The tendency of writers to have a character repeat dialogue spoken to them that the audience wasn't able to hear. This often happens with telephone conversations, or when the person speaking the unheard dialogue is The Unintelligible, speaks a different language, or is a Silent Bob.
Sometimes this trope is justified when a character is surprised by the information, or are unsure that they heard correctly, or when they need to relay that information to a third party (often cops) without the listener being aware of it.
See also Let Me Get This Straight. If you can hear both sides, it's Parrot Exposition.
open/close all folders
Anime & Manga
A particularly funny example occurs in the Pokémon anime:
Giovanni: "Hello. ...What?! ...Pokémon Land has been totally destroyed?!"
Also, when the Team Rocket trio's Meowth, who can speak 'human' as well as fully understand everything fellow Mons say, feels compelled to respond to almost anything any other Pokémon says by saying "You're telling me..." and then evidently repeating exactly what the creature said.
There's one time when he admits he's somewhat embellishing what the other 'mon says as he translates to Jessie and James, because he doesn't quite understand the dialect.
Mewtwo does this fairly frequently when communicating with his clone or with large groups of Pokémon.
In the first episode of Himesama Goyoujin, Himeko does this, even though the person she's talking to is cut to for all the other lines.
"Ehhhh? She ends up slipping on a can, having her panties seen, and now she's really pissed?"
Tintin comics play this trope horrendously straight. If you could actually hear both sides of the conversation it would be a very tedious affair. "The Captain went out for a stroll in the garden, and should be back by 2:00." "The Captain went out for a stroll in the garden, and should be back by 2:00?"
Late in Cigars of the Pharaoh, at the KKK-like reunion of the drug cartel, The Dragon initially averts it in his phone call with the leader, but lapses back into it when he learns there is an impostor. In the animated version, it's inverted.
Parodied in Toy Story 2; the characters are watching an episode of Woody's Round-up, the TV show Woody is based on, when this exchange occurs:
[A bunch of animals rush up to Woody.] Rabbit:[A single second of incoherent squeaking.] Woody: What's that? Jessie and Prospector are trapped in the old abandoned mine and Prospector just lit a stick of dynamite thinking it was a candle and now they're about to be blown to smithereens?! Rabbit: Uh-huh.
Wreck-It Ralph has this when Fix-It Felix Jr. talks to Q-Bert in Q-Bertese about what happened to Ralph. For the benefit of the audience, the conversation ends with Felix's shocked shout of "Ralph's gone Turbo?!"
Also justified in that there were other people accompanying Felix and they couldn't understand what Q-Bert is saying.
Averted in The Emperor's New Groove. When talking to the squirrel, Kronk only translates when Yzma tries to get in on the conversation.
Kronk: Yeah, tell me about it.
Squirrel: (more chattering)
Kronk: No, no, it's not you. She's not the easiest person to get close to. There's a wall there, trust me.
Yzma: A talking llama, do tell!
Squirrel: (whispers in Kronk's ear)
Kronk: Uh, he doesn't want to talk to you right now.
Yzma: Well then, you ask him.
Film (Live Action)
Used extensively in the Star Wars films in the conversations between C-3P0 and R2-D2, and to a lesser extent Han Solo and Chewbacca. Somewhat justified in C-3PO's case, as it is literally his primary function, and most of the time he's repeating things back as a way of saying "What did you say?"
R2-D2: Beep beep boop.
C-3P0: *incredulously* The city central computer told you?
Used in Ocean's Eleven when Ocean is on the phone with his parole officer.
Arsenic and Old Lace averts this comically in the conversation between Mortimer and the telephone operator, but plays it straight in the police captain's conversation with his precinct. He repeats Dr. Einstein's Wanted Poster description word for word as the camera focuses on the latter's increasingly panicked reaction.
The Green Hornet Serials usually averted this, but it was played straight on a few occasions. One notable example is early in The Green Hornet Strikes Again!, when Lenore Case repeats back a phone call because having The Mole pick up the extension to eavesdrop wouldn't be as visually interesting.
Occurs on and off during the conversation between President Muffley and Premier Kisov in Dr. Strangelove:
Oh, that's much better. Yes. Fine, I can hear you now, Dmitri. Clear and plain and coming through fine. I'm coming through fine too, eh? Good, then. Well then, as you say we're both coming through fine. Good. Well, it's good that you're fine, and - and I'm fine. I agree with you. It's great to be fine....
