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People all over the world are in contact with people who speak other languages. Much of the time however they cannot actually speak other people's languages. Sometimes, usually as a joke, they will try to "speak" the language by taking words in their own language and then adding stereotypical linguistic markers of the target language in an attempt to fake it.
This is usually a joke, but sometimes it's just plain desperation, if not outright insensitivity. In the U.S., Spanish
is the language that most commonly gets this treatment, with the article "el" being put in front of English words and the masculine ending "-o" being put on the end. For example, an English speaker who wanted beer might ask a Spanish-speaker for "el beero"note
. Other languages get this treatment too. French, for example, will have the masculine article "le" placed in front of English words with the ending "-é" occasionally added. note
Russian will get "-ski" added to the ends of words, Latin with "-us," German with "-en," Chinese with "-ee," and Italian with "-a." note
English itself in some languages takes this treatment with words in said languages ending with "-ation".
Actually has a small bit of Truth in Television
, as some Spanish words are English loanwords, so when they are preceded by an article we have terms such as "El Jazz", "La Radio", and "El Golf".note
Spanish has more English cognates than any other language, so people may feel they're at least somewhere in the ballpark. And while "Russki" sounds like an English word made up for dog Russian, it really does correspond to the proper romanization of the Cyrillic word that Russians use to call each other.
Please keep in mind, this trope is not
about using complete gibberish and passing it off as a foreign language. This trope is all about using real aspects of a foreign language (or possibly just what someone thinks
is a real aspect of a foreign language) in your native tongue in an attempt to pass it off as the foreign language.
Sister trope to Canis Latinicus
. Compare to As Long as It Sounds Foreign
, which is an attempt to actually use the real language, but getting it right isn't important. Also compare to Gratuitous Foreign Language
(which is correct use of other languages) and Poirot Speak
. Not to be confused with "El Niño" Is Spanish for "The Niño"
, which is using correct foreign words, but deliberately not translating them in a context where you normally would. Compare/contrast with Translation By Volume
, which is thinking that talking loudly and slowly will make foreigners understand you.
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Examples involving Spanish
- The trope originator—and the trope averted at the same time, because for once it's genuine Spanish—was El Producto brand cigars, with the iconic woman in a red dress playing a lyre. Because a real Spanish word looked exactly like the corresponding English word preceded by "El" and ending in "-o," it gave English speakers the idea to form mock-Spanish words along the same pattern.
- A commercial (about prejudice) where it's played for drama when a woman in a restaurant sees a Mexican-American and starts speaking "El Spanisho", which offends her friends.
- In ''Avatar: The Abridged Series" Spanish is rendered mostly as English with "El" tacked on. "El Gasp!" Sometimes they also add "-o" to the end of words and maybe put in a real Spanish word in there. Sokka attempting to communicate with an inexplicably Spanish Momo: "Necessito... open-o el door-o."
- This is a Verbal Tic for the man in black in Futari Wa Pretty Cure Dragon, who's as much a Politically Incorrect Villain as is possible for a Pretty Cure fanseries. It also gets him tagged with the rather insulting nickname "super spade"; the fact that he acts like a lunatic and dresses like a mariachi doesn't help matters either (and Word Of God says the man in black is not a Mexican in the loosest sense of the word).
- In the Horatio Hornblower books, there are a number of occasions where British sailors and officers gamely attempt to communicate with Spanish, French, or Italian people (either their prisoners, or their erstwhile allies, depending on what is going on) by speaking slowly and adding vowels to the ends of their words. It generally doesn't work.
- The Dave Barry column "The Sky Is Falling" is accompanied by a Jeff MacNelly cartoon showing arrows on a weather map labeled "El Niño," "El Beaño," "El Producto," "El Xspresso Machino" and "El Streamo del Jetto." (The column discusses espresso machines as a possible cause of the El Niño effect, but, unlike some other Dave Barry columns, does not mention Beano.)
- When Bob Barker hosted The Price Is Right, he would refer to the single digit number (which always had a leading zero, e.g., "04") in the Money Game as "El Cheapo".
- Occasionally on his version of Family Feud, Richard Dawson would call out a contestant's answer by repeating it this way.
- In an episode of Charmed, when the Elders send a Unicorn as a baby present to Piper, Paige reads the tag, which is torn at the "From:" part to say just "El" and assumes the sender is Spanish.
- Dharma and Greg has Dharma pulling this for fun, when she goes around and pretends to be a German tourist, using phrases such as "ein Donald Trumpen poofenschweater".
- Breaking Bad has Jesse request "el axe-o" while attempting to break down a door in a New Mexico laundromat.
