Pet peeves and favorite words: An interview with Joe Aurelio

Retired court reporter Santo (Joe) Aurelio, FAPR, RDR (Ret.), Arlington, Mass., is one of the presenters who will be leading sessions during the new NCRA Connect Virtual 2020 conference. His session, “What Every Reporter Should Know About Punctuation to Transcribe Correctly,” is sure to offer many tips and tricks for how to finish your transcripts both quickly and accurately.

The JCR asked Aurelio to share a little about his interests in language and the upcoming session.

JCR | How did you become interested in grammar and punctuation?

SJA | I became interested in grammar and punctuation at an early age. I know that I was playing around with words (as, it’s/its; faint/feint) as early as age 12. I have always read a lot, even as a child. (Actually, I mispronounced many big words because I had never heard them pronounced previously.) And, yes, I was always fascinated by words and how they could be combined to explain exactly what one thought and felt.

JCR | What is the biggest grammar pet peeve you have?

SJA | Although the No. 1 error in the United States is the it’s/its conundrum, my biggest grammar pet peeve is the affect/effect bugaboo. It’s so common that I even once received an email with that error from the President of Harvard University — and it was corrected circa two hours later (and not by me).

Admittedly, affect and effect are difficult to use correctly. Why? Well, each is a noun and a verb — and even when affect is used correctly as a noun, it is commonly mispronounced. Plus, some people think­ that effect sounds better than affect when used as a verb.

JCR | Do you have a favorite word? What is it? Do you have a reason that it’s your favorite word?

SJA | I don’t have a favorite word, but I have lots of words that I like to use frequently. For instance, Lucullan, as in “She presided over a Lucullan feast” (after Lucullus, the Roman general and epicure who was noted for holding many fabulous feasts with a rich bounty of food). I use that word when I want to denote a really great meal.

Another word that I like to use is lilliputian when I mean something that is extremely small.

Those two words are rich in meaning for me, and that’s why I like to use them.

JCR | Why is good punctuation so important in a transcript?

SJA | Good punctuation is critically important in the preparation of transcripts. All of the marks of punctuation are important, and they should be used correctly at all times. Take, for instance, whether commas should be used in the following two sentences:

Don’t shoot Bill until I tell you to.


Don’t shoot, Bill, until I tell you to.

Which is it? Mistranscribing that sentence would be dangerous. If the reporter is not absolutely sure whether commas are needed in certain areas in that sentence, then he or she should interrupt immediately and find out the correct way to punctuate that sentence. 

A famous writer of many books used the semicolon incorrectly each and every time throughout his last published book. And, of course, spelling is important, too. Consider this example: Should the spelling be palate/palette/pallet/pallid?

The job of a reporter is twofold: To take down every word spoken and to transcribe each of those words with correct punctuation.

JCR | Thanks for presenting at NCRA Connect Virtual 2020! We’re looking forward to it being a great event. Can you tell our readers a little about what they should expect?

SJA | The upcoming NCRA Connect Virtual 2020 will be very exciting. Attendees will be able to see and listen to many fine presentations about the latest technological advances that relate to court reporting. Other presentations will embrace captioning, CART, virtual depositions, and other related and informative subjects. And, of course, I’d love for many of you to join me for my session on punctuation. I hope to see you there.

Find out more about the NCRA Connect Virtual 2020.

2018 words of the year

Current events seem to play a big role in this year’s decisions by dictionary makers for a word of the year.


Merriam-Webster chose justice as their word of the year.

The company cited a variety of reasons the word won the top spot. According to Merriam-Webster, “This year’s news had many stories involving the division within the executive branch of government responsible for the enforcement of laws: the Department of Justice, sometimes referred to simply as ‘Justice.’ Of course, the Mueller investigation itself is constantly in the news and is being carried out through the Justice Department. Another big news story included yet another meaning of the word justice, as a synonym or title for ‘judge,’ used frequently during the Kavanaugh confirmation hearings for the Supreme Court.”

