I love how anachronistic this ad for earning big bucks by learning steno is -- among the obsolete elements contained in it are dictation, shorthand, shorthand gadgets. It's true that continuous speech recognition, autocomplete and pocket recording devices are their descendants, but they're none of them "exciting careers."

With Stenotype, the world’s fastest shorthand, you can qualify for one of today’s top-level secretarial positions. This modern machine shorthand is a synonym for highest speed and accuracy in thousands of executive offices and important places everywhere. Your Stenotype machine uses only 22 symbols…types an entire word at one stroke.. .”takes” in plain English letters… provides clean, easy-to-transcribe records for permanent future reference.

Even if you’ve had trouble with ordinary shorthand, you can quickly become proficient in Stenotype. Notes are so much easier to take and read. You learn at home, in your spare time. The cost is remarkably low, and the machine itself is included with your course. Take the first step toward an exciting high-pay career today. Mail coupon for free Stenotype booklet. LaSalle, 417 S. Dearborn, Chicago, Illinois 60605.

EARN BIG PAY IN AN EXCITING CAREER – Stenotype Operator (Nov, 1965)


    1. I used to do this for a living and can confirm that is is *occasionally* interesting. After the millionth DUI trial they start to blur together though. Still, it beats the heck out of the Starbucks warehouse.

      The smaller the community the more interesting it is. Currently, I know what three people on my block were arrested for. I’ve considered moving, but then I’d be surrounded by people who I don’t know what they’ve been arrested for.

      The devil you know, I guess.

    1. I can imagine a variant on the stenography machine that would be useful for automating retro-phrenology.  If you haven’t heard of this fine art, it’s Terry Practchett’s idea that you could actively change a person’s personality and proclivities by adding bumps to their heads in *exactly* the right places.

      You would type “optimist” into the machine, and like typewriter keys the right collection of hammers would hit the *customer* in the right places, leaving them with a sunnier disposition.

      That’s how I imagine it.

  1. Got a relative in law who has done this for a living for quite some time … he makes a nice salary and on top of that he gets side work somehow.  I think he gets paid on the side (legitimately) by attorneys to review the tapes, or something. 

    1. Stenographers — who are f***ing artists by the way — get paid both for the time they take in the room and the time they get reviewing the transcripts to make sure they track reality.  Typically they both record and stenog (if that’s the verb) the proceedings and just go through their transcript against the recording, but most of the time the stenography transcript is pretty darn good.

    2. I knew a stenographer who used to work at The Old Bailey court in London. However competing outsourcing of court staff drove the pay down to minimum wage. So she moved to live TV subtitling, which paid a wage more reflective of the amazing skill involved.

      1. hm…. I often watch British TV with (what I assume to be) live subtitles, so as not to wake up the SO.
        once you been exposed to subtitles for a while, “amazing skill” is not what springs to mind.  Judging by hilarity of mistakes (Sky TV I’m looking at you!!) I assumed the captioning was done with 1990s-era voice recognition software.

        1. Many broadcasters employ uncertified stenographers so as to satifsy their obligations to provide the service to the deaf and hard of hearing.  However, high-level programs usually go the extra mile and pay a skilled stenographer.  You should also keep in mind that they are typing 200 to 300 words a minute, all of it in shorthand, and when new words come up that aren’t defined in their machine shorthand dictionary, it’s very easy to be tripped up — especially if it’s a name or term the stenographer has never even heard of.

          A typo of one wrong key on a regular keyboard will result in a slight misspelling, whereas a wrong key on a machine shorthand keyboard (a stenograph) can result in an entire wrong phrase, or a phonetically similar but entirely different work coming up.  Every piece of shorthand is associated with an English counterpart in the stenographers dictionary, hence the spectacular typos you see when things go wrong.

          Still, I’d challenge anyone to sit down and try to even paraphrase a News broadcast and see what their rough-draft looks like before editing.  You’ll have a new appreciation for just how quick and accurate those TV captions actually are, even if they do contain the occasional spectacular mistranslation of the stenographer’s shorthand.

