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Orphaned Etymology
The inverse of Hold Your Hippogriffs and Oh My Gods!, it's when someone uses an expression which could not possibly have come into use, due to Speculative Fiction history preventing the etymology from taking place, making it an instance of Inexplicable Cultural Ties. "Jeez" or variants are the most commonly seen words which invoke this trope. Another form of this trope happens in Historical Fiction and the like, with words and phrases that aren't supposed to have come into use yet. This is most often used with words which are Newer Than They Think, or when people in the year 700 BC refer to the present time as "700 BC".

When played straight, this is often an aspect of the Translation Convention, in that the phrase is uttered for the viewer's benefit, rather than the characters' (compare Call a Smeerp a "Rabbit"). Ways to defy this trope include Hold Your Hippogriffs, Call a Rabbit a "Smeerp", Oh My Gods!, or You Mean Xmas.

Depending on how deeply and pedantically you're willing to go, this is pretty much unavoidable whenever you're using modern-human language in a time or setting that isn't modern Earth. Because of the way language evolves, it's hard to come out with a sentence or two that doesn't somehow reference some real-life history.

In written works, this trope only applies to characters' dialogue, or when the work is written as a character reflecting on the events. As the author is from Earth, they can use the words the characters cannot.

Another variant of this trope is used for humor, such as yelling out "Jesus Christ!" in front of the real Jesus, who will usually assume that he is being addressed.

Examples

    open/close all folders 

    Anime 
  • In the English dub of InuYasha, there's an episode where he remarks, "We've all got our own cross to bear." This is set before Christianity was introduced to Japan.
    • In another, InuYasha complains about having to take time out to be a "Good Samaritan."
  • In Sonic X, there is a character called 'Black Narcissus' despite his race never having visited Earth and in fact existing in a whole other universe! (Also, Sonic X's Earth doesn't appear to have the same countries anyway...)
  • The Five Star Stories has numerous things and people named after Earth stuff despite either taking place A Long Time Ago In A Galaxy Far Away or a future so distant that nobody knows much about life before space colonization. Lampshaded at one point where Ladios Sopp indulges in a bit of Leaning on the Fourth Wall and jokingly asks Chrome Ballanche, a Mad Scientist who has created several Artificial Human "Fatimas" with names based on Greek and other mythologies just where he comes up with these names.

    Comic Books 
  • A Dub-Induced Plot Hole occurs in the Spanish version of an Astérix comic book: A character sneezes, and Asterix says "Bless you!" — which in this context is translated to Spanish as "ˇJesús!" This raised the question for Spanish readers of how could Asterix say that in the year 50 B.C.
    • For that matter, Geriatrix is always referring to the battle of Gergovia as "Like in '52!" (from a common French expression, "like in '40!"). That is, 52 B.C. There is even one instance in which a character refers to the current year being 50 B.C.
    • In Asterix Conquers America, Getafix believes that the land he has arrived in is India. He thinks that the locals would prefer to be called Native Americans, even though the colonisation of the Americas and Amerigo Vespucci's birth didn't happen until over a thousand years later.
  • Silex and the City not only has characters using dates in thousands of years B.C., but such Lampshade Hanging as a director of X-rated movies remarking that the letter X hasn't even been invented yet.

    Film 
  • In Mel Brooks' History of the World Part I, Comicus says "Jesus" in exasperation during The Last Supper, causing Jesus to answer, "Yes?" assuming that Comicus was addressing him.
  • 1980 Flash Gordon:
    • The movie has the War Rocket Ajax as part of Ming's fleet. Ajax, of course, was a famous Greek hero, and Ming has never heard of Earth before the start of the movie.
    • And Ming himself is an alien emperor sharing his name with a famous Chinese imperial dynasty... that could be Handwaved as a coincidence if not for the transparent (and a bit racist) resemblance.
  • The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers has soldiers being ordered to loose arrows with the command "Fire!," despite the pre-firearms setting.
  • In Star Wars, as an xkcd strip points out, they really shouldn't know what a 'falcon' is. Han's "I'll see you in hell" often raises the question "Why does he know that concept?", but the Star Wars setting has afterlife beliefs, and lots of cultures have a conception of the Land of the Dead that is most conveniently put into English as "hell". note 
    • Interestingly, humans aren't the only Earthly creatures to appear in Star Wars. Things such as cats, cows, etc. sometimes show up in the canon. The strip may also be evoking a different take on the subject—in the novelization, Obi-Wan notes that even a duck must learn to swim. Having grown up on Tatooine, Luke has no clue about any waterfowl even existing, let alone ducks. So for all we know, the ship may well be named after what we Earthlings know as a falcon. The nature of the connection between our insignificant little planet and the Star Wars galaxy is left to the imagination (or fanfic).
    • There's also The Phantom Menace and its repeated use of the word "boycott", which comes straight from the shunning campaign against landowner Charles Boycott in 19th-century Ireland. However, that could be chalked up to Translation Convention; people have translated the Roman custom of secessio plebis, where the lower class would quit working and leave, shutting down the city to protest mistreatment, as "plebeian boycott".

