Editor's Notebook

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English language retains its beauty

Most of the letters we receive from CAPPER'S readers are handwritten in a graceful cursive that has been de-emphasized to the point of oblivion in today's elementary-school classrooms. I don't know that for sure, but I have two sons who went through their primary and secondary schooling in the last 15 years, and their handwriting is nothing to write home about. Which they don't anyway, except by e-mail. I attribute the decline to computers - children are nimbler on the keyboard than adept with a pen.

As an editor, I am fascinated with words - how they sound, how they look. The beauty and style of a culture is partly captured in its penmanship, or calligraphy, as well as in the spelling of the words in its language. The French realized this in the 1500s shortly after the printing press was invented and words took on a standardized appearance. Linguists suspect the early French printers' guilds sprinkled their words with silent consonants - like the letter s and the mysterious, maddening g, as in champagne, campaign and Charlemagne - simply to make their written script look more elegant.

As if our digital culture hasn't done enough damage to English - one of the most practical, expressive and efficient languages ever developed - there is a movement afoot to end 'illogical spelling.' An interesting and perhaps infuriating story on Page 14 reports on the American Literacy Council's campaign to allow words like 'night' and 'through' to be spelled 'nite' and 'thru.'

While penmanship is becoming a lost art, our readers haven't forgotten those early days in school when they practiced cursive ascenders and descenders over and over. In this month's Heart of the Home section, some of them share other memories of their first days in school.  As you would expect, they expressed these stories in a flawless hand when they sent in their stories to Kate Marchbanks for publication. You won't be able to see the original letters, but I am sure you will identify with the situations presented by the authors, and recollect the fears and triumphs you experienced on your first day of school.

Dennis McLaughlin
Managing editor