Other words that brought traffic to the Merriam-Webster website were nationalism, pansexual, lodestar, epiphany, laurel (remember the laurel vs. yanny debate?), pissant, respect, maverick, and excelsior.’s 2018 word of the year is misinformation.  They define it as “false information that is spread, regardless of whether there is intent to mislead.”

They report that the meaning of misinformation is often confused with disinformation. However, disinfomation is defined as “deliberately misleading or biased information; manipulated narrative or facts; propaganda.” So the difference between the two involves intent.

Their runner-up choices for word of the year include representation, self-made, and backlash.


The Oxford Word of the Year 2018 is toxicOxford defines it as “poisonous.” The dictionary maker says it “first appeared in English in the mid-17th century from the medieval Latin toxicus, meaning ‘poisoned’ or ‘imbued with poison.’”

The top 10 words used with toxic in 2018, according to Oxford, are:

  1. Chemical
  2. Masculinity
  3. Substance
  4. Gas
  5. Environment
  6. Relationship
  7. Culture
  8. Waste
  9. Algae
  10. Air

Is it really spelled that way?

To celebrate National Grammar Day on March 4, the JCR polled the Proofreading Advisory Council on words that surprised them. These are the words that were looked up because they don’t always look right on the page, whether it’s the spelling, the usage, or the hyphenation. Here’s an alphabetical (and anonymous) list of the group’s most looked-up terms.


affect – primarily a verb meaning influence. How does this affect the outcome?

But psychologists or psychiatrists use affect as a noun. The clinician observed Mr. Brown’s affect.

effect – is usually modified by the, an, some, what, great, little, no — some adjective.

(As a noun) What effect will it have? (result) When used as a verb, it means to bring about. Did you effect an agreement?

anymore/any more: I find some reporters have a problem with anymore and any more.

anymore – adverb meaning “any longer.” I won’t be in that position anymore.

any more – adjective + pronoun OR adverb + adjective meaning any greater quantity. I can’t order any more. (adverb + pronoun) I can’t order any more books. (adverb + adjective)

attorney-at-law: I’m so used to seeing this without hyphens that it blew my mind to see it with hyphens in Merriam-Webster’s.

awhile/a while:

awhile – adverb. He was gone awhile. An English teacher once told me that if you can replace awhile with “for a while,” then it’s awhile, one word.

a while – adjective + noun. You may have to wait for a while.

decision-making: I found out that “decision-making” can be one word, two words, or hyphenated, user’s choice.

diplomat/dipolomate: For a long time – a very long time — I turned a person who holds a diploma, particularly a physician qualified to practice in a medical specialty by advanced training and experience, into a person employed or skilled in diplomacy. A diplomat and diplomate are individuals with quite different skill sets.

head to head: I find phrases research results seemingly inconsistent for hyphens or no, adj, adv, noun, verb, having looked up these phrases to fit them into unusual/creative verbatim speech: head to head, back to back, face to face, case by case, eye to eye, hand-in-hand, day to day, side by side. Speakers are really creative, and so I make my own punctuation recommendations when I feel that a situation is clearer with some modification from standard practice.

hyphens: I find myself questioning hyphens with prefixes and so I just looked up the rules and will try to remember this: Basically they say if you can avoid the hyphen, do. There are always exceptions, like ex and self, ex-wife or self-aware; and also, if the same vowel ends the prefix and begins the word, like re-enter or semi-industrious, use a hyphen. If there can be ambiguity, like with recover or re-cover, use a hyphen. And use a hyphen between a prefix and a proper noun, like pro-Nazi or un-British.

particularize: Yes, that is a real word.

peak/peek/pique: The one that people get wrong is pique, as in piqued my interest.

peak – Noun – the pointed top of a mountain. The peaks were covered in snow.

Verb – reach a highest point, either of a specified value or at a specified time. His athletic prowess peaked in the 1990s.

Adjective – greatest, maximum. I did not expect to reach peak fitness by the day of the tournament.

pique – Noun – a feeling of irritation or resentment resulting from a slight, especially to one’s pride. He left in a fit of pique.

