One of the guys I enjoy seeing at the community center is a recently retired judge who likes to be called “Sok,” an abbreviation of his last name. For generations, all of the men in his family were called that. He is not the traditional Judge Hardy type. He is more like a heavier, bearded male version of Judge Judy, New York accent and all. If you had to guess his previous occupation, you might guess “pirate.”
“Hey, Sok!” I greeted him.
” ‘Ssup! ‘Ssup?”
“I said, ‘Sok.'”
“And I said ” ‘Ssup?”
That Abbot-and-Costello beginning led to a conversation about abbreviations brought into the English language by the popularity of texting. My aunt was an executive secretary at RCA in Camden, and she had a book on writing in shorthand that I read avidly, not in hopes of writing faster, but to write in something no one, especially my sister, could understand. Besides forming the letters more efficiently, shorthand, too, leaves out extraneous letters, usually vowels. A text word and a shorthand word are very similar.
We discussed the considerable skills of the old-time secretaries. My aunt was proud of her typing. Not only was she fast and accurate, all of the alphabet came out with the same darkness. This was no small feat. For this to happen on a mechanical typewriter, you had to hit a key with your pinky finger just as hard as with your index finger, and do it every time in every combination. And do it for each of the other fingers, too.
When I was working in the 1960s, the manager of our section often called his secretary into his office to take dictation. We could also use her services, but dictating to a real person waiting for each word was too distracting for the rest of us.
Sok said he much preferred dictating to a live person, rather than into a recorder, but he admitted it did take getting used to. And he liked the relationship with the secretary which was often very different from the normal boss/underling relationship.
Once, he told me, he was in a high-level executive meeting when his secretary came in and whispered to him, “Your mother is on the phone.”
“Tell her I’ll call back,” said Sok.
His secretary did not move. She leaned down again and said louder, “Your mother is on the phone!” Sok took the call.