On Handwriting.
October 28, 2011 6:48 AM   Subscribe

Ann Wroe takes some time from her day job as The Economist's obituaries editor to write about handwriting.
posted by WalterMitty (59 comments total) 26 users marked this as a favorite

One of my nieces once asked me, "How do I type my name." Not spell, not write, but type!

My handwriting is atrocious. My print looks like a 5 year old's and my cursive can only be read by me (and only within the 3 or 4 days after I write it).

I'm 41. I had all the writing classes as a child and I write as a hobby. I seldom use a pen for anything other than signing my name.

My nieces and nephew are home schooled. I doubt they do much writing. In 30 years they will probably be having this same discussion about typing and how it's a lost art form. I can already get my phone to type for me, so it won't be long before the default is doing this with computers as well.
posted by cjorgensen at 7:01 AM on October 28, 2011

I would argue that this is exactly part of her day job - it's an obituary.

I used to teach elementary school, and handwriting was not part of the official curriculum at all, but some kids wanted to learn it so much that we ended up fitting in a little bit of it. It's harder to teach, harder to learn, harder to read, harder to write, and harder to integrate it into a day to day life that has already left it behind. So another fair thing falls by the wayside, and it is sad, but I am happy that I don't have to decipher every piece of written communication I receive.

Here's a funny picture of a worksheet completed by one of my students, who already knew cursive. Self link!
posted by dirtdirt at 7:02 AM on October 28, 2011 [6 favorites]

MetaFilter: Bearded eccentrics in cluttered attics and lavender-scented maiden aunts.
posted by griphus at 7:11 AM on October 28, 2011 [5 favorites]

Handwriting isn't dead yet. You still need to jot notes to yourself or others, make lists, etc. Or maybe I'm the last human without a smartphone? I've tried keeping notes on a device, but the input is so. damned. slow. (not to mention constrained to whatever ontology the device programmer wants to force me into) compared to handwriting or a full-size keyboard I just can't stand it. I forget what I was going to write before I have it all down.

I've actually worked on my handwriting and now not only is it legible it's actually kind of pretty. It helps that I'm using calligraphic fountain pens in two colors (one for large type and one for small). My little stack of to-do index cards here in front of my computer looks pretty snazzy.
posted by DU at 7:13 AM on October 28, 2011 [2 favorites]

I had a freshman Composition teacher whose rule was that all first and second drafts had to be handwritten, so I dutifully scrawled out my cursive scratch and handed in my first assignment. When I got it back, there was a note: "In future, please type."
posted by sysinfo at 7:16 AM on October 28, 2011 [5 favorites]

I keep an informal engineer's notebook at work but I'm not sure the scribbles in it could be considered handwriting. Sometimes I can understand what I've written but no one else can.
posted by octothorpe at 7:17 AM on October 28, 2011

Sometimes I can understand what I've written but no one else can.

My handwriting is like that as well, especially for very common words. "The," "and" and any common words in whatever I am writing about become something closer to pictograms than a series of juxtaposed phonetic symbols.

(...of course, going back to the notes after a prolonged amount of time is occasionally impossible because I forget what the context-specific scribbles mean. Sorry, PoliSci notes.)
posted by griphus at 7:20 AM on October 28, 2011

One of my nieces once asked me, "How do I type my name." Not spell, not write, but type!

posted by sweetkid at 7:20 AM on October 28, 2011 [1 favorite]

We teach our eldest son that he has to learn how to write well. It's a cultural thing - he was born in Japan and every year or so we return to Japan for a few months, and he enrolls in school, so he has to keep up in the meantime while in Canada with writing Chinese characters. There is a right way and many wrong ways to write Chinese characters (kanji); many people have described the almost spiritual connection that happens while writing these characters correctly.

Writing is a building block - good penmanship is a creative discipline, and an expression of self, and it is hard to do. It's a connection to culture, to the past, and to the soul. So my boys will be learning how to do it right.
posted by KokuRyu at 7:20 AM on October 28, 2011 [3 favorites]

My Catholic school education had its drawbacks, but I do have beautiful cursive handwriting.

