Handwriting and penmanship: Words (and things) worth defending

Handwriting and penmanship: Words (and things) worth defending

I am doing something unusual by starting this post at the keyboard, not by holding my pen. I don’t love only the idea of writing, I love the act of it, and writing shouldn’t be the same as typing every time it’s done.

People tell me I have beautiful handwriting, and I’m glad to hear that. But I had great role models for it — especially my father, whose handwriting was clear even on a chalkboard, and my oldest aunt. Aunt Fay taught elementary school, and her handwriting looked like it was straight from a penmanship book. (I remember Dad commenting on it as the Palmer Method.)

I had penmanship books at school in which to practice my writing. I suppose the very word”penmanship” would look too sexist to administrators now, whether they’ve read about the benefits of “cursive” writing or not. Penmanship just means the ability to handle a pen. Swordsmanship, though of course not as mighty, had its own word for ages, but I don’t run across it much (even when the subject is hockey sticks).

I still remember a day early in my museum career when  a volunteer named Richard came to me with a question. I promised him I’d find the answer, but then remembered that he wouldn’t be there to get the answer until the next weekend.

Once I had the answer, I went to my locker (in effect, my desk) and got out a card from a box I kept there. I wrote the answer, wrote “Richard” on the envelope, and left it in the office where the volunteers checked in.

The next weekend, I met Richard again. He was nearly in tears — not because I’d had a bad answer for him, but because I’d written to him by hand. It had been years since he’d received a handwritten letter.

That was more than ten years ago, and letters are getting more rare. I offer the story to remind you that they will be seen as more precious now, too.

So whether you call it “handwriting” or “penmanship,” grab a pen and drop someone a real note — not the kind that can disappear at the bump of a delete key. It may be as forgettable as whatever my answer to Richard was… and it may have as memorable an impact.

Margaret Serious has a page on Facebook.

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Filed under: Words Worth Defending


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  • I actually call it "manual writing". Both my cursive and my printing suck (my writing sucks in many ways, but it is especially noticeable on the visual level). Cursive Penmanship makes me curse...But not as much as those who have to read my handwriting.

  • In reply to Michael Messinger:

    Hmm. Manual writing sounds too much like writing instruction books for me, but thanks for the update. Meanwhile, in this case, thanks for typing!

  • A beautiful post! Let's keep those cards and letters coming!

    Remember cartridge pens and the challenges of using them if you were left-handed?

    Yes, my handwriting has deteriorated over the years, but at least it's still legible...

  • In reply to Weather Girl:

    Thank you. Yes, I remember cartridge pens -- and bright blue stains on the side of my left hand. (Wait, that's still possible with ball-points. Sigh!)
    Actually, I have a fountain pen that was a delight for a while -- until the nib (another good word) got bent from not being used the right way in my left hand. It's still possible to use now, but not as neat not as delightful.

  • In reply to Margaret H. Laing:

    The main fear imparted regarding using cartridge pens was that the tip (I guess nib) would split. Also, what was the difference between blue and blue black ink? One was supposed to be more permanent than the other, but now we have the benefit of the delete key.

  • On pencilmanship, someone seeing my signature asked "do you think you are a doctor?" Now, reversing stereotypes, doctors text the prescriptions. "Do you want the Walgreens in [name of town]?" "No, the one at [intersection]."

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