on the cheap and sleazy side (www.cheapandsleazy.net)

By G.D. Warner

Dictionaries 'r' Us

Dictionaries Giving You Fits? Show 'em Who's Boss --!



For best results with this article, you should read Steven Shastay's Magic Drill article.

You should not only read this article, you should take the drill within it, translate it to your theory (ensure you stick to the phrase-word-word format, or you're wasting your time), and practice the phrases (you can practice The Art of the Selective Drop later).

These phrases will come in handy later.


"That's not part of your theory; you'll just have to create a dictionary entry for it before it will translate."


Has your instructor ever said that to you? ... and if s/he did, did you know what she meant, or did your eyes just kinda glaze over?

Well, maybe your eyes didn't glaze over ... but did you quite understand what s/he meant? If not, this article is written with you (yes, YOU!) in mind.


As a frantic alternate version of Commander Riker yelled in an episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation, "They're everywhere -- everywhere!!"

 They're Everywhere

They're Everywhere -- the Borg, That is.

That's right, they are everywhere. While the good commander in that particular episode was talking about the Borg, I'm talking about dictionaries: Personal dictionaries. Main dictionaries. Job dictionaries. Theory dictionaries.

As an ogre once said in a far off land called Xanth, "What's the poop from the goop?"

First, let's get some basics out of the way.

The term "dictionary" in this case refers to a file which your CAT software uses to translate your steno strokes into readable English (you knew that, right?).

Your main dictionary is your Theory dictionary ... that is, if you're using Phoenix Theory, your main dictionary is most likely named Phoenix; if you're a StenEd student, your main dictionary will most likely be called StenEd. If you're a CRAH (that's Court Reporting at Home) student, your main dictionary will most likely be called CRAH. If you're a -- okay, I think you get the point here, right? Your main dictionary (though it may indeed be called something else; for instance, in Case Catalyst, it's called a "Personal Dictionary") is the one that holds all your translations taught by your particular theory.

But ... what's a Job dictionary?

Well, let's suppose you're on a deposition, in a case titled "State of Massachusetts v. Asmodeus Dumbledore" (and yes, I know that "Asmodeus" isn't Albus Dumbledore's first name, thankyouverymuch ... but how hard would it be to stroke "Albus?"). Chances are good that you're not going to have the name "Dumbledore" in your theory's dictionary (unless you're a student at "The Hogwarts School of Court Reporting," of course).

It is also unlikely that your theory's dictionary will have "Azkaban," or any of the other Harry Potter terminology that might arise in the afore-mentioned case.

This is where the job dictionary comes in.

By default, for some odd reason, most CAT software creates a new job dictionary for you each time you create a new file (I show you how to turn off that feature in digitalCAT in digitalCAT File Management (see that checkbox under the 30?)).

digitalCAT's General Options box

digitalCAT's General Options Dialog Box: Quashing the Job Dictionary

I don't think you necessarily need a new dictionary for each case you're working on.

Indeed, what I have been doing in my transcription work is using ONE dictionary as my job dictionary -- for every job.

"Dude -- You're Crazy!"

(Man, if I had a dollar for every time someone's said that to me ....)

No, not crazy -- I'm just a bit less than willing to duplicate effort (or, just say "lazy" -- not crazy. And yes, I do accept PayPal (for those of you who want to send me a dollar for that crazy comment)).

PayPal Logo

Called me Crazy? Send me a Buck!

This particular job dictionary contains the following:

As you might guess, the names of the attorneys, the defendant, the plaintiff, etc., are all changed for each case as necessary.

This way, I keep my dictionary count to a minimum -- which currently includes my Theory dictionary, my personal dictionary, the afore-mentioned job dictionary ("Lindsay," after the case I was working on when I created it), a dictionary for medical terminology (which is turned off, because I haven't got the time to study the book that came with it), and a dictionary devoted strictly to Q&A -- about which, more later.

Mein Dictionaries

Mein Dictionaries

Update (01MAR14)

Sometime back, I merged three of these dictionaries together ... so "Lindsay," "Glenz," and the Q&A dictionary were merged into one, which I now call "Glenz_Fast."

This "Personal Dictionary" (which has the rather catchy name of "Glenz Dictionary"), is where I store any briefs I make up that I want to keep around for later use, those "non-Phoenix Theory briefs" my instructor comes up with from time to time ... and when she tells us that we have to "create a dictionary entry for this brief," this is just where those entries go.

