A Forgotten Skill

Pitman shorthand

A New Review of Pitman Shorthand
1970 (reprint 1975)

I took shorthand a century ago and nearly failed. The scratches never looked like anything sensible and I never got near to the speed classmates seemed to manage. I dropped the course. I can’t think of the last time I remember anyone talking about or using shorthand. Even when I was doing office work in the 1980s, it was starting to fade as a required skill for administrative or secretarial jobs. This book seems to be more about refreshing skills for a dictation test rather than hard core instruction. I remember when every woman was given a typing test, regardless of the position. Shorthand was also always around as well.  Anyone out there still able to take dictation with shorthand?


shorthand review

shorthand review

shorthand doubling


  1. I took Forkner shorthand in high school and I still use it every day, 30+ years later. Pretty good mileage. For stenographical context: Forkner is mainly alphabetic, while my understanding is Pitman (shown in the book above) is mainly symbolic. Forkner is considered much easier to learn. Additional .02 worth: it’s a bit disturbing to see youngfolk barely learn “cursive writing” now let alone shorthand. (…yes, I am turning into my great-aunt!)

  2. When I went to High School in the 1960s shorthand was still taught. By the time I started work, the typists worked from dictaphone belts. Shorthand was pretty much gone from the mid 1970s on.

    Books on typing are still valuable in the Internet age but shorthand has gone the way of the Librarian’s hand.

    This book might be a curiosity in a library of commercial history but than, dictaphone belts would belong there too.

  3. I took shorthand sophomore year of high school, 1980. It was highly recommended for all girls even if we weren’t on the “business” track, as was typing and a home ec course that had semesters of cooking, sewing, and budgeting. I simply couldn’t grasp shorthand and ended up switching the class for another elective.

    The administrative secretary at my first library job in 1982 still took dictation with shorthand. It was several years later, probably around 1984-5, that they switched to a Dictaphone when the old secretary retired and a new one was hired.

  4. Shorthand was still taught at my high school in the early 80’s. I didn’t take it but did take typing on an electric typewriter. One of my co-workers still uses shorthand when she’s taking notes freehand without a laptop nearby. And we both still use a Dictaphone, but I’ve never heard of a Dictaphone belt.

  5. Shorthand was still offered at my high school in the early 80’s. I didn’t take it but I took typewriting on an electric typewriter. One of my coworkers still uses short hand when she’s taking notes and doesn’t have a keyboard/laptop nearby. And she and I both still use a Dictaphone, although I’ve never heard of a Dictaphone belt.

  6. I took a shorthand class in the late 70s, but no, I never used it in a job. My mother passed her diaries on to me before she died and I found she had written the juicier tidbits (for her!) in shorthand. She’d forgotten how to decipher it; luckily I was able to puzzle them out after reviewing with a Gregg Shorthand book borrowed from the local library. No big secrets, just high school and college drama, but fun to read and imagine her at that age!

  7. I visit your blog twice a year and catch up on every post made in that time. And wow, I’m disappointed in the design change of the front page. In your previous design, the 1-2 paragraph preview of every post gave enough context to intrigue me and make me click through to read the rest of post. In the new layout the preview is only 1-2 sentence long which doesn’t give enough context to interest me to click through to ANY post, except if the book has a highly unusual cover. Please reconsider your design decision. I hope you change it back to the user-friendly layout it was before, otherwise I won’t be reading your blog anymore, not out of spite, but because it’s just not fun opened and closing hundreds of tabs just because I can’t properly preview the posts anymore.

    1. Your comments do havesome merit. However, every website gets updated from time oto time and learning a new layout seems a small price to pay for reading such an entertaining blog. You also might edit your response a little better.

    2. I leave the tab open so that I always have a full post to look at, not the annoying partials on the home page. You could consider doing that? If you don’t want to read a particular post, you can just use the link to the next one.

  8. I, like many people, have started paying more attention than I used to to the workings of Congress. There are stenographers who stand (!) with machines strapped to them who keep a record of everything said. What method are they using? What method do court reporters use? Those are still in use today, but obviously it’s not handwritten.

    I’d never seen shorthand writing before, so this was really interesting!

  9. I wanted to take shorthand in my junior year of high school (1991-1992), but the school district eliminated the course the summer before that to make room for a new computer lab. The teacher was bummed, but she understood. The enrollment had been plummeting for a while.

  10. Fun fact: Samuel Pepys kept his famous diary in shorthand, and also used shorthand to correspond with his boss, Sir Edward Montagu, the first Earl of Sandwich, during the return of Charles II to England. Might be useful to learn for the same security reasons — it was so new back then that very few could read it, and it’s so out-of-date now that it’s probably more secure than blockchain .

  11. When I was a reporter, I used shorthand constantly. After I got a laptop, I used that in a lot of situations, but while I could type faster and more accurately, sometimes I wasn’t in a position too.
    Some of my colleagues used tape, but transcribing tape drives me nuts.
    But yeah, I don’t think it’s a skill that’s going to last for the ages.

  12. It was recently explained to me that while there are standards for stenotypy, each stenotypist typically develops his or her own idiosyncratic set of abbreviations and shortcuts. These days, recordings are saved to electronic media in real time, then transcribed (usually by means of software) to a more generally readable format for long-term storage. For older records where only the paper output is available, it’s sometimes necessary to track down the original stenotypist to “translate.”

    1. My husband, of blessed memory, was blind and used a Brailler in his work as an attorney. When we first met, I got myself all sorts of tools and books to learn Braille — only to discover that it’s routine for Braille users to invent their own abbreviations and shortcuts, as with stenotypy. I remember picking up a page of his Braille notes, looking at it, realizing I could read maybe three words in seven, and putting it down again…

      1. Not to bring him up againe, but isn’t that what ended up happening to Pepys’ diary and notes until someone put the effort into – effectively – cryptanalysis of them?

  13. I graduated from high school in 2000, too late to have learned short hand. But I did take transcription in several secretarial jobs I had between 2004 and 2012 or so. If preferred a digital recorder, but I had one group that didn’t want their meetings recorded and I found that I could touch type fast enough to record nearly all of it.

  14. “Really, Mr Richardson? More invitations for wine and cheese will give us a leg up on the competition?”

    (And, budding authors: You may have to skirt the issue of where your name is placed on the book cover.)

  15. I went to secretarial school in the late 70s. We learned Gregg Shorthand (the straight downstrokes were ish, chay, jay; the curve strokes that began and ended on the line were oo, kay, gay …) and they had Dictaphones with belts, although both were becoming obsolete by then

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