ComPost Live with Alexandra Petri

Nov 13, 2012

Join us next Tuesday to laugh, cry, and dish about the moments that amused you, shocked you, or caused you to yell things that frightened the other people on the subway.

Past ComPost Live Chats

Connect on Twitter: @PostLive | @petridishes

Hope everyone's doing well! Let's get to it! How about that cursive?

What profession is pretty much universally accepted to have the worst handwriting? The doctors. So if you want your kid to become one, they should be pulled out of the Kansas school system.

I don't know. As someone who was taught penmanship, there's a fine, squiggly, indecipherable line between "able to write by hand" and "able to write legibly by hand." They might squeak through.

Best one I've heard yet by Seth Meyers on Weekend Update: Title of book (All In) before affair: Just the Tip

Some of the "embedded with" jokes have been pretty good as well.

When the power goes out, you want your sign that says "My food is protected by my doberman and my shotgun" to be clear and legible.

Well, that's a fair point. But even then it may not be visible at night, when most of the marauding is due.

Why, I just used cursive last Tuesday, when I had to sign my name in order to vote!

Well, so did I, but you'd have to go pretty far to find someone incapable of replicating my squiggle.

As a sidenote, that entire piece is probably going to double as a friendly invitation to identity thieves. Please don't! My doberman and rifle!

I was socially promoted in the fifth grade. I should have failed my penmanship class, but was allowed to have a just barely passing grade so that I would not be held back. fifth grade was all about learning caligraphy. We had to buy fountain pens and ink cartridges. I was horrible at that and most other handwriting as well.

Calligraphy? More like kakography, am I right?

...I'll show myself out.

Oh man, I tried to learn calligraphy. I could, at one point, do a terrible impression of a monk and make those big Gothic characters, but I could never manage more than a word before the pen died.

My handwriting has always been terrible. When my mother gave me my school records from childhood I could see the same comments every year starting in kindergarten about how my penmanship needed improvement. In seventh grade my teachers told my to give up on the cursive because they couldn't read it. Since then I have relied on my slightly more legible chicken scratch printing. This has caused me few problems in life. One exception was when my wife casually asked me to sign a card with both of our names. I had to explain that the only thing I can write in cursive is my own name.

But see, you made it pretty far without any difficulty!

The only people I worry about, job-wise, are those people who do the beautiful lettering on the signs of coffee shops to tell me about the Intimidating New Mochas.

My favorite dying possibly-spurious art is the art of handwriting analysis, from which I learned that Ted Bundy's handwriting looked much friendlier than Ted Kaczynski's. So, there's that.

Let's see how many different ways we can misspell the general's surname. (Like a restaurant near us whose menu has a record number of spellings of "mesclun.")

Someone over at Foreign Policy did a round-up of What People Who Can't Spell Petraeus Think About This Scandal. It makes for eye-opening reading.

(Once I ordered something called General Toe's Chicken.)

How come your chat is working and all the other ones have been cancelled?


maybe we can make kids learn cursory penmanship instead.

Ha! +5!

Did you know you can find copies of those documents in nice, clear type all over the interwebs? The only people who read the originals are the people who read the bible in Greek, Hebrew, etc, to make sure they don't miss any nuances.

And don't forget the people who read them for access to the hidden treasure!

There was an election since your last chat. Any comments?

Election? What election?

My golly, it seems decades ago already. Sad Teddy Roosevelt didn't pull through.

No, but seriously. I'm glad Key and Peele are here for this term, because they have figured out an Obama parody that legitimately makes me laugh, something that SNL still struggles with. But now I am starting to remember what life was like when we didn't know what Mitt Romney ate for breakfast. Not sure I like it. Now, if we follow Mitt Romney from place to place asking him to tell us jokes and humanizing anecdotes, WE'RE suddenly the weirdos.

I am going to miss a lot of the zany and not-so-zany characters who were culled in this Quadrennial Quell. But there are always others where they came from.

My second grade teacher, Sister Perfecta, (and I'm not making that name up) told my parents to teach me penmanship because she couldn't get through to me (ruler did not seem to work). I had to deal with penmanship workbooks and with very disappointed parents who were worried that I was not performing up to my potential. Nightmarish memories are triggered every time I read the word "penmanship", even 50 plus years later. I'm grateful that there are alternatives.

Wow. Sister Perfecta. That does sound nightmarish. Nothing like a dash of parental disappointment to make any scenario worse.

On the other hand, nightmares about penmanship could be visually interesting?

If you plan to be a celebrity, you should learn to write your name nicely for giving autographs to your adoring fans. Or if you are a would-be author, you need to write legibly to autograph books. (though I note that Chris Cilliza printed when he autographed a copy of his The Fix book for me)

That's true. I have an autograph from Mark Hamill, and I can tell what all the letters are.

Well, I'll cross that bridge when I come to it.

In 6th grade our teachers required that we always write in cursive because when we got to big bad middle school students were expected to only use cursive. What a joke! Middle school teachers never said a thing about cursive. This is where I began to distrust teachers.

Ah, the classic Pass The Buck To The Middle School Teachers wheeze. You only fall for that once.

The Irish monks stabbed the marauding Vikings in the eyes with their goose quill pens, thereby saving civilisation. (Then Noah Webster came along and put a "z" in civilization, and nobody knew how to make a proper cursive "z.")

I think the former might just be another case of geese saving civilization. They did that for the Romans! This event with the Irish was just later in the goose process.

And of course I have to inflict my favorite Noah Webster apocryphal anecdote on you.

The writer of the dictionary was discovered by his wife in flagrante delicto with one of the chambermaids.

"Noah!" she exclaimed. "I'm surprised!"
"No my dear," he said, "you are amazed. It is we who are surprised."

