Letter From Lincoln

Dave Hardy made a recent trip to the National Archives in Washington D.C. to do some research, and uncovered a previously unpublished hand-written letter from Abraham Lincoln. This is extremely cool, but I have to admit to being unable to read the letter. Sometime in elementary school, I can remember being forced to adopt handwriting, and by Junior High, teachers abandoned this crusade, and let students write however they were comfortable. I’ve always preferred printing to handwriting, so that’s what I went back to. I admit to being unable to read all but the most modern handwriting.

Bitter and I recently had a laugh when she challenged me to write out a love letter to her in longhand, and I was utterly unable to do it. I spend so much time typing these days that I can barely print legibly, let along write anything, other than my signature, out longhand.

I feel handwriting will be a lost art in a generation or so. How long before you have to seek out experts to translate a letter like Dave has brought into the digital age? How long, in an age of digital signatures, will kids even be able to write their own name out longhand? How long before we go back to illiterate times when “making your mark” was enough?

Speaking of dead skills, how many people alive can still understand shorthand? Although, like most people who were raised pre-texting/pre-IMing era, I lament the younger generations use of texting speak, I can’t help but think it’s just a variant on an old historical habit.

7 thoughts on “Letter From Lincoln”

  1. If you think text speak is bad, you have NEVER seen a doctor’s handwriting or their progress notes on a computer. Nothing but acronyms.

    1. In defense of the doctors, the progress notes at least are intended for other professionals in the same or related lines of work, who can be reasonably expected to understand the acronyms.

      My theory for the handwriting issue with doctors (and some other professionals) is that they spend so long furiously scribbling notes in class during med school that any quality their handwriting might have had is destroyed in the interest of speed. Just as an example, it’s fairly common for professors to refuse to make their presentations available at all, ban recording devices or laptops during class, and then have multiple slides with 3 or 4 paragraphs of information that’s not in the book and leave each one up for less than one minute.

      I’ve heard similar horror stories from several of the med students I know, and I’ve experienced it myself even as an undergrad. It’s one of the reasons I’m trying to teach myself shorthand, and the main reason I think shorthand should at least be offered in high school. It may not be a critical business skill anymore, but it’s still very useful in more circumstances than most people might think.

      There’s a good resource for learning shorthand here.

  2. Except correspondence or documentation was not written in shorthand as the final form. Using IM speak as a communication method outside of IM/SMS is a lack of attention to detail.

  3. I learned another now-useless skill while in the Navy, the ability to read the paper tapes used by teletype machines, just by the hole patterns. I declined to learn Morse Code, though.

  4. I’m still trying to figure or my the creators of tickets that get escalated to my department cannot afford to buy vowels and have a broken caps lock key…

  5. How long before you have to seek out experts to translate a letter like Dave has brought into the digital age?

    This was also true before the modern age, for old writing. Try looking at Elizabethan print, and it’s hard enough to read…

  6. Honestly? I can’t read any handwriting prior to about 1950 or so. It’s like any other language function; it mutates over time, and I learned to read slingerland cursive and assorted types of printing. I just can’t decipher the script unless it’s blown up about 200%. And even then it’s hit or miss.

    Then again, I think Linclon would be hard pressesd to even communitcate verbaly with a member of the newest generation. L3375P34K/textspeak, internet memes, cultural referents, all are common place in modern language. How often do we use fictional words, portmanteaus or neologisms in everyday speech?

    Just becasue it’s old, or “tradition” does not mean it’s automatically better.

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