Thursday, May 5, 2011

HandyWrite - the Ultimate Shorthand System

It's time for an app that understands shorthand. It's time to bring shorthand back.

Check this out:

This guy designed what looks like a near-optimal shorthand system:

1. He started with Gregg shorthand. Note that just using Gregg letters alone you'll speed up your note-taking significantly. The downside is that the notes themselves are often abbreviations, so you have to transcribe soon after you've taken the notes or else it becomes a bit opaque.

2. He extended it to represent the full range of English pronunciation. Now you have 1:1 sound-correspondence to English. You can read back what you wrote years later. i.e. It's a full writing system.

3. He then added a symbology for just 100 of the most common English words. Not at all as extensive as classical shorthand, but all you need is to be able to record notes as fast as they're spoken.

Ok, the best thing about it in my opinion is that it honors and re-uses prior art in simply extending Gregg shorthand. That alone is worth something in my book -- and not just for sentimental reasons: Gregg is a thoughtful and elegant system.

I've jotted down the letter forms, and will be practicing them little by little as I have time. My goal is to be able to record meetings with it.

Actually, my real goal is to write an app that will let me take notes with it.


  1. Note that Handywrite only represents the full range of Standard US English pronunciation. There's at least on vowel sound missing for Standard UK English and more sounds missing for Standard Scottish English. E.g., the vowel sounds in "bot" and "father" are not distinguished in Handywrite. Basically it's missing the "o" sound in UK English. This can be fixed by assigning a leftwards oval (the reflection of that used for "aw") for the long a sound in father (for those who say it like that) and keeping the "o" symbol for "o".

    The missing consonant sounds in Standard Scottish English are covered by "Blends". There are many many missing vowel sounds from "Standard Scottish" (whatever that is), but none that prevent unambiguous writing.

    Even Scottish Gaelic can be covered with the addition of a blend for "gh", a double "l" for the the palatal L, and ticks inside the two ovals to assign "ao" and that nasal sound at the end of "donn" or the middle of "toimhseachd". Obviously you might also want to add accents for long vowels.

    Anyway, HandyWrite is very extensible, making it possible to represent other accents/languages, not just Standard US English. Love it!

    1. Hi Jimi,

      I'd really like to learn this, but the fact that it assumes an american accent makes it a non starter for me to understand what they mean by different vowel sounds (I'm British and no linguist). You seem to be the only person that has acknowledged this fact that I can find. I wonder if you would be able (and bothered!) to re-write the handywrite alphabet in UK english (with your "o" additions).


      Sorry if this reply has gone through twice, I didn't think it had worked the first time.

    2. I had the same problem when learning handywrite. I was missing an extra vowel sound "aw" sound in not and hot (IPA: /ɔ/ or Open-mid back rounded vowel).

      I just added a new symbol to represent that vowel sound. It's basically the "u" looking symbol (vowel sound is oo, like boot, or pool), but upside down.