mixed symbols and text, and italic/cursive/print versions of the same symbol can mean entirely different things. A few of my professors write in a nearly illegible print hand, and people tend to have trouble understanding it. (It's not just me: Several times each class, someone has to ask for an interpretation of what's on the blackboard.)

    I can easily read other people's cursive, including that which appears in letters from a hundred years ago or so, but I write in a mixed cursive script, with some capital letters similar to their italic versions. It's more functional than strictly correct. Most of my classmates print, but I know a few who use italic script, and one or two write in very elegant cursive.

  93. Jim said,

    May 3, 2011 @ 1:32 pm

    Cursive takes longer to write if you want it to be legible to others — you have to make sure the letter forms are clean. And it takes longer to decipher someone else's script. Looks pretty, but hard to get content value in or out. Fails in both direction.

  94. Not My Leg said,

    May 3, 2011 @ 4:45 pm

    Count me among those whose learning Russian ruined their ability to write Latin script in cursive. All the letters come out wrong unless I really focus on getting it right. I suspect this is because I studied Russian in college, and hadn't seriously written in cursive for a long time before that, so once I started writing Cyrillic in cursive that quickly became dominant.

    I haven't spoken or written Russian (in any serious way) in several years, but my cursive still comes out naturally in Cyrillic. On the other hand, I can't print Cyrillic at all.

  95. Frans said,

    May 4, 2011 @ 11:06 am

    Here's another left-hander who hates handwriting. Any type, really.

    I'm far more prone to typos while handwriting than while typing, which consists primarily of writing parts of letters or words that shouldn't be there. For instance, when I started writing English, I would always put dots on the y before I even realized I'd done so (I wonder if more Dutch people have or had that problem). Sometimes I extend an a into a g, or add letters that shouldn't be there (like a g behind an n). The worst part is that I'll cross it out and repeat the exact same mistake again. When typing I'm almost the opposite. I don't need to see the result of what I typed to be aware of typos: I just feel that I accidentally pressed the wrong key and correct the mistake, often before I'm even really aware of there having been one in the first place. I never thought the way I'd been taught to write it in school was as legible as it could be, on top of which it was more cumbersome to write.


    The lefties in our school were encouraged to rotate their pages 90 degrees clockwise and write in a downward direction. Their first impulse was to curl their left hand above the line and write with the pen point facing toward them on an upright page, or to rotate the page counterclockwise and write in an upward direction. But rotating the page clockwise and writing lines from top to bottom seemed to work better once they got practice with it. I didn't see any of them going back to one of the other styles later.

    Do you have any more information about this? I find writing the least objectionable when I turn the paper counter-clockwise (though no more than 45 degrees or so at most). Perhaps if I hadn't flocked to typing almost everything as soon as I could (i.e. had I been born 20 years earlier) I might've experimented with different handwriting styles, but now I've mostly got an evolved style of what seems to be called italic in the US.

    Touch-typers — have any of you lost the ability to touch-type after using a keyboard other than the one you're used to? I learned in the US on an ASCII keyboard and could touch-type reasonable well; now in Japan we have JIS keyboard most of the time, and while the alphabet is in the same position, the spacebar is smaller and nearly all the non-alphabet symbols are in different positions. The apostrophe is at Shift-7; the parentheses are over 8 and 9 rather than 9 and 0; the colon is to the right of the semicolon, unshifted. The spacebar is smaller, as there are several kana-to-kanji conversion-related keys around it. All these things have really short-circuited my touch-typing ability, and I've lost lots of speed. Has this happened to anyone else?

    I've acquired a greater familiarity with the Belgian/French keyboard over the past two years, but it hasn't impacted my US International skills at all. I guess it might if I used it more than just occasionally. My Dutch and German keyboard skills from the '90s are completely gone, however.

  96. Cathy0 said,

    May 4, 2011 @ 11:19 pm

    In Australia, writing is called (or was called back in the 70s when I was in primary school) either 'printing' or 'running writing'. This neatly sidesteps the ambiguity of what exactly is 'cursive/italic' etc.
    It seems I was taught something like a cross between Palmer and Zamer-Bloser, I can't find an exact match online.
    But now in Australian schools children are taught "Victorian Modern Cursive".
    This is designed to be an 'all-purpose' style that eliminates the differences between 'printing' and 'running writing'.
    The source of most controversy with VMC is that the 'printing' letters are different to the standard print letters seen in text. For example, the 'b' and 'p' are open, and the 'k' is looped closed.
    Parents are having to learn a new style of printing – and the jury is still out.
    ( – go to the bottom of the page for links. Interestingly, they have a separate version for left-handers.)

