See You in Hell, Cursive Writing

John Scalzi

The former president of Harvard has written an elegy for cursive writing in The Atlantic, noting that Kids These Days weren’t taught it (it slipped off national curriculum standards in the 2010s), don’t read it easily if at all, and wonders what this means for their ability to access the past, as many documents are handwritten, and many of those are in cursive. Future generations will see cursive as a curiosity at best and an almost foreign language at most.

Which, eh. I’m not too worried about it. For the people who want to know it, it’s not actually that difficult to pick up; they taught it to second graders, after all, a group of humans not well-known either for their intellectual prowess or their magnificent hand-eye coordination. That plus the fact that computers are pretty good these days at recognizing handwriting of various levels of atrocious, and turning it into readable type, suggests to me that the past will not be all that impenetrable to future scholars, and others who have interest in history. Scholarship should survive just fine.

Anyway, the writing was on the wall (so to speak) for cursive a long time ago. I’m 53, was taught cursive in school, and have not used the skill for anything useful or important in literally decades. I started seriously writing right around the time first Macintoshes came into existence, so my entire creative/professional writing career, and mental discipline for writing, is centered on the computer as my writing tool. At no point, save for an occasional poem or song lyric, have I written creatively by hand. On the occasions that I do write by hand, for example when I’m signing books, it’s in standard, not cursive, script, consistent with my preference since I was a kid, and marginally more legibly for me and others in any event. Once I was not ordered to write in cursive (coinciding with the end of my elementary schooling), I didn’t, and anyone who gets handwritten notes from me should be grateful.

(Which is not to say that I didn’t occasionally hand write things; in high school I developed my own personal script that I would use to make notes or comments. People who see it now suggest it looks vaguely like Tolkien script, which I suppose it does, but it wasn’t intentional, since it predates me ever seeing the Tolkien script. I’m pretty sure since I’ve been fourteen I’ve written more things in my secret script than in cursive.)

I do know people who write in cursive for fun — friend and fellow writer Mary Robinette Kowal loves to send handwritten notes to people, and I can attest these notes are delightful to receive — but I suspect most people from Gen X downward conduct the majority of their written communication electronically, or at the very least, typed. I don’t personally notice a lessening of personal feeling or intimacy because these are the formats current generations prefer. They will indeed present a challenge for future archivists, in the sense that electronic media are ephemeral and bit rot is a real thing; I’d guess that will be an equal or greater task for these archivists than reading cursive.

So, yeah. I won’t be lamenting too much the end of cursive as a living script. It was never really a part of my life outside of elementary school and was of limited utility even then. I’ll stick to keyboards and computers, and limit handwriting to signing books and the occasional check (speaking of things becoming rapidly obsolete). This has worked for me so far. I suspect it will continue to.

— JS

103 Comments on “See You in Hell, Cursive Writing”

  1. Wow, no comments yet.

    I actually find your cursive more legible, if only because it’s larger. And when I hand write things it’s in a slightly modified cursive that suits me. I hate being forced to print things as it slows me down significantly.

    I also remember reading an article in the NY times years ago (probably around the time cursive was falling off curricula) discussing whether the change would change how kids learn — something about learning both to write by hand and to connect letters being good for brain development. I have no idea what the result of the change is though.

  2. This country over here has gone through a few iterations of cursive – see Kurrent, Sütterlin etc. – and typically it was political events shaping the script, but about never that a change to script brought down culture. And today the “cursive” we have here is basically a simplified teaching script (several iterations of that), and many people (including me) developed a handwriting closer to print script than to cursive. I believe even Harvard will survive the decline in cursive writing…

  3. My son’s school still teaches cursive, which is one of the things I like about the school. There have been numerous studies showing that teaching cursive has positive outcomes for many learning and brain development areas. I can’t access the Atlantic article, but I imagine the author makes those points. Who knows — perhaps your skill in writing wonderful, creative, award-winning stories is tied to the fact that you had to learn cursive in elementary school… :)

  4. Now I want to know what the line of your secret script says… I did assume at first that it was elvish, what with watching Rings of Power recently.

    As for cursive – presumably if someone can’t read it and needs to know what it says they’ll ask someone for help, so not a huge deal. I recall needing to ask Mom’s help deciphering many teacher notes even though I could read cursive…

  5. I’m 50. Like you, I was taught cursive in second grade. By seventh grade, I’d given it up–I have neuro issues, and as of that time, I was just recovering from brain surgery #14 (I’m now up to 17 total). My cursive was never the best to begin with, and after that brain surgery my fine motor skills went to shit for a long time. It was (and still is) just easier to print when I need to write something by hand. If there’s some kind of form where the first line is Print Here, and the next line is Sign (presumably cursive) Here, I’ll print on both lines, but the first line will read First Initial Middle Initial Lastname, and the next line will be Firstname Middle Initial Lastname. I’ve gotten some quizzical looks, but nobody’s ever said they “couldn’t” accept something I signed that way.

  6. Anthea —

    My crack code-breaking approach of looking at it and looking for repeated letters and the context tells me it says:

    “This is my secret…” …and then a word that does not appear to be “script,” but might be “writing.”

  7. But… but… THANK-YOU NOTES!

    These MUST be handwritten, and sent through the post, or you are a heedless, irresponsible, ungrateful and uncaring person!


    I mean, this is like one of the fundamental rules of civilization, isn’t it?

  8. My last boyfriend was my age (I’ll be 60 next month), was taught cursive, and STILL couldn’t read it. He told me “I think people write in cursive just so other people can’t read it” … which let me know that every handwritten letter I’d left for him for the previous three years went unread. That wasn’t WHY we broke up, but it didn’t help.

