Origins of Gregg Alphabet

Hello to all! Glad to be here. It’s refreshing seeing the Gregg group’s new look. Very web 2.0 if I may say so. I used to read and never post on the old MSN group, so this is quite the change for me. I daresay I should’ve posted sooner but oh well.

I am curious about the origins of the Gregg alphabet. Gregg shorthand has a very distinctive look. How did Gregg come up with them? Or should I say, did Gregg come up with it? I could have sworn I read a post on the old group site suggesting that he didn’t, but maybe I am just mis-remembering. Please reply if you know, or if you wrote that post! Thank you.

(by N for everyone)

3 comments Add yours
  1. I occasionally posted to the previous list site. This is my first post to Multiply. Several times in the last decade I've tried to design a shorthand system from scratch. I usually start out with the idea of something more like the other systems, but with a few central principles. Those principles keep bringing things back to an overall Gregg design. Principles like keeping the pencil on the paper, general movement from left to right, having the most distinctive shapes on the paper, matching up those distinctive shapes on the basis of quickness of writing to the high frequency phonemes, and so on. In a sense it is the change in writing technology (keyboards) that shapes the design theory around Gregg into something else. As a separate issue, I somewhat prefer the older versions of Gregg to the more recent, since over time it seems the feedback from instructors given to John, as well as the competitions with other systems, led to a trade-off in optimal design away from read-ability toward speed. I contemplate there may exist some time in the future where I will try to develop some principles around read-ability (legibility) and incorporate those into a system, or modify Gregg with them. But with the "distinctive shapes" already in Gregg, most likely I would just arrive back at the older systems of Gregg. (And in any case I am likely to be quite busy for awhile.)

  2. It's been a long time since I read "The Story of Gregg Shorthand", so this is from (faulty) memory. It's a short and interesting book. Gregg was quite a character in some ways, very idealistic and dedicated. Gregg did most of what you're planning.

    Gregg learned Pitman in his early teens, but didn't like it. (Insert the usual Gregg advertising.) He achieved a reasonable speed, too, so it wasn't a case of stopping at the first tough bit. He tried several other forms of shorthand as well.

    With the help of his sister, who taught speech in a school for the deaf, he analyzed the frequency of sounds and blends. He noted which sounds were related. (b and p are the same position, but one uses your voice. Pitman did the same.) A very fast Pitman writer spent time with him in a pub, complaining about the obtuse angles — they get rounded at top speed. He also corresponded with several other shorthand inventors. It was a popular hobby at the time.

    He also noted which shapes were fast to make. He made a gazillion charts showing frequencies of different groups of sounds. Counter-clockwise is faster than clockwise, so the more frequent sounds (b,p,l,r,o) got that direction. b/p + r/l are more common than v/f+r/l, so got the nice smooth hook.

    There was a lot of trial and error. The first publication was very short, little more than the alphabet. His competition claimed there's no way something so simple could be fast, so he made it more complicated. He spent a lot of time with his students, especially the fast ones who often experimented, to improve it.

    That's just the highlights of the development of the system. The book starts with a history of shorthand in general, including anecdotes about famous writers (including Dickens), then talks about his childhood, early interests, and why he came to America. He had some really interesting students early on. It also shows samples of his charts and experiments. Given your comments hear, I think both of you would enjoy it.

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