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Denver Court Reporters Handle Their Homonyms for Better Transcripts

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Denver Court Reporters Handle Their Homonyms for Better Transcripts

Denver Court Reporters turn the spoken word to text based on sound, not spelling.  This means that homonyms can be a tricky problem for court reporters in Colorado.  Among all the homonyms of the English language, there are six pairs that cause trouble for court reporters on a regular basis.  First we will review the top offenders, and then we will discuss what you can do about them.

The Top Six Troublemakers

6.        Affect/Effect

When “affect” is a verb, it means “change” or “influence.”

Example:  The advertising campaign affected people’s perception of the product.

When “effect” is a noun, it means “consequence” or even “power.”

Examples:  We have no peer-reviewed studies of the effect of this practice in online classrooms.  The new law comes into effect in May 2013.

When “effect” is (rarely!) a verb, it means “bring about”:

The athlete’s apology effected a change in the public’s perception of his actions.

5.       Principal/Principle

The word “principle” means “a rule, theory, or idea.”

Examples:  The judge’s decision was guided by the principles of restorative justice.  In principle, I agree with your plan, but in practice, it can be problematic.

The word “principal” means “main” or “the main person or thing.”

Examples:  the principal priority (the main priority); the principal of a school; the principal in a loan (as opposed to the interest); the principal in a lawsuit (namely, the actual person or corporation involved in a lawsuit, as opposed to the lawyers representing them).

4.       Counsel/Council

“Counsel” means “advice” or “lawyer.”   In the courtroom, when “counsel” is a term of address, it usually means “lawyer.”

Examples:  Ms. Jones serves as counsel for the defence.  The judge admonished counsel for their acrimonious behaviour.  Could you please address that at the next hearing, counsel?

“Council” is “a group of people that has an administrative role.”

Examples:  The city council decided to ban plastic bags.

3.       Then/Than

“Then” indicates time or sequence.

Example:  They ate, and then they paid for their meal.

“Than” indicates comparisons:

Example:  This meal was more expensive than our lunch yesterday.


2.       Its/It’s

“Its” means “of it” or “belonging to it.”  “It’s” means “it is.”

Example:  When a white shirt is new, it’s a shame that its pristine shade attracts coffee so soon.

1.        Your/You’re

“Your” means “of you” or “belonging to you.”  “You’re” means “you are.”

Example:  If you’re careful with homonyms, your transcripts will become things of beauty.

What to Do about Troublesome Homonyms

Most of these words are not difficult in themselves.  What makes these errors pop up again and again, like the world’s most vicious gophers, is not court reporters’ lack of knowledge.  It’s sheer overwork.  If you as a court reporter have 300 pages of transcript to get through in the next 48 hours, you may lose focus.  Instead of poring over every instance of “effect” or “affect,” your brain will simply fail these words’ appearance.

If you cannot win the battle, then outsource it.  Defeat these troublemakers in two steps.

First, know your enemies.

What are the most troublesome pairs of homonyms for you?  Make a list, possibly even a list with quick definitions.

Second, automate the battle.

Before you start editing, while your focus is still fresh and sharp, automatically seek out every occurrence of your “usual suspects.”  Using your list, examine whether each word makes sense in its usual context.  Once you have picked off the troublesome terms, you can go on to do a full edit from the beginning.

And those troublemakers will vanish, never to return.

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