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The Unintelligible

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Would you mind speaking up, sir?

Bumo... Bumomomo!
Bumomo Bumomomomo Bumo!

A character who speaks, but is for one reason or another unintelligible to the audience.

A variant of He Who Must Not Be Heard. There are many possible reasons the audience cannot understand the character: muffled voice, thick accent, foreign language, very limited vocabulary, a robot communicating only in beeps. Other characters on the show may have no trouble understanding them if they are an example of a Sub-Trope of this, Intelligible Unintelligible. This leads to a lot of repeated dialogue that'd make little sense if we could understand both characters. ("Are we going to Dagobah?" "That's right R2, we're going to Dagobah!")

An awful lot of unintelligible or barely-intelligible characters' speech disruptions take the form of them only being able to say their name: Pokémon Speak.

The Voice, when in the "only calls on the phone" variation, is sometimes also The Unintelligible. Their dialogue is usually distorted mumbling gibberish, and almost always angry-sounding (possibly because half of it is cussing). A good example of this is The Mayor's wife on the Christmas Special The Year Without a Santa Claus, although it is possible to make out the occasional word, mostly "galoshes."

See also Speaking Simlish, where non-playable video game characters speak nonsense, and Elective Unintelligible, where a character can speak normally, but chooses to speak nonsensically. Starfish Language is a related trope, where the character is unintelligible because they're not even using words. Not to be confused with The Illegible, which is when a character has outrageously horrible handwriting. Sometimes The Unintelligible has a friend who acts as his Translator Buddy. When caused by their accent, then it's an Unintelligible Accent. Also not to be confused with The Unpronounceable, where a name is very difficult to pronounce.

Example subpages:

Other examples

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  • The Hamburglar from McDonald's commercials combines regular words with mumbling. Originally, he had a partner named Captain Crook (a rather stereotypical pirate) who translated for him; Crook was eventually written out, and the Hamburglar was made "cuter", but these days, it's easy for the other characters to understand him.

  • Code Prime: Bumblebee, as has become the standard practice of late. For the sake of the audience, whatever he says is bracketed, letting us now it is something only other Cybertronians can understand. Lelouch and the Black Knights eventually get earpieces to translate what the Autobot scout says. C.C. can perfectly understand him, much to everyone's shock, while Rakshata is able to understand Bumblebee by mentally analyzing the sounds and deciphering the code in her head.
  • In Hans Von Hozel's fics, The Beatles can only say "Liverpol".
  • Mayor Joe Biden from Miraculous: The Phoenix Rises stutters enough during speeches and routine conversations that he's basically this.
  • From the Gensokyo 20XX series, we have this Reimu and Youmu at different points. Reimu was this to a degree, before she regained her language skills, that is, she would mostly string together syllables and make noises and, in the case of the latter, this comes from the fact that she was a toddler at the time, saying, "Muh", phasing out of this as time goes on. However, both doubles as the Intelligible Unintelligible, in that they can be understood.
  • Harry Potter in the beginning of The Havoc Side of the Force can only be understood by HK-47 as the only two languages he speaks are English (which hasn't been invented yet) and Parseltongue (which is also the language of a primitive species that other species can't learn). He later learns Basic from Anakin, though Harry notes that Anakin picked up English much faster.
  • Wyvern: Taylor can't speak English when in wyvern form unless she's really large, which has its own problems, limiting her vocabulary to simple noises, nods, head shakes and shrugs.

    Instructional Video 
  • The giant teddy bears called "The Teds" in the first DVD for Bella Dancerella "Let's Dance!" They whisper silently to each other, but Bella can hear and understand them from twenty feet away.


