Over on Language Log, Victor Mair ignited some passionate discussion with a posting about the tattoos on the face of a young man (in a mug shot). The largest tattoo was on his forehead:
A reporter for the Daily Mail interpreted this as a misspelling of Genius, with a J instead of a G. Victor countered by saying that the letter was “a nicely formed cursive capital” G. Commenters in the U.K. were generally baffled by this claim.
Important points: the Daily Mail is British; the young man is American, from Cincinnati; there are many different styles of so-called “cursive” handwriting, and these have changed over the years; for roughly a century, American and British schools have diverged significantly in the sort of cursive, or joined-up, handwriting (distinct from printing) they teach. The result is that the initial letter above looks like an ordinary cursive G to many Americans (me included) but can be interpreted by most Britons only as some sort of weird ornamented J.
OED2 on cursive:
A. adj. Of writing: Written with a running hand, so that the characters are rapidly formed without raising the pen, and in consequence have their angles rounded, and separate strokes joined, and at length become slanted.
In ancient manuscripts the cursive style, showing some of these characteristics, is distinguished from the more formal uncial writing. [cites from 1784 on]
B. n. A cursive character or manuscript. [cites from 1861, 1881]
[In case you were wondering, cursive derives ultimately from the Latin 'run' verb and has nothing to do with cursing. The noun curse (and the verb derived from it) is treated by OED2 as an etymological mystery:
Late Old English curs, of unknown origin; no word of similar form and sense is known in Germanic, Romanic, or Celtic. (Of connection with cross, which has been suggested, there is no trace.)]
Now from OED3 (Dec. 2002) on the adjective joined-up, which the dictionary labels as specifically British:
Connected, conjoined. Of writing: cursive (as learnt in elementary school as a stage beyond printing individual letters separately), esp. in joined-up writing, joined-up handwriting; freq. used allusively and humorously to suggest a (usually basic) level of intelligence or standard of educational attainment (or depreciatively a lack of these). [first cites in the 1980s]
The Wikipedia entry has a bit more detail:
Cursive … is any style of handwriting that is designed for writing notes and letters quickly by hand. In the Arabic, Latin, and Cyrillic writing systems, many or all letters in a word are connected.
In the United States of America, the name “cursive” is most commonly used to describe the method of writing that instructs students to join every letter in all words. In the United Kingdom and in Ireland, the phrase “joined-up writing”, “real writing” or “joint writing” is far more commonly used, while the term “running writing” or just “cursive” is most commonly used in Australia. Cursive is also commonly known as simply “handwriting” in Canada, New Zealand, and the US. Cursive is considered distinct from the “block letters” or “print-script” method of writing, in which the letters of a word are unconnected.
There’s more detail on some of the different schemes for cursive handwriting, including the D’Nealian script:
This is close to the script I was taught in the early grades of grade school (when we wrote serious work with nib pens dipped in ink; every desk had an inkwell); the nib pens disappeared somewhere along the line, and as soon as I could manage I wrote my homework on a typewriter. My grand-daughter has been using an iPad app that teaches this script, including the pesky capital G and the capital Q that looks like a 2. Me, I abandoned most of it long ago, though I still vary between D’Nealian caps and printed caps for some letters (among them, the A, M, and Z that are the initials of my three names).