Dr. Hibbert: Homer, I'm afraid you'll have to undergo a coronary bypass operation. Homer: Say it in English, Doc. Dr. Hibbert: You're going to need open-heart surgery. Homer: Spare me your medical mumbo-jumbo. Dr. Hibbert: We're going to cut you open and tinker with your ticker. Homer:Could you dumb it down a shade?
An attempt by a specialist to make incomprehensible technobabble or other jargon comprehensible to the other characters. Usually this results in an explanation that's either insultingly vague or just as incomprehensible as the original. This often occurs as the result of another character saying something like, In English, please?
The term originally meant someone not a member of the clergy or the bar (i.e. a "layman"), because those professions actually do use terms people outside wouldn't understand, either because they're obscure words that only exist in that context, or because even common words in legalese can have very specific meanings and connotations not found in general English.
Compare Expospeak Gag, where the incomprehensible technobabble was itself an obfuscated version of something straightforward, and Sophisticated as Hell. See also Phlebotinum Analogy. The next step after this is Buffy Speak, where the character either can't think of the proper term or can't think of a good Layman's Terms explanation and resorts to referring to "things" and "stuff."
Also compare Lies to Children, where a simplified or incorrect explanation is the "beginner's version."
In cases of Technology Marches On or an improper assumption of Viewers Are Morons, this can lead to a reasonable explanation followed by an inane, overly simplified explanation of a concept that was already understood on the first try. Depending upon the setting, it may also lead the audience to assume different things about characters that ought to know better: for example, explaining basic or advanced physics to space-faring humans like such topics wouldn't have been required reading already.
Firo: "Wait, wait! I'm not that smart. Tell me in layman's terms, please."
Used during an episode of Cowboy Bebop. After telling Spike of every system that's gone down thanks to a virus, Spike requests it in terms he understands, and gets this from Ed:
Ed The computer's kaput, and we're drifting through space towards certain oblivion.
In Haruhi Suzumiya, Kyon often complains he doesn't understand what Yuki, Mikuru, or Koizumi mean with their technobabble, although they don't attempt to "dumb it down". In the Drama CD "Sound Around" however, we have two scenes in which this happens.
Yuki: Antimatter-dispersing oscillations perceived as sound waves. Kyon: What? Yuki: Antimatter-dispersing oscillations perceived as sound waves. Kyon: Please, could you make it so I can understand what you're saying? Yuki: Antimatter. dispersing. oscillations. perceived. as. sound. waves... (begins to elaborate)
Yuki: Eliminate the antimatter-dispersing property from the song. Kyon: In layman's terms? Yuki: In layman's terms... we do this. (starts hyperspeedchanting)
In the Heavens Lost Property movie, Ikaros, Nymph, and Astraea are fighting Hiyori when Hiyori suddenly stops and starts glowing. Nymph scans her and gives a Technobabble heavy summary of what is happening. Astraea, who is normally very dumb, understands and translates, "She's going to explode!"
In Lucky Star Kagami usually asks Konata to talk in normal human language, not in geek language.
In episode 12 of Maoyuu Maou Yuusha, Witch Girl tries to relay the Crimson Scholar's plan to create a Smallpox vaccine, but the listeners ask her to speak plainly.
In Nodwick, it usually falls to Nodwick to translate things said by Arthax (or other intelligent beings) into terms Yeagar can understand. He usually does this in the most patronizing ways he can as he's not very fond of Yeagar. Arthax occasionally does this himself, with equal amounts of snark but slightly less patronizing.
Y The Last Man: When Dr Mann finally cracks how Yorick survived the Gendercide, he has to ask her to "dumb the Technobabble down about a thousand percent," since he once nearly blew off one of his testicles with a baking soda volcano.
When the scientists are involved in Aeon Entelechy Evangelion, sooner or later someone will ask them to explain what they said again in human language. This happens almost all time when Misato and Ritsuko talk.
Films — Live Action
Apollo 13 has several moments where, after the astronauts and mission-controllers explain the situation to each other in their own jargon, they repeat it in simpler terms for the sake of the audience — usually in the form of an analogy.
When Lovell first powered up the Lunar Module, and tried to steer it:
Lovell: Why can't I null this out? Haise: It's not designed to fly attached like this, the center of gravity's in the command module! Lovell: It's like flying with a dead elephant on our back.
