Handwriting And How To Cure It


Handwriting was a once-popular way of committing stuff to a written record. For centuries it ranked just ahead of “chiseled into Stonehenge blocks”. But it was slightly behind “made in dry macaroni glued to construction paper” as an informal record-keeping method. It began falling off in popularity with the rise of personal computers, which having risen up to about arm-height were easier to reach. It was lost entirely in 2013 when the new model Glossy Black Rectangle came out.

But handwriting has been lost before. Nothing got written by hand for the two centuries before Charlemagne. The Carolingian Renaissance began when he got people not to stick their hands out the bus window where they might get lopped off. It also got lost during the Age of Exploration, when it was washed overboard near the Bay of Bengal. And in 1943 handwriting was accidentally left in an unlatched briefcase on the Sixth Avenue El train in New York City. Police and FBI agents were able to recover it, except for the cursive capital Q. The War Production Board immediately issued a “Victory Q”, made of chicory and surplus Z’s. This was extremely popular except how nobody liked it. The prewar Q went back into production in 1954, but old-timers still complain that the new version doesn’t taste anything like the old. What does?

To revive handwriting you need only a few things. Other people can do with more, because they lack self-confidence. First you need a hand. Second you need a write to get written by whoever is in control of the hand. Next you need a writing surface. Third you need a writing implement. You can organize these pieces in any order. The trick comes in the final step. Using the writing surface and writing tool use your hand to write whatever it was that’ll be written at the end. Now that you’ve tried put it aside until you’ve got enough emotional distance to review what might have gone wrong. Here are a couple common handwriting problems:

A big old scribble that turns into the Turner Classic Movies logo.
Figure 1. Actually better than my usual notes. It also made me realize the TCM logo would look a little better if it bowed outward the way Cinerama movie screens did.

Wandering Baseline. In this case there’s no attention given to the lower edges of the letters. They’re allowed to just drift up and down and around and over to the living room to watch Turner Classic Movies’s “Underground” non-classic movies. This can be well-handled by a stronger drum beat. If we hadn’t replaced all drummers with percussion machines. The machines have good rhythm but nothing interesting to write about.

Another big old scribble that turns into a lightning bolt and a 'boom!' and 'Zap!'
Figure 2. Every slinky I’ve ever had, day four. Actually I like how the lightning bolt turns out.

Capital G. Under no circumstance should you attempt to write a cursive G. The last person who knew how to make it has been in hiding since 1998, when she met up with the last person who knew how to make a capital Z. If you need either of these letters you should do as on the right and make a little lightning bolt figure. This will add some vital force to your writing. After coming to life it can stomp around the German countryside. Then it makes its way somehow to the Orkey Islands and the North Pole in a framing narrative everybody forgets about. Most of us will not see such impressive results.

It looks like a bunch of vertical squiggles but there's clearly a + and maybe some kind of 'z' in there.
Figure 3. Baseball lost in the tall weeds.

Kerning. Kerning is the act of making sequences of letters kern. They are best kerned when, in the words of grammar maven E B White, “that’s all they ken kern and kan’t kern no more”. This means something.

It looks like every other Gemini capsule, admittedly.
Figure 4. Gemini IX capsule as photographed by astronaut Gene Cernan during his spacewalk.

Gemini IX. Gene Cernan’s physically demanding 1966 “walk around the world” spacewalk was an ambitious project. It was undertaken without the underwater training experience later flights used. The shortage of handholds and grips made the Manned Maneuvering Unit impossible to test. Furthermore his spacesuit visor kept fogging up. This made for a most frustrating expedition. But it was only the second spacewalk the United States had attempted, and only the world’s third ever. One shouldn’t be surprised by the discovery of operational difficulties.

Bunch of waves that tie onto a dog's foot.
Figure 5. Dog recklessly let outside without a collar and identifying tag on.

Spacing. Here the pleasant, uniform spacing of letters breaks up and descends into a sketch that’s a cute little doggy. This disrupts the flow of writing as the reader will want to toss a ball at it, or maybe just think about dogs instead of the world, for which you can’t blame it. This one handles by adding a little doghouse, so the doggy has somewhere to go while the reader works.

Like before only with a cute little doghouse.
Figure 5A. The dog has a house that itself has satellite TV reception so she’s not doing too badly. Still needs a collar.

This is not all of the common handwriting problems. There are three more of them. If you spot any do send a note to Handwriting Master Command, which accepts text messages. They will be happy to explain how it is all someone else’s fault.

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Author: Joseph Nebus

I was born 198 years to the day after Johnny Appleseed. The differences between us do not end there.

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