For Case Catalyst users (who are also probably thinking I'm crazy), the term "personal dictionary" is your theory dictionary. For purposes of this discussion, CC users, when you read "personal dictionary" in this article, feel free to substitute something else in place of "personal dictionary."

Update (03JUN09)

If you're using Case, and need some help with dictionary manipulation, go here:


You're probably wondering, "Why this dictionary instead of the Phoenix Theory dictionary," right?

If you are wondering about that (and even if you aren't), the reason is that on occasion, Carol Jochim, the (now gone) author of the Phoenix Theory, issues the occasional update to the theory. Suppose -- just suppose -- that one of the strokes in those new updates conflicts with something I entered that is a non-Phoenix Theory brief?

Sure, I could select the appropriate option ... but why go through that hassle? Load your extraneous briefs in your Personal Dictionary, look through any update ReadMe files, and modify anything that looks like it may conflict with one of your personal briefs.

And that leaves us with the afore-mentioned Q&A dictionary. But first ....

"To Brief ... or Not to Brief; That is the Question."

The Answer is Yes.

Okay, okay ... I can feel those slings and arrows of outrageous misfortune (in keeping with the mangled Shakespeare quote up there) now, from all points Cheap and Sleazy.

For the new students who don't understand why I'm suffering from all those slings and arrows, let's just say that using briefs -- a single stroke repressenting several words -- is a controversial topic.

Some folks would rather stroke out each and every word, instead of using that one stroke brief (I call these folks members of the "Stroke Meisters" squad).

Then there's the other extreme, that wants *everything* to be a brief (I call these folks members of the "Life's a Brief" squad).

Me? I follow a philosophy similar to that of the one used by martial arts legend Bruce Lee when he created his own fighting system, Jeet Kune Do (by drawing bits and pieces from every fighting system he could find):

"Absorb What is Useful."

And speaking of Bruce ....

The Dragon

Bruce Lee in his final role in "Game of Death" sets the trend ...

The Last Dragon

Taimak in his role in "The Last Dragon" continues the trend ...

The Bride

... and Uma Thurman as "The Bride." completes the trend. Notice anything?

What that means is if I find a brief that doesn't conflict with my theory and that I find useful, it goes into my personal dictionary (you know, "Glenz Dictionary").

"Dude -- How do I know if it Conflicts?"

Why, you search for the steno, of course ...!


Okay, here's an example. Let's say you're looking through the book, "800 Most Common Depo Phrases Volume 1, A-L, and you find a brief that you don't know, like /HOPT for "hospital."

What you would do in digitalCAT is open the Dictionary Maintenance program (you know: Start --> Programs --> DigitalCAT --> Dictionary Maintenance, then do File --> Open to open your theory dictionary), and search for that steno (CTRL - S), HOPT, like so:

Searching the Steno

Searchin' the Steno

Of course, I know that the Phoenix Theory stroke for "hospital" is /H-PT ... but this book says something different, so I have to use the tools available to me (the Dictionary Maintenance program, the steno search (CTRL - S, remember), and the English search (CTRL - F)).

Searching the English

Searchin' the English

As I mentioned, in my theory, the stroke for hospital is /H-PT ... so a quick search for "hospital" ... and here we see the results of that search:

Search Results

Search Results

Note ...

Yes, I know DC is not the only CAT software out there ...! But it is the one I have immediate access to (though in a pinch, I could run downtown and grab some screenshots from AristoCAT -- but unfortunately, the version at the office won't load an RTF dictionary! :o(

I hear that has been fixed in the most recent version ... now, if I could just convince my on-again, off-again boss to upgrade .... but you know what they say: "If wishes were Acuras ...."

Well, okay ... so only I say that.

This RTF stuff is important when you consider that the RTF version of the Phoenix Theory dictionary weighs in at a hefty 10.4 MB 17.8 MB ... which means that's a *lot* of strokes to enter by hand!

For those of you whose eyes tend to glaze over when terms like "MB" or "KB" are mentioned, think of it this way: One 8.5 x 11 piece of paper filled with text should be about 32k (32,000 bits, or characters) in size. The Phoenix Theory dictionary, at 10.4 MB (or million bits) is ... (whips out calculator) about 312 pages full of steno!

So if, in your search for a CAT program, the literature doesn't mention RTF support, and suggests you use another program to create your dictionary, look Elsewhere.

Everything You Stroke is Magic

(Um ... sorry about that, Sting!)

Hopefully you took my advice on the first page when I advised you to read Steven Shastay's blog entry on the Magic Drill. Even more importantly, I hope you followed my advice and translated it to your theory ... and still more important than that, you have practiced the phrases in the Magic Drill.