My printing, on the other hand, looks like someone took a hammer to a herd of spiders who were migrating across the page.
posted by punchtothehead at 7:21 AM on October 28, 2011 [1 favorite]

I think I should start writing the love of my life handwritten love letters instead of e-mails, but my handwriting has become really atrocious!! I used to be hired to write things by hand in calligraphy of various forms in fountain pens! Now, I can only print in all caps in order to be legible!
posted by Yellow at 7:23 AM on October 28, 2011

From the article: Left-handers especially demonstrate the exertion of writing, curling their entire bodies round their pens as they write, smearing their words as they go.

Some of us know to TURN THE PAPER.

Also, taking a mini-course in Arabic in high school was so fabulous for a lefty enamored of beautiful handwriting.
posted by cobaltnine at 7:26 AM on October 28, 2011 [5 favorites]

This is one area where I truly feel like an old man. Ancient, even.

Handwriting is such a democratic artform. It's a way that everyone can express who they are while, at the same time, express what they think. From a purely political standpoint, good handwriting leads to good impressions.

I'm prejudiced, of course. I've spent many years developing my style. I spent many years doing drafting as a sideline, and architectural letterforms are an obsession. That desire for form and style and legibility was carried into my cursive writing.

The upshot is I get compliments on my handwriting all the time. It has led to opportunities. These days, having commendable handwriting is almost like being a magician. People think you have powers.

Also, one of the masters she mentioned in the essay - Niccolo Niccoli - was awesome.
posted by Benny Andajetz at 7:29 AM on October 28, 2011 [2 favorites]

My Catholic school education had its drawbacks, but I do have beautiful cursive handwriting.

So does my mother. Beautiful cursive handwriting is really one of the hallmarks of having gone to Catholic school. They did that very well.

My parents sent me to the abysmal public schools in Philadelphia in the 1960s/70s and my handwriting is so awful that this is one of my mother's regrets for having relied on the state educational system.

Today, as a result of this excellent primary school education, I mostly print when I must put pen to paper, but I know how to throw fists.
posted by three blind mice at 7:34 AM on October 28, 2011 [2 favorites]

I went (briefly) to a secondary school that also taught italic handwriting for some unholy reason known only to themselves.
Naturally my own cursive handwriting is illegible, even to me (my father's writing is illegible and his father's writing was illegible, so I'm blaming genetics).
My girlfriend still writes most things by hand and her pensmanship is exemplary.
posted by SyntacticSugar at 7:37 AM on October 28, 2011

My print handwriting is identical to my father's. I can finish a crossword puzzle that he started and it's impossible to tell who filled in which boxes. We're alike in so many other ways that it makes me wonder if there isn't something to graphology after all.

(I once found a book from the 1960s called Grapho-Therapeutics, founded on the premise that graphology works both ways -- that is, it has lessons on how to change your personality by forcing yourself into handwriting habits associated with more positive traits. Have a "pervert's T"? No problem! Start writing your T's the right way and before you know it those intrusive homosexual desires will just melt away.)
posted by theodolite at 7:43 AM on October 28, 2011 [1 favorite]

For pure communication of ideas and memorializing information NOTHING can beat the portability and flexibility of plain, unformatted typed text. Nothing! It's absolutely beautiful stuff that way.

There are still a few things I need pen and paper for, though. Calculations and diagrams seem to need the freedom and space that pen and ink provide. I've spent a hundred bucks on apps that promise a good iPad writing/drawing experience, but I always return to paper. I suspect this'll improve, but for now I do my trig on scraps of paper.

Editing printed documents is still easier for me than editing stuff on the screen, probably because the original document remains fixed in black type and my edits float around it in colored ink. "Track Changes" can't quite capture that, but it's more a matter of the software not being there than paper being inherently better.

And love notes. Writing things with pen and paper is not only a way to physically bond with the recipient, it's also a one-time-only event. It's not something that can ever be reproduced in its entirety. You can photocopy it, but it's not the original. An email might very well live forever in a million places and be read by a million people. One version is the same as the next.

A piece of paper professing my love for you, though? It was a struggle to write it. It will be a struggle to understand it. Maybe you can't understand it. Then, one day, it will turn to dust just like we will. Perfect!
posted by pjaust at 7:47 AM on October 28, 2011

I'm prejudiced, of course. I've spent many years developing my style. I spent many years doing drafting as a sideline, and architectural letterforms are an obsession. That desire for form and style and legibility was carried into my cursive writing.

