A Comedy Trope where something mystical or cool-sounding turns out to be the native language's word or phrase for something completely mundane or outright negative.
A common variant has a character sarcastically say that the subject matter is "native" (or some other language) for something that typically amounts to "piece of shit."
Please note that this about situations where this is played for comedy, not about words actually meaning something significant in a foreign language. Compare In My Language, That Sounds Like....
- A Far Side cartoon depicts The Lone Ranger in his old age discovering that "kemosabe," the "honorific" that Tonto uses when talking to him, means "horse's ass."
- In subversive newspaper comic If, there is a story arc where Margaret Thatcher and husband Denis went on a controversial holiday in South Africa, and Denis is playing golf. His black caddie, seemingly respectfully, tugs the forelock and calls him baas-fella. When Denis has gone, a small dog squats and strains at the edge of the golf course. The caddie shoos the dog away, saying don't you do none of that baas-fella on this grass, dog!
- There's a running gag in the Infinity spin-off "Fate T. Harlaown and the Case of the Murderous Murder" that Dr. Heinrich von-Murder and his KillBots "means something different in the local language". And we never find out what that "something different" is.
- The whole point of the Star Wars fic What Kashyyyk Means is that some location and tribe names were the result of a bold explorer asking the name and writing down the initial insulting answer... And the Wookie homeworld is apparently one such place.
- In the third An American Tail movie, The Chief's Daughter of an underground Native American tribe gives Tony (who'd been hitting on her) the nickname "Poolaook", which he is later disappointed to find out means "turkey".
- The page quote is from The Road to El Dorado, where, upon finding the end of the map and nothing but a large rock, Tulio surmises that "El Dorado" is a native term for precisely that. This line goes from funny to plain silly when you realize that "el dorado" is a term from his native language, the equivalent of an English speaker saying something like "Apparently courthouse is a native word for hole in the road".
- It actually has a bit of Fridge Brilliance - El Dorado may be a word from Tulio's homeland, but he's not in his homeland.
- The Count of Monte Cristo has this exchange:
Luigi: We shall call him... Zatarra.
Edmund: Sounds fearsome.
Luigi: It means "driftwood".
- In Don't Be a Menace, Dashiki explains that her name is Swahili for "doggy-style".
- In 50 First Dates, after Ulla says something deep and meaningful-sounding to Henry as they are saying goodbye:
Henry: Thanks buddy, that's beautiful. What's it mean again?
Ulla: Bring me back a T-shirt.
- In Jungle 2 Jungle, Mimi-Siku's name means "cat pee". He chose the name himself as a little kid, naturally.
- The Kryptonian villains in Superman II initially encounter lunar astronauts talking to "Houston", and assume that to be the name of the planet Earth.
- An old Urban Legend concerning Spanish conquistadors says that, upon arriving on the Yucatan Peninsula, they asked the natives what the area was called. Due to the obvious language barrier, the natives replied "yucatan," meaning "I don't understand you" (or in other accounts, "hear how they talk"). "Yokot'an" is one of the names the Chontal Maya of Oaxaca use for themselves; Chontal Maya is in the same branch of the Mayan family as Classical Mayan (which was used for all Mayan writing no matter what their spoken language was), so the term may once have been common to many Mayan cultures, including those of Yucatan. note
- A similar story depicts British explorers in Australia. Noticing large hopping animals, they asked the Aborigines what the animals were called. The natives replied "kan garu" meaning "I don't understand you." Also apocryphal. Actual etymology
- Yet another (apocryphal) telling of meeting natives results in the outsiders realizing that the natives have been giving the same word whenever something new was being pointed at, because they were just saying "finger" over and over again.
- There's another folk legend about Native Americans and the Spanish. One of the first tribes an expedition came across told them that they would find gold with a mysterious tribe. They were given the name and set off. Every tribe they came to on their journey always said that the tribe they were looking for was just a few days' march away. The name the conquistadors were given was a coded message to the other tribes meaning "These guys are trouble, get rid of them."
- The name of the American state of Idaho purportedly comes from a Shoshone expression "ee-da-how," meaning "Look, the sun coming over the mountains." There is no such phrase in Shoshone — though there is a Plains Apache word "ídaahę́" which means "enemy". However, it is actually most likely that the name came straight from some settler's ass.
- There is a Russian urban legend where an Italian was told some words and was asked what he thinks they mean. First, he was told the words: "l'ubov'", "druzhba", "droog". He said these must be some harsh words, maybe even curses.Actual meaning Then they told him the word "Tel'atina". He said this is most definitely some gentle word used to address a woman.Actual meaning
- Recycled above as Steve Bell's joke at the expense of Denis Thatcher, there is the gag where the Lone Ranger is respectfully called kemo sabi by his Indian sidekick Tonto. When the Lone Ranger is out of earshot, Tonto remarks on the way a passing buffalo is depositing a vast steaming heap of kemo sabi on the prairie....
