Dutton Speedwords

(by johnsapp for everyone)

Relocated from General discussion.

From: Alex  (Original Message)                                                                                 Sent: 11/18/2005 7:55 AM

So what does anyone on this group know about Dutton Speedwords?  I just acquired the text by Reginald J.G.Dutton, and it’s fascinating . . . “Ordinary writing at Shorthand Speed”, says the cover.
It’s not exactly an alphabetic shorthand system.  The author has used Horn’s study of word frequency, and for example the most commonly occurring words are represented by one letter, the second most common by 2 letters, etc.  For example, from the first lesson:
& = and
c = this
t = it
be = before
gu = good
ri = write
ze = send
Etc.  It’s quite unusual.  You have to memorize 400+ of those “words” to use the system, plus there are a variety of principles, such as “A Speedword ending in a consonant adds -o to convey a contrary meaning, while one ending in a vowel adds -x.”  So ax = question, axo = answer; de = day, dex = night; ov = over, ovo = under.
There’s a whole “appendix” full of similar speed principles.
The end of the book talks about a system of “Dutton Shorthand”  for anyone who’s interested in “taking notes at verbatim speed in geometric shorthand.”  No clue in the book what it’s like.
(The book, “Teach Yourself Dutton Speedwords”, was published in 1951.  Apparently there were other supplementary books and materials available.)
Just curious what anyone knows about this unusual system.
Message 2 of 5 in Discussion
From: Mark                                                                                                                                 Sent: 11/18/2005 10:23 AM
Well, Alex, this is not exactly a shorthand system. It’s a language of its own, based on English but also on other European languages. All the words are shortened and the grammar rules are regular and simple. Beware. It isn’t plain English. You’ll have to translate the words being dictated to use it as shorthand.
Message 3 of 5 in Discussion
From: Alex                                                                                                                                   Sent: 11/18/2005 10:29 AM
It’s definitely some sort of hybrid system.  The author is quite clear that it isn’t exactly English.  For example, the Speedword for “a, an” is “u”, from French “un”.  And there’s a section that talks about how it can be applied to any language.
There are shorthand-like principles included, however, such as techniques for showing word endings.  The -o or -x endings to show “opposition” are almost like the system that Esperanto uses.
Very odd stuff.  I wonder if anyone really learned and used Dutton Speedwords.  Memorising “493 one-, two-, or three-letter word roots” seems daunting.
And I’m also curious what the Dutton “geometric shorthand” system was like.
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From: Mark                                                                                                                                 Sent: 11/18/2005 10:40 AM
This message has been deleted by the author.
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From: Mark                                                                                                                                 Sent: 11/18/2005 11:14 AM

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26 comments Add yours
  1. Your posting about Dutton Speedwords was very interesting.  Dutton Speedwords was highly advertised in the UK starting from the early 1950s and almost throughout that decade.  I recall writing to Dutton's in the UK for their brochure and received the first two lessons free-of-charge.  It was a clever system using the familiar 26 letter roman alphabet plus a few other familiar signs, eg. ampersand, etc.  At the time the general attitude was that Dutton's was okay as a good note-taking shorthand but certainly not professional.  In those days Pitman reigned supreme and was firmly established and could not be shaken.  Gregg was used in the UK but considered 'inferior' to Pitman.  It was always brainwashed Pitman users who propogated the story.  Dutton's advertising was particularly good, especially in the London 'Underground' system. Regarding the Dutton system, 'stenographers' or 'shorthand-typists' as we called them, and
    journalists did not use it.   John M.E. Alpe (Grandsamboson)
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  2. John:

    Just out of curiosity, why was Pitman considered superior to Gregg?

    I just recently read an opinion by a New Zealand college that asserted the same thing. "A number of studies were done, and it has been established that Pitman New Era was the most superior system"…something like that.

    I'm curious to hear the "other side".

