The philosophy behind brief forms


As a beginner, my intention is not to question everything but rather to understand the rationale I have observed so far concerning abbreviations and brief forms in Gregg. My question is: why is it so important to stick to them, and why have a predetermined set for each Gregg iteration?

My understanding is that nowadays, people may want to use Gregg in myriad fields and subjects. Thus the legal and/or business focus that warranted coming up with a large number of brief forms pertaining to that jargon may no longer be adapted to our use of Gregg today. My own manual is replete with a host of brief forms I would never use in writing, because they stand for very outdated words and phrases.

More generally, everybody uses brief forms in longhand, and it has been so for as long as writing has existed, yet I don’t know of any language that has established, standardized and imposed the use of certain brief forms. Rather, the norm is to write words in full to ensure optimal communication, and those wishing to write faster are free to use brief forms in their personal notes as they see fit.

So why do we have those determined lists of brief forms to learn? why not let each learner, with experience, come up with their own shortcuts just as they did with longhand?

Another question: originally, when you learned Gregg at school in the 60’s and 70’s (or earlier), was it a mistake to not use a specific brief form?


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9 comments Add yours
  1. My opinion on the subject is that brief forms are nice. Of course, you have to memorize them but they aren’t so many and they are usually the common words that tend to come back very often. So they are very quickly learnt especially since their brevity makes them very easily recognizable forms.

    I adopted the brief forms coming from the Sénécal and “Études Graduées” , essentially because they’re already there, they’re a part of the texts I use as exercices. And it’s a part of a corpus that makes me easier to communicate with other users of French Gregg shorthand (I hope they will be more of them in the future…).
    And some words would be “tricky” to write easily without dropping a vowel or a consonant… even it’s not quite a brief form, it’s close enough.

  2. There is no "shorthand police," so really, you can adapt the Gregg system to your needs and understanding as you see fit.  Notehand only has 42 brief forms, but I often dip into Diamond Jubilee brief forms because many of them are so useful.  At the same time, I prefer a less abbreviated system overall because I keep journals in shorthand and hope they'll be less difficult to transcribe by my descendants, should they choose to go down the Gregg rabbit hole!

    I'm sure a lot of thought went into each Gregg edition… brief forms were selected for each edition for that generation's usefulness.  Needs changed over time, from court to business.  Our modern needs make it more personal than vocational.  However, two of the best reasons for learning brief forms is (1) speed and (2) fewer strokes/pen lifts makes for less strain on the hand.  And a third reason (for me) is, I really love phrasing (connecting multiple brief forms and/or other words together).  The words flow along so readily then that it makes writing a joy. 

    So, I'd say it's ok to cherry pick for your own needs.  I wish I remembered my high school shorthand class better, but I do seem to remember being tested specifically on brief forms.  If your goal is speed, I'm not sure how you could do without them.  I know that the original creators of Gregg looked at word frequency charts to determine which words should be brief forms… it would be interesting to see what a more modern word frequency word list might look like, though many words would be the same (pronouns, verbs of being, etc).  Gregg was adaptable to the needs of the day.

  3. Words chosen as brief forms are based on frequency in the general language, and not so much on the frequency in a particular vocational field. So by learning them you will increase your writing speed considerably. Think of brief forms as tools in your shorthand tool chest. By learning shorthand theory correctly according to what is presented in the book, you will have a set of tools that will allow you to write quickly.

    About letting learners choose the forms, by definition, learners have no experience, so I don't think they should be choosing what to learn or not as if they were buying groceries. My general recommendation is that at the learning stage, rather than questioning whether a particular form should be memorized or not, time should be spent on learning the system well so that one can write any word at will, without hesitation and as fast as possible. Only after one masters the system is when one can adapt the writing to our needs, because at that stage the foundation and understanding of the system are solid. For example, my regular writing is Anniversary, but I tend to abbreviate some words even more in some cases, with the use of reporting shortcuts and/or special word beginnings or endings, because I use them frequently. And also I tend to phrase whenever I can because that also increases speed and makes outlines distinct. Further, although I seldom use the word "spirit" in my own writing, the brief form s-p-r is much easier to write than the whole word in full. So even though I don't use the word often, it's nice to know that I know the brief form.

  4. There is a sort of hierarchy of brief forms and phrases in Gregg. The manual teaches a number of them, but for someone who needs more, there are the specialty books in legal, medical, and technical shorthand, and in court reporting. The faster you need to write, the more of these special brief forms you might want to learn. (Remember that court reporters wrote for several hours each day for many years, so learning a few hundred extra brief forms and stock phrases was not too burdensome for them, given the amount of practice they got at writing and reading.)

  5. In creating the brief forms, Gregg often consulted with teachers and stenographers to determine what the optimal brief forms were. Gregg, in some ways, crowd-sourced ideas on how the Gregg shorthand system could be improved, from his end users at the time. However, the way we use language compared to the 19th century differs lot ("Dear Messrs Jones and Thomas, I am receipt of your letter of the 4th inst. I beg to inform you that …").

    I did think of making my own brief forms up, but it does cause problems down the line, as it renders the Gregg shorthand dictionary useless (due to the fact that any words built from these brief forms will be different). As I used the dictionary to frequently check my outlines, I ended up going with the ones in the book.

    I did find a book called "Q and As of shorthand theory" by Gregg, very helpful in understanding the logic behind a lot of the stuff I found unintuitive.

  6. I write a mixture of Simplified and DJS along with additional brief forms from other versions and of my own invention. I agree that it is best to learn the standard brief forms when one is a beginner, but later on with a sound knowledge of the system, it makes sense to use others where necessary.

    There is also the point that some of the brief forms are now by no means as frequent as they might have been in the early to mid 20th century, and some are only of high frequency in business situations. As I said in an earlier post, maybe it’s different in the US, but I don’t think I have ever had to write the word “merchant” – apart from in Gregg exercises, that is. Yet in Simplified onwards, I don't think there's a brief form for "because" – an extremely high frequency word. I write b-k.

  7. Thanks to everyone for your replies. I guess French DJS may be different, because the abbreviated forms are definitely not taken from general speech : votre dévoué, votre tout dévoué, votre bien dévoué, sincèrement à vous (those are complimentary closings for business correspondence which have all completely fallen into disuse even in the French corporate world), ci-inclus, and manufacture, are specific outlines contained in the very first chapters of my French DJS textbook. That's why I started to wonder how to justify learning by rote those outlines I will absolutely never have a chance to use, ever. And that's where I started thinking, we weren't taught to write longhand with brief forms, we came up with personal brief forms on our own…

    1. Just be patient in your learning. Remember that DJS (English and French) was the first series of Gregg written specifically for the business office, since the demand for pen stenographers in other fields had decreased by the 1960s. Add to that that in French you still have those elaborate complimentary closings in business correspondence (something that was eliminated from Business English about 100 years ago!), so they needed to be added.

      As an aside, here's an interesting story about "manufacture." That word was written according to the Abbreviating Principle in earlier series of Gregg (same "men blend-f" outline). In Simplified Gregg, the form was written in full because the Abbreviating Principle only applied to a relatively small number of words in this series; so the outline for manufacture became "men blend-oo hook-f-a-k-t-r". However, teachers complained about having to write the word in full because it was a high frequency word in business correspondence, and so the abbreviated outline came back as a brief form in DJS.

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