- Used several times in Discworld.
- For example, in The Light Fantastic the Forest of Skund got its name from a native word meaning "your finger, you fool". Other geographical names mean things like "Just a Mountain", "I Dont Know", "What?" and "Who Is This Fool Who Does Not Know What a Mountain Is?"
- In Jingo, "Vindaloo" is claimed to translate to "tasteless gristle served to macho foreign idiots".
- Discussed in Henry Beam Piper's Little Fuzzy. Some of the names of alien animals and plants are... strange.
You pointed to something and asked a native, and he'd gargle a mouthful of syllables at you, which might only mean, "Whaddaya wanna know for?" and you took it down in phonetic alphabet and the whatzit had a name.
- In The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, the Sirius Cybernetics Corporation built its company slogan Share and Enjoy in gigantic neon letters atop the top of their corporate home office. When the roof collapsed under the weight of the letters, only the top half remained legible reading in the local language as "Go stick your head in a pig."
- The Doctor Blake Mysteries features one episode where a Aboriginal boy is suspected of murdering a white girl. During his interrogation, he tells the police that the name of the local town, Lake Wendouree, comes from an Aboriginal word meaning "go away." When one of the officers starts to smack him around, he starts repeating "Wendouree! Wendouree!" in defiance.
- In The Big Bang Theory Raj is doing yoga with Penny and tells her a deep-sounding name in Sanskrit for the pose which is called "Downward-Facing Dog" in English. She comments that the Sanakrit is beautiful and asks what it means. He replies "Downward-Facing Dog".
- In World of Warcraft, this is one of the male draenei's jokes:
We did not realize, but in the Naaru language, Exodar means "defective elekk turd."
- In TFS at the Table (Team Four Star's Dungeons & Dragons campaign), the party encounters a juvenile blue dragon who goes by "Pabsvadri". A member of the crew who speaks Draconic later tells them that the name means "water eruption", giving off the impression that he's just a kid trying way too hard to sound cool (a suspicion later confirmed when they meet a friendlier dragon).
- In the Phineas and Ferb episode "Run Away Runway", a French fashion designer wants to make Candace a model because her unusually long neck worked perfectly with his new design. He butters her up by calling her his cou de crayon, which Ferb notes at the end of the episode is simply French for "pencil neck".
- This exchange from "Where's Perry?"
Ignatius: And this, everyone, is the Uncharted Gorge. They call it "Haijulikani Wadi".
Phineas: That's beautiful! What does it mean?
Ignatius: (Dramatically) "Unchartered Gorge"
Ferb: Wow, they really nailed that one.
- This exchange from "Where's Perry?"
- Jacques Cartier didn't understand the local languages of the Native peoples of what is now Canada as well as he liked his fellows to believe. He misunderstood the designator for what kind of place name he was given, and so gave the country the name Canada (and also led to a city to be named the phonetic variant Kanata). The actual meaning of the word is something like "The Village of the Small Huts".
- We also refer to all of Africa by the Roman name for what's now Tunisia, and all of Asia by the Greek name for Mesopotamia (that was Asia Major, if anybody wondered why Asia Minor was called that).
- Dictionaries of Canadian place names often state that Antigonish (in Nova Scotia) is a Mi'kmaq place name that means something like "The Place Where Bears Get Beech Nuts from the Trees". While Antigonish is indeed of Mi'kmaq origin, and the Mi'kmaq name for the place does translate that way, Antigonish actually means something more like "The Place Where Two Rivers Enter the Bay at the Same Place" and isn't a place name at all.
- The city of Toronto (in Ontario) is sometimes said to have an Iroquois name meaning "The Meeting Place". It's really a corruption of a word that means "place where trees stand in the water" and was applied to a completely different location on a different lake in a different part of Ontario that was created by a different Native group.
- Nike offended Muslims in June, 1997 when the "flaming air" logo for its Nike Air sneakers looked too similar to the Arabic form of God's name, "Allah". On shoes. Viewed as unholy and unclean in Islam. Nike pulled more than 38,000 pairs of sneakers from the market.
- Nowadays people often referred The Sahara place in Africa or named in pop culture as "Sahara Desert". But Sahara derived from the plural word in Arabic language means "desert", so technically it's translated to "The Desert Desert".
- When the Kingdom of Sardinia-actually ruled from Turin in mainland Italy-adopted standard Italian as its language it needed a list of its locations in the language, and when it came to the Sardinian coastal area known as Golfu di li Ranci they wrote it down as Golfo degli Aranci, meaning "Gulf of the Orange Trees", and renamed the local town of Figari with the shortened form Golfo Aranci. In the local Gallurese language it means "Gulf of the Crabs", as the area was (and still is) a crab fishing hotspot.