  3. George, thanks for your message.  I have to be careful because I am entering what was political territory.  Pitman were 'public benefactors' in a number of ways, so they deserved full consideration.  My researches suggested that Pitman were able to influence public bodies responsible for 'commercial examinations' and took full advantage of this ability.  This resulted in Pitman being the 'national system' and any others were naturally inferior.  The story I remember hearing in late 1940s or early 1950s was that nobody of importance did Gregg and they were not big enough (in UK) to organise 'speed exams'.  I feel sure that Gregg would have won every time.  World speed record in English language shorthand was held by Gregg and never beaten – that speaks for itself.   Best Wishes,  Grandsamboson aka SurplusLimey    

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  4. I second Iron's message.

    In addition, I'd like to draw attention to a statement of Morris Kligman, who wrote How to write 240 wpm in Pitman Shorthand. Kligman,a Pitman writer, would have every reason to diss Gregg.

    But to his credit, he did not. He contends that Gregg and Pitman are exactly the same in terms of quality and speed potential. He believed it was the writer behind the system that counted. I couldn't agree more.

    We've been discussing the mechanics of the systems recently. We've reached the conclusion that while Gregg relies on fluidity and ease of stroke execution for its speed, Pitman relies on extreme brevity. Does it matter which road to Rome is taken? The destination is the same.

    I was just curious to hear what the Commonwealth had to say about the two systems. It disappoints me to hear that it was all political.

  5. Hello Surplus…

    As far as I'm aware the world shorthand speed record was held by Nathan Behrin, a pitman writer, at 350 wpm back in 1922. That's insanely fast. And surprising that it wld be Pitman; I would hv thought that it'd go to some using a cursive or script system like Gregg or possibly Eclectic. Though on further reflection considering the sheer size of the pool of Pitman writers – Britain and the Commonwealth is big area – I'm not so surprised that there'd be SOMEONE who cld use that system to get an amazing result…



  6. Billy:

    You're quite right. Pitman actually retained its dominance in court reporting; while Gregg overcame Pitman in the secretarial field.

    However, right around the same time, the Stenotype was invented Slowly but surely, Stenotype edged out the Pitman writers.

    The Senate and House kept their Pitman writers all the way through the 1970s. The last one retired in 1984.

  7. Of course, Gregg itself had begun its decline by 1984. Our forummate ShorthandMarc traces the history quite well on his website. Briefly put, the advent of Series 90 caused a loss of interest in Gregg in general, at the same time microcassettes were making Gregg obsolete (ostensibly, anyway)…

  8. George, Perhaps it was the other way around. Textbooks in both public and private schools were simplified in each generation in every subject area including shorthand. Due to improved technology shorthand became increasingly less in demand. Series 90 was produced in a generation where shorthand was being dropped as a requirement  in school district after school district . It was also decreasing rapidly as a job prerequisite ( and this was happening already in the DJ era). Series 90 entered a world already insensitized to shorthand. Pitman faced the same conditions and went through various simplifications to no avail.The alphabetic systems seemed to spurt under the assumption that they could be attractive to a more technological society, but today there is no great demand for them either. DJ, Series 90 and Centennial were a product of their time, an era of decreasing emphasis on shorthand. To   assume that they were responsible for the decline in shorthand appreciaiton, would assume I would think, that a superior series would have reversed the decline. I would postulate that technology is the culprit, not the progressive simplification of any one of the major shorthand series.     DOC

  9. John and Doc:

    Is it possible that it's all of these reasons? It's not necessarily a black-or-white issue.

    My own high school had DJS in 1979, but I believe we were slightly behind the times; Series 90 had already been released a year or two, I think.

    By contrast, the first Walkman I saw in 1982. Microcassettes aimed at the consumer market came out some time later.

    Series 90 came before the micros, but as you've said, John and Doc, it's not necessarily a causal relationship. Perhaps one innovation augmented the other as the reason(s) for Shorthand's decline.

