Lion of the Blogosphere

The Palmer Method of Business Writing and the future of cursive

The Palmer Method of Business Writing can be downloaded here, for free. No, it’s not an illegal pirated copy. The linked-to version of the book was published in 1915, so it’s free from copyright.

I would highly recommend this book if, like me, they taught you how to write in cursive in the third grade, but it never stuck, and now that you are an adult you feel that maybe you ought to re-learn what you should have learned in elementary school. The capital letters that the book teaches are slightly more old-fashioned than what you may have been taught in elementary school if they taught you the Zaner-Bloser method, but I sort of like that. Palmer also recommends a strange-looking lower-case ‘r’, but I stuck with practicing the more usual ‘r’ because the Palmer ‘r’ never caught on.

The very title of the book is interesting. A hundred or more years ago, handwriting was necessary for conducting business! This was especially true in the 1800s before commercial production of typewriters. Before typewriters, all writing was done by hand. If you were a lawyer filing a motion with the court, you would file a hand-written document. Imagine that! Today the court would throw that out and tell you not to come back until you learn how to use a word processor and a laser printer.

The next question worth answering is why a cursive form of writing and not manuscript lettering? The best answer is simply that cursive was how educated adults wrote in the nineteenth century and before.

So the importance of handwriting for business and the cultural value placed on good cursive penmanship made teaching this sort of cursive writing an essential part of the school curriculum.

And what about the typewriter? According to a Wikipedia article, commercial production of typewriters began in 1873. Adoption was slow. Very slow. Typing was seen as a specialized skill for women and not something that real business executives would do. In the TV series Mad Men, which takes place in the 1960s, you don’t see a typewriter in Don Draper’s office. If he needs to send a letter or a memo, he dictates it to his secretary, or he writes it down with pen and paper.

No doubt, part of the reason why universal typing was so slow to be adopted was because the schools were so slow to teach that skill. When I was in elementary school in the 1970s, a century after commercial production of typewriters, we learned manuscript in the first grade, cursive in the third grade, and there was one class in typing in the sixth grade, on manual typewriters (even though electric typewriters were the norm by that time), and after that we were never expected to type anything again. Even though typing was an afterthought for the school system, it was the most valuable skill I learned in the sixth grade, a hundred times more useful than “shop” class.

Let’s jump forward to the year 2014 (almost 2015). Today, no one at all uses handwriting in a business setting. I haven’t seen a single handwritten letter or other document in the last two decades. There’s one oddball who likes to mark up documents by hand instead of using comments in Word like everybody else, and it’s annoying because handwriting is harder to read than comments on a computer screen.

That’s right, no one wants to read handwritten text, and especially not cursive handwritten text, because it’s hard to read. Even the examples in Palmer’s book are a lot harder and slower to read than properly typeset text, and Palmer is an expert on handwriting and penmanship. Imagine having to reading a regular person’s handwriting! That surely must be the worst part of being a school teacher.

There are many obvious flaws in the cursive alphabet taught by Palmer. A carelessly written ‘c’ can look like an ‘e’ or an undotted ‘i’. ‘e’ and ‘a’ can easily look like each other, as can ‘a’ and ‘o’ or ‘b’ and ‘f’. If you don’t close your ‘s’ it can look like an ‘r’. There are also certain tricky letter combinations, of which ‘wr’ and ‘wi’ are the worst.

Despite arguments that cursive is superior than unjoined manuscript because it’s supposed to be faster, the illegibility of the cursive writing of a person with poor penmanship cancels out any speed advantage, if there really is any. There is little evidence that Palmer or Zaner-Bloser cursive is really any faster than printing. For people who are used to writing in manuscript, it’s faster than cursive. For people who are used to writing in cursive, it’s faster than manuscript. Traditional cursive was not scientifically designed for either legibility or speed. If anything, the difficulty of writing legible cursive may have been seen as a benefit from the perspective of the scrivener’s guild!

Other arguments for the need to teach cursive are specious. I’ve read over and over again that children would not be able to read the original Declaration of Independence or read a letter from grandma. If these are the best arguments in favor of teaching cursive, then there isn’t much reason to teach it. Good luck getting people to even read the typewritten versions of historical documents. Even twenty years ago before cursive was dropped, no one read the original handwritten version of the Declaration. As far as grandma goes, if she knows her grandkids can’t read her cursive, she should write in manuscript or even send them an email.

