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Tactful Translation

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He doesn't speak Blackletter.
"I came over with the British trade mission years ago. I was soon relieved of my position. I had an unfortunate tendency to tell the truth in a country where no one ever says what they mean. So now I very accurately translate other people's lies."
Simon Graham, The Last Samurai

It often happens that in international business, politics, or two sides meeting before a battle, that a translator is needed for the two (or more) sides to understand each other. It just as often happens that one side will either intentionally or unintentionally say something insulting, offensive, personally distasteful to someone on the other side, engage in a bit of Cultural Posturing, or make an outright threat that would either sabotage the talks or needlessly aggravate the other side. As the translator what do you do? Do you repeat all that accurately and maybe end any chance of agreement, not to mention possibly pissing off your boss? (Generally not a good idea if you happen to be translating for the Big Bad, by the way.)

No, if you're smart, you choose to do a Tactful Translation, translating the spirit of what was said or is important, while leaving out all the insulting, offensive, or just plain stupid stuff that would only get in the way or complicate things. Odds are that afterward all the sides will go home feeling pleased with themselves or thinking they really showed those other guys, while only the translator(s) will know just why that whole deal worked out without turning into a bloodbath.

Now, if the one on the receiving end of the translation actually speaks the language...

Often winds up looking like a case of Translation: "Yes". May be the job of a Completely Unnecessary Translator.

Contrast Trolling Translator, who twists translations far from the intended meaning, and Translation with an Agenda, who outright says whatever he feels like to suit his purposes. Also see Spice Up the Subtitles. See also Narrative Profanity Filter, when someone recounts something but decides to leave out the offensive bits.


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    Anime & Manga 
  • In the Basara appendix Kanata Sakaki does this, to hide Shuri's rudeness. We aren't told what he translates it to, though.
  • Black Lagoon's Rock tries to do this to the Japanese with whom Balalaika is trying to speak, until she catches on and insists he take fewer creative liberties.
  • An episode of Full Metal Panic? Fumoffu features a "negotiation" session between Sōsuke, an ex-mujaheddin Child Soldier with No Social Skills, and a Delinquent representing a gang who's kidnapped one of his friends. Sōsuke is unable to understand the thug's street jargon and extremely heavy accent, prompting the Student Council President to step in and calmly translate it into Spock Speak. The show then goes on to invert the trope when Sōsuke's equally formal reply flies right over the thug's head — so the Student Council President translates it into a series of crude threats completely deadpan, using the exact same tone of voice he used when doing the formal translation.
    Sōsuke: I see. Then please convey this to him, if you would: My military might exceeds yours by an overwhelming margin, so attempts at revenge would be a mere waste of efforts.
    Student Council President: Hm. [to thug] Now listen you punk, there is no way you'd beat me. So step off, 'cuz you ain't even got one chance in a billion, you loser bi-atch.
    Sōsuke: Your language skills are outstanding, your excellency!
    Student Council President: Oh, it's nothing, only what I've gleamed in books. I'm... Not certain he'll understand my translation, though...
  • In the original Japanese version of Heat Guy J, Clair comments to a hired hitman named Luca that "Perverts who think they're artists are the worst," after Luca boasts about his work and calls it "art." (Why Clair used that term in particular is never explained.) In the English dubbed version, he simply calls Luca a fool. (Which actually makes more sense, given the context.)
  • Hetalia: Axis Powers:
    • This happens when America visits Japan in order to make friends with whales.
      Japan: Go. Away.
      Interpreter: It's nice that you have such interesting pursuits, but please pursue them at your own residence.
    • A meta example: in one of his mochi strips (titled "Beautiful Rice Cake"), the "king of rice cakes" drops tons of Cluster F-Bombs in English, but the translations provided use polite language. For example:
      Mochi: Get out of my sight! Holy bitch!
      Translation: I'm glad you like it.

  • In Barry Cryer and Ronnie Golden's act, one of their songs is a flamenco-like number which Ronnie sings in El Spanish "-o", with Barry translating. At one point, Ronnie refers to "Una slappera esta bristolas enorme", which Barry translates as "A farmer's daughter who did a lot of charity work".

    Comic Books 
  • All-New Wolverine, after Laura has just rescued a squirrel (having got his scent off a nut), to make up for causing his family's tree to be knocked down, Squirrel Girl translates for the squirrel's daughter — giving a long speech about pain, loss, forgiveness, and the importance of family, before commenting at the end: "Wow. Eloquent squirrel." Then, as Laura walks away, we get the follow-up exchange translated — and Squirrel Girl admits to the girl squirrel that she just told Laura "what she needed to hear".
    Girl Squirrel: Wait? You didn't pass on anything I said? So... she's not giving my nut back?
  • Asterix:
    • Asterix and the Goths has the case of Rhetoric, the Gaulish/Gothic interpreter. Seeing as he would be killed along with Getafix if Getafix refused to cooperate, it is a bit of a life-or-death matter for him to say Getafix would. To be sure, this is more a case of a ''false'' translation than just a ''tactful'' one. Played for laughs later on when Getafix (who, as it turns out, can speak Gothic himself) asks the just deposed chieftain Metric if he would like the chance to take back his position from his usurper Rhetoric:
      Metric: [speech bubble filled with Symbol Swearing, including Rhetoric's name crossed out]
      Getafix: He says "yes".
      Asterix: [winking] I get the general idea.
    • Averted in Asterix the Legionary where the interpreter translates the centurion's Symbol Swearing into goth symbol-for-symbol. Granted, it isn't within a sensitive context.
  • Played with in Fables when King Cole is acting as translator between the somewhat Americanized Western Fables and the Middle Eastern ones. Cole translates Prince Charming's rather undiplomatic demands that Sinbad and co. free their slaves in a much more polite (though still firm) fashion, while turning Sinbad's flowery courtesy into brusque straight-talking that Charming will respect more, ensuring that both sides come across with the level of relative directness they're aiming for, despite the cultural differences in acceptable levels of politeness.
  • In Green Lantern, Hal's ring is able to translate a large number of alien languages into English and vice-versa in real-time, but it's conveniently unable to translate swear words.
  • In New Superman, I-Ching accompanies Kenan as a translator when he is invited to America by Lex Luthor, and carefully translates all Kenan's tactless comments as compliments. Inverted when he translates what Luthor's saying into Mandarin, and claims that Lex is continually saying Kenan doesn't train enough. And it turns out Luthor speaks Mandarin anyway.
  • Hilariously inverted in Secret Six. Black Alice has infiltrated a cult while the others are standing by and communicating by radio. She gets found out, and Jeannette wants to go in to save her. Bane refuses, since acting too early would compromise their mission.
    Jeannette: Please tell the large gentleman that I am about to ignore his orders, most respectfully.
    Catman: Bane? Jeannette says you should go &^%$ yourself. We're going in.
  • The Simpsons: A Scottish film the family watches on a plane has the actors' flowery insults translated into more polite and sophisticated phrases.
    Man: Ach, ye wee soft jessies have spilt me wee larger! [Pardon me, sir, but you have spilt my adult beverage.]
    Man 2: The lord take ye for a dimmock, ye airy tweezer! [We strongly condemn your harsh appraisement.]