    Professional Wrestling 
  • CHIKARA mainstay Delirious speaks in a loud, rambling matter, occasionally spitting out a coherent phrase or sentence. Appropriately, his team with Hallowicked and Frightmare was called Incoherence.
    • The Thirteenth Hat, January 28, 2012, opened with a skit involving UltraMantis Black using the Eye of Tyr to cast a spell freeing Delirious from Die Bruderschaft des Kreuzes. Delirious grabbed the Eye, ran off and smashed it, yelling "I REMEMBER EVERYTHING!"
  • The Iron Sheik. Really, the only word he says that is generally and universally understandable is the one that Botchamania has adopted as a slogan.
  • Ahmed Johnson, unfortunately, was notorious for this.

    Text Services 
  • The daily video game magazine Digitiser, which ran on the UK Teletext service throughout the 90s, had the recurring character Zombie Dave, who communicated entirely through barely-intelligible mumbles. This was usually used to get outrageously offensive things broadcast in an ostensibly family-friendly magazine.
    Zombie Dave: [Describing Lara Croft] Thrr brrrd wrrz thrr tttrrrdz.

  • In The King and I, any line spoken in the Siamese language is represented by instruments of the orchestra. This is subverted during Anna's first conversation with the Kralahome, when he angrily dismisses the interpreter and shows he can speak English.
  • Cirque du Soleil loves this. Most of the shows use imaginary language for all the characters (save for opening announcements), though foreign-language lyrics may turn up in some of the songs. Since The '90s, there has been a tendency towards shows with more English dialogue and lyrics worked into the action: Corteo, KOOZA, Delirium, Zumanity, and their Jukebox Musical variants based on the work of The Beatles, Elvis Presley, and Michael Jackson. In the meantime, the emcee in Mystere not only speaks both English and gibberish, but is mocked for the latter by both his puppet and the principal clown Brian Le Petit (who speak English).
  • In Peter Schickele's Hornsmoke: A Horse Opera, the four characters never speak, but they sometimes play their musical instruments in the manner of speech.
  • Played for laughs in Orpheus in the Underworld when Jupiter tries to seduce Eurydice in the form of a fly; his portion of the song is nothing but buzzing.
  • Charlie and the Chocolate Factory: After Mike Teavee gets shrunk in the Television Room his voice just sounds like a series of squeaks.

    Web Videos 
  • The CollegeHumor skit "Font Conference" features anthropomorphic personifications of various Microsoft fonts. The symbol font Wingdings is represented by a mental patient who cries out the names of various symbols (e.g. "diamonds candle candle flag!"); as a result, nobody understands the message (communicated to the audience by subtitles) he's trying to convey.
  • What the Fuck Is Wrong with You? has Arlo P. Arlo, who speaks with an impenetrable southern accent combined with slurring, what sounds like non-use of teeth, and frequent mumbling. Fortunately, he has subtitles.
  • The bailiff from Musical Hell is an imp that talks in Murloc-like chirping, that only Diva can understand.
  • While on land, Aquaman in Solid jj's "Classic Aquaman" sounds like he's constantly gargling on water, and it's only because of the subtitles that the viewers can understand him. The other members of the Justice League aren’t so lucky, and Batman admits that he's mostly been guessing what Aquaman was saying during their conversation.

