Century 21 & Forkner

A joint discussion about two systems 🙂

I’m a shorthand nut in general and have looked at everything from ABC Shorthand to Duploy챕, and I discovered books on each of these systems in the library basement stacks today, after having my interest piqued by casual references to them on this site.

First, for Century 21, I gotta say… Why hasn’t McGraw-Hill sued for theft of intellectual property? From what I saw, it looks to be identical to Gregg except with a few very minor changes, removals/replacements of some blends, and odd vowel placement… Aside from that, the strokes and even the brief forms looked the same. I was able to read probably 75% of it with no particular difficulty. Is it a variant of Gregg? That would sure explain a lot…

And Forkner. I’ve looked at tons of alphabetic shorthand systems, and so far this one seems to be fairly run-of-the-mill, but with an interesting twist. It uses vowels similarly to Pitman, with little ticks below or above parts of the word for a/i/o/u. Aside from that and some interesting choices for letter replacements (s looks like a Gregg d, for example), it looks like every other alphabetic system I’ve come across…

Anyone have experience with either of these systems? If I had the money, I’d just start collecting shorthand manuals left and right…

(by niftyboy1 for everyone)

16 comments Add yours
  1. At my library there's three texts for Programme 21 shorthand — which is a Canadian published shorthand that looks exactly like Pitman. In the introduction of the beginners text, it says it is more-or-less Pitman, just "simplified".   I guess there must be some way one can do this. The Roman alphabet isn't copyrighted. Are the Gregg and Pitman alphabets?

  2. I just recently got around to looking at Forkner; I was hoping for something different.

    It's based on and requires looped cursive, which is not the most efficient handwriting style to begin with. While kind-of-readable, the visual impression of the script is jarring; the supplemental symbols they've chosen don't match the standard Latin at all. Is this the case in most alpha systems? Maybe it doesn't help that the plates in my edition look suspiciously like they were written by a remedial grade 8 student (was this intended to disarm the "thousands of young people and adults" failing at shorthand every year, as the preface states?)

    I count 132 principles in the appendix. Including the lessons introducing its alphabet, even Pre-Anniversary has but 28 more. (Granted, a number of those are more complex/compound principles, but still, could it be *that* much easier?)

    NiftyBoy1, does any alphabetical system stand out to you as particularly well thought out?

    Also, could you post a sample of Century 21?

    sidhetaba, interesting question about alphabet copyrighting. So many SH systems borrow so heavily from one another, too.

  3. Which Forkner book are you looking at? I have the second edition of the manual.

    You're right in that the cursive it uses isn't the most efficient, but I assume it's balanced out by the simplified letters. What was most interesting to me about it was how it does vowels and how the non-letter symbols get mixed in pretty seamlessly… A page full of Forkner looks like static on a tv, though! In Gregg, it's like my eyes have so much open space to dive in and start reading. Forkner looks like a jungle because of the busy-ness of the letters. The penmanship doesn't look too bad in this book, however. Just standard cursive.

    I counted only 65 principles in the appendix of the book.

    As for alphabetic systems in general… I gotta say, many of them follow one of two principles:
    1) Plain alphabet with one or two symbols where you follow wide-sweeping generic rules to just remove letters (Personal Shorthand is a good example)… the degree to which this is actually elegant varies. Some have no affix rules and are first-3-letters-of-a-word-only based or something similar. Some have many arbitrary symbols for common words. Some expect you to have this wide background of "common" abbreviations to use (e.g. Zinman's ABC Shorthand… "bldg" for building, "b4" for before, etc)
    2) The alphabet with symbols or more complex principles mixed in. Forkner is a good example, as is a very hard-to-find-but-similar system called Shortcut Shorthand. I suppose Speedwriting and Alphahand are in here, too. They all seem to share a few arbitrary symbols for common words, but more mature rules for simplifying words, like maybe a detached capital C represents "con", or a non-cursive s represents a specific combination, like st/sp. I would personally love to compare Alphahand and Forkner more in-depth, but I can't find an Alphahand book anywhere.

    I would actually say Forkner looks to be one of the best alphabetic systems I've come across (you'll be very hard-pressed to find one that doesn't use cursive letters). It has all the things that streamline alphabetic systems, less arbitrary symbols for common words, as well as diacritics for vowels (like Pitman), which is unique for what I've seen so far where most systems just use ordinary vowels for long vowels and omit short ones… it also seems to be this that gives it that little extra edge I read about in another thread here (100wpm+ as opposed to the 60-80wpm limit of most systems).

    I didn't bring the Century 21 book home with me because I was offended by it lol. It's like someone took Mozart, took out or rewrote the hard parts, then called it their own music. I'll try to get a picture of it when I'm in town again for you. It just looks like someone new to Gregg with remarkable penmanship wrote it (vowels on the "wrong" side, "wrong" joinings, etc).

  4. SIDHE:

    I cannot speak for Gregg, but Isaac Pitman's system was, indeed, copyrighted, but American (and possibly Canadian?) copyright laws are labyrinthine; all one has to do is to change a few strokes, and he can claim the system as his own.

    This happened in the 1800s; soon, there was a rash of Pitman variations. Oddly enough, they weren't mutually readable; some revisions of Isaac's system in the UK weren't adopted here.

    What eventually happened is that Pitman guy #1 sued Pitman #2, Pitman 2 sued Pitman 3, and the whole thing disintegrated into one big shorthand shamble. By the 1890s, Isaac Pitman's system only comprised about 7% of the shorthand writers in the US.

    So that's why Century 21 could get away with stealing Gregg's system. It is believed that Gregg, himself, stole his system, too, by the way.

    The early years of the Republic were a survival-of-the-fittest mess in terms of business dealings.

  5. 21st Century Shorthand was written by two instructors at Brigham Young University. Their basic idea was that Gregg Shorthand was too difficult. It was too confusing to have two different ways of writing an "s" or a "th," and too confusing to decide whether to write an "a" or "e" in a clockwise or counterclockwise fashion. Their solution was to use only the left "s," the over "th," and to write the circle vowels only in a counterclockwise fashion.

    However, if all circle vowels are counterclockwise, it is awkward to connect them with consonants that are written clockwise. Try write "cafe" using only counterclockwise vowels. So, they get rid of the "k" and the "g." They use the Gregg "sh" for "k" and the Gregg "j" for both "j" and "g." Likewise, they use the Gregg "ch" for "f" and the under "th" for "v" and "w." But now, what do you do about "sh" and "ch"? Their solution was to use the right "s" for "sh" and the Gregg "md" blend for "ch."

    Another interesting idea is that they use the Gregg "ten" blend for "ten" and "tem" and the "dem" blend for "den" and "dem." They seem to feel it is more important in these blends to distinguish the "t" from the "d" than the "n" from the "m." I think that idea has some merit.

    If you're interested, there was a prior discussion of 21st Century Shorthand at

  6. As far as "collecting shorthand manuals left and right", I did that a few years ago.

    The two systems that I found the most interesting Thomas Natural shorthand (which looks a bit like Gregg from a distance, but unlike Century 21 is actually totally different), and Cross Eclectic (which is just insane, the tersest system you could ever conceive of, but so complex that I have a hard time believing anyone could master it to court reporting speeds).

    I did a write up of both on Wikipedia with scanned extraits.

  7. Merove:

    YOU did the write-up for Cross's shorthand? What a small world it is.

    I read the entry on Wikipedia, was intrigued, and bought the book some time ago; you're right–it's VERY difficult, and defies description. I can't imagine the difficulty of shading just a half a stroke, as well as positions for both vowels and consonants.

    FYI, we do have two contributors on this site who're learning it, however. One new, one older. I wish them all the luck.

  8. That's great to hear; it was a pretty obscure article to write, but the system was interesting enough that I thought it just had to be written up. Glad to hear the article is finding its intended audience!

  9. "If I had the money, I'd just start collecting shorthand manuals left and right…"   I've found a lot of shorthand manuals at second hand stores.  In fact I saw a Century 21 there last week but didn't get it.  And I had bought one years ago and tried it, but for some reason didn't like it, I think I just liked the idea if Gregg Shorthand (maybe because it was more known).  And they usually don't cost too much ( found some for 50 cents). Also check yard sales, I found some there too a long time ago (gave them away too when I was going through my "done with shorthand" phase… didn't last obviously LOL). And of course auction sites, although you have to be careful with costs, just keep an eye out and if you're in no hurry, just watch for them. Yes they will be used, but most are new and even those that aren't are interesting. Debbi

  10. A question for any Forkner writers out there: when the heck do you write the i and when do you omit it? I thought that you wrote it only in stressed syllables, but then I'll come across words where it's not written at all.

    Thanks 🙂

  11. Long-i is written. It's the longhand i, lower-case, without the dot.

    Short-i is an optional diacritical. It's the "dot" from a regular i. It's recommended that you never leave out a vowel that starts a word.

    "i" with the dot is "oi" as in "boy" or "oil".

    If the long-i is the first (or only) letter in the word, you don't write the upstroke.

    Any "n" shape other than cursive lower-case joined is a pre-/suffix, often with the letter "e" or "i". This might explain some "missing" "I"s. Gregg does the same thing with it's analogical whatevers, but reuses the same shape, whereas Forkner uses a shape that the new writer recognizes and associates with part of the syllable or blend, but isn't the "basic" shape.

    A related issue is short-e. There is no shape for short-e. Gregg writers know that this sound can be safely left out in most cases. Short-e at the beginning of a word is shown with the long-e shape (cursive e).

    I highly recommend Forkner if you want something easier to learn and easier to read (the outlines are more complete and more specific) than Gregg, provided your longhand cursive is already decent, since bad habits will carry over. It can be written on normal lined paper, on an angle or crammed into a margin.

    I'll put an 8-sentence summary in Documents, but, like Gregg, you need more than the summary to actually use it.


    Capitals are used as pre-/suffixes. The lesser-used pre-/suffixes vary with edition, but not too widely.

    Cursive disjoined capital I is "-icitis", "appendicitis".

    Cursive joined capital I is "incl-" or "encl-" , and the brief form for "enclose". "Include" is Cursive capital "I", joined, "d".

    I thought printed capital I meant something, but I don't see it in the book, so it's not a common pre-/suffix and safely forgotten.

  12. And, I have to apologize to husband. The file in question was 26MB.

    There are now three Forkner samples under Documents. ForknerSample.jpg is some paragraphs and transcription. ForknerSum1.jpg and ForknerSum2.jpg are 8 sentences which demonstrate (with brief explanation) the basic principles, not including brief forms. I think you can read without the brief forms.

    I think a separate folder should be created for "competing" systems, but was unable to do it myself.



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