    Whatever the reason, I hope we Shorthand Nuts can do everything we can to bring this dying system back. I know of exactly two schools in the whole US that are teaching it, and that's a national shame, to my mind…

  10. Wow! Finally someone agrees with me. It may be true that the decline of Gregg correlates with the release of Series 90, but that doesn't necessarily indicate a causal relationship. I don't say that S90 is innocent, just that it is arbitrary to blame the system. The only two pieces of good evidence that S90 caused the downfall are (1) that the publisher quickly reversed many of S90's innovations by releasing Centinnial ahead of schedule and (2) that Marc^3 believes it, and he worked for McGraw-Hill when S90 was being developed–which makes him credible. He has told us that it was poorly formulated for selfish reasons, tops out at around 100wpm, and was widely disliked by instructors and students.

    Still, all that proves to me is that S90 sucked, not that it caused the downfall of Gregg. I agree with Doc that there are any number of other possible causes. For example, cheap tape recorders, stenotype machines, and personal computers. In fact, it has been said here more than once that Gregg was already on the decline when S90 came out. If that is true, then for all we know, Gregg may have had died even faster if S90 had not been released. Maybe S90, with it's smaller learning curve, salvaged a few last semesters of Gregg instruction by appealling to the shorter attention spans of the day's steno-students.

    When guns won out over the bow and arrow as a tool of warfare, it wasn't because they were more accurate or efficient (the early ones weren't either), it was because they didn't require years of training to master, so soldiers could be churned out much faster—cost/benefit analysis. Why study a craft for years when you can use a new gadget that works nearly as well with no study at all?

    If Gregg was already declining before S90, then I think the publisher would have been foolish not to notice the fact and make changes to meet the public's tastes. Sadly, Gregg is now totally dead as far as academic instruction. We who are generally interested for the sake of fun have longer attention spans and aren't as concerned with the cost/benefit trade off of learning curve/speed. We tend to be perfectionist personality types, so tend to favor the older versions that have more perfect results.

    Praise the Lord, I saw the light line!

  11. They did, actually, have dictaphones in the 70's — I remember being fascinated by a continuous band of translucent blue plastic that fit on rollers in a dictation machine and a transcribing machine. I don't think we had them in the classroom, but I know my father used to dictate reports onto them, and then they'd be typed up.

  12. The history of recording website also says that from the earliest beginnings there was a small but devoted bunch of businesses and execs who used the dictation recording equipment.   There are always people willling to spend money on technology, often in the hopes it will make life easier, but sometimes just for the love of technology.   Guilty as charged, my lord.

  13. Billy:

    I'm wondering if the advent of computers in the late 70s and early 80s caused a change in paradigm. Rather, a change in the way we looked at things, at technology as the answer to all our problems.

    This change in paradigm might have caused offices, etc, to look at the recording industry– until that point, in its infancy–as a way to lower costs and improve efficiency. After all, paying a typist is cheaper than paying a trained stenographer.

    This could have had a trickle-down effect, and, coupled with the wildly unpopular Series 90, have caused the downfall of Gregg.

    What do you think?

  14. Yes, well, precisely, George. Indubitably, Marc.   The lack of people to fulfil certain roles decreases the demand, etc.   There was a great picture on that site of a scary looking typing pool with women in Edwardian (c 1907) dress hooked into ungainly "Ediphones" and typing on the equally ungainly manual typewriters. Yes, Edison did make dictation and transcription machines.   So, bfg if it took nearly 100 years to render shorthand obsolete. Shorthand is clearly a tough cookie, and NOW is the time for a revival.   The more shorthand courses on offer the better, I say. Especially highly accessible ones. i.e. online.

  15. Folks, I was a word processing manager after my stint with "Mother McGraw." We still had people rushing off to take dictation from the word processing center and we had one of those miserable telephone dictation systems mentioned in the link from which NO ONE ever wanted to transcribe! (It was hard to hear what was being said, the caller got cut off, etc.)

