Last week the Merriam-Webster word of the day was “cacography.”
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Cacography means bad writing, which can manifest itself in either bad spelling or bad handwriting. Believe it or not, I used to suffer from a bad case of cacography – the bad handwriting type, not the bad spelling type.
In fourth and fifth grades, after we had learned cursive handwriting, I was always scribbling my class assignments very fast so I could finish early and get back to reading my books while everyone else was still writing. Consequently, my handwriting was practically illegible, but the content was excellent, once the teacher figured out what it said. I got A’s in every subject except handwriting; for that I got C’s on every report card.
Well, there was this beautiful girl in my class, Shannon Spillane, with long, black, wavy hair, and she was teacher’s pet. And when she won a new pen for having the best penmanship for the week, I got so jealous I made up my mind to win the penmanship award the next week. So for five straight days, I wrote slowly and carefully, making sure every letter was perfectly formed. And sure enough, I won a nice new pen for having the most improved penmanship in my class!
After they announced this over the loudspeaker, my teacher came over to me and said: “Now that I know you can write so neatly, I expect you to do this all the time.” I was devastated.
Later in life, when I was a journalist and had not learned shorthand, my fast scribbling abilities came in very handy when writing down what energy VPs and CIOs were saying so I could include their quotes verbatim in the next issue of the magazine. The trouble was, nobody else could read my cacography, and I had to type up my own notes.
These days, schoolchildren learn texting and keyboarding before they ever learn cursive handwriting. I’m afraid that there may be a marked increase in cacography in the near future – both of the handwriting and spelling kinds.