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Inflationary Dialogue

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Son: Dad, can I borrow five dollars?
Father: Four dollars? What do you need three dollars for?
An old joke

This is a numerical claim that mysteriously shifts over the course of a conversation. Note that there are two different ways this can vary — the number can either increase or decrease, and it can either converge on the correct number (in which case this is a form of Verbal Backspace) or start near-correct and end up somewhere wild.

A sure sign of a Bad Liar. Not to be confused with Victor Borge's "Inflationary Language" routine. Compare Escalating Punchline.


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    Comic Books 
  • Achille Talon has l'Esprit d'Eloi, an executioner's ghost who gains two meters in height every time someone talks about him.

    Comic Strips 
  • Garfield didn't believe when his grandfather stated "You kids have it good these days. I remember when I had to walk six miles every day just to chase rats." When Garfield said he didn't buy that, his grandfather asked "Would you believe across the street to spook a chicken?"
  • Mafalda: Manolito hates The Beatles and claims they give him a 40-degree fever.In °F  Mafalda replies that the Beatles are millionaires, doesn't he like millionaires? Manolito says that makes no difference, they still give him a 37-degree fever.note 
  • In one Peanuts storyline when Snoopy fights the cat next door because Linus says he's attacking Woodstock (it's just a yellow glove), Snoopy's description of the cat starts out at 50 pounds, then increases by 50 pounds every time until it reaches 300, at the same time as the people next door complain that Snoopy attacked their kitten. Linus decides to take responsibility, and returns badly scratched, saying "That's no kitten, it's a thousand pound gully cat!"

  • The Hamsterball Show has this exchange in the Get Smart parody "Get Fink":
    Ranger Fink: I happen to be an expert on escaping from these traps. Why, I've learned all kinds of escapes from watching four straight hours of MythBusters! Would you believe it? Four hours of MythBusters!
    Bonk the Hammer: I find that hard to believe.
    Ranger Fink: Would you believe three hours of Gilligan's Island?
    Bonk: I don't think so.
    Ranger Fink: How about half an hour of Odd Squad?
  • Travel Secrets: Second:
    Blaise: Rumor has it, Ronald Weasley killed a basilisk while rescuing you.
    Harry: Reeeaally?
    Blaise: Apparently. It was all very heroic. It was twenty feet long.
    Theo: Forty.
    Blaise: No, no, sixty!
  • In Xtreme Freak Hermione's paternal grandparents' mastiff/wolf crossbreed once frightened a professional burglar so badly he actually asked them to call the cops.
    The story of Mouse versus the hitman became a local legend that was repeated every year in training classes and bars until it grew to an army of enforcers; the funny thing was that the description of Mouse never changed since he looked scary enough already.
  • Powers of Invisibility has this when Adrien chides Plagg for raiding Juleka's fridge without asking:
    Adrien: Plagg, did you steal cheese from Juleka?
    Plagg: You guys were taking forever and I was hungry. It was only one cube. (Adrien and Juleka look at Plagg.) Okay, okay. It was two. (Adrien raises an eyebrow.) Three? (Juleka tilts her head.) You might need more cheese.
  • In Harry Potter and the Marauders of the Mind Harry ritually creates new bodies for the spirits of his parents, Remus and Sirius. The latter two end up looking younger than their death ages.
    Remus: Do you think I want to look like this? No one's going to take me seriously! It took years for me to look old enough for people to stop asking me why I was skipping school whenever I went out during the day. Now I've got to go through it all again!
    James: Nonsense, Moony. You look at least twenty. Okay, nineteen. Maybe eighteen in bad light when they can't see the gray in your hair.
  • On the Flip Side:
    Sirius: Honestly Harry, if you tell me you are going to call that overgrown bat Dad, I will be sick all over the floor and Filch will hate me more than he already does.
    Hermione: Why does Filch hate you?
    Ron: Filch hates everyone.
    Sirius: There may have been a prank or two played on him when I was in school. Or three. Maybe four. I lost count.
  • In Changeling Ron rants about the Chudley Cannons' performance.
    Ron: They didn't deserve to lose. They were playing fine until halfway through the game!
    Harry: Halfway?
    Ron: Well, through the first quarter of the match. Maybe the first ten minutes. Five minutes? One?

    Film Animation 
  • The very start of Yellow Submarine:
    Once upon a time... or maybe twice... there was an unearthly paradise called... Pepperland.

