Growing up, ours was a family of handwritten notes for every occasion. The majority were left on the kitchen counter next to the sink, or in a particular spot on the all-purpose table in the breakfast nook. Whether one was professing their familial love and devotion on the back of a Valpak coupon, or simply communicating an intent to be home before dinnertime, the words were generally immortalized in BiC on whatever paper was available, and timestamped for the reader’s information. You may have learned cursive in school, but I was born in it — molded by it. The ascenders and descenders betray you because they belong to me.

Both of my parents always seemed to be incapable of printing in anything other than all caps, so I actually preferred to see their cursive most of the time. As a result, I could copy read it quite easily from an early age. Well, I don’t think I ever had any hope of imitating Dad’s signature. But Mom’s on the other hand — like I said in the first installment, it was important for my signature to be distinct from hers, given that we have the same name — first, middle, and last. But I could probably still bust out her signature if it came down to something going on my permanent record.

While my handwriting was sort of naturally headed towards Mom’s, I was more interested in Dad’s style and that of my older brother. He had small caps handwriting down to an art, and my attempts to copy it have always looked angry and stilted by comparison. In addition, my brother’s cursive is lovely and quick, while still being legible.

Dad’s handwriting through the ages. Left: a note to Mom circa 1979 regarding yours truly. On the right: Dad’s diary from the boat ride to Korea, fall 1958.

Comma Chameleon

My handwriting has changed quite a bit over the years, and most of the adjustments have been fully intentional updates. I eventually shifted away from trying to imitate my brother’s small caps and came into my own handwriting that doesn’t really look like any of my family’s. I’m certain that it will remain in a constant state of flux, however minor the changes may be.

Gee whiz! Image via Medium

Some of the shifts have been stylistic, and others were made in an attempt to gain some overall speed. Through the years, I have consciously switched to using double-storey ‘a’ and back again, as well as spending a few years making uncial lowercase ‘e’ by drawing a ‘c’ and then adding a horizontal line out from the center.

I even briefly tried to make fancy lowercase ‘g’ complete with the link, loop, and ear, but I could never get it down quickly, so I scrapped it. When the illegibility of my ‘3’ bothered me, I did some grinding until it changed for the better. The same thing happened with lowercase ‘r’, which now has a swooshy, sassy top to it.

If anyone ever tries to digitize my handwritten notebooks and loose paper, it feels like they’re probably going to have to do more training than they’d like before it’s all said and done. Or will they?

Of Man and Machine

A bit of OCR-A. Image via Wikipedia

Speaking of digitizing important historic documents, what’s the deal with OCR? Optical Character Recognition might conjure images of the weird printing along the bottom of your personal checks. While that is partially true, OCR is so much more than just a typeface that resembles the one we used to use back in the acid-green Hack-a-Day (which of course is called Checkbook).

OCR was created in order to glean text from images, scanned documents, et cetera, and convert it into something machines could read. OCR can even read newspapers, despite the whole column-inch layout. Of course, the resulting text needs to be human-readable too, so the OCR-A typeface was born in 1968. Since then, it has been used for everything from digitizing the Constitution to helping the hearing impaired.

Handwriting Fonts, Sans Taste

The original artwork for Felt Tip Roman. Image via Mark Simonson.

Conversely, the irony of making computers do things is that we now have a host of handwriting fonts, from perennial favorite Comic Sans to Lucida Handwriting to Papyrus. You’ve likely seen Felt Tip Roman without realizing it, which is essentially just creator Mark Simonson’s handwriting, but cleaned up and ligatured. But not all handwriting fonts are steeped in fun and games.

You’ve no doubt seen ethnic fonts that are meant to imitate another culture’s writing — think of those fake brush-stroke fonts like Wonton, or the equally questionable Faux-Hebrew. While it’s up for debate whether the creators meant to offend, fonts like these are beginning to fall out of fashion in favor of (subjectively) better choices like Papyrus.

The Defense Rests, But the Mind Doesn’t

One of the ways my near-hypergraphia manifested has been my studious Mandarin Chinese brush stroke practice, back when I was in school. I can only remember how to write a few characters today, but I have a stack of handmade flashcards about eight inches thick that I can’t seem to let go of, along with scads of sheets of paper that look like the ones below.

As you’ve probably guessed, written communication is pretty important to me. I think it’s worth everyone’s time to build nice (or at least, legible) handwriting, just as it is important to learn how to type properly. Of course, no tool works faster for getting the words out than the mouth itself. Do we need a third installment to talk about text-to-speech?


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