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I remember learning it as a child, and I remember I was told it was important and every kid in the class had to learn it. But now that I think about it, I haven't used cursive for years.

What was the point of learning it in the first place? What were the origins? Does cursive writing have any advantages over using more modern tools such as a typewriter or laptop?

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  • 2
    Meta discussion on this question posted.
    – justkt
    May 18, 2011 at 13:03
  • 2
    Voted to close. Nothing to do with being a writer. May 18, 2011 at 15:27
  • You don't seriously go around laboriously printing everything you write, do you? [she said, hopefully]
    – Martha
    May 19, 2011 at 2:49
  • How do you sign things?
    – tcrosley
    May 19, 2011 at 22:59
  • This is akin to asking, why draw on paper using pencil or paintbrush, when you can do the same on a computer using a graphics tablet? What would you choose?
    – srini
    May 16, 2022 at 7:33

6 Answers 6

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The aesthetics of writing in cursive are really a personal thing: some people appreciate the feel of a fine pen gliding over the paper, the line variation from an italic nib, and the shading of a nice ink, and some just don't.

On the practical side: cursive writing came about because it is faster and easier to write at length than printing. While that's not always true today (see more below), handwriting in general has several advantages over more modern methods of capturing words:

  • It's extremely portable.
  • It doesn't require expensive or bulky equipment.
  • It doesn't depend on electricity.
  • It has a level of flexibility (quickly sketching diagrams, etc.) that a typewriter or the average word processor doesn't. (Of course, you could moot this point by learning TeX and/or LaTeX.)
  • It can be done with less elbow room than typing on a laptop or typewriter.
  • Unlike a laptop, it doesn't require a secondary device to produce a paper copy.
  • It's extremely durable (we have some written texts dating back thousands of years).
  • It can be applied to surfaces not easily put through a printer (textbooks, walls, boxes, signs, etc).
  • It is, in many cultures, considered more personal than typing, especially for correspondence.

Unfortunately, the sordid modern history of cursive handwriting in America has deprived us of much of its utility. You see, when the movable type printing press came along, printers developed a set of fonts commonly described as "looped cursive" because they have more consistently placed joins, allowing printers to stock fewer pieces (fewer different joins, and fewer different versions of each letter) and thus making their work less expensive.[1]

Edit: Here's a good comparison of looped vs. italic cursive writing.

Sadly, looped cursive has become the standard in most American schools today, and it is not particularly good for being hand written. This, combined with less time dedicated to handwriting skills, and the transition from fountain pens to hard-led pencils for early writing instruction (in the name of cleanliness), has caused most students to write cursive illegibly and laboriously, if at all. Pencils (especially with hard lead like 'HB') cause more friction with the paper and require much more pressure to write, making clear handwriting harder to learn.

I, too, learned looped cursive with a pencil in elementary school. Writing that way was slow and difficult. Additionally, it caused me to constantly battle with pain from RSI (which I have something of a predisposition to). I grew up, started using fountain pens, and learned to write in cursive italic -- the way that cursive was written before the advent of the printing press. The difference is incredible.

Now, my cursive handwriting is extremely fast and legible. It requires almost no effort. I no longer feel any pain from writing, even long, rambling letters or pages of computer code or other notes.

I'd add that in addition to the usefulness of handwriting in general, and the legibility, speed, and ease of a good cursive italic in particular, I would hate to see our culture lose the ability to read the many important documents first rendered in cursive script. Do we really want the Constitution, the Declaration of Independence, Lincoln's speeches, and who knows what else to be lost to time the way that Egyptian hieroglyphs were for so long?

[1]: Info taken from the book Write Now by Barbara Getty and Inga Dubay.

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  • The original purpose of cursive handwriting was supposedly that you could write more quickly.

  • Another reason is that in old times, when people wrote with a quill, cursive writing meant that they did not need to lift their quill from the paper, thereby avoiding smudges and spots on the page. Of course, this is no longer an issue.

  • In the 16th-17th centuries, cursive writing was seen as being a more official and proper way to write and as such, was taught in schools.

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I haven't used cursive since graduating elementary school. We wasted so much time learning cursive. It's upsetting to think about the skills we may have lost out on because we were busying learning something outdated even then.

Learning cursive still has its place though. It helps you develop a signature. It also helps when you have to read handwriting from that one person you know in marketing who insists on still writing in cursive. But for goodness sakes, tone down the focus and spend the extra time teaching children something contemporary.

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    It takes schools a few decades, but they're starting to replace cursive class with typing class.
    – Ari
    Sep 5, 2011 at 3:01
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Yes, I see a point to writing in cursive:

I write in cursive on lined paper when I'm exploring an idea or writing-out initial ideas. I find that writing in cursive forces me to slow down to consider my thoughts, and take the time to write out an idea. As I revise, I cross out and rewrite, making the idea's development more apparent, which itself can contribute to developing the idea.

While typing quickly is nice, writing in cursive has its advantages too.

