Q&A: Checking in with Joe Aurelio

Santo “Joe” Aurelio, FAPR, RDR (Ret.), has always had an attraction to the English language, first as a court reporter and later as a professor of English. He earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Harvard University, and a doctorate in education from Boston University. After he retired from reporting because of a hearing loss, he became a visiting professor at colleges in the Boston area. He teaches a variety of subjects, but mainly English grammar and medicolegal terminology. He will be teaching two live webinars, What Reporters Must Know about Punctuation on July 12, 6-7:30 p.m. ET and The Strange Backgrounds of Familiar Words, Part 1 on Aug. 1, 6-7:30 p.m. ET. The JCR caught up with him to find out a little more about his background and the reason behind his interest in this topic.

Tell us a little about your career.

I started night school at the Boston Stenotype Institute, and on the first night I met a girl, Josephine, who later became my wife. In 1975, she started freelance reporting — and she’s still at it!

I ranged all over Massachusetts during my career. During my 39 years, I had a wealth of experiences. I took some important cases (my first murder case was my first case in Korea!). I met some dynamic attorneys while working at the state labor department. My job at the federal agency was to travel around New England taking the testimony from disabled applicants for Social Security aid (some of that was sad). My first case in Superior Court was a criminal case (I was to take many of those). Other than some horrendous murder cases, possibly the two most important cases that I took in Superior Court: one involved the New England Patriots football team and the other, of course, was the Boston Strangler. In a sentence, I’ve had an interesting reporting career with fine memories and opportunities to meet and/or report important persons.

When did you become an NCRA member?

I became an NCRA member, I believe, in 1957. I did so because I believe in unity. When reporters gather together and unite, they have strength and can chart their future course or at least help to chart that course. When reporters join, their dues help to pay for professional advice and lobbying efforts. It’s patently unfair for unregistered reporters to have the benefit of all of the strides that their fellow registered reporters have worked hard for. I am solidly aligned with local, regional, and national unions!

Photo by jwyg

What started your interest in learning more about language than just what you needed for court reporting?

Even as a little kid of 10 or so, I would fool around with language (I’ll be back in a flash with some cash in my sash). Later I remember saying such things as “She would feint a faint.” I was always very interested in homonyms (such as made/maid) and what I would call pseudohomonyms (accede/exceed). In short, I was interested in language many years before I started stenotype reporting. I remember when I was about 14, there was a manual typewriter at the train station where I used to sell newspapers, and I used to put in a quarter to unlock it so that I could type on it for 30 minutes.

If you remember your days from your master’s and doctorate, what did you find was the difference you brought to your studies as a court reporter?

I went back to school late. I was almost 50 when I started my serious studying. My bachelor’s was 1983, the master’s was 1985, and the doctorate was 1989. What I think I brought to my studies was a deep focus that I had to use as a reporter: listening very carefully to every word spoken. In other words, because I was so serious about listening to and capturing every single word in court, I think that that held me in great stead in listening to my professors.

Frankly, it was very difficult to earn three degrees at night while working full-time in a busy court. How’d I do it? By being very motivated because I saw the handwriting on the wall: my hearing loss was making my daily job hard to do. I only succeeded in performing a creditable job in court by having a lot of speed (I passed a 280) and knowing and liking a great deal of English. And that’s how I lasted until 1990. (I wanted to teach in college, and to do that, one needs a lot of degrees.)

You’ve given one seminar for NCRA members recently, and you’re planning another one. What do you hope court reporters and captioners learn from your sessions?

I’ve done one webinar, and soon I’ll do another. I know that a lot of people, including reporters, have great difficulty with English, especially homonyms and pseudohomonyms. Mistakes are being made daily, and the reporters who commit them are not even aware that they’re using the wrong word or spelling a word incorrectly or malpunctuating a sentence. Well, even though I haven’t touched a stenotype since 1990, I still consider myself a reporter, and I feel that it’s my duty to correct or to help correct those who make those types of errors — and I want to do that until I hang up my skates. What I hope reporters will learn from these webinars is that I’d like all of them to learn and use the correct word or punctuation always.

Is there some advice that you would like all reporters and captioners to take to heart?

My advice to all reporters and captioners is to have the highest respect and fealty to the art and profession of reporting. It is an honorable profession. Think of it: Reporters are responsible for taking and transcribing all of the words of everybody. What could be more important than that? I rest my case.

