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Fear Goidte
Pronounced like “Far Gotcha”. The splendid online isolation of me, James Ó Nuanáin, wherein I gather together any loose cleverness that I manage to accumulate. This site is, primarily an exegesis on how it was made. For the moment, it is mostly beak and bone with very little feather and fur.
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Reading whilst watching (and listening)

More comprehensible subtitles

James Ó Nuanáin

Estimated reading time: two minutes

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A short note on typography for the SubRip text file format for providing subtitles for films.

Subtitles are generally read whilst you’re trying to simultaneously watch a film and listen to the voices to gauge the emotion and intention of the character or person speaking. That is a lot to ask of a partially-shaved monkey; and anything that can speed comprehension is a boon. Poor spelling, straight quotation marks, and lazy punctuation are an unnecessary burden.

I have a tendency to frequently rewatch films—though with varying degrees of attention—so for me, the fifteen minutes or half an hour it takes for me to edit the subtitles has some quality of investment. By uploading the edited subtitles to a site such as Subscene, others can benefit from, or be subjected to, your pernicketiness.

Specifying encoding

You always want to use utf-8. Other than accented letters; it enables you to use curly quotes, horizontal ellipses, and varying widths of dash. The mechanism for declaring the encoding of a .srt file is to use the byte-order mark.

Conventions particular to subtitles

The only two widely-supported styling options for the text are the bold (<b>) and italic (<i>) mark-up elements. Computers tend to embolden fonts by drawing over them with bigger, thicker pen rendering ugly results so I only use italics.

Use italic to emphasis an individual word in speech where it is emphasized in the dialogue, “she said what?”; to indicate the dialogue is being spoken by someone off camera, out of focus, or in the background whilst another character is in the foreground and in focus; and for intertitles.

An em dash (—) indicates the beginning of a line of dialogue. If two characters’ or people’s dialogue is on the screen at the same time, each characters line is introduced with an em dash:

—Are you going to sit down?
—Give me a second to take off my coat.

Naming subtitles files

My own video players of preference, Plex and V.L.C., favour a naming convention of a film title followed by the year of release in brackets (“Relatos salvajes (2014)”) for a folder containing the film and subitle file similarly name with an I.S.O. code signifying the language (Adding Local Subtitles to Your Media):

/Relatos salvajes (2014)
Relatos salvajes (2014).m4v
Relatos salvajes (2014)

Common corrections

“I” impersonating “l”

Many subtitles contain the capital letter I masquerading as a lowercase L. On some sans-serif fonts the characters are indistinguishable (as is the number 1) but using a serif font, they are quite dissimilar. Since this bamboozles my spellchecker, I use the following grep pattern (in BBEdit my text editor of choice) to identify them.

An uppercase I immediately preceded by a lowercase letter:



SubRip text file format is a convention rather than a standard, hence the brevity of this note. Additional information about using the whole gamut of graphemes available in English are plentiful elsewhere and probably lurking elsewhere on this site. Happy captioning.