Did the Ballpoint Pen Kill Cursive?
Updated: Nov 29, 2022
If you’re looking for validation of the demise of cursive being perpetrated by the ballpoint pen, you should keep Googling. My position is the answer to the question has more to do with the nature of our species. More on that later. First, a little history on the origins of the purported destroyer of elegant handwriting.
An abbreviated history and celebration of the ballpoint pen every National Ballpoint Pen Day has to include American John J. Loud and Hungarian Bíró brothers, Laszlo and György. They filed patents in the 19th and 20th centuries respectively for ink delivery devices employing a ball and socket system. Whether or not their efforts really equate with the “modern” ballpoint pen is debatable, but the credit for the modern and ubiquitous “disposable” ballpoint pens goes to Marcel Bich. After acquiring a Bíró patent, he eventually marketed their recognizable Bic® Cristals at a price point ensuring that billions of them now occupy our landfills (please see my post Can Those "Free" Ballpoint Pens Be Recycled?)
Now for the demise of elegant handwriting. By the time I was beginning to learn cursive in the late 1960s, the lament had already begun. This would seem to argue it is not (all) the fault of the computer. Perhaps we first blame the typewriter and correction fluid for at least the extinction of the handwritten business letter. Everyone knows only a boor would have typed a personal letter back then. Funny how a typed letter today is a fun, personal touch. So, along with typewriters and a multitude of electronics, we complete the trinity of factors precipitating the demise of cursive with the ballpoint pen.
And what is it about the ballpoint pen that engenders such enmity? Why of course it is the hideously thick ink which demands one to adopt painful contortions of the hand and protein powder diets to meet out the immense application of force necessary to produce the faintest of lines on paper. Geez Louise — we’re not talking about writing with your favorite tar pen. Sure, ballpoint ink is thicker but by design to allow humans to move on from complaining about leaky pens to pursue new avenues of least resistance.
Good penmanship is achievable by ballpoint pen. This is not a feat that will require you to match the talents of those who enliven the side of a train car or bathroom stall with magnificently executed penmanship. However, like learning the language of a country you plan to visit or knowing the rules of the road as a responsible motor vehicle operator, it is the rejection of laziness and complacency for the investment of time and effort to become “good” at something that is too often lacking. The carpenter who blames his or her tools is perhaps not much of a carpenter. A beautiful ballpoint pen, rollerball pen, or fountain pen supplied with quality refills or fountain pen ink can certainly make the act of writing more enjoyable. But the quality of the penmanship is up to the writer. Don’t blame the ballpoint pen.