  97. Frans said,

    May 5, 2011 @ 4:46 am

    The source of most controversy with VMC is that the 'printing' letters are different to the standard print letters seen in text. For example, the 'b' and 'p' are open, and the 'k' is looped closed.

    Those are examples of letters I realize differently than I had to back in elementary school. Search for handschrift on this page to see what looks like an example of how I had to learn to write as well.

    That Victorian Modern Cursive stuff is actually slightly closer to the way I presently write than how I learned to write myself, though of course it rather lacks individuality.

  98. Uly said,

    May 8, 2011 @ 2:29 am

    Why would anyone want to produce slanted letters?

    Because that's the way you're supposed to write cursive, at least in the US. Slanting is The Right Way, straight-up-and-down is minimally acceptable, and slanting backwards is only done by degenerate lefties.

    Margaret L, the best way to teach lefties to write, in print or in cursive, is to actually teach them. Not teaching children how to write is not a new phenomenon at all – I got little to no actual handwriting instruction as a child, just shapes on the board that I was expected to pick up as I went along. I see with my nieces the same thing – so long as the letter more or less looks okay, the teachers don't mind if they formed it in an inefficient style.

    That's actually why I sat down and taught the older niece cursive in the first grade, because her haphazard way of forming letters was slowing her down and making it harder to write, but she didn't want to take my advice on forming each letter the same way, every time. When all your letters connect, you HAVE to form them the right way, and now, a year later, she has a very neat handwriting… though her printing is still pretty abysmal. (But that's because, again, the teacher doesn't have the time to teach handwriting properly, and probably wasn't instructed in teaching handwriting in the first place. Printing can be neat and clean and legible, but only if you bother to teach children how to write it!)

  99. Brenda said,

    May 8, 2011 @ 12:29 pm

    When I was in elementary school, we learned the basics of cursive in third grade, then spent fourth and fifth grade practicing. I believe we were taught the standard cursive method, though I have no idea what it was called.
    In middle school, teachers insisted we use only cursive for assignments to be turned in. None of my teachers in high school required cursive, and many actively discouraged it. The only thing I was required to write in cursive in high school was a paragraph on the front page of the SAT booklet.
    These days (all of ten years after I first learned cursive) I use it to write letters and sometimes to take notes. Most of my capital letter forms are taken from my printed capitals, which are unusual themselves. My cursive is also a lot larger than my printing, which can fit two or three lines into a line of notebook paper.
    Now that I think about it, my younger siblings learned D'Nealian after conventional printing but before cursive to help with the transition.

  100. Brenda said,

    May 8, 2011 @ 12:31 pm

    Oh, and I write Hebrew with very distinct letters and have a hard time with Arabic cursive.

  101. foghawk said,

    May 10, 2011 @ 12:48 am

    We were taught D'Nealian from kindergarten until about second grade. Awful. I copied the letterforms given us for handwriting practice and promptly switched back to my regular handwriting for actual work – having already grown addicted to the printed page, I was forming my letters in careful mimicry of, more or less, Times New Roman. (I don't recall ever being called out on this; I suppose they weren't grading for it.)

    In the beginning, I didn't join up my letters at all, and copied printed text right down to the serifs; eventually my writing joined up and lost most of the little extras. (The serifs went, the two-story 'g' went, the curled tails of 'i' and 't' went… but I still write 'w' as two overlapping, rather than joined, 'v's, and my degenerate two-story 'a' has persisted to the point that I now cross my 'z's to differentiate.) By now, it's effectively cursive – most words can be written in a single line.

    In the meantime, it has grown smaller and increasingly backslanted, which I blame on fine motor control. I'm extremely precise with my hands, and I have some obsessive-compulsive tendencies, so as my control got better, I wrote smaller. The backslant, I suspect, came from my preference for using my fingers to using my wrist and arm to move the pencil – where the wrist moves back and forth, the fingers pull in and out. (I can write in a forward slant, but it just involves angling the paper more.) It's rather distinctive; I don't know any other right-handers who do that.