  2. I actually did a deposition a few months back with a stenographer who used reel-to-reel tape as a backup recording  (the steno was at least 65 years old).   I actually took a cellphone pic of the machine, which dated to no later than about 1970….

  3. Yeah, I was going to say, anyone who has had to endure a deposition in the US knows that there are still people making a living using this level of tech.

  4. Well, actually… If I could learn enough shorthand/have a simple steno system for taking notes during meetings, it’d save a LOT of time and misunderstood crap…

    I kind of get by typing on my smartphone, but a software QWERTY keyboard with keys smaller than my fingers? Yeah! That’s going to be fast for typing!

    1.  My old Psion 3A was a just-barely-pocket-sized organizer that had a good QWERTY keyboard on it – two-finger typing was at least enough to keep up with phone messages, and when I later replaced it with a Palm III using Graffiti, I could write about half as much stuff, so my message notes became a lot more terse.

      1. That’s the point… Graffiti pretty much saved my skin about 12 years ago, when I had a fractured right hand, and couldn’t take decent class notes… It was slower, but it got the job done.

        My point is that the Latin alphabet (and indeed, most alphabets) aren’t really great for taking notes. Shorthand, on the other hand, is. Now, if we could learn shorthand, and have an IME for our phones/tablets/whatever, taking down better notes would be easier.

        This is to do with handwriting, but the same argument applies for key input. For example, a chorded keyboard like Stenotype should be much faster with just a few fingers (maybe even just thumbs). Check out GKOS.

        The problem would be the learning curve. Fortunately or unfortunately, we’re addicted to QWERTY

  5. I knew a woman who graduated in the late 80’s in this field and she is still working today, she does court reporting, takes depositions and the like. I’m told sometimes it’s interesting. I remember she had her own machine in school, in a nice hard shell case.

  6. The point of the exercise is that the stenographer is also notarizing the transcript and producing a document that everybody agrees upon as being the official record. Audio recording and speech to text would be pretty useless for that.

    1. It’s all in how you use the text-to-speech.

       My wife used to be a court reporter for the U. S. Air Force. She would listen to the discussion and then repeat it into a stenomask. She would then transcribe the recording after the fact. Your own voice is less ambiguous apparently.

      Toward the end of her career, she was involved with testing the speech to text machines that they use more often now. For accuracy the speech to text device is trained to understand only the court reporters voice. She would then clean-up the transcription later.

      In both cases it’s just a note-taking aid for a court reporter who is physically present and can certify the text matches what was said.

      Do a search for “Stenomask” to see some of the devices.

      1.  Stenomasks are used in different parts of the country and are valuable for the same reasons as steno-writers.  I’ve even seen them on high-profile cases on court TV. 

        They face a lot of the same obstacles, with being aware of homonyms and “sound-a-likes” in their writing (or speaking), maintaining their dictionaries software entries to deal with new words, word-boundary issues, and other problems that cause errors in the first-draft translation. 

        As a stenographer (stenotypist), I have a lot of respect for highly skilled steno-mask writers, as they’re doing essentially the same thing, via a slightly different method. 

        The problem with speech recognition is generally that people have different accents, they mumble, and the courtroom or even deposition setting is generally not a “sterile” environment with respect to audio.  There are papers shuffling, people coughing, sneezing, mumbling, talking simultaneously.  In a courthouse, doors are opening, people are shuffling in and out, sometimes in chains; there are side conversations. 

        For all of those reasons, it’s still important to have somebody there actually recording the proceedings.  If you search on Google for audio failure in courtrooms, you’ll see the pitfalls of relying on un-manned audio systems.  It can work in a controlled environment and sometimes in general populations, but there is the risk of equipment failure going unnoticed because nobody is sitting there producing a rough draft, monitoring their equipment as they’re doing it. 

        With audio systems, you also have to begin transcription with the recording and a blank page, whereas if you’ve had a steno writer in the room, you begin transcription with a rough draft of the translated shorthand, which is often sold to litigants at the end of the day so they can immediately begin bolstering their own notes with quotes from the day’s testimony.

