Lesson 4: Common Briefs

Aerick's video on vowels and briefs:

Vowels And Briefs

What Is A Brief?

A brief is any stroke that doesn't phonetically match its target word. For example, 'the' is stroked -T, and 'of' is stroked F. Unlike phonetic strokes, briefs must be memorized because they don't follow the predictable patterns of Plover theory. But most of the best briefs try to be memorable in some way or another. Very rarely is a brief entirely distinct from the word it represents.

Why make a brief? Memorization is work, and to some extent arbitrary. And lots of words that have brief forms in the dictionary have phonetic forms as well. If it's possible to stroke a word without knowing any more than Plover's general phonetic rules, then why bother having a brief? What's the value of it?

There are a few answers to this. One reason is that the vast majority of briefs let you type a word in a single stroke that would otherwise require two or more. For example, the brief stroke for 'development' is SREPLT.

Another reason why briefs are good is that many of them exist in order to disambiguate homophones. For example, 'site' is stroked SAO*EUT to disambiguate it from 'sight', which uses the phonetic SAOEUT stroke. And 'cite' is stroked KRAOEUT to disambiguate it from both of those.

Some words occur so frequently that even though a single stroke phonetic form may exist, the word is given a brief that uses even fewer keys. For example, 'the' could have used the single stroke THE. But it appears so often in English (one out of every 14 words, according to Peter Norvig), that Plover gives it the even easier stroke -T. And the word 'they' could have used the single stroke THAEU, but it also appears so often (one out of every 303 words) that Plover gives it the stroke THE, which as we've seen has been conveniently vacated by 'the'. As you'll discover when you start creating your own briefs, these very short strokes are a hot commodity, because they are so easy (and therefore faster) to type.

Brief Culture

Professional stenographers often find themselves transcribing testimony or reportage about highly specialized topics, and so there has emerged a tradition of constructing new briefs on the fly, to accommodate those changing contexts. For example, someone transcribing medical language might use AOEG as a brief for 'electroencephalogram', which would otherwise require six or seven strokes to type. Then when they're done with the job, the professional stores the brief in a special medical dictionary, for the next time they're hired to do medical transcription.

The culture of brief-making is something to be embraced. As you get more fluent with Plover you'll undoubtedly discover that you type some words more than others, and you'll wish you could type those words faster. Maybe it's time for a brief! That's a very important impulse in stenographic typing. Briefs increase typing speed, help avoid frustration, and can be fun! Lesson 9: Designing Briefs presents guidelines for constructing more memorable briefs.

Stroke Abundance

Many words have multiple entries in Plover's default dictionary. Consider all the ways you might stroke 'relationship':

  • R*EUP
  • RAOE/HRAEUBGS/SHEUP
  • RAOE/HRAEUGS/SHEUP
  • RAOELGS/SHEUP
  • RAOELT/SHEUP
  • RE/HRAEUGS/SH-P
  • RE/HRAEUGS/SHEUP
  • REL/SH-P
  • RELG/SH-P
  • RELGS/-S/SH-P
  • RELGS/SHEUP

There are several reasons why the dictionary file might have so many entries for a single word. If there is more than one way to pronounce the word, or more than one way to envision its syllabification, you might want a phonetic entry for each such way, as in the case of RAOE/HRAEUGS/SHEUP and RE/HRAEUGS/SHEUP.

Another reason for more dictionary entries is to auto-correct your misstrokes. Misstrokes are very interesting. They occur when you accidentally press the wrong key during a stroke. For example, RAOE/HRAEUBGS/SHEUP uses the BGS chord for the 'kshun' sound, instead of just BS for 'shun'. The word is supposed to be 'relationship', but the misstroke makes it sound more like 'relayktionship'. To correct this, the Plover dictionary file includes the incorrect RAOE/HRAEUBGS/SHEUP stroke as another entry for 'relationship'. It's not phonetically correct, and doesn't even make a great brief, but it does mean that if you accidentally hit the wrong key, Plover will correct the mistake automatically and transparently.

Briefs are another reason for multiple dictionary entries. Learning Plover's general phonetic theory allows you to get started with Plover, without having to commit to massive amounts of memorization. But as you start typing faster and faster, you'll discover certain multi-stroke words that you type over and over again, and you may finally want to learn the brief form of those words. Or if you discover that no brief exists, or if you don't find the existing brief forms memorable, you may want to invent one for yourself, using the techniques described in Lesson 9: Designing Briefs.

Brief Solitude

In some cases you'll find the exact opposite of stroke abundance - a word that has only one entry in the dictionary file, and where that entry is a brief form. For example, 'if' exists only as the brief stroke TP.

Unlike 'relationship', which can be stroked phonetically without memorization, there is no gradual approach available for words that exist only in brief form. In order to type them, you need to memorize them as briefs from the very beginning. And, as you'll see in the current lesson, many of the most commonly used words in English fall into this category. That's why up until now the exercises have focused on practice words instead of practice sentences. It's very difficult to type any complete sentence without using a brief.

100 Common Briefs

Peter Norvig has published various linguistic statistics, and he includes a link to his list of the most-used words in English.

