Happy Birthday Teeline: The shorthand system marking 50 years

Teeline, the shorthand system used by most journalists in the UK, is now 50 years old. It was developed over many years by James Hill, a teacher of Pitman shorthand. The idea behind Teeline was simple: to forge a streamlined system which, being based on the alphabet rather than phonetics, would be easier to learn.

It is the Ford of the shorthand world. Users of Teeline will never reach the Ferrari-like speeds of Pitman or Gregg, but for most real-world uses, such as taking down a chunk of a speech in court, at a council meeting or over the telephone, it is more than adequate.

Approved as the shorthand of choice by the National Council for the Training of Journalists, it remains an easy to learn, utilitarian shorthand system.

For those unfamiliar with Teeline, it has an uncanny similarity to modern text-messaging in that it unnecessary letters, including vowels, are stripped out. Then, the letters are abridged into symbolic elements of those letters – ‘t’, for example, taking on the form of a dash where the intersecting horizontal line of the ‘t’ would be. Common sounds and word endings are also given symbols, either to be blended into other elements or to stand beside them – ‘sh’, ‘nt’ and ‘ment’, for example.

According to the NCTJ, its then shorthand consultant Harry Butler wrote in November 1968:

“We have on our hands a shorthand breakthrough which should solve longstanding shorthand problems.

“I have never known a shorthand system that can produce such good results in so short a time.”

Mr Hill, who died just three years after giving the world Teeline, said of his own system: “If you can write, you can write Teeline.”

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