What do we make of those people that misspell Pitraoeus, but have remarkable penmanship? My calligraphy is amazing! Not kidding.

Ah, but the trouble with having bad spelling and good penmanship is that people can tell.

The rest of us squeak by under the stern tuition of the little red line.

I hate to bring a serious answer to a gunfight (wait, that's not right), but I recall reading that learning to write by hand teaches motor skills that are not developed by typing. Granted, within a few generations one may expect our physical bodies to have completely atrophied in any case, but in these last pre-apocalypse years, perhaps there is still a role for motor skills?

No, I concur. I'm all for rote learning, and there have been studies suggesting that the effort of learning the shape of letters by hand may actually be tremendously helpful, not to mention the motor skills component. As with looking things up in a dictionary, there is, it turns out, a certain value in putting in seemingly boring, redundant effort to obtain knowledge. The duration of your attachment is proportional to the original resistance of the information. At least in some cases.

If you want to scribble, have something else distinctive. Pastis adds the character of your choice. And bonus for the recipient: if she says "it's for my friend. Please make it out "to Sandy" but she has a fight with Sandy and wants to give it to Katrina instead, no problem.


I always thought the point of signings was the brief interaction, not the actual signature, although the actual signature is cool too. Anyway, I've been squiggling through for all these years, I'm sure I could pull something together.

The decline of cursive has gotten so extreme that Lisa Simpson had to sneak off and take secret lessons in it from a retired school principal. The caused one of the characters to say, "What?!? No one can make a capital Q!!"

Ha! Ah, the Simpsons.

What are the FBI handwriting analysts going to do for work if nobody hand-writes anything? Are they going to build profiles based on choice of font? [I choose my fonts based on their name, just as I choose paint colors and dog breeds. I am fond of "Perpetua Sans" because it sounds like a pair of trousers that will last forever.]


I was once a big proponent of Garamond. I still think it's beautiful, but we don't move in the same circles any more.

Now I just use the default in Word, which is either Times New Roman or Cambria, which I like less, but not enough to do anything about it.

I grew up in Noah Webster's hometown (West Hartford CT). There's still a little house where he supposedly lived, I never went there. It's close to the golf course; I guess he was a player.

Wow, every follow-up sentence I could think of about golf just slid below the dress code. No wonder they don't permit shouting during golf. It's not politeness. It's that literally everything you might shout sounds pretty suggestive. Except "Use the 9 Iron."

Replaced with holograms, I suppose.

(nods thoughtfully)

I mean, what WON'T be replaced with holograms, when you get right down to it?

What gorgeous (famous?) younger male would you choose to research your biography?

Hmm, younger? That really narrows the field.

Uh, Nicholas Hoult? Gosh, I'm only saying that because I can remember his name off the top of my head.

No, wait.

Justin Bieber. Not because I find him attractive, but because I read his dang biography, including the page that was just the word "GIRLS" over and over again, and I want him to suffer over mine.

Use a cursive font?

Ah, but the difference between "cursive" and "cursive font" is the difference between bacon and Canadian bacon.

Back in 1957, when I began junior high, our Art teacher taught us to do calligraphy with pens from the pre-fountain pen era, the kind with a point that one had to dip into a bottle of India ink (which, since it's indelible, can ruin a child's clothing if any spills or dribbles). Amazingly, I never spilt any on myself or my clothes that entire semester!

Well done!

Wanna bet he doesn't worry about writing in cursive?

Never bet around Nate Silver.

Perhaps the de-emphasis on cursive works to my favor - I broke a bone in my writing hand some years ago and my writing has been sloppier ever since. But my printing, before and since, resembles a child's for some strange reason.

Children have great handwriting, though. It is illegible in a totally different and unexpected way. Mine looked like fat sheep moving through a bouncy landscape.

Holograms will NEVER be replaced with holograms. I think...

Oh, snap! +5

Just thought I'd mention how much I liked that throw-away line. Thanks.

Aw, thanks!

I'm starting a farm for Throwaway Lines. They don't eat much, and they so appreciate the attention.

I swing really hard with my stiff shafted woods.

Case in point.

Alexandra, any update on the December 2012 Apocalypse? I know we had some new info on the Mayan calendar and then people were saying Snooki spawn would be a sign (looks like he has only one head and it's not spinning, so ...) and the Repbs say re-electing Obama is a sign. But this really looks like its gonna be a bust. I was really looking forward to using this as an excuse to not go to the in-laws for the holidays. Any help? TIA

Sorry, I think you're stuck. But if we run out of scandal by then, I'm sure we'll have a big run-up to it anyway.

So, do we get a link so we can read it? Pretty please. With snark on top (not snark about your project, just as a general contribution to the universe).

I think the great Chat Malfunction that has enveloped everyone else is now lumbering towards me. I'll post a link next week if I can come up with an excerpt I like.

And on that note, have a grand week! Keep reading the Compost, and feel free but unobligated to follow me on Twitter!

In This Chat
Alexandra Petri
Alexandra Petri writes the ComPost, a lighter take on the news and issues of the day, and she contributes to the Post editorial page. Her work has appeared in venues such as The Huffington Post, The Week,,, Collegehumor, and The Harvard Crimson. She has appeared on Jeopardy!, Showbiz Tonight and Canadian radio, and she has performed at Boston's Comedy Studio and Comedy Connection. She would love to be on your TV show, radio show, Daily Show, HBO special, or to be an honored guest (or regular guest) at your Bar Mitzvah. She is the author of two books (unpublished, but contact her!), two screenplays, three plays, one musical, and one memoir (Ernest Hemingway's A Moveable Feast.)
Recent Chats
  • Next: