So intoned the billboards on the NYC subways for years. The School of Speedwriting wanted to make sure people knew that Gregg shorthand was not the only way to go, and while I never had the opportunity to learn either, it seems to make perfect sense to me. My ex was a whiz at shorthand, and she could take dictation like a court reporter – but all those squiggles! Worse than Arabic, if you ask me.
Of course, it’s based on being able to recognize words without the vowels. Since 2003, this has been going around the internet in various forms, the latest one with the header “Only Smart People Can Read This”:
It is doubtful that any real research has been done on this phenomenon at Cambridge, but the underlying principle makes sense – experienced readers don’t decode, but rather they read words as entire units. This is useful to understand as I teach Japanese students the mysteries of English spelling. They get so wrapped up in “i before e” that they forget to learn new words in the same way that they learn their own kanji – as units.
To the untrained eye, each of these Japanese characters looks very much the same, 人, 大, 木, 本, 天, 火, 米, 犬, 水, 氷, 入, yet a Japanese person recognizes each without even thinking of it – a single jot can make the difference between big and dog, or between person and enter.
We do the same thing ourselves – and when presented with a block of text with mixed up letters (or missing vowels), our minds do what they do best – they look for things that look close to something recognizable, and usually come up with an accurate match almost instantly, unless of course you booted up a Unix system running “Fortune” and got “f u cn rd ths, itn tyg h myxbl cd…” – the Semitic peoples (Jews and Arabs) have been doing this for thousands of years – like anything, you just get used to it.
Nowadays, young people use this to their advantage when sending txt msgs (text messages): R u there? K. ttyl. (Are you there? OK. Talk to you later.) If things keep going the way they are, we may all be doing speedwriting whether we like it or not.
Th Ld Wlf hs Spkn.