You did that, right?

"What's so Important About the Magic Drill?"

Well, let's suppose you're in Theory, and your teacher has you drilling on these phrases.

Let's further suppose that you get really good at these phrases.

According to Steven Shastay, who teaches -- er, *USED TO* teach theory at the Denver Academy of Court Reporting, thanks in part to his teaching his students the Magic Drill, his theory students are at 100 wpm by the time they get out of Theory.

Yes, you read that right: 100 words per minute.

Out of Theory.

Wish *I* was at 100 wpm when I got out of Theory ...!

Aside from that obvious benefit, another benefit is that you will (your theory permitting) learn strokes for just the right hand, and just the left hand ... which you will need for the Q&A dictionary I mentioned earlier.

And, speaking of which ...

A Dictionary for Q&A

Sometime back, I picked up a copy of a book called Q&A, a Faster Way, by Donna Dunn -- which appears to be no longer available, alas.


Q&A, a Faster Way

"Q&A, a Faster Way" From Back in the Day (Hey, Hey, Hey!)

This book teaches you how to stroke your Q (or A) symbol, the colon (or period) and the appropriate amount of space, and (sometimes) a full sentence (or question) -- like so:

Q: What is your name?

A: My name is . . .

First though, you start off with the small words, like What, What's, Do, How (for the Q portion ... ).

On the Answer side, you have Please, Correct, Did, Do, Do you, If, It, No, No, ma'am, No, sir, etc.

Out of respect for Ms. Dunn, I cannot give you all of the outlines I have taken from this book ... but I will be more than happy to share a few of them ... and show you how to create your own Q&A dictionary at the same time.

First, create a new dictionary. In digitalCAT, if you still have the Dictionary Maintenance program open, either select File--> New or click the blank document icon on the left, and give it an appropriate name (I used Q&AFast).

Creating the Q&A Fast Dictionary

Creating the Q&A Fast Dictionary

Now that you have your empty dictionary created, let's take the first stroke I learned and put to use from this book:

Q: What

This is one of the easier ones. It simply consists of your Q bank (you know, STKPWHR) and the letter A.

The hard part is getting this into your new (and still empty) dictionary ... but, since you know what the stroke is, that makes it a lot easier!


Before modifying this blank dictionary, you might want to check your Theory dictionary and make sure this entry is not in there already as something else.

This is an extremely important thing to check ... and the best thing is, you can have more than one instance of the Dictionary Maintenance program open at the same time, so you can check for stuff like that ... but simply searching for Q: should show if there's any Q extensions in your main dictionary. You can also search for the steno outline.

So ... let's put that Q:  What into your new dictionary.

Click the plus sign. A window titled "Add Entry" should appear:

Creating a new Entry

Creating a New Dictionary

See that yellow asterisk? Click it. You should see this window:

Quick Entry Window

The Quick Entry Window

Since we're entering the info to make the Q: What entry, you've probably guessed that you want to click the one that says Question. Doing so will give you this:

Add Entry

Formatting a Question

Now the easy part: Type What, and then hit the Tab key. This will take you down to where you enter the actual steno ... and you know what that is.

Q&A Fast:  What

Your First Entry: Q: What

All that's needed now is to click either the Add or the Add and Clear button. If you click the Add button, the Add Entry window will vanish, leaving you with your single entry dictionary.

If you click the Add and Clear button, the Add Entry window will clear, your entry will be sent to the dictionary, and the Add Entry window will be waiting for more stuff.

Dude. Not everybody is on digitalCAT!

Really? Hmm ... okay, for you folks on Eclipse, I found this discussion a few months back:

Q&A Extensions in Eclipse

Q&A Extensions in Eclipse

For those of you using Case, there was a (fairly) recent discussion on Facebook about that:

Case Catalyst Q&A

Case Catalyst Q&A

"Hello! Plover User Here!!"

How could I leave out the users of my new CAT of Choice?!?

Stroke whatever stroke you have defined as your "Add Dictionary" stroke, then in the "Add Dictionary " window that appears, stroke your desired Q&A extension's outline, tab to the next window, and add something like this:

{#Return}{#Tab}A.{^ ^}{-|}What

Plover Q&A

Plover Q&A Extension

"So, Where's the Magic?"

What's that? You mean, why did I tell you to study Steven Shastay's Magic Drill article?

Why, because doing so should have taught you some basic phrases, which you can then use to construct your own theory-specific Q&A extensions!

