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Even the Subtitler Is Stumped

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"A PERSONAL NOTE FROM THE CAPTION WRITER: If you have any idea what the Swedish Chef is saying, then you are waaaaay ahead of me."

A common gag about The Unintelligible or people Speaking Simlish (or foreign languages presented as such) is that eventually even the guy writing the subtitles/closed captions gives up and types "???" or something similar.

In Real Life, closed captions of live television do occasionally result in typos or glitched text, but if the typist can't catch up they tend to just stop and pick up at the next sentence. More rarely, if the subtitler really doesn't understand, or it's obvious that character isn't meant to be understood, they'll type something along the lines of [UNINTELLIGIBLE], [CROSSTALK] or [PH] (for 'phonetic'). A Gag Sub or Fan Sub, though, tends to be a bit less formal about this kind of thing.

A Sub-Trope of Fun with Subtitles.

Before you start your entry pimping, please make sure that your examples actually qualify for this trope. Cases of accidentally misheard/mistyped words don't count — it has to be done on purpose.


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    Anime & Manga 
  • A fansub of Akahori Gedou Hour Lovege episode 6 had a scene that had so many reporters (and later Love Pheromone themselves) speaking over one another, that the subtitlers noted at the beginning of said scene that they didn't even bother to attempt translating it.
  • In the second episode of the anime for Bleach, Orihime is seen speaking nervously, with her speech eventually being subbed as ???????? as she begins to walk away.
  • Appeared with a ride chant in one episode of Cardfight!! Vanguard, where apparently the subber was unable to decipher just what the hell was being said. Which led to this gem:
    Make up your own chant here, this makes no sense.
    • Made more hilarious by someone managing to translate said chant just three or four hours later.
  • At least one Fan Sub of Higurashi: When They Cry does this when Shion is getting bullied by a gang of bikers: after they finish talking in their extremely vulgar accents, she meekly replies she has no idea what they just said.
    • Higurashi's ending is sung in English by a singer who clearly has an accent. Before the official lyrics came out, the three fansubbing groups who took on the show each had a different interpretation of what she was saying. WIND fansubs took the cake for one unintelligible line, simply putting "(insert line here ;_;)".
  • In Chapter 380 of My Hero Academia, Valley Girl superheroine Camie pulls a Big Damn Heroes while delivering a heroic speech... entirely in 2020s internet lingo. The official manga translation includes various notes around the panel that attempt to explain what that slang means, but the phrase "no cap" stumps even that.
    5: No cap: A distinct lack of a hat? Who knows honestly.
  • In one episode of Mythical Detective Loki Ragnarok, Freyr's speech fades out into incoherent mumbling to indicate that Loki isn't actually listening to him. One fan translation of that scene basically had the subtitles being a note that they couldn't make out what he was saying.
  • When Sanji first saw his horribly drawn bounty poster in One Piece, one fansub had his completely unintelligible mumbling subbed with one of the symbol fonts in Microsoft Word. This is probably a reference to the fact that in the manga version of the scene, Sanji's speech bubble is filled with geometrical symbols.
  • In Osomatsu-san, Ichimatsu's delinquent version in "School Matsu" is such The Unintelligible, it's obvious the subbers just used Wingdings (the original fansubbers just smashed the keyboard) in order to "translate" whatever he says.
  • The two-volume manga Q·Ko-chan: The Earth Invader Girl ends with a translator's note that pretty much admits that he or she had no idea what in the hell was going on, and encourages the readers to put some effort into interpreting for themselves. "Why do you think the general said, 'I'm a dead man' in his last appearance? I have no idea."
  • In Rurouni Kenshin, Yahiko comes across three young ladies cooing over a Chow-Chow and thinks to himself that they can't possibly be speaking Japanese. (The joke being that "chigau"—"wrong" in Japanese—is often contracted to "chau" in certain dialects.) Instead of trying to translate this pun, the official Chinese translation settles for inserting wingding symbols instead.
  • Sgt. Frog:
    • In the official English release by FUNimation, the Gag Dub features Mr. Caption, the guy who writes the subtitles, as an actual character. He actually does know Japanese, but sometimes he either flagrantly lies. ("Let's just pretend those are Japanese peace signs.") or doesn't translate for the sake of convenience. ("Look, there's no way you're going to be able to read all this in the short time it's on screen. Besides, Fuyuki's talking, you should be listening to him.")
    • Meanwhile, the Narrator at one point in episode 42 attempts to translate the words on Tamama's Jealousy Ball, or Kill Kick. "I don't speak Japanese, but that either says something about Tamama or it's directions to an Outback Steakhouse in Yonkers."
    • In one episode, Keroro tries to get rich by making his own version of popular movies by slightly altering the title. Since the movies in question had titles in Japanese and would be unknown to most English-speaking viewers anyway, the subtitles that normally translate any on-screen text simply said, "We're not going to bother. You won't get the joke anyway." To which the Narrator added, "For once I agree with the subtitles!"
    • Once, Mr. Caption just gave up and said, "This says stuff in Japanese".
  • Whenever the foreign soldiers of Plumumb in Simoun speak, the subtitles on the Media Blasters release only reads Foreign. Their dialogue, however, is Japanese played backwards.
  • In the Sky Girls anime, there's a gag where Elise acts all proud and haughty on her teammates, growing in size and uttering some roaring gibberish. The fansubbers admitted they didn't know what she said, so they chose to sub it as "I'm a Godzilla-sized DFC! Conquer Akihabara with me!"
  • The official release of Urusei Yatsura always included liner notes to explain various puns or references, but one episode featured a reporter spouting off so many so quickly that the subtitle simply says: "(Completely untranslatable bad puns.)"
  • The main character in Yu-Gi-Oh! ZEXAL uses the catchphrase "Kattobingu!", a made up word mashing Japanese term for "to flare up" with the English word "bing". Each fansubbing team translates it differently (one fan sub actually left it as "I'll do kattobingu!" adding "(We have no idea how to translate this. Sorry.)"), and the official subtitles just give up and leave it as "I'm kattobing!".
    • The manga translates it as "I'm gonna jet!", incidentally.

