The death of cursive script

A letter from Joan of Arc to the burghers of Reims from 5 August 1429, written by her secretary in a common cursive script

Until about half a century ago, to write meant to write in a cursive script. The distinction between typographical and cursive styles of writing was kept alive by the custodians of national education.

It was inconceivable at the time to allow typographical styles to invade the handwritten space. To write by hand was achieved with minimum penlift, whether it was calligraphic – like so many specimens from the 16th to the 20th century – or not.

Cursive script began to decline in English-speaking countries first, while more and more people started to write in ways resembling printed text.

The choice between cursive or type is a zero-sum game: what cursive achieves in speed, it loses in readability. Cursive is a fast script but it may not be readily legible by most people. Typographical letters take longer to draw but everyone who’s read a book will recognise them instantly.

Cursive is difficult to read, but it is also more personal than what the imitation of printed letters can achieve.

And besides, people are difficult to read anyway, so why should their writing, one of their most intimate practices, be any different?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

Blog at

Up ↑

%d bloggers like this: