Gregg Shorthand

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This page contains information about the Gregg shorthand system.

See this idea for shorthand and memory palaces.


Gregg Shorthand Example.gif

Gregg shorthand is a system of phonography, or a phonetic writing system, which means it records the sounds of the speaker, not the English spelling.[1] It uses the f stroke for the f sound in funnel, telephone, and laugh.[2] All silent letters are omitted.[3] The image on the right shows the strokes of Gregg Shorthand Simplified. The system is written from left to right and the letters are joined. Sh (= ʃ) (and zh = ʒ), Ch (= tʃ), and J (or Dzh, = dʒ) are written downward,[4] while t and d are written upward.[5] X (k|s) is expressed by putting a slight backward slant on the s symbol, though a word beginning ex is just written as if spelt es (and, according to Pre-Anniversary, ox is written as if os).[6] W when in the middle of a word, is notated with a short dash under the next vowel.[7] Therefore, the letter Q (= k|w) is usually written as k with a dash underneath the next vowel.[8] In Anniversary and before, if z need be distinguished from s, a small tick drawn at a right angle from the s may be written to make this distinction.[9]

Many of the letters shown are also brief forms, or standard abbreviations for the most common words for increased speed in writing.[10] For instance, instead of writing kan for "can", the Gregg stenographer just writes k.[11] These brief forms are shown on the image to the right. There are several others not shown, however. For instance, "please" is written in Simplified and back as simply pl,[12] and "govern" as gv.[13]

Phrasing is another mechanism for increasing the speed of shorthand writing. Based on the notion that lifting the pen between words would have a heavy speed cost, phrasing is the combination of several smaller distinct forms into one outline.[14] For example "it may be that the" can be written in one outline, "(tm)ab(th)a(th)".[15] "I have not been able" would be written, "avnba" (Note that to the eye of the reader this phrase written in shorthand looks like "I-have-not-been-able", and so phrasing is far more legible than a longhand explanation of the principle may lead one to believe).

The vowels in Gregg shorthand are divided into three main groups that very rarely require further notation. The a is a large circle, and can stand for the a in "apple" (æ), "father" (ɑː), and "ache" (eɪ).[16] The e is a small circle, and can stand for the e in feed (iː) and help (ɛ), the i in trim (ɪ) and marine (iː), and the vowel in her and learn (ɜr).[17] The ī represents the i in fine (aɪ).[18] The o is a small hook that represents the al in talk (ɔː), the o in cone (oʊ), jot (ɒ), and order (ɔr).[19] The u is a tiny hook that expresses the three vowel sounds heard in the words who (uː), up (ʌ), and foot (ʊ).[20] It also expresses a w at the beginning of a word.[21] In "Anniversary," short and long vowel sounds for e, a, o and u may be distinguished by a mark under the vowel, a dot for short and a small downward tick for long sounds.[22]

There are special vowel markings for certain diphthongs.[23] The ow in how (aʊ) is just an a circle followed by an u hook. The io in lion (aɪ|.|ə), or any diphthong involving a long i and a vowel, is written with a small circle inside a large circle.[24] The ia in piano (i|.|æ) and repudiate (i|.|eɪ) is notated as a large circle with a dot in its center.[25] In Anniversary and back, if ea need be distinguished from ia, it is notated with a small downward tick inside the circle instead of the dot.[26] The u in united (juː) is notated with a small circle followed by an u hook above it.[27]

Due to the very simple alphabet, Gregg shorthand is very fast in writing; however, it takes a great deal of practice to master it. Speeds of 280 WPM (where a word is 1.4 syllables) have been reached with this system before, and those notes are still legible to others who know the system.[28]

Some left-handed shorthand writers have found it more comfortable to write Gregg shorthand from right to left.[29] This "mirror writing" was practiced by a few people throughout the life of Gregg shorthand. However, left-handed writers can still write Gregg shorthand from left to right with considerable ease.