My father, a former construction foreman and project manager, who was educated in the 50s and 60s, also has beautiful handwriting, and also is able to create very neat, precise architectural lettering. Pretty cool.
posted by KokuRyu at 7:48 AM on October 28, 2011 [1 favorite]

I have lovely handwriting as do my mother and sister. My sister's cursive is big; she can never write lists on small scraps of paper. My grandmother was a teacher and taught penmanship, she never really approved of my handwriting, too many flourishes. Her writing is exact and precise, just like what appeared in her instruction manuals, the kind everyone can read easily.

I do wonder how future biographers will gather information on persons of note or interest. What 'letters' will be donated to universities for study. I have received great handwritten letters and love notes and I've sent the same. Certainly, over the last ten years, though, nearly all my correspondence has been sent via email. When I die, no one will have access to my email accounts and learn of my French lover or the London man who broke my heart or see the silly notes between friends where we bemoan the minutia of our lives.
posted by shoesietart at 7:49 AM on October 28, 2011

My mother had really nice, neat handwriting. Mine is miniscule scratchy scribbles, but it's mine. I can read it. With years of practice under her belt, my wife can read it too.

I have several computing devices on which I can type notes. But when I go to a conference, I bring my "conference notebook" (a Gregg ruled 6" x 9" steno book) and I write in that with a pen. Not some frilly fountain pen, because I can't be bothered to carry blotting sand along with me, just a plain old pen (preferably a liquid ink, because despite the potential for coffee spills obliterating the page, I don't have to press so hard to make it write).

I'm upgrading right now. Next month I'll be using a Field Notes Steno book, brand new and awaiting my scribbles. I'm planning on bringing a package of Pigma Micron pens, because they won't bleed through the page. I'll carry my computer and my iPhone and my iPad too. But those aren't for conference notes. I can't scribble a quick picture or recreate a graph on those the same way I can do it on paper. I don't get the same speed of writing (I am a horrible two-fingered typist, and refuse to learn to do it properly). My steno book doesn't "helpfully" correct technical jargon it doesn't recognize, or "fix" my swear words when I excitedly write down some new mental discovery ("he'll"? No, damned autocorrect, I definitely meant "hell"!).

I also have a travel journal, inspired by my parent's journal from a trip they took in college. All members of the group took turns writing in the journal, documenting the trip they undertook driving to Alaska from the midwestern US. The trip in which my mother discovered she had one unexpected passenger along for the ride; although I was stuck in utero at the time and thus had no opportunity to see firsthand what they saw, I had the pleasure of reading about the first road trip I ever took. I wanted my own son to have the same chance, so whenever my wife and I travel for fun, I carry a small notebook and write out in longhand what we did that day, where we stayed, how we felt, and scribble silly little pictures of our adventures when the mood strikes me.

These are things one can do with a computing device. But they are more difficult to implement, and the glow of pixels on a screen has an impartiality that a written page does not possess. I type out things that must be communicated to others. I handwrite things that I wish to communicate to myself. I used to tell my students that writing something out was the best way to begin learning it, because it has to pass from eye or ear through brain and be translated into muscle action. For many younger people (including myself!) writing is harder to do than typing. One must think about what he or she is doing more, and the extra effort to do so seems to me to make it more difficult to forget what was just written. We speak of touch-typing, putting words on electronic media without looking at what our hands are doing (and by god, this is something I am doing right now - touch-typing with two fingers, only occasional glances at the keyboard and not too many typos!). But I know of no one who touch-WRITES. We watch what our hands are doing when we write. I hate thinking of this activity becoming nothing more than a thing done pretentiously by neo-Luddites, the act of writing falling into obscurity because we've moved on to better means; this saddens me. It saddens me in the same way that the thought of losing books as a physical object saddens me.

My son will learn to write, and he will learn to write well. Even if his writing is chicken scratch like mine, he will not grow up unable to express himself without electrons. And I will be proud of him for that.
posted by caution live frogs at 7:49 AM on October 28, 2011 [5 favorites]

Also, that one year in high school when I took two semesters of mechanical drawing, despite the fact that the class was full of burnouts and I was on a college prep path? My printed writing STILL looks pretty darn good as a result, even if my cursive is a lovely, miniscule, scrunched-up mess. It's darn good practice and I highly recommend it.
posted by caution live frogs at 7:53 AM on October 28, 2011 [1 favorite]

My print handwriting is identical to my father's. I can finish a crossword puzzle that he started and it's impossible to tell who filled in which boxes. We're alike in so many other ways that it makes me wonder if there isn't something to graphology after all.

