This fundamental precept of Thomas Jefferson echoed the very reason for inventing the first system of shorthand.  By capturing the oratory of history’s great thinkers, shorthand artisans have enabled knowledge of significant rhetoric that led to decisions affecting earlier institutions.  Scrutiny of such contemporaneous and impartial writings, coupled with present views, have led to improved public and private structures. 

Tracing their professional legacy 5,000 years, to the Ancient Scribes, today’s verbatim experts continue adapting to the needs of society and thus perpetuate one of mankind’s earliest professions.

The Gallery of Shorthand is the world’s only public display devoted to the story of this timeless profession.  It is also a shorthand historical treasure trove. 

The Gallery’s creator and historian here shares narratives to provide knowledge and to correct misimpressions of the shorthand profession – so often taken for granted.

THE WORLD of SHORTHAND

Yesterday ~ Today 

One of mankind’s oldest professions, shorthand has evolved from the wax tablets of Caesar’s Rome, through centuries of highly-skilled pen shorthand writers, to machine shorthand artisans typically found in America’s court systems.

Shorthand is far from an old-fashioned art.  Today’s shorthand experts use computer technology to produce text instantly – sent from courtrooms to attorneys across the room and around the world – responsible for display of the captions seen during live televised broadcasts – and providing communication access for the deaf.

Shorthand professionals have objectively demonstrated the ability to capture extemporaneous speech at 360 words per minute (6 words per second) with high degrees of accuracy.

And the digital world of the 21st Century has seen the use of new techniques – Realtime Reporting, and created new careers related to communication – CART Captioning.

The World of Shorthand – Far from Obsolete!

PRESERVING TODAY TO ENRICH TOMORROW

Today ~ Tomorrow

The creation of writing 5,000 years ago may well be one of mankind’s greatest inventions, for it enabled the preservation of important thought in order to enrich tomorrow’s decisions.   

Shorthand was invented 2,000 years ago for a very similar reason: to capture verbal logic so that discourse can be remembered, providing opportunity for analysis and improvement while avoiding repetition.  Thus, shorthand has tacitly helped improve many of the world’s societies.  

SHORTHAND EVOLVES

One of mankind’s oldest professions, shorthand has evolved from the wax tablets of Caesar’s Rome, through centuries of highly-skilled pen shorthand writers, to machine shorthand artisans typically found in America’s court systems.

Shorthand is far from an old-fashioned art.  Today’s shorthand experts use computer technology to produce text instantly – sent from courtrooms to attorneys across the room and around the world – responsible for display of the captions seen during live televised broadcasts – and providing communication access for the deaf.

Shorthand professionals have objectively demonstrated the ability to capture extemporaneous speech at 360 words per minute (6 words per second) with high degrees of accuracy.

And the digital world of the 21st Century has seen the creation of new techniques – Realtime Reporting, and new careers related to communication access – CART Captioning.

The World of Shorthand – Far from Obsolete!

THE FIRST SHORTHAND SYSTEM

Even before Cicero invented the first system capable of capturing the spoken word, there were scribes who would set up stalls in the Roman marketplace and record transactions for important clients.  These scribes were not writing as extemporaneous thoughts were uttered, but preserving deliberately constructed undertakings.

The basis of Cicero’s Tironian Notes was to express words by using forms simpler than full spellings.  Common words were represented by few letters, letters that could be spared were omitted, and speed was achieved by rarely removing the hand from the tablet.  One form of Cicero’s system that survives is the ampersand (&) – the Tironian symbol for “et,” Latin for “and.”  Tironian shorthand achieved a vocabulary of 13,000 words.

A person who used Tironian Notes was called a Notarius.  Originally applied only to shorthand writers, over time the term was used to refer to court registrars, secretaries of emperors, and to a select high class of officials.

Roman scribes used an iron stylus to carve words into wood or ivory tablets filled with wax.  After one speech had been written and transcribed, the wax was rubbed smooth to be made ready for another use.  It is no wonder, therefore, that no traces of Cicero’s shorthand exist. Important utterances were rewritten by other scribes onto parchment – the source of our detailed knowledge about Cicero and the deliberations of the Roman Senate.

Read More about Epoch III – First System of Shorthand here.

ORTHOGRAPHIC (SPELLING-BASED) SHORTHAND

Timothe Bright’s 1588 creation of “Characterie,”  the seminal English shorthand system, triggered a 250-year procession of inventors who became known as The Masters of Shorthand.  

Their systems were orthographic – that is, based on the way words were spelled – not phonetic.  Thus, studying shorthand involved memorizing thousands of arbitrary ways of writing words – an undertaking lasting many years.  

