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Ask the coach: Thumb wrestling and smoken

By Monette Benoit

Did you know there is a Thumb Wrestling Federation and the United Kingdom has World Thumb Wrestling Championships? This is serious business for a sport originally called “thumb-a-war.”

The TWF has “Thumbs News” for thumb rivalries. “Thumb Warriors” details champions. Currently, the TWF has a fictional sports league on the Cartoon Network. As youngsters, and young-at-heart adults, say, “How cool is that!”

Thumb Wrestling Championships begin, “One, two, three, four, I declare a thumb-a-war!” To win, opponents must pin the other person’s thumb “as long as it takes to say ‘one, two, three, four, I win a thumb-o-war.’” A referee determines the winner. Elbows must be on the table. Fingernails must be short. If a winner cannot be determined by the referee in two 60-second rounds, the contest “is settled with a game of sudden death ‘scissors, paper, stone.’”

How does this relate to court reporters, CART providers, broadcast captioners, and students? Do you ever have days when your fingers have a mind of their own? Do you have moments when your fingers may not adhere to our diligently honed muscle memory to accurately strike the keys?

On-site and remote realtime — instant speech-to-text using the Internet and/or a telephone — is now the norm in our profession. We routinely fingerspell, stitch words together, and stroke keys, creating words on the fly. To further detail our specialized work, we now have a main dictionary and create job dictionaries specific to events. I have a “dog” dictionary from CARTing the International Working Dog Conference. I also have a “milk” dictionary for individuals who test milk prior to it being shipped to market.

Realtiming Roman numerals, ordinals, cardinal numbers, acronyms, homonyms, specific spelling alphabets, all punctuation, and additional unique formatting strokes are customized by the court reporter, captioner, CART provider, and the student.

You still with me? In short, this is all in a day’s work.

People outside our profession are amazed to learn that our basic equipment may easily run well over $10,000 for the steno writer, software, support, laptops, printers, insurance, and specifics we need for a job. Many of us also have backup equipment. As some individuals say on this topic, “Don’t get me started…”

We also have become the ears for deaf, oral deaf, late-deafened, hard-of-hearing, and brain-injured individuals whom we call consumers. The nuances for each type of hearing loss, age of loss, knowledge of sign language when appropriate, and working with sign interpreters when appropriate also enrich the wonderful path wherein we serve.

I have CARTed college-level Latin for an oral deaf honors student. I did not know Latin. I stroked sounds, which translated as Latin. I spent many years CARTing church services to a large screen for a Catholic mass devoted to people who are Deaf. Additionally, I have CARTed funeral services, baptisms, retirement parties, large conventions, technical meetings, medical events, Quinceañera celebrations, the McGruff Dog, puppets, plays, musicals, and multiple intimate settings.

My thumb wrestling referral above was for the moments when I work with students and professionals who tell me “I was not able to find my thumbs today.” Yes, we have a few days like that. If you are outside our profession and are reading this, I want you to know that those moments are rare.

While tutoring and coaching students and veteran reporters who are seeking to meet new goals and a higher skill set, I listen to people share their private moments when fingers just do not go where they should go. In short, it happens.

My initial thumb wrestling comment was shared within a tutor/coach setting with an experienced judicial reporter preparing for advanced NCRA certification. It was said in jest; we both laughed. The veteran reporter soon contacted me: “Your words and homework solved the problem.” In short, we solved her issues.

When next someone said, “I just can’t write anything today. Nothing,” I shared the thumb wrestling concept that had worked so well with the experienced reporter. In short, with specific tweaking to the individual, we had a successful solution.

Soon, someone called my office for “certifying test prep” material. Quickly, I learned that this request for “test prep” had nothing to do with court reporting or with any legal field. When I stated that I was not able to help him, he began to tell me about his work, his stresses, his frustrations. I sat in my chair, staring at the ceiling, waiting for the moment to end the call. Yet he picked up speed and energy. Not wanting to be rude, and needing to create a boundary after I stated multiple times, “I do not have access to the material you are seeking,” I was brought to his reality when he exhaled, “I just feel like I’m all thumbs. I need to smoke that test. I mean, when I start something, I approach it with smoken attitude.” When he referred to “thumbs” and “smoken,” I shared about thumb wresting. In short, he got it. The man said, “I love that! Since I’m all thumbs, and you do not have anything to help me, I’m going to look into the thumb wrestling, so when I’m prepared for my test, I’ll smoke my test,” he said.

Thumb wrestling, our steno machine, our exacting work, clients and consumers, test prep material, people outside our profession, all thumbs, advancing credentials, setting new goals, advancing skills, and smoken. In short, there we have it.

JCR Contributing Editor Monette Benoit, B.B.A., CRI, CPE, may be reached at and