PAGE DATE 7 June 2011
The Three Kings: FACILITY
Pitman's Shorthand is based on geometric forms, using
straight lines and quarters of a circle at various angles. This allows precise and
readable outlines to be formed, but does not prevent the shorthand
also being easy and flowing to write.
direction and angle of the strokes is meaningful and cannot be changed, i.e.
there is no such thing as sloping handwriting in Pitman's Shorthand.
Different writers' shorthand will always vary in appearance, just as handwriting does,
but such variations must
not impinge on the meaning,
and one soon learns what one can and cannot do. Written shorthand
will never look like the textbook shorthand. The textbook outlines
have been very carefully drawn and they are the standard from which
written shorthand should never stray too far.
Some of the items such as Intersections, Proximity,
and Phrasing are introductory, and will be covered on future
The strokes and diagram are available in the
folded booklet PDF and as JPGs (suitable for phone/Ipod etc) from the
Rules of the system
Position writing is described on the Theory 2 Vowels page
This is a single straight or curved line that represents a consonant sound.
All the horizontal and downstrokes are paired, thick and thin, to
match the related sounds of voiced and unvoiced. No thick stroke is ever written upwards,
Thick and thin refers to the width of the line and
not the lightness or darkness of the colour, although the thick
lines may end up being darker in colour because it takes pressure to
form them. The outlines here were written with blue ink in a
shorthand pen with flexible nib, and therefore the thick strokes
appear darker because of the pooling of the ink. Pencil outlines may
also show variation between grey and black. Black ink should produce
much less variation in shade. Some older books refer to shading
which should not be taken literally but is a description of the
overall appearance of the marks.
No basic stroke represents more than one sound.
A stroke can have other consonants added to it by
various means e.g. halving, doubling, thickening or addition of
hooks or loops.
A vertical dash vowel, e.g. against a horizontal
stroke, should always be written downwards, whether it is above or
beneath the stroke. The only time the pen writes upwards is while
completing a circle or hook. Some dash vowels may sometimes have an
upward slant when written to curves. Excess pressure with a sharp or
unbending nib/fragile pencil tip/low grade paper at those points
could be detrimental.
There is no stroke or sign that is written
straight upwards in its basic form; however, the
halved Ess is written
upwards in certain situations (being a halved stroke and
therefore similar to writing half of a Circle Ses, part of which
would necessarily have to be written upwards):
This is the shorthand form for a word, before the
unattached vowel signs are added. Write the strokes one after the
other, joining them end to end, without stopping at the angles,
lifting the pen or going back to thicken or correct any part. All the
be completed before inserting any further dots, dashes, vowel signs
or intersections. Each stroke must be
written in its correct direction. A few strokes have alternative
directions in which they may be written, in certain circumstances.
An outline may consist of:
(a) One or more strokes forming a
continuous ink line, including any attached vowels, hooks, circles
and, optionally, unattached non-vowel marks:
fee form few manner stationery
(b) Two parts written close together, used where
certain joins are awkward, impossible or illegible – the outline is called "disjoined":
Disjoining is also used for some abbreviating
archaeological magnificent accommodate recognise
hesitatingly friendly – see
Theory 19 Suffixes
principality acceptability archaeological – See
Theory 20 Suffixes
magnificent accommodate recognise - See
Theory 18 Prefixes
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Two outlines may be written close together, called
proximity, as an abbreviating device to indicate the "con" syllable
at the beginning of the second word, to replace the "con" dot
(see Theory 18
Prefixes/Con page). Advanced writers often find other uses for proximity in their
phrases, enabling them to leave out obvious words:
I am confident, in control
Packing your shorthand outlines tightly together
along the line is not a good idea, as proximity is meaningful in
certain circumstances. The only time to do that is when you are
running out of paper in an emergency or writing that time-honoured
secret shorthand postcard that the postman cannot read!
A stroke may be written through an outline, as an
abbreviating device for common words. There is a wide choice here,
and every shorthand writer is free to create their own intersections
to reflect their own needs:
service department, application form, at the beginning
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In any combination of strokes, it should be clear
which strokes are involved and where each one starts and stops.
Alternative methods are used in the following combinations:
(a) Three similar straight strokes in
succession – break up the outline, use the hyphen sign if it helps:
Where a halved or doubled straight stroke
would not make an angle with other strokes in the outline:
popped Babette judged cooked
fact factor liked bonnet
A succession of all up- or downstrokes: 3 is maximum,
4 should be avoided to prevent the outline invading the line
below or above, causing delays and interference.
doorstep rarer tiptop* sheepfold*
4 downstrokes for tiptop and
sheepfold, which goes against most
textbook advice and lets the outlines invade two lines below. One
might get away with 4 downstrokes if it started above the line,
but these start already through the line. I
would suggest breaking the words up – this gives the advantage
that you can place both parts in position to indicate the vowel.
This is also relevant for many words where it is
not settled in usage whether it is one word, hyphenated or two
words. You should write a reliable and convenient outline, and
make a separate decision on how it should be transcribed.
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Adding vowel signs to an outline is called
vocalising. An outline without its vowels is not considered
incomplete. Dictionaries always show all the vowels.
Dot "con-", dot "-ing" and dash "-ings" are
considered part of the outline, in the same way as joined
diphthongs, and, unlike the unattached vowel signs, they should
never be left out, except when using proximity for "con-".
Adding or omitting unattached vowels is a choice
that is left to the writer. You should always include those vowels
that you think will help you read the shorthand. If you always write
in all the vowels, your speed will be severely hampered, and you
should endeavour to omit all but the essential ones.
