Godfrey Dewey Personal Shorthand

Hi all,

Apologies for the post from the blue- I’m another shorthand fanatic- however my requirements for complete information assurance kind of rule out most shorthand systems.

I take notes during interviews/investigations that I *have* to be able to decipher sometimes months/years later. I noticed George talking about Dewey’s Personal Shorthand and it’s inherent redundancy. Does anyone know where I can get a copy? I’ve got an ILL in, but I’ve found many libraries won’t share. I’d settle for a Xerox, even. 🙂

Thanks! Great discussions on the board- have been reading them since I was deployed to Iraq. 🙂



(by tom_in_co for everyone)

25 comments Add yours
  1. Tom:

    Sorry I took so long to get back to you.

    You can see an actual scan of Personal Shorthand in Message 13 of the other thread; as you can see, it looks very much like Pitman.

    Personal Shorthand wasn't designed to be an amanuensis or court reporting system, merely a diary-keeping or correspondence system. As such, it probably can't be cranked up much past 80 or 90 wpm.

    If your focus is on writing a diary that absolutely nobody could read, I strongly suggest Personal Shorthand–I think it will meet your needs quite handily. It's designed to be readable even decades later; it's quite unambiguous (unlike Advanced Pitman or Gregg), and is designed to be learned in about 10-12 weeks.

    I don't know why you can't get the book via an Interlibrary Loan; I found it easily. Perhaps you're looking for the wrong edition? The Personal Shorthand in question was written in about 1904.

    Please keep us posted on your progress. I'm very interested in this topic.


    George A.

  2. Tom:

    I need to make a correction; the Personal Shorthand in question was written in 1922. Here's the complete information for you for Interlibrary Loan purposes:

    LC Control Number: 23002280
    Type of Material: Book (Print, Microform, Electronic, etc.)
    Brief Description: Dewey, Godfrey, 1887-
    Personal shorthand, by Godfrey Dewey.
    Yonkers-on-Hudson, N.Y., World book company, 1922.
    xvi, 199 p. 18 cm.

    Good luck to you. Please keep me posted…

  3. George,

    Many thanks! I believe that this is the same one as I've requested- I've requested many shorthand manuals over the past couple of years- most get kicked back due to the few numbers of books available. Although the Library of Congress once sent me one- that was pretty cool.

    Speaking of obscure systems, have you ever heard of "Perpindicular Shorthand"? Only one copy, in the main library in NYC.

    Personal Shorthand sounds ideal for my needs- the ability to recover the meaning over a long period is essential. I have been using Forkner, only because it was designed to be unambiguous- and I can be assured of recovering the data when we go to court. I've wanted to learn a script and/or geometric system, as it appears that a symbol designed for speed or ease of writing has a decided advantage over forcing the alphabet into new uses (viz. Teeline or Forkner).

    Thanks for your help. I will certainly let you know if I strike gold.



  4. George-

    I have the full ID on the book at work- have to leave this a.m. for a week trip. When I get back, I will email you with the book's details. As I recall from the WorldCat entry, only one library had a copy- the NYC Main, in its wonderful shorthand collection. Of course, they wouldn't loan it or copy it! Drat! I too would love to know more!

    I was looking over the scans of PS that you pointed me too! I think it's perfect for my needs. I owe you big time. 🙂

  5. You can get a full copy of Dewey's Personal Shorthand (and a few other shorthand books) by registering at stenografia.info. It's a small but great site – Bulgarian, but with an English translation.   Hope that helps 🙂   Ian

  6. George,     Here's the reference to the perpindicular shorthand book I mentioned earlier:   Perpindicular Shorthand W.J. Bayliss  (William John).    The only known copy is in the reference section at the NYC main public library- they won't share or photocopy via ILL, sadly.   Sounds interesting though….   T

  7. Dear Tom,
    If you want ease of transcription and very little ambiguity you may want to look into Pocknell's Legible Shorthand. He did an Instruction Book, and a Primer, as well as Monosyllabic Exercises.

    Pocknell was greatly concerned to increase legibility in shorthand and placed a lot of emphasis in his system's theory for indicating vowels in their combinations and orders in such a way as to prevent ambiguity; for example, the outlines for 'Pupil' and 'People' are markedly dissimilar and thus unlikely to be confused. His system was also designed for verbatim reporting.

    A much simpler system was Thomas Gurney's – you would have to have an exeptionally quick hand to take verbatim notes with this one – which was also quite unambiguous. This lack of ambiguity is one of the reasons why it was used to record Parliamentary proceedings during the time of Dickens. If you want a system of 'expeditious writing' as opposed to a verbatim reporting tool, you may want to give it a look. Its theory is a lot less time-consuming to learn than Pocknell's.

    I must admit that if I just wanted to make 'copious notes', without ambiguity, I'd have gone for Thomas Gurney's system; it might be antiquated but it's straightforward, indeed even 'crude', and the penmanship is not hard.

    If you look in "Anything goes" History of shorthand thread, and the Eclectic thread you'll be able to pull up some discussion of Pocknell and a sample…

    I expect some of the other forum posters will be able to elaborate on and add to what I've said above!

    I hope you find the right shorthand system for your purposes!


  8. Iron,

    *Many* thanks for the advice/insight. I really appreciate your interest! Pocknell's sounds very promising- do you have any details on the mechanics of the system? I'll check the thread now… I see that there is one copy for sale on Abebooks- $150+! Ouch. My library is very hit or miss on ILL's – maybe I'll get lucky this time. :/ There isn't a PDF of his book floating around out there, is there? 🙂

    Is Gurney's system also known as Brachygraphy? I think I may have looked at it in the past…

    Cheers & many thanks!