    Literature 
  • Discworld:
    • One of the earlier books references gypsies, which is kind of a problem, since there's no Egypt in the universe to derive that name—the equivalent is called Djelibeybi. So, if there are Roma on the Disc, they should probably be nicknamed Jelibeybs or something like that.
      • PTerry even noticed this, and explained that 'Djelibeybs', which they should be called, wouldn't be understood by the readers, so he had to use a conventional English word instead.
      • Fanon (well, one discussion on afp) has it that Discworld gypsies are descended from itinerant plaster-of-Pseudopolis sellers, hence the name is derivied from "gypsum".
    • In Witches Abroad, there's a reference to a christening, and a woman named Christine in Monstrous Regiment. In Carpe Jugulum and Nanny Ogg's Cookbook, this has been replaced with Naming Ceremony.
    • Parodied in the Assassins' Guild Diary which uses the orphaned word "byzantine" ... in explaining that the politics of the Komplezian Empire were the origins of the modern Morporkian word "complex".
    • In the introduction to The Discworld Companion, Pratchett says that a fantasy author may start out trying to avoid references to things like "Toledo steel", but sooner or later will just look up from their keyboard, mutter "what the hell" and give up.
    • Jingo has Vimes mention a Pavlovian response. A footnote explains that, on the Discworld, this phenomenon was so named after a scientist proved that dogs could be trained to salivate at the thought of meringue.
    • In Mort, Binky carries his riders to stratohemispheric heights. The air above the Disc forms a dome, not a sphere.
  • In the Dragonriders of Pern series, Pernese still say "jays" and "by all that's holy" despite having Outgrown Such Silly Superstitions. Mildly justified in that they might just be holdover expressions from the original Terran colonists.
  • The Lord of the Rings:
    • Deliberately averted most of the time. Tolkien, as a linguist, did his best to remove and replace modern English words that derived from languages other than English. For example, "pipe weed" is clearly tobacco, but isn't called such because the word "tobacco" comes from a language native to the Caribbean.
    • But not totally averted, since "potato" and its derivative "tater" come from the Taino word "batata".
    • Tolkien even stated that even the names used for the characters aren't "really" their names, but rather our cultural equivalent. For example, Frodo's "real name" in untranslated Westron (Common speech) is "Maura Labingi".
    • And yet, we have the interesting fact that in chapter 1, a dragon is compared not only to a ''train'', but an ''express train'':
    The dragon passed like an express train, turned a somersault, and burst over Bywater with a deafening explosion.
    • To be fair, the noun 'train' would exist in a medieval setting, deriving as it does from anything that 'trails behind' (as in a bridal gown having a 'train', for example). It's just that a 'train' of courtiers or a 'baggage train' of pack mules and carts and wagons or a 'camel train' is not noted for its 'express' qualities.
  • In His Dark Materials, Lyra refers to uranium mines, but a later chapter refers to "the other five planets", indicating that Uranus hasn't been discovered in her world. (In our world, uranium was named after Uranus because they were discovered around the same time. However, they're both named after a Roman god, so it's not totally out of the blue.)
  • Parodied in Dave Barry's Complete Guide to Guys, where one of the entries in Alexander the Great's diary reads:
    324 B.C., Jan. 6 - Note: Find out what "B.C." stands for.
  • In an interview, Christopher Paolini, author of the Inheritance Cycle, mentioned this problem, specifically citing "backpedaled" as a word he couldn't use. He used it anyway.
  • George R.R. Martin also slips once in a while, and uses words like "damask" in a world with no city named Damascus, "turkey" (the fowl) where there is no country of the same name, or "chequy" when the setting's doesn't have an apparent direct analog to chess (and the closest game is called cyvasse).
    • In A Feast for Crows, the phrase "that way lay madness" is used (in Jon Snow's interior monologue during the wildling attack on Castle Black). Of course, this is just a string of perfectly innocuous words, but put into that phrase they stick out because it's a common Real Life phrase that originates in paraphrasing from Hamlet, a work that does not exist in this universe. Likewise when Theon contemplates paying Ramsay Snow, who has just returned with an army as he promised to do in return for being given a girl to rape "his pound of flesh" towards the end of A Clash of Kings.
  • The Ringworld Throne:
    • A native of Ringworld refers to how the irritable chieftain of the Grass Giants might "go off like a volcano" if he finds out about something, which is puzzling because Ringworld has no volcanic activity.
    • Or the Roman god Vulcan, for that matter.
  • The novelization of Star Wars: A New Hope includes a small dialogue in which Obi-Wan Kenobi is musing about training Luke.
    Ben: Even a duck has to be taught to swim.
    Luke: What's a duck?
  • The Kingkiller Chronicle plays with this in some weird ways. There are several fictional dead and in-use languages in its world, so a Translation Convention is assumed. Then you get things like the word 'vintage'. In our world, it comes from Latin by way of French, referring to wine (vin, vino, vinum, etc...), but it's not any more out of place than any other English word in fantasy. However, in the Four Corners there is no Orphaned Etymology, because the word vintage is derived from the country of Vintas, which happens to produce fine wine.
  • Andrzej Sapkowski, best known for creating The Witcher short stories and novels, eventually answered occasional criticisms of the Witcher world being "anachronistic" (such as the mention of a woman's panties) by pointing out the ubiquity of this trope. By that logic, he noted, no fantasy novel published in Polish should ever include a king, as the word for "king" (in the Polish language) is derived from Charlemagne's name. A wholly imaginary world, he notes, has just as much reason to include modern women's underwear as it has to use modern words or ones that reference the real world. In another novel of his, with fantasy elements but set in medieval Europe, a character uses the word "cholera", a common and rather modern-sounding curse word in Polish. A footnote notes that the name of the sickness dates back to antiquity and the well-educated character who uses it would know the word and, furthermore, cursing by invoking the names of illnesses and maladies has a very long history. The footnote ends with "while there is no evidence that this particular word was used for cursing in medieval times, there is also no evidence that it wasn't", in what is possibly a Take That against such criticism.
  • In The First Law novel Red Country, one character makes a joke/pun on the heroine's name when she introduces herself as Shy, which shouldn't really work since the characters are supposed to be speaking some kind of fictional Common Tongue. Also, while not confirmed, given that another female character in the series is named Shylo, Shy may actually be a nickname for that. Also, at least one character has paraphrased Shakespeare quotes, although its plausible that these come from some in-universe equivalent author.
  • Early in KJ Parker's Sharps, one character quotes the Dorothy Parker quip (here attributed to an ancient philosopher) that "You can lead a whore to culture but you can't make her think." Later in the novel, it is implied that the language of the main characters' country is more or less Latin and that of The Empire from which they became independent is more or less Greek. This creates problems with the joke, in that whore isn't a word of Latin or Greek origin, and the Greek and Latin words for the profession wouldn't allow for a pun on horticulture (there's also an issue that the proverb that Dorothy Parker was spoofing- "You can lead a horse to water but you can't make him drink"- has an Old English origin, not a Classical one). There's also a bit of this in the fact that the novel revolves around a disputed territory between feuding nations, that is generally referred to as a DMZ- definitely a modern term.
  • Also by K.J. Parker, The Folding Knife has a scene where a character jokes that some obnoxious people should be lined up against the wall and shot. Problem is, there are no guns in the setting, and thus no firing squads that would give rise to that phrase.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Thanks to Throw It In, Battlestar Galactica Colonel Tigh exclaims "Jesus!" in a polytheistic society that's never heard of Abrahamic religions primarily by predating them.
  • Dinosaurs uses the B.C. timeline. Lampshaded in the first episode when Robbie asks why the dates go backward. "I mean, what are we counting down for? What are we waiting for?"
  • History Bites also uses this trope in the episode focusing on Ancient Rome. Also lampshaded as the news anchors repeatedly say "whatever B.C. means."
  • In the British wartime sitcom Chickens, the characters refer to the war as World War I. In real life, it was called the Great War at that time.
    • A very mild case of Aluminum Christmas Trees: Some more cynical writers of the era doubted that it could truly be "the war to end all wars" and reasoned that if there's already one World War, there might as well be another.
  • The BBC series Robin Hood at one point features the Sheriff threatening some innocent party with a time-limited offer, which he punctuates with "tick tock". The mechanical clock didn't arrive in Europe until at least the following century.
  • Beautifully lampshaded in a sketch from That Mitchell and Webb Look:
    Prehistoric policeman: This stone crime, it's rampant. Sometimes I wonder whether the whole advance into stone technology hasn't been a bit of a double-edged sword.
    Prehistoric policewoman: Double-edged what?
    Prehistoric policeman: I don't know.

