Why You Should Learn Shorthand in 2015

Thinking about learning a new language? You might want to consider making that language shorthand.

If you’ve been an office administrator or executive assistant for several years, there’s a good chance that you’ve heard of shorthand. But what exactly is it?

According to Wikipedia, “Shorthand is an abbreviated symbolic writing method that increases speed and brevity of writing as compared to a normal method of writing a language.”

Here’s an example of what shorthand looks like:

Basically, shorthand pretty much looks like gibberish to anyone who doesn’t know it.




The use of shorthand, also referred to a stenography, dates back to Ancient Greece, but has been used and adapted for years. In fact, there are several different kinds of shorthand, the two most popular being:

  • Gregg – Invented in 1888 by John Robert Gregg. In contrast to Pitman shorthand, Gregg shorthand doesn’t incorporate the use of line thickness variation. With today’s pencils and pens it’s nearly impossibly to alternate thick and thin lines while writing. Because of this, Gregg shorthand has been the more widely adopted version in businesses and medical use within the United States.
  • Pitman – Invented in 1837 by Sir Isaac Pitman, Pitman shorthand is most widely used in the UK and uses line thickness to represent “light” and “heavy” consonant sounds.

In the past, shorthand was used regularly by secretaries, medical professionals, journalists, and writers, but had fallen out in favor of cursive. Now, cursive has been mostly replaced with typing. As is the natural order of things, typing may go the way of cursive. We can only guess where things will go from here… However, we do know that writing by hand will always happen, in some form.



A Primer on Shorthand

Think of shorthand as a way to compress your language and writing: you keep the useful parts and omit the extras. If you think our brains need all of the characters in each word to understand them, you’ve never seen one of these Facebook posts:

If yu cn read ths, pls shr. Th humn mnd is amzng!

While its usually 12-year-olds and grandmothers who share Facebook posts like the one above, most people can read it. Our minds can learn to recognize bits and pieces of words and even of characters.

Shorthand, at it’s core, is just that: pieces of each letter, intertwined or “blended” to form words and phrases.

Dennis Holler, a journalist who specializes in Gregg Shorthand and writes 225 words per minute with a pen, states:

“Here, you can see the Gregg letter ‘b,’ then ‘r,’ and a combination of the two, which would represent ‘bring.'”

There is a LOT to learn about Gregg Shorthand. Before you dive in, here are a few key points:

  • Certain letters are completely left out. For example “C” and “Q” are never used as they can be pronounced with a “K” or an “S” sound. Again, this harkens back to the phonetic nature of shorthand
  • Common english phonemes like “sh,” “th,” and “ch” are written with a single letter in Gregg Shorthand
  • R” is used in Gregg shorthand to represent our, are, and even hour. You might recognize this from texting and tweeting
  • Phrasing is a huge part of what make shorthand so … short! Common phrases such as “it will be” can be shortened. The below image shows “it will be,” and “I have been” – just two of thousands of phrases that can be abbreviated in shorthand:




Why You Should Learn Shorthand

One of the more obvious times to use shorthand is during meetings. You could bring a laptop to your meeting to take notes. However, if your meeting is one-on-one, this can be awkward. People meet in person to connect, whether a business meeting or personal. Having the clunky laptop in front of you with its screen operating as a divider on the table top between you doesn’t exactly encourage connection. You could write in a notepad, full length words, but that could be distracting as the person will most likely keep glancing down to read what you write. This is especially distracting and potentially harmful if you want to keep what you’re writing private. This is where shorthand comes in. Quick characters here and there to capture the conversation will make for a much more amiable meeting.

Then there are the large meetings with multiple people in a room, all partaking in spitfire dialogue and one poor soul tasked with taking notes. The smart note takers wait until the dialogue slows and a resolution is created before recording the notes. A laptop could work here. However, as before, a laptop separates you from the rest of the meeting. If that’s not your goal, writing by hand is the other option… until you get a hand cramp. Again, shorthand to the rescue!

Another situation where shorthand is beneficial is for personal note-taking. Perhaps you’ve taken up a work diary that you’d prefer to keep at work, but are concerned about privacy. If you write it in shorthand, there’s very small chance that someone else will understand it. It could be like your own secret language!

Where to Learn Shorthand

If you’re sold on the idea of learning shorthand, you’re probably wondering where to learn it. Shorthand certificate programs are dwindling down to barely nothing, since it’s becoming a lost art.

However, thanks to the Internet, no art form is ever truly lost.

Here are some resources for learning shorthand:

Plus, thanks to inventive tools like LiveScribe, the act of writing is getting an upgrade in the digital age.

What are your thoughts on shorthand? Should we resurrect it, or let it fade away?

Image via Flickr user Reading in Public

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