Cursed Cursive

Isn’t there an old jibe about some pair of culture vultures who had all their books translated into French because they felt they lost something in the original? I can’t remember where I heard it. [Update: Thanks to my spouse for reminding me this is from A Thurber Carnival segment “Word Dance.“]

I was, however, reminded of it by Mario Roy’s “The Late Lamented Culture.” In its original French, this article appears in today’s La Presse. Truthout‘s Leslie Thatcher translated it into English here.

The article is a typical lament about the erosion of culture: “In short, everything is disappearing.”

I used to sound like that myself. Then I read a biography of 18th century author Henry Fielding in which Fielding whined about the decline of writing skills in English colleges. That gave me some perspective. Reading an attack on contemporary vocal music gave me more. That particular tirade, written in the 1930s, said civilization was doomed because the younger set had fallen under the influence of the totally decadent crooner Bing Crosby.

In short, it’s important to recognize that John Bogle’s line “This too shall pass” [Update: My even more pedantic spouse informs me that this proverb dates back to ancient Persia and is, in America, generally attributed to Abraham Lincoln.] applies to cultural as well as economic times. Luckily for me, the Rolling Stones still garner a modicum of esteem from the young, so hearing of my 15th row tickets for a 1965 concert often earns me a nod of approval. Still, it’s hard to see one’s time fade and even harder to resist lamenting its passing.

However, one of the main points mentioned in this translation from the French is a subject of concern to me: the decline in handwriting. Cursive is apparently as endangered in France as it is in America where most schools no longer teach legible penmanship because everyone has laptops, answering machines, voice mail, and other devices so that it’s no longer necessary to take handwritten notes for college courses, grocery lists, or phone messages.

I’m not going to whine about the decline of French or American penmanship. I’m just going to worry about the electricity failing or the battery losing its charge.



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