Is this alien writing? If you’re a baby boomer, you may recognize it

Language is a curious thing and the English language is curious, indeed. Plenty of words are written with more letters than they really need and English spelling can get downright bizarre — why not “thru” or “throo” instead of “through”? And in any case, with an alphabet of only 26 characters, it’s inevitable that letters will outnumber sounds. If you need to write something down in a hurry, linguistic quirks like these are sticks in your spokes.

An Irish-American educator named John Robert Gregg knew that stenographers needed a fast and efficient way to write down speech, so he devised a new and improved form of shorthand. At first glance, Gregg shorthand looks a bit like cursive writing but it’s actually very different. Instead of cursive’s flowing letters of the alphabet, Gregg uses elliptical and bisecting lines to represent spoken sounds. Once you know the system, you can jot down speech as quickly as it’s spoken: you’re recording sounds, not spelling out words.

Gregg’s system was first published in 1888 and it was long a big help to everybody from newspaper reporters, to courtroom stenographers, students taking notes, and of course, secretaries taking down dictation. Anyone of a certain age can remember a boss barking, “Take a memo!” Gregg shorthand is still used today, although technological changes have made it largely obsolete: first came dictation machines, then hand-held tape recorders, followed by computers, and smartphones. Nowadays, the boss who would once have barked out a memo is more likely to type an e-mail himself.

Obsolete though it may be, Gregg shorthand could still be a handy thing to know. If you’re interested in learning it, the video posted below is a good place to start. It’s the first of a five-part course.

Is shorthand something you used back in the day? Or even today? Tell us all about it in the comments at Facebook and don’t forget to like and share!