shorthand in the movies

My wife and I were watching Alfred Hitchcock’s Sabotage last night, and there was a scene with a newspaper reporter writing shorthand notes for a story. I could read it–it was clearly Gregg.

Only problem was, the story takes place in London, in the 1930s.

Anyone know whether this might have been possible? I would have thought it would certainly have been Pitman.


(by harpweaver
for everyone)


12 comments Add yours
  1. It does seem less likely than Pitman, but I think this film *was* shot in Britain in the late 1930s.

    Maybe you're thinking of the Malone lawsuit? I believe that was settled before 1890, but maybe the reporter *was* using Malone's system; the two are virtually indistinguishable without actually reading them.

    Did you manage to catch any of what was being written?

  2. Yes, I looked it up. It was released in Britain in 1937.

    I hadn't even heard of the Malone lawsuit–but I've googled it now–

    Perhaps there was more of a mix in the 1930s than I thought. I had understood that Gregg was vastly dominant in the US by then, and that Isaac Pitman was very dominant in the UK.

    Fortunately DVDs are easier than VHS to freeze-frame and get a clear picture. Perhaps I can get it copied down. I do remember that the first two words (of six or so) were "b-th f-i-l-m" b-th is certainly Bartholomew, which name is prominent in that scene. Funny, I don't remember the two little marks for a proper name being written.

    Anyone aware of other movies with clear shots of shorthand being written?


  3. I saw a recent example of shorthand being written on TV.  It was an episode of "The Naked Archeologist" – and it was his show on written language and where the alphabets had come from.  There were a couple shots of someone obviously taking dictation and the outlines were Gregg.  It's on the Discovery Channel, so it's not really all that naughty.  🙂 

  4. Finally got my hands on the episode of CSI Miami that got me started in Gregg nearly a year ago.
    Season 2, #19 Deadline, a 3-minute scene starting about 14 minutes into the show.
    Freeze-framed to see if I can read any of it.
    Difficult to see a whole lot because it's blown up on a screen but Horatio's head is in the way.  Maybe that was done on purpose so we wouldn't get too close a look!?   The plot goes: a journalist got killed and they are examining his notes.
    The writing expert says it's not Pitman shorthand or Gregg's… a mixture of both maybe. She calls attention to what she explains is Internet lingo; "L8R" for "later". 
    (I'm thinking, wouldn't a professional jounalist profficient in shorthand write "later" in shorthand?)
    She starts deciphering it.
    "Interview": stroke looking like n-b-f, IF it were Gregg.
    "…with an operative": n-p-r-u (blended together).
    …of Los Sombres(?): j-l-e-r(or o)-r-r-r-(can't see the rest, head in the way).   She says, there's something wierd with this shorthand.
    Then she say she gets it, it's reversed, the words are arranged from right to left.
    (I'm thinking, she get's that AFTER she's deciphered it??)   This info was to establish that the writer was a lefty — the dead guy was right handed, thus dead guy did not write notes, must have been the killer's. Picking up some random strokes that are shown up close — a "d" with the get away stroke obviously towards the upper right, "t-p-e-p-l" with a backward slant, "(upright)j-nd-ing dot"; "g-r" with a dot or mark over the middle of it (obviously written from left to right since the right end tapers towards the dot), an outline that looks like an "H" with the middle stroke stretching far to the right (this may have been writen from right to left), "p-r-(upright)ch; "sh-n-sh(all upright)", etc.   I'd been thinking how fun it would be if I saw it again after a year and were suddenly able to read it, but it's obviously not the mirror imaging of Gregg for lefties that was suggested it might be.  And the general backslanting might be attributed to left-handed writing, but to write the strokes the same as a right handed person then move along the line from right to left would be nonsense, right?   So it's a little disappointing, but I'm thinking it's probably something they just made up that looked like shorthand.
    Or it MIGHT be a mixture of Gregg and Pitman, but I have no idea what that would look like.
    Hoping for better luck with the old movies.   Martha

  5. Martha,   Maybe I missed it somewhere in this posting, but there was another recent movie in which Gregg (or so it seemed) figured prominently. In this year's "A Mighty Heart", a film about Danny Pearl, the Wall Street Journal reporter who was kidnapped and eventually beheaded by radicals in Pakistan, there's a scene where the kidnappers accuse the Jewish journalist of being a "Zionist spy." By way of proof, they brandish his notepads, saying they're written in "code." Of course, it's just shorthand. You only get a quick glance at the notes, so you'd have to rent the movie and pause it at that scene to ascertain whether it's really written in Gregg or just the usual gibberish.   Dennis

  6. Hi, Dennis,   I found that "A Mighty Heart" had been showing in Japan till the 21st, only last week; I just missed it, I thought!  But then none of the major theatres had it listed, so I probably couldn't have gone anyway…  I'll look forward to seeing it on cable.   So, the writing in the scene I saw could have been perfect gibberish? I would have thought that with their budget they'd consult someone who knew some kind of shorthand. Or maybe not; who cares if an itty bit of shorthand in a TV show is authentic, except us!   Martha            

  7. Much of the time, the shorthand is just a Macguffin. In many cases, the written shorthand will actually be gibberish.

    On the topic, but, paradoxically, off the topic at the same time: If you all watch movies from the early 30s, in courtroom scenes you will notice an actual pen writer, instead of a machine. From today's point of view, it looks odd…

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