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"El Niño" Is Spanish for "The Niño"

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"I am El Niño! All other tropical storms must bow before El Niño! ¡Yo soy El Niño! For those of you who don't habla español, 'El Niño' is Spanish for ... (Beat) 'the Niño'!"
Chris Farley, as a personification of the El Niño weather system, Saturday Night Live

A comedy trope where characters trying to understand or explain what a foreign word means ultimately conclude that the foreign word means... the foreign word.

Related to Shaped Like Itself. Contrast Translate the Loanwords, Too and Too Long; Didn't Dub.

Please note that as far as translation theory goes, this is entirely correct. While many words do often have one-for-one equivalents, words in general have so much linguistic and cultural baggage that no translation, no matter how equivalent in meaning, means exactly the same thing. Ironically, this is particularly true for the "El Niño" of the title. Whilst it literally translates as "the child", it refers to the Central American weather system that is called El Niño even in English; the name was given in reference to this phenomenon peaking around Christmas, which in many Hispanic countries is known as "Día del Niño Dios" (Christ Child day).

Contrast El Spanish "-o", You Are the Translated Foreign Word.


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    Comic Books 
  • A similar gag occurs in an early Deadpool story, where the captions helpfully translate a Spanish-speaking mook's pleas of "No" into English as..."No".
  • Inverted in a Simpsons story in which Ned Flanders invited the Simpson family to a Mexican fiesta complete with tacos, burritos, sombreros, and a pinata. Homer angrily shot back with "No - and that's Mexican for 'No!'"

    Fan Works 
  • From Hop to It, when Chat Noir describes an akuma only he can see, thanks to his night vision:
    Chat Noir: (in English) He's right there. He’s dressed in a… (in French) how do you say Morphsuit in English?
    Ladybug/Rabbit: Morphsuit.
  • In Romance and the Fate of Equestria, Spike claims that "salsa con queso" is Spanish for "salsa with queso".

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Inverted in Austin Powers with the line "He has a little something that the French would call, I don't know what." "Je ne sais quoi" is literally French for "I don't know what", but a less literal, more accurate translation is "a distinctive, pleasant quality that can't be easily described or named".
  • In a deleted scene from Goldmember, Dr. Evil claims to be a fan of Das Boot, "Which is German for 'The Boot'". It actually means "the boat."
  • Balls of Fury: According to Fang, the Chinese word for ping-pong is..."ping-pong."note 
  • Deadpool has a variant, where Wade notes "You know how they say 'cancer' in Spanish? El cáncer." (the only difference is that instead of CAN-cer, it's pronounced CAHN-cer, hence the accent)
  • Also from the Department of Redundancy Department page: An MGM short from 1935 called La Fiesta de Santa Barbara uses this for humorous effect during one of its narrator's helpful translations: "You may be asking, what is a 'fiesta'? Well, 'fiesta' comes from the Spanish word 'fiesta', which means... 'fiesta'."
  • The Godfather Part II features a scene where Fredo Corleone is trying to order a drink in Spanish, leading to this exchange:
    Fredo: Uno... por favor... How do you say "banana daiquiri"?
    Michael: "Banana daiquiri."note 
  • Hop. "We call this a coup d'etat. It is French for—coup d'etat."
  • Kicking & Screaming: A few of the kids on the soccer team have some questions to ask immigrant player Gian about Italian.
    Sam Weston: How do you say pizza in Italian?
    Gian Piero: Pizza!
    Sam Weston: How do you say "spaghetti"?
    Gian Piero: Spaghetti!
    Ambrose: Italian's easy.
  • In Lethal Weapon 4, when Riggs, Murtaugh, and Butters seek to question Uncle Benny at a dentist's office, they give him a dose of laughing gas to make him more complacent, except they give him too much gas, making him way too aloof and carefree to be very helpful. His one clue as to the location of the Hongs is "Ren Min Bi". When asked what that means, Uncle Benny explains, "'Ren Min Bi' means... 'Ren Min Bi'."note 
  • In National Lampoon's European Vacation, Chevy Chase attempts to test his new hand-held translator by translating "soufflé" into French. It responds with "soufflé", so he assumes it's broken.note 
  • Out Cold has "Carpe the diem! Seize the... carp!"
    • Which is even more funny because it is carpe, not diem, which means "seize." So the character in effect said "Seize the seize!"