  9. I don’t know why people are so hung up on cursive writing. Printing is both easier to write and read. I haven’t written cursive (except for signatures) in decades.

  10. As I’m 63, I learned it, but most my life I just printed. Once I took typing in school I just stuck with that for longer form papers. I say good riddance to cursive. Let it now be viewed by the younger set as, “the ancient writing of the elders…”

  11. Fun topic. I write so seldom that when I try cursive, it turns into a mess. Sort of legible, but embarrassing.

    Like Cristoph I have migrated to a modified printing, it is just as fast and much more readable. I use that to write in my notebooks.

  12. I learned what I think is called a roundhand growing up in the UK and then had to convert to cursive after coming back to the US and as a result, penmanship is the only course I have ever flunked. I do write cursive (as in joined-up), but my letter shapes are, umm, idiosyncratic.

    Also I am impressed by the secret script, but like Kurt I can only get ¾ of the way through the sentence before running out of comparable letters. (I taught myself to write Tolkien’s tengwar in high school, because I am a massive nerd, but have lost most of it.)

  13. I’m about two years older than you (Scalzi) and I was expected to write in cursive for school work that I turned in through high school. Or at least, that’s how I remember it. I used a computer to print anything of length that was turned in during college, as both my printed writing and cursive were always pretty bad.

    I switched to print writing when I got a job in accounting as it was slightly more legible and people needed to actually understand what I wrote. As time has gone on, there is less and less that requires me to hand write things that will have durability or that anyone but me will need to read. For which I’m grateful.

    My signature’s still cursive, though. I’ve got to sign that on stuff that a few hundred times a year.

    Oh! And checks. Very few handwritten checks these days, but I started them in cursive and have continued with it to this day.

    All that said, I certainly don’t begrudge cursive falling by the wayside. I had to learn that stuff in 4th(3rd) grade and I was annoyed having to learn another way to write the exact same things.

  14. I spent decades hand drafting architectural and engineering drawings, and all the text was hand printed. (Ink on linen, graphite on paper, plastic lead on mylar). This was pre-CADD. As I result I am more comfortable printing (faster and more ledgible). Any time I hand write anything, I print the text.

  15. Typed communication is legible. There’s the joke about physicians’ prescriptions being illegible. But that could kill people.

  16. The “inaccessible past” argument seems a bit silly to be honest. Old texts are often accessible in typed form -nobody’s studying Shakespeare and Austen by way of handwritten folio – and specialized training has been required for reading old manuscripts for a much longer time than whenever cursive stopped being taught.

    The people who go on to be historians and archivists will learn to read old handwriting just as the ones of the past did.

    In the meantime I hope schools figure out that they need to TEACH typing and that it is not, in fact, automatically and spontaneously developped. The generation who had full keyboards first may have made it appear that way, but the touchscreen generation will need to be taught, preferably before they are expected to turn in long essays.

  17. Intersting. I write creatively in cursive every day. I also use it to take notes while working (software engineer).

    The sad thing about folks not physically writing is that the act of it, as far as what your brain does, is fundamentally different than typing on a computer. Note-taking by hand helps a person to remember more thoroughly than typing. There’s a lot of reasearch out there on this, not that it matters anymore.

  18. Your personal script reminds me of a former coworker who would, when taking notes, rotate the page 90 degrees and write vertically down the lines. He was left-handed, and it kept the ink from smudging on his hand while writing.

  19. In the bad old days pre-computer, college essay tests were written in cursive into supplied bluebooks. As one prof told us: “Use black ink. Leave neat margins. Write in complete paragraphs.”
    One unfortunate guy I knew did all of that but forgot to turn the page in his bluebook; it was an all black page with neat margins and, presumably, complete paragraphs. Prof let him take the test over.

  20. I can still write decently in script if I want to. But many from younger millennials, Gen Z and down can’t write it read it. It’s interesting when they are asked to sign their name and you get back a bunch of loops or scratches.

  21. My cursive writing was never any good and has deteriorated to illegibility over the course of decades, as had my Dad’s.

    The main difference between us was that I took Typing in the Eighth Grade, because the “Elective” courses offered then were Shop (boys only), Home Economics (girls only), and Typing. I tried taking Home Ec because Mom had taught all of us to cook and sew, and I’d be the only boy in a class of girls! The U.S. Army Dependents Resident in Europe School District (circa 1968, I think) flipped out over this, and my pointing out that I had zero mechanical competence and would be more likely to injure myself in Shop didn’t hold much water with them.

    They finally said I could take Typing – I was still the only boy in a class full of girls, and more importantly I learned how to touch-type at the age of thirteen. That’s a skill which has benefited me far more than Shop ever would have, as I spent nearly two decades as a temp secretary/administrative assistant thanks to it and still use my typing to this day….

  22. I’m 51, and I haven’t used cursive since I was 11. When I write by hand, anything from my grocery list to signing books, I write with a modified cursive. If the thing I’m writing is important, I’ll take more care with it, but that’s about it unless I’m purposely using calligraphy tools for fancy stuff.

  23. I quit using cursive in eighth grade (so, in the mid-60’s), and never looked back. It’s ridiculous that it’s still a thing.

    The only thing I use cursive for is to sign checks (two or three a year, nowadays) and the outside of our mail-in ballots each election. I’m sure I never sign my name the same way twice in a row, but so far that’s been good enough to get by.

