In the US, instructors sometimes ask one or two students to take notes for a given lecture, in view of releasing the lecture notes later on for the rest of the class. Such students are sometimes called "scribes". Is "scribe" a pejorative or a neutral term? If pejorative, is there any neutral or positive term? (I am asking as in French "scribe" can sound somewhat derogatory)

  • 7
    Neutral. It's a simple English description of an honorable role. If you want to be sesquipedalian about it you could say "transcriptionist", but I see no reason to do so.
    – keshlam
    Sep 12, 2015 at 4:43
  • 7
    I'm voting to close this question as off-topic because this is more about the usage of the English language (we have another SE site for that) rather than an academia-specific query.
    – Fomite
    Sep 12, 2015 at 5:27
  • you may wish to flag this for migration to English Language & Usage
    – 410 gone
    Sep 12, 2015 at 7:25
  • 2
    I voted to re-open, because although it is English-language specific, it is also academic-specific. Sep 12, 2015 at 14:17

2 Answers 2


In all of the academic usages with which I am familiar, scribe is almost entirely a neutral term.

Every student must act as a scribe for at least one lecture this term.

The one exception to this requires further elaboration to indicate that what one is doing is merely "reproductive" instead of "synthetic":

He slavishly acted a scribe copying down the professor's words without understanding them.

However, such usage is generally written and somewhat formal (see how far you have to go to put it into a negative context).


"Scribe" is definitely hierarchical: some trust from "superiors", but not their peer. And then if everyone is a scribe, the "trust" becomes uncertain. E.g., is it just that the instructor doesn't want to spend their own energy? Or is it that the instructor has confidence that all the students can make reasonable transcripts?

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