When Mattingly started talking Swigert through the abbreviated power-up procedure for the Command Module:
Swigert: Uh ... there's an awful lot of condensation on this panel. What're the chances of this shorting out? Mattingly: We'll just have to deal with that if it happens. Swigert:(to himself) It's like driving a toaster through a carwash.
When Mission Control decided that the Command Module had to be shut down:
Krantz: Okay people, we are moving the astronauts over to the LEM. I want a power-up procedure, the essential hardware only. We've got to get the guidance system transfered before they're out of power in the Command Module. (covers his mic) The lunar module just became a lifeboat.
Spooner: So, Dr. Calvin, what exactly do you do around here? Calvin: My general fields are advanced robotics and psychiatry, although I specialize in hardware-to-wetware interfaces, in an effort to advance USR's robotic anthropomorphization program. Spooner: So...what exactly do you do around here? Calvin: I make the robots seem more human. Spooner: Now wasn't that easier to say? Calvin: Not really, no.
This is from The Matrix. Neo likely understood the words in a computing context, being a hacker, but outside that had trouble figuring out where they would apply.
Morpheus: The pill you took is part of a trace program. It's designed to interrupt your input-output carrier signal so that we can keep track of your location. Neo: What does that mean? Cypher: It means "buckle your seatbelt, Dorothy, cause Kansas is going bye-bye."
The Dean: It's six thousand miles! Everyone knows you can't get that far by magic. Ponder: Er. As a matter of fact you can, I think. Er. Shouldn't be too much of a problem. People used to think it was, but I'm pretty sure it's all a matter of energy absorption and attention to relative velocities. Ridcully: Relative velocities. Ponder: Yes, Archchancellor. Ridcully: My mother could move like lightning when— Ponder: I mean how fast things are going when compared to other things.
In later books, many of the more educated characters have tried to explain big thaumaturgical ideas to laymen; when one of those laymen offers up an analogy, the educated character notes that it's a "very useful metaphor that aids understanding while being completely inaccurate in every respect".
Telemain, the theoretical magician from Patricia C. Wrede's Enchanted Forest Chronicles, speaks entirely in technobabble (or Magi Babble, rather). He briefly succeeds in speaking plain English when threatened with immediate bodily harm, but the effort costs him much. He even has trouble with "Those stairs only go down." Another example:
"... I've been researching them [wizards] for years, trying to duplicate their methodology, but I still haven't managed a workable solution." "What?" said Cimorene, looking puzzled. "He's been trying to figure out how the wizards work their spells," Mendenbar explained, "but he hasn't done it yet."
A running gag in Jeeves and Wooster is that Bertie has to translate what Jeeves is saying for the benefit of one of his "pals".
"That, gentlemen, is a bioengineered apoptotic prokaryote. Or so I have reconstructed it." "A what?" said Miles. "Simplify, please." Weddell flashed a pained smile, doubtless searching his mind for words of one syllable. Miles regretted his last four beers. "A little bug that eats things," Weddell essayed, by way of further translation. "Not that simplified," said Miles dryly.
In Spin, Tyler uses the exactStock Phrase ("In English, please, Jase"), when Jason describes a technology as "molecular autocatalytic feedback loops, basically, with contingent programming written into their reproductive protocols".
Live Action TV
Subverted in 30 Rock, where Dr. Spaceman reads off the results of a test, and then says: "Now in layman's terms... what do you think that means?"
Everyone from the Alias cast in response to Marshall: "IN ENGLISH, MARSHALL!"
Parodied in a sketch on The Armstrong And Miller Show where a news reporter is interviewing a prominent scientist about a discovery that "could change science forever!" The conversation goes something like this:
Reporter: Can you just briefly take us through this new theory of yours, in layman's terms?
Exasperated Reporter: Some of our viewers are quite smart. Perhaps there is someone watching at the moment who's capable of understanding your theory?
Scientist: There isn't.
Exasperated Reporter: How can you be so sure?
Scientist: 'Cause... Graham's on holiday and Chung-Yao is dead...
This sketch becomes so much better if you know that Ben Miller, who plays the scientist, was working on a Ph.D. thesis called "Novel quantum effects in low-temperature quasi-zero dimensional mesoscopic electron systems" before switching to comedy.