    Film Live-Action 
  • A Fish Called Wanda features a one-sided, increasingly desperate negotiation between a steamroller-driving Ken and Otto, whose feet are stuck in drying cement.
  • Liar Liar has:
    Fletcher: Thank you. Now let's see, weight 105? Yeah, in your bra.
    Samantha: 118.
    (Fletcher skeptically waits)
    Samantha: All right, fine, I'm 127.
  • From George of the Jungle:
    Kwame: So now there are three lions in your story? Last time there were only two.
    Lyle: The important thing, Kwame, is that I was outnumbered.
    Porter: (in Swahili) It's easy to be outnumbered when you're a zero.
    Lyle: Absolutely.
  • In keeping with tradition, the Get Smart movie has Maxwell Smart engage in this exchange:
    Maxwell Smart: I think it only fair to warn you that this building has been surrounded by 130 highly trained Black Ops snipers.
    Siegfreid: I don't believe you.
    Maxwell Smart: Would you believe two dozen DELTA Force commandos?
    Siegfreid: No.
    Maxwell Smart: How about Chuck Norris with a BB gun?
  • Get Smart! Again! also uses this, twice:
    Cmdr. Drury: Smart, you appear to be in pretty good shape, do you work out?
    Maxwell Smart: I jog one hundred miles every day! Would you believe it? One hundred miles!
    Cmdr. Drury: I find that hard to believe.
    Maxwell Smart: Would you believe fifty?
    Cmdr. Drury: No!
    Maxwell Smart: How about two push ups and a deep breath?

    Maxwell Smart: Because at this very moment, this warehouse is being surrounded by one hundred cops with Doberman pinschers. Would you believe it? A hundred cops with Doberman pinschers.
    Nicholas Dimente: I find that hard to believe.
    Maxwell Smart: Would you believe ten security guards and a bloodhound?
    Nicholas Dimente: I don't think so.
    Maxwell Smart: How about a Boy Scout with rabies?
  • A subtle one turns up in Brazil. Every time the car Lowry gets out from the motor pool (that is destroyed by vandals) gets mentioned, the exact details become blurred, starting as a Personal transporter, then Personnel transporter, a Personnel carrier, then finally a whole convoy of personnel carriers that are unaccounted for.
  • In The Three Musketeers (1973) Porthos employs Inflationary Dialogue when he ransacks his enemy's purse after his hat gets ruined in a fight:
    Porthos: God's blood!! Look at that...! Ruined by you and your, your street-corner ruffians! By God, you'll pay for it! (rifles the purse of a fallen Guardsman) Ten pistoles it cost me! (reconsiders on seeing the contents of the purse) No — twenty! Twenty pistoles! And twenty more, as a fine to teach you manners! Hah!
  • In Monty Python and the Holy Grail, King Arthur has a bad habit of saying "five" when he means "three".
  • From Homeward Bound: The Incredible Journey, while Chance is being treated for injuries and mistakes it for torture:
    Chance: Okay okay! I'll talk!... I stole underwear on three occasions!
    (vet pulls a spike out)
    Chance: *YIPE!* Okay okay, four! Four!
  • A much slower version in The Informant!, where Mark admits to having stolen $1.5 million from the company. Which later becomes $3 million, then $5.5 million, until he's finally convicted for stealing $8 million. At the very end, he's up for parole, and he mentions to one of the agents how bad he feels about stealing that $11.5 million.
  • In The Descendants, protagonist Matt has tracked down Brian, the man who previously slept with Matt's now comatose wife, and has a confrontation with him about it. At the end of the conversation, Matt says he has one last question for Brian.
    Matt: You ever been inside my bedroom?
    Brian: Once.
    Matt: ...You could have had the decency to lie about that one.
    Brian: ...Alright, twice.

  • Take this joke about stereotypical Jewish cheapness (one of many versions of the same joke):
    Jewish Son: Dad, can I have $20 to see a film?
    Father: 20 bucks? What do you need 15 bucks for? Fine, I will give you 10, here, have your 5 bucks. (hands him 1 dollar)
  • Similar one about police procedure:
    Police staged the largest drug raid of the decade today, seizing over 8,000 kilos of cocaine. After presenting the 6,500 kilo lode to a grand jury, the 4,000 kilo drug stash is now in secure evidence storage. The presentation of almost 3,000 kilos of cocaine at trial is expected to make quite a splash in court!
  • One of the many "Two Cows" jokes used to illustrate economic systems:
    You have two cows. You sell three of them to your publicly listed company, using letters of credit opened by your brother-in-law at the bank, then execute a debt/equity swap with an associated general offer so that you get all four cows back, with a tax exemption for five cows. The milk rights of the six cows are transferred via an intermediary to a Cayman Island Company secretly owned by the majority shareholder who sells the rights to all seven cows back to your listed company. The annual report says the company owns eight cows, with an option on one more. You sell one cow to buy a new president of the United States, leaving you with nine cows. No balance sheet provided with the release. The public then buys your bull.
  • This one:
    "What's new in your life?"
    "I'm playing in a quartet."
    "How many of you are there?"
    "My brother and I."
    "You have a brother?"
  • Whenever there has been hyperinflation in one country or the other, there have been jokes about the amount of money requested or demanded increasing over the course of a conversation (so that the value of the money is kept the same from the beginning to the end of it).