Versions of Gregg shorthand

Throughout the history of Gregg shorthand, different forms of Gregg were published. All the versions use the same alphabet and basic principles, but they differ in degree of abbreviation and, as a result, speed. The 1916 version ('Preanniversary Gregg') is generally the fastest and most abbreviated version. Series 90 Gregg has the smallest degree of abbreviation, but it is also generally the slowest version of Gregg. Though each version is different in its level of abbreviation, most versions have expert and reporting versions for writers who desire more shortcuts.
The first version of Gregg shorthand to merit popular adoption was Preanniversary Gregg, released in 1916. It has the largest amount of abbreviations, and hence has the largest memory load. It was the most commonly used Gregg version for court reporting. The next version was titled 'Anniversary Gregg'. It had a greatly enhanced manual, but a slightly reduced list of abbreviations, and was hence slightly slower. It's advantages outweighed its disadvantages, though, and became extremely popular.
The third version was called 'Simplified' and presents a turning point in the history of Gregg Shorthand. It was created not by John Robert Gregg, who was by then dead, but McGraw Hill Publishing Company. The abbreviations were greatly reduced, and it was not designed to support 'user-made' abbreviations, unlike its predecessors: its list of abbreviations was absolute. Nevertheless, one could still break the 150wpm or even the 200wpm barrier with enough work. Due to its speed limits, however, it was never popular in court reporting.
The fourth version, 'Diamond Jubilee', was created to adapt to the changed social conditions of the time. Court stenographers using shorthand were no longer in existence - machine stenography had replaced them all. McGraw Hill focused on a new segment of society: business. It was made easier and slower, as the stringent requirements of court reporting were no longer applicable. One struggled to break through 150wpm barrier, and 170wpm was probably its very highest barrier. Nevertheless, it was perfectly suited for business affairs.
When McGraw Hill thought about making another version, shorthand was becoming increasingly rare and unpopular. McGraw Hill's fifth version probably accelerated that process: Series 90 dropped a large amount of abbreviations, in an attempt to make it 'easier.' With it, one could rarely breach the 100wpm barrier. It was thus rendered useless, and still retained the inherent difficulty of all Gregg Shorthand systems. It was an epic failure.
By the time McGraw Hill realised its error, and hence created a better version, it was too late. Centennial Gregg was made to reverse the destruction Series 90 had caused - it had slightly more abbreviations than Diamond Jubilee, and was probably a good shorthand system. Unfortunately for McGraw Hill, the public no longer gave a monkey's ass. Gregg Shorthand was dead.

Usage of Versions

Now comes the question, "Which Shorthand version should I use?"

Unfortunately, even the latest version, Centennial, is rather outdated in its choice of abbreviations. English has evolved, and alas, Shorthand has remained stagnant.

There only are two practical choices for those who want to breach 200wpm: Pre-anniversary Gregg, and Anniversary Gregg. They are the oldest versions, but as they were designed to be built on by the user, they are the only versions that can take into account modern vocabulary usage. If there is a future for Gregg Shorthand, it finds itself in the adaptation of these to modern society.

For those who do not particularly care about such speed, avoid Series 90, and you can't go wrong.


  1. Gregg, 1929 Manual, 1.
  2. Gregg, 1929 Manual, 18.
  3. Gregg, 1929 Manual, 1.
  4. Gregg, 1929 Manual, 18.
  5. Gregg, 1929 Manual, 1.
  6. Gregg, 1929 Manual, 29.
  7. Gregg, 1929 Manual, 53.
  8. Gregg, 1929 Manual, 53.
  9. Gregg, 1929 Manual, 23.
  10. Gregg, 1929 Manual, 10.
  11. Gregg, 1929 Manual, 1.
  12. Gregg, 1929 Manual, 66.
  13. Gregg, 1929 Manual, 50.
  14. Gregg, 1929 Manual, 15.
  15. Gregg, 1929 Manual, 86.
  16. Gregg, 1929 Manual, 3.
  17. Gregg, 1929 Manual, 3.
  18. Gregg, 1929 Manual, 61.
  19. Gregg, 1929 Manual, 34.
  20. Gregg, 1929 Manual, 48.
  21. Gregg, 1929 Manual, 52.
  22. Gregg, 1929 Manual, 4.
  23. Gregg, 1929 Manual, 61.
  24. Gregg, 1929 Manual, 65.
  25. Gregg, 1929 Manual, 65.
  26. Gregg, 1929 Manual, 65.
  27. Gregg, 1929 Manual, 61.
  28. Gregg, 1929 Manual, viii-ix.
  29. Methods of Teaching Gregg Shorthand, pages=128–129