You Are The Translated Foreign Word

"Not right, having a member of the kuve, the servitor races, getting into a position where he might someday inherit the leadership."
Lieutenant Commander Brokosh, Red Fire, Red Planet

Sometimes to add some cultural flavor to a destiny the name has to be foreign—she is nosferatu; he is allaku. The problem is that this means nothing to the audience (and sometimes nothing to people native to the "exotic" culture), so a quick translation is provided afterwards.

"She is nosferatu" becomes "she is nosferatu, a vampire", and "he is allaku" becomes "He is allaku, a messenger. He walks the night road". This is effectively the person saying the same thing two or three times,note  which is fine if they're explaining to someone who doesn't know the word but kind of silly-looking if they aren't. Extra points if the character is saying it to themselves, making the spoken translation all the more gratuitous.

These people start out Not Using the Z Word, but then use it anyway.

A possible breakdown of Translator Microbes, which may be deliberately caused to handle "untranslatable" words. See also Call a Rabbit a "Smeerp" and This Is My Name on Foreign.

Keep in mind that as far as translation theory goes, this isn't really saying the same thing twice, it's more like saying: "Here are some cultural concepts you are familiar with that are similar to what I just said." Similar to how most synonyms have similar meanings but still have different connotations, a word spoken in its native language has a lot of cultural baggage and connotation beyond its simple denotation. Some translators (if they're feeling snarky) if asked what a word means in another language, will respond with that word in that same language. For example: "What does 'bocadillo' mean?" "It means 'bocadillo'." Usually, though they'll simply state "it depends on the context."

This is because, while a word may be translated simply, in this case as "sandwich", it doesn't necessarily mean "sandwich" in the way you are used to. Continuing the example, in Spain, while "bocadillo" does mean "sandwich", it's referring to a sandwich more similar to, but not necessarily the exact same thing as, what an American would call a "sub", "hoagie", "grinder", "hero", or whatever your local variation of the word is.note  The same word, "sandwich" translated to Swedish, is smörgås... except it really isn't because smörgås actually refers to an open sandwich.

This gets even worse when combined with Translation Convention, when characters translate words from the same language they're supposedly speaking at the moment. The distinction between the original word and the translation would exist in the reader's language that the foreign speech is rendered into, but not in the language being spoken in-story.

See also the Department of Redundancy Department and Translate the Loanwords Too.


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  • The Dark Horse Comics re-release of Lone Wolf and Cub uses this trope for several Japanese words, both for period flavor and to allow readers to learn the meaning of some Japanese terms from context after a brief English explanation. It also employs a glossary for other untranslated terms, possibly because there wasn't enough room to explain them on the page.
  • The usage of Nakama to mean one's in-group has its origins in One Piece translation and fandom.
  • More recently this has often been happening to the titles of various anime/manga as a way to avoid confusing those who had become used to the untranslated title while still conveying what the title actually means. For example Seirei No Moribito roughly means "Guardian of the (Sacred) Spirit", so the English-language title is Moribito: Guardian of the Spirit and Bokurano means "Ours" (or if you want to get really literal it means "of us") so VIZ Media is releasing the manga as Bokurano: Ours.
    • Higurashi: When They Cry got this treatment too, its manga being released under the name "Higurashi: When They Cry" (although this example is less redundant than most since 'higurashi' means 'cicada(s)') and the anime released as "When They Cry: Higurashi no Naku Koro ni" (which is redundant right there). Justified in that When They Cry is the franchise title, also encompassing Umineko no Naku Koro ni and all spinoffs of both.
  • Death Note has a borderline example where Light refers to Ryuk as a "god of death" when he first introductions himself as a shinigami.
    • Memetic fan example: "'Just according to keikaku' (Translators Note: keikaku means plan)."
  • Xxx HO Li C: "There is no coincidence. All is hitsuzen." What does hitsuzen mean? We don't know. Oh, wait, it means fate. Some translations also take the slightly more obscure route and use "inevitability," as the noun form of the literal adjective.
  • The Naruto dub does this sometimes. "That is my nindou! My ninja way!"
    • Might Guy: "CHIDORI! One Thousand Birds."
    • The manga does this a lot. For example, whenever Naruto makes clones, he shouts "Kage Bunshin no Jutsu! Art of the Shadow Doppelganger!"
    • The Kyuubi is sometimes called "the nine-tailed Kyuubi" even though Kyuubi means "nine-tailed".
  • The Japanese name for Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood is Hagane no Renkinjutsushi: Fullmetal Alchemist, to distinguish itself from the first anime while keeping the same name.
  • From Tokyopop's translation of Love Hina:
    What are you doing, you baka!?*
    *Baka means idiot.
  • The translation of Sayonara, Zetsubou-Sensei generally relies on a glossary, but Kafuka has a tendency to translate the name puns of the Itoshiki clan when she stumbles upon them, at least in Nozomu's example.
  • Reverse example in Fate/stay night: before unleashing his ultimate attack, Archer goes into a long chant that culminates with the attack's name, "Unlimited Blade Works". In the dub, he then tells the bad guy, "As you can see, what you face are unlimited blades!" Why this redundancy? Check the original audio track — he's explaining it in Japanese the second time.
  • Yu-Gi-Oh! has this in the title sequence for the Battle City arc, with somebody saying "Yu-Gi-Oh! The King of Games".

