Tuesday, 3 June 2014

WordPress Weekly Writing Challenge: A Lost Art Stenography

Your take on lost arts


Can anyone read this. I will have a try, it is many years, but I can still write it.

“How are you going to improve your shorthand when you do not have a single extra minute in the day? You cannot make the day any longer although a lot of ………. feel different that you were looking forward to. You were happy to get everything on your list done and be home in time for tea with all the items crossed through as accomplished. If ou get up every early hour  you are then feeling  ….. by the end of the afternoon. The ... way to stretch ones experience of time is through etc.etc.”

Ok, I learnt it when I was 17 years old and that was many years ago. Please forgive some of the gaps, but I no longer have everything in my memory. It is shorthand, stenography, a way of writing: what is said immediately and quickly and recorded by hand. You are working in an office and your boss wants to write a letter. The computer has not yet been invented and the dictating machines are not yet in existence, so what does the boss do? He dictates with words and you write as he talks. No problem, but it is if you cannot write stenography. There were many different systems, but the system I learnt was called Pitmans named after the inventor. I believe in the states a system called “Gregg” was fashionable, but this was more an abbreviation of letters.

Pitmans is written either on the line, through the line or above the line according to how the vowel should sound and there are thicker signs with more pressure and those that are with normal. It had to be written with pencil at the beginning to be able to read it clearly. For a more professional writer, it could be written with pen, if you could read it and that was the idea. Write it but make sure you could read what you had written. I will not go into details, but it is quick and efficient. It is based on the 500 most used words in the English language, and they are not only shortened by shorthand, but in shorthand itself, even more abbreviated. An example “We thank you for your letter” becomes “We thank for your letter” which become four lines, curved or straight. I am not giving here a lesson on how to write Pitmans.

I learned it for a year in the commercial course at school and took my examinations, based on the speed. I hit an average of 120 words per minute, which is not bad, but a fully blooded expert would probably reach 180 words per minute if not more. When the boss is dictating you are not writing what he is now saying, that is being put into your memory box in your brain. You are writing probably what he said a few seconds ago, You are almost always behind, if he is a quick dictator, and the idea is to be able to cope with what he said and what he is saying.

This was the way all good secretaries did their work during the first half of the 19th century and probably into the sixties. We did not have electric typewriters, although they were just around the corner and if you were a chief executive secretary, you might have one. I leaned on a manual typewriter – but I am forgetting typewriters no longer exist, we now have a keyboard.

Is this a lost art? In a way I think it is. Modern office organisation has no room for manual machines or handwritten notes, although to say it is extinct is perhaps not the truth. I can still write it. I worked all my life in an office. My last job was an export clerk, but being an English speaking person in a German speaking environment, my knowledge was often called for if there was correspondence in english. My boss would tell me in German what to write and I would simultaneously translate in my brain and jot it down in Pitmans stenography, English style . Afterwards I wrote the necessary correspondence on the computer, but I had my notes to write from. Perhaps there are journalists amongst us. This would have been the priceless tool of their work and their steno would have even been more abbreviated to get all the facts for their articles.

I could also write Pitmans in German and French, although I had my own system, a little more exact, as these foreign languages were not in my blood.

So RIP steno, but I hope you are not yet buried. I no longer need you, my office working days are past, and I am sure that the younger generation now working in the offices of the world do not even know you existed. I still have my original Pitmans Shorthand Writing Exercises and Examination Test book, from which I learned this strange hieroglyphical writing style. They have never been rewritten, how could they, they are unique.

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1 comment:

  1. Pitmans looks a lot like some of the (invented) languages seen in various versions of Star Trek. I wonder if the writers got inspiration from Pitmans? :-))