Criticisms and Analyses

The Louis Leslie Collection at Rider University includes a Pitmanite response to Gregg shorthand under the title An American Light Liner.

In attempting to assert “the supremacy of Pitman’s Shorthand,” the author(s?) provide some unintended comic relief in their summary of purpose on page 5:

It is the main object of this critique to show that Gregg Shorthand is a wholly specious system—promising enough, but promising more than it can ever perform—that the facility with which it can be picked up is a fatal facility, equalled only by the facility with which it must inevitably be dropped, given adequate time and trial.

Incidentally, the New York State Shorthand Reporters’ Association published a report in 1926 entitled Weaknesses of Pitman Shorthand. (Unfortunately, google books doesn’t provide an e-copy.) The Gregg folks must have approved, as they reprinted it themselves (presumably—google books provides no further info.)

But the battle in New York clearly had been raging, as seen in an extended criticism of a paper Mr. SoRelle had turned in entitled “Gregg for Legibility,” found in Transactions of the New York State Shorthand Reporters’ Association – 45th Annual Meeting Dec. 28, 1920.

I wonder if some of the criticisms here may not have some validity?

I couldn’t find any prior reference to the SoRelle paper. I did find one other document by the NYSSRA from 1919 entitled Shorthand Systems Analyzed. (There is another title for the subsequent year, but no e-copy.)

Page 15 provides the crux of the matter with its list of how many schools teach which system. Gregg shorthand goes from zero to 2,163 out of 3,355 by 1918. Dr. Gregg delivers a brief address beginning on this page.

Afterward the book delves into analyses of criteria in assessing shorthand systems, which seem very comprehensive.

Lastly, we have the Chief Scoundrel, that great Rogue among rogues, Mr. Thomas Stratford Malone, again from Mr. Leslie’s fine collection. This is entitled Malone and Gregg, and purports to give the “real” story about Script Phonography and all that.

I will not be reading this one, but if anyone else decides to give it a whirl please let us know how it is.  🙂

Previous post:
Next post:
15 comments Add yours
  1. Well, I've read "An American Light Liner", and it seems that some of the criticisms are valid, though some are not. For instance, the abbreviation principle was not really rigorous, as the author points out. But the bit about many shorthand outlines sort of resembling a 2–well, anyone versed in any system of shorthand would know immediately that the outlines for "acid" and "assume" look distinct and must stand for different words.

    Anyway, the proof is in the pudding, and Gregg has held its own quite nicely under the most demanding circumstances, just as Pitman has.

    1. The few sections I've read thus far were interesting. It would be easier to treat it as a serious review of the Gregg system if it weren't such a high-handed diatribe. It comes across more as an act of desperation.

  2. Before I settled on Gregg, I spent a fairly short time researching other systems, just to be sure Gregg was actually what would work best for me. My first reaction to Pitman was horror at the idea of having to differentiate between line thickness. At the time I felt I could never achieve any consistency with that (my handwriting was always atrocious). Now I realize that I probably would have figured it out, but it's funny how people react to different things. Especially when there is money and notoriety involved.

  3. I've now read Malone's book, and believe it or not, I find myself more sympathetic to him than I had before. I think what happened is probably something like this: Malone, probably without much understanding of the history of shorthand, came upon the idea of inventing a script method. He then made various attempts at an alphabet and abbreviating techniques, and farmed these out to his friends and subordinates for testing. He then awaited their comments and made changes in his system to meet any criticisms they levied. Unfortunately for him, one of his subordinates that took part in this was JRG, who, though just barely an adult, was terrifically well versed in the history and theory of shorthand, also dreamed of producing a script shorthand, and was ambitious to make his mark on the world. (Malone calls him "pushful".) I suspect Gregg gave Malone much more detailed advice than the other vetters, and was under the impression that Malone was taking him into his confidences and making him a co-author of the system. Although Malone either incorporated many of Gregg's suggestions or invented them in parallel, it seems he saw Gregg as the least of the least because he was so young and "pushful". In fact, in one passage Malone says almost point blank that Gregg couldn't know as much about shorthand as he did, because Gregg was just a boy and twenty years his junior. (It sort of reminds me of the mathematician Evariste Galois, who invented a very sophisticated mathematical theory while in his teens, but whose drudge of a high school math teacher thought he was just a snobbish ne'er-do-well.)