In the twenty-first century, school systems have finally started dropping cursive from the curriculum. The reason sometimes given for this is that schools are too busy prepping kids to take multiple-choice tests to have time to teach cursive, which is the same reason given for everything that’s dropped from the curriculum, but in the case of cursive it no longer serves any broad social benefit to teach this to everybody. Typing is a much more useful skill to teach children. Typing would prepare children for the real jobs they will have as adults.

Does this mean you don’t want your own children to learn cursive? The answer to that might be a negative. Writing in cursive is still seen as more upper class than writing in manuscript. I saw this at a comment written in the NY Times:

One observation from someone who has taught at a major public university and grades a national exam with written components: cursive is increasingly becoming a sign of class status. Students who write in cursive are academically successful and, based on my anecdotal evidence, come from more affluent backgrounds and the best secondary schools. Cursive is not going anywhere. The writing form is simply becoming a marker of status as we give up on the masses ability to master it. Our schools should do more than produce mindless worker bees to sit before computers.

I first noticed this class distinction when I taught a small class of twelve students. During discussion, I have always written students’ important observations on the board in cursive. Two weeks into the class, two students (who came from a poorer part of the state) raised their hands. They informed me that they could not read cursive and that “I might as well be writing Arabic on the board.” I enquired and found students from more affluent school systems in the class had received cursive instruction and had no difficulty reading my handwriting.

So cursive is good for your own children even though there’s no societal benefit from it.

Written by Lion of the Blogosphere

December 29, 2014 at 12:18 PM

Posted in Education

61 Responses

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  1. Even though typing was an afterthought for the school system, it was the most valuable skill I learned in the sixth grade, a hundred times more useful than “shop” class.

    I will raise the stakes: the most useful class I took in high school was keyboarding. I maintain that with my 8th grade education and my freshman year keyboarding class, I could have entered and graduated from the New Jersey directional college I ended up at anyway.

    ScarletNumber

    December 29, 2014 at 12:24 PM

  2. There a backlash coming against email/texting because of the permanence and ease of access to the material (think Sony hacking scandal) by anyone who can gain access to the backup hard drive of an employer. The backlash in government has been going on for some time because of public records laws that allow anyone to review everything you do only as long as you do it on a device that saves things. Government employees now use the phone much more than just a decade ago plus they write many more handwritten notes. Notes are easy to throw away. Emails, not so much.

    Curle

    December 29, 2014 at 12:30 PM

    • Businesses have different policies regarding emails. Some have a policy of delete all email over x age old. Others required stuff to be saved practically forever.

      not too late

      December 29, 2014 at 1:29 PM

  3. Cursive is much much easier to write quickly and clearly. Many schools teach it in kindergarten instead of printing because it is far far easier for kids to learn. Neat printing requires correct spacing which is difficult for most kids. My son was taught printing in pre k and kindergarten. He literally could not do it. I taught him cursive in first grade, and he was off and running. He learned it very quickly, and it was pretty neat. He didn’t really learn to print until about 7th or 8th grade because he was embarrassed at not being able to print.

    not too late

    December 29, 2014 at 1:26 PM

    • The reason given for why children are first taught to print is because cursive writing requires finer motor skills that young children don’t have yet.

      However, if the goal is for children to primarily write using cursive, then this is the wrong way to teach, because children will be more comfortable writing the way that they learned first.

      If you personally find cursive easier, it’s probably because you got used to using it as your primary writing method, so printing is slower for you, but many people have the exact opposite experience.

      Lion of the Blogosphere

      December 29, 2014 at 1:41 PM

    • I don’t even recall learning printing. To the best of my recollection it was always cursive. And, I do recall associating printing with illiteracy. I’m not sure why.

      Curle

      December 29, 2014 at 2:46 PM

    • I learned to print first, and my printing today is much more legible than my cursive. I can do both about equally fast. Despite my typing class experience similar to Lion’s, I never could touch type properly, but I can still type much faster than I can write. Classroom time is limited, and I am in favor of cutting out cursive and teaching typing instead.

      BehindTheLines

      December 29, 2014 at 3:38 PM

  4. It would be interesting to compile a list of differences between upper class education and prole education. I wonder if the children of our masters learn classical Latin and/or classical Greek.

    bob sykes

    December 29, 2014 at 1:32 PM

    • I think that learning cursive is important because the act of physically writing creates pathways in the brain that are beneficial. If you google “benefits of cursive” many links pop up including

      http://www.nytimes.com/roomfordebate/2013/04/30/should-schools-require-children-to-learn-cursive /the-benefits-of-cursive-go-beyond-writing

      from which I excerpted the following passage.

      “Learning to write in cursive is shown to improve brain development in the areas of thinking, language and working memory. Cursive handwriting stimulates brain synapses and synchronicity between the left and right hemispheres, something absent from printing and typing.”