- The show Psych has had several episodes involving lots of Spanish speakers, and Shawn tends to default to this.
- Many characters use el Spanish-o when they're embarrassed. In The Rockford Files a promoter arranges a lavish birthday party for a Mafia figure he hopes to impress, but the caterer sent the bill to the guest of honor instead of the promoter, who in explaining this said "He got stuck with el tab-o." note
- Like most Flemish comics Jommeke uses a slightly different convention: adding -os to every other word.
- The fake Twitter account for Michael Bloomberg, @ElBloombito, is entirely this.
- Spanglish is the blend of Spanish and English at different degrees. It is spoken by people who speak those two languages and mix them heavily, or whose normal language is different from that of the country where they live.
- South America has another blend, Portunhol (Portuguese + Spanish, given the most populous country, Brazil, was colonized by Portugal while most were by Spain).
Stand Up Comedy
- The St. Louis Cardinals team that won the 1967 World Series was known as "El Birdos." note
- Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas has one mission where Big Smoke is trying to negotiate with some Mexican gangsters, before he loses his patience and demands, "Cough-io - up el weedo - before I blow your brains out all over the patio!"
- One mod on a SimCity website once mentioned an "El Stoppo". Funnily enough, a red, octagonal stop sign is called "el stop". (Pronounced "el estop".)
- One of the monsters in Tombs & Treasure is called El Slug.
- This Penny Arcade strip.
- Goblins gives us Senor Vorpal Kickass'o!!! And no, that "n" isn't a typo.
- Justified in that it's a mockery of the names munchkin type roleplayers come up with.
- In Woke Up Dead, Andrew is talking trash to Drex and says, "You mess with the bull, you get the horns. Los hornitos!" (Doubly funny because "hornito" means "little oven" and so the phrase makes sense, but in a completely different way than intended.)
- El Superbeasto!
- In the Futurama episode "Bender Should Not Be Allowed on TV", Bender does this after his atrocious (but successful) soap opera audition where he shows off his "flawless Spanish accent". He hugs Calculon and calls him "Father-o!"
- In another episode, when Hermes and Bender try to pass the Mexican border, Bender claims that he can talk to the guard because they're both Mexican. After a rather poor attempt at the language, he gets hit with a guitar and exclaims, "Ouch-o!"
- The Simpsons: Bart has a graffiti spraying alter ego, "El Barto." Nobody ever figures out who it is. Homer once commented he suspected Milhouse was El Barto. Homer once decided to ape Bart's alias (with dialogue indicating that he knew/found out that Bart = El Barto) and did some graffiti with the moniker "El Homo" until a gay Mexican man commended Homer for being "so brave". Homer quickly figured out what he meant, freaked out, and erased the tag. (The right way was "El Homero". Homero is the Spanish name for Homer. But as we know, Homer isn't the brightest bulb in the box...)
- Shake does it in the Aqua Teen Hunger Force episode, "Remooned", when he thinks a convenience store clerk is Mexican. "Get back there-o and cash-o the check-o, amigo."
- One episode of Pinky and the Brain set in Spain has Pinky comment "El narfo!"
- In The Fairly OddParents Wandissimo's Rules book says "El Rules" *
- But only in "Fairy, Fairy, Quite Contrary". In "Remy Rides Again", his rulebook was called "Da Rules" like those carried by other fairies.
- The Dutch translation has "los regels".
- Used in the Speedy Gonzalez shorts, where for instance a box of matches is labeled "Matchos".
- In Cow and Chicken, the Red Guy, attempting to track down Supercow, who only speaks (proper) Spanish, dresses up in a sombrero and holds maracas and goes up to the front door of the main characters' house. When Cow answers, he asks her if there's anyone she knows who speaks "El Española." Cow, of course, says she has no idea what he's talking about and slams the door on his face.
Examples involving other languages
- English speakers are fond of using the "French" phrase Ooh la la!, pronounced "oo lah LAH" to describe something sexual, probably because Everything Sounds Sexier in French. The phrase is actually "Oh la la," and has no sexual connotations at all (it means "dear me"), and is pronounced "OH lah lah," with masculine instead of feminine stress (which, granted, is unusual for a feminine-heavy language such as French).
- When a Spanish speaker who cannot speak English tries to speak it, the usual is adding -ation (pronounced "eishon" o "eichon") to the end of Spanish words. Oddly, this actually works for some words that describe actions ("preocupación" ⇒ "preocupeichon" ⇒ "preocupation"). The massive amount of French loanwords in English is to thank/blame here.
