Tag Archives: typing

Curse of writing

It was disheartening for me to read recently in the New York Times that cursive writing is fading away, as it is practiced less and emphasized less in schools.

You may be thinking that cursive wasn’t of any use to begin with, that your handwriting has declined and that you never use it any more. I really hope that’s not the case.

We all use computers, there’s no argument there. We rely on our typing and keyboarding skills to do our work and communicate with our friends. Still, there is plenty of room—and utility—for cursive.

I’m a big fan of the handwritten thank you note and the sympathy card. Those occasions call for personal comments written in our own handwriting, which is as much a part of us as our personalities.

Not printing. Printing is for filling out forms and making signs. It might be for writing out a Christmas gift tag or recipes. Printing is not for writing letters. The Post Office may disagree, but printing is also not for addressing envelopes into which we place personal correspondence. Written in ink, thankyouverymuch.

We all know people who print personal notes and, I know, I know, it’s better to have a printed note than none at all. I have one friend who is great at sending hand-written notes, always timely and thoughtful. But hers are not only printed, but printed in all caps—just like she talks.

Here’s the well kept secret. Cursive writing allows us to write faster and more efficiently because, but for dotting an “i” or crossing a “t,” we needn’t lift pen from paper and plunk it back down again. Just think how much energy we waste bobbing that pen up and down when we print. Cursive allows the hand to move in steady, rhythmic motions, like waves in the sea.

You say your cursive is illegible? I’ve got a reasonable amount of sympathy if you have arthritis or another debilitating condition. Consider this: cursive demands fewer movements and a more relaxed hand than printing. An NYT commenter points out that practicing our cursive is one way to preserve our fine motor abilities.

If your hand is still relatively young and able, though, I dare say you’d benefit from a bit of practice. It’s worth it.

As a child, learning cursive was one of the most intimidating things I learned to do. I remember at the beginning of second grade, looking up at the banner that spanned the top of classroom’s front wall and trying to figure out what it all meant. Why a capital Q was formed like the number 2. How the creators of cursive got from a block letter to its swirly cousin. I doubted that I’d ever master it. I struggled. I got D’s in handwriting. I worked at it and finally got it right. Where I went to school, we were given no choice. But, oh, how rewarding to have gained this important skill. I still think it’s the most valuable thing I learned in Catholic school.

Yep; etiquette and utility. Two good reasons to save this dying art by keeping up our practice.

Who’s with me (she says, anticipating resistance)?

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Holy @#$%*!

I thought today we would give a shout out to some of our friends on the second row of the computer keyboard.

Symbols seem to be used more and more, as we abbreviate in our instant messaging. Please allow me to indulge in a little review of symbols and how they are used—and often, misused–in writing.

!  The exclamation point is especially effective in writing dialogue—as in “Holy backslash, Batman!” Unfortunately, the exclamation point has become overused in most other types of writing, including e-mail; in fact, placing one in the subject line can land an e-mail in the recipient’s spam folder. Exclamation points are generally inappropriate in plain text and especially in business correspondence. If the sender is emotional enough to type an exclamation point, he or she would be wise to calm down before submitting anything. 

@  Today we use the “at” sign most commonly in e-mail addresses. Before the Internet, though, it was created as a symbol for “at the rate of,” such as 10 apples @ 10 cents each = $1.  The “at” symbol is permissible in instant messaging, but please don’t ask “where R U @?”

$  The dollar sign is used in tables and in text preceding a dollar value. In text, there is no need to also type the word “dollar” if you have used the symbol. It’s either/or.  For example, “if I had $1 million” or “if I had a million dollars.”

