Sunday, January 23, 2011

Happy Handwriting Day!

In honour of National Handwriting Day 2011, I'm pulling an old 2006 post from the archives to share again. Hope you will enjoy it. You could then take a look at my review of an exhaustively researched and eminently entertaining book on this topic, Script & Scribble by Kitty Burns Florey. It was a fantastic book that I think anyone interested in this topic would simply love.

With a fine hand

I was intrigued by an article in the Toronto Star about the loss of handwriting skills among young people. It says, among other things, that:

Handwriting is irrelevant (The Toronto Star, Dec. 5, 2006. 12:03 AMJEN GERSON)

They couldn't remember how to write the letter "I."

Is it one loop or two? Does the pen start at the top of the squiggle or the bottom? "I forgot how to handwrite," says 18-year-old Kris Tofer Baker, as he mulls over the execution of a "w." Don't misunderstand. Baker is an intelligent young man. He just hasn't needed to use cursive script since Grade 4.

"I print out or type the majority of my school work."He's not alone. On the Ryerson and University of Toronto campuses, few students were able to handwrite naturally, when handed a black felt-tipped pen. After some moments of meditation, most remembered, sort of, how to script — although they couldn't remember the last time they needed to.

Computers have turned cursive handwriting into an archaic and unnecessary form of writing. It has been relegated to an era of calling cards and heartfelt love letters crafted by candlelight and fountain pen."

One of the comments I got back on a test was `I don't understand what you wrote.' The teacher had told us to handwrite, but you saw, I had trouble with the T. I don't remember what they're supposed to look like," says Ikram Abdi, 19.

Her friend agrees. What need is there to handwrite? "Everything we do is on the computer," says Fatima Nuzhat, 19....... But Toronto-based forensic document examiner Pat Girouard ponders this new trend and remains skeptical. Sure, computers dominate our writing lives. Sure, handwriting seems somewhat anachronistic, but still, cursive seems to be an ironic sacrifice in the digital age. After all, she says, "printing takes longer (than handwriting) because it's disconnected."

I really was a bit shocked by this. I am a big proponent of legible handwriting; printing everything you write looks so childish. If I get a memo from somebody written in chunky, messy Grade 1 handwriting, my opinion of them suffers. Yes, I'm a cursive snob. I enjoy writing with pen and paper, and do it every day, almost entirely with fountain pens. Yes, the kind with cartridges; I don't carry bottles of ink around in my pockets. The physical act of writing - using your hand to shape your thoughts - has a visceral power that typing lacks.

Researchers have suggested that cursive script also assists in the formation of more complex thought processes. Also, as graphologists know, one's idiosyncratic handwriting provides clues to one's self. (UPDATE: test yourself at Thanks to DoveGreyReader for the link!)

Can this be true if one has no habitual style of writing? Can typing out one's thoughts so that they appear identical to anyone else's be the death knoll of eccentric individualism? Is one confined intellectually and/or philosophically by a keyboard? Interesting questions to ponder - feel free to weigh in.

Meanwhile, I will continue use my fountain pens to express myself, as well as my keyboard. Paper and ink, someone's carefully shaped words, still mean something. Perhaps this is why, even in this wide world of blogs, there still exists a vibrant zine culture


  1. This is really interesting. I was so dismayed when I found out that cursive writing is not taught in schools anymore; my daughter who just started kindergarten calls it "scribble writing" because she can't read it, and thinks I use it to keep things secret from her, like some kind of code handwriting. I like seeing people's individual handwriting and wonder what mine says about me...

  2. Jeane - what? it is not taught at all? That shocks me... perhaps it really will become a 'code language' if nobody knows how to write properly any longer. I love your daughter's classification of cursive, though ;)

  3. My twelve year old niece cannot read 'cursive'... has never been taught. I was blown away when she told me. I handwrite my letters to her anyway -- printy handwriting, to sort of ease her into it. Still, she often ends up asking he mum to read them to her. Just easier I guess. And this is not a dopey girl. Stuns me still. I dread the day this will be a lost art/language.

  4. carin - that seriously shocks me -- I had no idea that kids really didn't know how to write cursive any more. It also saddens me :(

  5. I was part of the generation in which they were phasing out cursive writing. Instead they taught "cursive italic," which was a totally asinine alternative: as slow and as ugly as printing, the worst of both worlds. I was so enamored of "old-fashioned" things (this meant Anne of Green Gables, high-button boots and quill pens to me) that I petitioned the principal to let me learn true cursive instead, and he did. But actually, very few people I know write or read cursive now, even adults.

  6. I remember practicing and practicing to get those letters right to please my grade 2 teacher (whom I adored) And I almost never print these days unless I am forced to...I love writing on nice paper with nice pens so perhaps I am more naturally inclined to keep up my cursive hand.


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