From learning those phrases, you should have found strokes for "that would," "they were," "I have," etc. ... and from pieces of those strokes, you can construct questions.

Taking that one stroke I showed you earlier --

Q: What

-- you should be able to construct entries for the questions "what were," "what was," "what are," "what should," "what could," and "what have."

On the answer side of things, you should be able to build entries for the answers beginning with "it, "if," "the," "is," "I," "I can't," "I don't," "I didn't," "do," "did you," "do you," etc. ... and that's just the basics.

Ms. Dunn's book has more entries than I have in my dictionary (some of which were specific to my (now long former) transcription job at Allegis, like the entries for "A: Uh-huh," or "A: Uh,").

Ms. Dunn's entries include questions like, "What is your place of employment," "What is your name and address," etc. ... but I read somewhere that those folks that write the RPR exams read all these books, and specifically design their tests to trip up those that have a stroke for complete sentences like that, so I primarily stick to one or two word questions and answers. But if you want the steno outlines for those others, Ms. Dunn's book is a worthwhile investment -- but be sure you modify the entries she has to conform to your theory! If you don't quite know what I mean yet, you will -- after playing with these for a while.

In the meantime, below is my Q&A dictionary (kinda small, huh? Click it!). Feel free to modify the entries you find in there to fit your theory ... and then go get Ms. Dunn's book.

Q&AFast Dictionary

Mein Q&AFast Dictionary (click for larger view)

Update (08JUL10)

As you might have heard, I am back in school these days, which means that my Q&A_Fast dictionary has been expanding quite a bit of late ...!

I recently imported my Q&A_Fast dictionary from my Dell and imported it into the Dictionary Maintenance program I have running on my Mac, under Darwine  Wine. It's grown so much, I had to take two screenshots and glue them together:

Updated Q&AFast Dictionary

Mein (Updated!!) Q&AFast Dictionary (click for larger view)

Just ignore the "Bye" outlines, please! :o)

"Holy crap, that's a lot of entries! How am I going to learn all those?!"

A good question ...! And the answer is one or two (or more, but I would stop at about seven) at a time.

Of course, if you did dilligently practice those Magic Drills like I suggested, you are well on your way to figuring out how to do that ... but let's assume you didn't quite get to it. What do you do?

You do like the Nike slogan says: Just Do It.

If you do, you will easily see how to build an entire family of strokes based on the Q bank and the one-letter stroke for What. Or the family of strokes based on the A bank and the (in my theory, anyway) three-letter stroke for I (/KWR). If you've learned the What strokes and the I strokes for the Q&A bank, then the other strokes taught in the Magic Drill, your days of hating Q&A will be over pretty quickly!

"Absorb What is Useful."

When learning these, don't forget that Bruce Lee quote above!

"If you put water into a cup, it becomes the cup. You put water into a bottle and it becomes the bottle. You put it in a teapot it becomes the teapot.

Now, water can flow, or it can crash. Be water my friend." -- Bruce Lee

Time for you to flow.

Update (29SEP06)

While looking through my copy of Edward Varallo's book, The Real-Time Writer's Manual: A Common-Sense Guide for Court Reporters (1992, and out of print), I found more of these Q&A extensions ... plus some to address those attorneys that end every question with things like " didn't you?" or " don't you?", etc.

In practice, they look like so:

, didn't you?      A.

, wouldn't you?    A.

These outlines include the following:

  1. didn't you?
  2. didn't she?
  3. don't you?
  4. don't you, sir?
  5. didn't you, sir?
  6. hadn't you?
  7. weren't you?
  8. haven't you?
  9. couldn't you?
  10. wouldn't you?

The steno shown in the book for these outlines (just a couple of 'em) look like so:


In actual use, one might look like so:

Q. Just between us, you think she killed him, don't you?


This question can be stroked in eleven strokes: One for the Question bank and "Just," two strokes for "between us," one stroke for that comma in there, one stroke for "you think" (Magic Drill!), three strokes for "she killed him," and two strokes for that final comma, the "don't you," the question mark and the Answer bank; otherwise, it's fourteen strokes.

True, they're not single-strokers ... but they definitely help shave off a few strokes ...!

If you happen to see this book on sale somewhere, make sure you grab it ... and add some of those ending outlines to your Q&A_Fast dictionary. They don't call it "shorthand" for nothing, y'know ....

27MAR22 Update

Apparently, that one is out of print ... but it looks like there's a more updated version available, in the form of this new version, available directly from Ed himself.

Well. That's it! Hope it helps ... and happy Q&A!