BOOK REVIEW: Small nuggets of grammatical wisdom

By Dom Tursi

All Things English
By Margie Wakeman Wells
Margie Holds Court Publishing, 2016

Since I turned the first page of All Things English, I was riveted. Margie Wakeman Wells’ teaching experience and dedication to both language and court reporting have aggregated in a label which few deserve: genius.

I have read and reread Wakeman Wells’ explanation of “Why This Book Exists.” Her thoughts about the “lessening importance of English” in contemporary American education parallel what so many reporting professionals believe is missing from our potential population of future colleagues. Her reasoning is insightful, practical, and on point.

Wakeman Wells shows a keen sensitivity to overcoming societal deficiencies that have caused great anxiety in those seeking to perpetuate our timeless profession with reporters who have not only excellent stenographic skills but also the ability to produce first-rate transcripts.

All Things English brilliantly provides a solution as realistic as it is comprehensive. Understanding that people lead busy lives and won’t study English “just because it is a good idea,” Wakeman Wells has come up with a format that is practical, relatable – and effective. By teaching small nuggets, broken into even smaller subsections, and continuing the pattern for only minutes a day over the course of a defined period of time, Margie presents to serious reporting students a palatable opportunity to improve their knowledge of this most important aspect of good court reporting.

I am continually fascinated by her sprinkling of a single vocabulary word and sensibly-selected spelling on each page, and am equally amazed at her intuitive way of presenting word usage and tacit bits of grammar – all in a simplistic and comfortable format.

As I continue perusing “All Things English” – and, in the process, enrich my own knowledge – I find myself thanking the author in behalf of today’s and tomorrow’s reporting generations. Please count me among your greatest fans.

Dom Tursi is an official reporter based in Central Islip, N.Y.

Politics influences the 2016 words of the year: A roundup

dictionary page

Photo by jwyg

Oxford Dictionaries came out with their word of the year in mid-November, choosing post-truth for 2016. Oxford Dictionaries has noticed “an expansion in the meaning of the prefix post- that has become increasingly prominent in recent years” with a meaning that has shifted to “belonging to a time in which the specified concept has become unimportant or irrelevant” (early examples are post-war, post-national, and post-racial). Oxford Dictionaries cites a 1992 essay by the late Serbian-American playwright Steve Tesich in The Nation magazine as the first use of post-truth. Oxford Dictionaries, which is a British publication, saw a spike for post-truth this year “in the context of the EU referendum in the United Kingdom and the presidential election in the United States.” Other contenders for Oxford Dictionaries’ word of the year include glass cliff, chatbot, adulting, woke, and Latinx.

Dictionary.com chose xenophobia as their word of the year. Xenophobia comes from two Greek roots — xénos or “stranger,” and phóbos, which means “fear, panic.” Dictionary.com cited similar current events that influenced the spike in xenophobia lookups: the Brexit vote, Syria’s refugee crisis, the U.S. presidential election, and police shootings. Dictionary.com did not share any other finalists for the word of the year.

Merriam-Webster announced their word of the year at the end of December, choosing surreal. According to Merriam-Webster, surreal is “a relatively new word in English, and derives from surrealism, the artistic movement of the early 1900s that attempted to depict the unconscious mind in dreamlike ways as ‘above’ or ‘beyond’ reality. Surreal itself dates to the 1930s, and was first defined in a Merriam-Webster dictionary in 1967.” They saw three distinct spikes in lookups for surreal this year: following the Brussels terror attack in March, the coup attempt in Turkey and the terrorist attack in Nice in July, and the U.S. election in November. Other finalists for Merriam-Webster’s word of the year include revenant, in omnia paratus, bigly, irregardless, and feckless.

In a move that is uncharacteristically interactive of dictionaries but has become typical behavior for Merriam-Webster, at the end of November the dictionary tweeted out “‘Fascism’ is still our #1 lookup. # of lookups = how we choose our Word of the Year. There’s still time to look something else up.” In response, users began looking up other words, including puppies and flummadiddle, to influence the final word of the year. Merriam-Webster then replied in an article, “We like puppies … But they will not be our Word of the Year, and neither will flummadiddle.” The article goes on to explain how the dictionary chooses the word of the year. The article also includes adorable photos of puppies.

Politics didn’t just influence English; Austria chose Bundespraesidentenstichwahlwiederholungsverschiebung, or “postponement of the repeat of the runoff of the presidential election,” as their word of the year because of “the record time it took to elect Austria’s president.” The Research Unit for Austrian German at the University of Graz and the Austria Press Agency ran a poll to determine the word of the year.