      Lion has influenced me to prepare my kids to aim as high as possible. I am high prole from a long line of high proles. I would say only one of my four kids has a reasonable chance of achieving upper class status via a highly selective school although my oldest daughter is stunning and might conceivably marry her way there. However, I will not digress into that issue at the moment.
      I am currently homeschooling my youngest daughter and she does study Latin. In fact, there is a whole industry producing Latin curricula for homeschoolers with products geared towards the early elementary crowd through high school and AP Latin.
      I’ve read on various homeschooling boards that a declared Classics major can be a good way to slip into a highly selective school because the schools need to fill those slots. Nevertheless, once admitted there is nothing stopping a student from changing majors. I am not sure how relevant this advice is since my high proleness doesn’t typically lead to those casual encounters with the upper class where educational strategies are discussed. I intend to seize every possible advantage for my kids especially the youngest who is academically advanced. Certain Lion readers might find this book instructive regarding what it takes to get into a top school without a celebrity relative, legacy, or minority status.

      http://www.amazon.com/What-Colleges-Dont-Other-Parents/dp/0452288541

      Louise

      December 29, 2014 at 2:14 PM

      • It sounds bogus to me. Correlation doesn’t prove causation. If only kids at more affluent schools are taught cursive, then naturally there will be a correlation between writing in cursive and all things good. There’s no logical reason why writing in cursive should have mysterious “brain development” benefits over writing in manuscript.

        That said, I am in favor of teaching your kids cursive for social class reasons. While you’re at it, teach them to use a fountain pen, which are used at private schools in the United Kingdom: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2006/12/09/AR2006120900704.html

        Lion of the Blogosphere

        December 29, 2014 at 3:01 PM

      • O/T – Correct, a Classics Major is still a respectable one. Your children won’t wind up with Asian automatons and Liberal numbskulls with their low brow subjects, in most classes, and a degree in Classics will allow them to understand why this country is run by a bunch of knuckleheads who never took advantage of what the Ivy Leagues had to offer, in terms of critical thinking.

        JS

        December 29, 2014 at 3:21 PM

      • @ JS –

        The guy who gave the Latin oration at my Ivy’s commencement exercises was an ethnic Chinese classics major. It’s not entirely an exaggeration to say that, on average, East Asians are more devoted to the preservation of Western high culture than modern day Europeans and Americans. Western art music is all but dead outside of Asia.

        nebbish

        December 29, 2014 at 7:26 PM

      • Re:
        “If you google “benefits of cursive” many links pop up including

        http://www.nytimes.com/roomfordebate/2013/04/30/should-schools-require-children-to-learn-cursive /the-benefits-of-cursive-go-beyond-writing” —

        That link, when I traced it back to the research sources that the NY TIMES writer had quoted, turned out to severely MISquoting them — so did each of the other checkable Google links: direct misquotations, second-/third-/fourth-hand misquotations and misrepresentations, and eventually fifth-hand, sixth-hand, and a great mass that offered no source info at all, only an uncheckable “Science proved … ” or “Scientists say … ”

        kategladstone

        December 29, 2014 at 8:00 PM

      • This is par for the course for mainstream media “reporting” and “fact checking.”

        Lion of the Blogosphere

        December 29, 2014 at 8:20 PM

      • “my oldest daughter is stunning and might conceivably marry her way there.”

        now here’s an interesting case study.

        rivelino

        December 29, 2014 at 8:33 PM

      • Majoring in classics even at a “prestigious” college will guarantee a tough time in the real world. At the very least, I hope your daughter takes some real science, math, and introductory engineering courses. Those should be part of “liberal arts” just as much as history, literature, and languages were required in my engineering school for example.

        Michael

        December 31, 2014 at 1:05 PM

      • JS- the knuckleheads who run this country are so because they took soft courses such as “classics” that don’t exercise or develop real problem solving and objective reasoning capability. It’s unfortunate that this country is so ingrained in its Ivy League caste system that we always get another of their soft liberal arts knuckleheads instead of a science or engineering person (not even an Ivy League scientist or engineer).

        Michael

        December 31, 2014 at 1:12 PM

      • my own hand is a combo.

        iirc i was 13 when i experimented trying to find the fastest way to write legibly.

        i was complimented on my cursive in school, but in the end it was a combo of cursive and printing.

        i’ll never be able to type.

        my capital B is a lower case Greek beta. what else?

        the cursive “r” is stupid. never understood it. so is the cursive F and T and etc.

        World Moustache Champion

        December 31, 2014 at 9:18 PM

      • what’s the method favored by boffins?