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In some countries, such as in France, cursive writing is the default writing style taught from grade 1. Later on, students can choose their writing styles. Although, the following statement would require hands-on experiments, in terms of writing speed, cursive writing probably enables advanced writers to write faster, simply due to its non interruptive flow and structure.

When writing with fountain pens (liquid ink inserted inside pen), the writing flow goes even faster, as no resistance can be felt. In fact, cursive writing is probably most pleasant when used with a fountain pen; otherwise, writers may feel pain in their fingers over time after a few hours of writing.

Once mastered, cursive writing is a very fluid way of hand-writing. In addition, the nature of cursive letters give more freedom for the writers to find her or his unique writing style. For example, if you compare the hand-writing of Darwin and Molière, you will see how drastically different they are, and I believe cursive writing reveals authors' personalities more than stick letters.

But to go back to the initial question, "Is there any point in learning to write in cursive?"; I would say the other question we could ask ourselves nowadays is "Is there any point in learning hand-writing at all?". When was the last time you used your hands to create something beautiful? Is the use of our hands to create, write, shape things around us important to us, or will the virtual world take over?

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No, there is no real purpose. Unless you count "looking pompous" as a purpose.

Cursive is slower, harder and less legible then print. Nothing is written in it, if you try to find anything but the handwriting of its proponents in cursive you will fail. You can find more books in Latin then you can in cursive, and Latin is a foreign dead language which has not had any native speakers in over 1000 years! if you have found books in cursive, please offer the title of the book and possibly where a copy can be found, it sounds at least very unusual. just to be clear, it only counts if the book is itself available to the public in cursive, and copies you can acquire use cursive letterforms, books written by the author in cursive but then distributed to the reader in print do not count.

Cursive is not faster than print. that is one of the most untrue things I have ever heard. I myself have found it to be much slower then print. getting beyond what I have experienced myself, I looked into studies (over a dozen) on this, most of them found cursive to be slower, one found that for some people, but not others, cursive is faster only IF LEGIBILITY IS NOT A CONCERN AND IS ACTIVLY DISCARDED. the lone dissenter found that, for some people illegible cursive may be faster than print, but legible cursive was slower than legible print.

If you want to put aside both experience and studies; Cursive being faster doesn’t pass the smell test. There are some things that are untrue but plausible on the surface, and there are blatant absurdities. this is the later. How do people claim that cursive is faster than print? Seriously, have they learned completely different letter shapes then I have? You want me to believe that adding a bunch of elaborate, frilly, pretentious, ornate, intricate, and gratuitous loops, curls, tails, flourishes, swirls and curlicues to letterforms speeds up writing? how could anyone have so little common sense so as to think that? cursive has ton of wholly unnecessary strokes it adds to letters (every cursive letter except the lowercase c has at least one unnecessary stroke, and most have several) which have to be written exactly right, even if joining up the letters increased speed [which it doesn’t], there is no way the much more complicated letter forms of cursive fail to more than balance that out, how could anyone believe extra pompous elements that have to be written just right makes something easier? Simple common sense indicates that it would make it harder.

every single cursive letter besides the lowercase c has at least one unnecessary flourish, and most have several. for the reason that they have simpler shapes, print letters take fewer strokes to write then cursive ones do; let me back that up with some hard facts and numbers. I actually counted the number of strokes necessary for different letters as part of an experiment once and wrote down the results, counting every case where the writing instrument does anything other than move in a straight line the way it is facing as a stroke, here are some of the numbers I got; in print, b takes 5 strokes, in cursive it takes 10; print g 3 strokes, cursive g 7; print h takes 3 strokes, cursive h 10; print z 3, cursive z 10; l takes only 1 stroke in print, but 10 in cursive; n takes 4 in print, but 10 in cursive ; o takes 4 in print, but 8 in cursive; a takes 5 strokes in print, but 10 in cursive; c takes 5 strokes in print, 10 in cursive; d 5 in print, 11 in cursive; w takes 4 strokes in print, 11 in cursive; x takes 4 in print, 7 in cursive; r takes 3 strokes in print, 6 in cursive; e takes 5 strokes in print, 10 in cursive; m takes 7 strokes in print, 14 strokes in cursive; j takes 4 strokes in print, 11 in cursive (in both cases you could subtract one stroke from that number if you cut out the dot); y takes 4 strokes in print, 15 in cursive; p takes 5 strokes in print, 9 in cursive; i takes 2 strokes in print, 6 in cursive (once again you can subtract one stroke from both counts if you don’t count the dots); u takes 5 strokes in print, 10 strokes in cursive; v takes 2 strokes in print, 10 in cursive; k takes 3 strokes in print, 13 in cursive; even t takes 4 strokes in print, but 7 in cursive; the only letter that does not take more strokes in cursive then in print is s which takes 8 in both; I used all lowercase forms for this comparison but using caps would be even more lopsided in favor of print I suspect.

