Definition of penmanship


I'm working on an academic paper and at this point, I'm facing a problem to properly explain the meaning of the word penmanship in Portuguese. 

It's not difficult to find some direct translation to calligraphy. In an Introduction to the book "An elegant hand: The golden age of American penmanship and calligraphy", Tysdal defines penmanship as "the ability to write a ‘good hand’". Following this definition, the book shows a lot of examples, including some made with a pointed nib. 

On the other hand, on his "Formal Penmanship", Johnston specifically says that penmanship means good writing using broad nib pens to reproduce book hand or formal hands.

"By penmanship I mean more particularly that kind of writing in which a broad-nibbed pen is used to form the letters. It is conveniently referred to by the name of ‘formal writing’, and early varieties of it distinguished from ‘running’ hands, or ordinary writing, by being called the ‘book hands’, because for something like 2000 years books were made in such writing, before the invention of printing"  (Edward Johnston)

By doing a penmanship activity it's mandatory to use broad nib? Is this just a very specific Johnston's point of view? Or there's a different approach to the activity from the british to the americans?

Could anybody help me sending a book reference or an online text about it? 

Best reguards. 


  • Jacob CasalJacob Casal Posts: 99
    edited April 2019
    For this paper, are you required to use someone else’s definition or are you writing your own? Based on your post you seem to have doubts in the definitions you have found thus far (this doesn't necessarily mean you completely disagree with them of course). Have no fear in taking what you agree with—not cherry picking what you like, but what you think is actually going on with the concept, that is—and building/refining it into your own definition.
    For example: the Tysdal definition is simple, but what is “good hand” in non-abstract terms? (Note that I’m used to researching with definitions that need to be measured concretely and not abstract definitions.) I also see that this book is available on google, and in glancing through it I bet you could pull even more info from it to form a definition as it seems to go over a lot. The Johnston definition is a bit concrete in naming how it is seen. To answer your question with only your quotation as context, let’s first break it down into a more raw form (without losing its meaning):
    Penmanship is a formal kind of writing, separated technically from ordinary writing early on (some 2000 years before printing) as a means of writing books, using a broad-nibbed pen to form letters.
    I imagine his definition is more historically based, concerned with that penmanship used to write books. I would imagine technique evolved past a broad-nibbed pen alone as time went on, but I’m not an expert on calligraphy.
    Perhaps you already are, but I would invite you to look at this concept from an interdisciplinary perspective. Oftentimes other fields look at the same concepts in different yet enlightening ways for one’s own field. For example: a quick google scholar search of “academic definitions of penmanship” yielded this language arts article section on penmanship in schools.
  • caduncadun Posts: 3
    Hi, Jacob. Thanks for your considerations.

    It's been hard to define these words in Portuguese. I'm trying to quote some classical authors in order to support what I'm saying but, yes, I really can't just laying on their shoulders. Thank for encouraging me. 

    About Tysdal's definition, it is simple and quite problematic because of the abstract use of "good hand". I explored the meaning of the "Kalli" in other Greek words like "Kallistéphanos" (splendidly garlanded), "Kallínikos" (Glorious victor) and "Kaliméra" (good morning), for example. In general, geeks use the word "Kalli" to describe an ideal condition or perfection.

    Finally, I was so focused on books that I really didn't search in academic bases like Google Scholar. Thank you very much for your hep.
  • John HudsonJohn Hudson Posts: 2,244
    I'd define penmanship as something like 'the skill of writing well, achieved by practice'. I avoid using the term 'formal' because that word also has a specific usage that distinguishes with cursive writing.
  • Craig EliasonCraig Eliason Posts: 1,207
    Johnston had an agenda about the kind of writing he was interested in recovering/preserving/promoting; I don't think his reserving of "penmanship" for broad-nib writing is widespread. Take Bickham's "Universal Penman" of the 1740s, for example, which, true to its day, is full of pointed-pen writing (rendered by engraving). 

    More recently, the more common uses of the word "penmanship" in American English refer to neat and proper writing: kids' penmanship was one of the criteria for doing well in elementary school (at least when I was in elementary school). That more frequently occurring use of the term is wholly tool-agnostic, and young schoolkids are more likely using pencils than any kind of fancy-nibbed pen. 

    (Teaching neat writing in late-20th-c. schools is not wholly unrelated to Johnston's efforts, it might be noted. His attention to the craft of writing inspired educational movements that led to the kind of curriculum I had (though his beloved broad-nib pens got dropped somewhere along the way.))

    Now in the 21st century, it also might be worth noting, the gendered aspect of the term "penmanship" seems a flaw.  
  • caduncadun Posts: 3
    Thanks for your considerations, John Hudson e Craig Eliason. 

    Indeed, I found many many examples named as penmanship using pointed nibs. It seems clear now that Johnston's efforts for a formal penmanship education were honoured but as Craig said, lost in a way. 

    One more question: So, if penmanship means a skill of writing well, what's its difference from the calligraphy, supposed to be the art of write in an ideal condition? 

    Does anybody have any book or paper references to share? 

    Thank you very much. 
  • Jacob CasalJacob Casal Posts: 99
    edited April 2019
    As it just so happens, my copy of The stroke: theory of writing by Gerrit Noordzij came in today, and in the 2005 foreword he denotes calligraphy as “handwriting pursued for its own sake, dedicated to the quality of the shapes.”
    Noordzij, Gerrit. 2019. The Stroke: Theory of Writing. Pg. 9. Amsterdam: Uitgeverij de Buitenkant and The Hague: Royal Academy of Art.
  • Michael ClarkMichael Clark Posts: 138
    there is a disconnect between pointed pen artists and flat pen artists, nick said it best
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