Is shorthand obsolete?

Published 12:00 am Saturday, February 5, 2011

Is shorthand obsolete?

“Can you really read that stuff?” someone often asked me as I scribbled notes in shorthand when I was a reporter. “Yes, I can,” I’d reply. If I had known at the time, I could have surprised that person with the fact that some of the hymns that we know were composed in shorthand.

That’s right. I discovered that the famous hymn writer, Charles Wesley, and his brother John Wesley, founders of Methodism, studied a system of shorthand under its inventor, English poet John Byrom. Both Oxford and Cambridge Universities offered classes in Byrom’s shorthand. Charles Wesley mastered it so well that he composed most of his hymns in shorthand, actually writing them as he rode along on his horse. One would hardly imagine as we sing the powerful “O For A Thousand Tongues to Sing,” “Praise the Lord Who Reigns Above,” “The Hidden Source of Calm Repose,” or “Blow Ye the Trumpet Blow,” among others, that Wesley was trotting along on his horse scribbling down those words as God gave them to him.

Other methods of shorthand eventually replaced Byrom’s that served the Wesley brothers so well. According to The World Book Encyclopedia, hundreds of shorthand methods have been devised through the years. An Irish educator invented the Gregg Shorthand method that I learned. I’ve always been glad that my parents gave me some good advice when I entered high school. “No matter what you plan to do in the future, take some business classes,” they said, suggesting typing, which I disliked, and shorthand which came easy to me. My typing teacher intimidated me by walking up and down the aisles, loudly pointing out the errors she saw her students making. As soon as she got close to me, my fingers faltered all over the keyboard. I hated changing typewriter ribbons and never really enjoyed typing until I began using a computer.

Shorthand was another story. I used it on my first job. I had no trouble transcribing my shorthand notes, but I still struggled with my typing. I quit work when my children came along and didn’t use my shorthand for years. When I went back to work, I picked it up immediately and regained my speed after a little practice. During my almost 20 years as a reporter, I filled notebook after notebook with my shorthand notes from meetings and interviews for feature stories.

Even today, the notebook I carry in my purse has lines of shorthand among its pages. I find scraps of paper with recipes written in shorthand tucked between pages of my cookbooks. I still make notations from telephone conversations in shorthand. It often comes in handy.

I read the other day that shorthand is obsolete. Maybe they don’t teach it anymore because of modern technology, But, for me and I suspect plenty of others who learned shorthand along the way, it isn’t obsolete.