Early in Independence Day, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff does a variation while in a meeting with the President. After receiving a message by phone from an AWACS pilot investigating one of the newly-arrived UF Os, he turns on the speakerphone and orders the pilot to repeat everything he just said, so the President can get the message first-hand.
Several of the Shadow pulps are set in various Chinatowns. When talking to his usual Chinese contact, the Shadow speaks Mandarin out of courtesy. That contact then translates for us as he replies in English (being polite right back at the Shadow).
There is often one character who can understand The Librarian and who will repeat things so the reader (and other characters) understand, but sometimes he needs to resort to charades. Likewise with the Death of Rats (usually the Raven).
The phone version is used in the Sherlock Holmes short story "The Adventure of the Three Garridebs". Holmes calls the client and Watson hears "the usual syncopated dialogue":
Holmes: Yes, he has been here. I understand that you don’t know him. ... How long? ... Only two days! ... Yes, yes, of course, it is a most captivating prospect. Will you be at home this evening? I suppose your namesake will not be there? ... Very good, we will come then, for I would rather have a chat without him. ... Dr. Watson will come with me. ... I understand from your note that you did not go out often. ... Well, we shall be round about six. You need not mention it to the American lawyer. ... Very good. Good-bye!
It's also intentional in-universe, provided it's a phone-call from her sister Violet (she's the one with the Olympic sized swimming pool and room for a pony) and she's got guests around.
Mocked on Mystery Science Theater 3000: whenever someone does this, Joel/Mike and the bots insert the other side of the conversation as something different from what's being repeated, usually with the caller becoming increasingly confused by the listener's responses.
This is how Sooty and Sweep communicated with the human characters.
Are you saying "snuff," Walt? What's snuff? You take a pinch of tobacco (starts giggling) and you shove it up your nose! And it makes you sneeze, huh. I imagine it would, Walt, yeah. Goldenrod seems to do it pretty well over here. It has some other uses, though. You can chew it? Or put it in a pipe. Or you can shred it up and put it on a piece of paper, and roll it up - don't tell me, Walt, don't tell me- you stick in your ear, right Walt? Oh, between your lips! Then what do you do to it? (Giggling) You set fire to it! Then what do you do, Walt? You inhale the smoke! Walt, we've been a little worried about you...you're gonna have a tough time getting people to stick burning leaves in their mouth...."
In the 1962 war movie, Hell Is For Heroes he plays an Army clerk, who is told to keep up a running chatter on a non-existent field telephone for the benefit of the Germans listening to a concealed microphone (that the Americans have found).
Avoided in Stargate SG-1. For example, in Windows of Opportunity, Dr. Jackson picks up the phone: "Hello?" (pause) "Okay - we're on our way." (hangs up; to others in room) "Sam has something." This also avoids TV Telephone Etiquette - and it's perfectly informative without being redundant or unnatural.
Parodied in the "Stuart the Impostor" sketches on All That, in which the insane Stuart would accidentally reveal his status as an impostor & the location of the person he kidnapped through a "So what you're saying..." type of line, even though nobody had even remotely suggested anything of the sort.
Used by Congressman Bill Thomas in a faux phone call skit during a televised press conference explaining a Social Security plan. It was promptly mocked mercilessly on The Daily Show, where the MST3K-style "other side of the conversation" was dubbed in.
A variant appears on The Colbert Report when Colbert talks to the crew: "Am I right? They're telling me I'm right." Or, in one instance: "They're telling me I'm wrong? ...I'm very wrong? ...And I'm a bad person?"
Jon Stewart, on The Daily Show, uses a variant of this trope with an ear-piece/microphone to talk with non-existent producers.
"You're saying I'm not actually talking to anybody right now?"
"Yes, I know I'm repeating everything you say. Yes, I know it's annoying."
Used in Leverage when Hardison needs to relay information to the others covertly by employing this. The first time he does it the people with him let it pass, the second they start to look at him strangely.
