Joined-Up Writing

When I was young, I was often curious when characters on American TV would occasionally mention cursive. I could never figure out what they meant, and it was mentioned rarely enough that I never really got enough context to figure it out. It also sounded quite strange as it sounded so much like the word curse (and a joke in a classic Simpsons episode is based on this resemblance).

Over time, I figured out that it was referring to writing in some way, and later still, I realised that it meant what I knew as joined-up writing. By that stage I’d probably given up thinking about joined-up writing. It’s funny how important it seemed to me as a child, how it felt like you could only be taken seriously as an adult if you never lifted your pen from the page once while writing. I used to get quite stressed as I found joined-up writing a little hard and was quite slow it (I didn’t think to blame being left-handed).

At some point I just forgot about it, probably some time in secondary school when teachers weren’t really paying too much attention to handwriting. Now I don’t use joined-up writing anymore, though I also generally don’t handwrite much anymore: usually reserving that for notes in my diary at work. When I do write, I use…. aha! What’s the opposite of cursive/joined-up writing?

That’s actually a good question, and one without a clear answer. For Americans, printing is often sufficient. Print script is also often used as a technical term to denote writing letters individually. That won’t do for me though, because in British English printing is usually taken to mean writing in capital letters. That’s probably because we associate writing letters separately and using capitals from the number of forms that state PLEASE PRINT IN BLOCK CAPITALS.

But, there isn’t really another word we can use. Still, that’s not such a big loss, as it’s not something you ever really need to refer to. I mean, I’ve got this far without ever really thinking about it. For me, it’s just writing. I’m now so used to writing this way again that I often find it hard to read when people use joined-up writing. It just seems too deliberately different from what letters actually look like, trying too hard to make one’s meaning obscure. Some people still seem to equate this style of writing with maturity and sophistication, but I don’t really see the value of it.

Back to that odd word cursive finally: why does it sound so much like curse? Well, the two might share an etymology. Cursive is definitely from the Latin cursus (course), and curse might also be derived from that word, though no-one’s quite sure why. We do know why cursive comes from cursus though. Cursus, you might remember, comes from currere (to run), which is the origin of many modern English words associated with the concept of running like current, course, currency etc. And cursive shares this basic meaning, as it gets its name from the idea that the pen runs across the page (instead of hopping up and down, I suppose), or that the words run continuously into each other.

Which is a nice, poetic idea, but spare a thought for those of us whose words stumbled into each other like their shoelaces were tied together!

11 thoughts on “Joined-Up Writing

  1. They’ve brought cursive writing (as opposed to legible writing) in as part of the Y6 assessments. The result, if you teach Y7, is a whole bunch of spidery, illegible books (when printed but legible would be preferable and is what we then advise them to do!).

    Liked by 1 person

  2. In Norwegian cursive is called “løkkeskrift”, i guess it could literally translate to hoop writing, as in you finish the hoops of the letters g and y and similar so continue your writing without lifting your pen or pencil. Cursive for us is italics, not the kind of cursive you know.

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  3. A very interesting post. I’ve never heard of “joined-up writing.” Here in Canada, as in the US, the words “writing” and “handwriting” are synonymous with cursive writing; the other is just printing. Folks have to be able to do cursive to sign anything. Mind you, some signatures are illegible in any form. 😉

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  4. I remember admiring my father’s beautiful cursive hand writing…I have my own style but it looks similar to his which makes me happy…actual handwriting is now so rare that I have people in my life who collect my handwritten notes much to my chagrin!

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