The famous Masters included Bales, Willis, Shelton, Rich, Mason, Weston, Byrom, Gurney, Macaulay, and Mavor.  Perhaps the greatest of these was Samuel Taylor, whose system was used for the ensuing 60 years.  It was studied by both Isaac Pitman and John Gregg, and adapted for use in France, Italy, Holland, Sweden, Germany, Portugal, Rumania, and Hungary.  

Despite the drawbacks of orthography, in 1720 shorthand inventor John Byrom demonstrated a shorthand speed skill of 250 wpm.  

Inventor Thomas Gurney was the first reporter appointed to Old Bailey in 1737, and son Joseph became reporter to both Houses of Parliament in 1806.  Famous author Charles Dickens used Gurney’s shorthand system to pen drafts of many of his writings.  

PHONETIC SHORTHAND

The first complete shorthand system based on phonetics was invented by Phineas Bailey, of Chelsea, Vermont, in 1831.  He named it “A Pronouncing Stenography.”   Shortly after sharing his discovery with the then-elite Parliamentary reporters of London, they formed a group to study its feasibility.  

Shorthand tutor Isaac Pitman was among this group and became editor of a publication that would announce their findings:  The 1837 pamphlet Stenographic Sound-Hand

Great Britain is considered the birthplace of the first complete and practical English-language shorthand systems.  These are based on phonetics.   On the heels of America’s Phineas Bailey, two inventors are considered the most pivotal in shaping the profession of reporting – Sir Isaac Pitman and Dr. John Robert Gregg.  

Pitman’s Phonography, or Writing by Sound (1840) and Gregg’s Light-Line Phonography (1888) were logical, efficient, and led to enormous followings.  Each endured for decades and users ultimately achieved unparalleled records of speed and accuracy.

SHORTHAND - NOT JUST CAPTURING SOUND

Commentary

Shorthand is not merely the act of capturing sound quickly.   Shorthand practitioners interpret facial-muscle movements (did it/didn’t), apply specialized technical knowledge (ilium/ileum), discern subject-matter knowledge (62nd/60-second), separate overlapping speech, indicate speaker identity, interpret accents, and filter out extraneous noise and off-the-record discussions.  

Shorthand reporters know to clarify when something is inaudible or incomprehensible, and in an emergency can immediately halt proceedings before important first-thought responses are forever lost.  By visual observation, they discern between blended voices in order to identify speakers.  Minimum stenographic proficiency is 95% accuracy.

It is notable that several courts that experimented with audio/video to record trial proceedings have decided to use live court reporters, citing increased costs and equipment failures that resulted in expensive retrials.  

A comprehensive discussion about contemporary shorthand reporting careers can be found on the New York State Court Reporters website – Court Reporting As a Career.

MECHANIZED SHORTHAND

The Shorthand Machine

Born of a desire to aid the blind, Antonio Michela of Italy invented the first practical shorthand machine in 1865.  It has remained in continuous use in Italy’s Senate ever since.

France’s “The Stenographic Machine” (about which little is known) was created in 1875.

America’s first mechanized shorthand device was Miles Bartholomew’s 1879 Stenograph.  It used a series of dashes to indicate a letter.

George Anderson created the first “word-at-a-stroke” shorthand machine in 1886.  It was the first to use alphabetic letters.

The keyboard was defined forever by Ward Stone Ireland’s 1911 Stenotype – the keyboard used by today’s reporters.

Explore one of the most comprehensive collections of shorthand machines in the world, based on the research of Gallery Director Dominick M. Tursi, here.

SOME of HISTORY'S SHORTHAND SYSTEMS

Alethography
Aristography
Brachygraphy
Brachystography
Breviscript
Characterie
Cosmophonography
Cryptography
Duploye
Edeography
Etymography
Facilography
Fonoscript

Fonriting
Gabelsberger
Grammatography
Graphonography
Ideography
Kamloops Wawa
Kirografy
Kraipnography
La Plume Volante
Light Line
Mnomtechny
Opsigraphy
Orthography

Pen Pluck’d from an Eagle’s Wing
Phonastenography
Phonography
Polygraphy
Pontography
Scribendi
Semigraphy
Sound Hand
Stenoboligraphy
Stenograph
Stenotype
Stolze Schrey

Swiftography
Syllabography
Tachybrachgraphy
Tachygraphy
Taquigraphy
Theography
Tironian Notes
Typography
Unigraphy
Velocigraphy
Zeiglographia

THE TIMELESSNESS of SHORTHAND

Commentary

It takes only a quick look at history to realize that few things last for thousands of years. Shorthand has.  Important to its longevity are quality, uniqueness, and adaptability.