The Korean TV series Emperor Wang Guhn (at least in the subtitled version) which was about 10th century Korean political intrigue, frequently began a scene with one person - usually in higher authority - asking another, "What? The prisoner has escaped, you say?", "What? Kyun-hwan's armies are approaching, you say?", etc.
In the Heroes season 4 episode "The Art of Deception," Claire hurriedly communicates time-sensitive information to an empath by touch. The empath says out loud everything that Claire communicated silently, and thus takes just as long as it would have taken for Claire to say it in the first place.
Although this trope does not appear as such in Lassie (closest to it is something along the lines of "I think she's trying to tell us something" followed by Lassie leading the characters to where the trouble is), many television parodies and Stand-Up Comedy acts about Lassiedo invoke this trope.
Averted in one episode of Angel. During Cordelias and Willows phone conversation the view switches between them for each characters lines. Except for Willows last line, which the audience neither sees nor hears and only gets Cordelias embarrased reaction for hilarious effect.
Three's Company often used these, as yet another source for the show's many wacky misunderstandings.
Justified in an episode of the American version of The Office. Jim had sent Dwight's resume to an employer and used his phone number as a reference number, imitating Michael. Pam took the call meant for "Michael". She had to quickly say "I will transfer you to our manager, Michael Scott" in order to get Jim's attention while she transferred the call to him.
Used endlessly in Deal or No Deal in the host's conversations with the Banker.
Dick:[on the phone] Hello? Yes? The police? You've got Harry? He crashed the car? At Dead Man's Curve? I'll be right over! [puts the phone down] Tommy, something terrible has happened. Tommy: Harry crashed the car at Dead Man's Curve. Dick: Why is the father always the last to know?
Graeme: One day only...starts tomorrow...will I stop repeating everything you say?
The Big Bang Theory can sometimes be pretty guilty of this. Due to his Selective Mutism, when a woman is in the room Raj has to resort to whispering in Howard's ear to communicate. It's often Justified, because in addition to the audience, the other characters want to hear, too, though there are some cases where the comment was meant almost exclusively for Howard and there's no reason to repeat what he said.
Howard being Howard, it's not always the case that he's accurately repeating what Raj says. Raj sometimes gets visibly annoyed at what Howard chooses to repeat or how he phrases it.
Mister Rogers used this often to make sure the kids understood what was going on. He'd even double up on the effect - first repeating back into the phone whatever the (unheard by the audience) person had said, per this trope, and then pausing the phone conversation to explain to the viewers. E.g. (to the phone) "Hi, Dad" (to the viewers) "It's my father."
Given the setting, it's no surprise that messages in Morse code pop up fairly often on The Wild Wild West. Since there are few, if any, people in the show's audience who can follow such messages, one of the characters will usually give a running translation into spoken English for no apparent reason.
The Benny Hill Show does this occasionally. "You don't have a bathroom with a gold-plated urinal? You do have a spare room where you keep your Sousaphone? I didn't know you played... you don't anymore. You're a little rus... it's a little rusty, I see."
The mascot of PBS Kids Sprout, Chica the chicken, is The Unintelligible with her kazoo-created voice, so she's never seen without someone who can serve as her "translator" to the kids at home via this trope. (In-universe everyone understands her.)
An episode of The Cosby Show tried to alleviate this by having Cliff, on the phone with Rudy's teacher, say "Okay, let me repeat what you said just to make sure I heard you correctly...".
Peanuts had to make extended use of this as all adults had no dialog, including all teachers (Peppermint Patty: "You want me to do the second problem on the blackboard, ma'am?"). Snoopy also does it with Woodstock and the other birds. It's handled slightly better in the comic than in the cartoons, generally speaking.
Adults in Rose Is Rose tend to do this with Mimi, even though her approximated speech is usually close enough for readers to tell what she's trying to say. This might be more of an attempt at realism, though, as parents often do this with children who are learning how to talk (see below). Lately they've stopped doing this every time, though.
Happens in Garfield, when Jon tries to get dates over the phone.
"Well, Waterton, I'm rather tied up with work at the moment."
"Oh! I'm sorry to hear you're rather tied up with work at the moment!"
"And I've got an important client in here with me."
"Oh, I see! You've got an important client in there with you!"
"I think under the circumstances you'd better go ahead and humour her."
"Oh! You think that under the circumstances I'd better go ahead and humour her, do you?"