    Comic Books 
  • Mortadelo y Filemón: In the story about the 2018 World Cup, the titular agents are flying across space after getting a Megaton Gore from a bull, and an astronaut talks to them in Russian from inside a space station. The bottom of the panel features this caption:
    Note from the Author: No idea what they're talking about!
  • Scott Pilgrim often has expository subtitles for characters, but not even the subtitles know Ramona's age, or much else about her or about other mysterious characters. On one occasion when random background characters are talking, one girl is given a name and the other is labeled, "I don't know this girl". This might indicate that the subtitles are from Scott's point of view.
    • And then again, Scott learns that Knives Chau had turned 18 from the subtitles.
  • The Simpsons: On a plane fight to Scotland, the Simpsons watch a movie featuring subtitles to help with the actor's thick Scottish accents (mixed with Tactful Translation). By the final line, the subtitles just turn into a string of question marks.

    Fan Works 
  • The Bugger Anthology:
    • The subtitles for "The Stink of Humanity" transcribe what the choir in the (non-diegetic) background music is singing, but renders it as a keysmash.
    • Parodied when the Doctor gives a speech after he gets a new regeneration cycle in "The Time of the Daleks". While he's perfectly understandable until the Dalek Supreme starts talking over him, the Doctor's words are subtitled with a Funetik Aksent that quickly deteriorates into words that only vaguely sound like what he's saying, and eventually a sentence just ends with "blah blah blah".
      Eleventh Doctor: Did you menshan... THA ROOLS? Now, lizard. Vitamin vice. Sell me the troop, if you Blah, Blah, Blah...note 
    • "Groundhogmanay of the Daleks" just gives Dan "Dan noises" whenever he speaks.
  • The narrator does an admirable job translating and animating the mangled English in Half-Life: Full Life Consequences but even he expresses confusion at the author's attempts to describe the Scenery Porn.
  • In Turnabout Storm, the local mailmare of Ponyville constantly changes her name between Derpy Hooves, Ditzy Doo and Bright Eyes, berating Twilight every time she "gets it wrong". The dialogue box continuously switches the names around and tries to keep up, but by the end of the conversation it's so confused that it simply resorts to ???.

    Film — Animated 
  • In The Book of Life, when captions are showing what Chuy is saying as he gets the pigs to fight, it switches to Chato yelling as the captions read "???????????" He's actually yelling QUEEEEEEEEEE?
  • In Brave, whenever Young Macguffin talks, the subtitles simply read "Speaks in thick accent."
  • Used as an in-universe gag in Horton Hears a Who! (2008). The mayor is embarrassed about what he wants to say to the people in a meeting, and is speaking in mumbles unintelligibly, trying to dodge the point. The secretary taking notes on this meeting transcribes his mumbling as small, illegible gibberish.
  • Ralph Breaks the Internet has a repeat of the Brave gag listed above, with Merida speaking Scottish English that is similarly subtitled.
  • Storks: During his Imagine Spot, Toady's rendition of "How You Like Me Now" eventually devolves into random vowel noises as the subtitles desperately try to keep up.

    Film — Live-Action 
  • Not so much stumped as annoyed, but the sign-language translator for a public-broadcasting show in Airplane II: The Sequel eventually gets fed-up with what the person on-screen is saying and starts doing the "jerk-off" gesture instead.
  • The "English English" sequence between Austin Powers and his father during Austin Powers in Goldmember, which starts off as (subtitled) cockney but devolves into gibberish, with the subs devolving into "(?????????????) ...tea-kettle" before by ending on "...she shat on a turtle!".
  • In the Soviet movie The Diamond Arm, the foreign smugglers speak nonsensical gibberish dubbed into Russian in the background. Eventually they get into a heated debate, obviously starting to call each other names, and the translator says in a deadpan voice, "What follows is untranslatable wordplay using local idiomatic expressions."
  • Played With in Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol. When Ethan wakes up in a Russian hospital, he tries to listen to a local news report on television. The subtitles show up... in Cyrillic. They slowly shift to English as Ethan regains his faculties.
  • On Spanish-dubbed television airings of Selena, any time Selena or Abraham sing in English (left undubbed from the original English version), the closed captioning displays "[Canta en ingles]" (meaning "[sings in English]"). Inversely, on English television airings and home media, the various Spanish song lyrics featured throughout the film are accurately displayed.
  • Sister Act 2: Back in the Habit: On some television airings of the movie, during the scene where the kids are freestyle rapping on the basketball court (most of which was improvised by Lauryn Hill), all of the rapping is captioned as "[INDISTINCT RAPPING]", and a few seconds later, "[INDISTINCT RAPPING CONTINUES]". Other TV airings use the same captions as home media and streaming, which do show the rapped lyrics.
  • Brad Pitt's character in Snatch. is deliberately unintelligible as a response to complaints about hard-to-understand British actors in the director's previous film. Certainly his subtitles have gaps. The DVD commentary reveals that Pitt came up with the gibberish on his own and even he has no idea what he's supposed to be saying. There is an option on the DVD to turn on "Pikey Subtitles," (labeled as "Pikey says what?") which explain what his and other Pikey characters are saying, but at one point even they are stumped, and resort to the aforementioned "???" Though even then, some tenacious viewers have managed to puzzle it out.

  • Alice's Adventures in Wonderland is such a nightmarish book to translate that in one Spanish edition there is a massive footnote by the translator in the very first page saying something along the lines of "you know, Lewis Carroll wrote an unending roller coaster of linguistic puns and multiple meanings, so whole paragraphs have been made up to make any sense in Spanish."
  • Even a book did this! The Daily Show's America (The Book) gave us a frustrated translator trying to tell us what all of the Australian slang in Waltzing Matilda meant, ending with "English-speaking country, my ass".
  • In the Ciaphas Cain novel Duty Calls, Amberley - who frequently explains odd terms in the footnotes, often snarkily - openly admits that she has no idea what some of her assistant Zemelda's slang means.
  • In Dave Barry Slept Here, a third of the words in Washington's famous presidential addresses are replaced by "[something]" (or, in one case, "[machines? birds?]") due to the fact that microphones didn't exist back then.
    • His Book of Bad Songs includes over a dozen reader-submitted attempts to spell the African chanting in the chorus of "The Lion Sleeps Tonight." The next page has about as many attempts to transliterate the bridge of "Good Morning Starshine."
  • Good Omens:
    • The only translator's note in the French edition of Good Omens occurs on page 401 out of 466. It reads "Ici, le traducteur rend les armes et se borne à signaler qu'en argot américain, le mot faggot désigne un homosexuel", or "Here, the translator surrenders and will merely point out that faggot is an American slang word for homosexual". This is the scene where the American soldier misunderstands Newt's demand for faggots, as in bundles of wood, to burn note .
    • The first Polish edition is full of footnotes reading "Untranslatable wordplay", much to the displeasure of Polish Terry Pratchett fans (since Polish translations of his Discworld books are notable for dealing quite successfully with all the puns.)
  • The Finnish translation of Terry Pratchett's Hogfather adds a footnote where the translator concedes defeat regarding an "anthill inside" note  sticker on a computer.note 
  • In House of Leaves, the subtitles on The Navidson Record represent "Holloway's garbled patter" as "incomprehensible onomatopoeia or just question marks".
  • In E.E. Smith's Lensman universe, the Lens is the perfect Universal Translator - until it hits an alien concept that is literally incomprehensible to the wearer. It then makes up a nonsense word on the fly, and the nature of the Lens is that all Lenses will default to that word from that point on.

    Live-Action TV 
  • On variety programs in South Korea, subtitles for some sentences are shown on TV in Korean, but when someone speaks in another language (usually English) the subtitles just read something like "@^$^#%".
  • There's a twist on this in an episode of 30 Rock where Liz is speaking German to some Germans (with normal subtitles) and then the Germans speak too fast for her to understand. The subs say "Return Germany... tell the... time ... ... ... ... ... hubcap?"
    • There was also the episode where Jack demonstrated how handsome people think they can speak French, but actually can't. He says something in French which gets translated to random letters in the subtitles. It's just French-sounding gibberish.
  • An episode of The Amazing Race put up "???????" while showing one-time Big Brother winner Jordan Lloyd talking while eating a baguette.
  • The D-Generation did a sketch that parodied the band Australian Crawl and frontman James Reyne's famously unintelligible delivery. Subtitles on the screen translated the lyrics; starting off accurately but eventually degenerating into things like "Something about a rash... Something about leather goods?...".
  • An odd example of this happened on the PBS Kids upload of the Donkey Hodie episode "The Masked Veggies; The Royal Hosts". The only line of Panda's to get subtitled during the "Jingle Bells" scene is "Hmm, it's happening! Help! Quickly!", but as "Oh, it's happening! Help! Quickly!", combining the word Donkey said before the line started with Panda's line. For the rest of the scene, Panda's lines are unsubtitled, despite him saying some dialouge in between his singing of the song ("Oh, hurry!" and "What is it?").
  • This is played with in Father Ted, where a woman is singing on TV, accompanied by another woman who is signing the song lyrics. When the singer gets to the line "Women rule the land of Tír na nÓg", the woman signing simply shrugs and gives up.
  • Present on Firefly DVDs due to the mangled Mandarin swearing. The subtitler didn’t recognize it and just put [Speaks Galactic Language].
  • TV-Nihon’s sub of GoGo Sentai Boukenger has Gaja’s magical chants written as “mystical gibberish”.
  • Horrible Histories: "The News in Tudor Criminal Slang" begins with a translator accurately translating the slang, gradually getting confused, and finally giving up.
  • In MADtv (1995)'s parody of "Lady Marmalade" that opens the show's seventh season, roughly half the lyrics are completely misinterpreted in the closed captioning due to the studio audience's laughter and cheers overlapping several lines, as well as two of the four featured recurring characters having thick accents. Lorraine's line "I'm a recurring woman, not a backseat woman" is written as "I'm a really creative woman", with no attempt at guessing the second part of the line. Miss Swan's line "I make such savage cash saying 'He look-a like a man'" (one of her catch phrases) is written as "I'm Mrs. Cabbage Patch and I work for the MAD".
  • An episode of Match Game had Pat Morita on the panel, and he wrote his answer in Japanese. Host Gene Rayburn asked the judge for a ruling on whether or not it was a match; their response was playing both the buzz (it didn't match) and ding (it did match) sound effects at once.
  • Disney+ prints of The Muppet Show often caption the Swedish Chef's Mock-Swedish as "(SPEAKING GIBBERISH)", while the coherent English words are subtitled properly. For example, the wedding cake sketch from Marisa Berenson's episode includes subtitles that read "(SPEAKING IN GIBBERISH) ...the cake and the onions."
  • Mystery Science Theater 3000: One line of the Gag Sub for the Jet Jaguar Song is written as YAHMMMAAHOAAHOAAAUGH!
  • The "Steam Machinegun" episode of MythBusters had Adam talking with an exaggerated French accent and accompanying subtitles. Eventually, the subtitles state "...I think I'm losing my marbles" and start flashing "?????".
  • At least a few times on The Osbournes, the closed caption would simply say "Ozzy mumbling".
  • Noel's House Party: One episode of House Party had motormouth Irish comedian Jimmy Cricket on doing some schtick, and the show ran a bumper urging viewers to turn on teletext subtitles in order to get a "translation". When you turned on the subtitles, all it said was "sorry, we can't understand Jimmy either".
  • Whenever PBS aired The Noddy Shop, Stein's "Ja" was rendered as "Yeah".
  • The closed captioning the Pluto TV channel "The Price Is Right: The Barker Era" frequently displays [indistinct] or [unintelligible] whenever host Bob Barker is drowned out by the audience cheering.
  • In the Royal Pains episode "TB Or Not TB," Evan tries to interpret for an Italian girl with his rudimentary Berlitz-course Italian. The subtitles for his speech are ungrammatical and in a wobbly font; the subtitles for her speech start off legible and then degenerate into "Etc.... Etc.... Etc...." as she speaks too fast for him.
  • The Eddie Murphy skit "Buckwheat Sings" - or rather, "Buh-weet Sings" - from Saturday Night Live. He sings "Three Times a Lady", which the captions identify as "Fee Tines a Mady", then "Lookin' for Love" ("Wookin' pa Nub"). But when he starts singing "Bette Davis Eyes," the caption just says, "?????" because he's so unintelligible.
    • In another sketch, a TV translator working live for a Gorbachev speech gets confused, mixed up, and discombobulated, with humorous results. He finally pretends that Gorbachev is saying that he's so ticked at the translator that he's going to switch into unintelligible nonsense. Better yet, the sketch is partly a jab at the then-fledgling Fox network.
  • There's a scene in Scrubs when Dr. Cox is talking to his young son Jack. He points out that as Jack is getting older, his baby talk is getting more and more comprehensible. Jack then says something subtitled as "I like pizza... ??????... lightning!"
  • Shaun Micallef's Mad as Hell:
    • Season 11 of introduces the show's Pauline Hanson Translator whose job it is to translate Pauline's idiosyncratic syntax and Metaphorgotten tendencies into something comprehensible for the average viewer. She does quite well for most of the show until, following particularly convoluted utterance from Pauline, Shaun looks at her expectantly, only to be told "I have no idea what she is talking about".
    • In the 2020 Pagan Holiday Special, Emily's rendition of Ode to Joy is mostly subtitled accurately (despite "Heiligtum" being mangled into "Heidi Klum"), but the line "Was die Mode streng geteilt" is repeatedly subtitled as "All that (indecipherable)".
  • Smallville's closed captions have "She speaks unintelligibly" when Zatanna uses her Magical Incantations. Which is a shame, because it sounds like the writers and actress went to a bit of effort to actually do the "backwards speech" thing.
  • The reality show Solitary used this one. One challenge involved wearing a ball gag for as long as possible. Subtitles were used to translate the mumbling, but at one point, it turned into "???"
  • In one episode of Supernanny, a child's unintelligible speech is rendered as "(what?)" in the subtitles.note 
  • In Israel, it is generally customary to correct some grammar mistakes (often found in lower sociolects), stuttering, and the like in closed captions. Israeli satire show Eretz Nehederet mocked a contestant on the Israeli Survival who was very loud and made plenty of mistakes despite being a native speaker of Hebrew: the subtitler near the end of the skit just wrote that he had enough.
    Subtitler: If you’re deaf, you’re in luck.
  • Sometimes present with the closed captioning for Teletubbies. When Po sang "Twinkle Twinkle Little Star", the caption read "Continues singing nonsense syllables". On the third time, the interpretation was "Continues as before".
  • In one scene of Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles with Jesse Flores (who is Australian) and Derek Reese: as Jesse is leaving the room she says "Hooroo", which is Australian slang for "goodbye". The subtitles simply say, "speaks foreign language".
  • Viva La Bam - Whenever Don Vito freaks out he talks too fast, making subtitles which often degenerate into question marks necessary.
  • The captioners of Wheel of Fortune are usually given the contestants' full names by the show so that they can be spelled correctly in the closed captioning. However, there was a period in September-October 2021 where they were apparently not being given the names and had to guess them. Much of the guesswork was very wrong, as shown by the correct spellings appearing in promotional tweets from the show's Los Angeles affiliate KABC-TV. One woman with the surname "Rainone-Moakley" had it spelled as "Wynonimokli" in the captioning. Another woman named Nicole Ware-Spencer had her name written as "Nicole [ unclear ] Spencer". A December 2023 episode captioned all three contestants' last names as "[indistinct]".

  • In the video for The D-Generation's "Five in a Row", they ran sign language translation for a parody of James Reyne that featured the translator giving up and signing, "I can't understand him either". Also a Genius Bonus as you can only notice this joke if you understand Auslan (Australian Sign Language) and bother watching the signed translation.
  • Gorillaz: In the official lyrics video for Simplicity, during the first part of 2-D's section, no lyrics appear at all. Later followed by "CAN'T FIGURE OUT WHAT 2-D IS SAYING".
  • In Little V Mills' cover of the Devil May Cry 5 song "Subhuman", at a couple of points the subtitles add (?) to show where Little V wasn't confident in his transliteration of the lyrics.
  • Russian folk-rockers Otava Yo, as they become more well-known outside Russia, are now presenting their YouTube videos with English subtitles. However, Sumetskaya presented difficulties to the translator, who was forced to leave parts of it in the original Russian, as the song is partly in a dialect form of Russian only spoken in the Pskov Oblast, near to St Petersburg, some words of which appeared to leave them floored.
  • When K-pop singer Psy appeared on the non-Dick Clark New Year's Eve special, the person in charge of the closed captions clearly didn't understand his language, and kept putting up "Singing in Korean" as he performed.
  • The booklet for Radiohead's Hail to the Thief makes no attempt at transcribing a particularly unintelligible part of "2+2=5".
    I try to sing along
    I get it all wrong
  • During Kanye West's performance at Glastonbury 2015, BBC's subtitlers were trying to sanitize his, ahem, "colorful" lyrics, resulting in such gems as "motherducker" and "ligger" coming up. They eventually threw in the towel and subtitled the rest as "He raps"
  • "Weird Al" Yankovic's "Smells Like Nirvana", which is all about how nobody can suss out what Kurt Cobain is singing in Nirvana's "Smells Like Teen Spirit", has this line in the second verse: "It's hard to bargle nawdle zouss???/with all these marbles in my mouth." What makes the joke even funnier is that these are the official lyrics, question marks included. These exact lyrics would appear in the song's music video as subtitles, as seen in the page image above.

    Professional Wrestling 
  • This video from Oleg The Usurper's YouTube channel shows him chopping a guy and yelling something with a caption reading "Untranslatable."
  • Scott Steiner has a habit of devolving into hollering nonsense in his energetic, half-insane promos. This has resulted in minor internet memes, like "NO SYMPY" and this gif of him yelling into the camera with [UNINTELLIGIBLE] edited onto it.

    Stand-Up Comedy 
  • Ventriloquist Jeff Dunham has a bit in one of his routines in which his puppet Peanut claims to have deliberately rattled off a string of nonsense words, and then ''pretended'' to talk without actually saying anything, in order to confuse a group of deaf people watching the show with the help of a sign language interpreter. (Peanut's rationale was that taking deaf people to a ventriloquist act was Comically Missing the Point, much like a blind person going to a David Copperfield show.)
  • Michael McIntyre once claimed to have seen a nature documentary in which David Attenborough found and named a new species of fish. The problem was that, since it was a late-night repeat, the show was being translated into sign language by an interpreter, who apparently hadn't been prepared for this. When the newly-discovered fish was revealed and dubbed, the guy in the corner panicked, and resorted to miming the fish.
  • The comedian Marcus had a joke about how no one can understand Sylvester Stallone when he breaks down. His best example came from the end of Rambo. The subtitles? "Hell if I know. You're on your own, big guy."
  • Paul Taylor in his first special, #Franglais, either subbed in French when he speaks English, or the inverse, when he talks about the angry customer at the Apple Store in Quebec.

    Tabletop Games 
  • In Chess annotation, ! and ? symbols mark good and bad moves (sometimes with !! for amazing/game winning moves and ?? for blunders/game losing moves), with ?! specifically meaning "dubious but not completely bad." However, !? has the general meaning of "interesting," which usually means that the annotator can't figure out whether it's good or bad, but it is interesting. One grandmaster joked that it's the mark of a lazy annotator who doesn't want to work out whether the move was good or bad. (It's also sometimes used for Crazy Enough to Work plans in a losing game, which is not quite this trope.)