        …where there’s no lower case…just smaller upper case?

        World Moustache Champion

        December 31, 2014 at 9:23 PM

      • hear! hear! mike, but…

        although a rudimentary engineering education is more important to overall sophistication than edumacation in the social “sciences” or humanities, that doesn’t mean the fluff majors are less intelligent than boffins. both tend to be whetever the opposite of “well-rounded” is.

        and classics is so uncompetitive, or the number of interested and qualified is so few that last time i checked Oxford admitted > 2/3ds of applicants to classics. in the UK one applies for a specific major.

        but strangely geology was even more “undersubscribed”. and geology is the one natsci major with the best job prospects unfortunately.

        World Moustache Champion

        December 31, 2014 at 9:29 PM

      • Moustache- in my school one must apply to a specific major also, at least deciding between engineering, science, or technology management. You don’t have to decide which speciality within those areas on the first day (eg, electrical engineering, mechanical engineering, math, physics, quantitative finance, etc) but you have to know which of those broad fields you are interested in. The courses are pretty much lock step, and are taken in a specific order with many required courses. Even the humanities majors take physics, chemistry, calculus, etc. The declaration if a field and the lock step cohort promotes discipline as opposed to the “find yourself” smorgasbord of many liberal arts based schools (which results in low graduation rates and graduates with no solid grounding in anything).

        Michael

        January 1, 2015 at 7:45 PM

      • i mean you’re accepted to Oxford to study such and such and the acceptance rate varies from ca 10% last time i checked for business and law to as high as 80% for geology. but Oxford has a clear threshold for admits to whatever “course”, so many just don’t apply as they don’t meet the threshold.

        you’re school is weird…in a good way. american unis in my experience may ask what the applicant’s intended major is, but admission is to the uni and not to a specific course of study.

        i worked with an Oxford maths BSc who had been admitted to study psychology. she needed a “special dispensation” to change her major and stay at Oxford.

        anyway, there are reasons why people choose to study medieval French literature or whatever, and many of those many reasons are not that it’s easier than useful subjects or that the person making the choice is stupid.

        especially if you’re very young there is much more to life than earning and burning.

        World Moustache Champion

        January 2, 2015 at 2:30 AM

      • …your…

        World Moustache Champion

        January 2, 2015 at 2:32 AM

    • No. Only a handful of history and language geeks learn any Greek, and that usually doesn’t start until undergrad. As for Latin, there’s still vestiges of that taught in middle and high schools, but it’s seen as much more important to learn Spanish, French, and I suspect Chinese, more and more.

      rdorsey

      December 29, 2014 at 3:10 PM

      • I would assume learning Chinese is like learning programming. It looks like coding and is extremely difficult to master, while at the same time, conversant in the language means 2 things: Speaking with Asians who would rather want you to speak in English and adding to their lack of sociability, they would rather not speak to you at all.

        JS

        December 29, 2014 at 3:25 PM

    • That’s a good deal- geology you have a reasonable chance at a career in the oil and gas industry, and 80% acceptance into that program is very attractive. I guess everyone at Oxford wants to study “business” because they think it will get them into the CEO’s chair. In America business is the most popular major, because it sounds “practical” and it doesn’t require the ability to study calculus, physics, etc. Most business majors here though get nowhere near becoming a CEO.

      Michael

      January 2, 2015 at 11:39 AM

  5. How about pseudo cursive where some of the letters touch but others don’t. I think that’s the fastest

    grey enlightenment

    December 29, 2014 at 1:51 PM

    • Hybrid cursive-print is considered a sign of intelligence in handwriting analysis because the brain has to make so many calculations on whether to link letters or not & whether to use a cursive or print version of a letter in any given context.

      slithy toves

      December 29, 2014 at 2:43 PM

      • What about people who learned to write in countries like Finland or New Zealand, where “hybrid cursive-print” is simply the sole style taught (since the 1980s or 1990s)? They learn ONE form of letter (streamlined and print-like) and they learn that some of these letters can join a following letter.

        kategladstone

        December 29, 2014 at 8:06 PM

      • [where “hybrid cursive-print” is simply the sole style taught (since the 1980s or 1990s)?]

        Handwriting analysis is most effective when a person’s writing has gone off grid so to speak, once it has developed unique nuance and flair. So if the hybrid writing were by the book it probably wouldn’t mean much, but if it were an improvised hybridization that could be a sign of intelligence and efficiency.

