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  1. Abbreviation
  2. Bezenshek Shorthand
  3. Boyd's Syllabic Shorthand
  4. Closed captioning
  5. Court reporter
  6. Dutton Speedwords
  7. Eclectic Shorthand
  8. Franz Xaver Gabelsberger
  9. Gabelsberger shorthand
  10. Gregg Shorthand
  11. Handywrite
  12. Isaac Pitman
  13. Morse code
  14. Personal Shorthand
  15. Pitman Shorthand
  16. Quikscript
  17. Rebus
  18. Shavian alphabet
  19. Shorthand
  20. Shorthand Language
  21. Short message service
  22. SMS language
  23. Speedwriting
  24. Steganography
  25. Stenograph
  26. Stenomask
  27. Stenotype
  28. Teeline Shorthand
  29. Thomas Natural Shorthand
  30. Tironian notes
  31. Transcript



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From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia


Shorthand is an abbreviated, symbolic writing method that improves speed of writing or brevity as compared to a normal method of writing a language. The process of writing in shorthand is stenography, from the Greek stenos (narrow, close) and graphos (writing). It has also been called brachygraphy and tachygraphy. Many forms of shorthand exist. Typical shorthand systems provide symbols or abbreviations for words and common phrases, which allow someone well trained in the system to write as quickly as people speak.

The Lord's prayer in Gregg and a variety of 19th-century systems
The Lord's prayer in Gregg and a variety of 19th-century systems

Shorthand was used more widely in the past, before the invention of recording and dictation machines. Until recently, shorthand was considered an essential part of secretarial training as well as being useful for journalists. Although the primary use of shorthand has been to record oral dictation or discourse, some systems are used for compact expression. For example, health-care professionals may use shorthand notes in medical charts and correspondence. Shorthand is also common in the food service industry, allowing wait staff to write down detailed orders without delay. Shorthand notes are typically temporary, intended for later transcription to longhand.


Ancient history

The earliest known indication of shorthand systems is from Ancient Greece, namely the Akropolis stone (Akropolisstein) from mid-4th century BC. The marble plate shows a writing system primarily based on vowels and which uses certain modifications to indicate consonants.

The Hellenistic tachygraphy is reported from the 2nd century BC onwards, though there are indications that it might be older. The oldest datable reference is a contract from middle Egypt, stating that Oxyrhynchos gives his Greek slave to the "semeiographer" Apollonios for two years to be taught shorthand writing. The Hellenistic tachygraphy consisted of word stem signs and of word ending signs. Over the time, many syllabic signs were developed.

In Ancient Rome, Marcus Tullius Tiro (103 BC – 4 BC), a slave and later a freedman of Cicero, developed the Tironian notes so he could write down Cicero's speeches. The Tironian notes consisted of word stem abbreviations (notae) and of word ending abbreviations (titulae). The original Tironian notes consisted of about 4000 signs but new signs were introduced so that their number could increase up to 13 000. In order to have a less complex writing system, a syllabic shorthand script was used sometimes.

After the Decline of the Roman Empire, the Tironian notes were not used any more to transcribe speeches, though they were still known and taught, increasingly so in the Carolingian Renaissance. After the 11th century, however, they were mostly forgotten.

When many monastery libraries were secularized in the course of the 16th century Protestant Reformation, long-forgotten manuscripts of Tironian notes were rediscovered.

In imperial China, clerks used an abbreviated, highly cursive form of characters to record court proceedings and criminal confessions. These records were used to create more formal transcripts. One cornerstone of imperial court proceedings was that all confessions had to be acknowledged by the accused's signature, personal seal, or thumbprint, requiring fast writing. Versions of this technique survived in clerical professions into the 20th century C.E.

Modern history

An interest in shorthand or "short-writing" developed towards the end of the 16th century in England. In 1588 Timothy Bright published his Characterie; An Arte of Shorte, Swifte and Secrete Writing by Character which introduced a system with 500 arbitrary signs resembling words. Bright's book was followed by a number of others, including John Willis's Art of Stenography in 1602, Edmond Willis's An abbreviation of writing by character in 1618, and Thomas Shelton's Short Writing in 1626 (later re-issued as Tachygraphy).

Shelton's system became very popular and is well known because it was used by Samuel Pepys for his diary and for many of his official papers, such as his letter copy books. It was also used by Sir Isaac Newton in some of his notebooks. Shelton borrowed heavily from his predecessors, especially Edmond Willis. Each consonant was represented by an arbitrary but simple symbol, while the five vowels were represented by the relative positions of the surrounding consonants. Thus the symbol for B with symbol for T drawn directly above it represented "bat", while B with T below it meant "but"; top-right represented "e", middle-right "i", and lower-right "o". A vowel at the end of a word was represented by a dot in the appropriate position, while there were additional symbols for initial vowels. This basic system was supplemented by further symbols representing common prefixes and suffixes.

