“Australia’s known for being a pretty cazh country,” started the narrator of the video I had been given to caption, and immediately I hit the pause button, sighing. Of course. Australia’s SO cazh that even using a simple, relatively short word like “casual” is just too much effort. You know, I’m not above shortening words for convenience (or just to sound cool), but Australians often take it to a whole new level. And while it’s all fine and dandy when spoken, this sort of stuff doesn’t translate well into writing. My problem was now figuring out how to convey that little bit of slang in a way that would be easy to read for deaf viewers. I tried the spellings “cas” and “caz”, but they both looked like they could be mispronounced and therefore misunderstood. Substituting it with the proper word “casual” was not an option – it would change the tone of the sentence and lose the original intention. A quick search on Google, and a peek at Urban Dictionary (I use that website far more often than anyone should in a professional capacity) later, I settled on the spelling “cazh”, which I wasn’t terribly happy with, but would have to do.
These are the sort of daily problems I deal with as a captioner, but oh, what happy problems they are. They’re what make my job fun and interesting to me. I often describe captioning to people as the perfect intersection of my two biggest interests in life – watching television and nitpicking over language. Nothing gives me more joy than debating punctuation with a fellow grammar nerd. The Venn diagram that doesn’t intersect, of course, is that of the stuff I personally enjoy watching and the stuff I have to caption.
Surprisingly (or not), some of the worst stuff I’ve ever seen is aimed at children – if I never have to see another frame of Teletubbies, I will die a happy woman. It’s not just that I’m outside the target demographic; Sesame Street is still pretty damn entertaining. No, some of the stuff being made for kids these days is just plain terrible. Sometimes the show isn’t bad in and of itself, but just a pain to caption – Curious George, for example, is a sweet little show about a monkey’s adventures in the city and country, but it’s difficult to capture the human-like emotions he experiences when your vocabulary is limited to sound effects like (CHATTERS), (GIBBERS) and (SCREECHES).
You’d think the stuff targeted at adults would be better, but they’re often just a different form of terrible. The unscripted stuff is the worst, mostly because the content is boring and/or terrible (I neither care about fishing nor extreme body modifications), and because unscripted stuff tends to be messy, with people talking too fast and over each other, which is a captioning nightmare. Game shows are also often chaotic, although they can at least be entertaining with the right material. Scripted dramas are more up my alley, but often they’ll be things I would never have thought of watching myself, like ’80s episodes of Murder, She Wrote or soap operas like Neighbours. We also sometimes caption music videos, which can range from easy and fun (if the music is popular and the lyrics can be found online) to mind-bogglingly indecipherable (I once had to tweet an artist and ask him if he could send me lyrics because my interpretation of his rapping was starting to look like a Bad Lip Reading episode).
My personal nightmare, however, is sports captioning. I’ve captioned a good variety of sports (racing, tennis, cricket, golf, rugby, football, soccer), and each one has proved to be a pain in one way or the other. Sports terminology is often super-specific, and trying to caption something without fully understanding what’s actually happening is a challenge, to say the least. I’ve captioned entire matches of golf and come out of them having no real understanding of how the scoring works, and I’m still not entirely sure what “offside” means, even after having captioned several hours of soccer. Ironically, it’s this part of my job that causes my brother the most pain – I’m sure it would be his personal fantasy to be paid to sit and watch sports all day!
Still, despite having to subject my eyes (and ears) to some truly terrible stuff, it’s a great job. My general knowledge has gone up by leaps and bounds – I now know lots of random tidbits that I’m sure I’ll never have any use for. The content is constantly entertaining (even if it is not enjoyable) and always provides fodder for discussion (“Oh, my God, who thought a show about a kid and his butt going on adventures together was a good idea?”). Plus, getting to debate on a daily basis with my colleagues about things like how to spell the plural of ‘ho’ while captioning a piece of rap music so it doesn’t sound like you’re referencing either Santa Claus or garden implements is practically nitpicky linguist heaven.
So, I guess what I’m trying to say is that while captioning as a job may seem boring on the outside and relatively mundane, just know that if I’m being totes cazh about it, it’s just because it’s a wee bit embarrassing just how damn excited it makes me to do it for a living.