Here are some notes about my views on shorthand

I had always been interested in codes. When a child I had a friend and we wrote to one another, though not always, in a simple a-b-c substitution code with letters we had made up together one day. We mostly met when I visited my grandparents every other Sunday or so.

I also wrote a substitution code based on the sounds of words, not just letters: for example ch, sh. And writing k instead of c when it was hard. At school in the 5th year we had lessons called "preparation for life". Looking back this was quite inspired and must have taken a lot of thought to put together. We had simple introductory lessons in typing, in DIY, in elocution (including parts of speech - where I was first introduced to the p-b, f-v etc classification) etc. So my code started from that knowledge.

My Grandmother gave me a complete set of 52 "home educator" magazines. It was wonderful to think that by reading those few articles one could master that subject. I still have them and they are still fascinating. Towards the end of the set there were some shorthand lessons. They alternated between Pitman and Gregg. Looking at them, and considering which was best I decided on Gregg. For one thing my writing was not the most elegant (I had always been told at school that it was bad, and it seemed so to me too1) and so I fancied that having to press hard and soft would be difficult. Another thing was that Gregg wrote the letters in the order that they sounded (I speak of vowels mainly here, though "fr"4 etc is another instance). And the look of the Gregg seemed similar to the beautiful Arabic writing. It was the look and the orderliness of the Gregg system which started me off on learning it. After I had taken my final exams at University I went to do swimming at ULU in the morning for and hour and spent the afternoons going through the lessons in a book I had bought on Gregg. (The "home educator" was too brief.) The book was the edition of Gregg in vogue at that time: Simplified8. And though I have recently decided to hone my skills with the Anniversary edition (which an "aunt" knew5) I would strongly encourage that the Simplified is really better, and the second edition best.

Why did I want to learn shorthand anyway? (1) Because my handwriting was bad, if I learned shorthand I could write much more slowly and make my handwriting neater. (2) I liked secret writing. (3) It would be useful in taking notes. (4) To be able to write exactly what someone said was a good skill6. (5) I liked what the stenographers in the court were doing and would have liked to do that too7.

So that is how my interest in shorthand began


1 At primary school we were taught Marion Richards style. It was to me not inspiring to look at and now seems a bad thing. Anyway, whatever the style, my writing was ungainly. When at secondary school I saw someone writing with backward slanting writing so I tried that (the "F"s were rather nice). This must have slowly been found wanting and I relapsed gradually. I think it must have been at University that I picked up the "home educator" to try out its handwriting guide. A truly cursive system it said2. It looked a bit like copperplate. A whole realm of capital letter forms (just big lower case letters really) were unveiled - such as a Q that looked like a 2. And the letter r: it looked so good but I never really mastered it. And though to this day this is still my style (though I have mostly abandoned the capital letters) I pick and choose the forms variously.

2 Later, on reading about writing, I read that the so-called cursive style was not nearly as cursive as an italic style which followed the natural movement of the fingers3. After a few trials I realised that it was not for me. Incidentally, my friend had been taught italic writing at her school. It looked lovely in its form in strong black ink. Her later letters were a little harder to read the m, n, w, u all blending together in a sawtooth form which sometimes took a while to unpick. Though overall it still looked good.

3 The copperplate-cursive said that one had to write with the whole forearm rather than the fingers - a skill I have never been able to acquire.

4 I do not speak exactly here though the principle is correct: In Gregg the form for "fr" is an "f" blended into an "r" which follows it, whereas in Pitman it is an "f" with a preceding hook to indicate the "r".

5 I say aunt but she was just a friend of my mother - all ladies of my mothers age or older were called aunts. She wrote to me when I was first learning shorthand. She commented on and corrected my writing, and mentioned the greater number of brief forms which added to speed in the older system, and also the way of reversing vowels to indicate "r". The use of "r" in the Simplified version struck me as the one bad thing I had found. But it is not much better in Anniversary. In fact not very good in any shorthand system.

6 Of course I now realise that it takes years of practise (in whatever system you use) to be able to do this.

7 After the A'levels at school I went to a further education college in St Albans to re-take some, and after the exams I went every day to the crown court and saw the shorthand writers. I spent lunch and evenings in the library looking at things such as Nature - in which I saw the reality of ball lightning: and to this day it is my explanation of what people may be seeing when they see flying saucers (the shape being due to atmospherics, and the sudden acceleration away being the collapse of the ball - going from large to small being seen as an accelerating).

8 I may also have been influenced as to choice by the textbooks available. Pitman's presented all the alphabet initially (as had done all, probably, shorthand systems at that time) and it looked rather daunting, whereas the Gregg textbook was inviting. Pitman's book had the characters printed, whereas the Gregg had them written by a person9.

9 All of Gregg's books have their shorthand forms written. And they are all written so beautifully (annoyingly so as one's own writing never matches these examples - but it is always good to have an excellent example in front of you to follow). At least this is so up to the second edition of Gregg's Simplified. The third edition (which I bought some years later) looks crass in comparison.