Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

September 25, 2012

Penmanship is a lost cursive art


— Metaphorically speaking, the handwriting is on

the wall for the dying art known as penmanship.

The cursive inkwell has run dry in the age of texting and Twitter. After all, the flowing curves and fancy loops of cursive writing is

horse-and-buggy communication in our instant

Internet world. Today we barely have time for complete sentences let alone words written using the Palmer Method.

There is an absence of big-line writing paper

among the homework stuffed in our daughter’s

backpack. My formative homework years — and

school locker bottoms — were filled with reams of the solid blue- and red-dash line stuff. It was upon this paper that my handwriting

transformed from printed scrawl to script rivaling John Hancock’s, well, John


Then again, big-lined writing paper might be as arcane as penmanship in a national education system that pushes standardized

testing, not whether a capital letter D has a little forelock.

Handwriting was essential for previous generations, from love letters to battle

orders. There was italic, starting in the 15th century and then in the 17th century came round hand. In the late 1880s, Austin Norman

Palmer devised a penmanship method that became

the hand-cramping bane of school kids.

Today the pains of perfect penmanship have been replaced with sore texting thumbs.

Not to wax nostalgic about lowercase q’s but handwriting is distinctive; like a voice or laugh. Your personal script style says a lot

about you — the way you cross your t’s or dot i’s with smiley faces.

There is an aesthetic beauty to the sinuous letters of the cursive alphabet.

It’s doubtful that my daughter could read saved postcards filled with her great-grandmother’s slanted cursive. First I might have to explain postcards.

Ironically, you can actually buy fonts online that emulate the handwriting of famous serial killers. Somehow I don’t think the Zodiac

killer would have terrified California by signing off emails with emo-icons.

I must confess that I’ve had an active hand in penmanship’s demise.

It started with college professors who loved to hear themselves talk. My cursive could not keep pace so I resorted to chicken-scratch

printing. Over the course of four years my handwriting became a shorthand cipher that Da Vinci couldn’t decode.

My chosen profession did not help maintain proper penmanship. I covered board meetings run by elected officials who also loved to hear themselves.

The pocket-size reporter notebooks kept my writing compressed until the computer

keys took over.

Today my legible cursive skills are reduced to signing my name to birthday cards, tax forms and the occasional check. The current iPad generation won’t even bother picking up a pen — let alone the art known as penmanship.


Garret Leiva is a columnist for The Record-Eagle in Traverse City, Mich.