  24. What’s interesting about the cursive writing abandonment is that many millennials and probably all Gen Z-ers don’t have a signature. They cannot sign their name.

    Having four adult children, I’ve provided guidance to them on things like filing their taxes, applying for loans, etc., and I cannot tell you how much pity I feel for them when I see them try to sign on the dotted line. My oldest has a sort-of signature, and the three younger ones practically just print their names. They simply were never taught how to write a “proper” signature.

    Granted, this is misplaced pity. If they knew how I felt, they’d probably chide me, “Oh, poor Gen X-er with your notions of propriety! How quaint.” Ultimately, they’ll be fine. But I can’t help but feel a bit of a sense of loss that the unique cursive signature is a thing of the past.

  25. My kid is 20 and she never learned cursive either. She actually wanted to, but it wasn’t taught in elementary school and she’s moved on. I’m more disappointed in her inability to quickly and accurately read an analog clock. Apparently, that’s now becoming an arcane skill, as well.

    She comes by her deficit honestly, though. I actually failed a single portion of something called a “functional literacy test” in elementary school. One section showed two clock faces and demanded that you determine how much time had elapsed between the two. Somehow my failure did not carry forward into the rest of my life, dooming me to perpetual tardiness. On the contrary, I’m insanely punctual.

  26. To your point about deciphering handwriting in old documents: even with the dubious benefit of having learned cursive, I still struggle mightily with figuring out what the Board of Supervisors late 1800s meeting minutes say. It is a skill anyone can develop with some time and effort. Kind of like a foreign language.
    Bemused Historian.

  27. A few random but topical thoughts…

    I was never hired for my handwriting.

    Historians will have to adapt and learn, as they always have. They don’t grow up learning Egyptian hieroglyphics, Babylonian cuneiform, or ancient Greek or Latin, after all. Even English has changed dramatically, both stylistically and as written. Try reading handwritten (or even printed) Chaucer in a document from the era he wrote it.

    I’ve got a degree in applied math, but haven’t had to solve a multivariate partial differential equation since my undergrad days. If you put such an equation in front of me and told me to solve it or else, I’d tell you to go ahead and pull the trigger and save us both the time and trouble. But 9th grade typing class? It’s been a mainstay of my professional and personal life.

    I remember when my dad first got email at work. He was a Deputy Secretary in state government, with all the office staff you’d expect. He used to have his secretary print out his emails, he’d dictate the reply, and she’d type the response. Executives didn’t type in those days–that was for the admin support staff, the girls in the typing pool. Times have changed.

  28. I find it interesting that quality writing utensils are a thriving niche market, with all gens. My kids (all in their 20s) all had wildly different takes on handwriting.
    Personally, I (50) use cursive still for “first draft” course notes for speed, and I’ve dabbled in calligraphy for literally decades. But having better writing utensils definitely helps; a cheap pen leaves me resorting to scrawled oversized print. I was very happy that rollerballs were suddenly easily accessible when I hit high school and legibility was demanded.

  29. My daugher’s class, high school Class of 2020, was the last in our school system to learn cursive and by the time she hit high school typing/keyboarding was no longer being taught either (because of the anticipated leaps in voice recognition software).

    I wouldn’t know what to do with a quill and ink pot. I think future generations will adapt.

  30. I’m an (elder) millennial and I find your cursive writing sample easier to read than the “usual” sample.

    I’m sure people will be fine but I’m sad that cursive is getting dropped. I prefer to write in cursive, it’s faster for me and easier on my hand. I’m more likely to keep up taking notes in a lecture or work setting when I write that way. I’m an artist so I see it’s loss less like abandoning propriety and more like an art form getting lost. It not getting taught in schools feels to me in the same vein as a lot of art and music getting cut from the curriculum. They don’t need to force kids to write everything in cursive, but I feel they should at least teach it and give them the choice.

  31. Even in elementary school my cursive sucked. In my 40s my (professional SW engineer) notes to myself were printed. I remember my college teacher in the early 80s telling me I got a grade bump because I handed in printed (via TRS-80 and Epson printer) essay homework that she didn’t have to decipher while reading. Not to mention my using Electric Pencil to write the things….

    Now that the only writing I do is signing my name maybe every 6 months or so, I have to say my cursive sucks ass. I don’t even recognize my own signature, and I don’t have Parkinson’s or somesuch to blame it on.

  32. The Boomer curmudgeon in me wants to write off (ahem) all these cursive-spurners as whiners: “It’s too hard!” poor babies. But the grown-up in me with going-on-7 decades under my belt recognizes that cultures change. I wonder what those guys who used little wedgie pens to press symbols into soft clay thought of the new-fangled ink-on-papyrus method? I love writing and getting hand-written (i.e., cursive) letters from friends, but since it became apparent that my own son’s cursive was never going to approach legibility, and that most people can hand-write in at least block lettering, I suppose even the possibility that the civilization-ending EMP will deprive us of computers forevermore, doesn’t preclude our being able to communicate our despair in block-letter graffiti on the smoking ruins of our cities. Go ahead and change, culture, I retain my ability to write and read cursive, to type on a typewriter and computer keyboard and the whippersnappers will come begging me for help to analyze the Old Ones’ papers in the end.

  33. All I have to say is that, when practiced and done well, cursive is prettier and more interesting to read. Its refined nature is already mourned.

  34. …God made two things for me: Word Processors & Spellcheck. Thank you dear Lord, otherwise, I would have retained every aspect of the Illiterate.