I won't go that far, but I have noticed that my handwriting increasingly resembles my father's as I get older. It's kinda spooky.
posted by dismas at 7:57 AM on October 28, 2011

My most degenerate family member has the best, neatest, and most formal handwriting . . . the disconnect bothers me every time I see something he's written. I'm sort of suspicious of those with gorgeous cursive as a result, really.

I also like how you can distinguish American and UK/European writing apart. I think I'll write my friends in the UK soon!
posted by theredpen at 8:04 AM on October 28, 2011

In my teens, I consciously emulated the capital M and closing x in my mother's signature, each a graceful set of curves not at all like the versions used in most of my writing. Over the years, the M became bolder and simpler and the rest of my signature went my own way, I thought, until I recently took a look at my father's signature and found the second part almost identical to mine.
posted by maudlin at 8:09 AM on October 28, 2011

From the article: and that a letter entirely in capitals still bears the mark of the seriously deranged

This is true even on the Internet. (I wonder if people get confused by the fact that all the letters on the keys are capitals but the default result when you hit the key is lowercase.)

Sometimes I can understand what I've written but no one else can.

I teach, usually from handwritten lecture notes. My handwriting is like that, so I have an ironclad excuse when students ask "I didn't come to class. can I have a copy of your notes?" I write more legibly on the chalkboard in class. Yes, we still have chalkboards. I tried typing my lecture notes at one point but I found that I wasn't getting the timing right. First, you can get more words on a typed page than on a handwritten page; but I couldn't even find a good way to correct for that, because I'd type things out that I wouldn't write by hand.

This might be because I'm typing what eventually will be written by hand on the board. Perhaps if I changed my entire style and gave PowerPoint presentations, then this would work again. But that is something which I Will. Not. Do.

(Also, sometimes I want a diagram in my lecture, and it's a lot harder to include that in typed-up notes than handwritten ones.)
posted by madcaptenor at 8:17 AM on October 28, 2011

Here's a previous thread on the demise of penmanship - it predates the removal of the img tag, so there's quite a few samples of Mefite handwriting.
posted by jack_mo at 8:26 AM on October 28, 2011 [2 favorites]

I don't understand why people are proud of not being able to handwrite properly.
posted by LastOfHisKind at 8:27 AM on October 28, 2011 [4 favorites]

LastOfHisKind: just to clarify, I'm not proud that my writing is hard to read.
posted by madcaptenor at 8:29 AM on October 28, 2011

Handwriting immediately lets me recall the writer's voice in a way that even the most distinctly phrased typing does not.

Many years ago, one of my professors chided me for using typed captions in a drawing final (this was in the days when lots of layout was still done with waxers and xacto knives, and I thought that painstakingly setting the written portion of the assignment in Caslon made my sketches look more respectable) He pointed out that anyone who has spent years learning to draw ought to have greater respect for their own handwriting.
posted by pernoctalian at 8:30 AM on October 28, 2011

In that age of poets, though, the Muse was often hindered by the pen, blunting, splitting, spitting ink or, as John Keats complained, making blind “e”s.

Has anyone heard of this "blind "e'" before? (Google is not helping.) Is it that thing I do when I'm tearing along in cursive and suddenly discover that there's an "e" on the end of a word that I know doesn't end in "e"? It drives my internal editor crazy when I do that, and I do it a lot when I'm writing by hand.
posted by EvaDestruction at 8:32 AM on October 28, 2011

Buliwyf: You can draw sounds?
Ahmed Ibn Fahdlan: "Draw sounds"? Yes, I can draw sounds... and I can speak them back.

My own handwriting is an aggressively unreadable tangle that borders on arcane script, many letters being reduced or transformed in figure to bizarre twists of ink recognizable only to myself. It's nearly a code, a separate alphabet known only to a select few. Sweeping arcs, multi-layered overlaps and conjoinments of characters... I think it looks pretty excellent, however. Much more so than standard 'bad handwriting'.
posted by FatherDagon at 8:36 AM on October 28, 2011 [33 favorites]

Growing up my handwriting was bad. Really bad. The kind of bad that my second grade teacher threatened to have me held back because my handwriting wasn't up to par despite being years ahead on everything else. This continued until the sixth grade. Cursive definitely didn't help, and in fact made all of my writing worse.