Verb – stimulate (interest or curiosity). You have piqued my curiosity about the man. Or feel irritated or resentful. She was piqued by his curtness.

peek – Verb – look quickly. Faces peeked from behind the curtains. Noun – a quick and typically furtive look. A peek through the window showed that the taxi had arrived. (A little nerdy, but I remember the difference between peek and peak by looking at the E’s next to each other and thinking of them as eyes. You need eyes to peek.)

right-of-way: This is a word that I had to look up every time. It is always hyphenated.

seat belt: This being two words made me question everything I thought I knew.

sometime/some time:

sometime – adverb meaning “at some unspecified time in the future.” The order will be shipped sometime next week.

some time – adjective + noun meaning “a period of time.” Some time is all the committee needs.

time line: It’s not in Mary Louise Gilman’s One Word, Two Words, Hyphenated? So I had to search several sources online. It looks like it’s one word, but I believe I’ve looked it up every time for probably 22 years!

work force: I was surprised that “work force” is two words, though the compound spelling is acknowledged.



Those tricky tech terms – when to lowercase, when to hyphenate, and more

Outline of a human head in profile with a TV, radio, and iPod within the head; the head is facing towards lines of computer code with the word "Technology" at the bottom. The entire image is in green and black.The JCR recently reached out to NCRA’s Proofreading Advisory Council members asking their opinion on spelling and capitalization on a variety of technology terms. Council members were also asked to share their references to back up their responses. The discussion inadvertently revealed how much language can change even within a few short years. The terms are below:

  • It is internet or Internet?
  • Is it website, web-site, Website, or Web-site?
  • Is it email, e-mail, Email, or E-mail?
  • Is it “I Googled it” or “I googled it”?
  • Is it smart phone, smart-phone, or smartphone?
  • Is it the cloud or the Cloud?

Several members relied on the old standby Merriam-Webster, especially for terms like email and internet.

Tara Gandel Hudson, RPR, CRR, for example, chose Internet because “Merriam-Webster still uses the cap. Perhaps it will change some day but not yet.” She also chose Google, adding, “While the preferred way may change to lowercase in the future, I don’t think we’re there yet.” And she chose cloud excepting if “it’s part of a proper name like iCloud.”

Katherine Schilling, RPR, defaulted to Merriam-Webster’s primary entry for all terms except cloud, explaining, “I actually have no good reason for this other than to capitalize it makes it sound like it’s a business’s name.”

Pat Miller, CRI, CPE, abstained completely because “I use almost all of the options depending on which reporter’s work I am reading” as a proofreader, which is probably the most telling statement of all.

Aimee Suhie, RPR: “When the first of these terms came up in transcripts in the dark ages, I’d like to say I Googled them (definitely Googled capped because it is a proper name) and used Internet capped; web site as two words, lowercase; and e-mail hyphenated (although now I would do it as one word, email, because so many terms such as evite and eTran begin with lowercase e no space). I looked up smartphone as recently as this past year on Google and found it to be one word lowercase. But I would cap the Cloud simply because it’s cool.”

Francesca Ivy, RPR, said, “I guess I should revisit these terms from time to time considering how fast the computer world progresses” but offered the following responses:

  • Internet — I always have, but I may have to rethink that choice pretty soon since, according to Merriam-Webster, the lowercase form is becoming more widespread and is the more common form used in British publications.
  • website — It is such a common word now that it looks wrong to be capped or hyphenated.
  • email — Up until recently, I was spelling it e-mail. But when I started on the Proofreading Advisory Council, I learned that they were spelling it as one word and I switched.
  • Googled — Because it’s a company name.
  • smartphone — Same rationale as website; just such a common word. And Merriam-Webster has it as one word.
  • the Cloud — To me, it stands out that way to mean it as connected with the computer world as opposed to a cloud in the sky.

