Editor’s Soapbox Mike Gainor

Have you ever heard of snapdragon? It’s a game that used to be quite the holiday tradition. Here’s how you play. You put some raisins – and maybe some figs and almonds – into a big bowl of brandy. Then you light the brandy on fire and watch it glow with blue flame. Now you take turns reaching into the burning bowl of brandy (try saying that 10 times fast) and grabbing at the raisins etc. inside. Now, when you lift out a raisin, it too will catch on fire, and it’s likely that your brandy-covered hand will be burning as well. You ignore that, and pop the burning raisin into your mouth, which hopefully extinguishes the flame before you burn your mouth. The brandy on your skin ought to burn off quickly – and if you’re lucky, it does so before it singes stuff you didn’t want singed. Then, presumably, everyone laughs, and the next person gives it a try. 

You may think I’m kidding. I am not. This was a very, very popular game back in the 1800s. But eventually it faded away into obscurity. 

You also may be wondering if there are videos of people playing snapdragon on YouTube. Of course there are, bless them, and they’re kind of entertaining. 

Every generation gains something and loses something. This generation can type with their thumbs on a phone about as quickly as I can with all my fingers on a computer keyboard. However, the ability to write beautifully in cursive seems to be going the way of snapdragon.

I have seen people mourning and lamenting this loss. 

I say, good riddance. 

I have to admit, I have strong feelings about cursive, and that’s for one simple, selfish reason: I’m terrible at it. I like to think I’m not too shabby at crafting written sentences in the English language, but my handwriting looks like a kindergartner’s doodles. It’s so bad, there are times when I can’t even decipher my own notes. I wish I were kidding. 

I strongly suspect the defenders of cursive are the people who are great at it, those who write in a lovely, flowing hand and whose signatures are works of art. I’m always impressed by those talented folks – and, if I’m being honest, a mite jealous as well. 

But is it really that useful? It seems to me, as a practical matter, that there are a lot of skills and subjects that youth really need to learn to make their way in the world and become productive members of society. Basic math, so they can make change without a calculator. Logic, so they can better discriminate between truth and falsehood. Civics, so they can understand how our government is supposed to work, what the Constitution actually says and why we should stand up for freedom, justice and democracy. 

But cursive? We might as well be training them to snatch raisins from a burning bowl of brandy.

Well, that’s my opinion anyway – and as I mentioned, it’s coming from someone for whom trying to write in cursive often provokes curse words.

Hope you are having a great week. Talk to you soon.

Mike Gainor is the editor of the Pine City Pioneer. Contact him at editor@pinecitymn.com or 320-322-5241.

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