    Web Original 
  • Gorilla from Glove And Boots is only capable of saying "Meh!". The other characters do seem to understand him, but mostly through context. When he's supposed to be saying a full sentence or non-monosyllabic word, it can seem more like he's speaking English in an accent that renders most (but not all) syllables as "meh". For instance, the setup to The History Of Television involves Gorilla mimicking the "Vitameatavegamin" bit from I Love Lucy, which he pronounces something like "meh-ta-meat-ah-meh-ta-mah".
  • Dragon Ball Z Abridged:
    • Lord Slug Special had Lord Slug fill this role prior to his wish for youth. The two readily understood instances were the word "Dragonball" and his response to a minion's complaints (about having to find all seven Dragon Balls in an hour): "Oh, bitch bitch bitch!"
    • Android 14 from Super Android 13 Abridged has corrupted voice drivers which Dr. Gero cannot find the replacements for, so all his dialogue comes out as static-laced whining sounds. He's far from stupid, however...
  • Puppycat from Bee and Puppycat speaks in gibberish with voice of Oliver. Luckily he's given subtitles.
  • The Garry's Mod popular character, the Vagineer. His lines are actually spoken backwards, and depending on the creator of the videos they can be meaningful or simply nonsensical.
  • The Head of Podcasts during his phone calls in the second series of The John Dredge Nothing To Do With Anything Show.
  • There are times where Achievement Hunter member Jeremy Dooley will devolve into this. The fans refer to this as his "Weiss voice" after he spent his playthrough of RWBY: Grimm Eclipse making "HAP HAP!" noises.
  • Soviet Womble's clan has a member named "Holynevil" (meant to be "Holy N' Evil" but usually dubbed "Nevil") who can never speak coherently. It's clear he has a strong Vietnamese accent and a bad microphone, but it still doesn't entirely explain how incomprehensible his speech can get. Over the next few years, he would get a clearer mic and start to become more intelligible, but his thick accent still remains.
    Womble: Nevil, you're in command.
    Nevil: Sonarifrity err bat bat errr long ray radio if you cam.
    Random Squad Member: Oh, shit.
  • Shack Tactical similarly has EvilScotsman, whose heavy Scottish accent is mixed with an even-heavier slur, and who is prone to saying things that don't make sense even if you actually manage to figure out the words. Taconic typically serves as his Translator Buddy, but at the same time he also toys with Scotty mercilessly to get him to say the most ridiculously unintelligible things.
    Taconic: Scotty, say "cow".
    EvilScotsman: Coo.
  • Ask Fluffle Puff: Fluffle Puff communicates only through blowing raspberries and pantomiming, yet the others still understand what she's trying to convey, with the audience being the only ones left out of the loop.
  • Subverted by Yu-Gi-Oh! GX: The Abridged Series. While Chumley mostly speaks in monosyllabic grunts, the characters can still understand him perfectly. Plus he does speak when a joke calls for it.
  • Some ASMR videos have the ASMRtist whispering or mumbling in incoherent nonsense speech to use the flow of the spoken sounds as the trigger for the ASMR response.
  • The gimmick of Twitch Plays Pokémon is hundreds or thousands of people typing random inputs into a game system. Needless to say, coherent text input is impossible, and humans and Pokémon are routinely given completely nonsensical names that form the basis of nicknames that the mob can actually pronounce.
  • Himemori Luna of hololive is meant to be "0 years old", and speaks in a very childlike way to reflect that. However, her speech is comparable to "babbling" with both Japanese and English fans agreeing that they can't understand her.
    • Sakura Miko is a Motor Mouth whose accent is already difficult to discern due to her having a short tongue. Some of her fellow streamers, staff members and audience have noted they have no idea what she is saying at times. On one occasion, a staff member showed Miko a clip of herself and asked what she was saying, as they needed to write subtitles for a concert DVD, and Miko herself had trouble understanding what she was saying. Her Japanese speaking is known to be so bad that it's become a meme that it's worse than several of the Indonesian or English branch members who know Japanese as their second or even third language.

    Real Life 
  • The Voynich manuscript is a textual example. This codex of unknown origin is written in an unknown language that will probably never be deciphered.

Statler: What was the Chef saying there?
Waldorf: I don't think even he knows what he's saying sometimes.
Statler: Or what he's cooking?
Both: Dohohohohohohoho!


Video Example(s):


Debriefing the Breen

"The Changing Face of Evil". Weyoun speaks effusively of the surprise raid by the Breen, newly added to the Dominion side of the war, on Starfleet Headquarters in San Francisco, CA. Later, Legate Damar warns the Breen that if they fail to turn the tide of the war against the Federation's alliance soon, the Dominion's opinion of them will sour just as it has of Cardassia. The only response Thot Gor ever makes is an electronic warble that is unintelligible to the audience, but apparently understood perfectly well by both Weyoun and Damar.

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Example of:

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