GateHouse — When I was a kid in the late 1920s, elementary school teachers taught us the capital cursive letter Q as a sort of hieroglyphic, something like the number 2 with pretentious and goofy curls exploding off of its ends. It was, I remember, the one letter in all the cursive lesson that didn’t make a lick of sense; it looked like it came from some long-dead alien alphabet and certainly wasn’t something you ran across a lot in “Choose Your Own Adventure” books. But, wanting to be good students, we all dutifully picked it up, mastered it in the third grade and immediately stopped using it in the fourth grade.
But kids today don’t have to learn the flowery, stupid Cursive Q That Isn’t A Q, for the very logical reason that they’re not learning cursive at all. Kids these days, because of the texting and the hip-hop and Obama’s Kenyan health-care plan, do not spend a lot of time worrying about their handwriting, especially their cursive; in fact, my generation — Generation Y, another letter that looks wicked silly with the whirlydoodles all over it — might be one of the last to deal with the fading style at all.
- More writing on writing from the Inverted Soapbox: “D.O.H.”
Time magazine last week published this piece about the Death of Handwriting, which happened because Handwriting’s doctor gave it too many painkillers. All across the country this back-to-school season, schools are adapting to the decreasing demand for crisp, pure handwriting. And it’s not just schools: Zaner-Bloser, the country’s largest supplier of handwriting manuals, actually quashed that cursive Q/2 in 1990, when it was discovered that it was creating legibility problems for people at the post office, and we all know what can happen when there are problems with employees at the post office.
Sure, practically speaking, this is no great shakes. Most students will tell you that rocking good penmanship scores you about as many cool points as perfect attendance, which is somewhere between “not many” and “splash – your head is in the toilet!” (I know this firsthand: in elementary school I was a frequent recipient of the coveted “Excellent Handwriting” award, an honor that resulted in tremendous admiration from my classmates, which they expressed via a loving series of playground pantsings and by throwing congratulatory basketballs at my face.) And, frankly, I’d much rather be able to read a handwritten thank-you card, for instance, than admire its aesthetic similarity to the Declaration of Independence.
But it does, to me, pose a quivery qualified linguistic quagmire that bothers me in those rare moments I’m not paging through the dictionary: Can they do that? Has the international handwriting lobby grown that vast and powerful? Because cursive is “outmoded” and “often illegible” and “much less convenient and practical than using print and especially computers,” we’re just going to throw it on the social and historical junk-heap along with the Commodore 64, vinyl records and the modern Republican Party?
Because who’s to say where it stops? Apparently, Prince can make up his own symbols and command the masses, however uninterested, to use them. I could decide tomorrow that my name should be Sprinkles! von Fluergelstein! (pronounced “Tito”), but I don’t, because I’m sort of attached to languages the way they are now, and also because I know where the keys on the BlackBerry are. What if we let corporate interests and tiny musicians continue to wreak havoc on our 26 glorious letters? What if they get rid of, say, H? Tink ow orrible tat would be! That does it — it’s time to register my opposition to this to local schools and the Zaner-Bloser people. I am so sending them an angry e-mail.