        Just a few thoughts about why this ad is not “anachronistic.”

  7. And yet there was a stenographer present during the Nuremberg trials, sat in with Charles Manson, etc etc.  No, not life-changing, important or good money in any way at all.  We appreciate your blinding insight on the future of technology and your concrete grip on current trends, but being snide about the past is falling kind of flat to me.  Is the Enigma machine that simplistic to you?  Come on, Cory.  You are better than this.

  8. Recent changes in law required closed captioning of pretty much everything we had. We looked at hiring a stenographer to tear through a bunch of it but we found it too expensive and managed to push the costs off elsewhere.

  9. It was big money for its target audience, people who might otherwise take on secretarial work or other non college degree track jobs.   This seems classist of you Cory.  And court stenography is still a profession – the human ear can detect things that recordings can’t.  Overall, fun ad and cultural artifact but interpretive fail.

  10. I knew a husband & wife team who met because they were both court stenographers.  I can’t remember their license plate anymore, but it was the steno way to type “f…” and then a number in the teens.  This was because X number of stenographers before them (all in the same state) had requested the previous X plates.  Apparently someone at the Secretary of State’s office tried to figure out why nearly 20 people all tried to have the same personalized license plate that appeared to be gobbledygook, but they couldn’t figure it out so they couldn’t deny the plates.

    It’s a demi-monde to itself.

  11. @yodoe&jeligula: c’mon guys; those steno-ladies probably don’t even like comix or aeropress or printed gadgets or ANYTHING! You expect them and their like to count?! I bet they even support SOPA!!1!

  12.  I don’t know about you guys, but I learned shorthand in high school and use it often in college. Keeps those darn freeloaders from reviewing my notes so they have to take their own notes in class.

    1.  I went to college in the 70s and took my lecture notes using Landmark Speedwriting. As an added bonus, it helped me memorize class material through the repetition I experienced while transcribing and typing everything up.  I also used speedwriting in temp secretarial stints during summers and class breaks. 

  13. I had a boss at a creative agency who had learned shorthand in a previous career as a high-powered financial secretary. She would shorthand most meetings, even while talking or whiteboarding or whatever. No one else thought this was remarkable or worth commentary. Once during a one-on-one I asked her how it worked and she explained it pretty patiently. Then I said, OK read it all back to me and she recited THE ENTIRE FUCKING CONVERSATION VERBATIM. It was amazing and kind of freaky. Like she CAPTURED TIME with SQUIGGLES. I wonder if that’s how illiterate Sumerians regarded the guys pushing reeds in clay. “Shit, you’re putting WORDS in CLAY that CAN’T BE GOOD.” 

    Anyway stenographers are probably witches.

      1. Remember that writing at some point was considered magic for exactly the reasons Paul states: sounds from pictures, WTF! The Egyptian writing system was limited to a holy order of scribes, and classes on writing were held at scribes’ homes in special secret rooms. I mean, mouth square feather wavy line man-with-hands-in-air!

        Rome may have been an unusual exception though, since many legionnaires knew how to write letters back home, and the walls of Pompeii show that the ordinary citizen was no stranger to graffiti. However, even with all that, the estimate is 10-20% literacy.

        So… magic!

  14. Stenos beat recordings every time because if a statement is unintelligible, the resulting recording is unintelligible.  A steno will ask the garbled speaker to repeat him- or herself.  Only once we have a recording that seeks clarification can we can call stenography an obsolete tech.

  15. What they said. Stenography and court reporting is alive and well, and pretty much indispensable as a legal tool. I was just in a jury pool on Monday and saw one plugging away at the stenotype, understanding and recording every word.

  16. I initially read the headline as “Big money in steganography”.  Can’t believe nobody else said this…

    1. I, too, was momentarily intrigued as to how you could make a ‘regular’ living out of this. Presumably the big money would have to be paid through complicated financial machinery, ideally through untraceable accounts.

      But autark sort of beat you to it by three hours.

  17. Shorthand is far from obsolete. Real time note taking by journalists is far quicker than reviewing a audio recording (i.e. would take twice the time). Same for students in lecturer – they take notes as it’s faster.

