The handwriting’s on the wall

Laurie Snider
Notes from the Nest

I’ve spent the first few days of the New Year mapping out my plans and goals for the upcoming year, so I have at least a vague idea in which direction I’m headed. In all likelihood there’s some remarkable app or computerized spread sheet that could make this exercise much sleeker and more expedient but I truly prefer jotting down my intentions and ruminations in a notebook with a pen instead.

After writing this column for nearly three years, many followers will be aware that although I live in the present, have an eye to the future, I’ve also one foot firmly planted in, and hesitant to let go of, the past. Case in point is the lovely, loopy, twisting, sometimes even elegant form of communication known as cursive writing. Much to my dismay, the ‘handwriting is apparently on the wall’ for this beloved means of transferring information, recording and preserving cultural and historical events and corresponding thoughts, feelings and experiences with others, so future generations may learn about and know us better.

Ever since Grog and his charming, wife Egnot, began homeschooling their cave-babies, 35,000 years ago, by making rudimentary drawings on the inside walls of their rocky homesteads, mankind has been trying to express themselves, using various forms of language to share stories. Cro-Magnon man used these crude illustrations to convey messages about hunting expeditions and where momentous events occurred. Perhaps a sketch of poor unfortunate Uncle Oggy being squished by a Wooley Mammoth, so maybe avoid the area. It was a rather primitive precursor to posting on Facebook.

Jump forward to 3500BC and you’ll discover the point in time written language was invented, in Sumer, Mesopotamia. This early form of writing known as cuneiform, consisted of making marks in wet clay with a reed. These primordial pictographs became official records of commerce. Apparently, the Sumerians were fond of their beer, as many of these primeval memorandums tracked beer sales.

The Greeks and Romans further advanced language and writing systems developing a phonetic one. Charlemagne during the eighth century tasked a monk with designing a set of standard cursive lettering. By the 1700s penmanship schools were busy teaching cursive writing and elegant chirography was seen as a status symbol. During the mid-19th century most children were taught cursive writing in school around age eight, up until recently.

Since the dawn of the newest millennium this whirling, swerving, curving form of weaving groups of letters together into script has been on the decline. There’s now a large preference for computers, tablets and keyboards. One teacher’s group, referred to it as a ‘dying art,’ believing it not particularly useful and tedious to teach. Sadly, many Canadian schools including Ontario are no longer required to teach cursive as a skill.

Naturally computers with their neatly typed words have advantages. Mistakes and misunderstandings can be avoided, as not all who scribble in cursive form are blessed with what was once called a ‘fine hand.’ Ask any nurse who in previous decades has spent time deciphering a doctor’s scrawl and the merits of computers are obvious. Still some researchers believe a student’s early literary foundation is only enhanced by cursive writing.

Personally, despite a laptop and cellphone readily available for use, I know I’ll never stop scratching down my thoughts in journals and notebooks, sending out birthday and holiday cards, or inscribing my gratitude onto thank you cards.

A recent British survey revealed, 26 per cent of adults haven’t sent or received a handwritten letter in the past 10 years, but 89 per cent would love to get one. Luckily January 23 is National Handwriting Day, so if you’re lamenting the passing of this stylish, graceful form of scribing as I am, why not pick up a pen and dash off a letter to someone near and dear and if you aren’t too busy, drop me a line.

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