Words Per Minute

London, Media

Court stenographers are to be phased out in the UK and replaced by modern audio recording. Stenographers keep up with the speed of speech, which is often defined as 180 words per minute (wpm). Anyone who has tried to take a note in longhand at that speed will tell you it is impossible.

Many journalists who learn shorthand struggle to hit 100 wpm, so the only way to keep up is through a skilled professional using a stenotype machine. The machine has a minimal keyboard, which omits key letters like i, m or n, and by hitting a combination of keys – known as chords – they can produce the missing letters or phonetic sounds like “th” or “sh”.

The stenographers say that by switching to audio you’ll miss the nuances of speech that stem from virtual lip-reading. Stenos learn a great many shortform phrases like PH R O PLT – Manslaughter due to diminished responsibility – to ease their speed.

When stenos in the courtroom go, though, they’ll be hired by corporations wanting to take perfect notes – and they’ll probably earn more.

5 comments on “Words Per Minute”

  1. Gretta says:

    We still have stenographers in Courthouses here(NZ), and in Parliament. I did jury duty for a trial which lasted three weeks many years ago, and in that entire time the stenographers would have interrupted proceedings twice, maybe three times at most, and each time it was purely to clarify the spelling of an unusual name, one of which was tattooed on a witnesses arm(!). They really are something else.

    I mourn, too, the day we lost ‘chalkies’ from the stock exchange boards in the 1980s. Again, invariably women, and were just astonishing to watch in action.

  2. Andreas says:

    What’s stopped the stenographers from earning higher wages at corporations until now? Nothing, of course. The truth is that the demand isn’t there. Most stenographers will become unemployed or do something else.

  3. Yeah, I’m not a great believer in the bountiful Paradise of Private Enterprise opening its pearly gates to stenographers. And it it does, it will offer as little money as it can get away with.

  4. Helen Martin says:

    I’m afraid Patrick and Andreas are probably right. I was fascinated by the stenos who took notes at Transportation Commission hearings here, back when they had such a thing. I always wondered what the keyboards were like. They had those machines and a cone-like thing that covered the lower part of the face. That way they could enter audio notes and such like, I think. The commission no longer functions so those jobs were lost.

  5. Helen Martin says:

    And my husband tells me that our courts are going to taping as well, so our stenos will have to find other work (data entry?)

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