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22 August 2005 @ 15:04
Intermission: G whiz  

I promise, I'll return to bullshit shortly. But in the meantime, Marian Bantjes critiques the design of the Latin alphabet, and takes no prisoners. I don't agree with all of her observations—for instance, I think capital G and lowercase g have more in common than she gives them credit for—but it's an insightful and provocative review. When was the last time you looked critically at the shapes of letters?

Merlemerle_ on 23. August, 2005 12:22 (UTC)
I recall being quite miffed at the cursive versions of letters back when I was forced to learn cursive (third grade?). Cursive-Q looks nothing like block-letter-Q. Come on, it looks like a loopy 2. Cursive-S is a bit weird, too, looking more like a treble-clef or a pregnant kangaroo to my eyes.

Right then and there I decided I would retain the block letter style for uppercase letters and cursive for lowercase. Except, of course, that I could not do that on homework until I reached a grade when they stopped critiquing handwriting. Try it; I think it reads a lot better.

Since then I have fallen back on block letters for everything except thank-you notes. I just cannot read my cursive. I suppose it is slightly more speed-efficient, but a write-only language is not terribly useful.

The draftsman style of using half-height capital letters to represent lowercase is an interesting innovation. The bonus is that capital letters are all the same size, extending neither above nor below the baselines. This makes it exceptionally well suited for blueprints and designs. I used it off and on for maybe ten years, but it is slow, and much harder to visually differentiate Mixed Case words, so is not great for text.

Don't get me started on sans-serif fonts.

It would be interesting to delve into the history of the Latin alphabet -- which letters have changed over the years, in what way, and what the frequency distribution of letters was at various points in history. I would wager that that is why cursive Q and Z are so dorky: they rarely come up, so they may as well be complex and freaky. Common letters should be easier to write (like ISTO). Of course, that assumes purposeful design of the language.

What ever happened to the enlongated S (that looked like an f without the crosshatch)? I always thought it looked nice, but it seems to have died out in the 1700s...
Q. Pheevrq_pheevr on 24. August, 2005 12:44 (UTC)

Yeah, I rebelled against cursive, too, actually. I had really crappy cursive handwriting up until grade nine, when teachers stopped caring whether I wrote in cursive, and I developed a much more elegant and legible italic hand. (My signature is the only thing I still write in (an even less legible version of) my dorky elementary-school cursive.) The funny thing is that when I write quickly, I sometimes see all of a sudden where the cursive forms came from—the lowercase s, in particular, which I never understood in elementary school, emerges spontaneously from my own s in fast writing. I think if I had been taught more about the origins of the cursive letters, and allowed a bit more flexibility in how I wrote them, I might not have resented having to use them so much.

The long s is enjoying life in semi-retirement as the left half of the German ß.

Merlemerle_ on 27. August, 2005 12:17 (UTC)
Really? Hmm. I can see the stroke to the northeast starting the cursive s... but to continue with a sort of a teardrop/potbelly shape does not look intuitive to me. But perhaps you are correct.

Other letters (b, d) do seem to be adaptations of script.

My best guess for the creation of cursive is a technological one: pens. Old style fountain pens or quills that required ink wells and a constant-speed motion would function better for the continuous cursive than for the start-and-stop script. But that would mean that it was just a hack to get the hardware working correctly. Modern pens, for the most part, do not have this problem so we should ditch this crazy cursive thing, just as we should ditch the QWERTY keyboard.

Ah, so that's where the long s went. I never knew it was courting 3.
Merlemerle_ on 27. August, 2005 12:24 (UTC)
Hmm. Okay, I should clearly do research before making wild claims.

Here's a quote from an unlikely source:
If you study the history of writing, you will discover there are hundreds of different methods of constructing letters. For most of history, manuscript writing was the norm. Cursive writing is a relatively recent method which became necessary when the majority of people were educated and the need for extensive and rapid communication became widespread. Early cursive hands were still written slowly because they were written with dip pens, and their speed was limited by the amount of ink the nib would carry. With the invention of the fountain pen a truly rapid cursive writing became possible, but unfortunately the handwriting methods widely taught today were developed for the older technology. They must be written slowly in order to be done "correctly."