The Special Language of Closed Captioning at the Olympics

If you aren’t familiar with closed captioning, let me tell you that this human and technological marvel is a boon for those of us who can’t hear well. Captioners type out what is said on television, often in real time. The words spoken by actors, journalists and in the case of the Olympics, athletes and parents then show up on the television screen for us to read so we can understand what is going on.

This must be one of the most challenging careers ever – like a court reporter only with added special effects such as cheering, music, applause and other noises. Those who do this work are worth their weight in gold.

Like many of you, I have been watching the Summer Olympics over the past couple of weeks. We don’t necessarily always need captioning to capture the essence of the games as they are very visual events. We can see the runners cross the finish line with that one last great stride. And we can understand the emotions we see on the faces of the athletes, their parents and supporters. For the most part the captioners do an amazing job of describing the calls of the sports announcers, helping those of us who don’t follow sports year-round know who is in the lead and who is coming on fast behind. And there is always ‘cheering and applause’ to fill in during pauses. But sometimes the captioners hit the wrong key; or need to cope with a recalcitrant computer. That’s when captions provide us with a unique and often funny language.

Broadcast live, the games offer many opportunities for humour. Here are some of my favorites.

Carry the Olympic plastic bag. (or perhaps the Olympic flag)

We are now hours away from the hoping ceremony. I particularly like this one.

Limp Yuck (Olympics!)

Canada Olympic Howls (Canada Olympic House) Although there may have been some howls of dismay heard from time to time.

And my personal favorite: “Look for the billion dollar head”. The announcer wanted to help us identify a young long-distance swimmer with a severe blond crew cut competing in a 10K swim. The announcer was actually instructing us to look for the billiard ball head! I’m sure the swimmer would love to have a head worth a billion dollars but seemed pretty happy with his bronze medal.

Note: Closed captioning can only be seen if activated. To find closed captioning, check your television and/or cable set-up programs for the CC sign and click enable to turn on the feature.

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4 responses to “The Special Language of Closed Captioning at the Olympics

  1. Thought your mis-hearings were hilarious. With my two small hearing aids (supposed to cut peripheral noise but don’t), I sometimes not only lose a word or phrase, but get off on the wrong track entirely. As long as people speak clearly and distinctly, I am okay, but let them mumble or give quick replies in a group of two or three and things become difficult. Often have lunch in Mr. Sinai cafeteria after osteoporosis program at Rehab Institute, with 3 or 4 friends. One of them has the same problems, so all are usually fairly careful. I was at a dinner meeting recently, and a woman at the table behind had such a penetrating voice that she was all that I could hear.

  2. Joy I do know that captioners type in the words and they can change the script as I have seen them backspace incorrect words. Does anyone reading this know the mechanics of closed captioning?

  3. Great piece. Provided Insight…and more than one laugh!

  4. An entertaining column, Rosemary. Your examples made me wonder about the technology used to create closed captioning. For example, the (hilarious) Limp Yuck example made me wonder whether the work was being done by voice recognition software, with no opportunity for a real person to weed out the errors. Do you know how it’s done?

    BTW, I saw an outstanding example of a real, live reporter hired by the Ontario Human Right Commission. She typed a full-day’s worth of talk at a conference, displayed on an overhead screen as we spoke. As someone who could hear the comments as well as read them, I can attest that she got every word right.

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