    Comic Strips 
  • In one Bloom County strip, Steve Dallas dictates a letter to a deadbeat (and evidently quite violent) client who has yet to pay his legal fees. Opus, who's taking the dictation, changes it from a profanity-laced tirade to a gentle reminder.
    Steve: PS: Have you strangled your wife yet, psycho-brain?
    Opus: [writing] PS: Give Mary Lou a hug for me!
  • Inverted in Corporal Kev, which ran only in the U.S. military's newspaper Stars and Stripes in the early 1980s, when Kev is picked to translate for a joint exercise between American and French tank troops.
    American officer: Introduce me and tell him I'm looking forward to the exercise!
    Kev: [supposedly in French] He says you're a wimp and your tanks are junk...
    French officer: [supposedly in French] Tell him I am shocked at this outburst!
    Kev: He says you have a face like a goat, and your men play with dolls!
    [as the two officers growl at each other, nose to nose, Kev thinks, "I'm gonna enjoy this!"]
  • This was the original purpose of Honey Huan in Doonesbury. When Duke Harris was the American ambassador to China, she was assigned as his translator and "softened" most of his speeches into something more diplomatic. She sometimes did this while translating Chinese officials to him as well. Best example is during the first Duke's speech to a Chinese audience. Part of the translation is:
    Honey Huan: Now is saying a joke. This is the climax... here is the punchline... laugh.
  • One story arc of Garfield has Garfield auditioning for a cat food commercial. Unfortunately, on the first take he discovers that the food is vile and pitches the bowl over his shoulder, whereupon it hits the director in the face.
    Director: [muffled angry noises through the cat food]
    Garfield: Rough translation, I don't get the part.

    Fan Works 
  • In the Katawa Shoujo fanfic Weekend at Hisao's, Hisao ends up doing this for his deaf girlfriend Shizune in a meeting with his old friends when the conversation turns to their respective Student Councils. Statements in brackets are in sign language.
    Shizune: [Amateurs.]
    Hisao: [Be nice.]
    Shizune: [I am being nice. Still, you, Misha, and I did ten times more work than that, with only the three of us.]
    Ryoko: What's she saying, Hisao?
    Hisao: Oh. Um. Shizune's saying that our student council was much smaller. It was a lot of hard work.
  • In the Harry Potter fanfic Strange and Invisible History, the French Minister for Magic insults visiting British and Bulgarian diplomats, assuming that none of them speak French. Hermione does and translates everything he'd said word-to-word but uses a Tactful Translation for the Bulgarians' replies.
    Viktor Krum: My people might be filthy shepherds, but we have manners, you ignorant, ill-bred cretin. Weren't you taught any better than this?
    Hermione: Minister, Viktor wishes me to thank you for receiving us, and begs your indulgence, as he is unfamiliar with the customs of France.
    Penko Krum: You snide bastard, I hope a rat chews that stupid moustache off your face as you sleep.
    Hermione: My uncle asks me to thank you for providing us an opportunity to work for mutual benefit, and hopes the natural beauty of out setting might encourage us all to reflect.
  • In On the Wings of Dragons, Harry asks a Tibetan wizard about the Chinese occupation and receives an angry mile-a-minute response complete with spitting on the ground. The one villager who speaks sufficient English claims "Master Jangbu say that when China men come it was bad time for Tibet," while according to one of the telepathic dragons accompanying Harry's party "White Eyes called the invaders dung eaters who smelled bad and fornicated with water buffalo."
  • In A Marauder's Plan, Remus, who as it turns out speaks flawless Bulgarian, is pressed into translation duty for Fudge and the Bulgarian Minister of Magic.
    Remus laughed at Bogdan's latest joke about Cornelius and turned to translate something funny but not related to the British Minister to the man in question.
  • Viciously inverted in "Trav(ap)est(r)y" within the Triptych Continuum. Celestia is used to dealing with Wordia Spinner and so spends their meetings playing a silent game called Translation, in which she takes what the Loyal Opposition's reporter is saying and mentally swaps in what was meant.
    "So when he heard you'd lost an original Marble Whispers piece — and incidentally, he wanted me to say he's very sorry about the fire..."
    "He's very sorry the two of you didn't die in it."
  • In Not Completely, Altogether Here, Glinda is a ghost who only her girlfriend Elphaba can see and talk to. When the two ally with Glinda's ex-boyfriend Fiyero, Glinda gets jealous of Fiyero and threatens him. Elphaba provides a less than accurate translation, which Fiyero notes:
    Glinda: Also tell him that if he so much as lays a finger on you in any inappropriate manor that I will personally make sure to break each of those fingers and then each of his limbs. ALL of them.
    Elphaba: She says hands offs unless it's an emergency.
    Glinda: That's not what I said. Oh Oz, Elphie! Now he's going to think of "emergency" excuses to feel you up. Perfect.
    Fiyero: What you mean to say is she threatened to kill me if I so much as look at you the wrong way?
    Elphaba: Something like that anyway.
  • In Ignore the Dementor Harry is turned into a dementor. Luckily, house elves can understand all languages, even dementor-speak.
    Snape: You didn't eat Albus, did you? I said to leave him somewhere, not eat him!
    Harry: No, not that he was any help anyway. The idiot tried to put on a cursed ring that I'm positive would have killed him, and you all thought I'd be the liability! I should have just left his unconscious arse at the shack to make his own way back to teach him a lesson.
    Winky: He says no.

