Handling compound words

I always find difficulty with compound words. They’re always quite long and don’t really fit well into the abbrev. prin. Most of the time it seems they are written out in the dictionary. They aren’t usually handled by the intersection principle, and quite often the joining is not facile, so they have to be disconnected. eg leeway.

Then theres just all the others that are just so long compared to the average outline eg. nearsighted, horseradish, hydrocarbon, eigenvalues, kilometric. Well you can see most of the examples that come to mind with these really long terms is in science terminology, where compound words are a plenty.

I was thinking that intersection might be a good technique to handle them even if they’re written out fully in the dictionary.

How do you handle compound words that are almost always written out in the dictionary. These words are usually not used in a mix of small words, rather in combination with other big words and other compound words.

(by michael_lisitsa for


40 comments Add yours
  1. Well, I haven't done hardcore Gregg in a while, but I'm sure the principles between that and machine shorthand can be shared 🙂

    The trick is to see what kind of long word it is. There are two kinds: ones that are two or more shorter words stuck together, and ones made up of many prefixes/suffixes.

    I have several ways to do words like "horseradish" that are two shorter words stuck together. And you don't even really need to worry about these words since you're not writing real-time and can tell "horse radish" is "horseradish". But for icing on the cake…
    If the strokes flow together nice and easy, then I write the first word with the first letter of the second part stuck on, like "airp" for "airplane" and "foobl" for "football."

    Another way is if the two words are relatively short, like "nearsighted", I write "nearstd" and leave out the vowels in the second part. A way to translate this into Gregg might be to write the second part so it intersects the first.

    If it's two longish words, and this is mostly for words that are compound but not written together, then I just use the first letter of each word written with an asterisk, which again could be shown by intersecting the forms. Think "driver's license" (dl) or "first degree" (fd)

    For those words that are monstrous because of affixes, I just try to sound them out. If you hear "parasympathetic ganglia", there's not much you can do except write enough of what you hear to recognize it after.
    In the first, you can see "sympathetic" is stuck in there, so you should hopefully have a nice brief for "sympathy" and maybe even just write "parasympathy". For "ganglia," drop vowels left and right if you have to, since consonants are more important in a word. Write "gaglia" or "gangl" if you have to, but get something!
    "hydrocarbon" could be: hi kbn, hi krb, etc.
    "eigenvalues" could be: gn (above) vls, ag (intersect) vls, etc.
    "kilometric" could be: k (above) met, kl (above) met, km (above) k [using tr principle]

    You're not obliged to get every sound, just enough to remind you what it is you're after. The danger is not being clear and thinking you want a normal word ("what the hell is kamet??") so just make sure you don't run all the letters together when you're dropping sounds. Better yet, have a consistent way you do it with certain sounds, like extending the "tr" principle.

    When I go for tutoring, one of the things we practice is phonetically writing unfamiliar, huge words like these. It takes practice to get a feel for what sounds to drop and how to make a skeleton of a word that you can read later.

    As a pen writer, you have much more liberty to craft your outlines as you wish. I'm kind of stuck in the extent I can drop and shape.

    I hope that gives you some ideas 🙂

  2. The compound words are something that requires a little thought.  When I was in school I flipped when I had to write "letterhead".  For hydrocarbon, an 'h' (as the word beginning in compounds for "hydro") over 'k-r-b' is used in the medical and reporting texts.  Eigenvalue is simpler than it looks and the "eigen" joins cleanly with the "value" part.  You could write "large circle for i-g-n-v-l".  Horseradish is easily joinable.   When in doubt, just write the words close together. 

  3. If you are encountering compound words all the time, it would be of help to adopt some of the high speed shortcuts that are available for scientific writing. There are some examples in the Gregg Reporting Shortcuts and the Gregg Medical Dictation books, but probably the most extensive compilation is in the book Chemical and Technical Stenography, by James Kanegis, which contains special word endings and beginnings for this kind of dictation. The h dot or the disjoined i could be used for hydr-, the disjoined m for -meter, so for -metric just add the k, eigenvalues could be written as i – g – n – v – s, with the v – s joined (if it were written as a two words, the v – s would be intersected).  There are special symbols for peri-, intra-, macro-, micro-, and others.

  4. For eigenvalue and other physics and math terms, why not use the regular symbol? We used lambda for eigenvalue. Fast to write and a unique shape. It also fits written equations better.

    I used Forkner at the time. M is the same line as in Gregg. Micro is m in "normal", so I used it for "micro-".

    Forkner has tips on writing normal letters faster than the "normal" system (which involves extra lines and retracing). I combined those with the "normal" abbreviations.

    For mmHg I used something like Gregg mj. It started as the m-line then normal g, but I got progressively lazier with the G.


