Shorthand Bird Names

Erica Van Horn and John Bevis


This exercise in Pitman shorthand was found in a 1915 issue of The Reporters’ Journal & Shorthand Magazine. The title, Bird Names, oddly positioned centre-page, is entirely unexpected in the context of a method of rapid writing associated with journalism, commerce and forensics. Shorthand, an essentially post-alphabetic notation, seems here to return to a pictographic condition, like the relic of a tablet or scroll recording an early civilization’s naming of the birds, through some translation of their shape, sound, movement, colouration or behaviour that we can only guess at. Could birds ever have arrived with such superabundance that the writer must resort to the swiftest of marks to record their identities? Or could it be that this is no accident: that the Journal’s editor, Harold V. Clayton, had hit upon the perfect realm for showcasing shorthand’s allusiveness, secrecy and charm? : John Bevis. postcard. 155 x 115 mm

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