    Films — Animation 
  • Disney's Aladdin. While Aladdin and Princess Jasmine are together in his hideout, Abu is annoyed when Aladdin gives Jasmine his apple.
    Jasmine: My father's forcing me to get married.
    Aladdin: That's... that's awful! [Abu tries to take back the apple] Abu!
    Abu: [chitters and gestures angrily]
    Jasmine: What?
    Aladdin: Abu says that... [thinks better of it]... that's not fair.
    Abu: [puzzled look]
    Jasmine: [disbelievingly] Oh did he?
    Aladdin: Yeah, of course.
  • In The Land Before Time V: The Mysterious Island, Chomper ends up translating for his parents when they finally meet the main leaf-eater characters. Both sharpteeth agree that they won't eat their son's friends, his mother telling the group that they'll be safe with them... while his father just remarks that they probably wouldn't taste good anyway. Chomper mindfully decides to translate the latter as his dad simply seconding his mom's assurance.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Brazilian movie Meu Nome Não é Johnny ("My name isn't Johnny") featured a middle-class guy that ended up in prison due to drug sale and abuse. He knew English, and, as his fellow prisoners had to deal with American prisoners (in none-too-friendly talks), he had to interpret between them and tried to do this. It went downhill when one of the Brazilian inmates remarked he knew what "fuck you" means.
  • In Apollo 13:
    CAPCOM: Aquarius, watch that middle gimbal. We don't want you tumbling off into space.
    Jim Lovell: Freddo, inform Houston I'm well aware of the God-damned gimbals!
    Fred Haise: [calmly] Roger that, Houston.
  • Battlefield Earth, The Film of the Book: Terl issues a long, grandiose threat to the human slave-miners (that we hear in English), which Jonnie translates as "Try to run, he'll kill us". Terl hangs a lampshade on its brevity immediately after, slightly disappointed that his ego-stroking wasn't properly conveyed.
  • A more serious use of this trope occurs in The Beast of War (1988), set during the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan. The Soviet tank commander orders a villager to be placed in front of his tank-track to encourage him to talk. His wife comes running up and is grabbed by the Afghan translator.
    Translator: [in Pashtu] Get out of here, woman. This one prefers bullets to words!
    Wife: [struggling] You dirty traitor, tell this Russian pig to let my husband go!
    Translator: [in English (Russian)] Sir, this woman respectfully requests you release her husband.
    Tank Commander: Ask him where the rebels are.
    Villager: Mujahadeen are all around you! They will kill every one of you!
    Translator: He says he doesn't know.
    [the tank commander isn't fooled, and drives over the villager]
  • In Black Rain, Nick's partner Charlie does this as a Running Gag. Notably, Charlie only actually tones down what Nick says by a bit, basically turning Nick's statements from being wildly inappropriate (and sometimes outright offensive), to just inappropriate enough that the Japanese cops only roll their eyes at the Americans instead of getting legitimately angry at them. The process starts with this scene:
    Nick: I want a Japanese cop who knows the street, speaks English, and can find his ass with both hands!
    High-Ranking Police Boss: WHAT did you say?
    Charlie: He means "a tough motherfucker".
    High-Ranking Police Boss: Ah, of course.
  • Inverted in Fearless. Before a match with a huge American wrestler, protagonist Huo Yuanjia (Jet Li) is asked to sign a waiver stating that he understands the fight may result in his death. Huo then gives a speech politely stating why he disapproves of death matches and more or less saying Let's Fight Like Gentlemen. The wrestler's Chinese translator tells the wrestler that Huo threatened to beat him up. This gets the wrestler fired up and even more determined to win.
  • Slightly inverted in Fort Apache, in that Cochise calls the Indian agent Meachum "un hombre malvado, que no dice la verdad," which Sergeant Beaufort renders as "a yellow-bellied polecat of dubious antecedents and conjectural progeny." (The literal translation is "an evil man, who does not speak the truth.")
  • In Four Weddings and a Funeral, Charles and Carrie run into his deaf brother while out shopping. Charles and his brother proceed to converse in sign language, with Charles making derogatory comments about Carrie's fiance (he's in love with her) and his brother making complimentary ones about her breasts. All the while, Charles is telling her that they're offering congratulations and that his brother is complimenting the hills of Scotland.
  • Referenced in Gladiator when the Germanic tribes answer the offer of Maximus's messenger by sending his headless body back to the Romans tied to his horse, while the leader of the tribe appears on a hill, shouting at the Romans and tossing the head of the messenger to the ground.
    Maximus: They say no.
  • In Gran Torino, Sue's grandmother launches into a furious tirade to Walt, which Sue tries to spin as a welcome to her home, despite her delivery and body language making it obvious what kind of things she's really saying.
    Walt: What did she say?
    Sue: Uh, she said "Welcome to our home."
    Walt: [sarcastically] Yeah, right.
  • Used by Charlie Chaplin in The Great Dictator here.
  • In the Guy Ritchie film Revolver (2005), there's a scene where Lord John endlessly abuses Macha's men in Cantonese, while the translator expresses this in very to the point and non-offensive words.
  • In Innerspace, when Jack first tells the lab that Tuck is inside him, they start asking Tuck questions, which he can hear. But, of course, Jack has to repeat Tuck's responses. One lab guy assures Tuck that they will get him out and Tuck replies "You better, you two faced son of a..." and Jack repeats "He says thank you."
  • Discussed in The Interpreter. Nicole Kidman's character, an interpreter for the United Nations, states that she must always keep this in mind or risk poisoning international relations. For example, she will always refer to someone as having "gone".
  • In Ip Man, after the titular character's Roaring Rampage of Revenge against ten Japanese black belts, the general, suitably impressed by his skill, gives him his prize of rice and asks him to come again. Ip Man responds by telling the translator that he didn't come for the rice, implying he just came to kick their asses. The translator simply tells the general that Ip Man said he will come again. This is immediately followed up by another example: The general asks for Ip Man's name, and the latter replies that he is 'just a Chinese person', to which the translator tells the general that 'his name is Ip Man'.
  • Inverted in Krampus, when Omi — the Austrian grandmother — says a long sentence in unsubtitled German. Jordan asks what she said, and Aunt Dorothy — who has been established not to speak German — replies "She says we're fucked." Omi shrugs, as if to say, "close enough".
  • Early in the 1992 Last of the Mohicans film, there's a bit where Magua, (who is still pretending to be an English ally at the time, but is leading them into an ambush) and Major Heyward get into an argument.
    Duncan: You there, Scout! We must rest soon, the women are tired.
    Magua: No, two leagues, better water. We stop there.
    Duncan: No, we'll stop in the glade just ahead. When the ladies are rested, we will proceed. Do you understand?
    Magua: [speaking Huron] Magua understands that the white man is a dog to his women. When they are tired, he puts down his tomahawk to feed their laziness.
    Duncan: [a distinct edge to his voice] Excuse me, what did you say?
    Magua: Magua said... I understand English, very well.
  • The Last Samurai. Simon Graham is an Anglo who has lived in Japan for some time, working as a translator. As he put it in the page quote, he was fired from a British trade mission because he made the mistake of being blunt in a language and culture which is all about indirectness and implication, especially when it comes to important things. He has since learned to "Very accurately translate other people's lies."
  • Lock, Stock & Two Smoking Barrels amusingly plays with this trope while combining it with Fun with Subtitles. When one gangster is informing another about infamous Yardie kingpin Rory Breaker his lines (which are in a a deep slang and would be all but incomprehensible in North America) get subtitled. As the character narrates about some poor dumb bastard confronting Rory at a bar, changing the channel Rory was watching and saying "Now fuck off and watch it somewhere else" the subtitles show up with "Please remove yourself from this bar". Just a few seconds later, however, the trope is gleefully inverted, as the narrator tells about how Rory "Walks straight past the jam rolls who are ready for action" and the subtitles translate this as "He walks straight past the arseholes". A couple of seconds after that there is more bickering between Rory and the other guy that involves cursing at each other and it gets translated far more politely than how it was actually said. Enjoy it for yourself here.
  • In The Magnificent Seven (2016), Red Harvest examined a plate of food with disgust and commented that, "white men's food is only fit for dogs" in Comanche. When asked about what he said, Chisolm replied that Red Harvest wasn't hungry.
  • The Meg. Upon first meeting Suyin, Morris attempts to greet her in Mandarin, but just spouts out a meaningless Word Salad that has everyone staring in confusion and disbelief. When Suyin says she didn't understand a word of that, Morris asks what she just said. As Morris is financing the whole operation no-one wants to offend him, so Suyin's daughter replies: "She said she likes your hat." Morris looks dubious but isn't going to argue with such a cute child, so lets it slide.
  • Done to hilarious effect in Mel Brooks' Silent Movie. When Marty Eggs offers a woman a lengthy proposition (which is not translated to a title card), she smacks him over the head with her purse. Marty stumbles around until Mel Funn steadies him; Mel's mouth visibly forms the phrase, "You dumb son of a bitch!" The title card, however, reads, "You bad boy."
  • In Mr. Baseball, Tom Selleck plays an American baseball player who signs up with a Japanese team. He requires a translator, who regularly invents comically false translations to avoid the outrage that would be caused by the player's offensive and irreverent comments.
  • In My Big Fat Greek Wedding, Gus is unimpressed with Ian's attempt to wish him a happy Easter ("Cheestro Nasty!"), and mutters in Greek, "My people were writing philosophy when your people were still swinging in trees." At Ian's confused look, Toula says, "He likes you."
  • The Painted Veil: When Walter Fane (a British doctor in China), with his government-assigned translator Col. Yu, goes to a local warlord to request his cooperation in fighting a cholera epidemic. When the warlord responds with an angry tirade, Walter tacitly invokes this trope to let Col. Yu take over negotiations. The Colonel proceeds to "translate" an insult into a tactfully-worded threat that gets the result they need:
    Colonel Yu: [deadpan] He said no.
    Walter Fane: He doesn't speak any English, does he? Tell him that's the most ridiculous suit that I've ever seen.
    Colonel Yu: [in Chinese] This Doctor respects you greatly, and you are right. It is quite a mess, this epidemic. But my superior said if your men cannot control it, then our army will be happy to come out here and help you. After seeing this place, it's so overwhelming, I'm afraid once our soldiers are here they won't want to leave.
  • Averted in Patton; when at the joint celebration with the Russians, Patton is offered a drink. His response? "I won't drink with that Russian son of a bitch." The translator tries to protest that he cannot say such a thing, but Patton tells him to say it, "word for word." After doing so, the Russian general responds back, "I also think YOU are a son of a bitch." That is something Patton will drink to, one son of a bitch to another.
  • In the 2003 film version of Peter Pan, Hook captures Tigerlily and asks her, (with Smee translating) if she's seen Peter Pan. Tigerlily responds with visible anger and disgust, complete with spitting at Hook. Smee translates this as "She says 'sorry, but no.'"
  • Played for laughs in Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl when Barbossa "translates" his comments for Elizabeth. It can be argued that Elizabeth's look of confusion is merely the result of Barbossa speaking so eloquently seconds after asking her to use smaller words that the "humble pirates" can understand, and his translation is not for her, but his own crew, who also seem confused.
    Barbossa: I am disinclined to acquiesce to your request. [beat] Means "no".
  • C-3PO tries to smooth things while working for Jabba the Hutt in Return of the Jedi, yet Jabba is impressed and becomes more agreeable when the bounty hunter threatens him with a thermal detonator.
  • In Rush Hour 3, Lee and Carter interrogate a Triad member that only speaks French, requesting the help of a nearby nun as their interpreter. She serves the job well, but chooses to self-censor the man calling Carter the N-word and Lee "a word that means 'cat' and another word that rhymes with 'maggot'". This in turn leads to the duo awkwardly asking her to relay their insults back at him through T-Word Euphemisms ("Tell this piece of S-word that I'll personally F-word him up."), but this quickly breaks down and costs them their patience.
    Lee: Well, you can tell him he's a A.W.!
    Carter: (whispering) Lee, I think "hole" is spelled with an H.
    Nun: (helpfully) I have a dictionary upstairs.
    Lee: Just call him an asshole!
  • Happens at the climax of The Russians Are Coming, the Russians Are Coming. One of the sub's officers understands both English and Russian, and so is the de facto translator. When the police chief tells the submarine captain that he is under arrest, and the officer translates, the captain laughs, then starts swearing in Russian. The officer translates this as, "He is very angry...he thinks you're an idiot."
  • Snowden, when Snowden shows up at a bankster venue, a Russian diplomat addresses him saying that he is either a fool or a spy. Snowden doesn't understand Russian and the translator politely tells him "Mr. Debrinin asks your business card, please."
  • In Speed, Alan Ruck's character, relaying Keanu's responses via walkie talkie to bomb control, relays a frustrated "Oh, fuck me!" as "Oh darn."
  • Much of the humour from the TV Movie Spies Lies And Naked Thighs comes from a main character's job as a UN translator. A straight example features a man brandishing a knife across a negotiating table and being translated as inviting the person on the other side of the table to pursue his complaint through the proper channels.
  • Strictly Ballroom:
    Grandma: [Spanish, subtitled] Hot Stuff can shake his tail feather, but he knows chickenshit about rhythm.
    Fran: Grandma wants to teach us.
  • In Suburban Commando, Charlie's boss Mr. Beltz is trying to cut a deal with a Japanese firm. The Japanese CEO is not impressed by his sucking-up in the slightest and makes it plain in his own language ("When this guy shovels it, he uses both hands"). His translator tries to smooth things over by saying things like "Mr. Sukaki is very impressed by your acumen". Amusingly, Sukaki can tell what the translator is up to and calls her a coward.

