Century 21

Just out of curiosity, is anyone familiar with Century 21 shorthand?  The other day, I saw a copy of the instruction manual for this system and was very surprised to see that it appears to be, more or less, an only slightly modified version of GS (in one of its post-Anni versions).  Yet, the manual makes no reference to Gregg in either the copyright info or the preface.  Was Century 21, formally, a GS system (it’s also not mentioned on the Angelfishy site, so I’m assuming not).  Was it in total violation of GS copyright?

(by A for


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22 comments Add yours
  1. It's a great question, and also a mystery. I own several Century 21 books, and in my opinion it was a total violation of any copyright Gregg had. They must have gotten by on some kind of technicality. Or maybe Gregg didin't consider it worth the time and expense to sue them. I've never located the history of the Century 21 system or how/why it was developed. South-Western Publishing Company, who published Century 21, also published a series of Gregg system books called "Shorthand Dictation Studies" that went through several editions.

    It would be great to track someone down who had some personal knowledge about this Gregg "knock off". I've always wondered how successful it was, as well as how they got away with stealing a whole shorthand system virtually intact.

  2. Wow! I figured there had to be some reasonable explanation. If this really is a case of theft, it's a pretty unbelievable case. I'll be interested to have a closer look and see which features, precisely, are original to Century 21. The random passages I flipped to I had no problem reading as a GS writer. Pretty wild. Thanks for your message.

  3. It was not a copyright violation. At some point, the copyright for the Gregg strokes ended and the Century 21 folks took advantage of that opportunity to create their system. My understanding is that they try to have the motion always go in the same direction for ease of learning. Think "cat" vs. "calculate" in Anniversary. . . .

  4. If not a violation of the law in substance, it certainly appears to be a violation in spirit. The fact that C21 acknowledges no debt to GS, from which it differs in only superficial ways, strikes me as bizarre.

  5. Coming up with a version quickly after the copyright expired means that South-Western Publishing must have been working on something for some time. Marc's explanation makes sense, as the materials for C21 were published for a relatively short period of time.

  6. But… shorthand strokes can be copyrigthed? Or the law is applicable only to the content of books? I know that the interest in shorthand is not great, but if somebody writes a book without McGraw-Hill approvation (perhaps a kind of "Gregg Shorthand for Dummies"), would it be a copyright violation?

  7. I'm not a lawyer, but I think the copyright comes in the content. Writing a Gregg book should not infringe in copyright as long as the material is original, and the presentation and order of chapters is different from what is published. Unless they copyrighted or patented the actual strokes, which would be interesting.

  8. Incidentally, South-Western Publishing also released other business-related books under the "Century 21" nickname: typewriting (keyboarding and document processing), and accounting.

    Also, I found this link to a paper written by a San Diego State University student, evaluating Century 21 in comparison with Simplified Gregg. It's an interesting read, especially when she lists in a letter to the Associate Dean of the Business School some the phrases her students used to describe the outlines of Century 21.

    Learning, Teaching, and Evaluating Century 21 Shorthand

  9. Very interesting article. Thanks for posting it. Apropos of my initial posting, a couple of points that the article makes are worth mentioning here:

    1. the publishers of GS, McGraw-Hill, apparently were aware of C21. One of the biblio refs in this article is: "Gregg and Century 21: A Brief Comparison of Two Shorthand Systems," McGraw-Hill, May 1975; 21pp. So, it appears unlikely that McGraw-Hill ever raised copyright concerns (de facto or de jure)

    2. the above-mentioned critique notes that "Century 21 uses 28 characters found in the Gregg alphabet to represent the same sounds as in Gregg; in addition it uses 15 characters found in Gregg to which different meanings have been assigned." So, the differences are perhaps more substantial than I surmised on briefly looking through the C21 manual.

    Regardless of whatever South-Western publishers may have been legally required to do in presenting a modified version of GS — even a substantially modified one (and, again, C21 is very legible to a GS reader) — I still find it bizarre (pretty unconscionable actually) that it neglected to note the intellectual debt.

    There is no small irony in this considering that Gregg, himself, was found similarly culpable of failing to acknowledge his indebtedness, nearly a century earlier, to Thomas Stratford Malone, whose Script Phonography anticipated many of the features of GS (albeit in very different form).

  10. A bit closer to home, I recently stumbled on J. Evan Armstrong's "Gregg – Scientific Shorthand", self-published in 1955, which is simply a reorganized version of the GS Anni manual with some pre-Anni elements integrated. One would think such a book, published during the heyday of GS, would have been in demonstrable violation of copyright. In this case, Armstrong makes a point of noting his lengthy personal correspondence with Gregg, himself, giving at least the impression that Gregg Publishing approved the publication of GSS.

  11. I just stumbled across this website after reading a WSJ article recently. I was a shorthand teacher in the late 70's early 80s. I learned Gregg in high school and college, but we switched to teaching Century 21 in my second year of teaching. It is very similar – but the best part of C21 is that all circles are formed in the same direction. It was much less confusing for beginners.

  12. I learned C21 in community college and used it until word processors were invented. My speed was never very great, but I can't really say whether it was the system or me. I didn't want to be a secretary; I wanted to be a writer and was browbeaten into taking the secl courses. The theory was that C21 was an improvement on GS because all the strokes were in one direction. I'm a writer now and still use it when covering meetings. Most older secretaries who learned GS recognized some symbols but not all of them. My 21 dictionary, though I don't really need it, is one of my prized books.

  13. Century 21 is proof that big publishing firms have no insight as to where things and trends are headed. SouthWestern Publishing in the 1970´s invested tons and tons of money to develop this stuff. Later, in 1985 I asked one of their representatives if in 1970 someone had suggested developing a computer programming course in say 1967 what would have been SouthWestern´s response. She said that first of all, we would have asked who this person was and what that person´s educational background and their grade point average. Now you know why America has lots of unemployment.

  14. Studies like that drive me crazy. What I want to know is that after one semester the C21 students were writing at a certain speed while the DJ students wrote at a certain speed while the number of transcription errors was so many for C21 and so many for DJ. I'd like the same stats for semesters two through four (or six) if we could hold lab time and study time and teaching techniques constant!

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