Lisa Inverso (scopist for Kathy McHugh, RPR, CRR): “I can tell you how I do it, but I’m not sure I can give the why because just looking up Internet shows a lot of controversy in the why and when to use it. It was once referred to as a proper noun and that’s why it was capitalized, but then if it’s used as an adjective like internet resources, it is not capped. So I’m not sure there are any easy answers to these. Some of these are changing with time, which is making it difficult for everyone.

My comments below reflect how I do things when working on jobs for editing. If I’m proofing jobs, I always go with what the reporter has and keep everything consistent.

  • I use Internet capped when used as a noun.
  • I commonly see website spelled as one word uncapped in articles.
  • I know email is becoming the common spelling without being hyphenated and lowercase.
  • I think Googled is still capped because it is the proper name of the company Google.
  • I have found smartphone as lowercase and one word because there are now many different models of smartphones in existence and not just one.
  • I believe it’s referred to as the Cloud with the capital because it is a proper name for a place where things are being stored.”

Judy Lehman, FAPR, RMR, CRI: “These are my practices and opinions only, of course — because if you look long and dig deep enough, you’ll find conflicting rules and usage and a decent argument for whichever style you choose. So in the end, just be consistent.

  • internet: Because it has become ubiquitous in the same manner as kleenex (for tissue), xerox (for photocopying), and band aid.
  • website, one word, lowercase: The lowercase website is a generic use. I checked over 20 references on this one. Each used one word, not capped. I’m rolling with the majority which, fortunately, is consistent with what I do anyway.
  • email, no hyphen: The word/term has evolved (from electronic mail) in a similar fashion to other words in this list. Once again, the overwhelming majority of references I found used email. And … it’s quicker to type — and every little bit helps! Another consistent example: Gmail, not G-mail.
  • Same with google as a verb, lowercase, although I understand Google doesn’t want us to use google as a generic verb for searching on the internet/web and that we should only use google as a verb when we actually use Google to google, er, search. If one adheres to the rule that the site Google is a proper noun that should be capitalized and that the verb google should be printed with a lowercase leading g, then there would be no confusion about how the word is being used, no?
  • smartphone: One and done. That’s it. Always.
  • the cloud: This one is a little trickier. It hasn’t been in the lingo as long. Some of the usages I found use the Cloud. But the lowercase version makes more sense to me. Cloud in the general sense means a part of cyberspace or is cyberspace. Cyberspace isn’t capped — well, except here where I used it to begin the sentence. And here’s an interesting blurb that solidifies my choice to use lowercase:

What is cloud computing? Everything you need to know now | InfoWorld

Jul 10, 2017 – The “cloud” in cloud computing originated from the habit of drawing the internet as a fluffy cloud in network diagrams. No wonder the most popular meaning of cloud computing refers to running workloads over the internet remotely in a commercial provider’s data center — the so-called “public cloud” model.

Unless you are talking about a particular company’s cloud perhaps, i.e.: IBM Cloud or Azure Cloud computing, which you may then want to capitalize.

In terms of NCRA skills testing, the RPR, RMR, CRR, and CRC Skills Tests are developed based on the rules of punctuation set forth in The Gregg Reference Manual and Merriam Webster’s Dictionary.


Read more from the NCRA Proofreading Advisory Council:

Grammatical sleuthing: Best resources for searching in print and online

Commas and hyphens and exclamation points, oh my! A conversation about punctuation

U.S. Captioning Company identifies top 10 mispronounced words of 2017

JCR: Journal of Court Reporting,, JCR WeeklyUSA Today posted an article on Dec. 21 listing the 10 most mispronounced words of 2017. Among them, are bokeh, coulrophobia, and dotard. The words were identified by U.S. Captioning Company.

Read more.