  • A Soviet joke (referring to the enormous degree of censorship in the Soviet Union), that goes like this: an Italian movie has been translated into Russian. The very first scene gives us an angry naked woman lying on the bed and an embarrassed naked man who is quickly getting dressed.
    The woman: Castrato! Impotento!
    The translator: Go away, I don't love you anymore!
  • It's the boss' birthday, and the staff are struggling for some kind words to put on his birthday card. Then the IT-guy enters and they ask him for a concise, comprehensive description of the boss.
    "Dumb, self-absorbed faggot!" - utters the IT-guy.
    "That's great! We'll put it this way: a man of rare intellect, who knows his worth and cares about all his employees equally."
  • A professional interpreter joke features an inversion: "Two world leaders were having a jovial and warmhearted conversation... until their interpreter arrived."
  • A bit of office humor involves a miserable idea which gets lousy feedback among the workers ("It is a crock of shit, and it stinks!") slowly being transmuted by tactful translation ("It is a pot of fertilizer and nobody can stand its stench"; "it is that which promotes plant growth and nobody can abide how strongly it smells"; "it is a promoter of growth and is very strong") up the corporate ladder, until the CEO hears nothing but praise ("It is strong and will promote our company's growth!") and declares it to be good. Thus the plan becomes policy; or to put it another way, shit happens.
  • An Ukrainian one: Did you know that the Ukrainian word "Шабля" (sabre) means "Could you please be a bit more quiet, Miss?" in Russian? ("Ша,бля!" is the Russian equivalent of "Shut up, slut!")
  • There's a number of Polish urban legends about such a translator.
    • In one story, a translator accompanying a team of suits from a Japanese company inspecting a company's factory in Poland, was asked about what exactly is that one foreman shouting at a worker:
    • Another story told of a TV voiceover translation which turned a quarrel of two grown men into an exchange of playground insults, but beneath which a series of clear English "f—- you!" could still well be heard.