Among the top thousand or so entries, I culled the following list. Most of them are examples of 'brief solitude', but some are not. Here they are, roughly in order of frequency of use. Notice that common words are not included here if they have phonetic entries in the dictionary. For example, the word 'and' can be stroked phonetically as APBD (though you should really use the much easier-to-stroke brief form SKP).

'the': -T
'of': F
'to': TO
'in': TPH
'a': AEU
'is': S-
'that': THA
'with': W
'be': B
'by': PWEU
'he': E
'I': EU
'this': TH
'are': R-
'which': WEU
'have': SR
'they': THE
'you': U
'you'd': UD
'you'll': UL
'you're': UR
'you've': UF
'were': WR
'can': K
'there': THR
'been': PWPB
'if': TP
'would': WO
'who': WHO
'other': OER
'what': WHA
'only': OEPBL
'do': TKO
'new': TPHU
'about': PW
'two': TWO
'any': TPHEU
'could': KO
'after': AF
'said': SAEUD
'very': SRE
'many': PHAEPB
'even': AOEPB
'where': W-R
'through': THRU
'being': -BG
'because': PWAUS
'before': PW-F
'upon': POPB
'without': WOUT
'another': TPHOER
'against': TKPWEPBS
'every': EFR
'within': W-PB
'example': KP-PL
'others': OERS
'therefore': THR-FR
'having': SR-G
'become': PW-BG
'whether': WHR
'somebody': S-B
'somehow': SPHOU
'someone': SPH-PB
'someplace': SPHRAEUS
'something': S-G
'sometimes': STAOEUPLS
'somewhere': SWR or SW-R
'question': KWE
'almost': HR-PL
'interest': T-R or TR
'ever': -FR
'became': PWAEUPL 
'probably': PROBL
'include': KHRU
'includes': KHRUS
'included': KHRUD
'including': KHRUG
'amount': APLT
'receive': SAOEF
'received': SAOEFD
'describe': SKREU
'describedSKREUD
'anything': TPHEUG
'continue': T-PB
'continued': T-PBD
'beginning': TKPWEUPBG
'understand': URPBD
'understanding': URPBGD
'today': TOED
'opinion': P-PB
'becomes': PW-BGS
'yes': KWRE
'idea': KWR-D
'ideas': KWR-DZ
'actually': TWAEUL
'move': PHOF
'ask': SK
'unless': TPH-LS
'easy': EZ
'otherwise': O*ERZ

Don't be alarmed by the quantity. Just think of the current lesson as a reference, that you can return to as needed. Here's the list again, in alphabetical order:

'a': AEU
'about': PW
'actually': TWAEUL
'after': AF
'against': TKPWEPBS
'almost': HR-PL
'amount': APLT
'another': TPHOER
'any': TPHEU
'anything': TPHEUG
'are': R-
'ask': SK
'be': B
'became': PWAEUPL 
'because': PWAUS
'become': PW-BG
'becomes': PW-BGS
'been': PWPB
'before': PW-F
'beginning': TKPWEUPBG
'being': -BG
'by': PWEU
'can': K
'continue': T-PB
'continued': T-PBD
'could': KO
'describe': SKREU
'describedSKREUD
'do': TKO
'easy': EZ
'even': AOEPB
'ever': -FR
'every': EFR
'example': KP-PL
'have': SR
'having': SR-G
'he': E
'idea': KWR-D
'ideas': KWR-DZ
'if': TP
'in': TPH
'include': KHRU
'included': KHRUD
'including': KHRUG
'includes': KHRUS
'interest': T-R or TR
'I': EU
'is': S-
'many': PHAEPB
'move': PHOF
'new': TPHU
'of': F
'only': OEPBL
'opinion': P-PB
'other': OER
'others': OERS
'otherwise': O*ERZ
'probably': PROBL
'question': KWE
'receive': SAOEF
'received': SAOEFD
'said': SAEUD
'somebody': S-B
'somehow': SPHOU
'someone': SPH-PB
'someplace': SPHRAEUS
'something': S-G
'sometimes': STAOEUPLS
'somewhere': SWR or SW-R
'that': THA
'there': THR
'therefore': THR-FR
'the': -T
'they': THE
'this': TH
'through': THRU
'to': TO
'today': TOED
'two': TWO
'understand': URPBD
'understanding': URPBGD
'unless': TPH-LS
'upon': POPB
'very': SRE
'were': WR
'what': WHA
'where': W-R
'whether': WHR
'which': WEU
'who': WHO
'with': W
'within': W-PB
'without': WOUT
'would': WO
'yes': KWRE
'you': U
'you'd': UD
'you'll': UL
'you're': UR
'you've': UF


Studying Briefs

Some briefs, like many of the above, are a prerequisite to using Plover in a productive way. If you try to stroke a word phonetically, only to discover that the stroke doesn't work, it's possible you've discovered another case of 'brief solitude'. Don't shy away from these. Instead, search for the word in your dictionary file. If you find it only in brief form, write it down someplace handy, and practice it.

It's possible you may discover that the word you're looking for has no entry at all; or that it does exist in the dictionary in phonetic form, but that the phonetic form doesn't agree with your intuition of what it should be. In that case, the proper thing to do is often to make a new dictionary entry that matches your intuition.