  • Dave Barry does this from time to time. In one column, he mentions a letter he received from a reader in Rancho Cucamonga, California ("Spanish for 'Cucamonga Ranch' ").
    • Another (particularly appropriate) Dave Barry example is "A tropical storm called El Niño (Spanish for "The Little Neen)".
    • In Dave Barry Slept Here, he claims that Sputnik literally means "Little Sput."
    • In Dave Barry's Only Travel Gude You'll Ever Need, he translates Des Moines as "some of these Moines."
  • Discworld:
    Nanny Ogg: Hotel Nova Canciesnote . That means New, er, Cancies in foreign.
    • In the quizbook Unseen Unversity Challenge, David Langford, discussing the Librarian's collar saying "Pongo" in Lords and Ladies, explains that biologists call the orang-utan pongo pygmaeus, which means a small Pongo.

    Live-Action TV 
  • In an episode of Barney Miller, a recurring Latina character calls Officer Leavitt (who is quite short) "poquito." He finally asks her what it means and she says, "It means macho," and leaves.
  • On Boys Will Be Boys, which was an early Fox vehicle for Matthew Perry, the three main characters plan a road trip to Las Vegas. Perry's character, Chazz, is dubious when his best friend Eugene says that Las Vegas is Spanish for 'The Vegas'. Hilarity ensues for the remainder of the short-lived series.
  • A The Kids in the Hall sketch had Dave Foley as a stereotypical Frenchman talking about how beloved Kevin MacDonald is in France, where it is known as "Le Poopie," which is French for "The Poopie."
  • This is a bit of a Running Gag in The Daily Show regarding Arabic phrases with the article "Al." For example, in one episode featuring an interview with an Al Jazeera reporter, Jon helpfully informs us that "Al Jazeera" means "The Jazeera" and that hopefully their guest will explain what a "Jazeera" is (he doesn't).note 
    Jon Stewart: "My guest tonight is author Robert Caro, who's written a biography of LBJ. Which, of course, is Spanish for 'The BJ'". (This is actually a joke that predates The Daily Show, where the punchline is that it's what President Johnson's Mexican whores called him.)
  • On The Golden Girls, Blanche one time introduced herself to a gentleman as, "I'm Blanche Devereaux. That's French for... Blanche Devereaux." Funnily enough, that's a mild real life example, too. "Blanche" means white, but Devereaux could really only be translated as "from Évreux," a town in Francenote .
  • On Hamish and Andy's Gap Year, before making a trip to El Paso, Hamish helpfully tells us that "El Paso is Spanish for the Paso."note 
  • Have You Been Paying Attention?: The panelists were asked to define certain words coined during the Corona virus lockdown. While puzzling out 'trikini'note , Sam Pang offered "'tri' is Latin for three, and 'kini' is Latin for...kini".
  • In an episode of The King of Queens, Carrie wants to go salsa dancing at a restaurant called "El Caliente," which by the way means "The Caliente" according to Doug.note 
  • In the Mystery Science Theater 3000 episode featuring The Beast of Hollow Mountain, seeing a sign reading "Rancho Bonito" has Jonah respond "Rancho Bonito! That's Spanish for 'Ranch Bonito'!"note 
  • Trope Namer is Saturday Night Live, as Chris Farley, playing El Niño (the climate pattern) as a Mexican lucha wrestler, introduces himself with the page quote.
  • From That '70s Show:
    Kelso: It's an El Camino. It's Spanish for "The Camino!"note 
  • Played deliberately before being corrected on The West Wing.
    President Josiah Bartlet: 27 lawyers in the room. Anybody know "Post hoc, ergo propter hocnote "? Josh?
    Josh Lyman: Uh, uh, "post" - after, after hoc, "ergo" - therefore, "After hoc, therefore" something else hoc.
    Pres. Bartlet: Thank you. Next?
  • Often used as a gag by Pat Sajak on Wheel of Fortune. For instance, if a contestant is from Los Alamos, he'll say it's Spanish for "the Alamos."note 
  • Whose Line Is It Anyway?:
    • In the game of "Hollywood Director" based on "Treasure of the Sierra Madre", Ryan says, "Bandito is Mexican for... Bandito!" (He really said Mexican instead of Spanish).
    • In 2016's "Greatest Hits Of Horror", Ryan says "Les Miserables" is French for "The Miserables" (pronouncing it the same way).
    • From a round of "Greatest Hits":
    Colin: This is a song that was cut from Le Mis...
    Ryan: Which in English is 'The Miss'.


    Professional Wrestling 

    Theme Parks 
  • Happens on the Gran Fiesta Tour at EPCOT.
    Panchito Pistoles: We shout
    Donald Duck: "Ay Caramba!"
    Panchito Pistoles: which means "Ay Caramba"
    José Carioca: What does it mean?
    Panchito Pistoles: Yes, I don't know


     Video Games 
  • In Animal Crossing: New Horizons, Smug villagers will sometimes greet you with "Buongiorno! That means it's gonna be a great giorno in Italian!"

    Web Original 
  • The social networking website Foursquare has a badge called "French for 'The Moines'", given for exploring different places in Des Moines, Iowa.note 

    Western Animation 
  • Inverted in The Looney Tunes Show:
    Lola: How do you say "taco" in Spanish?
    Speedy: "Taco".
    Lola: How do you say "burrito" in Spanish?
    Speedy: "Burrito".
    Lola: Cool! English and Spanish are the same!
    • Interestingly the Latin American Spanish Dub keep basically the same exchange just, naturally, switching the order of the languages.
  • Zig-zagged in the Merrie Melodies short Daffy Duck Slept Here (1948), as Daffy Duck boards with Porky Pig and they're going to bed.
    Daffy: Good night, fat boy.
    Porky: B-b-b-b-Buenos noches. [turns out light; Daffy turns it back on and wakes Porky]
    Daffy: What's "Buenos noches"?
    Porky: Th-that's Spanish for b-b-b-bonsoir.
    Daffy: Oh. [turns out light; turns it back on and wakes Porky again] What's "bone sewer"?
    Porky: Th-that's French for b-b-b-Buenos noches.
    • It should also be noted that Porky says it wrong. It should be "buenas noches" because the Spanish word for night is feminine.
  • Phineas and Ferb: "As they say in Mexico, 'Do svidaniya!' Down there, that's two vidaniyas!" Dr. Doofenschmirtz gets the Russian for "goodbye" mixed with Spanish ("dos" is the Spanish word for the number two).
  • The Simpsons has a few examples.
    • In the episode "Mom and Pop Art", Homer attempts to start assembling a barbecue pit in his backyard but accidentally drops all the pieces into the cement.
    Homer: (tries to read the cement-soiled instruction sheet) English side ruined! Must use French instructions... "Le grill"? What the hell is that?
    • The episode "The Italian Bob" has this exchange:
    Sideshow Bob: I hereby swear... a... VENDETTA!
    Marge: (searching through an Italian-English dictionary) "Vendetta" means... "Vendetta"!
    (all Simpson family members scream)
  • The Venture Bros.:
    Doctor Venture: How do you say Doctor in Spanish?
    Mexican medic: Doctor.

    Real Life 
  • Most English-speakers in Southern California refer to the famous road El Camino Realnote  as "El Camino"note , leaving off the important part.note 
  • In Kansas City, Missouri, where they have a bit more of an excuse, there's a fairly large and important street which is actually named "The Paseo", which is what you get if you pull the Trope Namer on El Paseonote .
    • Berkeley, California has a street called "The Alameda," meaning "the tree-lined avenue."
  • In Des Moines, Iowa, popular local apparel maker RAYGUN prints a well-bought shirts and stickers that read "Des Moines: French for 'The Moines'."
  • Because animals like vicuña are not translated from Spanish, some English Students translate "Zorros" (Foxes) as "Zorros".
  • A few place names have come into English this way: the easy part is translated (typically a Spell My Name with a "The"), the hard part is just borrowed. Examples include The Hague (Dutch Den Haag, "the hedge"), Netherlands; The Dalles (French les dalles, either "the sluices" or "the flagstones"), Oregon; or The Pas (French Le Pas, itself a shortening of Cree opâskwêyâhk "at the wooded narrows"), Manitoba. Similarly for certain cases of countries that take or used to take a "the," such as "the Sudan" (Arabic (bilād) as-Sūdān, "(country of) the black people.")
    • Frenchnote  and some other European languages have done the same with Cairo (French: le Caire, Italian: Il Cairo), from Arabic al-Qāhirah.

By the way, "El Niño" is Spanish for "The boy", id est Jesus Christ, since El Niño is usually noticed around Christmas.


Video Example(s):


SNL - The Trope Namer

Chris Farley's last appearance on the show before his untimely death.

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Example of:

Main / ElNinoIsSpanishForTheNino

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