  35. When you see the grandstands full of people cheering the demise of cursive and doing the Wave I will be there and we will be 95% left handed folks. My left hnd is permanently stained blue from rubbing through wet ink and I have had interstellar-class hand crmps from turning it around backwards to try and write with a right handed slant like the teacher demanded.

  36. Another mid50ish guy. Here’s the thing. I could never read my mothers handwriting even though I can read cursive just fine. My father just printed everything. Maybe the problem was that my mother was writing in Canadian…

    I read the same article and my reaction was meh. I’m more concerned that kids can’t read maps.

  37. 60, and if I had to write something in cursive I would have to practice first. I still sign my name in cursive, but anything else I’m either printing or typing.
    If you want something really out of date, talk to my mom about Speedwriting — she had to learn that in the 1970s for a secretarial job. Even then, it would have been more time-efficient for her boss to dictate into a recorder and let her type directly from the tape (or, more accurately, clean up her boss’ grammar while typing), but for whatever reason he didn’t like using a recorder.

  38. Which cursive?
    From Wikipedia: “Because of this, various new forms of cursive italic appeared, including Getty-Dubay Italic, and Barchowsky Fluent Handwriting. In the 21st century, some of the surviving cursive writing styles are Spencerian, Palmer Method, D’Nealian, and Zaner-Bloser script.”

    I abandoned cursive long ago for block printing. It’s faster & more legible.

    Conclusion: Meh.

  39. I knew a Generation Y who genuinely couldn’t read an analogue clock. When last seen he was headed out east to take university.

    Back in the exciting days of long hair, my (middle school/junior high) teachers decided to embrace freedom with a revolutionary plan to have the students choose their own classes. The theory was the golden academic kids would choose the harder teachers, the regular kids would choose the easier teachers. Ha!

    Kids are kids, and everybody (except earnest nerds like me) tried for the easy teachers. So I lasted only one day in an all-girls typing class before everything had to be changed, and I couldn’t get back in. The golden kids also dropped French once the universities announced a second language was no longer an entry requirement (along with algebra and so forth)

    If you were to track the freshmen students of that year, right up to their university entry, sans French, that is roughly when the local campuses all suddenly required an English admission test. Looking back, I wonder if that was mere coincidence, or not.

  40. I learned in school (I’m a couple years older than our host). Also gave it up unless it was required. I never found it faster than printing. I struggle with reading cursive written earlier than WWII or so.

    I’ve got kids in elementary school now and 2 different teachers made a push for learning cursive. I didn’t see much point in trying to do it while distance learning with many kids having no help at home. One teacher, 2021-22 school year, 4th grade, said all the kids’ printing was terrible and learning cursive would give them better handwriting. He gave it up after a few weeks.

    I don’t see much point in learning to write cursive–read it? Maybe for checks, signatures, and cards.

  41. 70+ Boomer here. Yes, I can write (and read!) cursive. But no, I’m not going to make a big stink about this. I had decades of practice reading the terrible cursive of my mother (a righty) and my wife (a lefty) as well as a couple of righty British friends with frighteningly bad handwriting, so I am pretty good at it. I do write by hand at times, though I’ve always preferred more block printing than cursive, to be honest. I do sign my name on checks, of course, though I write damn few of them these days.

    On the skill level, it is a bit harder than using a rotary dial phone…

  42. My wife is a teacher, specalizing in brain organization and neurodiverse kids. You can actually write faster in Cursive than printing, less lifting the pen, and cursive does amazing things for brain organization skills…

  43. It was only a couple of years ago that I learnt cursive (or running writing as it will always be known as in my own head, thanks kindergarten teachers) was no longer being taught. I feel sad about this. Despite doing all my ‘pro’ writing on a keyboard, I use cursive pretty much every day for notes and for ‘writing off the page’ when I get stuck, which works well for me as cursive seems to engage different bits of my brain than typing. Cursive is loaded with personality and charm, and yeah, OK, so I can’t read my own late Father’s many and copious ramblings either and wish he’s slammed every damn word out with that ancient Remington.

  44. Huh, growing up in New Zealand in the ’70s we called it running writing, but I don’t remember if that was just what the kids called it. I do seem to remember though you had to be able to write well in pencil before you were allowed to use — a fountain pen. This was about the time we went from using an ink well to the fancy pens that came with cartridges…

  45. @ Cat Sparks — what are the odds we were both writing about running writing at exactly the same time? I didn’t see your post ’til I posted mine lol

  46. Cursive was so that you could write faster to try to keep up with note taking. I still think it’s useful. I had the idea of trying to figure out old style shorthand and good god, I HAD NO CLUE WHAT THAT GIBBERISH WAS.

    (Meanwhile if I try to speed-type, it’s typos all over the place because I got better grades in typing class if I had a ton of errors but was fast instead of slow but accurate. Also, autocorrect is not always your friend.)

    I actually rather like the idea of the young’uns not being able to read my handwritten journals, muahahahah.

  47. Speaking as somehow who finds it easier and faster to write in cursive–and who has a job that involves looking at a lot of old, handwritten documents–I find your cursive easier to read than your “usual” handwriting. That said, I rarely have occasion to hand-write things anymore myself.

  48. I was taught printing in first grade and then cursive in Second. I read once that studies showed that it was better to teach kids cursive first and then printing. My father once told me how he was taught penmanship in school, which explains why he and my grandfather had much more attractive and readable writing than I could ever do. By college I had to start printing all my notes if I wanted to be able to read them later. I still tend to print when I need something to be legible I lament the loss of cursive, and worry about generations of illiterate kids when it comes to reading handwritten material. But then, I also taught myself calligraphy in my SCA days, so I rather like older writing.

