The Grammarphobia Blog

Screen tests

Q: Please explain the origin of the term “chyron” for the area at the bottom of a TV screen that gives information to viewers.

A: The “chyrons” at the bottom of our TV screens are named for the company that’s responsible for them.

The Chyron Corporation, founded in 1966, specializes in television graphics, and it’s had several names over the years. When it was called Systems Resources Corporation, in the 1970s, some of its early products were named “Chiron I,” “Chiron II,” and so on.

Why “chiron”? The company’s website doesn’t explain the origin of the word. But in Greek mythology, Chiron, the teacher of Achilles and other heroes, was a wise centaur (a being with the body of a horse and the upper torso of a human).

The Greek name has also been spelled Cheiron, Kheiron, and occasionally Chyron in English.

But back to business. When the company tried to adopt Chiron as its corporate name, that name had already been taken. So the company turned the “i” into a “y,” and called itself Chyron.

Chyron’s products let broadcasters add special effects, animation, and graphics to TV screens, superimposed over the video.

These displays include logos, sports scores, promotional stuff, or text with news and weather updates. This is either helpful information or incredibly annoying clutter, depending on your point of view.   

The displays are often called chyrons in the US whether they’re connected with the Chyron Corporation or not. In the UK they’re called “astons,” after a British company, Aston Broadcast Systems.

Other names for these displays include “bugs,” “captions,” and “lower thirds” (they usually appear in the lower third of the screen). Running strips of text are often called “crawls” or “crawlers.” 

Whatever the displays are called, they drive some viewers up the wall. A while back, for instance, fans of ABC’s popular series “Lost” went ballistic over an intrusive chyron that appeared throughout a segment of the show.

During the episode, the lower right-hand corner of the screen was filled with a big letter “V” and a countdown clock to promote the return of the series “V” in the following time slot. What’s more, the chyron ruined a crucial plot point by blocking a message that one character was writing.

In case you’re  wondering, yes – ABC is a client of the Chyron Corporation.

Fans raised so much flak that David Letterman and Steven Colbert spoofed ABC and the chyron on their shows. Here’s a video, courtesy of New York Magazine.

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