November 28, 2023

That Really Bunches My Panties…by Brendon Marks


The seven-year-old daughter of a friend has reached a milestone in her educational program. She must learn to write cursive, or longhand, as some refer to it. We wonder why. As an adult I know that this is just one of many instances where it becomes necessary to learn something for no apparent reason.

Take algebra for example. If it were not for my formal training I would not have been able to determine that the eighteen-ounce box of macaroni was actually a better deal than the two-pound box.

But I wonder about cursive. When do you use it, and how exactly do you say it? Whenever you have to fill out a form, it usually says, “Please print.” What is the equivalent, “Please cursive” or “Please longhand?” I know that “sign your name” as opposed to “print your name” means use cursive, but you don’t “sign” anything else. “Sign here” could also mean “Sagittarius” or “Capricorn.”

Traditionally, you use cursive for writing the amount on a check so the bank can match your ‘letter’ amount with the ‘number’ amount, and be sure that nobody has squeezed any extra numbers into the ‘number’ amount. However, checks are getting rare and you could use block printing just as easy as cursive.

Would you use cursive to make a yard sale sign? Heck no. Whenever you want someone to read what you write, you use Times New Roman in a 2000-point font. You don’t run the letters all together with loops and curley-q’s. You save that for when you’re a great aunt and you’re writing a thank you note for the potholders that you received from a nephew who doesn’t even know he sent them.

This is not a new complaint. I have it on good authority that Thomas Jefferson asked, “Mom, why do I have to make my S’s look like F’s? Isn’t that confusing? A hundred years from now, nobody will be able to read it.”

To which his mother replied, “Just do it, (and you thought Nike said it first). A hundred years from now, nobody will care what you have written.”

“Well, in that case, why do I have to do it at all? Ben Franklin’s mother lets him fly kites all the time; he doesn’t have to do this stuff.”
“I’m not Ben’s mother, and besides, you never know.”

I think cursive is obsolete, and should be abolished. Since E-mail has virtually eliminated letter writing, the only time we use cursive is when we sign our names (typically illegibly), so parents can teach their children how to do it and be done with it. When a woman marries, if she chooses to take her husband’s name, he can teach her how to sign it, the same way his parents taught him. I realize that this idea may seriously affect the income of handwriting analysis experts, but I think they ought to have another trade to fall back on anyway.

We also don’t need to learn how to read it either. Do you ever see road signs in cursive? How about books, magazines, newspapers, menus, or movie subtitles? I don’t remember ever seeing a single one. I bet you can’t name one really important thing you ever read that was written in cursive. Cursive keyboards for computers are even rarer. The computer generation will have soon forgotten how to use cursive anyway, so why not avoid the rush, make it optional now, and avoid wasting valuable teaching time that could be dedicated to teaching algebra or the boiling point of alcohol at sea level…really important stuff.

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