Shorthand (= syntactic sugar) is a writing system that emphasizes writing quickly over readability. Shorthand makes extensive uses of abbreviation and typically writes just enough to allow you to later decipher from the word's outline and context what the word is.

An example would be cursive writing, which is about 10% faster than printing.


1   Form

Most alternative systems write words phonetically, with one character for each sound.

2   Properties

Shorthand systems optimize writing speed at the expense of readability.

2.1   Production

Writing phonetically is faster than not since it requires fewer symbols per word.

Writing phonetically also means no words have irregular spelling. (Contrast with English, where 60% of common words have irregular spellings. [*] As an example, consider that the "sh" sound can be spelled 13 different ways: ocean, machine, special, pshaw, sure, schist, conscience, nauseous, she, tension, issue, mission, nation. Further, the "oo" sound has 29 different spellings: rule, ruby, flue, troupe, fruit, through, maneuver, wooed, group, ooze, grew, rheumatism, move, bruise, canoe, two, moon. Also consider that "lead" can be pronounced two ways "led" or "leed".)

2.2   Comprehension

Comprehension requires learning to sight read every outlines or "brief forms," which can number in the thousands; learning the basic symbol set won't cut it.

Shorthand is largely unreadable by most people, and may be used to encrypt messages.

3   History

3.1   Pitman system

Developed by Sir Isaac Pitman in 1837.

3.2   Gregg Shorthand

John Robert Gregg devised the most famous of alternative systems in 1888.

All lines are of the same thickness, position relative to a line is irrelevant so lined paper is not needed, and awkward diacritical marks are avoided though not absent.

Gregg Shorthand won out over Pitman Shorthand in America, and was widely taught in public schools as an essential skill needed by office workers to take dictation. Many books are available, and most public libraries in America will have copies

Although Gregg Shorthand is nominally phonetic, in practice outlines sometimes follow the sound of a word, and sometimes its spelling. Dictionaries are available to show you how to outline tens of thousands of words, but the need for such dictionaries should tell you something of the inherent ambiguities of the system. The system is fast, attractively cursive, but frustrating for personal use since each vowel symbol can represent several possible vowel sounds. It is the exact opposite of printing alphabetic characters by hand; handwritten text is readable, but blocky and slow to write, while Gregg Shorthand is highly cursive and fast, but only marginally readable.

3.3   Stenography

[*]Winning a spelling bee is a major achievement

  • To take notes quickly, we want to (1) reduce the things we have to write and (2) write the things we have to more quickly