And now for something completely different

Why do Americans hate cursive writing? (this is not about the reforms. typing is a more important skill than handwriting, and pretty much anything that’s quick and legible should be accepted as a valid form of handwriting. meaning, “cursive” shouldn’t be more than a single semester, to introduce the notion of connecting letters and minimizing strokes, and some practice. After that, no one should give a fuck)

Seriously, what precisely about the notion of a script designed to connect letters makes Americans be so passionately hateful about it, that they talk about fantasies of “ha, I told you so” letters to their teachers, now that there’s talk about discontinuing the teaching of cursive? And make them claim that they’ve never used it since 4th/5th grade (which is an odd claim. I checked all the notes, postcards, letters, etc. I’ve received from various Americans. None of them are in strict block letters)?

Is it that you’re taught some highly stylized, onerous version of cursive*? Is it that you learned it years after learning block letters (the constant references to 4th/5th grade intrigue me)? Is it that your teachers were all assholes? Is it that your school policies were “zero tolerance” of any individualistic deviation from the taught letters? what is it that’s so horrible about it? TELL ME! TELL ME NOW!!!!! I MUST KNOW!!!!!!!!

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*for reference, this is the cursive I had to learn. I immediately rejected the silly “z”, and later some other superfluous strokes, but overall that’s it.

15 comments on “And now for something completely different

  1. David Marjanović says:

    Language Log recently had a long, long thread about this (well, 102 comments is long for LL). That thread, and the NYT article it was based on, were full of home-brewed psychology bordering on woo.

    In that thread, lots of Americans said they had learned cursive in 3rd grade (as I just found out it also says here in the German Wikipedia). I find that baffling. We were never taught to write printed letters by hand; printed letters were for reading, cursive was for writing. Cursive was even called Schreibschrift, “writing script”, as opposed to Druckschrift, “printing script”, and Blockschrift, “block script” meaning all-caps (printed ones).

    I bet the fact that Americans are taught it so late is the reason they hate it: by that time, they can already write and just don’t see the point in being taught how to write all anew.

    The cursive you were taught is interesting in that it looks very modern except for that archaic loop on the z. I was taught this except with vertical letters, not inclined ones, and with a symmetric x; and that’s still exactly* how I write, except for minor differences (and inconsistencies) in proportions, except that I use big circular dots instead of vertical strokes on äöü**, and except that I’ve rounded the silly corner at the right side of the L (following my mom who wasn’t taught the corner).

    I hate having to lift the pen(cil) and put it down again within a word. The cursive I was taught is designed to minimize this. (Note how the t is not crossed; instead it has a loop near the bottom.)

    Admittedly, all the loops take time. I’m sure this more recent version, which my little sister uses, is faster to write — except for the moronic things like having to lift and reset the pen during every f and every t.

    BTW, the cursive you were taught is similar to the Russian one I was taught.

    Some Americans have taught themselves “italics”, meaning letters that look mostly like printed but are mostly connected and usually inclined. A few seem to have been taught italics in school. Details in the LL thread I linked to.

    Enough brainstorming for now :-)


    * Asperger’s, I suppose.
    ** Because I independently derived these letters one day before we were officially taught them. Now if that’s not Asperger’s, I don’t know what is. :-)

  2. Jadehawk says:

    posters on that Language Log thread talk about “errors creeping into their cursive”. I can’t figure out what that could mean. Are they treating cursive writing as some sort of formulaic calligraphy with “correct” and “incorrect” ways to connect letters?

    same with the odd complaints about how evil cursive is to left-handed people. granted, I mostly write with my right hand, but I’ve been known to switch hands in mid-text, and it’s equally easy both ways (the letters just tilt in the other direction when writing with my left)

    it’s all very baffling.

  3. Jadehawk says:

    should have waited until I finish reading the thread. apparently, to Americans “cursive” really does mean a very specific, formulaic (and dare I say, fugly) script. I suppose if you combine that with late learning, plus seriously anal-retentive teachers, I can see how people would dislike it and find it useless.

  4. David Marjanović says:

    How do you hold your left hand when you write with it? Apparently (I didn’t pay attention when I was 6), people over here are taught to hold it under the text, which is how right-handed people write Arabic. I’ve seen people hold it above the text (“above” on the page, not literally), which works, but (I suppose) must be very hard on the wrist.

    The obvious way would be to copy right-handed writing — to hold the hand at the same level as the line. Of course, this immediately leads to scratching or piercing the paper… but if kids who don’t get the idea of experimenting a lot meet teachers who are simply ignorant, I smell a problem.