  18. The summary here describes Shorthand as obsolete. I have to note my mother learned Shorthand (2 types of it) and worked for 40 years as a high priced secretary. Even after she stopped working, she could transcribe something being spoken to her as fast as it was spoken and read it back quite easily. I would not say it was a worthless skill for her, and quite honestly I would have loved to know some variety of it when I was taking notes in University.
    Stenography is still useful, and still used. It might seem anachronistic but until speech recognition software gets to 99.999% accuracy, I doubt its going anywhere quickly. Newer is not always better :)

  19. Court Reporting was the family business, and it paid quite well.  One thing that hasn’t been mentioned is that the technology really did advance pretty regularly. Starting in the early  80s reporters went from producing transcripts by dictating into a reel-to-reel and having a typist type up the transcript to using machines that simultaneously produced a paper record in shorthand and saved it to computer memory. My father’s first computerized transcription set involved hooking his machine up to a modem and sending the digital transcript to a central mainframe which then sent a translated transcript back down to a desktop where it could be edited and printed (to a loud, clattering daisy-wheel printer.)

    These days there’s a digital shorthand display on the machine and it can be hooked up to a monitor for a real-time transcript.

  20. Court reporters are alive and well.  Back when this was made most court reporters were men but the field was opening up to women.  Now it is about 98% female.  Let us look at the jobs that women commonly had in 1965:  waitress, teacher and nurse.  Court reporting made more one than any of these if you had regular work. One longish deposition with multiple parties can earn the reporter more than $1,000 in Chicago (current wage).    

    About ten years ago there was still an old timer using shorthand and not that contraption.  

    It is a very difficult skill and many people can’t hack it.  

    It is going to be a long time until speech recognition replaces the stenographer.  

  21. As noted many times above, court reporters make fine money and can have an interesting time doing it. And as a lawyer, I love it when the reporter shows up with a steno machine, as it means I can get something read back if needed – a trick the “record and repeat everything into a dictation mask” reporters can’t do.

    1. 1. Rewind.
      2. Turn on PA.
      3. Play.

      I did this pretty much every time we had a jury trial.

      1.  What about coming back from break and asking about a question that was asked an hour ago?  What about finding the last question instantly after a minute or two of arguing about an objection?

        With a reporter’s rough-draft (which is usually audio synch’d as well), you just search for the keywords, and you instantly have the question in front of you — no rewinding, no guessing where it might be — and you’re not costing any lost time in a room full of people who are individually charging hundreds of dollars an hour.

  22. My girlfriend is a journalist and uses shorthand all the time for interviews. It’s much faster for her to just write everything down than to have to review recordings. This is not obsolete at all, but a very useful skill.

  23. I’m a reporter.  I recently attended a trial where I wish I knew shorthand.  The court reporter used a machine like this and I envied her.  The clothes and hair may be ‘retro’ but the technology is still very much in use.

  24. The only anachronistic thing I see is that La Salle Extension University folded before the current heyday of for-profit private colleges. If they had survived they’d be reeling in the bucks now from the desperate unemployed.

  25. I don’t know, it’s pretty much the only requirement for political reporting these days.

  26. Um, this is actually a very relevant technology.
    Since all court proceedings are required to be recorded by a certified court reporter, and nearly every court reporter uses a steno machine.
    A steno machine is still the FASTEST way to dictate human speech, and has many specialized applications.
    When speech is dictated in real time, for the purposes of closed captioning, it is with a stenographer.
    I know people who work as court reporters.
    They’re not going anywhere, any time soon.

  27. They can type sentences VERY quickly, over 200WPM, by spelling words with syllables, instead of letters.
    They also have a specially shaped keyboard.
    The art of stenography doesn’t even has that much to do with the hardware that it’s implemented on.
    Most stenograph machines record directly onto an sd card, and type onto paper as backup.
    And they record the audio.
    HOWEVER, for legal reasons, only the typed notes are the official record of what happened in the courtroom.

  28. Until we can get to a point where an AI can be trusted by the court to take notes, to the point where nobody can dispute it, we’ll still have court reporters.