  • The non-fiction book Smokescreen by Robert Sabbag (about the dope smuggling trade) relates an incident where a Cuban hitman was sent with the protagonist Alan Long to discuss the matter of 2000 pounds of pot that drug boss Jimmy Alvarez believed had been ripped off by Long's friend Lee Carlyle. Carlyle turns up for the meeting drunk and immediately starts jabbing his finger in the hitman's face and screaming insults. Fortunately the hitman does not speak English.
    Carlyle: You Cuban motherfuckers! You Cuban motherfuckers!
    Hitman: [placing a hand on his .38] What did he say?
    Long: [placing his hand firmly on top of the hitman's] He is telling you of the respect he has for the Cuban people.
    Hitman: I don't think that is what he is saying.
    [continuing stream of abuse from Carlyle]
    Long: He understands Jimmy's position, and he fully intends to pay.
    Carlyle: Did you tell him what I just said?
    Long: Word for word.
    [Carlyle storms off; long smiles reassuringly at the hitman]
    Long: Bueno!
  • Mike Stearns defies the trope in the first book, ordering his interpreter to "Translate precisely!" so that he can let the Mayor of Jena know the exact width and breadth of his displeasure.
  • Thursday Next's brother, The Very Irreverend Joffy Next, finds himself doing this when one of the saints of his religion returns and proves to be an obnoxious, sexist boor whose only saving grace is that he speaks Old English so almost no-one can understand his comments.
  • In the East German children book "Die dampfenden Hälse der Pferde im Turm zu Babel" by Franz Fühmann, Emanuel, one of the children protagonists, fishes an X, a C and a Q out of a noodle soup ("blast, the hardest ones") and imagines Xerxes and Julius Cäsar meeting. The Q is a Quatschkopf note , i.e. their translator, who cleverly derails their inevitable declarations of war by telling them outright lies. (Q and his player, who after all is named after Immanuel Kant and is the book avatar of reason, is not too happy with this and goes lengths to vindicate it before his conscience.)
  • A large part of Bren Cameron's job in C. J. Cherryh's Foreigner-verse, as the only person authorized by treaty to translate between a human settlement and the government of the other intelligent species on the planet. Even when, as in later books, he's not the only person who can translate, his skill at tact and diplomacy is exceptionally valuable.
  • The Devil's Dictionary defines an interpreter as "one who enables two persons of different languages to understand each other by repeating to each what it would have been to the interpreter's advantage for the other to have said".
  • Funnily subverted in The Dresden Files. In Changes, Dresden meets the Red King, who does not speak English. An unfortunate slave is called to translate, and tries to do a tactful translation. She gets smacked by the Red King, and while he can't speak the local language, Dresden can get the gist that he's telling the poor girl "Translate it the way he says it, damn it." It later transpires the Red King speaks English perfectly well (and that said slave knew this); he was probably smacking her to put Harry off guard.
  • Attempted in Eclipse (2007), but ultimately subverted. Edward tries to give a more polite wording to what Jacob is thinking, but that just annoys Jacob, who growls at Edward to translate accurately.
  • Ephraim Kishon once did this for a fight between one of his Hungarian relatives and a shopkeeper. He did it so well that they made peace. At the end, he thought he should try the same thing with the USA and the Soviet Union.
  • Defied in the Mageworlds prequel The Gathering Flame, when Warhammer's Number-Two Gunner, Tillijin, introduces a passenger to the Ship's Engineer, Ferrada, a hulking saurian who understands human speech but doesn't speak it himself:
    Tillijin: This is Ferradacor, son of Rillikkikk. Ferrada, for short.
    Ferrada: [makes rumbling bass noises]
    Tillijin: He says he's pleased to meet you.
    Ferrada: [speaks again, this time to Tillijin]
    Tillijin: It was a loose translation, she's new here.
    Ferrada: [speaks once more]
    Tillijin: Oh, all right. He says, "Another damned thin-skin. I hope she does not get in the way."
  • Late in Harry Turtledove's World War series, American physicist Max Kagan comes to aid the Russian nuclear program in making atomic bombs to use against the Alien Invaders. When Vyacheslav Molotov (Stalin's Number Two) comes to check on progress after the arrival of Kagan, he is at first amused by Kagan's impertinence and fire, thinking he prefers it to how terrified most Russians are when dealing with him. Eventually, Molotov realizes that the Russian scientist translating between him and Kagan is doing a Tactful Translation and demands to know what Kagan is really saying. By the time the scientist finishes repeating what Kagan has really said, (an incredibly bold and sometimes profane denouncement of the Soviet way of running the program and general attitudes) Molotov is fondly imagining a day when the scientists won't be as indispensable as they currently are and he'll be free to kill them all.
    • Part of that has to do with how the Soviet leadership (especially in Stalin's time) view scientists. In their eyes, scientists are intellectuals who think they're better than the common working man. Scientists are to be put in their place and only tolerated when absolutely necessary. This is mentioned in the novel, by the way.
  • The title character in Mara, Daughter of the Nile tries to do this when the first meeting between the king and the foreign princess he is betrothed to doesn't go so well. Unfortunately for Mara, she forgot that the king also speaks Babylonian.
  • Professor Mmaa's Lecture: The interpreter present at the talks between the termite Prime Minister and the ant delegate does wonders in translating the ant's suave Trouble Entendre into the Minister's blunt plain talk, and vice versa.
  • In the Rivers of London book Whispers Underground, Peter has a conversation with a Taiwanese sorceress through a translator. At one point the translator simply tells him that she's gone into a speech about mainland China, she feels very strongly about it, and could he just try to look interested.
  • 1632:
    • When Emperor Gustav Adolf, in 1632, expresses disbelief that Julie Sims is capable of the marksmanship she claims, her fiance, Alex, has to translate the exchange:
      Julie: [shouldering her rifle] You tell that fathead to call 'em out.
      Alex: [translating] If your majesty would be so good as to designate a target, she would be most willing to offer a demonstration.
    • In 1634: The Galileo Affair, when relaying to a bedridden Ruy Sanchez the gist of an argument involving a mob outside the USE embassy in Venice seeking vengeance for the murder of Joe Buckley, which they believe was done by the Spanish envoy currently in the building, she mentions that she's cleaning many obscenities from the report, and muses that "in another universe I should look into getting a job as a UN translator".
  • In A Song of Ice and Fire, when Daenerys negotiates for the purchase of a slave army in Astapor, one of the merchants insults her repeatedly with lewd and sexist comments, but his young slave interpreter translates this much more politely. Of course, neither the slave nor the merchant realize at that point that Dany actually does speak their language. She's impressed by the translator's wit and brings her into her service, and of course reveals her understanding later when she has her dragon light the merchant on fire.
  • Space Cadet (Heinlein): Tex wants to know how the Venusians expect to get their rocketship out of the mud it's crashed in. Oscar translates this, and their matriarch replies, "Tell thy impatient daughter [the Venusians assume humans have a female-dominated society like their own, so presume the cadets are female] to chase her fish and I shall chase mine." Tex replies, "No need for her to be rude about it." When the matriarch asks what he said, Oscar tells her "'She' thanks thee for the lesson."
  • The Warlord Chronicles gives us a page quote when the Boisterous Bruiser Saxon warrior king Aelle faces off with a coalition of Briton princes, generals, and warlords. When called upon to surrender and offered mercy, Aelle responds with an incredibly long-winded and detailed set of threats, tortures and torments toward every notable figure on the British side. (Believe it or not, the version on the quote page is much shorter than the full thing). The translator's version is simply "He says no." The trope also gets lampshaded, as right after Derfel translates Aelle's speech, Meurig responds "Surely he said more than that?" The Old Soldier Sagramor, who has been doing this sort of thing for his almost his entire life, just tells Meurig "You don't want to know what he really said."
  • In Wen Spencer's Tinker, inverted — an elf informs a man, in Low Elvish, that two children are under the protection of the Wolf Who Rules. The man asks what it means. A woman tells him that it means hands off the kids, or I'll break your face. Which is, indeed, what it means.
  • In Windhaven, someone is executed for doing this. She was carrying very rude verbal messages between two places at risk of war, and made them a bit more polite. When her employer found out he had her killed, and though he was removed from his position for insanity shortly thereafter, he was considered within his rights to do so. They take the job of delivering the exact message seriously.
  • Played with in Farnham's Legend, the novelization of X: Beyond the Frontier. The Split Patriarch threatens to have his entire translation team executed for a ridiculously flowery and sycophantic translation of a communique from the Xenon. He much prefers the to-the-point electronic translation.
  • Comes up in the X-Wing Series. Wedge Antilles flies the fake Falcon, Millenium Falsehood with Chewbacca as copilot, but since he doesn't understand the Wookiee, he brings along a translator droid. While Chewbacca physically can't speak Basic, he does understand it, and he takes offense to Squeaky not translating the more colorful elements of his speech.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Used in a Spike Milligan sketch where Milligan, as David Attenborough, explores the primitive Cockney tribes of London. A Cockney taxi driver rattles off a series of complaints about his customers in perfectly understandable English, which Milligan/Attenborough's interpreter translates as "The gods are angry".
  • Discussed in Answered by Fire. An Australian police officer working with the UN insists that his East Timorese translator tell him exactly what the people he's talking to are saying. The translator protests that the Timorese often misunderstand what the Australian is saying, and he has to correct them before they start going off on another tangent and everything takes twice as long.
  • Andor: The elder of an Aldhani tribe greets the Imperial military governor with a backhanded Stealth Insult ("may the Eye remain open long enough to find good in you") in the native tongue. Lt. Gorn ó the only Imperial who speaks the Aldhani language ó decides to "translate" this as a very generous and friendly greeting. The elder gives Gorn a surprised look, implying he understands Basic but refuses to speak it.