"Waterton, the listeners can hear my voice at the other end of the phone, you know."
"Oh I see, the listeners can hear your voice at the other end of the phone, can they?"
"Yes, so stop repeating everything!"
"Right, I'll stop repeating everything."
The '40s comedy Duffy's Tavern always opened with a telephone conversation between Archie the Bartender and the never-heard Duffy. The trope was duly employed.
Bob Newhart and Shelley Berman both utilized this trope in their acts.
This is one of Stewart Lee's favourite gags. During the show he goes into a set up about a cold caller asking inane religious questions, with Lee giving snarky answers to the annoyance of the guy down the phone. However as the call goes on he starts breaking the fourth wall repeating "yeah, this bit probably has gone on a bit too long now" and "yeah I know you're a figment of my imagination". It's funnier than it sounds.
Brilliantly averted by the Spanish comedian Gila. Half of his routines consisted of one-sided phone conversations (of him and a general of the enemy's army, or the USA president, or ...) and he never repeated what the "counterpart" said - instead, simply talked and answered (purported) questions in such a way that the audience would perfectly understand the conversation and the embedded jokes in it. See Gila in action here (in Spanish).
The Real Inspector Hound uses this trope every time Mrs. Drudge answers the phone, along with her overly convenient and detailed exposition as to what time it is, where they are, and who is in the house.
A part of Bob Newhart's standup act Lampshaded the fact that, on television, people would always parrot back what had just been said on the telephone to him, and he used this in sketches like "Walter Raleigh Phones the East India Company".
In the second episode of Strong Bad's Cool Game for Attractive People, there are two layers of this - Strong Mad says something, then The Cheat (who is actually tasked as an interpreter) repeats it in his strange language, then Strong Bad (who can apparently understand The Cheat but not Strong Mad) repeats it in plain english for the benefit of the player.
The post-game sequence of the same game features the following discussion:
STRONG BAD: What happened to Bubs the barkeep?
STRONG BAD: DJ Teh Cheat put on a Two-o Duo record? And then Bubs got angry and stormed out of the cloughb?
STRONG BAD: Sorry. I'll stop repeating everything you say.
Also, if you talk to The Cheat in the pandimensional photo booth, he "speaks" for a very, very long time. Strong Bad then says he couldn't handle it and asks The Paper to take a note. The Paper comes down with a readable tutorial to the photo booth printed on it, which is apparently what The Cheat said.
At one point in Gothic, you come upon a demon who talks to the protagonist via telepathy. The player doesn't get to hear what the demon is saying, only the protagonist's responses can be heard - and they use this trope.
It often has to be done for the player character's speech in most games, what with them being a Heroic Mime and all.
In Mega Man Zero 4, dialogue with NPCs tends to proceed like this. Without it, however, it is all too easy to assume that Zero never actually speaks during those conversations, especially since he does speak to bosses and during cutscenes.
In the Paper Mario games, as well as other Mario RPGs, this is usually how we hear what little Mario has to say.
In the Fallout: New Vegas DLC "Old World Blues", the other members of the Think Tank (disembodied brains in robot bodies) do this for Dr. 8, whose voice modulator has been damaged such that he can only speak in unintelligible computer code. If the Player Character is appropriately skilled enough to understand him when speaking one-on-one, the options on the Dialogue Tree are like this as well.
Ib: The eponymous character, being a Heroic Mime, has her thoughts expressed by either Garry doing this, or via dialogue options.
In a nod to the films' use of the trope, expect this whenever astromech droids show up in Knights of the Old Republic and its sequel. The Old Republic, having finally gotten sick of that conceit, gave such droids subtitles (albeit weird ones), but the player often has an option to summarize a quest giver's dialogue back at them, ostensibly to ensure the character knows what they're going to do, really to ensure the player knows what they're going to do.
In a subversion of this trope, a strategy for players of PAYDAY 2 in Rats, Day 1, is to repeat what Bane says to confirm the orders needed to be carried out. Sometimes Bane will say conflicting things which will royally screw up the mission.
Maureen: Doreen has started a cult in which everyone involved acts depressed and tries to kill themselves? And you joined up while I was away seducing the headmaster? And you've tried to kill yourself three times since then? Are you kidding me?