    Anyway, not only did Malone have to deal with an ambitious older teenager who knew much more about shorthand than he did, but he also had to suffer the consequences of his own lack of business ability. He and Sloan (of Sloan-Duployan) clashed badly, though perhaps Sloan had a big ego too. Then after Gregg produced his own system Malone sued him on grounds that, from the point of view of a modern reader, seem totally specious, but that must have looked to Malone like plagiarism and copyright violation. Of course, this sort of stuff goes on all the time between companies. But then, instead of getting on with his life, Malone took out his bitterness at Gregg by writing a book trying to justify himself and show how underhanded Gregg was.

    This is not the story of a rogue, then, but of an inept, bitter person who couldn't let go of his grudges or credit others for superior achievement. Gregg, on the other hand, took a lesson from his interaction with Malone to produce a system of shorthand much better than Script, to take it to the United States, where the field was fallow, and to form one of the largest and most successful of the stenographic systems, publishing houses and secretarial training methods of his generation.

    This leaves me feeling sorry for Malone. But if I could have dinner with one of them, I'd definitely choose Gregg. He'd easily be the most interesting and most pleasant companion.

  4. If you enjoy reading these "my method is better" kind of books, all Gregg enthusiasts should read "The Basic Principles of Gregg Shorthand."(Unfortunately, Google Books does not have an electronic version. In this book, Dr. Gregg collected his thoughts about why he devised his system the way he did, how it compares to other systems, how he avoided odd joinings, and other interesting tidbits. The book does not make a single mention of Malone, even though other systems are prominently discussed (not surprising). The book is 240 pages long, but a quick read nonetheless.

    1. I have the pdf of this, and I agree it's a quick read. It's interesting from a shorthand-theoretical perspective to read how and why Gregg built his system as he did. Some of this is reprised in "The Story of Gregg Shorthand". It's apparent that Gregg thought deeply and clearly about what is needed in a competent shorthand system. I think he bested Pitman in this, though Pitman's system has proven itself many times over in practice. Another inventor who may have thought equally deeply about how to build a system is Gabelsberger. I wish he had written a book outlining his ideas.

  5. Regarding the Pitman people's brochure attacking the Gregg system, it's my understanding that they published similar attacks on every significant competitor that appeared in the shorthand landscape. Their attack on Script Phonography is also online at the Louis Collection Collection.

    I've also read Malone's book and I generally agree with lvw's comments on it. But if I recall correctly, Malone claimed in the preface that he only decided to publish it after learning that Gregg was claiming to be the primary inventor of Script Phonography, a viewpoint with which Malone obviously disagreed.

    Malone's version of history contains snippets of correspondence that passed between the two men which give us an interesting insight into the shorthand milieu of the 1880s. There was some kind of a shorthand craze gripping the world at that time — people were frantically publishing and promoting new systems. All very interesting. Wish I had a time machine.

    1. I too wish I had a time machine to see how much of Script was Gregg's and how much was Malone's.

      Yes, the Pitman people did attack other systems liberally, though they were not alone. I think the rancor in the shorthand world then was rather like the Windows-Mac-Linux quarrel of our times.

      What's most interesting about Malone's book is the inclusion of so many primary sources. For instance, it seems from some of the quotes that Gregg was a rather rash young man (as many young men are), and that his mellowness and good nature developed as he matured.

  6. Malone and Gregg is interesting in that it puts Gregg Shorthand into the context of the times. It appears clear that the vowel groupings, the letter shapes, connections and blending are not original to Gregg. It appears that where Gregg expressed his genius was in eliminating the vestiges of shading and in risking striking out to the Americas, where the new ideas found a fertile ground with little established competition.

    We have the luxury of reading these proceedings detached in time, after the litigants are long dead. It helps us to understand the evolutions of shorthand in human thought independent of the charismatic arguments of any individual.

Leave a Reply