  • Barbarians: Upon Thusnelda telling her husband Arminius to tell the Roman Governor Varus that she would cut his balls off and feed them to the dogs, Arminius tells Varus that Thusnelda is honored to meet the Roman Governor.
  • Inverted in an episode of The Big Bang Theory. Raj starts dating a woman named Emily who is deaf and can only communicate through sign language. The gang begin to worry that Emily may be just using Raj for his money, so Penny goes to Emily's gym to "talk" to her about it, bringing Howard (who knows ASL) as a translator. Penny is as diplomatic as possible, telling Emily that Raj is prone to becoming infatuated too quickly, and she's concerned that Emily may be unintentionally taking advantage of his generosity. Howard translates this as "Are you a Golddigger, yes or no?".
  • Boardwalk Empire: Averted in the first season, when a Jewish criminal with a bad gunshot wound is dragged into a dentist's office for medical treatment just as the dentist was about to examine a young boy. Agent Van Alden tries to press the gangster for information about what happened, but the gangster responds by insulting Van Alden in Yiddish, with the insult causing a nearby woman (the young boy's mother) to gasp in horror and makes Van Alden's partner Agent Sebso look around in consternation. Van Alden demands that the woman translate, and when she protests that she can't say such filth, he insists that she translate "word for word". She reluctantly complies and we get the following:
    Middle aged Jewish woman: He says you should fuck your grandmother... with your faggot penis!
    Agent Sebso: Little faggot penis.
  • Breaking Bad uses the deadpan "that means no" version in the second season. After Tuco's death, his uncle Hector is brought to the DEA office and is asked if Jesse was there at the house during the time in question. If Hector says yes, it would blow a major hole in the stories that Jesse and Walt have prepared and get them into a lot of trouble. Fortunately, Gomez points out that Hector is a old-school Mexican gangster, and despite being rendered mute and wheelchair bound by a stroke, he's not the type to cooperate with police. When Hank asks if Hector is going to help them, Hector responds by looking Hank dead in the eyes, then takes a long, liquidy shit. (In other words, he literally shit on the idea.)
    Hank: I guess that's a no.
  • In the Crusade episode The Needs Of Earth, an alien leader's translator explains to Captain Gideon that their leaders deliberately avoid learning other languages in order to avoid compromises to their moral and intellectual purity. The following exchange ensues:
    Gideon: Really? [pause] Tell your boss he's an ass.
    [translator whispers in leader's ear]
    Translator: I told him you were honored and deeply humbled to have a being of such high moral character aboard your ship.
    Gideon: Do you do this a lot? Lie to protect his ego?
    Translator: All the time. It's politics... and self-preservation.
  • Bassem Youssef (who hosted an Egyptian version of The Daily Show) did this as a joke when Jon Stewart came on his show:
    In Arabic, to the audience: People describe him as the Bassem Youssef of the US. He tries to imitate me.
    In English, to Jon: I just said you're awesome!
    In Arabic: He literally mimics me.
    In English: I just said that you're an inspiration to me.
  • Daredevil. If you speak Japanese, you'll know that Nobu actually has a pretty foul mouth, but Wesley always translates his words into something more polite and businesslike for his boss Wilson Fisk (who it later turns out speaks the language but is pretending not to). Unfortunately, Nobu does speak English (though not perfectly), so he eventually gets mad for being censored, and threatens Wesley in thickly-accented English.
    Wesley: He...doesn't care for the accomodations.
    Nobu: Misspeak my words again, and I shall have your tongue.
  • Not a political example, but in an episode of Frasier Roz drafts Frasier to break up with her French boyfriend for her, since her boyfriend doesn't speak English and she doesn't speak French. Frasier reluctantly proceeds to do so, only to discover that Roz's boyfriend has been wanting to break up with her for some time. Frasier naturally doesn't tell Roz this bit, so while Roz thinks that Frasier is translating her heartfelt speech about why she and her boyfriend are not meant to be, Frasier and the guy are actually discussing a good place to get a steak.
  • In Game of Thrones' third season, Daenerys goes to the city of Astapor to potentially buy an army of slave soldiers. The slavermaster, who only speaks Valyrian, constantly makes insulting remarks to Daenerys, referring to her as a "stupid Western whore," and remarking to one of the other slavers that he's only offering her such a good deal because he likes "the curve of her ass," while the slave translating for him either filters these comments out, or changes them into him offering a deal "because he is generous." Then after the slavers turn over control of the army, they find out that Daenerys actually spoke perfect Valyrian all along and knew exactly what he was saying. Cue Oh, Crap! look from the slavermaster. Missandei, the slave who translates for him later enters Dany's service and translates honestly, though she does express embarrassment for the insults she sometimes has to relay. It happens again with Missandei when she struggles to describe Tyrion in Valyrian to Grey Worm in a respectful manner, eventually settling on "short one." Tyrion immediately interjects (in Valyrian, no less) that he believes the proper term is "dwarf".
  • Melinda from Ghost Whisperer tends to carefully reinterpret what the dead are really saying.
  • Invoked by Captain Pellew in the Hornblower episode "The Examination for Lieutenant" (also known as "The Fire Ships"). The Indefatigable is at anchor in a Spanish harbor when a Spanish captain arrives aboard to inform them that Spain intends to abandon their posture of neutrality and formally ally with France. Pellew's sense of personal dignity won't let him be rude, but he is too flustered to formulate a reply, leaving Hornblower (acting as a translator/interpreter, speaking French with the Spaniard) to contrive out an appropriate reply on the spot while Pellew grits his teeth.
    Pellew: What? What is he saying?
    Hornblower: According to the rules of neutrality — we have six hours before the Spanish start firing on us, sir.
    Pellew: [livid] You tell him, sir... Damned if I'll let him see he's made me angry! [fuming, but with a stiff smile toward the Spanish captain] You tell him, sir... You know the sort of things I want to say, don't you, Hornblower.
    Hornblower: Yes, sir. Er... Le capitaine regrette beaucoup les circonstances qui vous séparent de lui et il... espère toujours avoir le plaisir de votre amitié personnelle, quelle que soit la relation de nos deux pays. note 
    Spanish captain: [bows, impressed]
    Pellew: Get him over the side. [forced smile] With dignity.
  • Key & Peele uses an inversion as the premise for the "Luther, Anger Translator" series of sketches. President Obama (Peele) gives an address in typically mild politic-speak, which Luther (Key) "translates" into the intensely emotional language that he really means. The real Obama liked the routine so much that he invited Key to do it live with him at the 2015 White House Correspondents' Dinner.
  • In Lost there's a scene in which Sayid is translating questions and responses between an American sergeant and a countryman of his. When his countryman's responses do nothing but tell Sayid to kill every American soldier in the room holding them captive, Sayid translates this as "He doesn't know."
  • In the "Doppelganger" episode of NCIS, the notoriously techno-phobic Gibbs takes McGee with him when he goes to interview an IT specialist so that he can translate the guys technobabble. Indeed, McGee is able to water down everything the guy says into "Yes", "No", and "Maybe". For added bonus, the guy ends up needing Gibbs' dialogue interpreted to him.
  • Rake: During talks with Chinese officials, their translators render insults, including numerous expletives, as very bland replies by comparison.
  • The Sopranos: In season 2 Tony, Paulie and Christopher travel to Naples to negotiate deals with the local mafia. Furio translates between Tony and the local boss, toning down Tony's brashness and severely toning down the local mob boss's clear disdain for Americans.
  • In the Star Trek: The Original Series episode "Dagger of the Mind", after Spock relates the state and warning of a seemingly mentally ill patient to Kirk via communicator, the nearby Dr. Noelle says, "Well, that's foolish!" Her being further away, Spock doesn't hear all of the comment and asks Kirk to repeat it, prompting him to say, "Tell McCoy the technical expert he sent along with me insists that any concern is... unjustified."
  • In Vikings Athelstan becomes the translator for Lagertha and a completely smitten King Ecbert. Though he seems bemused by Ecbert's attraction, he also downplays some of their words to each other, presumably out of loyalty to Ragnar (Lagertha's ex-husband, who still has considerable feelings for her). As such, Ecbert's lengthy declaration about how beautiful, fascinating and wonderful Lagertha is simply becomes: "He likes you." Later, after being invited to Ecbert's villa, Lagertha agrees and declares that: "I need a bath." Athelstan significantly leaves this out when he relates her words to Ecbert.
  • The West Wing averts this regarding the deaf pollster Joey Lucas, whose translators always say exactly what she signs. Her (well, her translator's) first line involved calling Josh an "unmitigated jackass". It also lead to a few funny moments.
    Joey: [through Kenny] Joshua Lyman, you have the cutest little butt in professional politics.
    Josh: Kenny, that really better have been her talking.
  • In Yes, Minister an unrealistic political proposal was being circulated round the civil servants at a British department of state for their opinions as to how they could make the politicians' flawed idea work. Rather than swear outright, Jim Hacker expressed dissent by writing Round Objects! (ie, Balls!) next to one of the more outlandishly unrealistic propositions. When it got back to Sir Humphrey, he inquired, loftily, "Who is this Round and to what does he object?"
  • The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles: While fighting in the Mexican revolution, Indy is tasked with translating the Title Cards of captured American silent films and newsreels. When the reel turns to the revolution from an American perspective, Indy attempts to play off the footage as respectful to Pancho Villa, but fails: the revolutionaries shoot up the theater.
    Title Card: To the Halls of Montezuma! US troops sweep into Mexico.
    Indy: US troops... pay a courtesy visit to Canada.
    Card: General Pershing: "We shall soon have that cowardly bandit Pancho Villa on the run."
    Indy: It says General Pancho Villa... is a great man.
  • Young Sheldon: In "Potato Salad, a Broomstick, and Dad's Whiskey", Pastor Jeff does this for his Spanish-speaking wife; unfortunately for him, Sheldon understands Spanish.