  49. My mom still cursive writes addresses on envelopes. I’ve wondered if there’s ever a time when a young person who works for the post office has had to hand an envelope to an older person and asked “What does this say??”

  50. The only course I ever failed was high-school typing. I didn’t get a decent speed-to-accuracy keyboarding ratio until got a business-class computer and a copy of Magic Wand around 1980. Before that, first drafts of everything (including my dissertation) were hand-written, and revisions were produced on our second-hand Selectric (with typos painstakingly and individually corrected with correction fluid or typeover tape).

    My handwriting was generally quite legible, and because I was training to be a medievalist, I did a bit of calligraphy. (I still have sets of Speedball and Osmiroid calligraphic nibs somewhere).

    I wouldn’t want to go back to production-level writing by hand, as much as I enjoy my small collection of nice fountain pens. Nevertheless, there’s a legal pad and a small notepad at my elbow right now, each covered with bits of cursive script, and all my book reviews begin life as handwritten notes that could be pretty easily deciphered were I to drop dead at my beloved Gateway 2000 Anykey.

    (Cultural calibration note: I’m 77 and learned Palmer Method c. 1953. My current hand looks nothing like that, though, thanks to exposure to italic cursive and other fancy-schmancy styles. I also cross my sevens.)

  51. My mother wrote in beautiful cursive. My sister’s equally talented with it. At 63 I too was taught cursive in 2nd grade. Always received an “U” for unsatisfactory. I could sketch wonderful things, but couldn’t do the same with writing.

    Don’t think I’ll miss it, but I’ll still hold on to Mother’s letters.

  52. John,

    As a cursive handwriting instructor … It’s the learning of cursive that is the real guft. The discipline and accomplishment of something is valuable in itself. Pride in a skill achieved. Like learning to play a musical instrument you’ll never play again after high school. It was well worth the effort to accomplish. Plus, cursive has proven educational benefits.

    I learned a lot of stuff in school I’ve never used … Doesn’t mean it wasn’t worth learning.

    And what about tying your shoes, who does that anymore?

    And while I’m at it, I haven’t ridden a bike in years, but I’m glad I learned to. Same with skating and horseback riding.

    I could go on … But I’ll stop now.

  53. Teacher: So you never learned cursive?
    Bart: Well, I know “hell” and “damn” and “bi…”
    Teacher: No, no, cursive writing!

  54. Cursive is usually easier to learn at a young age as it requires plasticity in the brain (which is greater at a younger age). While my own cursive these days is horrendous, that’s also because of the various repetitive motion injuries I’ve accumulated over 3 decades of being a graphic designer. I can still do it, but the process is more akin to drawing letterforms than writing. But the benefit of cursive is already in my head and the control it requires is still a part of my hand skills (despite how little they get used these days). The brain processes cursive slightly differently than printed letters (or block letters) and being able to write cursive is more akin to learning a 3rd language (verbal, written/type, cursive). So from a development side, learning it is beneficial to fluency and proficiency in languages. However back in the early aughts that was a huge debate in the esoteric side of design about reading comprehension, the dropping of cursive, and the resurgence of iconography (ie. The interwebbie thing and how we process and present information digitally). But that kinda shit is only interesting to us intense nerds. As a left handed person, I do not miss cursive (and ink and graphite smears). But I can state that rewriting my notes from radiology courses on custom paper cards helped my comprehension of the information immensely and contributed to my 3.96GPA.

  55. Graduate and undergraduate students in the humanities tend to learn lots of tricky things to do research. Learning to read cursive is just another one of those things. It is not that much different from learning Medieval High German or Aramaic. Learning how to read microfiche is another academic life skill.

  56. My mom, who was a year younger than Queen Elizabeth, had lovely cursive writing. She was taught in a very old fashioned world by Catholic nuns. After she passed I found a lot of old letters from her to my grandmother and drafts of letters she sent friends and relatives. I can still read her writing! I have some old death certificates from the 1920s and 1930s for which I cannot ready the physician’s comments. Maybe I can find some software that can. If you look at old documents like the 1950 Census records that are online, it’s amazing how some of the handwriting is so uniform – it almost looks like it was produced by machine.

  57. There’s research that shows that fine motor skills directly contribute to higher intelligence. Cursive writing is one example of such a skill.

    Additionally, cursive can be written much faster than block letters, so you can take notes much faster. And manual note-taking definitely improves recall (far better than just listening or typing).

  58. I’ve been told that a signature has to be cursive written relatively fast. My family name is Lefebvre. Try to write the sequence “BVR” in cursive. I’ve been writing that sequence all my life. Yeah, welcome to purgatory.

  59. I can read the normal stuff fine. I cannot write in cursive but found it interesting having done indexing of historic records how the two worlds collide for historians.

    In the BIble we are referred to as a record keeping people. Electronic records might not cut it when it comes to making a lasting record although with cloud storage, zones and regions (instant backup and recovery on a geographical range/scale) there is a high chance that most futures include some form of recoverable information electronically..apart from one where everything is destroyed at once and the next generation are like cave men…they will need the pictures.

    Might write some more in my journal now to be on the safe side.

  60. I’m left handed and have horrible memories of being yelled at in 3rd grade while learning cursive. I would either snap the pencil lead or tear the paper. My teacher either didn’t know or care that when you try to push the pencil across the page, it puts more pressure on the lead than when you pull the pencil across the page. My current writing now is creative. To write my name the L and the O are printed, the R is kind of a hybrid with it mostly printed but the exiting line is a swoosh and its a capital R but the size of a small letter. The I usually ends up just being the dot. Very readable but does not resemble anything proper.