  • In the scene in The Hobbit where the dwarves are introduced to Beorn, Gandalf doesn't want to introduce all of them at once, for fear that Beorn won't be willing to provide them with hospitality if he sees all of them right away. As a result, his account of their prior adventures slowly introduces the dwarves two at a time. Beorn notices the inflation as the story goes along, pointing out just when the numbers do not match up, but he is entertained enough to welcome them anyway.
  • Discworld:
    • In Men at Arms, a man who gets robbed by an unlicensed thief keeps exaggerating the amount of money stolen.
    • In Lords and Ladies, Casanunda, upon meeting the bandits who robbed him, indignantly claims they stole a horse - he then "remembers" a second horse, and within half a page it's multiplied into four.
    • A variation in The Fifth Elephant, when Vimes confidently (and accurately) predicts his dealing with five bandits on the road will soon have swollen through rumour to 'thirty men and a dog'.
    • In Wintersmith, Tiffany's little brother Wentworth is so excited about catching a pike that its weight increases every time he mentions it.
    • In Feet of Clay, one golem is trying to sell another to a potential buyer, and keeps revising the price downwards, to the purchaser's incredulity.
  • Justified in Snow Crash, thanks to some quality sniping.
    Vic: It's one of them drug dealer boats... five guys on it, heading our way. Correction, four guys on it. Correction, they're not heading our way anymore. Correction, no boat.
  • A very dark instance of this in John Dies at the End. When Dave is telling Arnie the story of how his friends stopped an invasion of eldritch abominations capable of erasing people from time, he occasionally gets the number of friends wrong ("the five of us walked down the hallway", etc.) When Arnie calls him on this, Dave reveals that there was indeed a fifth friend, but he got erased, and Dave can remember almost nothing about him.
  • In Wedge Goes to Arizona by J.T. Edson, Silent's account of saving the calf grows (as cowboy tales are wont to do) from the one black bear it actually was to five grizzlies, three cougars, twelve black bears and a jaguar.
  • In Lawrence Block's The Canceled Czech Kotacek gives a different amount every time Evan asks how much is in his Swiss account.
  • Three Men in a Boat: Harris complains that he was attacked by swans while J. and George were away. The number of swans increases with each retelling of the story, from two to thirty-two — and then, when J. and George ask him again on the following morning, Harris replies "What swans?"