When dictation slows right down or there is a
breathing space, it is tempting to go back and put in all the
vowels. It is up to you how much to
vocalise, and whether the extra time taken is working for or against
you. If you think you might have to read back, having extra vowels
in will reduce the stress. Putting them in at every opportunity is
not a helpful habit if you wish to attain good shorthand speed – the
two are incompatible. However, it is a good exercise to undertake
periodically, so that you revise and consolidate your knowledge of
them. Position writing is dependent on knowing your
vowels thoroughly and you should not leave them out because you do
not know what they are or where they go.
Vowels are advised for:
Short outlines, such as a single stroke,
because there will be many words that one stroke could represent.
Unusual, non-English or technical words. Some scientific
words are differentiated only by the vowel e.g. nitrite nitrate. You
should make lists of such vocabularies in your line of work and
decide where you need to consistently insert the vowels.
Single outlines that have little or no
context, such as headings or lists.
Proper names i.e. people, places. Context does
not help with proper names. Such outlines should also be
as full as possible and not make use of short forms.
Clashing or very similar pairs (see
Distinguishing Outlines page). If the outlines are the same, you
can generally omit the vowel in the common one and always put the
vowel in the less common one, thus reducing your overall writing.
Compile your own lists as you come across them, and let none escape,
considering the damage or embarrassment they are capable of.
- When you have written an incorrect, doubtful
or bad outline. In the heat of rapid dictation, you may have to
create an outline in an instant. You know it is not the dictionary
outline, but you must write something. The vowels will help you read it
back, but the offending outline should be looked up and drilled to
prevent a recurrence – keep a notebook so that you can practise
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Outlines for words may be joined in succession, as
convenient, in order to increase speed. Each pen lift approximates
to writing a stroke, so avoiding a pen lift by phrasing saves time.
Phrasing is generally for sets of words that are frequently found
together, or is used to mirror the way words are naturally grouped
in normal speech:
for-your-letter that-we-have-(re)ceived yest(erday)-ev(en)ing
Tick "the" is always joined and therefore it
always makes a mini-phrase. Phrasing is an extremely useful tool, with endless
possibilities for time saving and many of its own abbreviation
The ink line forming the phrase was called a "phraseogram"
in the early days of shorthand, out of a desire to give every new
concept its own terminology, allowing the systems to be described
and taught with exactitude. It is normal nowadays to just use the
word "outline" to cover any shorthand ink line, and "phrase" covers
either the outline or the set of words being represented by it.
RULES OF THE SYSTEM
There are three overriding rules governing how an
outline's form is chosen. I am referring to the choices made
throughout the history of Pitman's Shorthand by its creator and by
subsequent publishers (Pitman Publishing/Longman).
easy to write at all speeds, with no awkward pen movements
can be read back reliably and correctly; this includes ensuring
outlines do not clash
keeping to the horizontal line of the notepad and not invading the
line above or below
The basic rules are simple, but variations
exceptions arise because not all combinations of strokes produce
good outlines. They are also necessary to insure the system against
the inevitable distortion of handwritten outlines versus the drawn
perfection on the textbook pages. The system is geared to having the best possible
outlines for high-speed writing and reliability. Producing the
minimum number of rules or the slimmest possible textbook is not a
priority in New Era.
The basic outline-choice
Join the consonant outlines
end to end, in the same order as the sounds occur in the word.
abbreviating devices available and suitable.
Insert the vowel
If the resultant
"facility, legibility, lineality" then
decide on a better outline.
depart from the normal rules because of the extreme convenience
and brevity gained.
The rules are really
just a way of describing how the outline choices were made, thus
helping the student understand what is going on. Understanding
requires intelligence but no great effort and is infinitely better
than memorising, which is inefficient, painful and discouraging. As
long as the initial understanding is followed by lots of writing
practice, memorising is totally unnecessary and redundant.
Seeing a page thick
with rules can be very daunting, but if you learn the example
outlines thoroughly, they themselves will speak volumes to you and
in far less time and space than the lengthy chapter they were
presented in. They enable you to spot a bad combination simply by
instant mental comparison with known good outlines. Every shorthand
writer does this when correcting a dubious outline that has been
If you have an
understanding of why the choices of outline were originally made,
you will be better informed to make your own choices when you need
to decide on the outline for a new word without recourse to a dictionary – either it is not
in there, or you do not have access to the book. Until the
publishers see fit to reprint Pitman's Shorthand
dictionaries and bring them up to date, being able to
do this is becoming ever more important for shorthand writers.
You do not need to know
all the niceties of the theory when first learning, but the more you
know, the better you will be able to write new words, either ones
not in the dictionary or when no dictionary is available. To aspiring high-speeders they
a never-ending toolbox for further creative abbreviation.
Some textbooks advise knowing all the rules and applying them perfectly
in order to write good and fast shorthand, but I disagree strongly
with this. When writing shorthand, your outlines will of course
embody the rules, but you will never be thinking
of the rules – either the outline jumps to mind or it doesn't, and
you must move on in the next fraction of a second. If you need to
make up an outline during dictation, you will still not be thinking
of the rules, you will be basing your new outline on one you already
know. Shorthand outlines are visual and further learning
should concentrate on that, writing and seeing them constantly on
the page and associating the spoken sound with them.
Perusing the rules is
for when you are sitting in your armchair at home, correcting faulty
outlines by consulting the shorthand dictionary or textbook, and
wondering why the outline looks like it does. For the learner, the
outlines are the food, your understanding of the rules are the knife, fork and spoon that
shape the meal and help it go down. When you are out and about using what you have
assimilated, the cutlery stays at home!
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