One drawback of Shelton's system was that there was no way to distinguish long and short vowels or diphthongs; so the b-a-t sequence could mean "bat", or "bait", or "bate", while b-o-t might mean "boot", or "bought", or "boat". The reader needed to use the context to work out which alternative was meant. The main advantage of the system was that it was easy to learn and to use. It was extremely popular, and under the two titles of Short Writing and Tachygraphy, it ran to over 20 editions between 1626 and 1710.

Shelton's chief rivals were Theophilus Metcalfe's Stenography or Short Writing (1633) which was in its "55th edition" by 1721, and Jeremiah Rich's system of 1654, which was published under various titles including The penns dexterity compleated (1669).

Modern-looking geometric shorthand was introduced with John Byrom's 'New Universal Shorthand' of 1720. Samuel Taylor published a similar system in 1786, the first English shorthand system to be used all over the English-speaking world.

In 1834, German Franz Xaver Gabelsberger published the Gabelsberger shorthand. Gablesberger, who ignored the English stenography tradition, based his shorthand not on geometrical shapes but on the shapes used in handwriting script.

Taylor's system was superseded by the Pitman Shorthand, first introduced in 1837 by Isaac Pitman and improved many times since. Pitman's system was also used all over the English-speaking world. It is still in use, but in the USA (and elsewhere) it has been superseded by the Gregg Shorthand that was first published in 1888 by John Robert Gregg, a system influenced by the handwriting shapes Gabelsberger had introduced.



Geometric shorthand is based on circles, parts of circles and straight lines placed strictly horizontally, vertically or diagonally. These were the first modern shorthand systems to develop. Examples include Pitman Shorthand, Boyd's Syllabic Shorthand, Samuel Taylor's Universal Stenography and the Duployan system used in French which formed the basis for the Inuktitut, Cree and Kamloops Wawa (Chinook Jargon) writing systems.

Script shorthand is based on the motions of ordinary handwriting, such as Gabelsberger shorthand's and those derived from it. The first system of this type was 'Cadmus Britanicus' by Simon Bordley, published in 1787. However, the first practical system was the German Gabelsberger shorthand in the early 19th century. This class of system is now common in all more recent German shorthand systems, Austria, Italy, Scandinavia, the Netherlands, other Eastern European countries, Russia, and elsewhere.

Script-Geometric, or semi-script shorthand is based on the ellipse. These systems can be considered a compromise of the geometric systems and the script systems; the first of these systems was by George Carl Märes in 1885. However, the most successful system of this type was introduced by John Robert Gregg in 1888, who had studied not only the geometric English systems, but also the German Stolze stenography, a script shorthand. Other examples include Teeline Shorthand, Thomas Natural Shorthand.

Writing device

Most shorthand systems are written on paper with a stenographer pencil or a stenographer pen. Some consider that only these are shorthand systems strictly speaking.

Machine shorthand requires a specialized keyboard. Most commonly, this is taken to mean the stenotype, widely used in the US and elsewhere. However, there are other shorthand machines used worldwide, including: Velotype; Palantype in the UK; Grandjean stenotype, used extensively in France and French-speaking countries; Michela stenotype, used extensively in Italy; and Stenokey, used in Bulgaria and elsewhere.

Resemblance to standard writing system

Some shorthand systems attempted to ease learning by using characters from the Latin alphabet. Such systems have often been described as alphabetic, and purists might claim that such systems are not true shorthand. However, these non-symbol systems do have value for students who cannot dedicate the years necessary to master a symbol shorthand. Non-symbol shorthands cannot be written at the speeds theoretically possible with symbol systems - 200 words per minute or more - but require only a fraction of the time to acquire a useful speed of between 60 and 100 words per minute.

Non-symbol systems often supplement alphabetic characters by using punctuation marks as additional characters, giving special significance to capitalised letters, and sometimes using additional non-alphabetic symbols. Examples of such systems include Stenoscript, Stenospeed, Speedwriting, Forkner shorthand and "Alpha". However, there are some pure alphabetic systems, including Personal Shorthand, EasyScript & Agiliwriting, which limit their symbols to purely alphabetic characters. These have the added advantage that they can also be typed - for instance, onto a computer, PDA or cellphone. Interestingly, early editions of Speedwriting were also adapted so that they could be written on a typewriter, and therefore would possess the same advantage.

