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24 January 2008
Thursday, 6:51 PM

Recently, I started wondering if I could/should get back into writing in cursive, which I haven’t done with any regularity since elementary school. I thought it might be interesting to reconnect with the way I related to language and typography in my formative years, and to see how that meshed with what I’ve learned since. So, I started scribbling out some random stuff in my sketchbook to see what would happen, and was fascinated with the results.

Since my signature is the only cursive writing I’ve done in ages, and I sign my name pretty frequently, anything I now write in cursive is instinctively transformed into my name. The “e-r-t” association is especially strong, since that string appears in both my first and last name. So, if a lowercase “e” appears in whatever I’m writing, I’ll follow it with an “rt” before I can stop myself.

Happy Cog has recently begun a redesign project with Housing Works. At the kickoff meeting, I tried to write “Housing Works” in cursive, realizing only after finishing that I had written “Housing Weychert.” Only by writing very slowly and deliberately can I ensure that my words won’t mutate into some dyslexic form of my name.

I’m sure there’s some psychological theory that describes this behavior—maybe something along the lines of classical conditioning—but I don’t even know where to begin looking. Has anyone else ever seen or experienced a phenomenon like this?

Filed under: Art/Design, Personal

Comments Closed (15)

1. David Merwin says…  |  24 January 2008 / 7:22 PM

I recently got a Wacom tablet. I have wanted one for years. It was a real bugger using the stylus. I kept wanting it to act like a mouse.

When I gave it to my six year old, no problems. He just got it. Perhaps the motor skill is tied to the function and it is difficult to break the bond between the two.

2. David Merwin says…  |  24 January 2008 / 7:26 PM
contrast, procedural memory (or implicit memory) is not based on the conscious recall of information, but on implicit learning. Procedural memory is primarily employed in learning motor skills and should be considered a subset of implicit memory. It is revealed when we do better in a given task due only to repetition - no new explicit memories have been formed, but we are unconsciously accessing aspects of those previous experiences. Procedural memory involved in motor learning depends on the cerebellum and basal ganglia.


3. John F Croston III says…  |  24 January 2008 / 7:57 PM

I have been having the same problem with typing my user name to logon at work. I started typing my last name incorrectly about two weeks ago and now it happens all the time unless I take my time.

I gues I just need to slow down and think a little before I start doing things.

4. Varick Rosete says…  |  24 January 2008 / 9:07 PM

It's like eating okra for me. I gotta try it every once in awhile to remind myself that I don't like the taste of it. So with cursive, it's just keeping on it and hoping that it gets better each time.

As to the Wacom tablet comment, is it crazy that I use a mouse with my right hand and the stylus with my left?

5. Liz Danzico says…  |  24 January 2008 / 11:08 PM

What David said.

See also the The Seven Sins of Memory.

6. Kevin Hoffman says…  |  25 January 2008 / 8:06 AM

I learned this from this guy. As a group, repeat the word white several times, getting faster and louder the longer you repeat it. Then, suddenly, stop and ask the group, "What does a cow drink?" The answer is probably going to be wrong.

7. Christopher Fahey says…  |  25 January 2008 / 9:25 AM

And of course everyone in the world is still writing "2007" on their checks and deposit slips. I suspect that handwriting of all sorts has a more direct main-line connection to your brain than typing, no matter how efficient a typist you are.

8. Rob Weychert says…  |  25 January 2008 / 10:36 AM

David: At the risk of offending everyone who is close to me, I think Wikipedia is my best friend. Thanks for the heads up; I’ll take a good look through the Memory article.

Varick: If you use the mouse with your right hand at the same time you’re using the stylus with your left, then you are my hero. On a related note, I play air guitar left-handed, and real guitar right-handed (the former considerably more competently than the latter).

Liz: That book looks pretty interesting. Thanks for the suggestion!

Kevin: Be like the boy! Be like the boy!

Chris: I hadn’t even thought of that correlation, though I’ve mentioned your example elsewhere. For some reason, this cursive thing caught me by surprise where writing last year’s date on this year’s checks didn’t, probably because getting used to a new year is an annual occurrence.

9. Kev mears says…  |  25 January 2008 / 3:35 PM

Maybe a related thing might be when I'm doing some lettering, I often concentrate so hard on the look of the thing, and am so keen to get it done and see the results that I often miss out letters and don't realize til I'm done.

Is there a medical term for inattention?

10. Cata says…  |  26 January 2008 / 11:32 AM

I think it's the same thing that happens to me when i draw something on a paper and if i make a mistake i almost instantly think about using the "Ctrl+Z" command. and then i remember i'm not on a computer :)

11. Ian says…  |  26 January 2008 / 2:45 PM

What you're experiencing is your everyday, run-of-the-mill inexperience. When you were in school you were taught how to make each form. Then you learned to join each form to another. Eventually, you were able to script for days, you were only limited by your vocabulary. This process should have taken a little more than a year.
Eventually you regressed to joining just the same simple ten letters.
R O B W E Y C H E R T.
There's no surprise you're not good at it anymore. You're out of practice and it's not DDR.
Good luck with it.

12. bearskinrug says…  |  27 January 2008 / 9:32 AM

Have you considered that the cursive alphabet only contains the letters IN your name? It's a poorly designed hand.

13. mai-ling says…  |  27 January 2008 / 8:34 PM

sounds similar when the new year begins and you keep writing the previous year.

but then, if you only wrote your name in cursive and nothing else. Its more or less 'muscle memory.'

Like, when pianists can recall playing a song. Our muscles remember as do our sub-consciousness.We aare just able to do it, with out putting much effort in thinking.

14. Rob Weychert says…  |  29 January 2008 / 12:29 AM

Kev and Cata: I do those things too!

Kevin: There really isn’t any need for the alphabet to contain any other letters. Once you’ve written my name, you’ve pretty much already said everything that’s worth saying.

Mai-Ling: This definitely qualifies as a muscle memory thing, and as Chris mentioned above, it’s similar to messing up checks early in the new year. I guess I just hadn’t seem muscle memory work in quite this way before.

15. Paul Annett says…  |  10 February 2008 / 9:01 AM

I have muscle memory for a few typed words, inevitably typing a common password of mine in clear text a by accident whenever the first two letters begin another word. In terms of handwriting, a number of Clearleft Christmas cards had my full signature which just flowed naturally after writing "Paul"! I now keep a tight hold of my cheque book during client meetings ;-)

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