    I then worked in a legal firm; we simply couldn't find secretaries who wrote shorthand fast enough–and I'm only talking about 100 w.p.m. So we moved to dictation equipment because of that fact since the work still had to get done. Yes, there was some sort of "clout" to have "your girl" come in and take dictation as opposed talking into a machine. (For the record, in the firms I worked in, most shorthand writers detested having to transcribe those microcasettes.) I've always thought of it as "technology to the rescue" but still think, as I do today, that had we been able to find secretaries who wrote shorthand then (about 1984), shorthand would still be taught in schools today.


  16. I think an important variable in the decline of shorthand is the educational setting with its own set of inherent factors. With both manual and machine stenography there has always been a lot of pressure on the students. The dropout rate had always been consistant in shorthand systems courses and especially high in machine stenography. Federal , state and local funding is quite often based on achievement.  Lack of achievement can adversely effect an institution in terms of funding. As business became increasingly technologically oriented and with the advent of computers it apparently became more fiscally sound to expand the more successful technological courses and to do away with the high pressure stenographical instruction. Part of the advantage of computer technology is its ready reception on the part of the student. Most elementary and even some early childhood learners come to the classroom already proficient in computer skills and would not even question the value of such training. Many high school and college students bring their laptops to class and take rapid and precise notes. Many employers would like minutes from meetings available asap, and so would prefer laptop to stenography followed by transcription. I would like to see a renaissance in shorthand instruction, but unfortunately do not expect one on a large scale. I think a similar situation in longhand circles was the advent of the ballpoint pen. Proponents of the fountain pen would lament the loss of beautifully executed Palmer cursive with the adaption to simpler cursive, and even worse, printing !   DOC

  17. DOC:

    Possibly not.

    The one element that might help bring back a resurgence of stenography is commerce. I can think of situations where stenography might be legal, where a recording device might not. This would cause a certain demand to resurface in the business world.

    You might find this link interesting. Look at the far right hand corner–you'll see that in the UK, at least, interest in stenography is coming back. 🙂 To wit: Stenography Up 60% in UK

  18. George,  Thanks for the link!  I see in it a possible lead to a reintroduction to Gregg Shorthand in the United States. If some academics could find funding for a study of an appropriate role for Shorthand in today's commercial world, and develop a course with certification offered in a few strategically located centers, assuming an attractive and motivating advertisement campaign directed not only to potential students but also to corporate leaders: WOW, I could see a renaissance in our present day! It usually takes smart advertising gurus to tell the public that we need their product. In the initial study, one division of labor could look at Gregg in all of its historic incarnations and choose the one that best suits the needs of today's commerce or devise a new refined system of Gregg that would not be merely a simplification of the past epochs. If this renaissance would become a reality, I would without reluctance learn the new Gregg so as to be part of a revival of shorthand! If for some reason another system of shorthand would become the shorthand of the day, I would study that system and become bisystematic in my own sphere. Of course history has proven that should any new shorthand system become nearly universally prominent, the old intrasystem wars will once again be waged in a healthy competition.   DOC

  19. Well, Iike I said, Doc, there's a very compelling use in the workplace.

    When someone is fired (at least in my state) no recording devices are legal. But a stenographer would be; witnesses to the termination are already utilised.

    Companies could use an exact transcript of what transpires in these sessions, for legal reasons.

    The amount of money it would cost a large company would be negligible comparred to the savings in legal costs.

    A little bit of imagination could suggest all kinds of other uses, too.

  20. To dig up an old thread, here are my two cents on Dutton Speedwords: a good idea that is very poorly implemented. Unlike Esperanato which only has a few idiomatic uses of affixes (car+place = garage e.g.), Dutton so misused particles that practically every case must be learned separately. What do you get when you combine "good" with the "general affix"? Why, "salad" of course! What about "cloud" with the "bad affix"? Why, "fog" naturally.

    I do like the idea of compacting a language in this way, but for it to be of interest to me personally, it needs to be extensively revamped in its vocabulary and particle system to be more, to put it bluntly, linguistically competent.

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