ON THE STAND
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, and blunders, 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 the favorite trans'quips', 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 by 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 committed suicide?
A. Four times.
Q. Were you acquainted with the deceased?
A. Yes, sir.
Q. Before or after he died?
Q. Officer, what led you to believe the defendant was under the influence?
A. Because he was argumentary and he couldn't pronunciate his words.
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.
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.
Q. And lastly, Gary, all your responses must be oral. O.K.? What school do you go to?
Q. How old are you?
Q. What is your relationship with the plaintiff?
A. She is my daughter.
Q. Was she your daughter on February 13, 1979?
Q. Now, you have investigated other murders, have you not, where there was a victim?
Q. ... and what did he do then?
A. He came home, and next morning he was dead.
Q. So when he woke up the next morning he was dead?
Q. Did you tell your lawyer that your husband had offered you indignities?
A. He didn't offer me nothing; he just said I could have the furniture.
Q. So, after the anesthesia, when you came out of it, what did you observe with respect to your scalp?
A. I didn't see my scalp the whole time I was in the hospital.
Q. It was covered?
A. Yes, bandaged.
Q. Then, later on ... what did you see?
A. I had a skin graft. My whole buttocks and leg were removed and put on top of my head.
Q. Could you see him from where you were standing?
A. I could see his head.
Q. And where was his head?
A. Just above his shoulders.
Q. What can you tell us about the truthfulness and veracity of this defendant
A. Oh, she will tell the truth. She said she'd kill that son-of-a-bitch, and she did!
Q. Do you drink when you're on duty?
A. I don't drink when I'm on duty, unless I come on duty drunk.
Q. ... any suggestions as to what prevented this from being a murder trial instead of an attempted murder trial?
A. The victim lived.
Q. Are you sexually active?
A. No, I just lie there.
Q. Are you qualified to give a urine sample?
A. Yes, I have been since early childhood.
Q. The truth of the matter is that you were not an unbiased, objective witness, isn't it. You too were shot in the fracas?
A. No, sir. I was shot midway between the fracas and the naval.
Q. What is the meaning of sperm being present?
A. It indicates intercourse.
Q. Male sperm?
A. That is the only kind I know.
Q. (Showing man picture.) That's you?
A. Yes, sir.
Q. And you were present when the picture was taken, right?
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