Announcing the 2017 Word of the Year choices

close up of a dictionary page

Photo by jwyg

It’s December, which means lighting candles, singing carols, and eagerly awaiting the dictionaries’ choices for the Word of the Year. chose complicit as the Word of the Year for 2017. They define complicit as “choosing to be involved in an illegal or questionable act, especially with others; having partnership or involvement in wrongdoing” and cited several examples of when lookups for complicit spiked based on current events, including:

  • Saturday Night Live’s satirical skit featuring a perfume called Complicit
  • First Daughter Ivanka Trump saying on CBS This Morning, “If being complicit is wanting to be a force for good and to make a positive impact, then I’m complicit.”
  • Arizona Senator Jeff Flake, during his retirement announcement, saying, “I will not be complicit.”

Merriam-Webster put together a list of 10 words, but their top choice was feminism. Merriam-Webster’s current definition of feminism is “the theory of the political, economic, and social equality of the sexes” and “organized activity on behalf of women’s rights and interests.” The dictionary saw an overall rise in lookups for the word including several spikes that corresponded with current events, including:

  • Women’s March on Washington, D.C., (and other cities) in January
  • White House aide Kellyanne Conway saying she didn’t consider herself a feminist
  • the release of Hulu’s The Handmaid’s Tale and the film Wonder Woman
  • in connection with the rise of coverage of sexual harassment and assault in the news, such as the #MeToo campaign

Merriam-Webster’s list of finalists included complicit, syzygy, and gaffe. The dictionary’s website also has a video with editor-at-large Peter Sokolowski on the data behind the Word of the Year decision and an in-depth look at the word feminism and its role in 2017.

Oxford Dictionaries chose youthquake as its Word of the Year for 2017. Their definition for youthquake is “a significant cultural, political, or social change arising from the actions or influence of young people.” Diana Vreeland, editor-in-chief of Vogue, is credited with coining the word youthquake in 1965. Oxford Dictionaries’ choice reflects the fact that it’s a British dictionary. They saw a noteworthy spike in lookups in relation to the general election in June, which ousted Teresa May in favor of Jeremy Corbyn for prime minister. They also took into account the word’s rise in relation to a more engaged youth in New Zealand politics. Oxford Dictionaries’ finalists included gorpcore, Milkshake Duck, and unicorn.

The American Dialect Society typically picks their Word of the Year in January.


Read about the 2016 Word of the Year choices.

On linguistics, Seinfeld, and juror engagement

JCR: Journal of Court Reporting,, JCR WeeklyThe differences between written and spoken language were explored in a blog post by Cleveland Reporting Partners, with examples from Seinfeld and My Cousin Vinny.

Read more.

Grammatical sleuthing: Best resources for searching in print and online

The JCR recently reached out to NCRA’s Proofreading Advisory Council for recommendations on references for spelling, grammar, and language. Council members shared their favorite print and online resources as well as their best online research tips. The following members shared their responses:

  • Aimee Suhie, RPR, a freelancer in New Fairfield, Conn.
  • Patricia Miller, CRI, CPE, an instructor in Middletown, Del.
  • Francesca Ivy, RPR, a freelancer in Metairie, La.
  • Kathy McHugh, RPR, CRR, a freelancer in Audubon, N.J.

In addition, Kathy McHugh shared a response from Lisa Inverso, who she uses as a scopist.

  1. Which print books/references do you use or like the most for spelling, grammar, language, etc.?

Aimee Suhie: Mary Louise Gilman’s One Word, Two Words, Hyphenated? and her Fairly Familiar Phrases.

Pat Miller: Most use in print and for a spectacular saver of time: Mary Louise Gilman’s One Word, Two Words, Hyphenated? I add to, correct, update the book as I go. I may also make a note or two, highlight words I need to see in print over and over again, and put some words on the front inside cover just because. It is way faster to use this book than to use the internet, which is full of just plain wrong information a lot when it comes to spelling that includes punctuation. If, after the five seconds it takes to use this print reference, I don’t find my answer, then I go to the internet.

When I really need print book guidance for grammar and usage, I use a few books. My favorite for a couple of years has been one recommended by an English professor. It’s wonderful and has a summary of MLA and APA style manuals in the back: Rules for Writers, Seventh Edition, by Diana Hacker and Nancy Sommers, published by Bedford/St. Martin’s.