    In hindsight and envy, maybe I should have practiced writing with my left hand, because often in highschool and at a few university exams I had to produce walls of text under time pressure, which hurt. The last time I tried it (at age 8 or so), it came out quite nicely, but it was of course too slow to be usable.

    The reason it came out like it did is the fact that I always put the outer corner of the wrist (the pisiform bone) on the paper (or for that matter blackboard) instead of letting the hand hover somewhere. This drastically reduces the requirement for fine motorics, especially in the arm.

  5. Jadehawk says:

    oh shit… been in the states for so long, i completely forgot about the ink pens. I don’t actually remember if I was any good at writing with my left hand with a fountain pen. with ballpoint pens, the scratching/tearing of the paper, as well as smearing of the text isn’t that big of an issue. However, I seem to have discovered the “holding hand below text” thing independently. My purely left-handed class-mates seem to have done the above text thing, instead, which does look uncomfortable.

  6. David Marjanović says:

    And now for something completely different…

    Where are the Americans in this thread? :-) Or have you and the LL thread already exhausted the topic?

  7. Jadehawk says:


    Maybe they don’t want to explain their hatred of cursive. Or maybe they simply didn’t want to read another post on the topic of cursive writing, and thus didn’t even read my demands :-p

  8. Paul says:

    I didn’t chip in because David seemed to have it totally nailed. Cursive in the US is taught as an extremely formulaic way of writing, with very strict “right” and “wrong” ways of writing it far above and beyond whether it’s legible, and it’s taught after the average student has already been writing for a couple years. And it’s another case of the teachers blatantly lying to the students, because they’re told that for the rest of their schooling they’re going to need to write everything in cursive or it won’t be accepted. Yet no teachers write in cursive aside from the one teaching it, and at about fifth grade none of the teachers care if you’re using it or not, so students just go back to writing the way that is more familiar and comfortable to them. Cursive isn’t presented as a “faster” way to write, or one more convenient by removing the need to lift the pen. It’s just taught as a different, fancier, more adult way of writing. If they were at least appealing to pragmatism and speed, that would be one thing. But those aren’t raised as reasons to use cursive writing to Americans when they’re learning them, so it just seems like something wholly redundant and unnecessary.

    I don’t really hate it. It takes a lot for me to hate something. I’m more indifferent about it. I haven’t read any of the source material for this post, though, so I don’t know if I’m missing something.

  9. Ewan R says:

    Upon hearing the news of the dropping of cursive from the curriculum my wife was adamant that our son will be taught cursive, I figure she can teach him that as anything I do that isn’t typing looks rather like someone dipped a bunch of spiders in an LSD laced inkwell and let them run free. (on occasion it becomes illegible to me after even a week or so)

    So that’s one American who doesn’t hate cursive.

    I believe her reasoning was that good penmanship makes a good first impression on job applications and the like – a rather shitty but likely true piece of infomation (which probably explains my run of entirely shitty jobs before online applications became the norm…)

  10. David Marjanović says:

    Huh. So it’s taught as calligraphy, as an aristocratic way of writing, by a special teacher even, and the reasons given for using it are aristocratic and just so happen to be complete lies.

    Aristocracy. In America, the land of contradictions. Oh well, they have a pledge of allegiance, too…

    Over here, to my knowledge, all teachers write cursive or something close.

  11. Paul says:

    It’s not really a “special teacher”, unless you consider the one-size-fits-all third grade teacher to be special. It’s just that they’re the one that teaches cursive, so they generally use it. The others don’t have to teach it, so they don’t really care about or participate in its use.

  12. David Marjanović says:

    Ah, OK.

  13. Camille says:

    My 10 year old son, who has ADHD, dyslexia. fine motor problems and is generally not neurotypical, finds that cursive writing improves his ability to communicate in writing. He writes more complete and descriptinve sentences, and his spelling is better when he uses cursive writing. His occupational therapist suggests that writing in cursive allows his brain to “flow” through the words rather than start and stop with each letter.

  14. David Marjanović says:

    That’s interesting.

  15. David Marjanović says:

    Also, in most or all cursives, there are fewer letters that are mirror images of each other, b and d especially.

    BTW, here is an attempt to reform the cursive taught in Switzerland when kids are taught how to write. In the unlikely case anyone needs it, I’ll translate:

    “Children who are learning to write need upright, standalone letters at first. The uppercase letters have simple shapes and stay the same in the script that is written connected [ = cursive].

    The cursive script, written connected, develops into the personal, unmistakable handwriting. However, it does not need to be sought. It develops on its own. What’s important is that it’s legible.”

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