Monday, September 26, 2011

The Evolution of Penmanship

This past Sunday morning I saw a lead-in for a segment of the CBS Morning Show that stated that the average American's quality of penmanship peaks at the 4th Grade Level.  Surely, that can't be's not right or write) is it?

Is penmanship a dying art?????

Let's take a look at a signature on a document from 1776. 

I think we could all read that signature.  In fact, that particular signature is so famous that even today, there is that cliche of "putting your John Hancock" on a document.  Back in that era, people could make a living teaching penmanship.  It was an art form. Prior to the last 100 years, there were professional penman.  Men like Platt Rogers Spencer, one of the first American penman, even has a style of writing named after him.

The Spencerian Script

 I guess we can assume that most people prior to the last 100 years or so exceeded the 4th grade level of penmanship. 

With the advent of the typed word and more recently the computerized word we seem to be heading in the "our written word looks like hen scratch" era.  With 294 Billion e-mails and nearly 5 Billion text messages sent EVERY DAY (according to the CBS report) we just aren't practicing our writing skills.

Here are a couple of signatures from more modern-day writers.  We have made great strides in our penmanship. Can you tell me who these signature belongs to.  No?  Me either and no one seems to know.  They were listed as examples of bad penmanship.


I know for a fact that my 4th grade cursive sucked.  I lived with my grandparents that FIRMLY believed that being left handed was a choice.  A bad choice according to their way of thinking so I was only allowed to write with my right hand. I think that was a pretty common thought among people in general in that era. Left handedness = WRONG way of doing it.  This is what my writing would have looked like as I struggled with my right (or in my case, wrong) hand.
If my 4th grade writing was the best I would ever get...I would,
indeed, be penmanship challenged.  Luckily, it improved.

However, with some of today's technology, there is NO POSSIBLE way to have pretty cursive.  I might as well of stayed writing with my right (or in my case, the wrong) hand.

There are times that I get to sign my signature on those little boxes that swipe my credit card in various stores, banks, government offices and the like.  Gosh, even the guy that came to do my bi-annual HVAC check had me sign a little electronic tablet showing that he completed the work.  The little tablet will send me a copy of the work order to my email.
The problem with these little card swiper things for a left handed person is that when I sign one my signature is totally unrecognizable.  I surely could sign as Bugs Bunny or Batman and no one would be able to tell the difference.  AND have you noticed that half the time you swipe your charge card now, they don't even want your signature.  How unimportant I have become.

Still there was a time that we practiced our cursive to get it near perfect.

notice our good posture!! OMG there is a lefty in the bunch!!!

So it comes down to all the time and effort my generation and the generations before me that worked for hours to perfect our perfect cursive letters, pretty much wasted a lot of time. The quality of your penmanship is not going to be appreciated....or required...or read.


So what are your thoughts?  Do you miss people actually writing letters and cards to you?  Do you ever get love letters from the special people in your life?  Do you care how legible your writing is?  Does it matter?

Here is a video where someone is anxiously waiting for a letter.

The Good for the Day.... We still know what a pencil and ballpoint pen is.

The Bad for the day....That letters and card to no longer part of our lives.

The Weird for the day....Prior to the 1920's children were never taught to print.  They only were taught cursive.  Who knew? According to Tamara Plakins Thorton, a history professor at the State University of New York who is an author of a cultural history of handwriting in America, President Abraham Lincoln never knew how to print. 


Nicky said...

I think your signature is lovely (the second one, that is). Very pretty and feminine. It's funny, but I still have to write things out. Whether I'm working on a story or marketing copy, I like to actually write my outline, then fill in a few details and key ideas. Once I've done that, then I'll move to the computer.

Cheryl P. said...

Thank you, Nicky. I also, still write things out. I thought maybe that was a left-over from all the years that I lived prior to the computer age. (truly aging is just a bite) I still enjoy writing little cards and notes but so old fashioned. Twitter and Facebook are the new and improved methods, by all accounts.

BTW...I love to outline things. It clearifies and organizes my thoughts.

thesinglecell said...

I absolutely do care about my penmanship! I remember when I was learning (Palmer Method), I was reprimanded more than once. My second grade teacher told me that if my printing didn't get neater, she wouldn't teach me penmanship, and then when she did, she was very upset about my Rs. Now I pride myself on having not only pretty penmanship, but also penmanship that is NOT bubbly like so many other women 35 and younger tend to have. I won't say it's always legible... sometimes my hand cramps or twitches or just moves without my willing it to move in a given way. But I still get compliments. (And my signature actually bears the letters of my name. I had a boyfriend once who used to just scribble anything on a receipt. He told me it was so no one could copy his signature. I just looked at him and thought, "Everybody can copy your signature. You don't have one. It's a different scribble every time.") And yes, I still like getting cards in the mail. I can't remember the last time I got an actual letter, but I like any mail that isn't the Junk or Bill variety!

Cheryl P. said...

I think you and I are on exactly the same page (a hand written page, at that) on this topic. I struggled with the mastering good penmanship as I had to write with both my right and left hands depending who was calling the shots. I actually have very pretty penmanship now.

I had an email from someone this morning that said it makes no sense to spend time on something archaic and that technology has replaced the need. I am sure he is right in the sense of the word "need" but still I find that sad. A hand written note or letter to someone should be as much of a treat as small gift or a good meal. Something personal and meaningful. It certainly would lose something if a person couldn't read it.

I have heard that excuse before about not being able to copy it. I have had bosses that would have me sign things for them and the sloppier the better. It is easier to copy somthing that is just a couple of loops and squiggles.

Thanks for weighing in. Darn, if I knew your address, I would send you a little handwritten card.

meleahrebeccah said...

My handwriting is horrific. Seriously, not even a world-class spy could decipher what I write. It's worse than a Doctors note.

Bodaciousboomer said...

I don't know WTF has happened to my penmanship. When I was in grade school it was beautiful. Now I write like a demented pirate on crack.

Cheryl P. said...

But your are a genius at using a computer so I guess it doesn't really matter.
I have several friends that I can't read their cursive but their printing is perfect. Is it just cursive that is unreadable?

Cheryl P. said...

Funny visual there....demented pirate on crack. Now that we all type 95% of everything, maybe it is just lack of use. Seems that is the trend though.

meleahrebeccah said...

Both for me!

Rick Gleason said...

I used to get compliments for my handwriting, but not no more. With my advancing years (58) have come Fibromyalgia, and with that pain in my hands, fingers and wrists. Not easy to hand write as it used to be and its affected my penmanship.

Oh well, it's all a sad state of affairs what we've become with the advent of all this modern technology and gadgetry along with the aches and pains of getting older. It isn't for sissies and darn, it's inevitable.

Thanks for sharing your thouights.


Cheryl P. said...

Fibromyalgia...sorry to hear your having to deal with that. All this modern technology can be a blessing or a curse depending on how we use it. I was just watching a program on how Facebook is meeting the definition of a "addiction" for some. I don't get using it to the extent that it consumes my life but I do like the fact that without technology, I wouldn't be sitting here communicating with nice people like you and learning a little bit about you.

I am thinking 58 sounds really young in the grand spectrum of things. Two of my best friends are 71 and 85 and they both are so active and busy. (and they look great..I am not kidding) As I am fast approaching leaving my 50's they give me hope.