One indication of the waning of the culture, or of the old culture, anyway, is the captioners’ in-depth knowledge of the popular music of the last year or two, with a caption such as [The Egg Poachers’ “I Wish I were Here”, second take], followed by every word of the tawdry, lugubrious lyrics, as the hero wanders disconsolately into the end of the movie, compared with their ignorance of such iconic works as the Moonlight Sonata [classical piano music] or, just as likely, [melancholy piano music] or simply (if it’s not a BBC production) [sad piano music].
A door may slam, it may click quietly shut, it may smartly latch, yet in all cases, [door closes]. However, all the subtle sounds of cell phone use are carefully delineated, [bubbly ringtone], [phone vibrates], [text message signal], [keyboard clicking], [back cover of phone snaps shut]. One recently watched drama used the word “smooch” for any act of kissing outside coitus. A father kisses his daughter on the forehead, [smooch]; later, a lover kisses his seemingly fatally shot sweetheart (we know she’ll recover, but he doesn’t), [smooch].
Occasionally, a captioner will be stumped by a word [unintelligible] because it is mumbled or drowned out or simply because it is unfamiliar. Some time ago I was watching a bad film, which I soon ceased to watch, some scenes of which were set in and around Barcelona. One of the characters was an architect who, to the captioner’s repeated [unintelligible]’s, kept using the word “Gaudi.”
All the above examples are indications of cultural deterioration. I am not so sure, however, that other examples of outré captioning are not simply signs of the inevitable transformation of language. Last night we were watching the forty-fifth episode of the thirty-first series of Midsomer Murders and whenever the creepy camp music swelled (Midsomer Murders, as far as I know, is the only television series that employs a theremin for one of its leitmotifs), indicating that the mundane pursuits of the character on the screen will be his or her last, came the caption [music fades up].
“Fade up.” Why not? You might say that “fade in” has become accepted as the converse of “fade out,” but I have yet to see “fade down.” “Fade up” seems to be the opposite of “fade.” I assume that in a few years the definition of “fade” will change from “diminish” to “gradually change in intensity.”
Many years ago I encountered what I thought was the start of an interesting transformation of the word “lyrical.” A rap musician, being interviewed in Billboard, talking about his song-writing partner, said something like, “Billy’s the lyrical one, so he’s got tighter rules to follow, rhyming and words and all. I can let myself go wherever I want because I’m doing the music.” This new definition of “lyrical” – restrained, limited in choices – never caught on.
Nor is there any such word as "captioner."