  61. Kurt B allowed me to figure out the secret writing – and how it’s constructed. Your secret’s safe with me John. But to everyone else, if I disappear mysteriously, maybe check out the owners of a specific church in rural Ohio…

    re: Cursive, I’ve been recently getting back into it, after someone gifted me a fountain pen for my birthday earlier this year. Literally just placed an order for my 4th pen and some ink just moments ago. There’s something very satisfying about the physical act of writing cursive with a fountain pen – especially on really nice paper. My cursive is still pretty illegible though.

  62. I probably agree about 90 percent with you. Certainly cursive is an interesting skill to know and be able to read; I’m not sorry I learned it (I’m 50). I do wonder how kids will learn to sign their names, if future parents and educators don’t know cursive to show each student how to put their specific name letters together (I suppose they can simply use a flash card with the letters on it, though – duh, I think, as I come up with this while typing my musing).

    On the other hand, like you, I stopped using cursive (1) when I wasn’t forced to write it, and (2) when I figured out I could write faster in printed letters. I was a reporter for decades where I took notes by hand before I had a portable tablet with a keyboard; hell, sometimes I still find myself in spots where only a notebook a pen will travel. At no time have I ever written my notes in cursive – and I wouldn’t be able to later figure out what I meant if I did, probably!

  63. I’m 72; mine was referred to as “cursed script.” In my brief time as a student of nuns I was physically punished for my epileptiform scrawls.

    So, not a fan.

    I know people who take joy in cursive, and even in calligraphy. But I’m happy to leave both to hobbyists.

  64. I have looked at old census forms online, looking up ancestors. And while often the census takers appear to have had fancy almost calligraphy handwriting, there is still the issue of telling certain letters apart. Really makes it hard when you are looking at first names that may or may not have been spelled how you would think they would be, when you can’t tell if the squiggle is un, or w, or something else entirely.

  65. My hand-eye coordination is lousy, and I had a terrible time with cursive. When I taught subjects where I had to write on a blackboard or whiteboard, I’d get complaints that my printing was sometimes difficult to read, so I’d write on the board in Cursed script. They always asked me to go back to printing.

  66. Because of this discussion, I looked up some of the articles claiming brain development benefits of cursive. They are … Unpersuasive. Pretty much all of them are written from a “but we can’t cancel cursive” point of view. The one legit study showed benefits of learning handwriting, but these were just as valid for block printing. If we want to stretch kids minds in the second grade, teach them another language.

  67. I learned cursive writing from nuns and believe me they were sticklers about it. I still write in cursive because I can write faster in cursive than block letters. I write in journals (cheaper than therapy) so I still use it.

  68. Long ago when I taught elementary school, I would send cursive home as homework. It was no longer part of third grade curriculum, but there were always a few parents who viewed it as a rite of passage (or somesuch).

    It was part of a homework packet each week (which was a requirement at the time). However, I never cared much for the concept of homework. You got credit regardless of how good it was or wasn’t.

  69. I like cursive writing. It’s fast, it can be very pretty, and having pretty cursive has actually helped my careers. Frankly, sometimes I use it as a litmus test for vetting potential design clients. Someone who doesn’t appreciate or can’t read my handwritten “business cards” isn’t someone I want to work with. It took me a while to discover this. Cursive is consistent with my “brand,” in a very practical fashion.

  70. I am also 53, I’m left-handed, and my handwriting is illegible (hey, I’m a doctor as well). I only use it for myself for quick notes away from the PC eg shopping lists. If I try to print (addressing envelopes), my hand cramps up quickly, so I’d always use “joined up writing” for myself.

  71. My cursive is on the same level of atrocious as yours, perhaps worse [well, I can read mine but not yours!] and I’m from the end of the Baby Boom.

    Knowing that I was going into a computing career, and having spare time in my last year of high school, I took a typing class. Smartest move I ever made and I’ve hardly handwritten anything since (not to mention that it put me in a class full of attractive younger girls who found me an interesting curiosity!)

  72. Who invented the “faster because you don’t have to lift your pen” nonsense, and why do people keep falling for it? When you lift your pen, it doesn’t matter what path it traces from one letter to the next, so you can pick an optimal one. This is obviously faster!

  73. Another lefty who will NOT miss cursive writing! I still smudge here and there when printing.

  74. It seemed to me that cursive was on the way out since at least the 80’s, when I was in college. Once leaving high school and entering the world as a proto-adult cursive was not just not necessary, it wasn’t allowed for any of the many writing tasks necessary while going about your life in our society. All forms and paperwork of any kind were required to be printed and all school work was required to be either printed or typed. Even in literature classes all papers were required to be typed.

    Funny thing was, I sucked at printing because I hadn’t printed anything since about 2nd grade. My printing looked like it had been written by a kindergartener. After a while my personal writing, taking notes in class for example, became thoroughly confused. I’d go back to read my notes later and laugh. They would be a mix of printing and cursive, changing from one to the other randomly, even in the middle of a word.

    Luckily I was pretty good at typing. To this day I’m still pretty good at typing and can type much faster than I can write, and my writing, both cursive and printing, still sucks.

  75. Anyone who worries about “losing access to the past” or whatever clearly hasn’t spent a lot of time around actual historical documents. Handwriting even as recent as the 1900’s doesn’t look anything like the cursive folks-our-age learned in school; it takes some concerted effort to puzzle it out until you learn to recognize the letterforms–after which it becomes just another skill. If you need it, you can pick it up.