Jimmy the Robot: It's low energy, Commander. Your blood sugar levels have dipped dangerously low. MC Bat Commander: Speak English, robot, English! Jimmy the Robot:(in an English accent) Uh, it's low energy, Commander. Your blood sugar levels have dipped frightfully low.
Veronica: Beef without cows? I'm listening... Lem: We take bovine cells, and surrounding them with a bed of rich nutrients, grow them into fully developed cow tissue or "beef". Phil: Cowless meat, grown in a lab. Lem: I just said that. Phil: I'm explaining it. Lem: No, you're repeating it!
Often subverted in The Big Bang Theory. Penny, who is of roughly average intelligence, often has trouble understanding the extremely confusing scientific conversations going on between Leonard and his friends. Often times, when they try to repeat it in what they call "layman's terms", it is still horribly confusing.
Done done done and done in Bones, mostly said by Booth, Cam, or Angela to the "squints" (or more scientific squints). However, since the squints all have different specialties, they normally need to explain things more simply to begin with.
Often done in Criminal Minds. Anything Reid has to say will almost always be technobabble mixed with obscure literary references, to the point that the other agents sometimes stop asking him to explain. He just launches into the simpler definition right after, which in itself isn't that simple.
Carl Sagan's documentary Cosmos is a famous example of presenting science to the casual viewer in a comprehensible way.
The Doctor's complete inability to explain time travel theory, despite his best efforts, including "This is my Timey-Wimey Detector. It goes ding when there's stuff,"
When he discovers a Time Portal to France.
The Doctor: Must be a spatio-temporal hyperlink. Rose: What's that? The Doctor: Don't know. Made it up. Didn't want to say "Magic Door."
After trapping The Wire on a cassette tape:
Rose: That thing, is it trapped for good on video? The Doctor: Hope so. But just to be on the safe side though, I'll use my unrivalled knowledge of trans-temporal extrapolation methods to neutralise the residual electronic pattern. Rose: You'll what? The Doctor: I'm gonna tape over it.
A common gag in Eureka, being about a town full of brilliant scientists who speak like, well, brilliant scientists... and Jack Carter. For example:
Carter: I didn't know they, uh, used diamonds in computers.
Dr. Fox: Yeah, the aligned carbon-14 allows hyperdense cubit storage in an optical quantum processor... diamonds can store tons of data and transmit it super-fast.
Faraday: We really do not have time for me to try to explain. You have no idea how difficult that would be for me to try to explain this — this phenomenon to a quantum physicist. That would be difficult, so for me to try to explain whatever is happening— (Sawyer slaps Faraday) Faraday: The Island... think of the Island like a record spinning on a turntable... only now, that record is skipping. Whatever Ben Linus did down at the Orchid station... I think... it may have... dislodged us. Miles: Dislodged us from what?
Wendy: What is the H.E.Y.D.A.R.? Middleman: The High Energy Yield Data Accumulation Resource. In technical terms, it's a global analysis and information-gathering device capable of performing both onboard evidence analysis as well as universal intelligence searches across all data platforms. Wendy: And in non-technical terms? Middleman: It's a big silver ball. It gives us answers to things.
Trini was usually the one who translated it into plain English.
Billy: "I'm not interested in engaging feminine attention through bodily gyration."
Trini: "Billy doesn't want to dance just to attract girls."
There was an instance in which he translated her answer: she presented her fellow Rangers with a delicacy from her gourmet cooking class, which looked like brownies. She referred to the secret ingredient as "escargot." Which is French for "snails." Cue the disgusting spit-out.
Occurs with absolutely infuriating frequency in NCIS, where this happens with everyone who talks to Gibbs and reports some sort of evidence.
Despite being told this roughly once per episode, his co-workers nevermanage to remember it in the future. Of course, Abby and Ducky are Gibbs' closest friends and knowingly enjoy teasing him like this, McGee's continually being flustered by Gibbs into retreating behind his protective wall of technobabble is his own particular running gag, and Tony and Ziva overlap in fields of expertise with Gibbs so he doesn't really need layman's terms with them. McGee's inability to stop doing this to Gibbs is lampshaded in a season five episode when Tony bets twenty dollars that he's about to say something nobody else understands again, and McGee still does it, prompting Gibbs to say that he's starting to think McGee just can't help himself.