Oddly, in the sixth grade I learned how to write so that anyone could read it. In freaking wood shop of all classes. Our shop teacher insisted that the first two days of every class he taught had to learn how to write in a very simple all-capital handwriting. No serifs of any sort, either. If you did serifs you had to start from scratch. And no hearts over the letter "i" because you shouldn't have a dotted "i" because it should be in capitals. Apparently he had dealt with too much bad handwriting on papers and projects. It didn't matter if it was your first class or fifth class with him teaching: you spent two days writing in his style.

This wound up leading me to re-learn my handwriting at a point past the "optimal age" for learning it. I now have two distinct handwriting styles. One is a combination of print and cursive that is strangely easy to decipher. The other is the all-capital no-serif version, which many friends compliment me on for looking like it's straight out of the comics.
posted by Mister Fabulous at 8:45 AM on October 28, 2011 [2 favorites]

A colleague of mine in what amounted to a prosecutory-type case was so moved by the defendant's beautiful handwriting that he was compelled to question if the case should even go forward. Myself, I've found my own sensibilities affected by gorgeous handwriting that came from an inmate, who was in prison for sexual assault and something else as terrible, of which, I had to remind myself as I assisted in litigation against him.

Fine handwriting can be extremely powerful and convey much more than just the words it depicts.

My own is in cursive, generally, and for a person of my age and background, I feel a respectful degree of clarity and form. Yet when compared against some of the handwriting I find, say in the 1850 Federal census, pales. I want to be a better writer and I'll be darned if I don't ensure that my children aren't better than me. I believe it'll be a definite boon to their future.
posted by Atreides at 8:50 AM on October 28, 2011 [1 favorite]

1. song extract: "My uncle down in Texas/can't even write his name/
So he signs his checks with Xs/
And they cash them just the same"

2. Some people with money buy pens, have them as hobbies, collecting: scarcity makes for "quality."
3. in Middle Ages, only priests could write. In Shakespeare's time, scribes made a living writing ...can't we outsource writing needs to China?
posted by Postroad at 8:56 AM on October 28, 2011

Is it that thing I do when I'm tearing along in cursive and suddenly discover that there's an "e" on the end of a word that I know doesn't end in "e"? It drives my internal editor crazy when I do that, and I do it a lot when I'm writing by hand.

I do that all the time, to Chaucerian levels when drunk.

I think Keats' "blind 'e'" is an 'e' with the top bit filled in with ink, thanks to a spluttery nib?

The passage where he mentions it (as an excuse for not writing to Fanny Brawne more often) is just hilarious:

The fault is in the Quill. I have mended it and still it is very much inclin'd to make blind e's. However these last lines are in a much better style of penmanship though a little disfigured by the smear of black currant jelly, which has made a little mark on one of the Pages of Brown's Ben Jonson, the very best book he has. I have lick'd it but it remains very purple. I did not know whether to say purple or blue, so in the mixture of the thought wrote purplue which may be an excellent name for a colour made up of those two, and would suit well to start next spring.
posted by jack_mo at 9:02 AM on October 28, 2011 [4 favorites]

My cursive is atrocious, but I work with small children, so I've developed very neat, round elementary-school-teacher printing. It's not what I write naturally, but I'm pretty good at it and can write it quickly. And it really is an awful lot easier to read.
posted by nonasuch at 9:04 AM on October 28, 2011 [1 favorite]

The difference between handwriting and typing is much like the difference between a face-to-face conversation and talking on the telephone: there's a bandwidth difference. When looking at handwriting, you get a lot more information beyond just a series of letters, spaces and punctuation set in a particular order. It's similar to being able to watch someone's hands or face when they're talking.

The 7 bits-per-character of ASCII is absurdly limited compared to the amount of information (not necessarily easily quantifiable, or interpretable) conveyed by a hand-written letter.