  • Behind the Bastards: On the Nestor Makhno episode, Evans tells guest Jamie Loftus that Bat'ko means "boss" then mentions in an aside that the word actually means "daddy". He lied to her since due to Loftus' penchant for sexual based humor, the truth would had hopelessly derailed the episode. The moment is later referenced in future episodes with Loftus. Evans replied that he was not proud of what he did, but he felt it necessary in the name of Saving Christmas.

    Pro Wrestling 
  • CHIKARA JoshiMania: UltraMantis Black sat in on commentary with Bryce Remsburg for the second match on Night I, which was Pro Wrestling Wave's GAMI vs. Osaka Joshi's Sawako Shimono. At one point, GAMI yelled something in Japanese, leading to the following exchange:
    BRYCE: I know you speak some Japanese. What up?
    UMB: Believe me, you do not want to know.

    Video Games 
  • In Destiny, when you're put up against a Fallen commander, who angrily shouts at you in his native (read: alien) tongue:
    Variks: That was commander of the Fang. He just called you was an insult.
  • In Destiny 2, an early mission has you set up a Frame-Up between the Cabal and the Fallen. Your Ghost sets the trap by calling Dominus Ghaul a Fallen curse word that he'd rather not translate. It's probably the same "insult" that Variks mentioned, which, if it means "Traveler-thief" like many fans guessed, would be both scathing and fitting for him.
  • In Red Dead Redemption, Landon Ricketts did this to the protagonist in one mission. Marston gave elaborate descriptions of his target, and Landon gave the Mexican informant very basic ones. Made much worse by the fact that Marston knew enough Spanish to ask (or at least understand) these things himself, and Landon even translated the answers which Marston objected.
  • During the mission to Tokyo in The Secret World, players end up having infrequent conferences with Inbeda of the House In Exile and his personal translator, the Mask of Kan'Ami. Given the fact that he's a mercenary captain and not a diplomat, Inbeda's pretty free with lewd remarks and obscenities, and the Mask has to frequently censor him - especially when the old demon feels like elaborating on his "many warm feelings" for Kirsten Geary. Also, because of the unpleasant effects of the demonic tongue, he has to tone down some of Inbeda's more lurid threats against the Jingu Clan lest the walls begin to bleed.
  • Played for Laughs constantly with hapless Protocol droids and translators in Star Wars: The Old Republic, doubly so if they're translating for Hutts. Huttese is second only to Galactic Basic as a "default" language, and all of the Player Characters are perfectly able to understand it, but there are still situations where the Hutt will declare something like "Winner gets to eat my translator!" and the hapless translator has to spin it "Uh...may the winners feast on victory!"
  • In Chants of Sennaar, you have no choice but to translate one of the Warriors' communiques this way; when talking to the Devotees, they refer to them as "the Impure", the Warrors' word for anyone they block from ascending the tower. Since the Devotees have no comparable word in their language, you can only translate it as "Devotee".

    Visual Novels 
  • The deaf-mute Shizune from Katawa Shoujo naturally needs everything translated for her, using either her best friend Misha or the protagonist Hisao. Both generally translate accurately except in the case of Shizune's blind Arch-Enemy Lilly, where Hisao is frequently guilty of trying to avert a fight between the two women by giving hilariously inaccurate translations, which fool neither of them. Lilly, however, is fooled once in Shizune's route, when Hisao translates one of Shizune's sarcastic comments into something completely different. He questions how ethical it is to do that, but they get through the fishing trip without fighting, which pleases him.
    Lilly: I have no idea how to fish.
    Shizune: [signing] [How magnanimous of you, Lilly.]
    Hisao: Shizune says you should at least try. It might turn out to be fun.
    Lilly: Very well. Akira, how do you use this?

    Web Animation 
  • RWBY: The Albain brothers generally spend their time spinning Adam's ranting and needlessly cruel orders into something that sounds clever and pragmatic to convince the rest of the White Fang to follow them. Best shown in "Necessary Sacrifice". They tell Ilia that the Belladonnas are a threat to the White Fang and need to be removed to show Menagerie what happens to those who speak out against them. In reality, Adam hasn't considered the wider strategic implications at all, and just wants Blake's parents dead to spite and hurt Blake; he made a promise to destroy everything she loves, and he plans to keep it.