  • Extremely common in Suske en Wiske (Spike And Suzy).
  • Victor, a Spanish-speaking character from Runaways, points out the redundancy in the name of the team's current secret hideout— "The La Brea Tar Pits" (see Real Life below).
  • Spoofed in the MAD parody "Mark Trade":
    "Shall we spy on the habitat of Wa-sko-wee-ta, the moose? Shall we invade the habitat of Ka-wa-we-ska, the otter, or shall we visit the habitat of Ko-ka-ko-la, the drink?"
  • Done only once in ElfQuest, with Tyleet's introduction. In all other instances, we only see either the Elvish word or the translation. Tyleet, said to mean "healer's gift", was the first real key the readers got to the Elven language (Tyl = gift, Leet = heal-, from which could then be concluded: Leetah = Healing Light, Tyldak = Gift Of Wings-"dak" is similar to the Latin "dactyl" meaning "toe", as in pterodactyl, ("wing finger"), a creature which he heavily resembles). A minor example later on in the series is when Rayek refers to himself as the "Child Of The Rocks". It's a literal translation of his own name (Ray = child, Ek = rock). Ekuar, the name of his mentor, who is a rock shaper, presumably means something akin to... rock shaper.
  • Usagi Yojimbo, does this all the time. Usagi is written in English however, and the purpose is mainly Stan Sakai attempting to teach his audience the relevant Japanese words. The translation of the word is usually provided in a footnote, at least the first time.
  • A Hispanic ghost in Batwoman declares "I am todos los muertos! All of the dead!"

    Fan Works 
  • Red Fire, Red Planet does this sometimes with Klingon words or phrases. In addition to the page quote there's a bit where Brokosh repeats the word "loDnal" said by Ba'woV, then immediately translates it as "husband".
  • In The Dear Sweetie Belle Continuity, Crescendo does this with ancient unicorn (i.e. Latin), albeit with other ponies who wouldn't initially know the translation.

  • Parodied in the film Dracula: Dead and Loving It:
    VanHellsing: She is nosferatu.
    Harker: She's Italian?!
  • Angels & Demons: the main character, and others, constantly use Italian and Latin terms, then translates them for the benefit of the audience. Every other character would already know what it means.
  • Discussed (with perhaps a side of mild parody) in Mickey Blue Eyes when Michael and Gina banter about the name of her father's restaurant: The La Trattoria. The film ends with a title reading THE THE END.
  • In Beowulf, as Grendel's Mother approaches the eponymous hero, she says "Beowulf. Bee wolf. Bear." Considering that she's supposed to be speaking in Old English, she really just said "Beowulf" three times in a row.