  9. -Iron,

    Excuse this second post- my reply went somewhere else entirely….

    Have you seen Mavor's Universal Stenography? Pretty cool system. I could post a pdf if anyone was interested. It uses periods & commas in three positions to mark vowels. Kinda neat.

    Also, Ian was kind enough to get me a pdf of Dewey's GS Teacher- which has fueled my interest in his system. Do you know if a pdf of the "General Shorthand- Basic Text" is available anywhere? The GS Teacher cross-references with the Basic Text- I think it might make learning quicker if I could locate one… My library is quite unpredictable about ILLs, sadly.

    Anyway, thanks for the pointers & new info!



  10. Dear Tom,

    Glad to have been of some help! Ian and George know lots about all this. I've got photocopies of Pocknell and Gurney [yes, you're right, his system was originally called Brachygraphy]. I'm waiting on Pocknell's Primer. I believe it would be wise – regarding Pocknell – to start with the Primer (16 pages) before using the Instruction book (107 pages).

    I would be happy to send you copies of my photocopies of Gurney's system – for unambiguous 'expeditious writing' it's a great contender for serious consideration – and my Pocknell material. When and if I get the Pocknell Primer, I'd be able to send you that as well.


  11. Dear Tom,

    I don't know much about Mavor's system. In my judgement having the vowels available for representation with inline characters – as in Gregg, and Eclectic – has enormous value in promoting clarity of meaning and readability. I don't know if Mavor has the option of representing the vowels by inline characters.

    With regard to Dewey's system I could not get copies of the British Library holding, which is a bit of a pity…


  12. Iron,

    You've been more than helpful! Many thanks! I would love to see anythying that you would care to send. 🙂 And any experiences/critiques with/of different systems would also be most welcome. 🙂



  13. Tom,

    That's interesting! Isaac Newton used Shelton's system. Apparently it was pretty popular in its time.

    I have not got that much experience of other systems. The only one I've got a real handle on is Cross's Eclectic. But in my perusals through the world of shorthand I've come to judge shorthand systems by the volume, complexity, and coherence of their theory; their tendency or otherwise towards ambiguity of outline; and finally the penmanship skill required. All this weighted according to the purpose of use; verbatim notes or just very full notes… Thankfully to form a valid impression of any given system you don't have to learn all its theory, more often than not the author goes into considerable detail about how they've tackled the construction of their system, what its most salient characteristics are, and why they are important…


    PS. I'll post as soon as Pocknell's Primer comes through.

  14. Iron,

    And Pepys! 🙂 I'm in complete accord with your sentiments of how to define a shorthand system. How do you like Eclectic so far? I saw the Wikipedia entry on it- very cool. Quite information dense… how hard is it to read back though?



  15. Tom,

    Regarding Pocknell and Sweet I can't say much as I don't know much about Sweet's except that it is not geometric like Pocknell. The writing action should be much more akin to ordinary cursive longhand for Sweet. There is a very nice sample of it in 'Anything goes' as well as a sample of Pocknell. I can't remember if they are under 'history…' or 'eclectic…' threads.

    There is some very interesting discussion in 'Anything goes' somewhere in the Eclectic or History threads about handwriting types' fit to the different kinds of shorthand, be they Geometric, Cursive, or Script. There was some agreement that if you don't write cursively and have a print-like style then a Geometric system my suite better.

    Apparently Sweet's may be written orthographically or phonetically which may suggest that it has the potential to retain clarity of meaning through time. Sweet could use it at 140wpm! Writing it should be quite pleasant for those with a flowing cursive hand. Ian and George may be able to add some observations to all this.


  16. Tom,

    Regarding Cross's Eclectic in comparison with Pocknell the former is briefer in its outlines and more linear as there are only very slight perpendicular marks in Eclectic. Eclectic is more cursive and than geometric being based on the elipse of traditional handwriting rather than the circle of geometric systems like Pitman and Pocknell. In this respect it resembles Gregg. Thought it is based on the elipsis it does not flow in the way that Sweet's outlines do… Eclectic Shorthand penmanship is fiddly and takes a lot of practice to stabilise…


  17. Iron,    As always many thanks for your insight/comments. I've looked at all the references you've noted, and am constantly amazed at the widely dissimilar variety of solutions to a simliar problem- human ingenuity, no doubt.  If Pocknell's system does justice to your description (and I have no doubt that it will! 🙂 ) it might be *my* perfect solution to my shorthand system need.  I really appreciate your continued support!   Cheers,   Tom

  18. George,

    Per your stated interest, I thought I would drop this short post about what I've discovered about Dewey and his many-named system. 🙂 ILL actually came through for once and got me two Dewey books! Personal Shorthand (1902) and Script Shorthand (1938). The former is (IMHO) nothing more than an adaption of Pitman- it uses shading, all sorts of odd joins and to my eye is quite ugly. The latter book is amazing- gone is the shading, the alphabet is redesigned and it has the interline vowels that make it unambiguous and readble after a long time. I should note that Script Shorthand is a reissue (with minor changes) of his General Shorthand of 1936. Dewey comments that SS is so stable (WRT meaning) that you don't have to transcribe it! I was also quite taken with his claims for the system- he's not trying to design another court-reporting system- he notes (I'm paraphrasing) "You don't use a straight razor as a pocket knife and the barber doesn't use a pocket knife to shave with." Professionals have radically different needs from the rest of us, stenography-wise, at least. 🙂 The only downside is that SS does not synch up exactly with the GS Teacher…

    You were right George- an excellent system for general use. Dewey does claim that if you can write longhand at 30 wpm, you should be able to write SS at 120 wpm. I think he's probably right. 🙂



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