Find Oxford Dictionaries’ 2015 word of the year.

Find Merriam-Webster’s 2015 word of the year.

Why English is so hard to learn: adjective order

JCR publications share buttonOxford Dictionaries posted a video in September explaining why adjectives appear in a certain order before a noun. Read more.

GRAMMAR: How important is punctuation?

By Santo J. Aurelio

Punctuation is extremely important. Without it, sentences cannot be understood. The job of a reporter is basically twofold: to capture all of the spoken words and then to transcribe those words correctly using correct and understandable punctuation. Yes, I know that it takes a bit longer to “think” about the words and how they should be properly punctuated. But isn’t that what reporters are being paid to do – to capture words and to put them in a form that others can readily understand?

I was a reporter for 39 years before I had to retire because of hearing problems that could not be remedied. During those years I frequently worked with other reporters and had many opportunities to view their work. By and large, their work was satisfactory, but I confess that some reporters, even though they had fine reputations, did not transcribe with the proper amount (read: the highest amount) of correct punctuation. Pushing the work out too quickly and without following the rules of punctuation is not professional.

Court reporting is a profession, and it must be treated as such. If we want to receive the trust and respect of judges, attorneys, and, in fact, everyone, then we must do the best possible job of taking down all of the words and transcribing them for any reader to fully understand. Yes, I know that many speakers do not finish their sentences, and that is exactly where our special knowledge of punctuational rules will come into play. If a speaker doesn’t finish a sentence or if he or she is interrupted or simply trails off, the only way to transcribe that is by a dash or two hyphens. Using a few periods to show that is incorrect. Why? Because three or four periods (…or ….) is strictly reserved for ellipses.

Ellipses must be employed when one is quoting and deliberately leaves some words out. If those omitted words come at the beginning or middle of the quote, then three periods (…) must be used to show that there was a deliberate omission. If the omitted words come at the end of the quote, then four periods (….) must be used to show that there were words omitted at the end of the quote (that is, three plus one for the sentence-ending period).

Unfortunately, some court reporting programs are incorrectly instructing reporting students to put in a series of periods to denote an interruption or a trailing off. That is incorrect. And some programs are instructing students that it is proper to have just one space between sentences. That, too, is incorrect. Two spaces should be used after a sentence is finished; after an end-of-sentence question mark; and after a colon.

And, of course, all words should be spelled correctly. Names, especially of the principals, must be spelled correctly.

What I am attempting to do now in writing this article is to encourage and motivate every reporter, whether tyro or veteran, to do the absolute best that he or she can in taking down words and transcribing them with correct punctuation.

Semicolons should only be used if the reporter knows exactly how to use them. There are only three ways to employ them: (1) between two independent clauses (sentences, as, He is tall; she is short); (2) when transcribing series (as, I told her that she was smart; that she was organized; and that she had a great future); and (3) to avoid confusion (as, Ted came from Rome; Bill came from Berlin; Joe came from Arlington, Texas; and Harry from Cairo).

An error that I see frequently in magazines, books, and even the writings of some top reporters is the improper use of a hyphen after an adverb which precedes an adjective. The following sentence is punctuationally correct: The extremely tall girl is only 12 years old. The error that I see often in a sentence of that type is the insertion of a hyphen after (in this case) extremely.

All reporters deserve the greatest respect from all with whom they come in contact and all who read their transcripts. If all reporters want to have the respect of all, whether judges, attorneys, or anyone, then they have to earn that respect; and the way to gain that respect is to do a great job capturing all of the words spoken and transcribing them correctly and punctuationally correctly on every single case.

I was very proud to be a reporter. Each case was a challenge, but it was very satisfying to know that I did my very best on every case. The profession of reporting is just that: a profession. And we should all aspire to be true professionals. My last question to all reporters is: What better way to preserve our reporting profession than to do as perfect and professional a job taking down all of the words spoken and transcribing them with correct punctuation as is humanly possible? I rest my case.

Santo (Joe) Aurelio, RDR (Ret.), is an honorary member of NCRA. He resides in Arlington, Mass., and can be reached at sjaurelio@comcast.net.


Bovvered, tl;dr, and sleeping with the fishes: an OED update

JCR publications share buttonA June 23 post by the Oxford English Dictionary shares the “more than 1,000 new words and senses and nearly 2,000 fully revised or partially expanded entries” from the last quarter. The updates, which cover words from a variety of English-speaking countries, include words like listicle, power couple, CamelCase, and tl;dr.

Read more.

Move over Shakespeare, teen girls are the real language disruptors

In an Aug. 7 post on Quartz, linguist Gretchen McCulloch talks about how young women are the ones who change English the most. Among other examples, McCulloch cites a linguistic study from the University of Helsinki that found that female letter-writers changed their writing faster than male letter-writers. The study looked at 6,000 personal letters written between 1417 and 1681. “Young women’s speech isn’t just acceptable — it’s revolutionary,” said McCulloch.

Read more.

How to stump a proofreader: Top five easy-to-miss errors

By Caitlin Pyle

Reporters, scopists, proofreaders… anyone who touches a transcript knows: Proofreading is never easy! Some errors are so common, proofreading eyes can see them right away. But others can be oh-so sneaky: They can look “right” even when they’re not. Let’s take a look at the top five easy-to-miss errors.

1) Follow-up vs. follow up vs. followup

This trio is seen most often in insurance cases and doctor depositions. Let’s take a look at some examples of proper use for each form:

A) Follow-up is used as a noun or an adjective: “I have a follow-up scheduled on Friday.” or “She was supposed to set a follow-up appointment with me after the MRI.”

Example of incorrect use: “Please follow-up with your attorney when you get those results.”

B) Follow up is used as a verb: “Did you follow up with your GP?” or “I’ll follow up with you if we decide to order.”

Example of incorrect use: “I have a follow up scheduled tomorrow.”

C) Followup is less common, but can be used just like “follow-up” — as a noun or adjective. It should not be used as a verb.

2) Proper usage of ZIP Code

It may not seem like a big deal, but trademarks are a big deal. That’s right — ZIP Code is an official trademark owned by the United States Postal Service. The “ZIP” in ZIP Code is an acronym that stands for Zone Improvement Plan, and that is why ZIP is capitalized. So give your proofreader a heads-up, and check your dictionary for other common instances: ZIP code, zipcode, Zip code, and zip code.

3) Hyphenating vice president or air conditioning

Whenever I’m tempted to hyphenate vice president or air conditioning, I think about what cheese pizza or ham sandwich would look like hyphenated. It just doesn’t work! Like ham and cheese, vice, and air are not phrasal adjectives, so they aren’t hyphenated. Oddly enough, though, “vice president” is hyphenated in the United Kingdom, Australia, and Canada. Who knew?

4) When effect is correctly used as a verb… and when affect is correctly used as a noun

Nine times out of ten, affect is a verb and effect is a noun — and this is exactly how I explain it whenever one of my clients has a question regarding their proper use. But on the rare occasion when the roles of affect and effect are reversed, it’s always tough to explain why it’s not an error. Let’s take a closer look.

  1. Effect as a verb: It means to bring about, to cause, or to achieve: “Let me know when you can effect the changes in the written questions.”
  2. Affect as a noun: It means display of emotion: “Did his affect change when you told him?”

5) Capitalization and apostrophe placement in Workers’ Compensation

As part of the U.S. Department of Labor, the official name of the workers’ compensation office is Office of Workers’ Compensation Programs. Unless the official name is used in full, or if it’s somehow used in a title of a publication, regular old transcript use of “workers’ compensation” should not be capitalized. Note the placement of the apostrophe, too — keep the plural possessive form, as used in the official name of the office.

That’s it! The top five easy-to-miss errors. So be honest… how’d you do? Straight As? Miss a couple? It’s all good. No one’s perfect, and we’re all in this to help each other grow as professionals. And, hey, here’s a fun idea — maybe you can throw one or two of these into your next job to see if your proofreader notices! But if you plant ‘em, make sure you remember where you put ‘em!

Caitlin Pyle is a proofreader based in Orlando, Fla. In business since 2009, she proofreads for 20+ reporters each month and teaches the multimedia online course Transcript Proofreading: Theory and Practice via her website ProofreadAnywhere.com.

20 embarrassing phrases even smart people misuse

Inc. recently published an article on 20 idioms that are commonly misspelled even on reputable websites. The article compares the actual spelling with the most common misspelling and even includes some background on how some of the idioms came about.

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How do you sign new words?

A recent post on the website HopesandFears.com features an article that examines how new Internet-based turns of phrase are entering the sign language community. The article includes an interview with and signing demonstrations by Bill Vicars, the president and owner of Lifeprint, a company that educates through “technology-enhanced delivery of American Sign Language instruction, excursion-based instruction, and extended-immersion-based program coordination.”

Read and watch more.