As nice as that is, it's pretty clear that typing is the direction our society is headed in. So while we may mourn the demise of handwriting as a common method of communication, we might also want to consider how we can increase the bandwidth of typed correspondence. I've noticed an uptick lately in the use of emoticons in business emails -- while initially I found this pretty annoying, on reconsideration it struck me as an attempt to shoehorn some of the missing information from a more personal method of communication into the dominant medium of email. Perhaps not the best execution, but arguably a noble goal.

It's long been an internet joke that there should be a <sarcasm> tag; I've always felt that there should be an extension to the PS2 (well, now USB) standard, to make it more like MIDI ... give each keystroke a 'velocity' component. Imagine if your email editor automatically set the font size or style in response to how hard you were pounding the keys, or how fast? You could convey a lot more information, if you wanted to.

But interestingly, we've chosen as a culture not to do anything like that; part of the attraction of the typewriter, and later of the word processor and email, is the emotional 'cleanliness' of the output.
posted by Kadin2048 at 9:21 AM on October 28, 2011 [1 favorite]

I used to wish I had that architect/engineer handwriting that my dad had. Instead its a notch or two above chicken scratch. And I despair of its improving.

But I notice that when I'm "in the zone" - which does sometimes happen in a meeting or conference - that my writing gets noticeably better and more regular. Which makes me wonder if the feedback loop would also work the other way - if I could train myself into better writing would it lead to that zone state?
posted by RandlePatrickMcMurphy at 9:21 AM on October 28, 2011

oh handwriting. as someone who went to reed there is the cultural memory of lloyd j reynolds and fine handwriting lurking around. i spent a few weeks reading through mr reynolds' papers took notes, and had my mental course sort of pre-straightened in a weird way as a result.

my friend taught a class on italic handwriting my sophomore year and we encouraged one another to write better and lovelier, which of course fell all to hell as both of us have to write labels for things in our jobs and tend toward (lovely and regular) all caps now. but the power to write beautifully when needed lives on. beautiful and clear handwriting of whatever sort is a practice and good for the soul, man.

randlepatrickmcmurphy i think there is a meditative quality to doing things with one's hands in a fashion attentive. i encourage you to teach yourself italic calligraphy and report back on your states attained.
posted by beefetish at 10:06 AM on October 28, 2011

Handwriting does have a wonderful personal character to it that is just lost in typing. I can look back in journals I've written in over time and can almost cull as much information about my state of mind from the shape and movement of my writing as I can from the content, whether it was a calm or an emotional time. I'm not sure if anyone else has noticed their handwriting changing with their state of mind, but I can read my own quite clearly.
posted by el riesgo sempre vive at 10:30 AM on October 28, 2011

Is this the low-tech version of those people who get angry when strangers use Comic Sans?
posted by nebulawindphone at 11:00 AM on October 28, 2011 [3 favorites]

It's harder to make backups of handwritten stuff.
posted by snofoam at 11:21 AM on October 28, 2011

I can't help but think that beautiful handwriting is an affectation of the 1%. People with the means and privilege to attend good schools and spend countless hours practicing.

When they bemoan the death of handwriting, or plays, or the novel, they weep for the fate of the leisure class and all it's decadent accoutrements.

I am all for the death of handwriting and the democratization of communications that the Internet brings.
posted by Ad hominem at 11:45 AM on October 28, 2011 [1 favorite]

Alright, learning-disabled and Asperger* rant time:

All you people who still use cursive: I hate you ever so much. Doubly so if you use it on a freaking BLACKBOARD while teaching.

Alright: Some background: I have a weird brain, in that I read via wordshape instead of looking at individual letters. The upside is that I can hammer through almost 100 paperback pages an hour of light fiction.
The downside is to people like me cursive, even good cursive, is damn near unreadable, as everyone throughs their own little bits into it, thinking it makes it more 'personal', when all it does is make it unreadable. (Also that my spelling is atrocious, as I can only get the word into the right general shape most of the time.)

Even to normal people there was a comedic 'look at the shared MEMORIES' line in there about unreadable words in letters. That is the indication of a bad system that should have been abandoned decades, if not centuries ago. The point, the entire point of writing is to convey information; it isn't art, it is a communication medium, and the most efficient and reliable system should be used. That is printed or typed text, in a good, legible typeface. If you need really legible writing you should use small caps, like draftsman do.