Played with brilliantly in Doppelganger, when Gibbs needs to talk to a bunch of techno geeks. He brings McGee along to translate their technobabble into layman's terms, and McGee also has to translate his layman's terms back into technobabble.
NUMB3RS. Once an episode, Charlie or one of his colleagues references an obscure mathematical concept that can be used to help solve a case, then creates an analogy to make it understandable. A real mathematician would probably be insulted to hear these concepts and theorems dumbed down to such a level. And they're still confusing. This predictable behavior is lampshaded at one point when the agent prompts him for the analogy: "Think of it as a..." In later seasons, the agents are just as likely to go "Wait! I know this one!" and trot out the totally inadequate analogy themselves. Then again, you try explaining graduate level math concepts like Floyd–Warshall algorithm or K-optimal pattern discovery in under 30 seconds.
In the American The Office Oscar is trying to explain to Michael why they should use up their budget surplus. Michael asks for Oscar to explain it as he would to an eight-year-old. Oscar without missing a beat breaks it down into an analogy, comparing the budget to money given to a child for a lemonade stand. At the end of Oscar's analogy, Michael can only respond, "Explain it to me like I'm six."
Subverted in Power Rangers RPM. Flynn's morpher malfunctions and Dr. K tells him what happened. When he asks her to say it again in Laymens Terms, she responds "That was in laymans terms".
Rimmer and Lister take it in turn to try to explain a stasis leak to Cat:
Cat:(to Rimmer) What is it? Rimmer: It's a rent in the space-time continuum. Cat:(to Lister) What is it? Lister: The stasis room freezes time, you know, makes time stand still. So whenever you have a leak, it must preserve whatever it's leaked into, and it's leaked into this room. Cat:(to Rimmer) What is it? Rimmer: It's singularity, a point in the universe where the normal laws of space and time don't apply. Cat:(to Lister) What is it? Lister: It's a hole back into the past. Cat: Oh, a magic door! Well, why didn't you say?
And from "Future Echoes" (and also the first American pilot):
Holly: How simple an explanation do you want? Rimmer: Um, so Lister can understand it. Holly: Oh, dear...
Re Genesis: Sandstrom's favorite method of teaching advanced virology involves a vulgar pun and expressive wiggling of his fingers.
(The car won't start when they're trying to make a getaway after a prank)
Eric: Wh-what's going on? We're not moving!
Donna: Oh man, you dropped your transmission.
Eric: In English, Donna, in English!
Donna: Your car! No! Go!
Then you have Torchwood, where Captain Jack Harkness refuses to avoid technobabble claiming it's "good for the soul". Tosh still explains things sometimes to Gwen, as her background is in law enforcement not science.
QI: "Explain it like you'd explain it to a small child." "But I was, dear." This can get annoying on QI; since the Clever Stuff is genuine Clever Stuff and not just PhlebotinumTechnobabble, the comedic "baffled layman" reaction from Alan Davies sometimes interrupts and kills off an explanation some of us might like to have heard all of.
One of the language options for The Other Wiki is "Simple English". This can be helpful for some of the more obscure topics - since articles on, say, advanced mathematics only get edited by people who already understand them, they tend to drift inexorably into impenetrable jargon. Or if you prefer, the words get harder.
"Rock Star" physicist Brian Cox explains the universe this way. It's parodied on BBC Radio 4's "The Now Show": "Newton's law of universal gravitation states that every point mass in the universe attracts every other point mass with a force that is directly proportional to the product of their masses and inversely proportional to the square of the distance between them. And that's a bit like this packet of Smints."
Mobius: The Black Hands Re-genesis project is based upon my research. They're utilizing tiberium as a mutagen to incite forced genetic acceleration.
Havoc: English, Doc.
Mobius: Dr. Pettrova is attempting to create genetically enhanced super soldiers.
Fallout 2, Harold asks you to bring a hydroelectric magnetosphere regulator for Gecko's nuclear power plant.
The Chosen One: What isa hy-whatever? Harold: Well, technically... it's a thingy.
In The Incredibles: Rise of the Underminer the first boss in the game gives a long-winded explanation on the function of the Underminer's doomsday weapon, which is designed to use Earth's magnetic alignment to cover the surface in soil or some nonsense essentially putting everyone on the surface underground. At the end it boils it down to "The world will be turned upside down", prompting Mr. Incredible's Lame Comeback of "You're upside down!".
