Sunday, February 02, 2014


There are things that are written in cursive that you need to be able to read in order to be a functioning citizen of a working republic.

It doesn't matter whether you write cursive or not. I don't; I'm left-handed. But I can look at the Declaration of Independence and not need someone to translate it for me because it might as well be written in hieroglyphics.

If you can't read cursive, someone could hand you page 12 of the owner's manual of a '94 Toyota Camry and tell you that it's Article Three of the Constitution, and if you can't read the original to compare, you'd just need to take their word for it that the Supreme Court has a 3 year/36,000 mile powertrain warranty.

To someone who can't read cursive, the Constitution is essentially like the Latin Bible was to medieval peasants pre-Wycliffe; it says what someone else tells you it says.


greg said...

I wish...I would love to get some warranty work done on the Supreme Court.

CarlosT said...

Wow, this is a thing, that people can't recognize cursive anymore?

I... How... Oh man.

alex. said...

If you can read, you should be able to read cursive, unless you are that chick from the Zimmerman affair who couldn't, and if you mention that she couldn't, and deduce from that fact that she was, in fact, just a stupid as she appeared to be, then you are just racist, and cursive is racist, too. I denounce myself.

Anonymous said...

Technically, medieval books were printed, tho sometimes illegibly. The problem was that, what with roaming hordes of barbarians & dueling dukes, etc., the chances of learning to read & write (even in one's native vulgus, never-mind Latin or Greek ) were basically nil.

We may be returning to those days here on CA. It's heartbreaking for me. I used to run an adult literacy program.

Ulises from CA

Marc Pisco said...

The Constitution has about as much relevance as that Camry manual to the way the country is now run.

Sebastian said...

To someone who can't read cursive, the Constitution is essentially like the Latin Bible was to medieval peasants pre-Wycliffe; it says what someone else tells you it says.

This must be why the progressive educatocracy has decided we shouldn't teach cursive in the schools anymore.

precision270 said...

puts you on par with the disciples of the religion of peace. having the koran "read" to them.

Hasn't caused them any problems, right?

TriggerFinger said...


This is actually the 2nd order iteration of that strategy. The first iteration involved promulgating the idea, in law school, that the Constitution was written in a legal code language only understood by the Supreme Court and imperfectly -- enabled by years of legal training -- by those whose profession was to study their decisions.

If the nation had remained true to the Founder's ideal, we would have a body of law wherein every citizen could understand and abide by the law, have a voice in its creation through his representatives, and a vote on its application via a jury.

I believe we have fallen from that lofty height not because men have grown less intelligent, but because our society expects less of us.

If it is racist to criticize someone who cannot even read cursive, how can we possibly criticize someone who is ignorant of our founding documents and incapable of making -- or at least unwilling to make -- the rational decisions that we used to expect of a citizen?

RM1(SS) (ret) said...

There are, apparently, a lot of schools that no longer teach cursive.

Anonymous said...

I detect a future opportunity in post-Collapse America for those of us who can read cursive, if we can hold on another forty or fifty years. Imagine all the different readings to be found after the breakup in all the different Supreme Courts. At least the ones that don't rely on trial by combat, or augury.

As long as no one starts a rumor that reading cursive is witchcraft.

Mike James

Old NFO said...

Yep, I don't think they even teach it in school anymore... And lots of folks can't read it!

TR675 said... could just read one of the modern versions printed in a modern type font?

I don't know what you're fussing about, really, those old-timey guys couldn't spell for beans - mixing up their "f"'s and "s"'s all the time.

mustanger said...

I was writing cursive by the time I gave 1st grade a try. The teacher hated it... said she didn't want to see my signature again before 3rd grade. Yeah, well, what'd she know? Stuff like that may explain why some can't read it.

RevolverRob said...

I write on my chalkboards in cursive during lectures all the time. My students are pretty blown away by it. I don't get why, because it's faster and easier for me to write that way.

When I get a group of undergrads who can't read cursive in my class, I think I will just give up.


