Handwriting’s regress

An article in My Modern Met last week featured an interesting chart (by Matt Baker of usefulcharts) tracing the origins and subsequent evolution of our modern alphabet.


(If you want to see a larger image, try here.)

As in any case of evolution, it’s most interesting to consider the huge difference between the starting and ending points. Strange that a D used to look like a sort of fish, and that the letter i derived from something that reminds me of a rooftop antenna that’s suffered snow damage. Then there’s the peculiar phenomenon of the Phoenician letter from 1000 BCE that looks like a Y, but later gives rise to F, U, V and W.

Perhaps my first thought when looking at this chart was that my handwriting seems to be sliding backwards in some ways, toward the ancient Greek, at least. Maybe I can consider this as a tribute to abecedarian* cultural roots rather than an unattractive intersection of impatience and laziness.

If you could rewind on any of our letters to earlier versions, which would be your favorites? I’m intrigued by the Phoenician character that looks like a lower-case r, and doesn’t end up giving rise to any modern letter. I wonder what edged it out?

Contemplating the alphabet in the other direction, I wonder what the future will hold for our letter forms. I don’t like to give any space for the idea that we’ll get too lazy to write and fall back into illiteracy. But I can imagine that fonts might lose their serifs and generally get more streamlined. Here’s an example of a san serif font called Josefin Sans:



Yet there’s something to be said for a flourish or two. Not long ago I saw a mention of a collection of penmanship videos. The person describing them joked that she’d just quit her job so she could spend 24/7 watching the videos. I could see how it would be tempting. Here are a few to try: brown, red, black.




*Our ten dollar word for the day. As an adjective, abecedarian means “of or pertaining to the alphabet.” As a noun, it means “one learning the rudiments of something (such as the alphabet).”


[Images: userfulcharts.com, deliciousthemes.com, @penmanshipvids on instagram]

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