&  Use of the ampersand (please, it’s not “ampersign”) bears some attention here, as it has gotten out of control. The ampersand is commonly reserved for one purpose:  when it is part of a company’s formal name, such as Procter & Gamble or Barnes & Noble. Style authorities point out that ampersands may sometimes be used in citations, typically, bibliographies or statute citations. Occasionally we’ll see one in a movie or magazine title or product name (e.g., Kraft Macaroni & Cheese). Just remember – the ampersand should never be used in lieu of “and,” especially in a sentence, or even in bullet points. It might seem an easy way to save space but your readers will think it looks cheesy. Because it is.

%  Another symbol run wild is the percent (one word) sign. The percent symbol is only used in tables, not in text. If you are writing and using the word “percent,” use the word “percent.” The same goes for “greater than” and “less than,” whose symbols are also reserved for mathematical notation. As with practically everything in English, there are exceptions. For example, the percent symbol is sometimes permitted in certain scientific text. The American Medical Association Manual of Style permits either the word or the symbol, noting that, in the composition of a drug, the symbol is used: “containing 0.42% hydroxyethylcellulose and 1.67% povidone.” 

*  In my mind, the most important point is this: asterisk is pronounced just like it looks, as-ter-isk, not asterick or astrick. If this is hard for you, take it apart – the last syllable is risk. Just remember, if you use an asterisk to refer to something, it must have a mate somewhere on the page—typically at the bottom—or in the section. The symbol is also a star, as in, “press star on your telephone keypad.”

Incidentally, while we are talking about pressing star, isn’t it about time we stop instructing callers to “dial” zero for assistance? If anyone is indeed dialing anymore, dialing star probably won’t to do anything except maybe break a nail.

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Time to space out

Hallelujah!  There is good news for middle-agers.

Indeed, there are new findings about old brains.  The good news is that, according to a new book and some additional long-term research, the brain of the average 40-to-60-year-old isn’t ready for the trash heap.  In fact, it is more flexible and more capable than previously thought.  We are even generating new brain cells, never mind how we lost the old ones.  They’re always the last place you look.

The bad news is that we no longer have an excuse for our, what word am I looking for, oh, yes, forgetfulness.

Admittedly, I haven’t yet read The Secret Life of the Grown-Up Brain or the 55 years of research of the Seattle Longitudinal Study, which has followed thousands of people over decades to determine how their brain function changes over time.  But findings have been featured in the news all week, with various medical experts agreeing, that the grey matter of the gray-haired isn’t to be underestimated.  In fact, it often improves over time.

It’s the flexibility aspect I find especially comforting.  First, let’s set aside any question about the adaptability of older people in life and work settings, as the overwhelming number of comments readers posted on our recent discussion of the generation gap shed valuable light on all facets.

My personal experience is that, while I believe I am quite adaptable to all sorts of new things–technologies, ideas, ways of doing things–breaking old habits isn’t easy, if simply from a mechanical standpoint.

Here’s a tiny—literally tiny—example.  I cannot for the life of me seem to break the habit of typing two spaces after a period.

Like many women of my generation, I went through formal typing training in high school.  Even if we had either high career aspirations or hopes of full-time engagement inside the home, we were told that strong secretarial skills were something we could “fall back on.”

A key rule in typing—no pun intended—involved inserting two spaces after every period.

Of course, this had everything to do with the block spacing of yesterday’s typing technology.  When modern word processing came to be, much changed.

I recall in the 1990s a colleague referring me to The Mac is Not a Typewriter, one of several manuals of style for the new age—including writing for the Web–on the matter of the double space.

I have known for more than 20 years that a second space has no place after a period, but I can’t control my fingers.  I have even gone so far as running a search on a completed document, and universally replacing two spaces with one.

The recent news about the middle-aged brain gives me hope, and takes away my old-dog-new-tricks excuse.

Perhaps I need to make a public pledge to give up the second space, just as I did on April 8th when I gave up the Oxford comma.  I have held true to that pledge, so there’s no reason I can’t retrain myself on this one.  I still think one space looks funny but then again, so do a lot of correct sentences about which I preach.

Can anyone recommend a double space support group?  I am ready to change.

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