Tuesday, June 21, 2011

(!) Mark in Captions/Subtitles to Indicate Sarcasm?

I've just finished watching the first new series of Doctor Who (the season with Eccleston as the Doctor) and noticed an odd pattern in the subtitles of the episodes. Whenever a character's line indicated sarcasm in the tone, the line ended with the symbols (!). It was confusing at first - I've never seen (!) at the end of a line of dialogue in captions before and it took a few viewings to realize it only showed up when characters were being sarcastic.
23/11/2007 (Day 358) - Behind The Sofa
Photo from Flickr user Kaptain Kobold. Daleks are the best.
Image of Doctor Who figurines being menaced by a toy Dalek.

I only found a couple mentions of this on Google but I think it's really interesting. I guess it all comes down to the personal style of the person or company handling the captions/subtitles. Remember that story last year about the company that wanted to create a sarcasm mark, the SarcMark, which would cost money to use? It reminded me a bit of that.

Are there any other tone indicators used in subtitling or captioning? (!) is the only one I can think of.


  1. Were the subtitles imported from the UK, and the file just changed? The UK does include such references, in subtitling.

  2. That is really interesting. I have never seen that, but I think it would be great if it became more commonplace. Although it is sometimes detectable by facial expressions, it sure would be nice to have it explicitly stated that it's sarcasm, especially since so many D/HoH have difficulty detecting those sorts of inflections in voices. Cool!

  3. I thought subtitles normally would put (sarcasm) and then the actual text. Although it's possible what the previous commentor said and it's something that comes from the U.K.

    I haven't seen this yet and I do watch all my movies real nice and loud on my surround sound system with the subtitles set for English for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing. I have noticed many of my new Blu-Ray's do have English and English SDH as options. I normally pick English SDH believing that more will be documented.

  4. BBC subtitles have definitely used (!) to indicate sarcasm for many years. I can't find any proof of this, but I've seen it repeatedly since at least the 90s.

  5. Hi, I found the following at http://www.ofcom.org.uk/static/archive/itc/itc_publications/codes_guidance/standards_for_subtitling/subtitling_2.asp.html (a subtitling guidance published by former British TV station ITC)

    Where tone of voice is particularly critical to meaning, and facial expression and body language are inadequate to convey the tone, the use of '(!)' and '(?)' immediately following speech can indicate sarcasm and irony as shown below:

    No, no. You're not late (!)


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