Sep 9, 2009

It’s 2009. Do You Know Where Your Handwriting Is?

IT’s hard to remember now, but once upon a time we were taught how to write in cursive, and expected to write clear, legible text with reasonable speed. Somewhere along the way, it all went bad. We had a rough time writing boatloads of essays and stories. It was easier to type, then text. Printouts replaced handwritten pages. And the cursive became an illegible monstrosity.

I’ll admit I’m guilty of this too, from time to time. Some time ago though I came across a font called Scala Sans which impressed me so much I actively changed my handwriting to its italic style:


It forced me to keep my writing controlled and measured; and prevented it from degenerating into a spaghetti-like mess as it usually did.

Today I came across a very interesting article in the New York Times: The Write Stuff (PDF version). It’s an Op-Art piece urging Americans, as the new school year begins, to try and collectively switch to an italic style of handwriting. The style they advocate is nothing new—it’s as old as the Renaissance—but it’s strikingly similar to what I myself have been using; it’s uncanny.

The article itself makes some persuasive arguments on behalf of italic—ease of reading being chief. Once we lose the extraneous curls from the shapes of our letters and tighten them up, they become vastly more legible even when blurred or obscured.

The great thing about it is that with the article printout, anyone of any age can get started with practicing the style—they’ve provided blank rows for practice, complete with little arrows giving directional hints on forming the letters.

One thing the authors of the article overlooked, maybe because they didn’t want to press too many points, is that no one uses old-style numerals any more in normal handwriting. Old-style numerals, or digits, descend below and rise above the lower and upper limits of the lowercase letter ‘x’. If you’ll notice, the font I’m using on this blog (Georgia) has old-style numerals: 0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9.

The point of these, rather than the normal stuff we see everywhere, is they’re just like lowercase letters: inside normal text they’re more pleasing to the eye and easier to read. Inside headings and other stuff we want to stand out, we use the normal, ‘capital’ numerals.

Of course, no one is going to switch to italic in a few days, or even a few years. Hopefully though the article will influence some educators to introduce the style to learners.