Will said...

Cursive pretty much died when we stopped writing letters to each other. I blame it on the telephone!

TCinVA said...

When, in the course of human events, it becomes necessary to change the timing belt...

John Peddie (Toronto) said...

And for added fun, throw in

a) Compass
b) Map-the paper kind
c) Dark country road, late at night

Watch the fun!

Dave said...

Can't read old cursive documents? That's alright, we have a black-robed priesthood that can interpret it for you. Of course, they prefer to tell you about the interpretations of the great doctors instead. People trying to read the founding documents without the proper training tend to get confused and think those documents mean exactly what they say.

Nancy R. said...

THIS. A thousand times *this*.

Ancient Woodsman said...

Am I the only one who reads the post title in the voice of Snidely Whiplash? "Cursive! Foiled again!"

Anonymous said...

The sisters of Holy Trinity Catholic school beat Palmer penmanship into us starting in first grade.

I have no trouble reading it but my hand writing these days would bring them tears.


Josh said...

... Unless you've gone down to the National Archives building and taken a picture yourself, you're dependent on someone else actually providing the document anyway. Transliteration from cursive to print is a fairly minor step, given the number of folks that /only/ pass out the main text, including from groups that really should care otherwise (thanks, ACLU, I didn't need that Bill of Rights anyway!).

The actual physical copy of the US Constitution was also literally lost in back files for nearly thirty years, so if you /really/ want to go nuts on the topic you're more doomed than you'd think.

Incurvatus said...

In an image of an original Constitution, you'll notice that 'supreme' in "supreme Court" is never capitalized. Apparently the Framers had a different opinion than Justice Marshall on the relative importance of the judiciary.

Mike_C said...

@Ancient Woodsman: Bwahahaha! Brilliant!

@Gerry: my hand writing these days would bring them tears. Just as well. I think the Palmer script is ugly, except for capital A, G, I and Z which rise above ugly to truly hideous. Somehow my friend Adzlin emerged from Catholic school with neat, distinctive and legible handwriting that was NOT Palmer. One day ages ago a bunch of us were marveling over a paper she had written longhand -- looked as if it had been typeset. Her response was that after you've had term papers ripped up in front of your face (and the whole class) by nuns "for bad handwriting" you learn pretty quickly. She went to Catholic school as a child in her native Malaysia despite coming from a Muslim family because her parents wanted her to have the best available education.

The real problem with the Rachel Jenteal incident wasn't that she couldn't read cursive, it was that the letter in cursive (sent to Sybrina Fulton, Trayvon's mother) was ostensibly from her. The spectacle of the star prosecution witness being unable to read a letter she herself had supposedly written (and unaccountably signed "Diamond Eugene") was unfortunately not out of line with the rest of the farcical prosecution and rulings from the bench.

I am waffling about on all this peripheral stuff because the real point of whether the Constitution means what it says, and that ordinary people ought to be able to understand* it is these days too depressing to think about.

*Understand, not "interpret" -- the Constitution is not the babbling of an intoxicated woman at Delphi nor an i Ching hexagram. It is not a Rorschach blot, despite what modern, progressive "thinkers" might want us to believe.

Rob K said...

The constitution uses some archaic letter forms not used in modern cursive, but even so it doesn't take a rocket surgeon to puzzle out what letter each of the funky squiggles is supposed to be, especially in context.

It's not like cursive letter forms are (or should be) that different from printed letter forms. And it's not like everyone's hand writing ever even approached legible anyway. I've read plenty of hand written text in the fly leaves of books from the late 19th and early 20th centuries which was little better than the proverbial chicken scratches.

If the letter forms you're writing are that far afield from the standard printed letter forms, that others have to know your specialized letter forms to read it, then there's something wrong with how you were taught to write.

tailwind said...

Schools don't need to teach cursive because kids nowadays learn how to curse before the enter school.

Oh, wait a minute ...

Sigivald said...

