PAGE DATE 9 August 2011
A stroke is a shorthand sign that represents one
consonant sound. Strokes do not correspond to the letters of the normal longhand alphabet,
although some of them may appear to do so. The angle,
relative size and thickness of the strokes, and
position relative to the line on the notepad, are all meaningful in
Pitman's Shorthand, and cannot be changed, ignored or elaborated
upon, as you can with normal handwriting or printing fonts.
Reference Table – complete list of all
Position writing is described on the Theory 2 Vowels page
There are 26 strokes and each has a name, based on the sound it represents. You should use
these names consistently when talking about them.
Strokes are described as: upstrokes, downstrokes and
horizontal strokes. With curves, or strokes that have initial hooks
or circles, such as Way, Hay, Kway, Wel, the description refers to
the general direction of the main part of the stroke.
Ell and Ish are the only strokes that can
be written both up and downwards using the same form. A
final halved Ess is occasionally written upwards.
Hay has a choice of two
strokes, for ease of
Ar and Ray both represent the R sound, but in
Eff Vee Ith Thee can be flipped when they
have an initial hook
are always written from left to right
Where there there is a choice of direction, one
direction is taken as the norm, to be used when the stroke is
standing alone; then the rules describe when the opposite direction
should be used. Such pairs allow ease of joining (i.e. making
a legible angle) or vowel indication.
The notes column gives hints of other choices, and
is not definitive – further theory pages describe in more
The average height of a line on a shorthand pad is 8mm*. I suggest
you make the stroke length approximately 5mm, i.e. just over half the line
height, so that the outlines fit
well. Very old textbooks have quite small outlines, drawn carefully
with very fine pens and lithographed to perfection; this would have
been a reasonable size to emulate when shorthand was written with
fine-nibbed dip pens, for personal writings done at leisure. The modern textbooks
have a more practical size of outline at 5mm and these are ideal to
copy (measured from Longman's New Era Anniversary Edition).
page to print your own pad
Your choice of outline size will depend on your
paper, writing instrument and eyesight. Your eyes may be further
away from the pad during transcription than when writing.
Blunt or over-inky writing instruments do not help you form small
neat outlines. Pencil will encourage large outlines over time, as you
strain to transcribe the shiny grey lines. All the above provide reasons enough to start your endeavours with a
good-quality fine flexible-tipped fountain pen, as you will have difficulty
changing your shorthand style later on. You will never regret the
expense. See my
review of the Noodler's Flex Pen.
You should avoid large spaced-out outlines
which take a lot longer to write. Under pressure of writing at
speed, outlines tend to become bigger and more sprawling, and you do
not want to start off with this disadvantage. Some outlines have
three downstrokes in succession, which large shorthand would have
difficulty in fitting on the notepad line.
Written shorthand never resembles the drawn
outlines in the
textbook, and there is a certain amount of leeway when writing, but it is quite
limited. You should continue to aspire to the textbook outlines in
order to prevent sloppiness creeping in. It is important to have your
writing hand and notepad at the same angle to each other, so the
writing does not acquire any slant.
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Pitman's Shorthand relies on thick and thin
strokes to differentiate between sounds. The thick outline is a voiced version of
the thin outline - voiced means the vocal chords are being vibrated,
which you can detect by placing your hand on your throat while
saying the sound.
Without the thicks and thins, there would be
double the number of strokes, an unnecessary burden which Sir Isaac
Pitman has kindly spared us.
It has been said one should think in terms of thin
and very thin. Write the thins as lightly as you can, and then form
the thicks just enough to make the difference. The important thing
is that you can see the difference between them, while retaining a
light-handed manner of writing.
Thick straight strokes are uniform in thickness
and this is easy to achieve. Thick curved strokes should be thickened
towards the centre and then trailed off to a point at the end.
This enables you to glide in and out of the various strokes without
abrupt changes of pressure. There is no thick upstroke at all, as
this is totally impractical to write.
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Below are all the strokes of the system in
their basic form, shown resting on the line, for
convenience. You want the images in your mind always to look like
the real thing, so it is not helpful to learn from, or keep lists of, floating
lineless illustrations, even if they are fully vocalised.
The additional strokes in the Notes column are not
basic strokes, as they represent two or more sounds.
Strokes with attachments
Wel, Hwel and Hway are
the only instances of a hook adding a sound BEFORE that of the main
stroke, all other hooks add a sound after. It helps to think of the
strokes below that have such permanent "attachments" as
complete strokes in their own right,
otherwise confusion may result when learning the R, L, F/V and N
The reason they have attachments is that, as the
system developed in its early days, more strokes were required than
were available from the straight lines at various angles and
segments of a circle. Therefore various unused combinations were
made use of,
e.g. Ray was given initial hooks to make Way and Yay, which were
originally shown by the small semi-circle and the downstrokes that
we now use for Rer and Ler; the combination S-CHR,
not occurring in English, was used instead for downward Hay, the H
sound originally being represented by only the aspirate dot and the
upstroke that is now used for Yay.
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