even if not lifting the writing instrument increased speed (which it does not, because the writing instrument has to travel the same distance between letters whether lifted or not, and being still on the paper means friction effects it which does not happen when lifted [see a physics textbook for why and how]), the ornate loops and curls would more then balance that out.

print is much more legible then cursive; by miles. even if all cursive’s other claimed advantages were true; which they are not, legibility is much better for print. “be” and “li” as letter combinations require several minutes of staring to distinguish them in “correctly written” cursive; to name just a few of the letters that resemble each other more in cursive then in print. N and M can sometimes look identical in cursive. B, F and L are hard to distinguish. U and W require squinting to tell apart. E also has a decent resemblance to an L, though to a lesser degree than the previous problems. Similarly E and I; as well as I and J are hard to distinguish. To an even lesser degree, Y and Z look similar as well, similarly X and W. could probably think of a couple more if I wanted to, but those are the ones that come to mind. Those are just the difficulties when they are written correctly; it is even worse when written badly. I should add that cursive is 100% impossible to write “close enough” (by close enough, I mean that the letters although written imperfectly, are close enough to the correct shapes that they can be easily identified), cursive has to be perfected before it can be used, while print can be written close enough. I should add that cursive is extremely difficult to get right.

The benefits of cursive are wholly unproven, if not mythical. No study has even proven benefits of cursive specifically, the closest is demonstrating that handwriting generally has some benefits, but no distinction between cursive and print. I have read dozens of studies about the issue, and none back up cursive when you read what they actually say.

Most people who claim “brain benefits” will not articulate what they even think those benefits are, and usually will not dive into the question of whether any verifiable facts support those benefits. Every study cursive proponents quote turns out to be either misquoted, taken out of context, overtly lied about, or cites a source that engages in this behavior. Often, they do not cite anything at all. Rarely do they articulate what benefits they think cursive has.

Ipse dixit statements just don't work for convincing me of the benefits of something. That leaves just looking pompous as the function, which cursive does do. I suppose it could have a purpose for just those who specifically want to learn it, but has no business being mandatory in that regard.

I should also add that the pain factor should be given attention. for some people cursive is excruciating. I mean that literally. cursive is physically painful; to many people, it hurts. I would consider cursive the most physically painful thing I have ever experienced. in my life I have had one actual root canal, and it hurt SIGNIFICANTLY LESS then writing cursive. getting punched in the face is a joy compared to cursive. that is my experience, I know people who have had even worse experience with cursive then I have. when something inflects serious physical pain on people, there is a word for that, "torture". torture is wrong, civilized people reject torture of even convicted criminals, for a good reason. torture is regarded by many as evil enough that even if torturing people acheived a desired result, it would still be wrong. mandatory cursive qualifies as torture, so even assuming its benefits were true it still must go away (at least from the mandatory part of the curriculum). if you disagree, then answer this question, if I told you that you could help a child's intellectual development greatly by waterboarding him, would you? for the sake of the question let us suppose I had an absolute proof that it was true, would you waterboard? I will unambiguously say I would not, and would regard you as worthy of death if you answered yes. "do not torture" is one of the clearest moral imperatives and it overrides any benefit derived from the result even if the thing was true (which it isn't).

still working on tracking down the studies themselves, but one scientist who worked on them is Dr. Karin Harman James, who told a science magazine that there is “no conclusive evidence that there is a benefit for learning cursive for a child’s cognitive development.”

I should add that some of the studies are behind a paywall, but i will focus on those that are not.

some of the studies (more will come) include:

https://lectureecriture.ca/wp-content/uploads/2014/08/Bara-et-Morin-2013.pdf
https://nautil.us/cursive-handwriting-and-other-education-myths-5137/ https://www.jstor.org/stable/41387022?read-now=1&refreqid=excelsior%3A9f3ee08f5ec28bc3e6bf6db2d154e216&seq=3
https://www.jstor.org/stable/41381022?read-now=1&refreqid=excelsior%3Ac44f9591543ad67936fccb812f636685&seq=1

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  • Welcome to Writing.SE! In future, please remember to break your answers up into paragraphs so they're not just massive walls of text.
    – F1Krazy
    Apr 5, 2022 at 21:36
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    This is wrong in almost every respect. Cursive script is much faster to write. I have read several books written in cursive script, admittedly not best-sellers. The mental benefit is that you can get your thoughts on paper much faster, so your thoughts aren't slowed down by the relative bandwidth of idea and writing.
    – Chenmunka
    Apr 6, 2022 at 8:23
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    – Community Bot
    Apr 6, 2022 at 13:26
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    Well, it wouldn't be my choice. I suspect it's momentum. It's what they've always taught since the days (if another answer here is to be believed) that it made writing with quills easier. And maybe the loop-and-curl style of cursive is the best, or most pedagogical, style of cursive to teach. Could be. Who knows.
    – user54131
    Apr 9, 2022 at 18:07
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    NB Those first two articles you found are really good. They suggest a personalized mixed style is fastest (so you would need to teach both styles, and then let people find their own mix).
    – user54131
    Apr 9, 2022 at 18:28

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