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In memoriam: Nathaniel Weiss

Nathaniel Weiss, a polymathic court reporter in the New York City courts for 70 years, passed away on Dec. 21, 2015, at the age of 95. Nat won the NSRA Speed Contest three years consecutively (1958-60). He dominated the competition, which included a number of state speed champions. Nat was so good a stenotypist that in winning the 1958 Speed Contest, he made a total of 8 errors on all three takes (220 wpm literary, 2 errors; 230 wpm legal opinion, 4 errors; 280 wpm Q&A, 2 errors) repeating this accuracy feat in the 1960 Speed Contest. Nat then retired from the Speed Contest.

It didn’t hurt that Nat was a master of the English language. Over the years, Nat was my authority when I got stuck on a word or term. For instance, I remember once taking down a legal argument during a trial, and my judge said, “Counsel, don’t employ that Schicchi approach.” During a recess I ran to the telephone and rang up Nat, who at the time was working as an official court reporter in the Surrogate’s Court of New York City. I told him what it sounded like. Nat said, “Isn’t your judge something of an opera buff?” Yes, I said. “Then he’s probably referring to an opera by Puccini. However, its spelling is tricky. I suggest you look up under ‘Puccini’ in the Encyclopedia Britannica.” I did so. As usual, Nat was on the mark. Sometime later, my judge leaned over from the bench toward me and said, “Bill, congratulations. You got that Schicchi right.”

Another example: I was stuck on a word. I telephoned Nat. “It sounded like ‘otiose.’” Nat said, “First of all, its preferred pronunciation is ‘OSH-EE-OS’ and not ‘OAT-EE-OS.’” And then gave me the definition.

Nat was a graduate of Brooklyn College majoring in English. He graduated together with his twin brother, Irwin, with honors. However, his twin, Irwin, proceeded to pursue a career as an English teacher in the New York City high schools.

Nat had a lovely family. His wife, Ita, died three years ago. His son Bobbie is currently an esteemed court reporter in the Family Court of New York. His daughter Vivian has spent the last three years nursing Nat’s senescent illnesses.

I’ll miss Nat, not only for his prodigious erudition, but as a good friend with a genial personality.


William Cohen

New York City, N.Y.