I use Gregg and Morson as appropriate and for inspiration.

Francesca Ivy: Of course, first and foremost would be Morson’s English Guide for Court Reporters. I keep a copy of my English book from school that is also useful from time to time by Mary A. Bogle called Rowe College Business English. As a freelance reporter taking depositions, I find that it helps to have some local phone books to consult for surname spellings. I also keep a few really old phone books to search for spellings of closed-down businesses from pre-internet days. Over the years, my print books have been reduced substantially because of the internet, but the ones that I still keep handy tend to be on specific subjects that I don’t know a lot about or find easier to consult than searching online; for example, an electronics dictionary, a chemical dictionary, a world atlas, a medical dictionary, the Illustrated Dictionary of Building Materials and Techniques by Paul Bianchina, and The Barnhart Abbreviations Dictionary. I have purchased some of these over the years by perusing used book sales in the references section.

  1. Which online references do you use or like the most?

PM: The three I use the most are:

I also have regulars, frequents, reliable specialties, and so on.

FI: I use Merriam-Webster a lot, my state bar association for attorneys’ names and email addresses, and the state board of medical examiners for doctors’ names. I like for medication names because they have an index in which you can search by the first letter of the drug and have all the names come up and then choose the best match and check for what it is used for to confirm if it is the right one. LinkedIn is great, and Facebook can be helpful, too.

Lisa Inverso: One reference I would add is using as an online reference source. It gives explanations and the proper usage of many words in the English language that are a sound alike or confusing sometimes.

Also, sometimes I will put the spelling that I think it might be into Google search, which will ask: “Did you mean…” and give me a different spelling of the word. Then I check if Google’s suggestion is the word I want. It saves me time when I don’t know the spelling.

  1. What is your best tip for researching online?

AS: When I Google a drug or proper name, I never take the first spelling but check multiple sources below that first one to be sure I get the correct one. How easy it is today to check spellings at midnight when in “the olden days” I would call the pharmacy (only when open) and the reference desk at the library with a question like, “Can you find the name of a city in Puerto Rico that sounds like x and maybe has a waterfall?” And, of course, that had to be during daytime hours!

PM: Tip 1 is “best” specific: LinkedIn is da bomb for people and companies, with worldwide participants.

Tip 2 is “best” general: Follow a link. Don’t accept the search engine summaries. Check that what appears in the search summary is also in the linked page, article, or reference (or many times not followed through in the link). Check that the source is reliable.

FI: I also do not just trust what comes up first on a Google search page. I check more thoroughly. I definitely don’t trust Wikipedia since what is on there could be written by anyone. I keep a folder in my favorites titled “Research,” and when I stumble upon a good site for researching a particular subject, I add it in that folder so that I can find it again. I also have a binder with A to Z index pages. When I have a hard time finding something online and finally have success, I jot the word down and keep it there for next time so I won’t have to go through the pain again. I also keep frequently occurring words or company names in there that are no longer around; for instance, companies that made asbestos products.

Kathy McHugh: My best search tip online is putting in some context as well as the word I’m specifically looking for. I’ll put the surrounding words that the attorney or witness used and that generally helps me find what I’m looking for.

Get comfy for professional development: Exciting upcoming NCRA webinars

Front view of a person sitting barefoot on a couch with their laptop on their knees, blocking their faceCourt reporters and captioners understand the value of continuing education and always improving one’s skills, but it can be challenging to attend in-person events. With NCRA webinars, you can learn more about your profession from the comfort of your own home or office (not to mention that you can attend them in your slippers – no one will know!).

NCRA has a wide variety of topics coming up in the next month. The JCR Weekly reached out to the presenters to help whet your appetite.

On Oct. 18 at 8 p.m. ET, Tori Pittman, FAPR, RDR, CRI, will present “NCRA members performed very well in the competitions), and the next event is in 2019 in Sardinia, Italy.