  102. Kragen Javier Sitaker said,

    May 12, 2011 @ 6:35 pm

    I frequently get compliments on my handwriting, although it was always terrible when I was a child. This is almost certainly a result of my habit of writing in paper notebooks on a regular basis, often while traveling or on public transit, but also to take notes on people I meet and the like. I prefer paper to portable computers for this mostly because of the freedom it gives me to draw diagrams, copy down unusual letterforms, or write the Phoenician alphabet. I write in an italic hand at some 17 words per minute; on my cell phone using T9 I type at about 19 words per minute, so portable computers are not that much faster for me. On a full-size keyboard, by contrast, I touch-type about 90 words per minute normally, with bursts of 160 when I'm not making errors.

    I don't find that my italic, mostly-separate-letters hand is particularly slower than the Palmer cursive I was taught as a child (starting in 1983 in Dallas) but I've wanted to learn Gregg shorthand for many years.

    I've done this for a long time — I have notebooks from my childhood — but five years ago, when I began my travels, I think I had used a single notebook for the previous seven years. Since then, I've used up nine and am on my tenth, each one lasting about six months. I think the exercise of writing some 3000 pages of notebooks during that time is to credit for the improvement in my handwriting, in part because I've spent time thinking about how to improve it.

    The longhand speed limit is less frustrating when I'm writing poetry, math, or software in my notebook than when I'm writing prose, because of the higher density.

    Since moving to Argentina, I've consciously adopted some Argentine characteristics in my handwriting: Fraktur-like descenders on the right side of "n" and "m" (which I also add to "h", although most people don't), and a crossbar on the descender of "q".

    A rather poor TrueType version of my handwriting from 2007 is on my home page, but my handwriting has improved dramatically since then. I should put more stuff online.

  103. Victor Mair said,

    August 28, 2011 @ 4:07 pm

    It's really quite hopeless. Once people become dependent on computers to write for them (via Pinyin) it's almost impossible to make them write correctly and proficiently by hand. Calligraphy will become purely an art form not very closely related to language.


    China promotes calligraphy as hand-writing gets sloppy

    China's primary and secondary schools have been ordered to increase calligraphy classes as widespread use of computer keyboard has made children's handwriting 'sloppy', the government said.

    A notice…


  104. James Dowden said,

    August 31, 2011 @ 4:02 am

    Very, very late to the party on this one. Yes, I too have Cyrillic-influenced cursive handwriting with hooks on the left-hand-side of letters and all (and how can anyone draw a capital "D" any other way?). But the moment I realized how endangered cursive was was about nine years ago when I went to a post office to send a parcel recorded delivery. The clerk pointed at a capital "L" in the address and asked, "is that a zed?"

  105. Derek said,

    September 3, 2011 @ 5:50 am

    I learned D'Nealian in second grade, and I write cursive to this day. It's not pretty, but neither is my print, but my cursive is much faster. It makes me kind of sad when I hear friends say that they can't read or write cursive.

  106. Julie said,

    October 12, 2011 @ 3:42 am

    I learned to write at home, copying my mother's (Spencerian?) script. Being left-handed, I tried all the paper positions and settled on 90 degrees counter-clockwise. Then I started school. By the time we were supposed to be learning cursive (Palmer method), I was quite thoroughly set in my ways and no one could get me to change. Just as well. My handwriting was a mess until I'd learned some Italic and simplified a few of my letterforms. The letters are still joined, but it's a long way from Palmer now. I love my computer, but I still take notes by hand.

    When doing calligraphy, I generally turn the paper about 120 degrees clockwise…upside-down and nearly opposite my normal cursive. That keeps the ink from smudging.

  107. Observation said,

    December 11, 2011 @ 10:10 pm

    As one of the 95% who use pinyin, I think it's actually beneficial for me. I can brush up my Putonghua (Cantonese being my native dialect) as I can't type in Cangjie or Sucheng. As for learning to write the characters, I can always invest time in that. Plus, the pinyin input method allows me to find out how to write a character without flipping the dictionary.

    Also, I think writing with a brush should be an art and only an art. With the invention of paper, jiaguwen, jinwen and zhuanshu came out of fashion. I think lishu, xingshu and caoshu should be written only with the calligrapher's ink, and not the student's ball-point.

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