The Demise Of Cursive Penmanship

It’s a rarity these days. I opened the mail in the office and found a handwritten note, I marveled at the beauty of the penmanship.

What struck me about the note is that it was written in near-perfect cursive.

It could have come straight off the wall in my first grade classroom where the nun had placed the alphabet – both printed and in cursive. We stared at those letters for nine months while we learned to neatly print and write the letters on those off-white, wide notebooks with assorted lines and made just for penmanship lessons.

I haven’t seen one of those notebooks in a long, long time. And when one of my grade-schooler nephews told me the other day that his class no longer writes in cursive, I wanted to cry. He said printing is the preferred method but most of their “written” work is performed on a computer.

In some states, youngsters have never been taught to write in cursive. That’s sad.

I suppose that means the demise of the penmanship grade on report cards. And those certificates and medals once given for lovely cursive handwriting are out the door.

I can remember working with that oversized No. 2 pencil, holding it just so as the teacher came around and made sure our hands were properly poised for practicing our penmanship. I imagine the word penmanship will soon be obsolete in Mr. Webster’s dictionary, too.

And what about the dictionary? It’s easier to find a word on the computer than to open a book, scroll down through the words and find a correct spelling or definition.

A dictionary in book form taught kids about spelling and made them think a little harder about how to find a word, sounding it out and questioning whether “eminent” begins with an “e” or an “i.” You learned alphabetical order, too. Now even our cellphones automatically spellcheck us when we are typing a text.

I refuse, however, to give up the large dictionary that once graced my father’s desk in this newspaper office. As an editor, he thumbed through those pages long before anything called an “Internet” was around.

It’s certainly well worn and in pieces, but it still serves me me well. Did you know that a high fly ball in baseball is referred to as a “cloud buster,” or that a “buttercup” is an attractive, innocent girl?

Did you know that “cough syrup” was slang for bribe money and that a “one-way guy” is an honest or sincere man?

Well you do now, thanks to the old dictionary.

When I checked this article for spelling errors, spellcheck did not recognize the word penmanship.

Cursive may be on its way out, but the written word – in any style – will survive.

Heather Ziegler can be reached via e-mail at