On Nov. 6 at 7 p.m. ET, Lisa Jo Hubacher, RPR, CRI, will present “Training for Realtime Writers grants in 2014 due to its curriculum redesign. In this webinar, Hubacher will discuss this curriculum model, including the redesign’s impact on the program, what’s working, and what needs tweaking. As she describes it, the webinar will cover “how to design a program based on student needs without any curriculum-design knowledge.” Hubacher says she’ll also talk about why “‘But that’s the way we’ve always done it’ doesn’t fly anymore.” This is a must-attend webinar for anyone involved in training reporting students!

On Nov. 9 at 6 p.m. ET, Santo J. Aurelio, FAPR, RDR, will present “Legal Terms, Part 1.” Aurelio has presented several language-related webinars recently, including “What Reporters Must Know about Punctuation” and “English Grammar Gremlins: Ways to Conquer Them” (now both available as e-seminars). Aurelio will present on more than a hundred and fifty terms, but he admits, “I really get a special kick out of four of them: alibi (in another place), durance vile (imprisonment), eleemosynary (charitable), and Esq.” He adds, “If I must pick one, then I guess it would be Esq., which is merely a title of courtesy, but attorneys think that it means ‘one who is an attorney.’” Aurelio will provide “economical but cogent explanations” for the words that he hopes each attendee will easily remember.

Finally, on Nov. 15 at 7 p.m. ET, Erminia Uviedo, RDR, CRR, CRC, will present “won her the NCSA challenge not just once, but twice in a row; in 2015, she organized participation in 13 career fairs in 15 days in San Antonio. “It is so easy and rewarding volunteering for a recruitment event,” says Uviedo. “You have the potential to reach hundreds, even if you only talk to 50.” Uviedo has also found the value in promoting the profession over social media, and she hints that “one cool thing I’ll talk about is having attendees take selfies of themselves in front of their court reporting machines and having them spread posts about court reporting.”

Members who attend the webinars will be able to ask questions directly to the presenter and get them answered right away. But if you are not able to attend the live webinar, they will be available as on-demand e-seminars after the fact. Keep an eye on NCRA’s e-seminar library for these and other topics to help grow as a professional.

Commas and hyphens and exclamation points, oh my! A conversation about punctuation

White question marks painted on asphalt in a pattern, alternating between upside down and right-side up

Photo by: Véronique Debord-Lazaro

In honor of National Punctuation Day, which was on Sept. 24, the JCR hosted a discussion with NCRA’s Proofreading Advisory Council about punctuation marks. Members talked about whether they use the Oxford/serial comma or not, what they call #, what punctuation rules they look up the most, and what their favorite punctuation mark is. The following members shared their responses:

  • Aimee Suhie, RPR, a freelancer in New Fairfield, Conn.
  • Judy Lehman, FAPR, RMR, CRI, an official in Shelbyville, Ill.
  • Janine Ferren, RPR, CRR, a freelancer in Fishers, Ind.
  • Patricia Miller, CRI, CPE, an instructor in Middletown, Del.
  • Francesca Ivy, RPR, a freelancer in Metairie, La.
  • Kathy McHugh, RPR, CRR, a freelancer in Audubon, N.J.
  1. Do you use the Oxford/serial comma? Why or why not?

Aimee Suhie: I’m sorry to say I despise the Oxford comma and have never used it. I figure if you have an and or an or in the sentence, why do you need a comma before it? If you have a list like book, pencil, desk — bingo, commas! But if you have book, pencil and desk, isn’t that why the and is there? I know even the New York Times uses the Oxford comma, but when I was a newspaper reporter, I never did.

Judy Lehman: I do use the Oxford/serial comma. Although it takes a little more time — and I don’t love it — it clarifies things that may otherwise be ambiguous. Good example found here.

Janine Ferren: Yes, I do use the Oxford comma. [Ed note: Janine referenced the slightly risqué Web comic that involves JFK, Stalin, and two dancing girls that is frequently cited in editing, proofing, and grammar circles.]