  76. My 18-year-old son discovered cursive the other night and has spent the past two nights practicing his signature. I did tell him that the only time I use cursive is my signature, so that’s all he’s focusing on. I found that prety funny, to be honest.

  77. I was taught cursive in third grade, 35 years ago. And after a decade of being told by teachers, family members, and random other adults that I was in some nonspecific way “doing it wrong”–by which I assume they meant “not in the way I was taught to do it”–I gave up on it and started writing print again. I am still proud of my cursive signature, but that’s the only thing I use it for.

  78. Cursive was expected of me up into High School in the 70s, but at some point either there or in college we were all told to type any written work. I think that was a clear sign that cursive was going to disappear in time.
    Nowadays I only use cursive for my signature, which is basically just a squiggle—but it’s a very specific squiggle.
    Not that long ago I was also using cursive for writing on birthday cakes. I believe we have machines for that now!

  79. 64 here, another one who hasn’t used cursive save for signatures since grade school. And whether I print or use cursive, the arthritis in my thumb makes writing even a grocery list a literally painful experience. Keyboards give me legible and painless writing.

    And one thing I always find amusing is the number of people who apparently believe that banks employ handwriting experts to make sure every signature on every check matches up with the Signature Card on file in the vault.

  80. I’ll be 65 in a few weeks. I was taught cursive in Catholic school. What George Carlin used to say about that is pretty accurate.

    About the only time I can recall when I still use cursive is my signature. My cursive is terrible. If I write on paper, I print.
    I don’t think not teaching it in school isn’t a huge deal. As people here have pointed out, technology has overtaken it.

    Good riddance.

  81. In third grade in the mid-1990s, I got about a month of bare-bones cursive instruction. The rules didn’t make a lot of sense to me, and the results struck me as aesthetically underwhelming, so I reverted to printing as soon as that was allowed (fifth grade).

    Years later, I decided I have enough actual uses for handwriting that I at least wanted mine to be tidy, so I spent a while in high school teaching myself. That went well, but made me an outlier. Among my same-generation friends and family members (Gen Y), only one has attractive cursive handwriting that I know of. It’s not very important, though. Two of my closest friends in adulthood are people whose physical writing I have never actually seen over more than a decade of knowing them. There is a vague underlying urge to feel weird about this, but it’s just from how much the world has changed since the time of my childhood. These adult friends and I exchanged a good deal of affection and support in many ways, and cards and letters have never been among them.

    I do get a lot of compliments from older humans on my handwriting, but mostly because it is unexpected in context and, as noted here, there is a lot of affection for the semi-lost art of penmanship. I am completely in favour of it not being mandated, though. The descriptions I read in adulthood of early 20th century kids learning the Palmer Method sounded unpleasant, and now all that is almost entirely unnecessary.

  82. There was a Peanuts cartoon where Charlie Brown was writing to his pen pal and (Sally?) laughed at him because he smudged the word ‘smear’ and smeared the word ‘smudge’.

    I can’t find that cartoon on a quick google search, but here’s one that is similar.

    FWIW, I’m 1 year older than OGH. Wrote the rough draft of my Masters thesis (1994-1996) in my ideolect of cursive, then transcribed it to WordPerfect 6.0 – the last WordPerfect for DOS, rather than Windows.

  83. I used a joined-up print for years, then a few years ago downloaded some vintage cursive writing handbooks and re-taught myself cursive, which I flatter myself is legible (I’ve modified some of the less familiar cursive letters– r, s, T, F– to be more print-like).


    Because I like fountain pens. And when you’re working with liquid inks, any handwriting style that involves lifting your hand from the paper a lot results in a lot of stray marks on the page.

  84. My handwriting has always been a scrawl, but because I have to write checks occasionally, I ordered a signature stamp from Amazon. I scanned the best signature I could make and uploaded it, and about a week later I got the stamp. So much easier. And yes, it’s perfectly legal.

  85. Both of my kids learned cursive (as did I, but I am a dinosaur). I will say that for a second-grader, it provides some significant benefits in terms of fine-motor control skills (as my younger daughter pointed out “my art is better now that I know how to write script.”)

    I am known in my office as the one with the best, most legible handwriting–the result of a period in my life where my self-esteem was so shabby that I practiced the modulation of my voice and my handwriting so that I could avoid dealing with people in person. If I needed to slip someone a note under the door (this was before texting) I hoped the person on the other side of the door would think I was as practiced and handsome as my handwriting.

  86. “bit rot”

    That phrase has always bugged me. With very very few exceptions*, the bits themselves don’t rot or change in any way. It’s the environment/context around the bits that changes. However, since I’ve never been able to come up with an alternative phrase that sweeps the world and replaces ‘bit rot’, I guess it’s a moot point.

    Unless your bits happen to be on a spacecraft, where cosmic rays changing bits are a real thing.

  87. The beauty of cursive – or the hybrid many of us use – is that a notepad and a ballpoint are all that is needed to create. Yeah, later I can transcribe it onto the laptop, but I don’t care to lug that thing everywhere.

  88. I’m in my early 60s. I learned cursive in grade school. It has always been reasonably legible unless I try to hurry. And I learned to type in middle school.

    Along the way I’ve picked up cursive Hebrew, Russian, and German (Sütterlin). I’m right-handed. I’ve sort of taught myself to write Hebrew left-handed (the trick is to simultaneously mime writing the mirror image with the other hand), but since I don’t write that much Hebrew, I have to relearn it each time.