  • The Gospels do this in Greek (their original language): all those times where the English (often) says "the Messiah, the Christ", the Greek is actually saying "the Messiah, the Anointed"—since most Greek-speakers would not know what the Hebrew word meant.
  • Bram Stoker's Dracula had a heap of examples. One extract has four of them. In this case though, he's not saying the same thing twice himself, just reporting something he heard and providing a translation, presumably for his own future reference.
    "I must say they were not cheering to me, for amongst them were "Ordog" — Satan, "Pokol" — hell, "stregoica" — witch, "vrolok" and "vlkoslak" — both mean the same thing, one being Slovak and the other Servian for something that is either werewolf or vampire. (Mem., I must ask the Count about these superstitions.)"
  • Dune's kwizatz haderach. A good example of meaning nothing to members of the original culture, as Hebrew speakers would only understand "k'fitzat haderech" (which actually does mean "shortening of the way", i.e.: a shortcut). It was probably deliberately corrupted from the original Hebrew to give the impression of the passage of time.
    • kwisatz haderach deserves special mention - not only does it literally translate as 'shortening of the way', which is mentioned as its meaning in Fremen, it is also the name of the miraculous feat of being in several places at once, which is what it means to the Bene Gesserit.
  • In J. R. R. Tolkien's Middle-earth (The Lord of the Rings, etc), due to the presence of various languages, has this sometimes, as not everyone present knows all the various names or terms. Sometimes people get referred to with the translation of their names as an add-on, like Legolas Greenleaf or Círdan Shipwright.
    • And then there's The Silmarillion. Turin's black sword, Gurthang, Iron of Death, is literally named for the Sindarin words meaning "iron" (ang) and "death" (gurth).
  • The protagonist of The Sword of Truth series is frequently referred to as, "Fuer grissa ost drauka, the bringer of death."
  • Kushiel's Legacy: Phedre is lypiphera, the pain-bearer, among other things. The first trilogy really likes to play language games.
    • Somewhat justified, as anguissette sounds so much more romantic than "masochist". And languisement is more poetic than "blowjob."
  • Inheritance Cycle has plenty of dialogue that suggests this in its Language of Magic.
  • In "The Krytos Trap", a book in the X-Wing Series, it is explained to Wedge while he is trying to bargain with Twi'leks that if they pronounce his name Wedgean'tilles it sounds a little like their term for "slayer of stars", but if they pronounce it Wedge'antilles it's something like "so foul it would make a rancor sick" - and if they pronounce his name the human way, Wedge Antilles, they're basically saying that he has no clan and no family, which is highly insulting. Basically when trying to deal, they change pronunciation to be more respectful.
  • In The Thrawn Trilogy, Noghri commandos pursue and try to kidnap Leia Organa Solo. One of them, while restraining her, has his face pressed into the back of her neck - and suddenly lets go, having recognized her scent, saying Mal'ary'ush. Later she goes to talk to him, and he calls her Mal'ary'ush again, then immediately clarifies, saying that she is the daughter and heir of the Lord Darth Vader. Later it's clarified further to mean that she is heir to his authority and power. Supplemental material reveals that the word actually means "Heir of the Savior".
  • Used in Finnikin of the Rock to make the most obvious Prophecy Twist in history. The entire prophecy is translated from the ancient tongue with the exception of a single word. Everyone assumes that in this context it means "King", even though they make it painfully clear it can also mean "Warrior". Guess which one the prophet meant.
  • Khaled Hosseini uses this a lot in his novels, especially The Kite Runner. The main character can't make it through a sentence without defining the Farsi word he was using, even if it's obvious.
  • Tamora Pierce does this sometimes with her made-up words. "Lady Sandry is saati — a true friend." "She thinks you're a yerui — a hungry ghost-devil." Et cetera.
    • On the other hand, this isn't in narration or journals - the characters are literally translating for other people who don't know the language. (Or mostly, anyway - the former example is on the borderline.)
  • Memoirs of a Geisha is filled with these - obi, okiya, kimono, mizuage, ekubo and countless, countless others.
  • Bodega Dreams, about a man living in the Puerto Rican area of Harlem, averts this to make the book seem realistic. However, most words in Spanish are either well known(hola, como esta) or have very obvious definitions based on context clues.
  • While Star Trek: The Next Generation touched on what 'Imzadi' meant ("beloved" in Betazoid), Peter David's Expanded Universe novel really went into detail.
  • At one point in The Cleric Quintet, the villain's imp familiar curses in its native Abyssal tongue then immediately follows it with a spoken translation for the readers. At the time, he is perfectly alone.
  • Happens quite a bit in The Jungle Book, e. g. "Chil the kite", "Mowgli the frog", "Tabaqui, the dish-licker", "Darzee, the tailor-bird", and "Chuchundra, the musk-rat". Mowgli was made up by Kipling, the others are words from Indian languages.

