If you have Closed Captions turned on for your HDTV viewing enjoyment for someone in your life, you tend to leave the Captions on  — even if you don’t need them because of a disability or language want — because you have to turn the Captions on and off via direct intervention with the HD cable box by turning off the box and going into BIOS mode for the low-level settings of the hardware.

Decoding Closed Captions using an HD television doesn’t work because the TV doesn’t have enough CPU horsepower to keep up with the streamed HD Captions.  You need the dedicated power of the HD cable box to descramble the signal and then “interpret” and “print” the Closed Captions to the television screen.

You also tend to read the Closed Captions — instead of just listening — because it’s hard to ignore vivid text rolling and popping across the screen even if you set the Captions background to be translucent.

I was watching a recent episode of “Lie to Me” alone one night and Tim Roth made a “clicking” sound with his tongue — it’s the same sort of sound one uses to call a cat to dinner or to tell a horse to “giddy-up.”

Immediately after my ear heard the sound, my eye tuned into the Closed Captions to see — if or how — that sound would be captioned.

Would that sound be captioned as — “[clicking tongue]” or “[calls cat to dinner]” or “[giddy-up]” — even though there were no cats or horses to be found in the scene?  Tim was just sort of adding an Erving Goffman-like response cry to a quick, gestural, action.

I was surprised to see the captioner chose to use this series-of-letters-as-an-invented-word — “TCCH” — to caption that sound of Tim Roth’s clicking tongue.  Yes, that sound event was spelled just like that — “TCCH” — in ALL CAPS, and in quotation marks, and I thought that was an incredibly strange choice because how would a Deaf person understand what “TCCH” meant?  It isn’t a word.  It isn’t a sound.  It’s a made up word for a sound!

I think a better, and a more accessibly fairer interpretation of Tim’s tongue-click, would have been just that: “[clicks tongue].”  If the Deaf person doesn’t understand what it means to click one’s tongue, they can ask someone or look it up on the internet by typing “clicks tongue” into the Bing search box.

Most incidental sounds like tongue clicks are never Closed Captioned because the person “performing” the captions doesn’t think that sound, or the crispness of a door secretly opening, or the wailing of a siren in the distance, are important enough to type as text — most music lyrics are not captioned because of Copyright infringement issues — even though those who can hear are able to interpret those background sounds and guttural utterances and transparently add them to the overall dramatic experience of the scene.

If you’re going to caption a sound — make it clear that the sound you are captioning can be reasonably understood by those viewing the captioning performance.  Don’t invent words for sounds — because then nobody is meaningfully served in the important effort of bringing the spoken word up to the level of a comprehensive, and complete, textual understanding.


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