        However I’ve only read a few books on handwriting analysis courtesy of the NYPL.

        slithy toves

        January 1, 2015 at 12:36 PM

      • Re: “Handwriting analysis is most effective when a person’s writing has gone off grid so to speak, once it has developed unique nuance and flair. So if the hybrid writing were by the book it probably wouldn’t mean much, but if it were an improvised hybridization that could be a sign of intelligence and efficiency.” — So, when a handwriting analyst gets a piece of paper with hybrid writing on it (an anonymous letter, perhaps), how does the analyst know (from just the writing) if the writer had been taught that way or had been taught some other way?

        kategladstone

        January 1, 2015 at 2:28 PM

    • I *love* the hybrid style; traditional cursive was designed exclusively for right-handers in an era when lefty kids had their dominant hands slapped with rulers and tied behind their backs. Look at the Palmer guide: unless I’m missing something, every kid in those photos is a righty and the text presumes right-handedness all the way through.

      Imagine something that was specifically designed for Caucasian children, which other races would struggle mightily to do. That would never be allowed today, but somehow right-hander-centrism is A-OK.

      I still had teachers who demanded cursive for writing assignments in intermediate school around 1990 or so, but we could print in high school. Now I use a semi-joined print style that no one has ever had trouble reading.

      I have no problem asking people to *read* cursive, but reading it and writing it are very different things.

      Kyo

      December 30, 2014 at 9:48 AM

  6. Rachel Jeantel, though tri-lingual, famously claimed to be unable to read cursive during George Zimmerman trial.

    One place where handwriting still survives in business: thank you notes and Christmas cards. Some companies stills send those to top customers.

    Dave Pinsen

    December 29, 2014 at 2:29 PM

    • It’s not clear that she was even able to read a complicated typeset paragraph. But yes, cursive is harder for everyone, so when you’re at the bottom level of reading ability, reading cursive is probably impossible.

      Lion of the Blogosphere

      December 29, 2014 at 3:02 PM

  7. Handwriting matters — but does cursive matter? The research is surprising. For instance, it has been documented that legible cursive writing averages no faster than printed handwriting of equal or greater legibility. (Sources for all research are listed below.)

    More recently, it has also been documented that cursive does NOT objectively improve the reading, spelling, or language of students who have dyslexia/dysgraphia.
    This is what I’d expect from my own experience, by the way. As a handwriting teacher and remediator, I see numerous children, teens, and adults — dyslexic and otherwise — for whom cursive poses even more difficulties than print-writing. (Contrary to myth, reversals in cursive are common — a frequent cursive reversal in my caseload, among dyslexics and others, is “J/f.”)
    
    — According to comparative studies of handwriting speed and legibility in different forms of writing, the fastest, clearest handwriters avoid cursive — although they are not absolute print-writers either. The highest speed and highest legibility in handwriting are attained by those who join only some letters, not all: joining only the most easily joined letter-combinations, leaving the rest unjoined, and using print-like shapes for letters whose printed and cursive shapes disagree.

    Reading cursive still matters — but reading cursive is much easier and quicker to master than writing the same way too. Reading cursive, simply reading it, can be taught in just 30 to 60 minutes — even to five- or six-year-olds (including those with dyslexia) once they read ordinary print. (There’s even an iPad app teaching kids and others to read cursive, whether or not they write it or ever will write it. The app — “Read Cursive” — is a free download. Those who are rightly concerned with the vanishing skill of cursive reading may wish to visit appstore.com/readcursive for more information.)

    We don’t require our children to learn to make their own pencils (or build their own printing presses) before we teach them how to read and write. Why require them to write cursive before we teach them how to read it? Why not simply teach children to read cursive — along with teaching other vital skills, such as a form of handwriting that is actually typical of effective handwriters?
    Just as each and every child deserves to be able to read all kinds of everyday handwriting (including cursive), each and every one of our children — dyslexic or not — deserves to learn the most effective and powerful strategies for high-speed high-legibility handwriting performance.
    Teaching material for practical handwriting abounds — especially in the UK and Europe, where such handwriting is taught at least as often as the accident-prone cursive which is venerated by too many North American educators. Some examples, in several cases with student work also shown: http://www.BFHhandwriting.com, http://www.handwritingsuccess.com, http://www.briem.net, http://www.HandwritingThatWorks.com, http://www.italic-handwriting.org, http://www.studioarts.net/calligraphy/italic/curriculum.html )

    Even in the USA and Canada, educated adults increasingly quit cursive. In 2012, handwriting teachers across North America were surveyed at a conference hosted by Zaner-Bloser, a publisher of cursive textbooks. Only 37% wrote in cursive; another 8% printed. The majority — 55% — wrote with some elements resembling print-writing, others resembling cursive.
    (If you would like to take part in another, ongoing poll of handwriting forms — not hosted by a publisher, and nor restricted to teachers — visit http://www.poll.fm/4zac4 for the One-Question Handwriting Survey, created by this author. As with the Zaner-Bloser teacher survey, so far the results show very few purely cursive handwriters — and even fewer purely printed writers. Most handwriting in the real world — 75% of the response totals, so far — consists of print-like letters with occasional joins.)
    
