Sunday, July 18, 2010


Last night, as I sat watching, “A Few Good Men” (only THE best court movie ever), I began to realize that I was being gypped. What I was reading on my closed captioning did not match the movement on the speaker’s face. It was almost as if I was viewing an old Japanese movie, where the voice-over ends and the lips keep flapping. I was upset. I felt betrayed. Why wasn’t I being given fully equal access to the dialogue as everyone else? And who was deciding what was important enough to transcribe and what could be left out?

I’m an intelligent person. An educated person. I deserve to be “in the know” as much as anyone else who chooses to watch a television program or view a DVD. I wanted to know who was deciding what I would and would not “hear” the speakers say? Upon finishing my research, I discovered there are a couple of reasons why the captioning and subtitles might not exactly match the script.

  • In some occurrences, some bigwig decided that, because people born deaf or early-deafened sometimes struggle with the English language, including reading it, they should dumb down the captions to make it easier to understand for the viewers.
Now, granted, I do understand why people whose first language isn’t English might not be able to follow complex English sentences with a lot of ease. But who is this bigwig to decide what is “too complex” or how it would be “better understood”? Besides, reading the captioning while watching a show can actually help develop a person’s English skills. If someone decides to change a sentence to a structurally easier format (in their opinion), you’re not only robbing pretty much everyone of the actual scriptwriter’s words, but of the possibility to help a person appreciate the English language. Not to mention that you’re stereotyping and placing the whole
of deaf and hard of hearing society into one category. Phooey!

  • Sometimes the reason the captions are altered is because the captionist has to create captions whose reading time syncs with the viewing time of each clip or shot. Because reading time is generally shorter than what is actually being said in a given scene, the captionist is faced with the job to paraphrase what is being said before the scene or shot ends.

Admittedly, this is a good point. I understand that. Many a time I have struggled to follow captions that were flying by at an astronomically fast pace. I’ve even been known to yell at the television set, “Come on! Slow down already!” So, I do recognize that this places the burden of decision on the person doing the captioning or subtitles. Do they include it all, even though the clip is only four seconds long? Or do they paraphrase and leave out “unnecessary” extras, as is often the case?

In my opinion, I would much rather struggle to read the captions at full-speed than have the decision of which words and phrasing will be ignored made by some man or woman who hasn’t a clue who I am. What is this person basing their decisions on, anyway? Maybe that line, “I know what you mean, sir. I know what you mean,” could be phrased “I know what you mean,” and that be the end of it. And maybe they’re exactly right that the rest of that line is inconsequential to the storyline, but I don’t know this. All I know is that what I’ve just finished reading is obviously not exactly what they said, because they’re mouth is still moving. I don’t know what the left-out dialogue was. So, it doesn’t matter to me. I want to know what they said. Word for word. Tell me. If I have to struggle to read it all, I’ll deal with that. But it’s my decision.

  • Yet another reason some people believe that captions are snipped here and there is for the movie makers to save money. This is untrue. Captioning companies do not charge by the word. So that “good” argument is out.

Be it right or be it wrong; be it subtle or be it blatant; captionists should not mess with the script. Tell us what they’re saying and what noises are being heard. That’s why we have the captioning turned on in the first place. Acting the part of “God” and deciding what will and will not be relayed is not only disrespectful and condescending, but it’s annoying as all get out, too.


  1. Amen. Thank you. So true.

  2. I don't blame you about the watered down captioning. I think most movies are dumbed down for the general population anyhow (spoken language). We don't need to dumb it down even farther by captioning. I think majority of deaf people can read just fine, and probably better because the visual picture give them better idea what's going on.

  3. Thanks, Anonymous! I agree that the majority of deaf people can read just fine and that we deserve equal access to everything...without others deciding what should and should not be "bothered" with.

  4. Creativity and ingenuity are important in captioning so nothing is left out.

    For example, the “I know what you mean, sir. I know what you mean,” can be captioned as two lines appearing at the same time rather than sequentially. People talking overlapping each other are shown at the same time as separate captions at opposite sides of the screen.

    Background and offscreen voices are shown in italics at the top of the screen.

    It can be done. Just use all possibilities.

  5. Hi, Anonymous. Everything you described about captioning is very true and, with all the options, gives very little excuse to why they would skimp. Thanks for posting!

  6. By the way, if you ever have any specific comments or corrections on my captioned movie trailers (on captionfish and trailerspy), I don't mind fixing them and making them better!

  7. God bless Bill! Visit his WONDERFUL site at

  8. Hi Michele,

    I just discovered your blog through deafread and I think it's FANTASTIC, you're a beautiful writer and your perspective is fresh and interesting. I'm going through old posts now (after midnight, lol, though there may be more pressing needs to be addressed) but something you said on this one caught my eye and I just wanted to bring it up: Your first sentence, "Last night, as I sat watching...I was being gypped."

    I just wanted to point out that a lot of Americans don't know this, but the term "gypped" is actually an ethnic slur against the Roma people (often known as gypsies) who are a a nomadic, underclass of people settled primarily in parts of Eastern Europe and often greatly despised by their sedentary countrymen. They have a reputation (stereotype) for being dishonest in business practices and even stealing - hence, the origin of the term. Whether or not the stereotype holds any truth, I think everyone deserves compassion and respect and so I stopped using the term "gypped" when I came to understand its origins, and I try to gently point it out to others when they use it, too.

    So I thank you again for your clever and informative musings, I will continue to read through the archives, and I hope you'll take into consideration what I have to say.


  9. Hi, Jessica!

    I'm so glad you enjoy my blog. It really helps to know that it's serving a purpose somewhere. As for your information regarding the word gypped, I do appreciate it. It's become such a widely-used term, that I never questioned its origin. And that's bad on my part. Thank you for bringing it to my attention! :v)