    I once knew a Russian language major back in the late 70s who gave up English cursive because it was too confusing for her to keep the cursive alphabets separate. I’ve also known Russian emigres who came to the US while in grade school, and as a result could not read or write Russian cursive (and some struggled with reading ordinary printed Russian).

    The Germans used a system of shorthand known as “Gabelsberger” until the mid-1920s, after which a different system took over. But a number of famous academics of the time (Husserl, Gödel, Schrödinger) used Gabelsberger for their own private notes. And yes, many contemporary scholars do learn the system because of this.

    When teaching at a small private school, I could keep my grade books out in the open, because I recorded all scores using Russian cursive letters based on the Russian words for the digits. Not that I told any of the students that that was what I was doing.

  89. I learned cursive, and stopped using it in high school (early 80s). I could barely read my own writing, so I printed instead. I know my own printing because I drew my lowercase a and lowercase g the way they appear in most typeset fonts.

    My journals in the 80s are all printed, until I figured out a way to keep them on computers. I even transcribed my old journals.

    In the early 90s, still in college after I went off the rails a bit academically in the 80s, I bought small handheld computers (like the Zeos Pocket PC) and took my notes on them.

    Now I have kids in first and fourth grade, and we just moved them to a tuition-free private classical school. Their cousins attended a tuition-full classical school and we liked the results.

    Besides being free, my kids’ school is not associated with any church or religion (unlike their cousins’ school). So instead of attending chapel, they learn secular “virtues” like “perseverance” and “citizenship”. And they’re taught latin.

    Anyway, my fourth grader does his work in cursive, and my three first graders are being taught to print in a way that eases the the transition to cursive.

  90. I won’t miss cursive – I’m 70+ and my older brother always printed, but once I learned touch-typing I was done with it.

    However, I’m still crabby about ham radio operators no longer needing to learn Morse!

  91. I wonder at what point my students will no longer be able to read my written feedback on their essays… Let’s see, 2010 was 12 years ago, if they start learning in 2nd grade… Very soon!

  92. Anyone who needs to read it will learn to read it just like anyone who needs to read Sumerian will learn cuneiform. But it does make me wonder if certain fonts are doomed.

  93. Though bad at doing cursive I’m quite good at reading it.
    Faust may be worried but I’m not. History students will learn cursive as needed, like they learn languages. Example: the cursive of Shakespeare’s day was formed quite differently than the current version, so I had to take a course to attempt to decipher the sample of his handwritten work. And Shakespeare had terrible handwriting …

  94. Speak for yourself. I despise printing and always have. Mine slants badly to the right, it takes longer then cursive, and printing give me hand cramps.

  95. There’s all sorts of stuff that we teach kids that isn’t strictly necessary. Arithmetic algorithms. History. Foreign languages. If I thought that the things being eliminated were being replaced by things more valuable to know, I wouldn’t mind, but I doubt that’s the case. It’s all part of the great dumbing down, where we teach less, test less, and expect less, so that we don’t have to notice those kids who are failing to learn anything.

  96. huh…

    political essays get lots of attention, sure… but OGH mentions handwriting and there’s enough insight into our collective childhood to feed into a PhD thesis on teaching methods…

    100+ comments about this… some mention of VTT and touch typing…

    did anyone point out how everyone is TWing, IGing or TTing their conversations in ever briefer, less grammatically precise shorthanded text (sans punctuation, capitalization, etc) plus TLAs and ever odder emojis?

  97. I first stopped using cursive when I began working as a technical writer in 1977. At the time, we had to write our stuff longhand and pass it to typists who would type it out so that we could correct it. Eventually the typescript would be passed on to the printer. This is the point at which the awfulness of my cursive script was revealed to the wider world rather than being a purely private source of shame. I soon decided to remedy the situation by printing – life became easier for everyone involved.

    Within a few years we all had PCs on our desk, and no-one cared any longer what my writing looked like.

  98. In many places around the world, children learn to write in cursive much earlier than second grade, usually around the time they learn to read and write. I am a teacher in a very (very) poor country where access to computers in classrooms will remain a dream for years to come (though smart phones are widespread and that is a whole other issue for reading and writing). My kids learn to write their letters as they learn to read (usually writing comes before reading in my students). I myself was thought to write in cursive from the start . I think this little difference might account for why many Americans actually never end up picking cursive (no judgment just an observation).

    Also the lined notebooks you have don’t lend themselves to cursive writing. My children use the traditional French/European notebooks with multiple lines (Seyes) for guides (the small letters that fit within two lines like a, e, i, o and the long letters that reach out to the second or third lines above or below the base line). US notebooks just have that one line. So I think it makes it harder to teach and to keep that writing style.

    So cursive has disappeared in the US but will linger a little longer in other places. Eventually it will disappear as well. Is there anything wrong with that ? I don’t know. When I was in high school, every one wanted to write like Americans, so I picked up script which I thought was beautiful (so many different ways to write in script). And now I have multiple handwirting styles (both cursive and script) which I switch around depending on my mood, my pen, the time I have to write, the support I am using, the audience, the purpose of my writing. Sometimes I don’t even have control over
    my writing and it can change mid text!

    My husband who is an unapologetic conspiracy theorist thinks it’s bad for the same reasons as Harvard’s former president. Eventually only untrusworthy computer programs or « specialists » with an agenda will be able to access historical documents. Just like scholars had control over the past centuries ago because they were the only ones who could access texts.

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