    Live Action TV 
  • Grimm runs on this with quite a few of the names for the wesen species. Most names are composed of Gratuitous German words that do describe rather aptly what the wesen is about, for example Bauerschwein (Farmer Pig), Fuchsbau (Fox's Lair), Hundjaeger (Doghunter) or Abartige Aasfresser (repulsive carrioneater -Hyenas of course) to name but a few.
  • Smallville: Girl of the Week Kyla Willowbrook calls Clark the "Naman", and then tells him it means Messiah.
  • A blatant example in the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode "Sins of the Father", Worf asks Picard to be his cha'DIch (a combat representative for a disgraced Klingon). Picard replies in Klingon "jIlajneS. ghIj qet jaghmeyjaj" ("I accept with honor. May your enemies run in fear") then adds in English "I accept."
    • Star Trek in general does this a lot, especially in the later series. Ordinarily justifiable, with all the different races and societies mingling together... until you remember the Universal Translator, which apparently considers certain cultural concepts to be proper names or something. Enterprise has the translator technology in its most primitive form, though the show still has moments of this trope.
    • This is very common with Klingons, who regularly are shown speaking in their own language despite the translators, and thus end up clarifying words that the translators should already have clarified for the listener. In reality, this is because Klingon is an actual created language, and the people behind the show want to use it, even if the translators should render it pointless.
    • Justified in a Deep Space Nine episode where Worf has to translate a Klingon word because there's no equivalent expression.
    Worf: It was a moment of tova'dok.
    Sisko: Of what?
    Worf: There is no Human word for it. It is a moment of... clarity, between two warriors on a field of battle. Much is said without the need for words.
  • Almost every other sentence in The Tudors. A character will say something in Latin to another, who will immediately translate it into English. Why are you translating, he knows what it means!
  • In the Stargate SG-1 episode "The Nox", Apophis has Teal'c at Boom Stick point, having just killed the rest of SG-1. (They're resurrected later.) Teal'c stands defiant.
    Apophis: *full sentence in Goa'uld/ancient Egyptian.*
    Teal'c: "Tal shaka mel. I Die Free!"
  • Usually averted in Farscape as audiences are generally on their own to translate words the Translator Microbes can't handle. Not too hard as most of these are curses, strings of curses, proper names, or terms for someone acting utterly insane. Either translator microbes have a PG-13 setting, or cultural terms don't translate well.

  • Shows up in the Stephen Sondheim musical Pacific Overtures, in "Chrysanthemum Tea":
    Blow wind
    Great wind
    Great kamikaze
    Wind of the gods
    • "Kamikaze" just means "wind of the gods" or "divine wind". In this case, the translation is not so much to inform the American audience of what the word means as to remind them that it doesn't just refer to suicidal fighter pilots...

    Tabletop Games 
  • Exalted has Sol Invictus, the Unconquered Sun. Which means... well, you know.
    • "Sol Invictus," however, is entirely a fan nickname based on the real-world mythological figure - it's nowhere used in the actual game. In-game, the entity in question is referred to variously as "The Unconquered Sun" and "Ignis Divine" (though not simultaneously).
  • Every Tau character in Warhammer 40,000 has given name(s) in this pattern, although only the most prominent are translated, such as their heroic leaders O'Shovah and O'Shaserra, who are vastly better known as Commander Farsight and Commander Shadowsun respectively. It is explained that in most cases, these names are given to each Fire Warrior cadet as he or she passes through training, based on their deeds, and that they can change if the owner does something especially prominent (for instance, Farsight began his career with the moniker Shoh or "inner light").

  • BIONICLE had the redundancy sub-type. Toa Matau liked to call his fellows "Toa-heroes". The word "Toa" means hero. The movies were guilty of this, too — upon arriving at their destination, Takua spouts "Kini Nui, the Great Temple." Which is exactly the same thing, first in native Matoran, then English. Seeing as Translation Convention was applied to begin with, this means he really must have the name twice. Never mind that he and his partner knew very well what that place was anyway.