Invoked in Red vs. Blue, where Church is caught at gunpoint, so he uses his radio to call Caboose. He repeats what everyone says in a way that SHOULD give him away and Caboose STILL doesn't realize he's what he's talking about. This quote is about half of their conversation
Caboose: Yes! Hello, evil Church. What can I do for ya?
Church: So Wyoming, you just showed up here and decided to attack us.
Caboose: Uh, my name is Caboooose...
Church: And now you've caught us at gunpoint, and it looks like we're in big trouble.
Caboose: Uh, that doesn't sound like something I would do. I think you have the wrong number.
Church: Here at Red Base. Wyoming. You found us and are holding us prisoner. At the Red base. Wyoming.
Caboose: Ah, Red Base no, uh, I'm in the ship. The shiiiip. Sheila, I think O'Malley has driven him crazy, uhm, he's talking nonsense.
Homestar Runner, this usually happens when anyone talks to The Cheat or Pom Pom.
Linkaralampshades Commissioner Gordon's use of this trope in his review of Detective Comics No. 27.
Linkara (as Gordon): Repeat what you say so we don't have to show the other side of the conversation?
Critic (conversing with a dolphin "off camera"): What's that? The Titanic is sinking?
Dolphin: *chatters offscreen*
Critic: Well, you'd better go help them, right?
Dolphin: *chatters offscreen*
Critic (to camera): It's alright! Everything's fine, now that Flipper's on the case!
Was parodied in The Simpsons, when Homer repeated absolutely everything he heard in a phone conversation, as quoted above.
Happens frequently on South Park with Kenny, despite the fact that he has been at least somewhat intelligible since Season 4.
This also happened in the episode after Chef's voice actor had quit, when all of his lines were cut together from stock sound, which limited his vocabulary. Townsperson: "So you've decided to stay in South Park ... ?" Chef: "Yes, that's right!"
Futurama does this with The Unintelligible Nibbler and his caretaker Leela. In this case, Leela repeats everything Nibbler is saying in his language, until they reach the subject of the secrets of the universe, at which point Leela conveniently decides to stop saying anything revealing.
Leela: This is unbelievable! I thought you were a furry little moron but here you are flying an adorable spaceship. If only you could talk. [Nibbler babbles] Wait! I understood that! [Nibbler babbles some more] You say you're transmitting your thoughts directly to my brain? [Nibbler babbles affirmatively] You say those awful flying brains are making everyone on Earth stupid? [Nibbler babbles with slight discontent] Oh, stupider. And you go on to say that we're headed for your home planet where your race has lived since the beginning of the universe? [Nibbler makes an affirmative noise] So, how did the universe begin? [Nibbler babbles elaborately, changing intonation and pace several times] Then the meaning of existence... [Lighthearted short babble] So, every religion is wrong!
But employed and averted at the same time in another episode, hilariously:
Farnsworth: *on the phone* Oh, how awful. Did he at least die peacefully? *pause* To shreds, you say. Tsk tsk tsk. Well, how's his wife holding up? *pause* To shreds, you say.
Used another time when "Coilette" (a gender bent Bender) is going to a fancy party
Coilette (surprised):*gasp* My own limo?!
Coilette: No I don't have my own limo, you'd better send me one.
In the Peanuts specials, used by the characters to translate the unseen, trombone-voiced adults for the viewers.
Usually played straight on Sushi Pack, with Wasabi, who is only understood by his teammates, but occasionally lampshaded.
Wasabi: *mustard speak* Tako: Get out! Kani's leaving the pack? Splitting for Hollywood? How do you know? Wasabi: *more mustard speak* Tako: She told Ikura?! Wasabi: *short mustard speak* Tako: Stop repeating everything you say? You said a ton!
Averted in an episode of Sea Lab 2021, when Quinn talks with a horribly-injured Gus. All Gus can do is gurgle, but Quinn can evidently understand it...but doesn't bother to repeat him out loud. Results in an Overly-Long Gag of Gus gurgling and Quin responding with "uh-huh" and "yeah?"
SpongeBob does this when talking to his pet snail Gary, frequently in the series. Although whether he understands him or is making assumptions is up for debate.
