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July 26, 2011 6:56 AM   Subscribe

Back when people still used handwriting for pretty much everything, what did they do for acronyms and initialisms? I'm just having a hard time imagining the Palmer uppercase forms being used to spell out NATO or AT&T or the like. Any pictorial examples would be especially appreciated.
posted by Busoni to Writing & Language (20 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
They were printed, not cursive.
posted by caddis at 7:11 AM on July 26, 2011 [1 favorite]

I remember writing out USA in cursive majuscules when I was in school in the 1970s. Unfortunately I'm thousands of miles away from the handwritten school assignments that my mother saved for some unknown reason, so I can't go through them for evidence.
posted by brianogilvie at 7:12 AM on July 26, 2011 [2 favorites]

I'm just having a hard time imagining the Palmer uppercase forms being used to spell out NATO or AT&T or the like.

That's pretty much exactly how they would have been handled. Or, the writer could opt to print.
posted by Thorzdad at 7:25 AM on July 26, 2011

What brianogilvie said. I distinctly remember cursively writing out "USA" for 2nd-grade (and later) school assignments. It looked, if not terrible, at least awkward.

And, get off my lawn.
posted by IAmBroom at 7:26 AM on July 26, 2011 [4 favorites]

I've definitely seen them in cursive (kind of ridiculous looking) and printed, architect-style (which clashes beautifully with the cursive around it.) A lot of people avoided the issue, though - Grandma always wrote out state names when addressing envelopes rather than put "CA" or "TX" in cursive. And there is a convention for writing out lengthier acronyms, like NATO, as words ("Nato,") which also solves this problem in many cases.
posted by SMPA at 7:26 AM on July 26, 2011

(I should add that Russians, who until recently basically never hand-printed anything, are also fond of turning acronyms into words you write out like a normal noun, though they often take multiple letters from each word to do it, like in the German word "gestapo.")
posted by SMPA at 7:36 AM on July 26, 2011

(Early 70s) We weren't even taught to write the upper case letters in cursive. We always had to write the capital letter in print, and the rest of the word in cursive. So yeah, acronyms were always in print.
posted by Melismata at 7:36 AM on July 26, 2011 [1 favorite]

You see things like U.S. and NW Company (for the North West Company, the fur traders) in early 19th century hand-written documents. Upper case, cursive. And of course names with lots of initials like ABC Smith were written that way too. I'm sure acronyms would have been the same back then, if they had them. (I can't think of any at the moment.)
posted by DestinationUnknown at 7:36 AM on July 26, 2011 [1 favorite]

I'm not all that old (25) but I've done a lot of writing by hand (honestly, I'm feeling a bit get-off-my-lawnish about this question myself). While you could write acronyms in joint letters, I tended to print them. Really after you start writing for a while everything becomes a matter of convenience so whether you're taught to do one thing or the other, you'll just do what's easiest. And in the case of acronyms that tends to be printing. Was taught handwriting in India in the 90s.
posted by peacheater at 7:41 AM on July 26, 2011

I've never seen acronyms handwritten in anything other than block capitals.
posted by turkeyphant at 7:47 AM on July 26, 2011

Upper case, cursive.

That was unclear. I mean the individual letters would be in cursive, not print, but they would not be joined together.
posted by DestinationUnknown at 7:49 AM on July 26, 2011 [1 favorite]

Periods were used to separate each letter of any given acronym a lot more often back in the day. That the letters (uppercase cursive, when it was used--and I remember being taught this in grade school, too/1970's) were not necessarily 'joined together'.
posted by marimeko at 7:56 AM on July 26, 2011 [1 favorite]

Best answer: These few pages from the 1935 edition of "Palmer Method of Business Communication" (PDF link to entire book) show his suggestion on how to do it at the time.
posted by inturnaround at 8:22 AM on July 26, 2011 [9 favorites]

As a person of ageness, I can assure you that we used capital cursive letters for such things. It seemed like just a normal thing to do and didn't stand out as anything odd.
posted by Obscure Reference at 8:37 AM on July 26, 2011 [4 favorites]

This lovely 1817 illustration suggests that flowery cursive caps were the way to go, as ridiculous as they look.
posted by theodolite at 8:57 AM on July 26, 2011 [1 favorite]

One thing to remember is that acronyms and initialisms were not always as common as they are now. They only started to become widely used in the later part of the 19th century and really took off in the 20th, what with the proliferation of corporations and organizations. The word acronym only dates back to the WWII era.
posted by beagle at 9:22 AM on July 26, 2011 [2 favorites]

/blinks/ I'm feeling a bit get-off-my-lawn-ish about this question, and I'm 23.

Where I grew up, we were taught cursive writing in school. Acronyms and the like were either fancy cursive if we were writing important/official stuff, and plain old print letters when in a hurry. I still do it that way, come to think of it. (Yes, I'm one of those people who still writes things by hand. With a fountain pen, even. Wanna make something of it?)
posted by Tamanna at 10:23 AM on July 26, 2011

Response by poster: Oh, I'm actually older than some of you. My question had to do with I guess 19th century habits, but as beagle pointed out, that era when penmanship was important and acronyms were everywhere didn't quite overlap. But I'm surprised at what theodolite managed to find. As with Gothic capitals, or any capitals that are rather elaborate, they just don't look good with all caps. Anyway, maybe a stupid question.
posted by Busoni at 10:32 AM on July 26, 2011

Response by poster: OK, that document inturnaround is more or less what I'm looking for. Thanks.
posted by Busoni at 10:33 AM on July 26, 2011

Capital cursive is easy. You use a period in between, connect the tails.
posted by oneirodynia at 10:35 AM on July 26, 2011

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