- A famous example of this are Open English's ads which love depicting hilariously bad English as mangled this way. Example: Persueishon.
- The same trope also applies to other languages besides English: Italian and Japanese, with "I", German and Dutch with "-en" and Russian overstressing the "R" letters
- An even older joke has a Spaniard who does not speak French but has to go to France. Before departing, he is told to speak Spanish but ending all words in "-é". The first day in France he gets in a restaurant and asks for a long list of dishes. The waiter then replies: "Lucky I'm from (Spanish town) myself, if not you'd have to be served by your fucking mother."
- Japanese has the same trope applied to the Chinese language, ending all the phrases with "-aru", and in less degree, when dealing with the Korean language, with "-nida". Needless to say, this is falling in disuse, since it's only used for comedy purposes and it's considered racist to use it outside comedy.
- In the few areas where both English- and French-speaking Canadians live, if someone is not fluently bilingual, they will generally do this to some extent, applying blanket rules to words from their own language when trying to communicate in their non-native language. This may lead to English speakers trying out "French" words like "végétable" (instead of "légume") or "perspirer" (instead of "transpirer"), or French speakers inadvertently using overly formal (but valid) English words like "verify" (for "check") or "voyage" (for "travel").
- Considering the number of English loanwords in Japanese, saying the English word for what you want in ei japanizu akusento can sometimes work, as shown here.
- A lot of words in spanish end with vowels (nouns and adjectives mostly). So, to show that a Spanish speaker really doesn't know any english, is to just cut out the final vowel. note
- A 2008-2009 commercial for McDonald's McCafé showed how much perkier ordinary tasks were when you said them with a French accent. A "chore" may be boring, but put an accent over that final (nominally silent) e and you get "choré" (cho-RAY), which just sounds like more fun.
- In The Marx Brothers movies, Chico's pseudo-Italian accent is sometimes played as an accent, sometimes totally ignored (as in A Night at the Opera, where he has the accent even though all the other characters allegedly from Italy speak perfectly normal American English) and sometimes played as though he's actually trying to speak Italian (as in Duck Soup, where when asked about it while disguised as Groucho he says he might go to Italy someday and he's practicing the language).
- In Addicted to Love, the protagonist's fiance tries to explain why he dumped her:
: I met this woman, this apparition, this goddesse
: It's French - for goddess. (It isn't.
- Madagascar 3: In Monaco, the door to the power room has a "Le Power" sign on it. (Close enough; it's actually Le Pouvoir.)
- In Top Secret, a switch for an electric fence in East Germany would be labeled, "DAS FENCEN SWITCHEN".
- In the Get Smart film, Max and 99 are investigating KAOS in Russia and go to a restaurant. Max starts making jokes by ending words in "-insk" to make them sound more Russian. 99 then makes a jab at Max by saying that she can eat bread with butter and remain "thinsk" (a jab at Max being extremely overweight before the events of the film). Subverted in that Max is fluent in Russian and many other languages, as the very next scene has him overhearing a conversation in Russian while taking a leak. To make sure the bad guys don't get suspicous, he pretends to be a dumb American tourist who doesn't speak a word of Russian.
- Are You Being Served?: A Japanese Tourist comes to Grace Brothers.
What does the customer require, Captain Peacock? Capt Peacock:
I'll try to find out. Mr Lucas:
Yes, of course. You were out east weren't you? Capt Peacock:
- In Friends, Joey shows off his terrible Italian accent: "That's-a what I suspected-a!"
- In one episode of Mash a family of Koreans set up housekeeping in the middle of the camp. Henry tries to tell them to leave: "Go-ee home-ee!" Then he asks Radar to tell then to leave. So Radar does: "Go-ee home-ee!"note
- When the Greeks share their Easter celebration with the 4077, all Henry can say is "Happy Athens!", and as they bring the food crates in, Radar tells them "Put'em there-o." (not even "os".) note
- The Saturday Night Live sketch "J-Pop America Fun Time Now!" consists of clueless college students (played by Vanessa Bayer and Taran Killam) attempting to host a Japanese-style variety show/talk show, adding Japanese-sounding suffixes to English words and names, and causing general embarrassment to their Japanese studies professor (Jason Sudeikis), who repeatedly points out that these white kids don't understand Japanese culture at all and are, in fact, the worst students he's ever had in his class.
- In the Red Dwarf episode "Backwards", Lister and the Cat arrive in England on the backwards Earth and believe they have landed in Bulgaria after finding a poster for Kryten and Rimmer as "Eht Lanoitasnes Esrever Srehtorb". They attempt to ask for a lift into town by saying "We're looking for our friends-ski... there's an address-ski here-ski? Maybe you could drop us off-ski."