Ever since 1888, when pen writers populated the shorthand world, practitioners have striven for excellence.  The best of that genre demonstrated the ability to capture the spoken word at speeds of 270-280 words per minute.  Contemporary shorthand practitioners have objectively shown the ability to capture speech at up to 6 words per second with a high degree of accuracy.

Shorthand reporters, regardless of system, employ the most unique tool ever created: The Human Mind!  This is the tool that allows them to react to unclear/incomprehensible speech at once (before that spontaneous witness answer is forever lost), and to know immediately when other issues might interfere with a clear record.  It is what they use to filter extraneous noise, separate overlapping speech, recognize privileged communication, identify speakers, request immediate clarification, contend with unexpected events, and then deliver quality transcripts.

Shorthand has adjusted to the needs of society. It was the principal method used to disseminate pulpit preachings in the 16th Century – then the main source of public knowledge.  Some of history’s great thinkers engaged stenographers to capture their own extemporaneous musings.  

Sparked by public outrage at slanted newspaper accounts, it was used in 18th Century England to provide impartial accounts of debates in Parliament.

19th Century America created the Reporters of Debates to preserve congressional deliberations, and have published those in the Congressional Record to this day.   Shorthand writers have sat at the front row of other historic events – such as The Big Three Conferences that ended World War II, The Nuremberg War Crimes Trials – and are seen every day in court proceedings throughout the US.

As the 21st Century is launched, computer technology has become a significant adjunct to shorthand skill.  Today’s shorthand experts convert speech to text instantly, can display it on an overhead screen or another computer, and simultaneously deliver it anywhere in the world.  Another application of this is providing communication access to the deaf and producing the subtitles seen during televised broadcasts – now called CART Captioning.

A comprehensive discussion about contemporary shorthand careers can be found at the New York State Court Reporters website – Court Reporting As a Career.

SHORTHAND SPEED

Shorthand contests are of ancient origin.  It is written that Titus, eleventh of the twelve Caesars, “was capable of writing shorthand with the greatest rapidity and he often competed with the scribes for his own amusement.”  Not unexpectedly, he always won!

It should not be surprising, then, that contemporary shorthand artisans meet regularly to compare methods and to compete for the title of “best.”  They have done so through the ages and throughout the world, breaking old records and establishing new ones in their quest for excellence.  Continuing the tradition established by European counterparts, the National Court Reporters Association has been conducting annual speed competitions since 1909.   Some state associations do, as well.  Here are some noteworthy speed milestones in the US.

PERFECT SPEED CONTEST PAPERS

220 Literary Diane Kraynack 1986  
  Mark Kislingbury 1997  
  Laura Brewer 2014  
       
230 Legal Opinion Chuck Boyer 1985  
       
280 Q&A J. Edward Varallo  1975 (NSRA)
  Dominick Tursi 1975 (New York)
  Dale Varallo 1980  (PA)
  Candace Braksick 1994 (NCRA)
  Laura Brewer 2014 (NCRA)
  Jo Ann Bryce 2014 (NCRA)

 

 

FASTEST RECORDED SPEEDS

5’ @300 wpm, 98.40%,  Dominick Tursi Great Gorge, NJ Jun-81
1’ @360 wpm, 97.23%,  Mark Kislingbury Chicago, IL 30-Jul-04

 

 

SAME NUMBER OF ERRORS ON EACH SEGMENT

Arnold & William Cohen 220 Literary  3 errors 1953
  260 Jury Charge 4 errors 1953
  280 Q&A 2 errors 1953

 

 

 

FEWEST TOTAL ERRORS

Martin J. Dupraw (Gregg Shorthand)  3 total errors 99.91% 1925
Martin J. Dupraw (Gregg Shorthand)   8 total errors 99.79% 1926
Nathaniel Weiss  8 total errors 99.79% 1958 & 1960
J. Edward Varallo 6 Total Errors 99.82% 1975
Candace Braksick 3 total errors 99.91% 1994

 

 

MOST NCRA SPEED CHAMPIONSHIPS – Seven

Diane Kraynak  1978, 1981, 1982, 1985, 1988, 1989, 1992
Mark Kislingbury  2001, 2002, 2005, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010

 

 

 

ONLY NCRA SPEED CHAMPION IN FOUR DIFFERENT DECADES

J. Edward Varallo 1974, 1975, 1976, 1986, 1996, 2006

 

 

GREATEST PHONOGRAPHY (PITMAN) SHORTHAND WRITER

Nathan Behrin – Speed Champion  1911, 1912, 1913, 1914, 1922

 

 

 

 

GREATEST GREGG SHORTHAND WRITER

Martin J. Dupraw Speed Champion 1925 (age 19), 1926, 1927
Set new records of accuracy under each of two different test formats