My penmanship today is atrocious. It was never great to begin with, but I’m so out of practice that addressing an envelope to be mailed is almost impossible. Like everyone else of my generation, I can blame it on devices like cell phones, tablets and computers. We want to get things done quickly and typing is always faster than writing by hand.
Penmanship is the technique of writing with the hand using a writing instrument. Today, this is most commonly done with a pen, or pencil, but throughout history has included many different implements. The various generic and formal historical styles of writing are called “hands” while an individual’s style of penmanship is referred to as “handwriting”.
The word “handwriting” is often conflated with “penmanship”. The word “cursive” indicates a style of handwriting that flows together as opposed to using block letters (also called “printing”). My first year at my first duty station in the military was spent as a “correspondence clerk”, a gender neutral way of saying “secretary”. I could not read the handwriting of the officers very well because they wrote in the cursive style.
When I reached the point where I was drafting correspondence for other people, I used “block letters” based on copperplate fonts without knowing it. It just seemed easier to read than standard block letters. Why didn’t I just type things out? Good typewriters were in short supply and business computers didn’t exist yet. Word processors definitely didn’t exist. This was all before 1981.
At one point, in the mid-1980s, I worked with a guy who spent his lunch hours practicing calligraphy. It looked nice, but it wasn’t very practical at the time. He later used his hobby for decorative greeting cards and made money from it and that was sometime in the late 1990s.
Teachers spent a lot of time teaching students how to print block letters and then to write in a cursive script. Penmanship, of any kind, is slowly becoming a technique for taking simple notes and nothing more. More people than ever before have access to computing devices capable of sending and printing text, even in developing countries.
Many people will go out of their ways to avoid handwriting of any style. Companies like Avery have capitalized on printing labels for people who prefer using labels, especially for bulk mail. I used a bunch of labels years ago, for a very specific project, but I used word processing software to print them out on a dot matrix printer.
I still write things down, but not in long form. Usually it’s a quick note while I’m writing something like this, as a reminder to do something else. Some people like post-it notes or software notes they can bring up with key combinations on their keyboards. That just seems like too much trouble for a quick note to me.
It took me a few years to get used to a laptop keyboard after I stopped using a desktop tower. It took me a few years before that to get used to writing with a full-sized keyboard instead of writing with a pen. We all progress, whether we want to or not.