    Web Comics 
  • The Adventures of Dr. McNinja: In "Why a Gorilla?", Judy is translating between the (future) Doctor and some gorillas about how gorillas have been turned into vampires. She specifically mentions to McNinja in English that she's not going to relay the fact that he spoke of a vampire gorilla, who had been the interviewees wife, having some remains of her "humanity" left. The gorillas probably don't think of humans as the paragons of those qualities he was talking about.
  • Corner Alley 13 has it Played for Laughs when calm and unconcerned Cole proceeds with translating every phrase in an obviously much more polite (and comically eloquent) form while, well...
  • Occasionally played with in Darths & Droids, when they remember that no-one knows what Pete/R2-D2 says until Sally/C-3PO translates it.
  • Provided by the comic itself in Girl Genius, in the footnote translating Agatha's furious Symbol Swearing.
    Translation: Ooh, what naughty little devices, to so turn upon your creator! Oh! Indeed, my foot is in such excruciating pain! I shall construct a device that will give you such a whack, see if I don't!
  • Used by the narration in Kill Six Billion Demons whenever Devils begin talking amongst themselves:
    Red: Bad! Danger! Waken tha sleepmongrel! <Watch out!>
    Cio: Invertly person become tha. Productive us! <Go away, I'm busy!>
    Red: Thickenskull, tha! Madderly empty, flenserly wencheries comen thuswise! <I kindly implore you to listen! The lovely daughters of your employer are coming!>
    Cio: Tha me not, thee. <So?>
    Red: Thum heateater backerly thus tha! <That angel is back for you!>
    Cio: Blasted poxerly vacuous gaperly whoreson! <What?> Wretchedly malodorous molleycoddle! Tha fumorous discharge! <I am discontent with this news!>
  • MegaTokyo: Faced with the challenge of translating Largo's wholesale insanity for Kimiko, Piro decides to just make something up.
    Largo: But if yer gonna mooch food off this chick, make sure she brings b33r next time.
    Piro: He says that having a robot like Ping may seem weird, but it's not! She's actually quite handy to have around!
    Erika: My, my, isn't this an interesting conversation.
  • Stand Still, Stay Silent has a complex Language Barrier and monolingual characters with a habit of Brutal Honesty, regularly giving translators an opportunity for this.

    Web Original 
  • Dream SMP: Played for Laughs. During the Manburg era and the time leading up to it, Quackity nicknamed the White House (the Presidential Headquarters of L'Manburg and later Manburg) the "casa de putas", but whenever he's asked for a translation of the name, he "translates" it to "toilet" or "bathroom".note 

    Western Animation 
  • A subversion in The Dragon Prince, via Bilingual Bonus. When Viren says that he only tried to claim the throne out of love for humanity and their kingdom, Gren translates Amaya's signing as "I have found a giant pile of bull...droppings." The implication to Viren (and the audience) is that she said "bullshit" and Gren translated it more nicely, but she actually did sign "bull droppings", meaning she and Gren are trolling Viren by making him think this trope is in play.
    • A straight example in season 3, when Janai is interrogating Amaya, with Kazi interpreting. When Janai demands that Amaya "say something," Amaya signs "Why not take your sword and stick it up your ass?" Kazi exclaims softly in mortification and hedges a bit before getting out: "She suggested an unusual way in which your body might accomodate your sword."
  • Implied as what C-3PO and his entire line of translator droids do in Star Wars: The Clone Wars; in "Trespass", the Pantoran Chairman wants C-3PO to translate, word for word, what he was about to say to the natives on which he was about to declare war, knowing that C-3PO would try to remove all of the harshness of his words.
  • Teen Titans: In the finale episode, "Titans Together", as the remaining heroes infiltrate the Villain base to liberate their captured team members, Herald questions how they can be sure any of them are really here. Más in an angry manner, explains that one of his powers is that he has a magnetic connection with his twin brother, Menos, that grows stronger based on their proximity to one another. The problem is that he only speaks Spanish, so most of them don't understand what he's saying. Pantha, the only one who is Bilingual, simplifies it greatly to a "twin thing".
    Herald: How do we know his brother's here?
    Más: Porque,Trumpet Boy, nuestros poderes nos da una conexión magnética. Lo más cerca que estamos, lo más fuerte es nuestro enlace. ¡Qué no sabes nada!Translation 
    Pantha: He said it was a twin thing.

    Real Life 
  • The legendary response of General Anthony McAuliffe to German demands for the surrender of the 101st Airborne in Bastogne. McAuliffe's original reply, as reported, was "NUTS!" When the German representatives asked for clarification, they were told "The reply is decidedly not affirmative. If you continue this foolish attack, your losses will be tremendous." When the parley party returned to meet up with other German elements, bringing along a couple of American translators under safe conduct, another request for clarification was met with the reply "Du kannst zum Teufel gehen (You can go to Hell). If you continue to attack, we will kill every goddamn German that tries to break into this city." Originally, one of the translators wanted to say "take a flying shit," but it was realized this might be too UNtactful a translation even for the circumstances.
  • For a failure of this trope, Kruschev's "We will bury you!" stands out. The original phrase was taken in context to be the capstone of a speech about how capitalism would die and the Soviet system would have to handle things once it did. Out of context, and thanks to the untactful translation, it was taken as anything up to a nuclear threat. More at The Other Wiki.
  • A religious example: In a story in The Bible's Books of Samuel, King Saul curses out his son Jonathan and calls him a Son of a Whore. Most Bible translations, presumably not wanting to offend pious readers, Bowdlerize this remark into, "You son of a perverse and rebellious woman!" A notable exception was The Living Bible, which went with "You son of a bitch!", and did indeed receive an outcry of angry letters from Moral Guardians.
  • William "Red Bill" Kirland was a American captain stationed in the Ottoman Empire when the Hamidian massacres took place. He was so outraged by them that he issued an warning to the local governor stating that if the massacres continued, he'd forget his order to stay put and find a excuse to bombard his cities in retaliation. The only reason he got away with saying this was because his local translator softened his warning (though it's not known what exactly he said).
  • John Waters brought Female Trouble to a film festival in Antwerp, Belgium. While describing the film, the translator became so appalled at what Waters was saying that she stopped translating his comments and started telling the audience something completely different. Because Waters doesn't speak Dutch, he didn't know this was happening until someone told him afterwards.
  • When visiting China in 1995, Ukraine's President Leonid Kuchma, said that he was happy to meet China's representatives in its capital of Taiwan. Luckily, the translator managed to smooth over this gaffe, avoiding an international incident.
  • During a speech once, former President Jimmy Carter relayed a story about giving a speech at a Japanese school to a packed audience and having prepared a short joke to tell early on which he wasn't sure would get any laughs. When he told the joke he noticed the translator spoke very briefly and the whole crowd laughed. Later he asked the translator how he'd translated the joke and the translator hedged making Carter suspicious about how the joke got translated. The translator then admitted he'd simply said something to the effect of "The President has told a funny story, everybody please laugh."
  • In a making-of anecdote for the yet-unreleased film Empires Of The Deep in an article for Atavist Magazine involved an argument between the film's financier, Chinese real estate mogul Jon Jiang (for whom the film was a huge Vanity Project), and the film's at-the-time director, Jonathan Lawrence, with a Chinese-English translator helping the two communicate. Lawrence objected to a scene of an important character dying, only for them to be brought back to life by a random magic pill, but Jiang refused to change the scene. Exasperated, Lawrence told the translator to tell Jiang, "your script is one of the worst pieces of fucking shit Iíve ever read". The translator very reluctantly did so, but Lawrence strongly suspected that what he said to Jiang was an extremely toned down interpretation (considering Jiang didn't seem to get upset and neither of them were fired on the spot).


Video Example(s):


Frasier (2001)

Roz asks Frasier to translate when she breaks up with her French boyfriend. But what Roz thinks they're saying and what they're actually saying are two very different things.

How well does it match the trope?

4.94 (18 votes)

Example of:

Main / TactfulTranslation

Media sources: