Pow. Kaboom. Vroom. Pop. What do all these words have in common? They all fall into the onomatopoeia category. “What’s onomatopoeia,” you may ask?
Onomatopoeia are words that rely on a picture to make them more understandable. They are sounds that witnesses make to describe a car zooming by or a gunshot that they heard. Sometimes easy to decipher, like, “I heard three gunshots. Bang, bang, bang.” Other times it’s not so easy. “All I could hear was ‘seeeerb’, then ‘schwerbbbb’.”
Court Reporter’s Nemesis
Capturing onomatopoeia in the record can be very challenging for a court reporter. We’re the keepers of the record, yes, but the implication there is the “spoken” word, not the uttered sound!
Tips To Improve The Record
When an attorney asks me if there’s a way to make a better record, the first thing that comes to mind is clarifying the types of sounds that we hear during depositions. I encourage attorneys to carefully consider how a question is asked. For example, if a witness says “I heard three pops,” a good follow-up question might be: “Did it sound like three gunshots one after the other?“ Other examples of good follow-up questions might include:
- “Did it sound like someone talking under water?”
- “Did the cracking you heard sound like bones breaking?”
- “Was that screeching an indication that the driver was braking frantically?”
If the deponent uses the sound in his answer, “It went through the grass like sss-sss-ss,” (as he’s making a hand gesture like a snake), you might come back and ask, “You’re indicating a snake motion and a sound like a snake in the grass, right?” Keep in mind that unless you’re videotaping this particular witness, a jury may not know what “sss-ss-ss” is specifically referring to. If it’s at all important to the testimony, take the time to clarify with words what the deponent is indicating and/or sounding out.
A Motion For Clarification, Please
Another clarification that attorneys sometimes overlook is when the deponent is pointing at something, like a scar or where her pain is. “It goes from here all the way down to here.” Yes, everyone in the room saw exactly where she pointed. However, the record can be better captured if you came back and asked, “Mrs. Houser, you just pointed to your left shoulder all the way down to your left elbow, correct?”
Likewise, if a witness is pointing to a picture or a page, please clarify exactly what is being identified. For example, if the witness states: “The car was skidding from this bush all the way over to this sign,” you might clarify by following up with: “So, Mr. Smith, you’re indicating on the second page of Exhibit 2 that the car skidded from the green bush on the left-hand side of that photo all the way to the stop sign shown on the right-hand side of that same photo?” As you can see, a simple follow-up question with specific facts helps elevate a visual picture to valuable testimony regarding the specific legal document that Mr. Smith was indicating.
Mulligans Are For Golf
Unlike a poor golf swing, there are no “do-overs” with depositions. For that reason, it’s critical to make the record as clean as possible – every time. Your court reporter is unable to assist with this during the deposition or during breaks because doing so could give the impression of impartiality. “Mr. Jones, you might want to ask the witness to indicate verbally exactly WHERE he was pointing when you asked that question a while ago.” Well, what if Mr. Adams, opposing counsel, was completely happy with the way the answer will appear in the transcript? We are keepers of the record AND must maintain impartiality in the process.
There’s a website at www.writtensound.com that gives interesting tidbits on how to write sounds such as:
- Old car horn – ah ooh ga
- Explosion – baugh woosh
- Steam engine – chooga chooga coooga
- Police siren – wee oooo eee
At the end of the day, our goal is to help you obtain the best possible record for each case. I hope that these tips provide some insights into how to make the record even better.
If you enjoyed this post, read: “Don’t Let Bad Questions Tarnish Your Record.”