  5. Thanks for all the replies. Everyones seemed to focus on scientific terms which was part of the thing, but theres heaps of brand names and made up words and computer terms, that learning a special brief form for all of them is probably not my goal, rather just a systematic abbreviation principle for compound words.

    I think that Eriks suggestion of writing out the first word as normally, and the second one intersecting this with no vowels (or if its really obvious, then even just the first consonant).
    We can all agree that intersecting words stand out from the rest of the shorthand like nothing else. In fact, since the intersecting rule is intended to apply to phrases or words often used together, then the most likely words that are always used together are compound words.

    Anyway we'll see how it goes.

  6. How often do these words come up? There will always be something new, but it's the average speed you need to be concerned about, which is most affected by the most common words, not the word that happens once in a blue moon. The usage curve (frequency vs rank) is a very steep Poisson distribution curve. (Had to look that one up, but I vaguely remember the prof prooving that, assuming three busses an hour and fully randomized by traffic, the most common time between busses is zero.)

  7. Cricket: Unfortunately sometimes, you get material that is mostly unfamiliar or very long words, like expert testimony or even some literature or medical texts. An example from one of my books:
    "Infectious mononucleosis and Hodgkin disease are more common in young adults, whereas non-Hodgkin lymphoma and chronic lymphocytic leukemia are more common in middle-aged and elderly people."
    I've heard horror stories of doctors who talk like this and do so fast and relentlessly when giving expert testimony as some of them are very often expert witnesses (they get paid) and so are well in the groove of spouting off such things. I've had the fortune/misfortune of writing some expert testimony QAs with show-off doctors or engineers. It's humbling, but great practice for phonetic writing / outlining.

    Then again, unless you actually go do court work, you could get away without having to bother with coming up with readable skeleton outlines of words on the fly. But we all like a challenge, right? 🙂

  8. Well that sentence is surely a bit of an extreme case. I guess if you came across a sentence like that, the question would not be which technique you would be using to shorten, rather just to get some bloody strokes before the barage dissappears from your memory, and pray that you've made enough sense to transcribe.

    Maybe its best to just get whatever you can down the first time you hear it. If you hear the word often enough, then make up some short form for it, preferably one that if read back in a year, won't completely baffle you.

  9. Well, my point is, as disquieting a thought it may be, the instances where you'll have to write unfamiliar words or names, and do so for sustained periods, is not as uncommon as we might hope.

    When an ordinary lay witness testifies, you're not going to have jargon being fired off left and right, but when a doctor or other professional gets up there, hold onto your hat.
    If you're going to do any kind of lit, like Congressional or meetings or even writing to the TV, you'll need to be good at writing words/names you've never written before.

    When I sat out to practice writing a meeting of a local hearing loss group, I'd never written "cochlear implant" or a good deal of the legal/handicap jargon that went on when they were reciting and discussing various parts of the Americans with Disabilities Act. Even among everyday people, there were terms flying left and right that I'd never heard or had to write because I've never been involved with that demographic. And those hard terms came up over and over and over.

    So anyway, the point is, you're really doing yourself a great service by practicing what may seem excessively hard stuff. If you can write about eigenvalues and what have you, then when something comes out of nowhere, you'll be better prepared 🙂 It's akin to practicing Liszt all the time to be prepared to sight-read anything, rather than getting really good at Chopsticks ("Do you remember where the car was? Yes, I do.")

  10. When I was in College, I made a point of making a list of terms in shorthand that I knew I was going to find over and over again (my field of study is pharmacy).  Besides, that's why I studied shorthand in the first place — to get great notes in College.  So handling compound words was never an issue in my case.  It was amusing having to learn phrases like 'I should be able to' or the like, when in fact, I seldom had to encounter those business phrases. However, phrases like 'even though', 'as a matter of fact', or 'pharmacological action', 'patient history', 'study protocol', or 'DNA transcription' were more and more common, and those were the ones I made a conscious effort of having ready outlines.   (Incidentally Erik, most people I know will say 'mono' for mononucleosis, and 'NHL' or 'CLL' for the two leukemias you referred to. So even those could be abbreviated easily.)

  11. It seems to me that there's a little sign quite like a Gregg "o" symbol that one can use to indicate a join for a compound word that would be a problem in the length or depth of the outline.   I have a vague memory of learning about it, but have never had to use it in practice.   And I've seen it somewhere, used to join ginger + bread in the story The Gingerbread Man — written by Ms Letha, perhaps?   Anyway, try writing gingerbread. Takes you down three lines. It would be much easier to write the two words separately and indicate a join with the little join mark. Or maybe even rely on your English skills and memory to transcribe any unjoined compound word outline correctly.   sidhe

  12. Chuck: In this particular case, you'd be better equipped to write that passage in Gregg than I, but what about when thrust into the fathomless depths of English vocabulary with little preparation? 🙂

    Of course, this is assuming you're going to ever be in such a situation. I'll be writing that hearing loss meeting again next month, and I already have briefs for "cochlear implant" and other various terms. It's true that you do have the opportunity to brief and phrase in areas you've had prior exposure to. Nevertheless, my experience so far (though Lindsay could really weigh in here) has been that being able to deal with unfamiliar/strange words on the spot is a skill as precious as speed and rhythm. I try to devote half an hour a day (out of two to three hours) just writing highly technical material.