How can we trust that the picture we're assured is "The Constitution" in cursive actually is?

(Hell, how can we trust that the copy on display under glass in Washington isn't a clever fake?)

The same way we trust printed transcripts that aren't in cursive; universal agreement of all sources that it's a faithful copy.

>That's the difference between someone who can't read cursive and someone who can't read latin and has no access to a local-language Bible per Wycliffe.

We have unlimited access to universally-accepted printings of the Constitution in Roman script, which agree completely whether the NRA, the ACLU, Americans For Progress, or the Klan printed them - because the arguments are about interpretation and application, not the text.

The idea that we all need to be able to read the cursive of the 1770-80s To Understand Our Rights is untenable and frankly kind of baffling.

Next you'll tell me I need to read 13th Century uncial fluidly and learn Latin or I'm unable to comprehend Magna Carta.

OldTexan said...

Having made my living working with fountain pens for over 20 years and having used them myself for over 60 years cursive makes a lot of sense. Writing with liquid ink, the flow and linking from one letter to another works ever so well and done properly reflects the writer's personality and style.

The older forms of cursive are sometimes the result of writing with actual quills that have been shaped with pen knives into nibs. This is also present in some of the old English and Germanic documents which were written, for record by calligraphers on vellum or parchment.

I think words counted for more in the good old days and now in the age of electronic composition educators have lost sight of the discipline required to creating lasting, legible pen and ink essays and papers.

A few years back while I still lived in Dallas I tried my hand at substitute teaching in one of the less advantaged areas of South Dallas. I was amazed to find that Junior High students were unable to to read cursive and then I came to realize that a number of them also had trouble reading print.

Having said that, I used to write a lot of letters by hand with pen and ink and now I am down to a couple of times a year. Virtually all of my communication now is either email or text message and I should probably try to post a few more letters every month.

Thanks for bringing up the topic and thanks to fellow commentors for expanding upon the demise of cursive.

RM1(SS) (ret) said...

I don't know what you're fussing about, really, those old-timey guys couldn't spell for beans - mixing up their "f"'s and "s"'s all the time.

Really? I've never seen a document with an 's' where an 'f' should be, or vice versa, though I suppose it's possible there there is one somewhere....

Buzz said...

So, "shall not be infringed" was written in ancient, unintelligible runes?

EgregiousCharles said...

As Josh and Sigivald pointed out, you're dependent on what in philosophy is called "authority" for what the Constitution says whether you can read cursive or not. Either you've got some text in a modern font that someone else tells you is the Constitution, or you've got some text in 18th century cursive, on some yellow paper, that someone else tells you is the Constitution. Arguing that you need to be able to read the cursive to be a citizen is just deeply underthought.

However, I admit I do think it's kind of sad if someone can't read such clear, easy cursive as the Jacob Shallus fair copy (the original official version).

Anonymous said...

A year or so ago, I was at my local gunsmith's picking up a pistol he'd worked on. While I was there, he asked his son, a senior in high school, to go over his office assistant's notes and put together an order list for Brownell. After about fifteen minutes of poring over the list, the boy admitted, "I can't read his handwriting." I figured I'd spent enough time as a pharmacy tech that I could read anything and volunteered. The list was some of the most beautiful Spencerian script one could ever hope to encounter but the young man in question had never been taught to read cursive.

Goober said...

I wrote about this at my place sometime last year, about all the hand-wringing and pearl-clutching I've been hearing about how they don't teach cursive in school anymore.

I thought back to my time in primary school through the late 80s and early 90s, and one thing stuck in my brain: I could write cursive like a boss when i got out of primary school, but I couldn't type at all. I didn't even know what a "home key" was.

You know which of those two skills I've used every single day, for hours a day since then, and which of them I haven't needed to use once since?

Cursive is handwriting "short hand". It was made to make writing a lot less tiresome and faster.

Who actually writes lots of stuff by hand anymore?

But your point stands - you should still know enough about it to recognize it and be able to read it at least.