    Live-Action TV 
  • On 3rd Rock from the Sun, the Solomons got audited by the IRS and became worried that they would be exposed as aliens due to their lack of records from any longer than three years ago. Dick tried to "subtly" make Mary think she had known them longer than that:
    Dick: Oh hello, Mary. I was just thinking about how long I've known you — ten long years.
    Mary: It's more like three years.
    Dick: Well, then you'd be comfortable saying... seven long years.
    Mary: No, it's three years, Dick.
    Dick: So I can safely quote you as saying you've known me for six good, verifiable years?
    Mary: Three.
    Dick: Fair enough.
    Dick: I HOPE YOU BURN IN HELL, MARY ALBRIGHT! [runs out of the room and then runs back] Okay, that last bit was a little harsh, but it's been building up for eight long years.
    Mary: Three.
    Dick: DAMN!
  • Arrested Development: When the Small Name, Big Ego Jerkass GOB Bluth wears an expensive power suit, he can't resist loudly preening over how much it's worth — a number that inflates tenfold over the course of the episode.
  • Done over several seasons in Coupling. Jane says in the third episode that she and Steve dated for four and a half years. The following episode she tells her psychiatrist it was five years. By episode 16 it's six years, at which point Susan corrects her, saying it was only four years. In the series final, she tells Oliver how she met Steve and that they've "been together ever since," possibly suggesting that she continued counting after they had broken up.
  • Doctor Who: This is practically a Verbal Tic with Ten.
    • "Army of Ghosts":
      The Doctor: She's not much to look at, but she's good with a cup of tea. Well... I say good, I mean not bad. Well... I say not bad...
    • "Blink":
      The Doctor: Yeah, listen, listen, got to dash... things happening. Well... four things. Well... four things and a lizard.
    • "The Unicorn and the Wasp":
      The Doctor: [to Agatha Christie] You fool me every time! Well... almost every time. Well... once or twice... Well... once. But it was a good once!
    • In "Fugitive of the Judoon", the Thirteenth Doctor rule-fu's a Judoon troop leader into granting a brief reprieve before blasting everything in sight. Turns out it's very brief.
      The Doctor: Give me ten Earth minutes and we can have this resolved for you.
      Judoon: Five minutes.
      The Doctor: Nine.
      Judoon: Four.
      The Doctor: Er, fine. I'll take five. (mutters) I hate it when they do that. (Gets into an argument with her companions until...)
      Judoon: Four minutes thirty.
      The Doctor: We haven't started yet!
  • The Flash: In "Legends of Today", Team Flash visits Team Arrow and Cisco has some issues with their computers:
    Cisco: This is completely wrong! Did you guys even look at the specs I sent over? This is a tragedy, I'm mourning for the death of engineering. Copper wiring to handle the processing speed from the Palmer Satellite, or else your system is gonna overload.
    Felicity: Yeah, but that hasn't happened, I mean, it hasn't happened since last week. I mean, it didn't—It happened yesterday.
  • Friends:
    • Joey misses an audition because Phoebe fails to give him the message. She poses as his agent to get him a new audition and Joey asks her to get him one more. Well, two. Five, but that's all. No, it's six.
    • Also, in "The One That Could Have Been", the number of Chandler's past sexual partners slowly goes down from four to one during the course of the episode.
  • Maxwell Smart of Get Smart tends to use the decreasing version. For example:
    Smart: At the moment, seven Coast Guard cutters are converging on us. Would you believe it?
    Mr. Big: I find that hard to believe.
    Smart: Hmmm ... Would you believe six?
    Mr. Big: I don't think so.
    Smart: How about two cops in a rowboat?
  • In Jeeves and Wooster, Bertie is trying to pose as author Rosie M. Banks for his friend Bingo's family. Bingo's young cousin asks him how many words there are on a page. Clearly having no idea, he comes out with:
    Bertie: Uh... twenty or thirty. I mean, depends on the page. About... two hundred. About a thousand, more or less. I mean, on a single page, you mean. Yes, mmm... about ten thousand. I mean, that would be one of the bigger pages.
  • Monty Python's Flying Circus:
    • The camel-spotting sketch has:
      Interviewer: So, in, er, three years you've spotted no camels?
      Mr. Sopwith: Yes in only three years. Er, I tell a lie, four, be fair, five. I've been camel spotting for just the seven years. Before that of course I was a Yeti spotter.
    • The Spanish Inquisition sketch crosses this with Disorganized Outline Speech: "Our chief weapon is surprise. Fear and surprise Two! Our two chief weapons are fear, surprise and ruthless efficiency Three!..." "...and nice red uniforms oh, bugger."
    • The Kamikaze Scotsmen sketch does the deflationary version with the number of Scotsmen in the regiment, as they keep committing suicide until there's only one left.
  • Phill Jupitus uses the decreasing version in Never Mind the Buzzcocks, when asked to find the connection between Keith Moon and Bryan Adams:
    Phill: Keith of course famously drove a limousine into a swimming pool...did Bryan once gently push a Vespa into a jacuzzi? Because he's not quite as rock and roll as Keith. (Beat) Did he drop a skateboard in the bath? Come on, help me out here...
  • In Only Fools and Horses episode "He Ain't Heavy, He's My Uncle", Uncle Albert arrives at the flat with a black eye and no money. He says he's been mugged by a gang of youths, but the number increases every time he tells the story. It turns out he lost the money playing dominoes, and then got in a punch-up with his opponent Knock-Knock over Marlene's mother.
  • After Wes defeats a dragon in Power Rangers Time Force, the number of heads the dragon had increases with each telling, going from two to three (It only had one to begin with).
  • On Seinfeld, George does an epic version when trying to figure out what Jerry paid for his new jacket.
  • Sheppard does this in the Stargate Atlantis episode "Sateda". He, Teyla, and Ronon kill a strike force of 25 Wraith. Sheppard initially claims to have killed six of them, but when he learns that Teyla killed eight he quickly ups his claim to nine. By the end of the episode...
    Sheppard: It's nothing, really. I only killed eleven... twelve Wraith.
  • Star Trek: Voyager. Neelix when he first encounters the crew of the starship Voyager.
    Neelix: Let me guess. You were whisked away from somewhere else in the galaxy, and brought here against your will.
    Janeway: Sounds as though you've heard this story before.
    Neelix: Sadly, yes; thousands of times! Well, hundreds of times...maybe fifty times...
  • Wings:
    Antonio: I now realize what a blind fool I've been over Casey.
    Fay: Oh, nobody thinks that... Well, not everybody... Well, at least I don't... Well, I do, but I certainly haven't laughed behind your back... Well, not lately.