    Video Games 
  • Assassin's Creed: Valhalla: Late in the game, Eivor runs into a Welsh woman called Brigid. Eivor can't speak or understand a word of Welsh, so their total confusion at what Brigid's saying is represented in the subtitles saying "[Unintelligible]" every time Brigid opens her mouth.
  • Battleblock Theater: If you have subtitles turned on, they become downright confused as the lyrics to the "Buckle Your Pants" song that plays at the end of the game Deteriorates Into Gibberish.
  • In Borderlands 2, Jimbo Hodunk, if spoken to, will just mumble incoherent things, which is subtitled [Coot rambling]. His son Tector understands him just fine, though, and will translate if Jimbo's actually saying something important.
    • Also, the Bane SMG screams [Annoying sounds], though it seems more like a continuous shout of "YEAHYEAHEYEAH..." or "RATATATATATATA.....".
  • Dragon Age II has a DLC set during a hunt for a wyvern. Since the creatures are elusive, clues about what might attract them are needed to be gathered: The more used, the bigger the wyvern. Using all of the clues requires the Guest-Star Party Member to mimic the call of a rabbit-like creature that serve as wyvern prey, while also making a mating call to attract an amorous one. She makes the noises at the same time, and the subtitles simply call it an "ungodly cacophany".
  • Fallout: New Vegas:
    • ED-E the eyebot communicates through beeping, particularly in the Lonesome Road DLC where he plays an important part. The subtitles often add context to his noise, such as "sneaky beeping" or "sad whine". The Courier is able to understand this perfectly, somehow.
    • ED-E's ending narration is also in beeping, and subtitled the same — but only if you have the subtitles on, otherwise you'll have no idea what he's saying.
    • During one quest, you can use skill checks on a cook to diagnose latent trauma from family troubles. He goes into a rant so bizarre that even the game can't tell if you succeeded in the check, so instead of the usual [SUCCEEDED] or [FAILED], it merely offers a [?] until he finally breaks down.
  • In Fortune Street (the one released internationally) Donkey and Diddy Kong speak in monkey noises translated in parentheses. Except their "promotion song", which is a long string of monkey noises, is translated as the same string of monkey noises.
  • ICO: Both Ico and Yorda speak in some sort of Conlang, but only Ico's dialogue has proper subtitles. Yorda's speech is rendered into what looks like hieroglyphs to emphasize that whatever language she's speaking, it's completely alien to Ico. (In non-NTSC versions of the game, Yorda's speech is rendered in English subtitles in New Game Plus.)
  • Kingdom Hearts: When Sora and company run into Tarzan, he uses a gorilla word —"Eh oo, oo-oo ah"—that gets captioned as *&&X%. Apparently, that's gorilla for "heart" and not a shout-out to the song "Witch Doctor".
  • In Knights of the Old Republic and its sequel, several aliens speak in unintelligible alien languages but with comprehensible subtitles, with the explicit statement that your character is multi-lingual and can understand them. The exception is the service droid T3-N4, who communicates with beeps and whistles... and his subtitles spell out the beeps and whistles without translating. You can usually deduce what the droid said based on your available responses, and sometimes it will be translated by a different character.
    • Star Wars: The Old Republic abandons this for translated droid beeping and whistling, but the translations tend to use fairly odd syntax.
  • In Max Payne 3, which is set in Brazil, whenever anyone speaks Portuguese, the subtitles simply show the untranslated Portuguese text. This is done deliberately so that the player shares Max's confusion of being in a foreign land and not knowing the language. Portuguese-speaking players get to enjoy Max's reactions instead.
    Thug: [in Brazilian Portuguese] Hey, American! What are you doing over there?
    Max Payne: No comprende!
  • In Mercenaries: Playground of Destruction, if someone speaks in a language your character doesn't understand, the subtitles appear as "Speaks a foreign language".
    • Interestingly, the game has the relevant subtitles, it's just that it will only play them for the character who speaks that language. Each of the three Mercs has a different second language that allows them to understand the pre-briefing conversations with one of the three non-American contacts.
    • They're also linguistically correct, so a player who speaks Chinese, Korean or Russian might not need them.
  • Middle-earth: Shadow of War: Sometimes an Inscrutable Orc Nemesis will talk so fast, the subtitles just say (?????) instead of trying to guess slang words spoken at a rate of ~360 WPMand in a thick Irish accent to boot.
  • Mortal Kombat 9: When Nightwolf is inciting a spell against Sindel, the subtitles doesn't appear to spell it.
  • NieR: Automata given the names of most boss enemies in strange runes. Since every facets of the game menus is a Diegetic Interface, the implication is 2B's IFF couldn't make sense of the enemy designator and just recorded the garbage data verbatim. This is backed up by the second playthrough; 9S, being a Scanner designed to extract information from enemy machines, displays the translated enemy names.
  • NPC dialog subtitles in No Man's Sky represent the words your character understands, not their actual words; any foreign word your character doesn't understand, is rendered as-is and untranslated, while the words you have learned from talking to other NPCs and checking Knowledge Stones are translated into English. Therefore, if you want to understand most NPCs, you're going to have to explore the universe and meet people until your vocabulary grows large enough to understand most of their words. Storyline-relevant NPCs, however, are nice enough to talk to you in Common Tongue, which is rendered as curly braces around an English sentence.
  • With the subtitles turned on in Octodad, the eponymous character's "speech" is rendered as things like "concerned blurbling".
  • In Rhythm Heaven Fever, one of the minigames, Donk-Donk, was so weird that the English releases didn't bother to explain what was going on, instead opting to tell the player to do "that thing we do". And can you really blame them?
  • In Silent Hill 4, if Eileen's injuries get very grave, her mumblings are subtitled as random symbols.
  • In Sly Cooper: Thieves in Time, when the game introduces Caveman Cooper, he tries to introduce himself only for his real name to come up in complete gibberish in the subtitles, even though the rest of his speech is translated perfectly fine.
  • South Park: The Stick of Truth: The subtitles make absolutely zero attempt to decipher Kenny's muffled speech, they simply put it as "Mmmmphphmm" or something similar.
  • The trick descriptor in SSX Tricky can come off as this: pull too many rotations in a single jump, and the tag just gives up and lists the entire thing as "???" like it gave up trying to interpret the trick you just did.
  • In Super Smash Bros. Ultimate, Kraid appears as a master of one of the many dojos in the World of Light mode. His "speech" is mostly roars and grunts, which the game does its best to translate, but sometimes it's not even sure of what Kraid is saying.
  • In Tales of Destiny's fansubbing of the body-switching skit, the trope was invoked in the middle of the skit when everybody started to talk at the same time.
  • In Tales of the Abyss, a skit occurs when having Tear cook post-battle for the party. It ends up with at least four people talking all at once and the Japanese version's subtitles merely use random symbols — like stars, musical notes and pound keys — to denote that talking is occurring. note 
  • In Uncharted 2: Among Thieves, we have Tenzin, whose dialogue is composed of and subtitled with [speaking Tibetan]. No translation for you because Nate doesn't speak a word of Tibetan - though a player who does will be pleasantly surprised.

    Web Animation 
  • In the Bowser's Kingdom series of Flash cartoons, every character has subtitles (except for the last 3 episodes). When the Inaudible Thwomp speaks, the subtitles will eventually degrade into "???". Here is an example from Episode 7, when he "sings" the National Anthem, after which Paul Hammerbro throws a hammer at him:
    Inaudible Thwomp: Alright you better listen up because I'm gonna sing the National Anthem alright you people better listen up alright. Oh say can you see by the dawns early light what so proudly we hail ??? Stars? ??? ??? ??? ??? ??? Stripes? Rockets red glare? ??? ???
  • Homestar Runner:
    • In the Strong Bad Email "the bet", a Parody Commercial for "Butter-Dah" features a disclaimer read so fast it comes out as gibberish, complete with nonsensical subtitles:
      King of Town: They tell me not to, but I still drinks it!
      Announcer: Butter-Da is noh hush a bush push leopold.
    • In "secret recipes", a Narrator disclaims that Strong Bad may or may not have a Great Uncle Pawdabber, and later says Homestar definitely doesn't have a Stupid Uncle Egg. At the end of the email, Strong Bad describes his "Poopaw" calling him inside for dinner, and the accompanying Easter egg causes the Narrator to chime in with "I uh... I don't even know what a Poopaw is."
  • The debut of hololive Gen 6 member Koyori Hakui saw her speak so fast and with so few pauses that the live translators (fans translating in the live chat for the benefit of viewers) in the chat had all but given up trying to keep up with her. Even clippers adding subtitles after the stream noted that they had to slow down the audio just to make out what she was saying.
  • Kizuna Ai: in the English subtitles, whenever Kizuna starts mumbling or making nonsense sounds the subtitler just puts "[Ai-chan noises]" in place of subtitles.
  • The opening to The Lazer Collection Five. A transcript is below, though it's better you experience it yourself here:
    Singer: ''In the world of Abrupt Comedy, THERE'S ONLY ONE COLLECTION YOU NEED! It's the greatest collection around, it's got RRRR(Incomprehensible noises. Subtitles just say: It's the thing with the place and the guys in the side (Subtitles add: Wait what) and the things with all of the monsters (Subtitles add: ...?) And the (More incomprehensible noises. Subtitles: Dude, come on. Whatever bro.) I WANNA RIDE IN AN AIRPLANE!
  • Played with in this video. The subtitler first replaces a chunk of the song with "words words words words words words words words, more words" out of sheer laziness, then gives up completely.


