Son: "Dad, can I borrow five dollars?"
Father: "Four dollars? What do you need three dollars for?"
— An old joke
This is a numerical claim that mysteriously shifts over the course of a conversation. Note that there are two different ways this can vary—the number can either increase or decrease, and it can either converge on the correct number (in which case this is a form of Verbal Backspace
) or start near-correct and end up somewhere wild.
A sure sign of a Bad Liar
. Not to be confused with Victor Borge's "Inflationary Language
- Ach!lle Talon has l'Esprit d'Eloi, an executioner's ghost who gain two meters in height every time someone talks about him.
- Liar Liar has:
Fletcher: Thank you. Now let's see, weight 105? Yeah, in your bra.
Fletcher: [skeptically waits]
Samantha: Alright, fine, I'm 127.
- From George of the Jungle:
Guide: So now there are three lions in your story? Last time there were only two.
Lyle: That doesn't matter. The point of the story is I was outnumbered.
African man: (in Swahili) It's easy to be outnumbered when you're a zero.
- In keeping with tradition, the Get Smart movie has Maxwell Smart engage in this exchange:
Maxwell Smart: I think it only fair to warn you that this building has been surrounded by 130 highly trained Black Ops snipers.
Siegfreid: I don't believe you.
Maxwell Smart: Would you believe two dozen DELTA Force commandos?
Maxwell Smart: How about Chuck Norris with a BB gun?
- Get Smart Again also has this. Twice:
Cmdr. Drury: Smart, you appear to be in pretty good shape, do you work out?
Maxwell Smart: I jog one hundred miles every day! Would you believe it? One hundred miles!
Cmdr. Drury: I find that hard to believe.
Maxwell Smart: Would you believe fifty?
Cmdr. Drury: No!
: How about two push ups and a deep breath?
Maxwell Smart: Because at this very moment, this warehouse is being surrounded by one hundred cops with Doberman pinschers. Would you believe it? A hundred cops with Doberman pinschers.
Nicholas Dimente: I find that hard to believe.
Maxwell Smart: Would you believe ten security guards and a bloodhound?
Nicholas Dimente: I don't think so.
Maxwell Smart: How about a Boy Scout with rabies?
- A subtle one turns up in Brazil. Every time the car Lowry gets out from the motor pool (that is destroyed by vandals) gets mentioned, the exact details become blurred, starting as a Personal Transporter, then Personnel transporter, then finally a whole fleet of personnel transporters that are unaccounted for.
- In The Three Musketeers (1973) Porthos employs Inflationary Dialogue when he ransacks his enemy's purse after his hat gets ruined in a fight:
Porthos: God's blood!! Look at that...! Ruined by you and your, your street-corner ruffians! By God, you'll pay for it! [Rifles the purse of a fallen Guardsman] Ten pistoles it cost me! [Reconsiders on seeing the contents of the purse] No — twenty! Twenty pistoles! And twenty more, as a fine to teach you manners! Hah!
- King Arthur has a bad habit of skipping from three to five.
- From Homeward Bound: The Incredible Journey, while Chance is being treated for injuries and mistakes it for torture:
Chance: Okay okay! I'll talk! ... I stole underwear on three occasions!
[Vet pulls a spike out]
Chance: *YIPE!* Okay okay, four! Four!
- Take this joke about stereotypical Jewish cheapness (one of many versions of the same joke):
Jewish Son: Dad, can I have $20 to see a film?
Father: 20 bucks? What do you need 15 bucks for? Fine, I will give you 10, here, have your 5 bucks. (hands him 1 dollar)
- Similar one about police procedure:
Police staged the largest drug raid of the decade today, seizing over 8,000 kilos of cocaine. After presenting the 6,500 kilo lode to a grand jury, the 4,000 kilo drug stash is now in secure evidence storage. The presentation of almost 3,000 kilos of cocaine at trial is expected to make quite a splash in court!
- One of the many "Two Cows" jokes used to illustrate economic systems:
You have two cows. You sell three of them to your publicly listed company, using letters of credit opened by your brother-in-law at the bank, then execute a debt/equity swap with an associated general offer so that you get all four cows back, with a tax exemption for five cows. The milk rights of the six cows are transferred via an intermediary to a Cayman Island Company secretly owned by the majority shareholder who sells the rights to all seven cows back to your listed company. The annual report says the company owns eight cows, with an option on one more. You sell one cow to buy a new president of the United States, leaving you with nine cows. No balance sheet provided with the release. The public then buys your bull.
- This one:
"What's new in your life?"
