Marcus Tullius Tiro is credited as the father of shorthand reporting. Although his exact date of birth is unknown, he was a freed slave attached to the household of the famous Roman lawyer, statesman, and philosopher Cicero. His tools were a wax tablet and a reed stylus. Interestingly, in addition to taking dictation, he managed Cicero’s finances and gardens, and was also an accomplished writer in his own right.
Tiro’s method of reporting was to abbreviate and omit words according to his own sensible formula and the language of the day. Since he dealt most frequently with politicians who all seemed to use the same rhetoric, it was a fairly simple thing to create a standard set of abbreviations for the content of their speeches. He often used simple symbols to represent full sentences, and omitted common words he knew he could fill in later. If he was called upon to record the words of someone with whom he was not acquainted, he engaged his student secretaries, or clerks, to also record the speech, and then compared notes.
Though it may now seem a somewhat primitive method of official reporting, it was extremely innovative for the time, considering that in the 6th century B.C., most records were either oral or, if set down in writing, the domain of priests or monks.
Tiro, who also wrote Latin grammar books, biographies of Cicero, and commentary on Cicero’s works, reportedly died in the year 4 B.C. at the age of 99. He would no doubt be surprised at the technical advances which would later transform his profession. See some of these advances for yourself on our SERVICES page, and don’t miss the next installment of “A Brief History of Court Reporting.”