A Dead Language

When I was a pre-teen and earning a few extra bucks as a babysitter, I sat for a family who had two young, rambunctious boys. They were a good family but those boys were a nightmare to babysit.

Since the parents would usually be out late, the mom liked for me to write up a little note before I left for the evening so that in the morning she could review what the boys ate, when they went to bed, how they behaved, etc.

Those little creeps knew they were hellions, and so when it came time for me to write up the note, they always were at each elbow to try and see what I was writing so they could get ahead of it with their folks.

Well…I fixed their wagon. I started writing the note in cursive. They were both too young to have learned cursive in school and it drove them *bonkers*.

Under the steely gaze of their dad, the older boy generally denied anything and everything and the younger boy sang like a canary. It was awesome.

Personally, I don’t generally use cursive writing in my day to day life anymore. I don’t know why, but somewhere along the line I stopped. My handwriting is so sloppy anyway that the addition of cursive made it damn near unreadable.

About the only place I still both to use cursive writing is when I write a check, and then only on the line where you have to spell out the amount and my signature.

And who writes checks anymore anyway?

Still, I’m a bit sad to hear all the talk lately of schools opting not to teach cursive writing to school kids anymore. I guess with computers, iPhones and iPads, it’s become, well, a dead language. Known only to the elders of our little (6 billion strong) tribe.

I love to look at old letters from my parents, grandparents and even great grandparents. My paternal grandmother had an often difficult to read tight scroll. My maternal grandmother’s hand was a bit more open and looping.

A letter from them was easily identifiable by their handwriting. It was like a thumbprint.

Within just a few years, kids won’t be able to read these old letters, or as the blog MoxieQ notes, the original US Constitution or even the original Declaration of Independence.

Original US Constitution, in cursive

Declaration of Independance

If kids see these documents while on a field trip or in a book, it will simply look like a foreign language.

That seems….wrong.

I get that the times, they are a changin’ and the call for cursive writing is less and less, abandoned in favor of teaching touch typing earlier in school (I had it in mid-school but by early grade school, kids need to know how to interact with a computer).

But still, cursive writing is a basic foundation of our culture, not just being able to express oneself in written form, but as its own language. It was a rite of passage to learn to write in cursive. Suddenly my mom’s shopping list went from being a bunch of scribbles to making perfect sense (except when she wrote it in stenographer’s shorthand, another dead written language).

I guess the rite of passage now is when a kid gets their first cell phone or iPad. I suppose in the end it’s ok, as long as we keep finding ways to express ourselves.

I’m still a little sad about the change, though….

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  • Lynn

    It is a sad thought; I don’t know what to make of it. I’m big on hand-written letters and I always write in cursive. I agree; a person’s handwriting is just like a thumbprint. Are we, in a sense, losing some of our individuality? Bah. (My mom did shorthand grocery lists too, and although I studied her shorthand books I could still never make heads or tails of it.)

    • Karen Fayeth

      Lynn – I also love handwritten letter. Recently my best friend and I started up that tradition again. It’s so much more civilized than email and I find we both share a lot more via the written word.

  • Murr Brewster

    Everyone’s always impressed with my husband’s neat Palmer Method cursive. Men don’t usually write so beautifully. But he didn’t either, as a child. Until he recognized the wisdom of learning how to write like his mother, and then once he learned how to spell “diarrhea,” he was off and, uh, running.

    • Karen Fayeth

      Murr – LOL! Great comment. You are right, most men don’t have great handwriting. My dad had that typical squinched down hand of an engineer. My grandfather had pretty strong looping writing.

  • Anji

    Your post is of great interest to me as I struggle to read 100 year old French on the backs of postcards (some of them written in shorthand too!). I can’t see my grandchildren looking though my emails with fascination when I’m gone.

    Let’s hope that somehow calligraphy will be added to all art classes in school – wouldn’t that be something?

    • Karen Fayeth

      Anji – I hadn’t even thought about that! About reading the notes on the vintage postcards you collect. True!

      And who keeps emails around right? Aren’t computers supposed to eliminate paper? : roll eyes : Hard to get nostalgic about “the cloud”.

  • Ur Bro

    Bah good riddance. I have not used it in more than 30 years. But I don’t write anything anymore, I type it all.

    My friend had a handwriting app for iiPad that he claimed worked beautifully. I tried it and it could not get a single word I wrote.

    Use a fancy font if you want…

    • Karen Fayeth

      Big Bro – You seem to be in the majority in your view on cursive. Most are more than happy to have it go away.

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