    Video Games 
  • Star Fox 64:
  • In Adam Cadre's Shrapnel, a character fighting in the Civil War calls another "Einstein" — which is an in-universe slip-up on his part, as he's a time traveler.
  • In Dragon Quest, this is used a lot. It is even Lampshaded in Dragon Quest V, where the phrase "proud as Punch" is used and the Hero's daughter wonders what Punch was proud about.
  • In Skies of Arcadia, the only kind of pirate in the 'verse is explicitly called a "sky" pirate, despite the lack of need for differentiation.
  • Dates in Chrono Trigger use B.C. and A.D., even though Jesus Christ does not appear to exist in the game's universe. This system is apparently based on the founding of the kingdom of Guardia, but that doesn't explain the usage of those terms.
  • The English localization of Sengoku Basara 3 (Samurai Heroes), which is set in the Sengoku Era of Japan (1467–1573), has a foot soldier of Date Masamune's army periodically claim, "This is something the boss would refer to as 'cool'!" Strictly speaking, this is not by any means this series' most grievous example of something being out of chronological order.

    Webcomics 
  • Exiern:
    • High Fantasy world with no relation to Earth, much less Japan, apparently has Yaoi Porn, mentioned by name.
    • and Band-Aids.
    • and Hallmark cards, although at least the characters have the good grace to admit they don't know exactly what greeting cards are.
  • According to Dinosaur Comics' summary of the play, Hamlet said, "Record scratch! Say WHAAAAAT?" when he found out how his father died.
    Alt Text: Hamlet has to say "record scratch" because records aren't invented yet so you can't make the sound otherwise, HOW IS THIS NOT OBVIOUS
  • In one of the The Order of the Stick strips appearing in Dragon Magazine, Durkon accuses Vaarsuvius of being a Grammar Nazi, using the phrase "Uptight English teacher". Vaarsuvius responds with confusion at the word 'English' since the language they are speaking is actually 'Common'.

    Western Animation 
  • In the animated The Return of the King, Samwise's response to Gollum's final attack is a very animated "Gooood help us!" (Although the word might have referred to Eru Ilúvatar, it's still out of place as he received direct worship very rarely.)
  • The Flintstones apparently live in the United States and celebrate Christmas. See the Wild Mass Guessing page for different interpretations...
  • My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic:
    • Ponies say "Oh my gosh", without an "Oh my god".
    • In the same sense, Rainbow Dash likes to exclaim "For Pete's sake!" once in a while, even though St. Peter is also a Christian figure.
    • In Boast Busters, Spike mentions a Fu Manchu moustache. How exactly does a world of magical talking ponies know about a human-created Yellow Peril villain?
      • In the same episode, Twilight calls Spike "Romeo". Perhaps there was some pony version of Shakespeare?
    • In "Suited for Success", when Rarity is designing dresses for the other ponies, Fluttershy specifically requests French Haute Couture, despite being in a universe where France (presumably) doesn't exist.
      • Although, in "The Cutie Pox", one of Applebloom's symptoms is a talent for speaking in French.
    • And in 'Call of the Cutie', one thing Rainbow Dash checks for talents is karate. Two-for-one here: why would ponies use a word derived from the Okinawan word for 'hand'?
  • In The Land Before Time IV, during the song "Who Needs You?" July is mentioned, millions of years before the Roman calendar was invented.
  • In one Sonic Sat AM episode, Sonic asked Nicole to repeat some Techno Babble "in English."
    • Lampshaded in "Sonic Conversion".
      Robotnik: Oh, please. Something is rotten in Topeka... wherever that is.
  • The phrase "dime a dozen" has been used on Star Wars: The Clone Wars. The main currency of the galaxy is credits, and they've been shown in various forms, so it's possible there is some kind of equivalent to a dime.
  • A visual edition occurs in Transformers Prime. The 'bots in Prime categorically lack noses. (Some of them kind of have a nose suggested by the extension of a forehead decoration, but it's still basically on their forehead). Yet, somehow, they end up using the same Autobot logo as the rest of the franchise, which does indeed feature a stylized nose where noses actually go. Illustrated here.

    Real Life 
  • As noted in the Reality Is Unrealistic page, some people like to claim that things set in the Soviet era where the characters exclaim "My God!" or the like are an example of this trope since a common stereotype for the Soviet Union is complete atheism. Even ignoring the fact that such terms would still linger as holdovers for a long time to come, there's also the fact that the USSR never became completely irreligious. Despite attempts at its inception to enforce atheism, the sheer cultural and political influence of the Russian Orthodox Church in general made it impossible to ever completely implement. Then Stalin reduced the anti-religious regulation to get the Russian Orthodox Church on his side in World War II. And though Kruschev tried to re-implement said regulations, from the Brezhnev era onward they were again relaxed.
    • Also, words can sometimes change their meaning over time, but remain unchanged in their form, appearing absurd and anachronistic in old texts. "Paging" was once the act of sending a page to fetch someone in a crowded room, for example, centuries before the invention of the internet. In post-feudal eras, the term 'paging' continued to be used to call for someone who may or may not be present in a room. The same use of the term to summon someone over an intercom has lasted from before pagers were invented to long after they've become obsolete.

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OmniglotArtistic License - LinguisticsYe Olde Butcherede Englishe
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