Get the latest updates as we post them — right on your browser

. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Who Needs Secret Code When There's Cyrillic?

Last week we got bogged down in silly issues like love and relationships, but this week we're fortified and ready to return to a more pertinent topic that truly affects our everyday life: Russian handwriting. And what better time to return to this particular cultural thing than just after the saints' day of Cyrill and Methodius, a holiday I'm sure we all celebrated with fanfare and lusty abandon.

Ah, Cyrill and Methodius, those legendary apostles to the Slavs who went down in history as the men who first gave Russian, this most majestic and glorious of languages, its written form. Of course, their written form looked a little different than 1990s written form, but it doesn't matter, because the contemporary variety is no more legible to hapless outsiders than Old Glagolithic. Why is Russian handwriting so loopy?

Even people who skim through Russian type with relative ease can find themselves spending hours deciphering a single line of cursive, pulling out a magnifying glass or tracing over the coils with a pen to see what letters their hand movement could possibly indicate. Show a Russian the same line and they'll decode it instantly, and probably praise the penmanship as well. Russian handwriting, for all its unintelligibility, is really a thing of beauty, like something you might want to use as wallpaper border in your bedroom. There are exceptions -- usually male -- but for the most part, Russian script is almost uniformly impressive.

In younger grades, Russian children are taught to write by using a sort of slanted graph paper that teaches them not only the appropriate width of their spirals, but the delicate, forward-sloping angle as well (leading us to wonder if Western handwriting analysts would characterize the entire Russian nation as a happy and industrious one). For the remainder of their writing lives, few will venture beyond the loop.

Of course it doesn't hurt to have good writing. It lends credibility to vapid birthday cards, gives meaning to the expensive fountain pens flooding the market, and can even spare you the more strenuous of army duties, if you offer to personally pen those "Comrade Soldiers! Don't Drink Unboiled Water!" signs yourself.

How very different from the United States, where, as we've all read in Newsweek, sloppiness is revered and tidy handwriting can be mocked as the trapping of a person who could never be a deep thinker (this was my high school experience, in any case, but I don't want to get into it). In this technical age, when speed at the keyboard is far more important than calligraphic flair, cursive script as art form will probably die a fast death. But at least Russian handwriting will have earned its place amidst the hieroglyphs and Dead Sea Scrolls of this world, mystifying but aesthetically sound. My former classmates could never even come close.