Spdwrtng: shorthand for new generation

January 07, 1993|By Orlando Sentinel

Eric Shain thought shorthand sounded like a good class for his senior year.

The 17-year-old high school student wants to study medicine at the University of Florida.

"I'll be taking a lot of hard classes, so the shorthand will make the note-taking less tedious," he said.

But when he mentioned the class to his mom, she was less than enthusiastic.

"She didn't want me to take it," he said. "She said it would be too hard. She took shorthand in college and said, 'Oh, it was really hard,' blah, blah, blah . . . "

Eric signed up for Shorthand I anyway, and he's been doing pretty well at it -- "between 50 and 60 words a minute."

But Mom is unimpressed.

Eric reports that when his mother saw his handiwork, "she said, 'That's not shorthand -- and it's a lot easier than shorthand.' "

That was news to Eric. He'd never seen what most people over 30 think of as shorthand -- the symbolic lines and curves devised by John Robert Gregg in 1888 and used by generations of secretaries.

What Eric and his peers are studying is Speedwriting, a system of rapid writing that relies on the letters of the alphabet rather than symbols. For example, the word "about" is written abt.

Speedwriting was developed by Emma B. Dearborn, a Connecticut shorthand teacher, in 1923.

But it wasn't until the 1980s -- and the pervasiveness of personal computers and tape recorders -- that Speedwriting really took off.

"With Gregg shorthand, you need about two years' worth to be reallyproficient in it," said Susan Olin, program manager for Valencia Community College's Office Systems Technology Institute in Orlando, Fla. "First you learn theory, then you build up speed.

"People figured out that with ABC shorthand [Speedwriting], they could spend less time learning it. Learning Gregg is almost like learning a foreign language."

So take a letter, Maria: Like Latin, shorthand has joined the ranks of dead languages.

"I think it's a dying art as far as the way it was used," said Denise Singler, office manager for the Orlando law firm of Bogin Munns & Munns. "Gregg was so fine-tuned; you really don't need that anymore. Attorneys dictate everything from a hand-held tape recorder."

Lawyers aren't the only ones who prefer talking to machines.

"There are only a few of the old-school die-hard employers looking for it [shorthand skills]," said Karen Fahey, director of the Business Training Institute in Orlando.

"It's so much easier for them to use a tape recorder and say what they want to say and let it be transcribed from the recording."

With the decline of shorthand as a business requirement, Speedwriting has supplanted shorthand in high school and business-school classrooms as well.

Nevertheless, like Latin, shorthand continues to have its admirers -- among them, longtime shorthand teachers now reduced to instructing the ignoble Speedwriting.

For these die-hards, to know Gregg is to love him.

"I like the Gregg shorthand better myself because you build speed faster," said Velma Schwenke, who teaches Speedwriting in high school.

"I don't think students will get much more than 80-90 words a minute with Speedwriting, whereas with shorthand they can get up to 120 words a minute."

Also waxing nostalgic over old-fashioned shorthand are secretaries who've been around awhile.

At Bogin Munns & Munns, Ms. Singler says, "Most of the secretaries who know Gregg shorthand turn up their noses when you talk about Speedwriting.

"But if you talk to somebody who has no formal shorthand [training], Speedwriting doesn't sound like a bad idea."

In fact, Ms. Singler says, she wouldn't mind knowing it herself. And when she interviews prospective secretaries, she views any kind of note-taking skill -- be it Gregg shorthand or Speedwriting -- as a plus, "not necessarily to take dictation but just for doing daily work.

"Say you're talking to a client and he's giving you a long, involved message. You don't have time to sit there and do that all in longhand."

Oddly enough, some companies still demand some form of quickie note-taking as a prerequisite for promotion in the secretarial ranks -- even though their secretaries never take dictation by hand.

Why require something that isn't used?

"Because the employer knows instantly that the person who knows shorthand [or Speedwriting] is going to have a better command of English skills," said Alice Andrews, of the Winter Park (Fla.) Adult Vocational Center. "In shorthand, you have to transcribe, put punctuation in, spell, be grammatically correct. All that is part of the curriculum" when you study shorthand or Speedwriting, she said.

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