Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

Posts Tagged ‘handwriting

The rise and fall of handwriting

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This review interested me because I like good handwriting—specifically, italic handwriting, aka chancery cursive. In fact, I have a post on how to get started. It’s easy, especially if you switch over to italic as your standard handwriting. As with most things, daily practice makes it easy. At first I practiced by taking notes in graduate-school classes, later by handwriting letters to people. The review:

Like many people over the age of 40, I still have a callused knobby excrescence on the third finger of my right hand, the place where pencils and ballpoints and fountain pens have been resting ever since I first began to learn the Palmer method of cursive handwriting. Kids no longer have this "writer’s bump," since cursive isn’t seriously taught any more. For the most part, young people born into the computer age can, by focusing hard, just about sign their names in longhand, but otherwise they rely almost entirely on printing or, more and more often, keyboarding. Today Truman Capote would have to quip: "That’s not writing, that’s word processing."

Sad to say, I just typed the above paragraph on a laptop. No handwriting implements were involved in the production of those sentences.

I do feel mildly guilty about this: In four broken coffee cups scattered artfully around my desk are a half-dozen fountain pens — among them an old Esterbrook (a gift from the writer Glenway Wescott), a Pelikan with an italic nib, a handsome Namiki retractable — and scores of Bics, rollerballs, felt tips and gel markers, as well as innumerable pencils, most of them with the names of museums, universities or other cultural sites etched on their sides. As it happens, I do use most of these hand tools of the writer’s trade, usually the pencils, when scribbling notes in the margins of books I’m reviewing. Nonetheless, so poor is my script that these notes often turn indecipherable even to me after just a few hours. It’s seriously frustrating to read: "The really important point is amxiwyby sowkymx, rather than roeqcz or kfghi."

As Kitty Burns Florey points out in her highly enjoyable Script and Scribble, clear and readable handwriting does matter: "The TV drama ER often tackles the issue: in one 2007 episode, Dr. Izzie Stevens tells the interns she’s supervising, ‘Penmanship saves lives! Is that a 7, or is that a 9? If I have to ask myself that in the middle of an emergency, your patient is dead. You killed him. With your handwriting. Think about that!’ "

In contrast to medical cacography, which can kill us, calligraphy — that is, "beautiful writing" — simply takes our breath away. The novelist John Crowley, for instance, is almost as well known for the elegance of his handwriting as for the elegance of his prose — which is why a special edition of Little, Big sold out so quickly: Subscribers could choose a favorite passage, and Crowley would personally copy it out for them. Once, following a lecture by the professional scribe Sheila Waters, I managed to snag the big pieces of paper upon which she casually drew her magnificent O’s, A’s and M’s. Even these throwaways were so striking that I had them framed and hung on a wall of my apartment.

Script and Scribble actually mentions Waters, as well as one of her most famous commissions: a handwritten and illuminated copy of …

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Written by Leisureguy

6 February 2009 at 9:52 am

Posted in Books, Daily life

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No more handwriting?

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I can’t believe that handwriting—cursive penmanship—is really going to be abandoned. Writing solely via printed characters—no cursive—has been done before (historically), but cursive quickly arose as a replacement because cursive writing is easier and faster than printing each character. So even if only printed characters are taught, people will inevitably develop their own idiosyncratic cursives—and, like almost all self-taught practitioners, will fall into common errors that undercut the efficiency and legibility of their script. Seems better, on the whole, to teach a winning hand, as it were.

Moreover, handwriting will remain. One will not always have access to a Blackberry or cellphone or computer, and in some cases those would not be the instruments of choice. If you’re keeping a personal journal, you may well not want to keep it on a machine in a digital medium. Many would prefer to write quietly, in a bound book, pen in hand.

But: reader Sean passes along this report:

Second-grade teacher Diane Arciero waves her hand – draped in a homemade, white bunny puppet – from side to side in time to “If You’re Happy and You Know It” playing on her classroom’s CD player. As the song reaches its familiar refrain, the 24 students in her class at Boston’s Hugh R. O’Donnell Elementary School join in singing with her and the bunny: “Where do you start your letter? At the top!” they shout, pointing index fingers in the air in unison.

It’s hardly the handwriting instruction most American adults grew up with, but cursive traditionalists are happy to see any type of instruction. Their revered written art is an endangered species given the rise of computers, the growing proportion of class time spent preparing for standardized tests, and the increasing perception that cursive writing is a difficult and pointless exercise. Yet new evidence suggests there are benefits to mastering this skill – including higher SAT scores – that don’t appear until long after traditional instruction ends in fifth grade. It’s a controversial claim.

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Written by Leisureguy

16 November 2007 at 8:37 am

Italic handwriting sites

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I’ve blogged before about italic handwriting (aka chancery cursive), and yesterday I heard from a handwriting instructor. She uses italic handwriting herself, but her mission is simply to help adults improve their own handwriting, without necessarily taking them into full italic. For one thing, most of the people she teaches are not interested in fountain pens and, indeed, may not be able to use them in their work (since fountain pens don’t necessarily produce good carbon copies—though the Parker Duofold was designed with exactly that in mind).

Still, she gets them moving along into better handwriting, and some will take it further. She also pointed me to this instructional site, again aiming to improve handwriting and taking the handwriting in the italic direction.

So italic handwriting is far from moribund. Take it up today!

Written by Leisureguy

14 October 2007 at 8:41 am

Posted in Daily life, Writing

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