Cursive writing may be fast; I've yet to meet someone who can beat my typing speeds (easily over 60 wpm last I checked, on a laptop keyboard with error correction- hammering through something that I'll edit later on a full keyboard I can easily break that). You know what is fast in an analog fashion? Shortforms. I've heard that shorthand used to be taught as a regular skill, but I think having a set library of standardized shortforms makes a hell of a lot more sense then using a method that may or may not be legible latter on.

I'm also not a analog hater- I still write and receive handwritten letters; It is more fun, though far, far slower. I also do all my math and much of my chemistry work on paper, and of course keep a labbook hardcopy. That doesn't mean I don't want to smack people I see writing in labbooks in cursive. Good luck figuring out the EXACT procedure you used later when it comes time to duplicate the experiment -Was that 11 mL or 17 mL?- dumbass.

Next point: You spend HOW many classes just learning to write so other people can read it? You know, perhaps, just perhaps, those classes could be better spent teaching basic printing to a legible level, then move on to something that isn't taught nearly well enough, like say, science or history?

Alright, I'm done, for now....
I do agree that ballpoint pens suck though- a nice liquid ink ball-based pen gives a much nicer line. Pencils are also nice for fine work, though the lead on all the ones I've used is much too light. I do find my friend who wrote all his tests with a lucky fountain-pen crazy though.

*I'm told that my insistence on purely pragmatic considerations is a very typical Asperger's trait, and since half the internet claims to have it, yes, I have been diagnosed by a trained specialist in AS. Just wait until you hear my rant about how the Chinese (and similar languages) should have changed their language a few thousand years ago when they invented the printing press and found it didn't work so well with their overly-complex iconography, and that it certainly shouldn't have survived past the printed revolution and into an age on computer typesetting, so that everyone now has to use multibit encodings.
posted by Canageek at 12:08 PM on October 28, 2011

My cursive has always been bad--when I write by hand, and I jot notes all the time, it's in a sloppy but comprehensible all caps format. Does that mean I'm deranged? Hm. That's actually fairly accurate.
posted by maxwelton at 12:55 PM on October 28, 2011

"Handwriting isn't dead yet. You still need to jot notes to yourself or others, make lists, etc."

I've written probably 100 thank you notes in the past two years since I had two babies; I take all my notes by hand in meetings, etc. I feel like I'm a pretty large user of handwriting these days, comparatively. My handwriting isn't particularly pretty, but it's cursive and it's legible.

I threw a Gatsby tea a while ago and I hand-wrote all the invitations according to the standards of the era, using an appropriate etiquette book to get it all exactly right. I wanted to freaking STAB my hand by the end of 8 invitations and envelopes to make it hurt less. Sheesh. I guess I'm not such a power-user after all!

On a side note, I don't have great fine-motor control, can't draw, etc., but when I learned Russian and my teacher was a stickler for the very standardized form of Russian cursive that she learned, I actually could do it when forced to. My Russian handwriting is VERY pretty and legible, like an English writer's copperplate from back in the day when writing had to be standardized and pretty and easy-to-read. My English writing still is not. So, yeah, I sort-of suspect if you MAKE people learn to write pretty and legibly, they will, even if they're not natively talented in that direction.

My mom's a lefty, I'm a righty, and parts of my writing look unnervingly like hers. So another one for "family characteristics in handwriting" ... even on opposite hands!
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 1:02 PM on October 28, 2011 [1 favorite]

ad hom: poor people blood is the best, the very best calligraphy ink
posted by beefetish at 2:04 PM on October 28, 2011 [2 favorites]

When I was kid I was annoyed that everyone kept praising my sister's handwriting, while mine looked like the proverbial chicken scratchings. I started practicing, taugh myself calligraphy, and within a year I surpassed her. (I'd also read somewhere about how the slant of your letters betrays your personality, so I made sure my new hand was straight up and down.)

Some years later in grad school I knew handwriting was stupid, and that computers were the way of the future. I blundered on for a few years with that wrong-headed attitude until I realised that handwriting was much more expressive for note-taking and for thinking than typing was. (It's a little hard to make a quick drawing when your typing at a keyboard.) Not just that, it was beautiful, and I enjoyed it. I went back to notebooks and fountain pens and I've been much happier since.
posted by phliar at 2:29 PM on October 28, 2011 [1 favorite]

Holy hell, I typed "your" instead of "you're". Sorry, all.
posted by phliar at 2:31 PM on October 28, 2011

Metafilter: Poor people blood is the best, the very best calligraphy ink.

