This is a sentence from the movie "Catch Me If You Can. It's a substitute teacher speaking to a class.

  • Now, somebody please tell me where you left off in your textbooks. Excuse me, people, if I need to ask again, I'm going to write up the entire class. Take your seats!

This is TFD definition for the phrase write-up 4. verb To cite someone for breaking a law or rule. A noun or pronoun can be used between "write" and "up." If you don't all start behaving, I'll be forced to write up every single one of you.

My question is does the word cite in this definition simply mean mention?

  • 1
    See definition 1 here. A traffic ticket issued by a police officer, for instance, can be called a "citation." Although the teacher is not threatening to take the students to legal court, you can "cite" someone by mentioning them in a negative context as well as positive. Oct 6, 2021 at 15:02
  • Perhaps the teacher is trying to intimidate the pupils by using unfamiliar vocabulary. Arguably the most natural form is If I need to ask again, I'll report the entire class (to the headmaster). But perhaps that might be seen as slightly "childish" (although it's at least one step up from ...I'll tell on you all! :) - in which case I might prefer ...I'll put you all on report! Oct 6, 2021 at 15:36
  • No, you have looked up write up which here does not mean cite. Cops can cite someone. Teachers cannot. write up here means write a report to be given to the school's principal. You ask about the book and then provide a meaning from the dictionary which has zero to do with it. :)
    – Lambie
    May 17, 2023 at 15:24

3 Answers 3


The OED has the following definition

To write up 8. transitive. U.S. To report (a person) for some misconduct, misdemeanour, etc.

I am not 100% sure if this is the intended meaning, but it would seem to fit the context - a teacher scolding pupils.

The source unfortunately requires a login, but anyway here it is. This seems to be US usage. I'm from the UK, and I was completely unaware of this definition until I looked it up. You learn something new every day!

  • Yes, this is the only correct answer. In this case, write up does not mean cite, what a cop does.
    – Lambie
    May 17, 2023 at 15:26

The word cite is being used to mean "make a record of," rather than just mention. Presumably the school keeps a record of when students misbehave, so the teacher is threatening to log the students on there as punishment. I'm slightly inferring this meaning because it makes the most sense in the definition of write-up. The teacher must be referring to something written. @AndyBonner has suggested this definition. I actually think it's closest to definition 3a, except instead of formally giving praise, you're formally recording a punishment.

  • AntonFNV- Yes, he's definitely using writing as I read an article about it(The teacher is referring the student to one of the administrators at school because he either is unable to deal with the student himself anymore or the student did something really bad in a class and it has to be reported). I understand the meaning of write-up. What i've got problems with is the exact meaning of the word "cite" in the defition of "write up". One of the synonyms on TFD(thefreedictionary.com) which fits is mention, but there is none which would suggest doing it in a written form. Perhaps it was implicit ? Oct 7, 2021 at 12:47

Like many English words, the word "cite" has multiple definitions.

To quote from the American Heritage Dictionary:

1. a. To quote or refer to (a book or author, for example) as an authority or example in making an argument. b. Law To refer to (a previous court decision or other legal precedent), as when arguing a case. 2. To mention or bring forward as support, illustration, or proof: cited several instances of insubordinate behavior. 3. a. To commend officially for meritorious action in military service. b. To honor formally. 4. To issue a notice of violation to: was cited by the police for jaywalking.

That is, to "cite" can mean to quote or refer to some source. Like, "I cited this book in my research paper." That's definitions 1 & 2.

Definition 4 is very different: To identify a violation of law. We will typically say that the police or a court "cited" someone for breaking such-and-such law.

Yes, "cite" could have been substituted for "write up" in the quote you give. In that cases it's not really a violation of "law" but of school rules, but same or similar ideas.

No, it's not at all the same as definitions 1 & 2. We're not quoting anything or referring to anything. We're formally noticing the fact that someone has broken the rules. Presumably we write this down somewhere, hence "write up".

  • Etymologically, a formal citation is a summons calling up someone to appear before the court to answer a charge (or other matters). A citation in an essay is calling up another work.
    – xngtng
    Mar 15, 2022 at 13:22

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