Patricia Miller: I do use the Oxford/serial comma. I like to be precise and for sentences to be as clear as possible. If a situation warrants leaving it out, I will do that. Flexibility in punctuation is important in order for the message to say what it intends to say.

I do not understand the intensity of feeling that some have regarding any individual mark of punctuation (nor the dogmatic application, or not, of any one rule or style). It’s a living language, people! We are professionally alive and vital because we can adapt better than the other methods. They all, the marks, exist as tools to help the reader see the words and the message as smoothly as possible. They can be used creatively to misdirect the reader (not in our profession, of course) and can be piled in to make words as precise as math.

Francesca Ivy: I use the Oxford/serial comma. Always have and always will. It is what I learned to do, and I agree that it prevents sentences from being misunderstood.

Kathy McHugh: I don’t always use the Oxford comma — it seemed unnecessary a lot of the times — but I think you ladies have convinced me it serves a purpose.

  1. What is # called?

AS: To show my age, # means number to me, not hashtag!

JL: Yeah, it’s the number symbol for me, too. Hashtag means what, anyway?

JF: I always used to call it the number sign. Then people started calling it pound, such as on the telephone. At first I didn’t know what it was. I figured out that it was the number sign by process of elimination, because it definitely wasn’t the star! Then hashtag started with the social media platforms. I use all three terms now, depending on what I’m referring to.

PM: I use the word that fits the usage. So hashtag if social media. Pound sign or number sign if communication, such as a telephone number. Pound as a measurement.

FI: If I see it standing alone like above, I call it the number sign. If it is connected with social media, I say hashtag.

KM: I would automatically call # the pound sign, but I understand its other meanings.

  1. Which punctuation rule do you double check the most?

AS: I memorized Lillian Morson’s amazing punctuation rules for commas and semicolons in sentences and faithfully followed her rules of “comma, comma, semicolon” and never more than two commas. In recent years, however, I definitely strayed from that rule and used separate sentences more instead of semicolons to allow the attorney who might be reading this aloud to a jury to be more clear on where each sentence was going. I didn’t check the rules because I was so impressed by every word she wrote (and spoke at conventions — I even got to meet her!) that I absorbed them and thought each made perfect sense. I did and do have to check Mary Louise Gilman’s One Word, Two Words, Hyphenated?, however, several times per transcript.

JL: Probably hyphenations and one word/two words are what I check most. I have several copies of Mary Louise Gilman’s One Word, Two Words, Hyphenated? around. It’s an oldie but a goodie. While grading fast-fingered reporter speed tests this past weekend, we had several of those issues arise — housecleaning or house cleaning, for instance.

JF: What punctuation rule do I check the most? Numbers and hyphens.

PM: That’s tricky. It’s not the rule so much as the application in a particular situation. I investigate hyphens the most.

FI: I would probably say quotation rules, especially in the Q&A form when parts of another transcript are read into the record I’m taking. It doesn’t happen too often in depositions.

KM: I check the need to hyphenate words the most.

  1. What is your favorite punctuation mark?

AS: Love the dash! Makes sentences so clear to the attorney reading them.

JL: My fave punctuation mark for transcripts is the reporter dash. That may be obvious from my first two answers. It’s awesome for enhancing readability, which is what transcripts are all about. For other writing I do, likely my favorite is the much maligned and underutilized semicolon! I’ve taught English classes for court reporters, medical transcription students, and accounting students, and I currently teach some professional development classes in adult education. I harp on the correct usage of this jewel.

JF: My favorite! Punctuation! Mark! Is one I never use in a transcript! Can you guess what it is?! I’m Italian, I speak with my hands, and so I use the exclamation point like I use my hands.

PM: I like getting to the end of a long sentence without needing any internal punctuation. I do not have a favorite mark. All the kids get to play on my team.

FI: I would have to go with the exclamation point, probably because I don’t get to use it in transcripts!!!

KM: I guess the exclamation point would be my favorite as well but, yes, never used in a transcript.