Most language is spoken language, and most words, once they are uttered, vanish forever into the air. But such is not the case with language spoken during courtroom trials, for there exists an army of courtroom reporters whose job it is to take down and preserve every statement made during the proceedings.
Mary Louise Gilman, the venerable editor of the National Shorthand Reporter has collected many of the more hilarious courtroom bloopers in two books - Humor in the Court (1977) and More Humor in the Court, published a few months ago. From Mrs. Gilman's two volumes, here are some of my favorite transquips, all recorded by America's keepers of the word:
Q. What is your brother-in-law's name?
Q. What's his first name?
A. I can't remember.
Q. He's been your brother-in-law for years, and you can't remember his first name?
A. No. I tell you I'm too excited. (Rising from the witness chair and pointing to Mr. Borofkin.) Nathan, for God's sake, tell them your first name!
Q. Did you ever stay all night with this man in New York?
A. I refuse to answer that question.
Q. Did you ever stay all night with this man in Chicago?
A. I refuse to answer that question.
Q. Did you ever stay all night with this man in Miami?
Q. Now, Mrs. Johnson, how was your first marriage terminated?
A. By death.
Q. And by whose death was it terminated?
Q. Doctor, did you say he was shot in the woods?
A. No, I said he was shot in the lumbar region.
Q. What is your name?
A. Ernestine McDowell.
Q. And what is your marital status?
Q. Are you married?
A. No, I'm divorced.
Q. And what did your husband do before you divorced him?
A. A lot of things I didn't know about.
Q. And who is this person you are speaking of?
A. My ex-widow said it.
Q. How did you happen to go to Dr. Cherney?
A. Well, a gal down the road had had several of her children by Dr. Cherney, and said he was really good.
Q. Do you know how far pregnant you are right now?
A. I will be three months November 8th.
Q. Apparently then, the date of conception was August 8th?
Q. What were you and your husband doing at that time?
Q. Mrs. Smith, do you believe that you are emotionally unstable?
A. I should be.
Q. How many times have you comitted suicide?
A. Four times.
Q. Doctor, how many autopsies have you peformed on dead people?
A. All my autopsies have been performed on dead people.
Q. Were you aquainted with the deceased?
A. Yes, sir.
Q. Before or after he died?
Q. Officer, what led you to believe the defendant was under the
A. Because he was argumentary and he couldn't pronunciate his words.
Q. What happened then?
A. He told me, he says, "I have to kill you because you can identify me."
Q. Did he kill you?
Q. Mrs. Jones, is your appearance this morning pursuant to a
deposition notice which I sent to your attorney?
A. No. This is how I dress when I go to work.
THE COURT: Now, as we begin, I must ask you to banish all present information and prejudice from your minds, if you have any.
Q. You say you had three men punching at you,
kicking you, raping you, and you didn't scream?
A. No ma'am.
Q. Does that mean you consented?
A. No, ma'am. That means I was unconscious.
Q. Did he pick the dog up by the ears?
Q. What was he doing with the dog's ears?
A. Picking them up in the air.
Q. Where was the dog at this time?
A. Attached to the ears.
Q. When he went, had you gone and had she, if she wanted to and
were able, for the time being excluding all the restraints on
her not to go, gone also, would he have brought you, meaning
you and she, with him to the station?
MR. BROOKS: Objection. That question should be taken out and shot.
Before we recess, let's listen to one last exchange involving a child:
Q. And lastly, Gary, all your responses must be oral. O.K.?
What school do you go to?
Q. How old are you?