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I remember learning it as a child, and I remember I was told it was important and every kid in the class had to learn it. But now that I think about it, I haven't used cursive for years.

What was the point of learning it in the first place? What were the origins? Does cursive writing have any advantages over using more modern tools such as a typewriter or laptop?

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migrated from skeptics.stackexchange.com May 18 '11 at 12:36

This question came from our site for scientific skepticism.

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Meta discussion on this question posted. –  justkt May 18 '11 at 13:03
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Voted to close. Nothing to do with being a writer. –  Zayne S Halsall May 18 '11 at 15:27
    
You don't seriously go around laboriously printing everything you write, do you? [she said, hopefully] –  Martha May 19 '11 at 2:49
    
How do you sign things? –  tcrosley May 19 '11 at 22:59

4 Answers 4

The aesthetics of writing in cursive are really a personal thing: some people appreciate the feel of a fine pen gliding over the paper, the line variation from an italic nib, and the shading of a nice ink, and some just don't.

On the practical side: cursive writing came about because it is faster and easier to write at length than printing. While that's not always true today (see more below), handwriting in general has several advantages over more modern methods of capturing words:

  • It's extremely portable.
  • It doesn't require expensive or bulky equipment.
  • It doesn't depend on electricity.
  • It has a level of flexibility (quickly sketching diagrams, etc.) that a typewriter or the average word processor doesn't. (Of course, you could moot this point by learning TeX and/or LaTeX.)
  • It can be done with less elbow room than typing on a laptop or typewriter.
  • Unlike a laptop, it doesn't require a secondary device to produce a paper copy.
  • It's extremely durable (we have some written texts dating back thousands of years).
  • It can be applied to surfaces not easily put through a printer (textbooks, walls, boxes, signs, etc).
  • It is, in many cultures, considered more personal than typing, especially for correspondence.

Unfortunately, the sordid modern history of cursive handwriting in America has deprived us of much of its utility. You see, when the movable type printing press came along, printers developed a set of fonts commonly described as "looped cursive" because they have more consistently placed joins, allowing printers to stock fewer pieces (fewer different joins, and fewer different versions of each letter) and thus making their work less expensive.[1]

Edit: Here's a good comparison of looped vs. italic cursive writing.

Sadly, looped cursive has become the standard in most American schools today, and it is not particularly good for being hand written. This, combined with less time dedicated to handwriting skills, and the transition from fountain pens to hard-led pencils for early writing instruction (in the name of cleanliness), has caused most students to write cursive illegibly and laboriously, if at all. Pencils (especially with hard lead like 'HB') cause more friction with the paper and require much more pressure to write, making clear handwriting harder to learn.

I, too, learned looped cursive with a pencil in elementary school. Writing that way was slow and difficult. Additionally, it caused me to constantly battle with pain from RSI (which I have something of a predisposition to). I grew up, started using fountain pens, and learned to write in cursive italic -- the way that cursive was written before the advent of the printing press. The difference is incredible.

Now, my cursive handwriting is extremely fast and legible. It requires almost no effort. I no longer feel any pain from writing, even long, rambling letters or pages of computer code or other notes.

I'd add that in addition to the usefulness of handwriting in general, and the legibility, speed, and ease of a good cursive italic in particular, I would hate to see our culture lose the ability to read the many important documents first rendered in cursive script. Do we really want the Constitution, the Declaration of Independence, Lincoln's speeches, and who knows what else to be lost to time the way that Egyptian hieroglyphs were for so long?

[1]: Info taken from the book Write Now by Barbara Getty and Inga Dubay.

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  • The original purpose of cursive handwriting was supposedly that you could write more quickly.

  • Another reason is that in old times, when people wrote with a quill, cursive writing meant that they did not need to lift their quill from the paper, thereby avoiding smudges and spots on the page. Of course, this is no longer an issue.

  • In the 16th-17th centuries, cursive writing was seen as being a more official and proper way to write and as such, was taught in schools.

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I haven't used cursive since graduating elementary school. We wasted so much time learning cursive. It's upsetting to think about the skills we may have lost out on because we were busying learning something outdated even then.

Learning cursive still has its place though. It helps you develop a signature. It also helps when you have to read handwriting from that one person you know in marketing who insists on still writing in cursive. But for goodness sakes, tone down the focus and spend the extra time teaching children something contemporary.

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It takes schools a few decades, but they're starting to replace cursive class with typing class. –  Ari Sep 5 '11 at 3:01

Yes, I see a point to writing in cursive:

I write in cursive on lined paper when I'm exploring an idea or writing-out initial ideas. I find that writing in cursive forces me to slow down to consider my thoughts, and take the time to write out an idea. As I revise, I cross out and rewrite, making the idea's development more apparent, which itself can contribute to developing the idea.

While typing quickly is nice, writing in cursive has its advantages too.

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