    1.  By the time AI gets good enough that we can trust it to take notes, there’s a risk that it will also be good enough that we can’t trust it not to have its own opinions about it….  

      (Though one primary characteristic of AI is that any time AI gets good enough to do things, like reading text or theorem proving, everybody says “Oh, that’s not really AI, that’s just OCR or automated logic, real AI is still decades away if it’s even possible!”)

  29. The company I work for does real-time closed captioning on TV – we employ 150+ stenographers.  It’s a remarkable skill – more akin to playing piano than typing, I’d say (words and parts of words are formed by chording multiple keys on the steno keyboard together rather than typing individual letters) and some of the people who do the work are amazing.  The pace of a typical ‘big city’ newscast hovers around 200 words per minute and bursts up to the upper 200s and maybe low 300s are not uncommon.  What we produce is certainly not verbatim (in the real time world, once it’s gone, it’s gone – we don’t have the luxury of listening back to a recording and correcting the text, etc.) but we like to think that we do a good job of capturing the gist of the stories, etc.

    Incidentally, most stenos have gone through a multi-year schooling process to get where they are.  It’s not the sort of thing most people could just pick up in their spare time…

    1. OT: A big thank-you from someone with an auditory processing disorder….closed captioning helps a wide variety of people!

      1.  I occasionally turn on closed captioning on BBC shows just to cut through the accents.  It’s one thing to understand somebody speaking with a London or BBC accent, but some of the regional dialects are pretty thick, the equivalent of trying to understand a rural Alabama accent in real time.


  30. Don’t hold your breath.  Speaker agnostic automated speech recognition is still a long way off and, even when you have trained a voice engine and you’re operating in an acoustically pure environment, the error rate for ASR is still quite high.  Start pushing the rate at which the words are spoken, add in multiple, overlapping speakers, and background noise… things fall apart fast.

  31. It’s like the old subway ads: if u cn rd ts, u cn rn hi pa as a court stenographer! I used to laugh, but at least one friend of the family was a court stenographer, and he said it paid pretty well. I know they’re still used in many court rooms, because recording technology doesn’t handle the uncontrolled – from an audio engineer’s point of view – acoustics of a court room very well. The pay still seems pretty good too. Salaries online start around $40K and go up to around $80K, and a lot of the jobs offer benefits. Of course, the acoustics engineers and the Republicans are working against this, but for now it isn’t that silly an idea.

  32. My sister started as a court reporter and has moved on to do closed captioning on the television for years (the words at the bottom of the screen for deaf people.)  She works out of her house.  The cable company sends her a feed, she listens, types and there is just a few seconds delay before the words appear on the bottom of the tv screen.  It’s amazing.  She’s captioned the Olympics, national election coverage, sports shows, news shows and Microsoft even hires her to caption their annual meetings on a huge screen for the audience.  She makes quite good money and is in the top percentage in the industry for speed and accuracy.  If you are bilingual you can pretty much write your own salary in this line of work – there is far more demand than there are skilled captioners.  And it is all using that Stenotype machine that hasn’t changed much since 1965.

  33. Yarrr, Cory, that ad’s not anachronistic at all!  It’s perfectly consistent with the culture of its time.  If you ran it today to try to hire a stenographer, it would be anachronistic, but the technology, clothing, hair, typefaces, the social attitudes about appropriate work for women, the “you can make big money with skills you can learn at home” and the fact that students would have to buy their own machinery, all of that are about right for 1965.

    I’d been going to say that it’s obsolete, but a lot of the comments say that the fundamental transcription skills are still current today for some businesses (though the company I worked for from the late 70s – early 90s had a typing pool and accepted dictation by phone when I started, and had gotten rid of it by the mid-80s when it was expected that even managers could do most of their typing using computers, and that’s pretty typical for most businesses.) 

    And back in the 60s, the people who really needed a good word-at-a-time typing system were the Chinese – pre-computer Chinese typewriters required the equivalent of a college education’s worth of training to be good at, depending on how much of the language you wanted to be able to cover. 

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