Thursday, September 24, 2015


When I was in middle school, a family member bought me a chemistry set for either a birthday or Christmas present. I recall that many of the recipes required an open flame, which I was not permitted to burn without supervision. One of the remaining available options was ink. With some cobalt and a couple of other ingredients, you could make your very own, quite serviceable writing ink. Quill not included. Once I'd tuned the mix of ingredients to find the optimal viscosity for an old fountain pen I'd reclaimed, I was well on my way to learning the rudiments of calligraphy. So I thought. It turned out my penmanship, notoriously rotten, was spectacularly unsuited to illumination. 

But one grand upshot of my foray into inks and quills was the re-discovery of the original purpose of script writing. For those of us weaned in the era of the Bic, it can be easy to forget or ignore just what a staggering mess well-ink can be. Ink is the slave of the weather, and if it's a hot, muggy day, your nice little thank-you letter to grandma can end up looking like a Ralph Steadman painting halfway into a mescaline tear. Cursive helps keep the ink blotches at bay. Try it at home if you doubt me.

So cursive as a writing technology overcomes a different technological shortcoming, one that was effectively patched by the ballpoint nib. The technological demand for cursive is near nil these days, occupying much the same niche as a tinsmith you might see at an ethnographic village. A buddy of mine on Twitter described it as the buggy whip of print. Quite right. 

Of course, there are a lot of buggy whips still out there. Square dancing, lepidoptery, cobbling, scrimshaw, soda jerking: plenty of old-timey customs survive for aesthetic reasons. And it is a poor society indeed that would haul up and huck out its heritage on barren efficiency grounds. 

Join me in the Wayback Machine to recall the barbaric days when well-intentioned educators would viciously force Native/Irish/Aboriginal students to speak only in English and dress only as their colonial overlords. Witness as southpaws were mercilessly punished should they attempt to write as the Good Lord intended. Marvel at the hubris of the grade school social engineer who demanded not mere assimilation, but rather strictly-enforced conformity. 

Cursive no longer serves its original purpose, but is that any reason to see it scrubbed from the earth? You don't have to teach it, but you sure as heck don't have to ban it either. Alyssa deserves better. We all do.

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Do you have suggestions on where we could find more examples of this phenomenon?