Cave Johnson: For this next test, we put nanoparticles in the gel. In layman's terms, that's a billion little gizmos that are gonna travel into your bloodstream and pump experimental genes and RNA molecules and so forth into your tumors.
Advisor: The only unarmored point is the ocular cluster located below it's main cannon.
Scorch: In other words; shoot the red dot.
Zone Of The Enders: your helpful AI ADA informs you that by the superphysical properties of Metatron inducing a charge alters the fabric of space-time which can be compartmentalized by the insertion of reality anchors into the points of "simultaneous compression and expansion", the destruction of which will open a final pocket that is otherwise nonexistant in this universe, or as she explains it:
''ADA: I other words, break the jars and... something will happen".
In the Doctor Who Expanded Universe webcast Scream of the Shalka Alison does this to herself to make better sense of what the Doctor's saying, to his annoyance.
The Doctor: The Shalka share the scream like whale song, a way to transmit a lot of messages between each other at high speed. Alison: The sonic internet. The Doctor: Mmhm. And that machine adds automatic coordination. It keeps all their slaves doing what they’re supposed to be doing without the Shalka having to think about every little command. It must be able to record, playback, relay and boost the screams. Alison: Their sonic service provider. The Doctor: Stop that.
Vaegyr: Kari, what's your assessment? Kari: Cooooool... Vaegyr: Yes. I was hoping for something more tactical in nature. Kari: The lance on that vashnir is one of the new spine-mounted models. It could ruin the Daimyo's day in a heartbeat — but they need the perfect vector. Gun for gun, the Daimyo has a decisive advantage.
Atom: The CP4 barium-sonar wave will indicate any monocellic vili-silicates in our vicinity.
Aquaman: English, man, English!
Atom: (Sigh} This little "doohicky" beeps when the "cooties" are near.
In Code Lyoko, Jérémie is frequently asked to translate his technobabble by his friends. (Note that in the original version, what they naturally ask for is: "In French, please.")
Jérémie: In fact, the Supercomputer analyzes your molecular structure through the scanners and it breaks down your atoms before digitalizing them and recreating a digital incarnation in the virtual world. Ulrich: In English? Jérémie: You get inside the cabin, you're teleported to the virtual world.
The DuckTales multi-parter that introduced Gizmoduck has a Beagle Boy named Megabyte Beagle, who describes his plans in technical terms, which would confuse his cellmate and family members to the point that they would then request him to "Say it in Beagle talk!"
Leela: Hmm. If we can re-route engine power through the primary weapons and reconfigure them to Melllvar's frequency, that should overload his electro-quantum structure. Bender: Like putting too much air in a balloon! Fry: Of course! It's so simple!
Then when it doesn't work:
Leela: It's not working! He's drawing strength from our weapons! Fry: Like a balloon, and... something bad happens!
From the Histeria! episode "Histeria! Goes to the Moon":
Aka Pella: Yo, we gotta get those flyboys back to Earth safely, but we need them to conserve what little fuel they have left! Loud Kiddington: HUH!? Aka: I said they can't waste any gas! Loud: WHY DIDN'T YOU SAY THAT IN THE FIRST PLACE!?
Martian Manhunter: To halt the process, we need to create an Einstein-Rosen bridge to drain off the infecting anti-fusion matter. Flash: Create a what to do what? Hawkgirl: Make a wormhole, to suck away the bad stuff. Flash: Oh.
Parodied in the classic Looney Tunes cartoon Duck Dodgers in the 24 1/2th Century. Dodgers (Daffy Duck) is explaining to his eager young Space Cadet (Porky Pig) how he plans to locate Planet X, the only known source of Illudium Phosdex, the shaving cream atom, the world's supply of which is alarmingly low...
Dodgers:(scribbling out a map on a board) Starting from where we are, we go 33,600 turbo miles due up, then west in an astro arc deviation to here, then following the Great Circle seven radial lubes south by downeast. By astro astromo to here, here, and here, then by space navigal compass to here, here, and then to here, and here. By 13-point stratocumulus, bearing four million light years, and thus to our destination. Now do you know how to reach Planet X? Cadet: Ah, p-p-p-p-p—oh, sure. Dodgers:(cue glazed look; looks at the incomprehensible scribblings on the board, then annoyedly back at Cadet) Well I wish you'd explain it to me sometime, buthhhter!
