Saturday, June 19, 2010

My Stenographer is a Covert Steganographer


In my last blog, I mentioned the term stenographer, referring in context to a legal stenographer, someone who records court proceedings in shorthand. Jim wrote to me with one of his favorite words, steganographer, which is not the same thing, but which is a cousin.

Stenographer has two components. First, there is steno-, from the Greek στενοσ, meaning narrow. Besides narrow, it also has the force of contracted or limited in range, and often refers to a medical condition that involves deficiency. The second component is –grapher, from the Greek γραφειν, to write.

A steganographer is a cryptographer. The stegano- element (Greek στεγανοσ) means covered or secret. So while both professions involve writing, the stenographer’s duty is to record a precise and decipherable record of the testimony given, while the steganographer must labor to hide meaning from outside eyes at all costs.

I remember reading ads on Chicago streetcars directing readers to a mail-order stenography school. Memory tells me that their principal device was to remove vowels: “If U kn rd ths, U r rdy to nrll.” When people insist that IM shortcuts are ruining English, this memory prevents me from agreeing. Sixty years later, elegance and expediency still co-exist in our language.

SIDEBAR: Hiding Data Within Data


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