Umberto Eco: The lost art of handwriting

Umberto Eco: The lost art of handwriting

Recently, two Italian journalists wrote a three-page newspaper article (in print, alas) about the decline of handwriting. By now it’s well-known: most kids – what with computers (when they use them) and text messages – can no longer write by hand, except in laboured capital letters.

In an interview, a teacher said that students also make lots of spelling mistakes, which strikes me as a separate problem: doctors know how to spell and yet they write poorly; and you can be an expert calligrapher and still write “guage” or “gage” instead of “gauge”.

I know children whose handwriting is fairly good. But the article talks of 50% of Italian kids – and so I suppose it is thanks to an indulgent destiny that I frequent the other 50% (something that happens to me in the political arena, too).

The tragedy began long before the computer and the cellphone.

My parents’ handwriting was slightly slanted because they held the sheet at an angle, and their letters were, at least by today’s standards, minor works of art. At the time, some – probably those with poor hand- writing – said that fine writing was the art of fools. It’s obvious that fine handwriting does not necessarily mean fine intelligence. But it was pleasing to read notes or documents written as they should be.

My generation was schooled in good handwriting, and we spent the first months of elementary school learning to make the strokes of letters. The exercise was later held to be obtuse and repressive but it taught us to keep our wrists steady as we used our pens to form letters rounded and plump on one side and finely drawn on the other. Well, not always – because the inkwells, with which we soiled our desks, notebooks, fingers and clothing, would often produce a foul sludge that stuck to the pen and took 10 minutes of mucky contortions to clean.

The crisis began with the advent of the ballpoint pen. ()

1 comment
  1. Sue said:

    Spelling mistakes, I don’t mind. It’s the clear handwriting that I really long for to see on my pupils’ notebooks – the word “scribbles” or “ορνιθοσκαλίσματα” barely describes what I’ve seen in some cases. Kids nowadays do not have the patience to write, or even see what they write. And parents, too, do not have the time or patience to worry about it. Calligraphy, nowadays, is just wishfull thinking.

    I reallly like your blog – sharp, exceptional point of view and not nihilistic at all!

    Have a good night.

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