My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic uses multiple characters to set up such a gag. In "Hurricane Fluttershy", Twilight explains what the anaomoeter does in the most loquacious way possible, and when she asks "Any questions?" the pegasi turn to Spike and ask, "Yeah, what exactly does this machine do?" which Spike with a much simpler "It tells you how fast you're going and how strong your wings are," which all present actually understand.
From the Phineas And Ferb episode "Bubble Boys", when the kids' bubble drifts down towards some public art:
Gretchen: With our angled descent, leaning will be ineffectual! Others: What? Gretchen: We're gonna crash!
Played with in Ren and Stimpy, in one of the "Captain Hoek and Cadet Stimpy" segments. They've gone through a black hole into a parallel universe, and miss the bus back to reality as the place they're in starts to break up.
Ren: ... I guess it's hopeless. Stimpy: Wait! I know! I'll set the space-time doohickey to our molecular wavelength, switch 'er into reverse, and turn it up to full blast! And we'll simply implode! Ren: Implode? What's that? Stimpy: Eh, sorry, Captain, but you're a layman, aren't you? I'll try to explain it in technical terms.
He never manages a vocal explanation, instead going "I'll show you!" and sucking in his stomach.
Dr. Hibbert: Homer, I'm afraid you'll have to undergo a coronary bypass operation. Homer: Say it in English, Doc. Dr. Hibbert: You're going to need open-heart surgery. Homer: Spare me your medical mumbo-jumbo. Dr. Hibbert: We're going to cut you open and tinker with your ticker. Homer: Could you dumb it down a shade?
Also parodied in one of the Treehouse of Horror episodes, where Homer winds up in 3-D:
Scientist: If we extend these lines out into a theoretical thiiirrd dimension... Wiggum: Whoa, whoa, whoa, slow down, Einstein! Scientist: ... wherein lies the doomed individual.
Reoccurring moment in the original Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles whenever Donatello describes a device using scientific terms. One example when the Technodrome escaped Dimension X heading towards Earth:
Donatello: Well, being it's how it's a giant magnet, I'll have to realign the polarity of its electrostatic impediments.
Others: In English!
Donatello: Oh... In other words, I'll simply do this!
Sheriff: He said he was with you, sparking up a J. Peggy: In English, please? Sheriff:Lighting up a J? (Peggy gasps and falls back into her chair.)
In the Teen Titans episode "Stranded", Cyborg's robotic body is damaged. Cyborg tries to instruct Beast Boy to repair him, but Beast Boy can't understand his Technobabble. Cyborg gets extremely frustrated because he eventually can't think of a way to dumb it down enough.
Introductory instructors in technical fields must walk the fine line between an explanation that's simple enough for the students to understand and one that's technical enough for them to apply correctly (one method is to first say it in layman's terms and then show it in technical detail). However, in many research universities, instructors will not do this for one reason or another. This leads to many otherwise-capable students giving up when they can't penetrate the technobabble.
Odds are, you've pointed out the use of a trope in a show or movie and then had to try to explain it to the person you were with, especially if TV Tropes Has Ruined Your Vocabulary. First, though, you had to explain what a tropeis.
He was quoted as saying if you can't explain chemistry to a bricklayer, you don't understand chemistry.
He also said that one didn't understand a (physics) topic if one couldn't give a freshman lecture on the topic. He was disturbed that he couldn't with the basis for fermions and bosons. He also had an overoptimistic view of what constituted a freshman lecture.
The use of this and similar phrases has actually garnered some criticism from Liberal Arts teachers at technical schools. They believe that it's insulting to those who don't attend and is used to separate the technical students from the rest of society. The fact that if such students didn't use those terms they wouldn't be understood is overlooked.
Similarly, certain "soft" sciences such as sociology and women's studies have a way of generating a lot of terms no one ever uses in household conversation, such as "heteronormative". As such, discussions using these terms can be incomprehensible to the layman. On the Internet, many a Straw Feminist will actively berate the layman for not knowing the meanings of the terms; then when the layman asks, they will declare that they are under no obligation to correct the layperson's ignorance.