A Short Look at Two Shorthand Methods

In last week’s article, Keeping it Short, I shared my musings on the lost art of shorthand and my frustrations in trying to find learning materials.

I managed to track down a couple of manuals through the public library’s Ontario-wide inter-library loan service. Although I could only borrow the manuals for a short period, I thought it would be interesting to compare?and potentially learn?something about both a modern and a traditional method of shorthand.

This week, we’ll look at those two shorthand methods, the modern EasyScript and the traditional Gregg shorthand.

EasyScript
Describing itself as “shorthand made simple,” EasyScript seems more of a speedwriting technique. Using the regular alphabet, EasyScript speeds up writing by abbreviating words and cutting out unnecessary letters.

EasyScript places words into five categories?simple, prefix, suffix, prefix/suffix, and compound?and applies rules for each category. Common simple words, like “is” and “the” are abbreviated to a single letter: “s” and “h” respectively. Longer words are usually abbreviated to their first four letters, although other techniques, like omitting vowels, can be applied. Prefixes and suffixes are represented by a single letter, with similar ones, like “-able” and “-ible,” sharing the same abbreviation, in this case “b.” Compound words, like “aircraft” are reduced by means of a slash to “a/cra” or “a/cft.”

Advantages:
– Uses the regular alphabet. Not only does this eliminate the need to memorize symbols, but EasyScript can be composed on a computer keyboard, as well as by hand.
– Simple to learn. Takes only a few hours to learn the word categories and the rules for each category. Since most of us are familiar with some abbreviations already (ys, u r!), the concept is easy to relate to.
– Moderately easy to decipher. F u cn rd thi, u alre knw sm E/Scpt (If you can read this, you already know some EasyScript.)
– Available. Learning guides for EasyScript are in-stock at book retailers for $35 and up.
Disadvantages:
– Similar abbreviations. Using the EasyScript rules, some unrelated words may abbreviate to similar letter combinations. Context is required to decode correctly.
– Not as speedy as traditional shorthand. Even if you become a whiz at EasyScript, most speakers will still talk faster than you can write.

Gregg Shorthand
A true shorthand, Gregg, like its near relation Pitman, uses a system of strokes, swirls, and dashes to represent the alphabet. The idea is that regular letters take unnecessary time to form, which slows the writer down. Writing a word in Gregg takes about as much time as writing a typical letter of the alphabet?and takes up about the same space. Hand and pen movements are minimized, and silent and unnecessary letters, like the silent “e” at the end of “same,” are dropped. The word “same,” by the way, looks like this: .

Advantages:
– Speed. Once proficient in Gregg shorthand, you’ll be able to write almost as fast as someone speaks.
– Privacy. Since so few people learn shorthand nowadays, chances are the person next to you cannot decipher your notes.
Disadvantages:
– Time-consuming to gain proficiency. Gregg shorthand is not intuitive. First you need to memorize the strokes and squiggles that represent the alphabet, then the rules for connecting these together to form words. The decades-old textbook I came across contained 70 lessons; high schools used to offer full-credit courses on shorthand.
– Not keyboard compatible. Because it uses its own alphabet, Gregg has to be written in pen, although some people have had success in using a stylus with a touchscreen computer.
– Poor availability. The last edition of the manual was published in 1988. There is some availability through used-book retailers and public libraries. Older public domain versions?which predate the later simplified version of Gregg?are available online at http://gregg.angelfishy.net/.

After reviewing library copies of both EasyScript Express (Legend, 2000) and Gregg Shorthand Diamond Jubilee Series (2nd Canadian edition, McGraw-Hill Ryerson, 1976,) my choice seems clear.

Superior speed can be attained through Gregg shorthand, but due to its lack of availability and my lack of time, I’ll probably attempt to learn EasyScript. What it lacks in speed it makes up for in ease of learning and application. Choosing EasyScript feels like a bit of a cop-out, but library books have to be returned and only one of these systems can be learned in under three weeks.

Do u know s/hd, r do u pln t lrn? Ctac voice@voicemagazine.org t shr yr expc.
(Do you know shorthand, or do you plan to learn? Contact voice@voicemagazine.org to share your experience.)

Barbara Lehtiniemi is a writer, photographer, and AU student. She lives on a windswept rural road in Eastern Ontario

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