Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

March 20, 2014

Write away: Cursive skills provide valuable link to historical information


Bluefield Daily Telegraph

— — My handwriting is the subject of ridicule in my family. Mom, Dad, sister Karen, nephews A.J. and Alex, and others have said for years that they can’t read my writing. I counter that I’m a writer with an illiterate family.

Well, I have to admit there just might be some justice to their critiques. I’ve been writing cursive every since I had my first lessons in elementary school all too long ago. It was considered somewhat neat then and I managed to pass grade school, but speed and necessity has impacted its appearance. Using my own variety of mutant shorthand hasn’t helped, either. On my yellow notepads, Princeton is “Pctn” and Bluefield is “Blfd.” Sometimes names are the first initial of a person’s last name.

How bad is my handwriting? Well, one time I was transcribing some notes at the Mercer County Courthouse when some guys waiting for their ride to the Southern Regional Jail came up to my bench. One fellow saw me scribbling away and asked, “How do you read that?”

“I can read it for a couple of days,” I assured him.

Perhaps the biggest example of illegible cursive writing came when the local courts subpoenaed our notes for a hearing to determine whether a high-profile case should be moved to another venue. Editor Samantha Perry told the judge, “Good luck reading these. I can’t!”

That happened a few years ago. A second subpoena arrived in another case recently, but this time the court didn’t ask for our notes. Maybe the attorneys remembered what a fruitless source our notes were the last time they asked for them. Pages of illegible scribbles are not the best evidence.

I’ll also admit my handwriting isn’t the best model for little students learning to write their names in cursive. It certainly isn’t an example of how cursive writing should look. Now, I think it’s pretty good compared to some others I have seen, and I’ve seen cursive writing that looks more like Chinese or Klingon than English. Unfortunately, most American kids can’t read Chinese or Klingon. They need to write legibly in English.

Most writers now use word processors. I learned to type on old-fashioned typewriters. For years I used electric typewriters and the older manual typewriters, and there is still something about hearing the click-clack of keys that fills me with nostalgia. Even one of my favorite Beatles songs, “Paperback Writer,” features the distinctive click and clack of a typewriter in action.

I know computerized word processing systems are a quantum leap for people who dream of creating a great American novel. You can go back and revise your words with ease with no liquid paper or erasers to worry about. My only complaint is the lack of a click-clack as you hit those keys. That sound said action to me.

But back to cursive writing — it’s silent, too — and the need to preserve it. We need to at least be able to sign our names in cursive, or to at least have a distinctive print style. I use a combination of print and cursive, and I know other people who do the same when they sign their names or write a check. Your handwriting evolves as you grow older. I understand experts can determine a writer’s age just by looking at samples of handwriting. There are times when I can recognize the handwriting of old friends even if I have not seen those people for years.

I don’t see any harm in teaching children how to write in cursive. If they have that skill, they will decide for themselves whether to use it in everyday life. They will also understand how to read cursive writing. There have been times when I’ve had to go through old records written in cursive; if it weren’t for my elementary school lessons, those records would be hieroglyphics to me.

For instance, when my Grandma Jordan passed away, we found an old diary she kept for several years when she was a young woman. She wrote about the jobs she had and other aspects of her daily life. She even mentioned going to see a Rudolph Valentino movie and liking it. If none of my family knew how to decipher cursive handwriting, those stories of Grandma’s early days would be lost forever. We have found cursive notes on pictures in her albums, and each one gives us a little more information about the past.

Cursive writing might seem like an outdated skill in this age of computers, email and texting, but it’s still useful and adaptable. It is a way to make a unique personal statement. Handwriting often reflects the person who uses the pen, so cursive writing is a way to leave a bit of yourself behind when you leave this world.

Greg Jordan is senior reporter at the Daily Telegraph. Contact him at gjordan@bdtonline.com.