Dictated But Not Read: Definition, Meaning, and Origin

Last Updated on
June 22, 2023

The idiom "dictated but not read" refers to a message or letter composed by one person but transcribed by another. Typically, the person dictating would not review the text after it was written. It's a glimpse into an era before modern technology when dictation was common.

In short:

"Dictated but not read" refers to a communication that was composed verbally by one individual and transcribed by another without being reviewed by the dictator.

What Does "Dictated But Not Read" Mean?

"Dictated but not read" is an idiomatic expression that indicates a letter or message was composed verbally by one person (the dictator) and transcribed by another (the secretary or stenographer) and that the dictator did not review the final written product.

Let's explore its core meanings and usage:

  • It suggests that the original speaker entrusted the transcriber with accurately recording their words without further review.
  • It can imply that the dictator may not take responsibility for errors or inaccuracies within the transcribed text.
  • While now considered outdated, the phrase is still relevant in historical communication practices, professional etiquette, and responsibility discussions.

Where Does "Dictated But Not Read" Come From?

The phrase "dictated but not read" comes from the early to mid-20th century. It was common in business correspondence when executives or managers would dictate letters to their secretaries. The phrase would be added as a note indicating that while the executive dictated the letter, they did not read and approve the final version. The secretary's transcription was trusted to accurately represent the executive's intent.

Historical Example

"There is a practice now becoming more or less common which I consider highly objectionable, namely, the rubber stamp impression, placed usually in the lower left hand
corner, stating that the letter was 'dictated but not read' by its author."

- The Rotarian, November 1915

10 Examples of "Dictated But Not Read" in Sentences

Here are some examples of the idiom in use:

  • His letter was marked "dictated but not read," highlighting his trust in his secretary's transcription skills.
  • I assume the position of the manager requires me to review all dictated but not read correspondence.
  • The memo was dictated but not read, aligned with the CEO's usual practice.
  • He was so busy that all his correspondence was "dictated but not read."
  • In her history class, they discussed old letters marked as "dictated but not read" and what that implied about communication in the past.
  • I received the message marked dictated but not read, and I'm now on a search for the assistant who transcribed it to confirm its accuracy.
  • More haste, less speed. So I do not like the impression that the report was dictated but not read.
  • Noticing the note "dictated but not read," she realized that she was dealing with a busy executive.
  • Although the letter was dictated but not read, the board still concurred with its contents.
  • "Dictated but not read" was a common disclaimer in formal correspondence during the era of dictation.

Examples of "Dictated But Not Read" in Pop Culture

The phrase "dictated but not read" is less common in modern pop culture, given changes in communication methods. However, it does still occasionally appear, especially in historical or period-specific works.

Let's explore some instances:

  • "I get letters "dictated but not read" or "signed in So and So's absence" is a quote from the 1989 book "It Looked Like for Ever." The novel follows the life and career of Henry Wiggen, a left-handed pitcher for the New York Mammoths.
  • In his book "How to Win Friends and Influence People," Dale Carnegie tells a story of how he received a letter from someone with the notation “Dictated but not read” at the bottom. He explains that this notation means that the person who wrote the letter did not bother to check it for errors or accuracy, implying a lack of respect and care for the recipient.

Other/Different Ways to Say "Dictated But Not Read"

There are not many common alternatives to the phrase that convey the same specific meaning.

Here are a few possibilities, though they are less precise:

  • Spoken but not reviewed
  • Dictated and transcribed
  • Verbalized but not inspected
  • Expressed but not scrutinized
  • Orated but not checked

10 Frequently Asked Questions About "Dictated But Not Read":

  • What does "dictated but not read" mean?

"Dictated but not read" means that a letter or message was verbally composed by one person and written down by another, without the original speaker reviewing the written version for accuracy.

  • How can I use "dictated but not read" in a sentence?

One way to use "dictated but not read" in a sentence could be, "The memo, marked 'dictated but not read,' accurately conveyed the executive's message."

  • Where does the idiom "dictated but not read" come from?

"Dictated but not read" comes from the business practices of the early to mid 20th century when managers would often dictate letters to their secretaries without reviewing the final written product.

  • Does "dictated but not read" imply a lack of responsibility?

While the phrase "dictated but not read" could imply a lack of responsibility for errors or inaccuracies in the transcribed text, it primarily suggests trust in the transcriber's skills.

  • Is "dictated but not read" used commonly today?

Given advances in technology, "dictated but not read" is less common today than it was in the past. However, it might still be used in certain professional settings or in historical or period-specific contexts.

  • Does "dictated but not read" apply only to business correspondence?

No, "dictated but not read" can apply to any situation where a message is verbally delivered and transcribed by another party, whether in personal, academic, or other contexts.

  • Can "dictated but not read" refer to digital voice transcriptions?

Yes, "dictated but not read" could apply to digital voice transcriptions where the speaker does not review the final written output for accuracy.

  • Is it common to find "dictated but not read" in legal or official documents?

While the phrase might have been used in the past, it is less common in legal or official documents today due to the high standard of accuracy required in such texts.

  • Does "dictated but not read" mean the speaker is not accountable for the written words?

No, "dictated but not read" does not absolve the speaker of responsibility for the content of the written message. It simply means the speaker did not personally review the final written product.

  • Does "dictated but not read" have any relevance in today's world?

Even in our technology-driven world, "dictated but not read" has relevance. It can apply to situations where voice recognition software transcribes spoken words without the speaker reviewing the text for accuracy.

Final Thoughts About "Dictated But Not Read"

The phrase "dictated but not read" may seem a relic of the past, but it still has applicability in our modern world. It's a reminder of the days when typewriters and dictaphones were the height of technology, and executives relied heavily on secretarial skills.

Here's a quick recap:

  • "Dictated but not read" refers to a message verbally composed by one person, written by another, and not reviewed by the original speaker.
  • The phrase primarily implies trust in the transcriber's skills, but it does not absolve the speaker from responsibility for the content.
  • Though less common today, the phrase still applies in situations where speech-to-text technology is used without a final review by the speaker.

In our technology-driven world, where voice-to-text transcription is commonplace, it's crucial to remember the importance of reviewing and proofreading our spoken words. After all, errors can creep in even with advanced AI technology. That's a lesson we can all learn from "dictated but not read."

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