    Video Games 
  • In Neverwinter Nights 2. The word 'Kalach-Cha' is quickly attached to the player character, amusingly enough they had to invent the word just to describe your crime. It literally means "one who steals a silver sword, and then destroys it and attempts to cover up the crime" according to a Githyanki. A Githzerai later translates it as simply "shard-bearer".
    Grobnar Gnomehands: Well, it's not (string of languages) or Draconic — well, unless the 'K' is silent, but that would make it 'gizzard stone' or the equivalent.
  • Featured heavily in Summoner. Your character is referred to with a foreign name assumed to mean Summoner (Sahudani). It is later revealed that the word everyone is using is not the good one. It means Man of the four rings, while the proper Khosani term for summoner (Sahugani) translates to Man of the Eight Rings revealing the existence of 4 extra summoner's rings.
  • Arx Fatalis combines this and No Name Given: The Heroes can't remember his name, so his cellmate calls him Am Shaegar, which turns out to mean "he who has no name".
  • Pops up a few times in Mass Effect. Ardat-Yakshi, or 'demon of the night winds', is a term for asari with a rare genetic defect that makes them kill their partners during sex. Also, Thane affectionately calls female Shepard "siha" past a certain point in their interaction. He only reveals it's meaning if he is romanced: it means one of the warrior-angels of the drell goddess Arashu.
    • In the third game, Tali finally explains the meaning of the common quarian invocation "Keelah Se'lai" when Shepard inquires, admitting that it's more of an abstract idea with no real translation, but roughly means "By the homeworld I hope to see someday".
    • The third game also reveals that the Geth are named after an ancient quarian word meaning "Servant of the people".
  • Assassin's Creed II does this very well. Characters will speak in English, with Italian words and phrases sprinkled in every once in a while. Instead of the characters translating it for you, the subtitles will give you the Italian words, the English translation will appear in parenthesis right next to it. If you have subtitles turned off, these words and phrases will not be translated (though they are never of vital importance). This is explained as the Translator Microbes glitching, as the Animus technology is far from perfect.
    • Sleeping Dogs does this, as well, only with Cantonese words. Sometimes the characters will speak full sentences and they will only be translated in the subtitles, but most of the time they just sprinkle Cantonese into the English dialog. Usually these untranslated words are curse words, to boot, so astute listeners will never be at a loss if they need to say "fuck" in Cantonese.
  • The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim: "But there is one they fear; in their tongue, he is Dovahkiin: Dragonborn!"
    • Paarthurnax does this a lot, throwing dragon words into a conversation you can otherwise understand. Sometimes there is the impression that it's a difficult concept or one with no direct translation... but often he just says something in Dovah and then translates it.
    Paarthurnax: "Ro fus, the balancing of force."
    • Done yet again by Durnehviir in the Dawnguard DLC. Once you defeat him in the Soul Cairn, along with gaining the ability to summon him, he also bestows the title of Qahnaarin on you, meaning "The Vanquisher". As the first individual to ever manage to best him in combat, his bestowal of this title is a telling sign of his respect for the Dragonborn.
    • The Greybeards similarly do this during the ceremony where they declare their formal recognition of the new Dragonborn.
    Greybeards: Meyz nu Ysmir, Dovahsebrom. Dahmaan daar rok!: You are Ysmir now, the Dragon of the North. Hearken to it!
  • Parodied in the Touhou Mother fan translation:
    Idiot Lake*
    *Editor's note: Idiot means Baka.
  • Emperor Yoshiro from Red Alert 3 is fond of talking about "Bushido, the way of the warrior".
  • In the Atelier series, where the alchemists work was always referred to as "workshop". In Atelier Escha & Logy: Alchemists of the Dusk Sky, the characters call it "atelier". Atelier is a French word meaning workshop.
  • In Age of Empires III the Ottoman character in the campaign is called "Sahin, the Falcon". Şahin is a Turkish name, meaning falcon.
    • Presumably, that's just what his enemies call him.
  • Gabriel Knight is a Schattenjäger, German for "shadow hunter".

    Western Animation 
  • It has recently become a trend for American children's educational television shows (the most blatant example being Maya & Miguel) to try to teach Spanish this way. "Hola! Hello!" Other examples include Dora the Explorer and Go, Diego, Go!.
  • Disney is rather fond of this, with examples including "Hakuna Matata" and "Ohana", though they stop saying what it means after a certain point.
  • Samurai Jack has the "The Evil, Aku" as his enemy. Aku literally means "Evil".
  • There is a knowledge spirit in Avatar The Last Air Bender who introduces himself as Wan Shi Tong, "he who knows ten thousand things".
  • The young star of The Life and Times of Juniper Lee is the Te Zuan Xe, "the chosen one" who must maintain the balance between the real world and the world of magic.

    Web Comics 
  • Done by Zeetha, Lost Princess of Skifander, in Girl Genius. "She is Zumil. My pupil." And Zumil has special connotations besides just "pupil".
    Zeetha: "The bond between us will be stronger than that of friends, of family, of lovers. As of now, we are 'Kolee-dok-Zumil'."
    Agatha: "What does that mean?"
    Zeetha: "Ah- Kind of hard to translate. Sort of like 'Teacher and Student'. Sort of like 'Cause and Effect'. Mostly, like 'Grindstone and Knife'."
    Agatha: "Not Good."
  • Parodied in an xkcd strip, where the author proposes a fiction rule of thumb to avoid books with too many words made up by the author.
  • Done by Dr. Sciuridae in El Goonish Shive as he explains how uryuom eggs can be used to create chimeras.