- In Horatio Hornblower, there are two lovely instances of mixing English with French, both courtesy of a sailor named Oldroyd from Horatio's division.
- In "The Even Chance", Oldroyd instructs some French prisoners to come "this-a way-a", putting emphasis on the added syllable at the end, which is characteristic for French. They do actually understand him, but presumably because he was gesturing heavily, rather than because of anything he was saying.
- In "The Frogs and the Lobsters", a French royalist soldier aboard the Indefatigable tries to take an officers' chicken which infuriates the common sailors, and they argue and fight violently with him. Oldroyd offers his most sincere advice: "No steal-ie, savvy! You steal-ie, get chop! plenty!! damn!! vite!!!" The ending is Punctuated! For! Emphasis!.
- One episode of The Suite Life on Deck has Zack impersonate himself as a french artist to make money off of his modern art "paintings". He shushes the audience of his auction by saying:
Zack: Le shh.
- There was an episode of Saved by the Bell in which the Soviet chess champion comes to Bayside High to challenge Screech (and gets checkmated almost immediately). Before the match begins, Mr. Belding reminds the Commie-hating students that "the Russkis are our friendskis." Russki is correct, but what Belding really meant to say was tovarisch.
- A Pearls Before Swine comic strip had Pig trying to write a love letter to his girlfriend, Pigita, but was stuck on some ideas. Rat then suggests that Pig Italicize the letter. Pig takes Rat's advice then starts writing -O after every word.
- One episode of I'm Sorry I Haven't A Clue had a game called "EU I-Spy". In the first round, Tim and Willie said the "I spy..." rhyme in schoolboy French, and were looking for something beginning with "L". Barry and Graeme started guessing "le microphone", "la table", etc. The answer turned out to be "le piano". In the second round, Barry and Graeme said the rhyme in appalling Spanish accents (with flamenco music!) and were also looking for "something, he begin hwith ... L". Willie immediately guessed "el piano".
- Comedian Mike Birbiglia has a bit where he talks about having to deal with a Dunkin' Donuts employee who doesn't speak any English. He doesn't get how that happens; if he lived in Portugal and worked at "Dunkino Donutos", he imagines he would probably pick up a couple of words and phrases. Like "donutos", "chocolato coverado", "munchkinos", that sort of thing.
- Henry Cho (Korean-American comedian born and raised in Knoxville, TN) did a bit about how he visited Korea. He was approached by an American tourist who spoke with him in loud English and combined it with Korean-like El Spanish O. "All the Korean people she could pull out of the crowd, she pulls me out of the crowd and goes: 'IS THIS BUSEY THAT GOESEY DOWNEY TOWNEY?' I looked at her and said (in his typical Southern drawl), 'I reckon so.'"
- In at least one edition of Paranoia, the Communists (who know they're supposed to be Russian, but don't know what "Russian" is) add -ski to the end of random words.
- The Traitors Manual states that the Illuminati favor Latin codenames. Alas, knowledge of Latin is mostly lost, so they just add "-us" to the end of their names.
- Signs such as "Wette Painte, No Le Touche" are common in Pepe Le Pew cartoons, and the female cat who inevitably ignores them says "le meow, le purr."
- There was also a Sylvester and Tweety cartoon where they are in Venice, and a bridge has a sign saying "Ducka Your Head - Lowla Bridgeada" (the latter part also counting as a Shout-Out to Italian actress Gina Lollobrigida), onto which Sylvester ends up slamming for not playing attention while chasing Tweety.
- On The Venture Bros., Hank puts on a fake goatee and poses as "Russian Guyovitch" an exchange henchman. It fools both Sergeant Hatred and Brock, Hank's own bodyguard.
- In Garfield and Friends, a disguised Garfield tries to convince Odie that he's Italian because "he's-a speaking-a Italian." When the Buddy Bears start to add "educational content" to the show and Garfield tries to repeat the scene, one of the Buddy Bears pops up to helpfully inform the viewer that Garfield is really speaking English with a bad Italian accent.
- In the episode of The Simpsons where the Nuclear Power Plant is bought by Germans, Smithers learns "Sycophantic German" by tape. How do you say "You look sharp today, sir" in German? "You looken sharpen todayen mein Herr."
- Buck Huckster attempts that in Beverly Hills Teens when speaking to the mayor of Pompei (he wants to buy the city to use as a stage set). He hangs up and says "I don't believe this guy. He doesn't even speak Italian."