Crops up in Adventures in Care-a-Lot when Wingnut, a robot who only speaks in whirrs and and other noises, is around. Played with in one episode where Wingnut translates for another robot who only speaks in blurps.
Averted in Rollbots with Vertex and Vett. In their conversations, Vertex rarely stops to explain what Vett is saying in the mysterious dialect, though on one occasion he does respond to Vett by saying "I am not too comfortable!"
Actually averted in The Hair Bear Bunch episode "The Bear Who Came To Dinner." Botch calls Peevly from a pay phone at a drive-in theater to snitch on the bears, and the conversation switches scenes between the two callers.
In The Super Mario Bros. Super Show episode "Robo Koopa", Doctor Nerdnik speaks in unintelligible gibberish and his robot assistant Bunsen has to translate for the other characters (and the audience). However, on two occasions they speak within earshot of Koopa and reveal useful information about the stolen robo-suit he's using, which he then turns to his advantage. Except the second time Nerdnik lies so Koopa ends up defeating himself.
Johnny 2x4 and Plank from Ed, Edd n Eddy does this, depending on if you think Plank is sentient or not.
This may actually be Truth in Television - some people do have a tendency to repeat things said over the phone, especially when other people are in the room.
Particularly if they might reasonably need or want to know what's being said. For instance, if your family has just been called by one of several relatives and someone else picks up the phone, it can be quite helpful for them to say, "Hi, Aunt Betty!"
Also if you can't make out quite what your aged Aunt Betty is saying, and need her to repeat it so you understand.
Or if you're taking down a food order/reservation/other stuff and need to be sure that you heard it correctly.
Something similar happens when talking with very small children. They may be very difficult to understand, so every conversations will end up like this in order to be sure you understand them.
I doo yoo a fwower!
You drew me a flower? Aww, that's pretty.
This is actually recommended as a way of enhancing language development by providing an example of how to say that particular statement 'properly'. It's especially recommended as an alternative to correcting the child's speech, because it encourages the child to talk more instead of discouraging them.
It is actually fairly well documented that it is not really possible to teach a small child how to speak 'properly' by correcting mistakes. The technical term for this is 'language acquisition is only possible via positive stimuli'. Language acquisition is possible via listening to actual speech and establishing patterns by repetition, not by learning arbitrary and/or artificial rules, therefore instruction does not have ANY impact whatsoever - including negative instruction, i.e. correcting 'errors'. Therefore, repeating the sentence after the child is the ONLY way to speed up the child's learning of a language's inner workings, as counter-intuitive as that might sound.
This is also used to teach foreign languages; instead of correcting every minor mistake a student makes, the teacher is supposed to simply repeat what they said, but with completely correct grammar, vocab, etc.
Rogerian therapy is based on rephrasing whatever the patient told you and echoing it back, so that they feel like you're listening even though you're not really giving any practical response. It's based on the idea that most people are capable of solving their own problems, just by talking them out with someone else.
ELIZA: Does it please you to think Rogerian therapy is based on rephrasing whatever the patient told me and echoing it back?
This is standard procedure in much high-risk communication. In nuclear power plants, for example, person A will give an instruction. Person B will repeat the instruction to check if he got it right. Person A will then repeat himself to either correct person B or confirm that he was right.
The more common example where people will have seen it is any show, documentary or fictional, showing the military (or even the Mildly Military) where communication is portrayed semi-realistically.
Officer: Helm, starboard ten degrees, ahead two-thirds"
Helmsman: Starboard ten degrees, ahead two-thirds, aye."
Common in call centers, especially for stuff like numbers or a tricky spelling. The "high-risk" example" given above also applies in that many call center operators will repeat or at least paraphrase the caller's description of the issue that prompted the call. This can be useful to ensure the operator correctly understands the matter and will not waste time (especially in a call center with strict metrics for call handle times and such) attempting to solve the wrong problem.
A good idea in any job when you want to be sure you're doing what you're supposed to do. Boil it down and repeat it back.
It is a common procedure in many armies that the subordinate given an order (especially one consisting of several parts) will repeat (or summarize) that order to the superior.
Common in auditoriums when someone is giving a presentation and a member of the audience asks a question. Because the audience member typically doesn't have a mic, the presenter will often repeat what they say so that the audience can understand.