Katrina Johnston

Words per Minute

I learned to type in Grade 10, using a manual Remington and a Royal typewriter. These were big, industrial, clunky machines. I had to pound the keys. At the end of any typewritten line, the thing would ding and all the students, including me, would intermittently or collectively throw the carriages back to race along and produce the next line. The ding allowed the typist to complete a word because there were ten character spaces before the carriage locked. Even so, if one could not complete the word or hyphenate efficiently, there was a carriage release key that let the typist squeeze in one or two characters over the margin delineation. I did my best over the course of several five-minute timings devised to evaluate accuracy and speed. Forbidden to look at fingers, I tried not to. I liked those typing classes–I mean, they were easier than chemistry and math.

It was noisy in that typing room, about 25-30 girls (the boys really didn’t sign up). Assignments got harder in Grades 11 and 12. We had to produce things. I remember a particular assignment that required us to design and reproduce a variety of numerical tables. The process was miserably inefficient. One had to count the columns, the spaces, and the longest line. One had to backspace half of the longest line, concentrating on being extra careful. The sticky backspace keys! Allow six or eight spaces between the columns. Align the decimals. An arithmetic puzzle to ensure the margins were equal on the left and right. I still recall that there were 66 spaces in a normal typing line, that is, if the font was Elite and not Pica.

Off by one measly space – got a big fat zero for the class assignment. More than one mistake and the grade for typing fell into the dumpster. We had a stickler for a teacher. I hated those more tedious exercises. My typing speed maxed out at 32 words per minute. I produced a lot of errors. 

It wasn’t until I was an adult in my first computer classes (circa 1978) that I was given a typing book called, Cortez Peters Championship Typing. We had to type medical terms backwards. And there were other drills that focused upon a steady rhythm. Through this method, my typing speed increased to about 65, and I also hit the mark for accuracy. Sometimes I had zero errors. 

The man who wrote the book and designed those drills, Mr. Cortez Peters, was a typing wizard. He went around winning contests. This was serious stuff back in those typing days. Rumor has it he typed 225 words per minute with 100% accuracy at one contest, and he regularly scored well over 100 words per minute. What a show-off. He typed wearing mittens just to stun the crowds. And then he opened the first African American business school, encouraging many folks to find and maintain employment skills. He expanded the courses from Typing to other basics like Business Management and Shorthand–another practice that is near obsolete.  

Sometimes, I slip up again when I use my brand new computer. I’ve had several computers that have been hand-me-downs prior to this fast and easy keyboard that I bought less than three months ago. It has such a feathery touch that I occasionally tangle my fingers, slip sideways off home row. Hit insert by mistake. I should probably look up those drills.

Katrina Johnston‘s short stories appear at several online places. Occasionally, she breaks into print. The goal of her fiction and her other writing is to share, and she thinks of this as candle light offered in a dark place. She lives in Victoria, BC, Canada.

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