    Web Original 
  • Bad Lip Reading's "NFL 2020" has a bunch of the player introductions. Not all of them intelligible.
  • Brandon Farris: Brandon's editor tends to render subtitles in eye dialect. So, when Brandon and, occasionally, Cameron become incomprehensible in the course of inflicting pain or discomfort on themselves or each other, the subtitles will at least be phonetically accurate but still will not convey what either is trying to say.
  • In Chester A. Bum's silent review of The Artist, the cations read (something about a platypus), and later, (he literally said nothing during that).
  • This parody of the Death Note opening, near the end. (WARNING: Contains racially sensitive language!)
  • Doug Walker's Colbert Report theme lyrics video.
  • If the Emperor Had a Text-to-Speech Device: Part of the Fun with Subtitles style is giving various interpretations to anything that isn't vocalized, from laughter to Angrish. Notably, however, the subtitles for Tzeentch's non-verbal noises are about as indecisive as Tzeentch himself, with the subtitles often stating things like [Presumable Discontent], [A barely contained giggle or something] and [Perhaps a snide old lady], when they aren't being terrified.
  • In this episode of the Jimquisition, Jim is dressed up in a gimp mask for the intro and only able to speak through a built-in kazoo, supposedly as 'punishment' for 'bollocksing up [his] biggest show of the year'. The skit is accompanied by captions translating his unintelligible kazoo speak, but at one point:
    Seriously I forgot what I said.
    I feel sexy(?)
  • JonTron often has confused subtitles when Jon says something unintelligible.
    Jon: Where is Falco, he was so awesome and [indecipherable] 's just a dick and that's why they removed him...
    Where is Falco
    he was so awesome and is essystem of gvoermyna all sincsisd
    that's why they removed him
  • Happens in this Kud video called "Mijn elleboog" ("My elbow") about a man trying to touch his chin with his elbow.
  • The Linkara/Spoony joint-spoofing of the Warrior comics gets in on this during the Ultimate Warrior's rants (both the real ones and Spoony's impression of him).
  • The Misheard Lyrics videos on YouTube are the deliberate version of this trope. Especially hilarious versions of this are the ones made out of songs by Sean Paul, especially for his song Temperature, where the subtitles never make any sense at all.
  • Muppet Viral Videos: The Swedish Chef makes popcorn shrimp. Hilarity Ensues. Make sure to turn on the Closed Captions, but even the caption writer admits to not understanding the Swedish Chef.
  • My Way Entertainment, during their Bleach parody. Ichigo's dad says, "Welcome to the world of motherfucking midgets and...(gibberish)", while the subtitles simply show a string of question marks.
  • In Nintendo Gamer's Iwata Asks... an internet fanboy, after a particularly unintelligible rant we get this:
    IWATA: I apologise, but my English is not very good. I am struggling to understand much of what you are saying. Perhaps my translator can help. [Looks at translator]
    TRANSLATOR: [Shakes head]
  • At one point in The Nipple Song, the "subtitler" gives up because the singer is going too fast.
  • PeanutButterGamer , during the SkiFree section of his "Top Ten Jerks in Video Games" video, he starts to sing his "I Like to Ski" song, which eventually devolves into unintelligible gibberish right before he's killed.
    PBG: (Singing) I like to ski! I like to ski! I can ski free! I can ski free! I am going down the snow! I do not know which way I go. ????????? GO! I like to ski! *yeti'd*
  • Pilipinos Do Hab Souls. Presumably, the subtitles are there so viewers can understand the comedian... except the subtitles have the same accent. Rule of Funny, of course.
  • Plenta Kill's "I'm A Volibear", a League of Legends-themed parody of Waka Flocka Flame's "I Don't Really Care", opens with the singer shouting some unintelligible gibberish, which the official subtitles helpfully translate as a row of question marks.
  • This trope occurs when a Predator tries to sing.
  • Pick one of raocow's gameplay videos. ''Any'' of them. Prepare for hilarity to ensue.
  • The Rap Critic, whose song reviews always have subtitles below them, will sometimes use this in particularly baffling moments.
  • Rhett & Link have a skit where they act out a scene, have YouTube close-caption it, act out the scene again with YouTube's new dialogue, Have YouTube close-caption it again, and perform the scene a third time with the double-mutated dialogue, which is by now complete and total gibberish. Presenting: Caption FAIL.
    • YouTube can sometimes even be meta about it where all that would show in some scenes is "uh...".
  • In episode 4 of The Seven Deadly Schmucks, one captioner makes their feelings on the intelligibility of Elizabeth's speech abundantly clear. The following comes from the English Canada CC (the default placeholder for joke captions in abridged works before YouTube ended community contributions):
    ELIZABETH (I think): What about finding the other seven friendly mittens to help Matthew eschew the martrydom with the tranny of the late moley whites?
    DMACATTACK93: No seriously, what were you expecting? She sounds like a cat being strangled with a rubber chicken while simultaneously getting fucked by a full-grown cactus. I listened to this shit for an hour trying to figure out what she was saying and I still can't understand a single goddamn word.
    An hour. A fucking hour of my life I will never get back, wasted on this fucking scene, and it's only seven seconds long. I would rather cut my penis off, feed it into a dry blender, mix it with skunk rectum discharge and bath salts, then chug the entire mixture altogether than listen to this bullshit one more goddamn time.
    Fuck you for making me translate this. If I could put an emoji of a middle finger in these subtitles, I would.
    Somewhere, there is a fat, anime-worshiping, neckbeard living in his mother's basement jerking himself off to sleep while thinking about having sex with little Miss CuntFace McGee right here. Seriously. Think about that for a second.
    Now go fuck yourself.
  • SonnyBone's Fun With Ahmed series.
  • On Saint Patrick's Day 2020, the official Sonic the Hedgehog social media accounts (namely, their YouTube and Twitter) introduced a character named Irish the Hedgehog, voiced by Jacksepticeye. Irish speaks in a thick Irish accent and frequently speaks so fast and uses phrases and slangs so odd that the text can't keep up with what he's saying. At one point an entire paragraph of subtitles becomes nothing but question marks.
  • The Star War Gatherings: In Flies are a Sober Force, the previously-voiceless Drag Along (Chewbacca) suddenly gets his first line of dialogue: Greenwood. The blog commentary has no idea how to react to this development.
  • In The Technical Difficulties' video "Gary makes a very loud noise", Gary interviews Brian Johnson, the lighthouse engineer who restored and operates Britain's last working foghorn. The sequence where Brian fires up the 70-year-old diesel engines that power the foghorn has open captions for everything he says, due to the background noise, but at one point he calls over something that's inaudible over the engine noise, and the subtitle just says "[inaudible over engine noise]".
  • Todd in the Shadows will often only put subtitles of the lyrics of a song he is reviewing to invoke this trope.
  • In The Tourettes Guy, Danny's son informs him that a bird had gotten into the house, at which point Danny starts swearing up a storm as usual while running towards the bird's location. The swears are all subtitled, although the last one is indecipherable and is subtitled as "???".
  • The ending of episode four of Water-Human features a Skype conversation between the authors and one of the fans. In the English subtitles on YouTube, it's mostly question marks.
  • Arlo P. Arlo from What the Fuck Is Wrong with You?? describes his family's Christmas traditions. Following the first line...
  • The Will McDaniel "Space Prison" video subtitles the agonized groaning of a popped balloon-headed person with "God in Heaven I can't caption this".
  • In a YouTube video of Leslie Uggams losing the lyrics of June Is Busting Out All Over, subtitles go into #&$&# at one point.
  • This Youtube Poop has subtitles, which at one point are reduced to a string of letters when Clinton is speaking gibberish and later says "???" when Holt is talking backwards.
  • Yu-Gi-Oh the Other Abridged Series subtitles the opening and closing themes. It's... interesting.
  • Used hilariously in this College Humor parody of True Grit.

    Western Animation 
  • Even the subtitles are uncertain what the one-lined end credits to Aqua Teen Hunger Force say. Sometimes it's "Dancing is Forbidden" (this is what it's supposed to be - the sole lyric is sampled from Master Shake saying this line in the first episode), other times it is "Dance Finger Puppets". Sometimes it's even "Danzig is morbidity".
  • In the Duckman episode "Psyche", Duckman is reduced to gibberish when playing mini-golf with some beautiful women looking for advice to not be seen as sex objects. Most of his lines are translated as proper English conveying what he really means, but his last gibberish line is simply transcripted phonetically rather than translated.
  • In the Family Guy "Peter's Two Dads", Peter and his Irish dad have a Drinking Contest and speak "drunk" to each other. It sounds like incoherent gibberish, but according to the subtitles, they're actually having an uncharacteristically intelligent argument... until the end, when Peter's dad rambles off a couple lines of untranslatable nonsense right before passing out. This final bit is subtitled as simply "????????".
  • Another subtitle-free variant occurs in the Garfield and Friends episode "Suburban Jungle". Garfield brings on a translator for Jon's Jive Turkey niece, turning her Totally Radical sayings into comprehensible dialogue - for the most part. At one point she says something so over-the-top that all the translator can say is "Your guess is as good as mine." And earlier, he straight up refuses to translate something because he finds the meaning too disgusting.
  • Grojband: In "All You Need is Cake", when Corey starts to tell the moral of the story like he does at the end of every episode, he starts stuffing his face with cake in the process. Subtitles show up on screen to translate, but quickly just turn all into "Omm nom nom nom omm nom nom."
  • A MAD short did a parody of Toy Story 3. At one point, Buzz realizes he can speak Spanish and the subtitles change from English subtitles for when he speaks Spanish and Spanish subtitles for when he speaks English. Then he says "I can haz Spanish" and the subtitles are pretty much rendered as "?????".
  • Phineas and Ferb has a subtitle-free variant in an episode in which Ferb translates his grandfather's bizarre British slang. After a particularly odd statement, he simply says, "I have no idea."
  • In one of the 1960s Popeye cartoons, Popeye goes to rescue Olive from a pyramid, encounters the natives, who speak absolute gibberish (even by his standards), and proclaims, "What this conversation needs is some subtitles." Said subtitles then promptly appear, but Popeye must read them out loud to understand them.
  • In The Raccoons episode "The Evergreen Grand Prix", the line "The Solar Coaster is in the lead," is closed-captioned as "Their too much (inaudible)."


Video Example(s):


English English

Austin Powers and his dad decide to have a conversation in English English. Initially, the subtitles can translate the conversation before it gives up and just writes what they're literally saying.

How well does it match the trope?

4.93 (44 votes)

Example of:

Main / EvenTheSubtitlerIsStumped

Media sources: