Do You Recognize This Strange Script?

Documenting a meeting couldn’t be easier in the digital age. Apart from the obvious answer — a recorder, there are a million apps out there to help you record, document and note down conversations, meetings and ideas. So how did people from the bygone era take down notes, in real-time, without the aid of technology? Shorthand. Documenting words at the speed at which they’re spoken is impossible, especially when you consider that an average person speaks about 125-150 words per minute. Invented during the Victorian period, shorthand became invaluable to take down notes, according to The EpochTimes.

The shorthand had two different systems — one developed by Thomas Pitman, which was widely used in Britain, and another developed by John Robert Gregg was used commonly in the United States. Both were designed to help take down notes at the speed at which they were spoken, without having to make any compromises. Pitman’s version included 25 single consonants, 24 double consonants, and 16 vowel sounds.

The long hand referred to the long lop strokes used to write words in full whereas shorthand was designed to reduce letters to its simplest forms, making it easier to document notes faster. It’s easy to mistake shorthand for ancient text because it has close to no resemblance to the actual words it represents. The text looks like small curved lines with the odd dot and dash. Some of the letters are cursive and loopy, which makes it resemble more Arabic than English. The art of writing shorthand was called “stenography,” which translates to “narrow writing” in Greek.

While Thomas Pitman developed the initial system, John Robert Gregg revolutionized shorthand by focusing on the sounds of the words, rather than the alphabets. For example, the symbol for the sound of could either represent the letter c or k, which could be deciphered by reading the rest of the word. He grouped similar sounding letters which reduced the time taken to document speech drastically. Another example was him grouping the sounds of letters d and t. He also devised symbols to denote commonly used words such as ittheto and for. Gregg also varied the lengths to tell the difference from diagonal lines and loops. Gregg’s system was centered around circles, hooks, and loops. He would first publish his work in the form pamphlet, Light-Line Phonography in the year 1888.

The Pitman shorthand was used in the United States but not very popular. John Robert Gregg took his revised version and traveled through the Midwest, the West, and the South, to teach and implement his system which caught on and became the standard in the country. Once someone picks up the shorthand system of John Robert Gregg, it enabled them to take down a staggering 280 words. The practice hasn’t entirely gone out of practice and is still used to take notes in legal, medical, and secretarial fields. Knowing shorthand was also considered an indispensable skill and it could also be used to take notes or pass messages without many not being able to make sense of it.