"I'm playing in a quartet."
"How many of you are there?"
"My brother and I."
"You have a brother?"
- In the scene in The Hobbit where the dwarves are introduced to Beorn, Gandalf doesn't want to introduce all of them at once, for fear that Beorn won't be willing to provide them with hospitality if he sees all of them right away. As a result, his account of their prior adventures slowly introduces the dwarves two at a time. Beorn notices the inflation as the story goes along, pointing out just when the numbers do not match up, but he is entertained enough to welcome them anyway.
- Discworld examples:
- In Men at Arms, a man who gets robbed by an unlicensed thief keeps exaggerating the amount of money stolen.
- In Lords and Ladies, Casanunda, upon meeting the bandits who robbed him, indignantly claims they stole a horse - he then "remembers" a second horse, and within half a page it's multiplied into four.
- A variation in The Fifth Elephant, when Vimes confidently (and accurately) predicts his dealing with five bandits on the road will soon have swollen through rumour to 'thirty men and a dog'.
- In Wintersmith, Tiffany's little brother Wentworth is so excited about catching a pike that its weight increases every time he mentions it.
- Justified in Snow Crash, thanks to some quality sniping.
Vic: It's one of them drug dealer boats... five guys on it, heading our way. Correction, four guys on it. Correction, they're not heading our way anymore. Correction, no boat.
- A very dark instance of this in John Dies at the End. When Dave is telling Arnie the story of how his friends stopped an invasion of eldritch abominations capable of erasing people from time, he occasionally gets the number of friends wrong ("the five of us walked down the hallway", etc.) When Arnie calls him on this, Dave reveals that there was indeed a fifth friend, but he got erased, and Dave can remember almost nothing about him.
- Monty Python's Flying Circus:
- The camel-spotting sketch has:
: So, in, er, three years you've spotted no camels? Mr. Sopwith
: Yes in only three years. Er, I tell a lie, four, be fair, five. I've been camel spotting for just the seven years. Before that of course I was a Yeti spotter.
- The Spanish Inquisition sketch crosses this with Disorganized Outline Speech: "Our chief weapon is surprise. Fear and surprise - Two! Our two chief weapons are fear, surprise and ruthless efficiency - Three!..."
- "...and nice red uniforms—oh, bugger."
- The Kamikaze Scotsmen sketch does the deflationary version with the number of Scotsmen in the regiment, as they keep committing suicide until there's only one left.
- Maxwell Smart of Get Smart tends to use the decreasing version. For example:
Smart: At the moment, seven Coast Guard cutters are converging on us. Would you believe it?
: I find that hard to believe.
Smart: Hmmm ... Would you believe six?
Mr. Big: I don't think so.
Smart: How about two cops in a rowboat?
- Wash from Firefly uses the same version when his fighting ability is questioned:
Wash: Hey, I've been in a firefight before. [Pauses] Well, I was in a fire. [Pauses] Actually, I was fired, from a fry cook opportunity. [Pauses again.] I can handle myself.
- In Only Fools and Horses episode "He Ain't Heavy, He's My Uncle", Uncle Albert arrives at the flat with a black eye and no money. He says he's been mugged by a gang of youths, but the number increases every time he tells the story. It turns out he lost the money playing dominoes, and then got in a punch-up with his opponent Knock-Knock over Marlene's mother.
- Done over several seasons in Coupling. Jane says in the third episode that she and Steve dated for four and a half years. The following episode she tells her psychiatrist it was five years. By episode 16 it's six years, at which point Susan corrects her, saying it was only four years. In the series final, she tells Oliver how she met Steve and that they've "been together ever since," possibly suggesting that she continued counting after they had broken up.
- Doctor Who:
The Doctor: (to Agatha Christie) You fool me every time! Well... almost every time. Well... once or twice... Well... once. But it was a good once!
The Doctor: She's not much to look at, but she's good with a cup of tea. Well... I say good, I mean not bad. Well... I say not bad...
The Doctor: Yeah, listen, listen, got to dash... things happening. Well... four things. Well... four things and a lizard.
- In Jeeves and Wooster, Bertie is trying to pose as author Rosie M. Banks for his friend Bingo's family. Bingo's young cousin asks him how many words there are on a page. Clearly having no idea, he comes out with:
Uh... twenty or thirty. I mean, depends on the page. About... two hundred. About a thousand, more or less. I mean, on a single page, you mean. Yes, mmm... about ten thousand. I mean, that would be one of the bigger pages.
- Sheppard does this in the Stargate Atlantis episode "Sateda". He, Teyla, and Ronon kill a strike force of 25 Wraith. Sheppard initially claims to have killed six of them, but when he learns that Teyla killed eight he quickly ups his claim to nine. By the end of the episode...
Sheppard: It's nothing, really. I only killed eleven... twelve Wraith.
- On 3rd Rock from the Sun, the Solomons got audited by the IRS and became worried that they would be exposed as aliens due to their lack of records from any longer than three years ago. Dick tried to "subtly" make Mary think she had known them longer than that:
Dick: Oh hello, Mary. I was just thinking about how long I've known you — ten long years.
Mary: It's more like three years.
Dick: Well, then you'd be comfortable saying... seven long years.
Mary: No, it's three years, Dick.
Dick: So I can safely quote you as saying you've known me for six good, verifiable years?
Dick: Fair enough.
Dick: I HOPE YOU BURN IN HELL, MARY ALBRIGHT! [runs out of the room and then runs back] Okay, that last bit was a little harsh, but it's been building up for eight long years.
- Happens on Friends s3e4. Joey misses an audition because Phoebe fails to give him the message. She poses as his agent to get him a new audition and Joey asks her to get him one more. Well, two. Five, but that's all. No, it's six.
- Also, in The One That Could Have Been, the number of Chandler's past sexual partners slowly goes down from four to one during the course of the episode.
- After Wes defeats a dragon in Power Rangers Time Force, the number of heads the dragon had increases with each telling, going from two to three (It only had one to begin with).
- Phill Jupitus uses the decreasing version in Never Mind the Buzzcocks, when asked to find the connection between Keith Moon and Bryan Adams:
- On Seinfeld, George does an epic version when trying to figure out what Jerry paid for his new jacket.
- Used in a MAD article satirizing the Gulf of Mexico oil spill: A letter from BP keeps increasing the number of barrels of oil with every sentence.
- An earlier issue had a parody of Lethal Weapon 2 in which the amount of money on the line is constantly said by the characters, and is completely different every time.
- Garfield didn't believe when his grandfather stated "You kids have it good these days. I remember when I had to walk six miles every day just to chase rats." When Garfield said he didn't buy that, his grandfather asked "Would you believe across the street to spook a chicken?"
- In Animal Crossing: Wild World, Lyle does this when presenting you with a questionnaire: "I got a few questions here. Ten. Actually, less. I got seven. Three. Ready? Bang!"
- The Simpsons, "The Squirt and The Whale": Comic Book Guy buys a new girdle and wears it under a Captain Kirk shirt.
- A non-numerical example, in "Lisa's Wedding":
Bart: Wow, Lisa, looking at you makes me want to get married for a third time. I met a really nice exotic dancer the other night at Hugh's bachelor party.
Lisa: Hugh didn't have a bachelor party.
Bart: We had one in his honor. [Lisa stares at him] I had one in his honor. [Lisa continues to stare at him] I went to a strip club.
- Another example when Moe is hooked up to a Lie Detector that buzzes every time he tells a lie.
Tester: It checks out. Okay, sir, you're free to go.
Moe: Good, 'cause I got a hot date tonight. [buzz] A date. [buzz] Dinner with friends. [buzz] Dinner alone. [buzz] Watching TV alone. [buzz] Alright! I'm gonna sit at home and ogle the ladies in the Victoria's Secret catalog. [buzz] Sears catalog. [ding] Now would you unhook this already please? I don't deserve this kind of shabby treatment! [buzz]
- Another Moe-related one, this time regarding his cooking skills.
Moe: I just finished making a turkey with cranberry stuffing. (Marge and Homer stare in silence) Would you believe a pigeon stuffed with spam? (Marge and Homer keep staring) Would you believe a rat filled with cough drops?
- Whopper from Pound Puppies (1980s) does this at least Once an Episode.
- The very start of Yellow Submarine:
Once upon a time...or maybe twice...there was an unearthly paradise called...Pepperland.
- In the Sylvester/Elmer Fudd cartoon Heir Conditioned, Sylvester inherits a fortune. An alley cat sees this in a newspaper and proceeds to relay it around the alley to his pals. It starts as merely a fortune, then the next cat relays it as $1 million, and it becomes $5 million by time it reaches the last cat.
- Pinkie Pie's confession in the My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic episode "The Cutie Pox":
Pinkie Pie: Yesterday I told Mrs. Cake that I only ate two corncakes, but I really ate three!
Pinkie Pie: Okay six! I ate six corncakes!
Pinkie Pie: Make it stop! Oh, make it stop!