    Print Media 
  • MAD:
    • Used in an article satirizing the Gulf of Mexico oil spill: A letter from BP keeps increasing the number of barrels of oil with every sentence.
    • An earlier issue has a parody of Lethal Weapon 2 in which the amount of money on the line is constantly said by the characters, and is completely different every time.
  • A cartoon from the National Enquirer depicts a woman attempting to make a recipe from The Pentagon Cookbook.
    Take 4 eggs. No, better make it 6. Well, let's say 9. Beat these 11 eggs...

  • In Henry IV, part 1, Falstaff does this when describing how many men attacked him (after he robs a bunch of other men, whose numbers he's clearly also lying about). In reality there were two (Hal and Poins); by the end of the scene, he's claiming there were eleven.
    Hal: O monstrous! eleven buckram men grown out of two!
  • A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum: In one verse of "Impossible", Senex claims to be 39 in one line, then 44, then admits to being 50.

    Video Games 
  • In Animal Crossing: Wild World, Lyle does this when presenting you with a questionnaire: "I got a few questions here. Ten. Actually, less. I got seven. Three. Ready? Bang!"
  • In Disco Elysium, if you press Andre on him locking the spookers inside of the abandoned church, he'll reassure you that he's "super sure" they're still alive - at least 90%. Or maybe 85%. Yes, they might have been locked in there for a week, but he's at least 80% sure they're still alive...

    Web Original 
  • YouTuber iDubbbzTV does this on one episode of Kickstarter Crap.
    iDubbbz: Today we're going to cover all of the Kickstarters involving sticks. Not all of 'em. Some of 'em. Two of 'em.
  • In Charlie the Unicorn, "The Grand Finale", the pink and blue unicorns try to talk Charlie into following them to investigate something that starts with a "w", changes names every time it's spoken, and quietly turns from seemingly being one thing to many things.

    Western Animation 
  • The Simpsons: In "The Squirt and The Whale", Comic Book Guy buys a new girdle and wears it under a Captain Kirk shirt.
    Comic Book Guy: Behold, I am Captain Kirk from Star Trek One! (girdle gives way) Two. (girdle gives way) Five (girdle gives way) Generations (girdle gives way completely) Boston Legal.
  • Whopper from Pound Puppies (1980s) does this at least Once per Episode, constantly changing details in his stories to something even more outlandish and unbelievable when he feels them to be lacking.
  • Looney Tunes: In the Sylvester/Elmer Fudd cartoon Heir Conditioned, Sylvester inherits a fortune. An alley cat sees this in a newspaper and proceeds to relay it around the alley to his pals. It starts as merely a fortune, then the next cat relays it as $1 million, and it becomes $5 million by time it reaches the last cat.
  • Pinkie Pie's confession in the My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic episode "The Cutie Pox":
    Pinkie Pie: Yesterday, I told Mrs. Cake that I only ate two corncakes, but I really ate three!
    Pinkie Pie: Okay six! I ate six corncakes!
    Pinkie Pie: Make it stop! Oh, make it stop!
  • Arthur: In "Team Trouble", Arthur draws a comic for his history assignment. However, he doesn't include any real ancient history in it. Prunella asks him about it.
    Prunella: But you didn't use any real history at all.
    Arthur: Maybe... not very much... none.
  • Ninjago: In the "Snaketastrophe" episode, "award-winning reporter" Fred Finely adds an award each time he introduces himself.

    Real Life 
  • This guy at a pet rescue centre, as featured on Not Always Right. No need to worry about the dog jumping over his six foot fence, because it's ten feet tall, and a dog can't jump a fourteen foot fence!
  • Charles Hickson, one of two shipworkers in Pascagoula, Mississippi who claimed to have been abducted by aliens in 1973, at different times described the UFO in question as eight to ten feet, sixteen to eighteen feet, twenty feet and twenty to thirty feet in length. Similarly, he stated that the incident had taken place at 7 PM, between 8 PM and 9 PM and "around nine o'clock."


Video Example(s):

Alternative Title(s): Deflationary Dialogue


The price of Flemish velvet

When Porthos (Frank Finlay) retrieves his hat after the fight with the Cardinal's guards, he finds it rather the worse for wear, and demands recompense from the purse of Jussac's fallen comrade-in-arms. Plus another twenty as a fine!

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Main / InflationaryDialogue

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