  13. Sidhe, I think you are thinking of the ligature (also called a 'breve'), ˘, which is normally used to join vowels, as in the word 'Yahoo'. You place it underneath the vowels you want to join.   I agree with you Erik, those out-of-the-blue long words can be a problem. I think the only way is to be prepared and study and it seems that you're doing just that. It pays to do some self-dictation of material too (writing shorthand on top of selected printed material), to identify some of those pesky words.

  14. I only wish to emphasize that developing a list for
    specific subjects/professors seems to me to be a fundamentally
    important habit– and regularly referring to the list until the
    forms become habit. Students of shorthand who
    have only just learned it outside of
    the context of having different subjects in school might
    not grasp the importance of this. Within each subject
    area I would typically accumulate around 20 to
    30 words/compound-words/phrases that were regularly used
    over and over. In addition, there were a dozen or so
    phrases that university professors seemed to use
    a lot more in their lectures than you would normally
    hear. (e.g. "…it turns out…")

    Also– the first couple of hours I took lecture notes
    for upper-division university pharmacology
    I had to use a tape recorder until I learned some of
    the phrasings and technical jargon. But
    the shorthand was still very important because
    when you are trying to transcribe from a tape
    directly onto a keyboard — having to constantly
    rewind the tape to catch phrases more clearly
    is a major-major hassle. A couple of people I
    knew who tried to do lecture notes for the publishing
    organization at the university said that when they
    tried typing up directly from recordings– it take them
    a horrendous number of hours per lecture hour.
    (And one of those was a very competent medical
    transcriptionist.) So I would put the headphones
    on and play the tape and write out what was on
    the tape in shorthand (with occasional playbacks)
    and then type it up. Much-much faster. (I type at
    about 60 wpm. But the medical transcriptionist
    typed at around 100 plus.)

    (Interesting thread!)

    Richard Harper

    On Wed, Sep 24, 2008 at 9:23 PM, sidhetaba wrote:
    > New Message on Gregg Shorthand
    > Handling compound words

  15. Hi, guys and gals.  Sorry I haven't checked in for awhile.  Speaking of compound words or unusual words, any thoughts on how you'd write "dioxide"?  With a ligature?  I had to write "titanium dioxide" the other day.  I wrote "dioxide" as d-i and then o-x-i-d close to the d-i.  The DJS dictionary I own has t-i-ten-e-m in it, but no entry for "dioxide".   Anyone else entertained by the fact that some spammer posted an item with regard to her latest "sexy pictures" on this site?  I assure all of you it wasn't me!  ( o :   Have a good weekend, everyone.  –Alison

  16. BINGO!  While this discussion was going on I was trying to find something in the reporting books.  Chuck nailed it right on the head — as is always the case.  🙂  The 1922 Gregg Reporting Shortcuts shows "oxide" as o-right s-d, so dioxide would be "d-o-right s-d".  I looked up "oxide" in the Anniversary dictionary and they write it out.   

  17. It depends on how you abbreviate oxide.  If you write oxide as o – right s – d, then dioxide is just d – o – right s – d. If you write oxide as o – d, then dioxide is d – o – d.  Same analogy is followed with trioxide (t) and monoxide (mn).

  18. What is the proper way to write "borderline" in Anniversary?

    I started writing border as b – o – d – reverse e, and then just continued with l – a – n. But then I paused as I recognized that the 'e' couldn't be recognized as a reverse e any more, because it was between the d and l.

    Is the correct way to insert an r before the l? If so, this is awkward, as this is a case in which you can't just join the two outlines of the base words together even though they join very easily.

  19. The proper way to write the word "borderline" in Anniversary is b-o-d-e-r-l-a-n. "Border" is b-o-d-e with a reversed e. The r needs to be added because l-a-n follows it. It is the analogous to the word "borderless," which the Anniversary dictionary spells b-o-d-e-r-l.

  20. Indeed, tayiyi is right. The problem is that in some words, the e is kept, while in others it is eliminated. For example, the e is kept here:  border –> borderless, motor –> motorman; manager –> managerial..  In these, the e is eliminated: editor –> editorial; auditor –> auditorium.   This is one of those cases in which a rule could have cleaned the theory. If I were to create a rule, I would eliminate the e, unless needed for a facile joining. So I would only write with the e the derivatives of manager.   (Now, can anyone explain why the word mentor is written mn-t-r, but monitor is written mn-e-t-reversed e? I don't know the answer!)    

  21. What is the proper way to write "borderline" in Anniversary?

    I started writing border as b – o – d – reverse e, and then just continued with l – a – n. But then I paused as I recognized that the 'e' couldn't be recognized as a reverse e any more, because it was between the d and l.   I personally write it bodeln (as opposed to reversing the 'e' in order to indicate an 'r,' simply write it with right-motion, starting the l-stroke at approximately the 7-8 o'clock position of the circle.   In the matter of vowel elision, although the principal is phonetically inconsistent in some places, the examples given tend to be distinct, which I believe was the aim. Whether or not a consistent phonetic elision could be applied while retaining distinct outlines is up in the air.

  22. I think the difference in writing the two words "mentor" and "monitor" is that there's more stress on the "tor" of mentor.  It's what sprang to mind when I read the question.  I could be totally making it up.  I have a vague recollection of seeing the principle illustrated in other words.  Of course, I can't come up with one right off the top of my head. 

  23. When I was studying shorthand long ago, I mean long ago, my instructed called our attention to a short article that talked about a scientific study on successfully learning shorthand. The study separated participants into two groups: scientific thinkers and practical thinkers. Each group was advised that in order for them to learn to write shorthand successfully that they must not think of shorthand as a scientific process, developing skill in writing shorthand at high speed is an art and has more to do with the individual's using it as a tool rather than as a rule. Most of the scientific thinkers flunked the course because they where more concerned with the why's than the how's. The question is "are we — participants of this forum — thinking too scientifically about how outlines should be constructed? It is important to get the spoken word down first and then review your writing for inconsistencies.

  24. "I think the difference in writing the two words "mentor" and "monitor" is that there's more stress on the "tor" of mentor."

    Monitor's "tor" is actually a reduced syllable, due to the initial stress on both words, but the fact that "monitor" reduces the second o-vowel to a schwa — a neutral, unstressed, "uh" vowel. Generally wrote with the small circle in Gregg, or — from my experience — omitted entirely.
    The tendency in English that "e" corresponds to a reduction to a schwa in unstressed syllables may help to explain a vowel omission as more a principal rather than informal convention.

    I'm not sure if, by principle, a schwa is omitted, or if it is purely by taste for more expressive outlines; however, I tend to omit schwas, and wrote unreduced vowels, especially whilst dictating.

  25. About the compound words – I'm a Pitman writer as I've said before and I find it interesting to go through this site anyway.

    The main thing is to get it down and be able to read it back. They say delay is due to lack of quickness in the mind, rather than the hand, so it is better to write horse and radish than risk getting it all wrong, or getting behind. You've got to write without thinking about it at the time. However, its still good to develop shortcuts – so long as they are for what people actually say and they are likely to be of use.

    If its a long word you just put what you need to remember horse – r, or something and fix it when you finish.

    I used to envy a Parliamentary Reporter whose Gregg notes looked as if they had been drawn, even I could see that he had "got" it, after a fast debate – and he never seemed to have trouble in transcription.

    Cheers everyone

  26. Actually, mentor has two accepted pronunciations according to Websters: one with the closed o (standard) and with the schwa (nonstandard). Monitor is only pronounced with the schwa.  So that may indeed be the reason.   My personal pronunciation shining through, of course. Certain English speakers will also be found to enunciate it with a mid-open mid-front vowel, a true odd-ball if there ever was one.   Possibly out of habit, I seem to notice that in the example outlines, it is most commonly a schwa omitted.

  27. I write new words as I say them, or as I think they should be said (which may be different). Often I'll fall back on English spelling, because I do a lot of writing.

    If I've already encountered a word in my Gregg studies, I often use the Gregg version, even if I don't say it the same way. After drilling a passage up to speed, it tends to stick. But, I don't fret over it.

    I often pronounce the same word in different ways, depending on my audience. Storytelling is clear. Dad is precise. (He teases me if I'm not.) Kids are normally neutral, unless I'm explaining somethimg. Husband and most adults is careless.

    I think it was Leslie who was told by Gregg, when he pointed out that Gregg wasn't entirely consistent with his "spelling", "You can read it, can't you?"

  28. Yes, I think the difference in the spelling of "mentor" and "monitor" is because of the difference in pronunciation of the final -or. Two other words that are spelled with an r are "assignor" and "consignor," both of which are pronounced or.   The Anniversary edition apparently went in a different direction than the 1916 edition. In the 1916 edition words spelled -or used a r in the outline. Thus, "monitor" was spelled mn-e-t-r. Also, the 1916 edition made a distinction between miner [m-i-n-e reversed] and minor [m-i-n-r].    

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