    When even most handwriting teachers do not themselves use cursive, why glorify it?

    Believe it or not, some of the adults who themselves write in an occasionally joined but otherwise print-like handwriting tell me that they are teachers who still insist that their students must write in cursive, and/or who still teach their students that all adults habitually and normally write in cursive and always will. (Given the facts on our handwriting today, this is a little like teaching kids that our current president is Richard Nixon.)

    What, I wonder, are the educational and psychological effects of teaching, or trying to teach, something that the students can probably see for themselves is no longer a fact?
    Cursive’s cheerleaders (with whom I’ve had some stormy debates) sometimes allege that cursive has benefits which justify absolutely anything said or done to promote that form of handwriting. The cheerleaders for cursive repeatedly state (sometimes in sworn testimony before school boards and state legislatures) that cursive cures dyslexia or prevents it, that it makes you pleasant and graceful and intelligent, that it adds brain cells, that it instills proper etiquette and patriotism, or that it confers numerous other blessings which are no more prevalent among cursive users than among the rest of the human race. Some claim research support — citing studies that invariably prove to have been misquoted or otherwise misrepresented by the claimant.

    So far, whenever a devotee of cursive claims the support of research, one or more of the following things has become evident as soon as others examined the claimed support:

    /1/ either the claim provides no source,

    or

    /2/ if a source is cited, and anyone checks it out, the source turns out to have been misquoted or incorrectly paraphrases by the person citing it
    
    or

    /3/ the claimant correctly quotes/cites a source which itself indulges in either /1/ or /2/.
    
    Cursive devotees’ eagerness to misrepresent research has substantial consequences, as the misrepresentations are commonly made — under oath — in testimony before school districts, state legislatures, and other bodies voting on educational measures. The proposals for cursive are, without exception so far, introduced by legislators or other spokespersons whose misrepresentations (in their own testimony) are later revealed — although investigative reporting of the questionable testimony does not always prevent the bill from passing into law, even when the discoveries include signs of undue influence on the legislators promoting the cursive bill? (Documentation on request: I am willing to be interviewed by anyone who is interested in bringing this serious issue inescapably before the public’s eyes and ears.)
    
    By now, you’re probably wondering: “What about cursive and signatures? Will we still have legally valid signatures if we stop signing our names in cursive?” Brace yourself: in state and federal law, cursive signatures have no special legal validity over any other kind. (Hard to believe? Ask any attorney!)
     Questioned document examiners (these are specialists in the identification of signatures, the verification of documents, etc.) inform me that the least forgeable signatures are the plainest. Most cursive signatures are loose scrawls: the rest, if they follow the rules of cursive at all, are fairly complicated: these make a forger’s life easy.

    All handwriting, not just cursive, is individual — just as all handwriting involves fine motor skills. That is why any first-grade teacher can immediately identify (from the print-writing on unsigned work) which of 25 or 30 students produced it.

    Mandating cursive to preserve handwriting resembles mandating stovepipe hats and crinolines to preserve the art of tailoring.

    SOURCES:

    Handwriting research on speed and legibility:

    /1/ Arthur Dale Jackson. “A Comparison of Speed and Legibility of Manuscript and Cursive Handwriting of Intermediate Grade Pupils.”
    Ed. D. Dissertation, University of Arizona, 1970: on-line at http://www.eric.ed.gov/?id=ED056015

    /2/ Steve Graham, Virginia Berninger, and Naomi Weintraub. “The Relation between Handwriting Style and Speed and Legibility.” JOURNAL OF EDUCATIONAL RESEARCH, Vol. 91, No. 5 (May – June, 1998), pp. 290-296: on-line at http://www.jstor.org/stable/pdfplus/27542168.pdf

    /3/ Steve Graham, Virginia Berninger, Naomi Weintraub, and William Schafer. “Development of Handwriting Speed and Legibility in Grades 1-9.”
    JOURNAL OF EDUCATIONAL RESEARCH, Vol. 92, No. 1 (September – October, 1998), pp. 42-52: on-line at http://www.jstor.org/stable/pdfplus/27542188.pdf