Did I do that right? I've never done one of those 'Metafilter is' things before...
posted by Canageek at 2:35 PM on October 28, 2011 [1 favorite]

It's kind of interesting to contemplate that if tablet computing ever becomes really popular, it might be possible to read a discussion like this with each person's comment hand-written and shown in their hand. In some ways that would be really cool, though I suppose not being able to read most of the thread would be problematic.
posted by maxwelton at 2:46 PM on October 28, 2011

@cjorgensen Really? Getting your phone to write for you via voice-to-text? That would HAVE to be slow, I mean, I can type at about 60 wpm, that is one word a second. I sure can't speak that fast!
posted by Canageek at 2:47 PM on October 28, 2011

Two ways to improve your handwriting: use a pen with a nib--don't look at me like that, you can get disposables for the same price as a decent non-nib pen--and. write. slower.
posted by Hogshead at 3:53 PM on October 28, 2011

one word a second. I sure can't speak that fast!

Have you measured? A word a second seems like an absurdly slow rate of speech to me. For example, I just read your 40-word comment aloud at what I thought was a reasonable speed, and it took twenty seconds.

(Maybe I rushed because I knew the outcome I expected/wanted, but I sure didn't doubletime it.)
posted by stebulus at 7:46 PM on October 28, 2011 [1 favorite]

I can't help but think that beautiful handwriting is an affectation of the 1%. People with the means and privilege to attend good schools and spend countless hours practicing.

I am all for the death of handwriting and the democratization of communications that the Internet brings.

This is what happens when you rot your brain with nerd utopianism. You start thinking that something which requires the wherewithal to afford a computer, an internet connection, power infrastructure, the security to keep same, backups, and so forth, is more "democratic" and less "priveleged" than something that requires only time, practise, an cheap materials which can be made yourself if so inclined.
posted by rodgerd at 9:20 PM on October 28, 2011 [14 favorites]

The kindergarten teacher in my school told me the kids coming in have poor muscle tone in their hands these days, and teaching them to write by hand is harder and harder, as if they all need occupational therapy. I don't know where that came from, or whether it's just this cohort of kids at my particular school.

I circle around this question like a dog around an interesting dead deer. I learned to type on a manual typewriter, and though I had bad handwriting as a kid I made a living for a while as a calligrapher after I taught myself in adulthood. I started teaching handwriting in sixth grade this year after years of ignoring it because they lose the ability to write clearly after a couple of years of neglect, even though they wrote lovely cursive in third grade. Many of my students want to learn to write clearly, but others are firmly wedded to their awkward grips and their peculiar alternative letter forms. Do they need it? I don't know. I don't know.

As for beautiful handwriting being an affectation of the wealthy, why is it then that so many of my financial-aid kids have better handwriting than their affluent peers? I assume it's because the Catholic schools that started them out care more about tidy handwriting and following directions than anything requiring class sizes smaller than 35.
posted by Peach at 12:53 PM on October 29, 2011

As for beautiful handwriting being an affectation of the wealthy

Yeah, I read that upthread too and couldn't believe the 99% was even making its way into this thread. Believe you me, our household values good penmanship (in two languages! and two writing scripts) and we are definitely part of the 99% (or, to use a more intelligent measure, we're part of the 50% percentile).
posted by KokuRyu at 7:49 AM on October 31, 2011

@stelbulus No I haven't- I should before saying things like that. I suppose with perfect voice dictation it might be similar. I think part of it is I slow down when presenting or dictating. Also remember that 'wpm' is missnamed ---It is actually X characters per minute (5?).

The other problem I see is that my voice wears out long before my fingers do.
It would make me actually learn how to pronounce all the words I know, however.
posted by Canageek at 11:00 AM on November 2, 2011

I've been working on improving my handwriting, in a roundabout way: I'm taking advantage of my left-handedness to learn Roundhand with a flex nib (Copperplate and similar hands, written with a slope and a flex nib, are easier for lefties because of the natural way the arm moves, whereas right-handers have to use an oblique nib holder or scrunch around to avoid dragging the wrong way and springing the tines).

Thanks in part to weak tendons, my current progress is shaky.
posted by subbes at 3:19 AM on November 4, 2011

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