Vowel representation

Shorthand systems can be classified according to the way that vowels are represented:

  • 'Normal' vowel signs (no fundamental distinction between vowel signs and consonant signs), e.g. Gregg.
  • Other ways of expressing the vowels:
    • expression of the first vowel by the height of the word in relation to the line, no expression of subsequent vowels, e.g. Pitman (with optional expression of the vowels by diacritics added to the word);
    • expression of the vowels by the width of the joining stroke that leads to the following consonant sign, the height of the following consonant sign in relation to the preceding one, and the line pressure of the following consonant sign, e.g. in most German shorthand systems;
    • detached vowel signs, such as dots, ticks and other marks, written around the consonant signs;
    • no expression of the individual vowels at all except for a dot before the word for any initial vowel and a dot after the word for any ending vowel, e.g. Taylor. Alphabet is spelled ’lfbt;
    • expression of vowel by shape of the stroke, with the consonant indicated by orientation, e.g. Boyd.

Common English shorthand systems

One of the most widely known forms of shorthand is the Pitman method, developed by Isaac Pitman in 1837. Isaac's brother Benn Pitman, who lived in Cincinnati, Ohio, was responsible for introducing the method to America. The method has been adapted for 15 languages. The system uses a phonemic orthography. For this reason, the system is sometimes known as phonography, meaning 'sound writing' in Greek. One of the reasons this method allows fast transcription is that vowel sounds are optional when only consonants are needed to determine a word.

Although Pitman's method was extremely popular at first (and is still commonly used, especially in the UK) its popularity has been superseded (especially in the United States) by a method developed by John Robert Gregg in 1888. Gregg's system, like Pitman's, is phonetic, but has the advantage of being "light-line". While Pitman's system uses thick and thin strokes to distinguish related sounds, Gregg's uses only thin strokes and makes some of the same distinctions by the length of the stroke.

In the UK, Teeline is now more commonly taught, and used, than Pitman. Teeline is the recommended system of the The National Council for the Training of Journalists. Other less commonly used systems in the UK are Pitman 2000, PitmanScript, Speedwriting and Gregg.

List of shorthand systems

  • Bezenšek Shorthand (Anton Bezenšek)
  • Boyd's Syllabic Shorthand (Robert Boyd)
  • Current Shorthand (Henry Sweet)
  • Caton Scientific Shorthand (Thomas Jasper Caton)
  • Dutton Speedwords, a method of shorthand that had the dual function of also being an international auxiliary language (Reginald J. G. Dutton)
  • Eclectic Shorthand (J.G. Cross)
  • Forkner shorthand (Hamden L. Forkner)
  • Gabelsberger shorthand (Franz Xaver Gabelsberger)
  • Gregg Shorthand (John Robert Gregg)
  • Gregg Computer Shorthand/Productivity Plus
  • Handywrite (Eric Lee)
  • Melin Shorthand, the dominant Shorthand system used in Sweden (Olof Werling Melin)
  • Merrill Shorthand (Albert H. Merrill)
  • New Rapid (C.E. McKee)
  • Paragon Shorthand (A. Lichtentag)
  • Personal Shorthand, originally called Briefhand (Carl W. Salser & C. Theo Yerian)
  • Pitman Shorthand (Isaac Pitman)
  • Reformed Phonetic Short-Hand (Andrew J. Marsh)
  • Simson Shorthand (James Simson)
  • Speedwriting (Emma Dearborn)
  • Teeline Shorthand (James Hill)
  • Thomas Natural Shorthand (Charles A. Thomas)
  • Tironian notes (Marcus Tullius Tiro)
  • Universal Stenography (Samuel Taylor)

See also

Look up Shorthand in
Wiktionary, the free dictionary.
  • Abbreviation
  • Captioned Telephone
  • Closed captioning
  • Court reporter
  • Quikscript
  • Shavian alphabet
  • Shorthand Language
  • Stenograph Corporation
  • Stenotype
  • Stenomask
  • Transcript


  • R. Latham and W. Matthews, Introduction to The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Volume I, pp. xlvii–liv (for Thomas Shelton's shorthand system and Pepys' use of it). ISBN 0-7135-1551-1
  • Richard S. Westfall, "Short-Writing and the State of Newton's Conscience, 1662", Notes and Records of the Royal Society 18 (1963), 10-16.
  • Pitmans College (1975). Shorthand. Hodder and Stoughton. ISBN 0-340-05687-8
  • Walter Kaden (2000), Neue Geschichte der Stenografie.

External links

  • A full description in English of the Dutch shorthand system Groote
  • A complete Dutch book from 1925 about system Groote
  • A downloadable Teeline book (MSWord), written for journalists in particular (see Teeline)
  • Dictation disc samples for free download
  • Alpha, the Easy Alphabetic Shorthand
  • Handywrite, a phonetic shorthand system
  • The Google Group for Shorthand Practitioners
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