    Zaner-Bloser handwriting survey: Results on-line at http://www.hw21summit.com/media/zb/hw21/files/H2937N_post_event_stats.pdf

    Ongoing handwriting poll: http://poll.fm/4zac4

    The research most often misrepresented by devotees of cursive (“Neural Correlates of Handwriting” by Dr. Karin Harman-James at Indiana University):
    https://www.hw21summit.com/research-harman-james

    Background on our handwriting, past and present:
    3 videos, by a colleague, show why cursive is NOT a sacrament:

    A BRIEF HISTORY OF CURSIVE —

    TIPS TO FIX HANDWRITING —

    HANDWRITING AND MOTOR MEMORY
    (shows how to develop fine motor skills WITHOUT cursive) —

    Yours for better letters,

    Kate Gladstone
    DIRECTOR, the World Handwriting Contest
    CEO, Handwriting Repair/Handwriting That Works
    http://www.HandwritingThatWorks.com
    handwritingrepair@gmail.com

    kategladstone

    December 29, 2014 at 3:36 PM

  8. Wow, the power of Google Alerts…

    jimbo

    December 29, 2014 at 4:19 PM

  9. Cursive will never completely disappear, as it’s alive and well in signatures. Hardly anyone prints a signature.

    Peter

    ironrailsironweights

    December 29, 2014 at 4:50 PM

    • I see more and more print-written signatures each year. My own signature has been called “definitely printed” by some, and “definitely cursive” by others.

      kategladstone

      December 29, 2014 at 6:33 PM

  10. Sir you are WRONG about handwritten legal documents. They must be accepted for filing. Not saying you won’t eventually get the gimlet eye from the judge, but outright rejection is unlikely. One more thing: if you really want to show opposing counsel up, and you are an unusually good writer, submit something in cursive that makes the other lawyer’s writing look illiterate by comparison. I bet Judge Posner would love it, and probably chide the other guy over it.

    mel belli

    December 29, 2014 at 6:22 PM

    • That is only true for actions filed by self-represented prisoners who don’t have access to a typewriter (because of their Constitutional rights). If you’re a lawyer, then you have to follow the correct pleading rules.

      Lion of the Blogosphere

      December 29, 2014 at 7:05 PM

      • In the Los Angeles federal courthouse there is an WPA-era shirtless Abe Lincoln statute, and some Abe memorabilia in a glass case below. One of the items is a hand-written pleading, possibly a complaint, answer, or motion. I couldn’t read more than a few words of it though. Modern cursive is a lot easier to read that 19th century fancy script.

        ereere

        December 29, 2014 at 11:16 PM

  11. Lion, how did you get through elementary and high school without cursive? Did you print your essays, notes and tests? I recently cleaned out all my old junk from my mom’s attic an found reams of cursive writing. It was shocking how much writing was done back then. I was o.k. at it, but never nearly as good as my dad or his dad. Those older generation guys had beautiful writing.

    steve@steve.com

    December 29, 2014 at 7:35 PM

  12. If teachers don’t use cursive it is because the teachers are prole.

    Elites scorn technology.

    http://www.nytimes.com/2011/10/23/technology/at-waldorf-school-in-silicon-valley-technology-can-wait.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0

    jjbees

    December 29, 2014 at 7:40 PM

  13. “Writing in cursive is still seen as more upper class than writing in manuscript.”

    lion, the status obsessed social climber 🙂 i like it.

    that reminds me, have we talked about the book and documentary “status anxiety” by alain de botton? the book was okay, the documentary was excellent. here it is:

    rivelino

    December 29, 2014 at 8:37 PM

    • an md is the quintessence of upmc according to lion, but they have notoriously illegible handwriting.

      World Moustache Champion

      January 1, 2015 at 6:20 PM

  14. I can write four pages of cursive with no fatigue. My hand gets uncomfortable after one page of block print. That’s why cursive exists. Muscles don’t like the jerky movements needed to make neat print handwriting.

    Other than the need to write multiple pages in a sitting I don’t see a need for cursive. Cursive is definitely less legible than print writing. I mostly use cursive to write notes, plans, and drafts for myself. I would probably write print if I were going to send a document to somebody.

    sammysamsam

    December 29, 2014 at 9:45 PM

    • I agree. There are three factors, the tiring/cramping of the hand, the flow of ink (the cursive scripts are from the age of inkwells or at least fountain pens) and the legibility. A good cursive style has to take all three into account.
      When I was in high school we had in-class essays or tests (in subjects like German literature, history) going two hours or so where some students would write up to 1000 words or 8-10 pages. It would have been almost impossible without cursive. The teachers who had to read that stuff are to pity… but that’s the way it was (Germany, mid-late 1980s).

      nomen nescio

      December 31, 2014 at 5:49 AM

      • I agree that those three factors are decisive … in any completely joined cursive style, the risk that the crucial third factor will be sacrificed to the others is much greater than in a semi-joined italic or home-grown quasi-italic hybrid (wherein it’s much easier, for most writers at least, to attain and maintain a desirable balance of all three factors). Similarly, in a completely UNjoined form (at least when this is based on rigid verticals, circles, and arcs of circles), there’s a big risk that the first two factors will be sacrificed to legibility.

        Cursive writers who can produce cursive faster and with less effort than print-writing have seldom, if ever, tried to find out how they’d perform if they acquired italic (or even adopted a few of its crucial basics, such as the judicious deployment of brief pen-lifts within words). To my personal knowledge, several good writers of cursive — who skeptically took up italic for the sake of experiment — were surprised enough by the results (in speed, ease, and legibility) that they never went back to cursive.

        Re inkwells — Cursive as we have it today (fully joined, and so forth) began near the very _end_ of the millennia-long age of inkwells: in the Baroque era, when the scribal vogue was temporarily for cutting quills to a sharp, highly flexible point.(Somewhat later, dip pens of spring steel were made to simulate that Baroque fashion in quills).
        Flexible dip nibs, and the pressure-created thicks and thins which they facilitate, shaped such cursive — and are a tool no longer in use. They are as unfamiliar to almost everyone today as they would have been (along with their ceaseless joining) some generations earlier: in the Renaissance, say, when the first handwriting textbooks in our alphabet were published.
        The common standard form in those first handwriting textbooks, today called the italic form because it first appeared in Italy, is semi-joined and with generally print-like letters. The eye-appealing “thicks and thins” that appear in Renaissance italic and in some of its modern heirs are created by what amounts to a calligraphy pen — a _rigid_ quill or nib (as modern pens too are rigid, not pressure-driven) shaped in such a way that the thick/thin strokes happen automatically when the pen is properly held. (They aren’t time-consuming extras, as in Baroque-era oursive and its descendants down into the late 19th century.)

        The reason that 20th-century cursives dropped the pressure-driven thicks/thins — with the pointed flexible nibs that were involved — was precisely that those _were_ time-consuming, effortful, and accident-prone. It would have been sensible, at the same time, to question the total joining — that other accident-prone legacy of the days when handwriting went for Baroque.

        kategladstone

        January 1, 2015 at 2:38 AM

  15. Well, I think cursive is more beautiful. The preference for printing is just one more sign of the preference of practical ugliness in lieu of useless beauty in our dreary modern world. Same as in Architecture or Art.

    On the other hand, my cursive writing sucks. For those who wish to improve their handwriting (printing is “prole”!), here’s a good link: http://www.paperpenalia.com/handwriting.html

    Dumbo

    December 29, 2014 at 9:49 PM

  16. Wow. One of Lion’s best posts – -beautifully written, non-emotional, and well-thought out. Sometimes when Lion writes a few posts within a single day, brief posts, they sort of get slushed together in my mind as one long stream of what might be called “lionthought.” The stream reads something like “Too many NAMS-value transference sucks – robots are taking away all our jobs-I still hate guidos.”

    Maryk

    December 29, 2014 at 11:13 PM

    • You sound like my sister talking about her favorite Teen Beat idol back in the day.

      Curle

      December 30, 2014 at 1:32 AM

      • Maryk should be the honorary Freda Kelly of the lionosphere, mailing out lockets of his hair and pillowcases on which he rested his weary head.

        slithy toves

        January 1, 2015 at 12:39 PM

  17. “Maryk should be the honorary Freda Kelly of the lionosphere”

    My hero-worship of Lion is probably making me look kind of silly, I agree. I sent Lion a New Year’s card at the email he provided here. But it has been unread so far. Maybe he’s worried I’ll find a way to jump through the internet cables and grab his “little Lion.” LOL!…….but I’m just being nice.

    Maryk

    January 1, 2015 at 5:39 PM

  18. “mailing out lockets of his hair and pillowcases on which he rested his weary head.”

    Why would I mail them out when I could sell them to members of “the pride?” Wouldn’t the “liony” thing to do be to make some money off of my status as the “Freda Kelly of the lionosphere?” If there’s anything I’ve learned from reading this blog it’s to make the most of every economic opportunity. So if Lion ever gets famous and needs a secretary……..!

    Maryk

    January 1, 2015 at 5:46 PM


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