While we commonly expect short phrases in one language to be equally short in another, sometimes short phrases are translated into surprisingly long ones: however, many shows parody this completely by having a single word become a long phrase in English, or a ridiculously long phrase to a single English word, often the word 'Yes'. This is mild Truth in Television, as there are words in other languages for highly specific cases which take some explaining in English, such as Zugzwang which means "a situation [in a game, especially Chess] where one player is put at a disadvantage because he has to make a move when he would prefer to pass and make no move" (from The Other Wiki)."note
Related to Fun with Subtitles, which may overlap with Bilingual Bonus. Also related to Expospeak Gag, with the key difference that in the latter both messages are (technically) in the same language. Compare Name That Unfolds Like Lotus Blossom.
If this is actually happening in the story being presented when a conversation is being held through a translator, it may be because the translator is doing a Tactful Translation and thus editing and carefully rephrasing some of what is being said.
- An advert for a Japanese brand of air-conditioning units shown in Greece and possibly other western countries showed two (Japanese) actors dressed as cowboys having a fight. One of them kills the other and then starts speaking for several seconds, stopping to take breaths a few times. The subtitle shows "I got you, worm!" The tagline is "We may not be known for our westerns, but we are known for our AC units."
- Lampshaded in the English dub of Bobobo-bo Bo-bobo, after an obviously wordy title is described in no more than two words. "It says a lot more than that in Japanese!"
- Eyeshield 21:
- Komusubi communicates solely in "power-speak", which consists largely of grunts and one-word sentences. His power-speak tends to be rather verbose, even eloquent, when translated, and usually prompts a reaction along the lines of "He said all that?!"
- A similar case was shown in one of the PairPuri fanbooks of The Prince of Tennis, where Kabaji Munehiro answered questions with only "Usu" (basically, "Yes"), and the other "power players" understood his answers as complex statements, while the reporter interviewing them all was clueless as to what was being said.
- Pokémon Ranger: Vatonage roughly translates into "to bring light to that which is shrouded in darkness."
- In an early stand-up routine, Robin Williams did this gag, imitating a Soviet (this was 1978) ballet dancer being interviewed on American TV about being in New York for a performance. As the host, he asks "Did you like your time in New York?" He then goes into a 2-minute bout of the dancer speaking rapidly in Russian while pantomiming drinking, drug use, and random sexual encounters (complete with graphic pelvic thrusting motions). He then has the Soviet translator begin arguing with her, getting into a shouting match, then hitting her, both of them settling down, and finally telling the host "She say 'Yes!'" with a broad smile as if nothing were amiss. At the time it was as much a commentary on the ludicrous degree to which the Soviets would whitewash events to present themselves as morally superior to the West, while everyone else knew the truth.
- For Kevin Johnson, ventriloquist from Legoland, CA, one of his acts is called "Godzilla Theater" where he and his friends Clyde (a vulture) and Matilda (a cockatoo) all move their mouths randomly so as not to sync up with their English words (an obvious play on questionable English dubs of Japanese movies). After being told that they have to get out near the end of the act, Clyde rapidly moves his beak for nearly five seconds (confusing the other two) before saying simply, "No!"
- In a Stan Freberg sketch about a choir director prompting his choir with the words for "I've Got You Under My Skin", there's a bit where he's speaking faster and faster to get the whole line in:
Freberg: [vaguely comprehensible gibberish]
Choir: I'd sacrifice anything come what might for the sake of having you near...
Freberg: [vaguely comprehensible gibberish]
Choir: In spite of the warning voice that comes in the night and repeats and repeats in my...
Freberg: [long string of gibberish]
- In the francophone radio show "Les Deux Minutes du Peuple", a Yugoslavian minister is interviewed.
Host: Mr Minister, by forbidding the import of French cars in your country, you are giving France a low blow.Minister: Briigenn vroddismnczdei...Translator: In time of heat...Minister: .. naamishada jezetnzsja fze...Translator: ... a small Chinese duck...Minister: ... achigaamma shestsha...Translator: ... emits the following sound...Minister: OOTIYATTATWEETATATOO!Translator: Uh... Quack.
- Used in an episode of the Haruhi Suzumiya Gag Sub "The Adventures of Yuki Nagato" by Chief Prophet Of Yukiism. Moreover, the word where this trope is applied to, "Yahoo", translates into a lampshade of the trope.
- At the start of episode 9 of Yu-Gi-Oh! The Abridged Series, a scene from the Spanish dub is shown and a particularly long quote of Bakura's is subbed simply as "Yes". In case you're wondering, the phrase is Tienes algo que yo deseo, Yugi, y pienso quitártelo (You have something that I want, Yugi, and I plan to take it from you.)
- When Naruto falls down a tree and hurts himself in Naruto: The Abridged Comedy Fandub Spoof Series Show, this happens:
Naruto: (rolling on the ground, clutching his head) Itatatatatatatatatatatatatatatatatatatatatatatata!
Yami Yugi: That was Japanese for, "Ouch!"
- In Pokémon Reset Bloodlines, Pokémon speech can turn a single syllable into several sentences. According to Pikachu, it has over 500,000 basic rules before getting into the "semi complicated, mildly complicated, fairly complicated, and unholy complicated" rules.
- A variant occurs near the end of Lilo & Stitch, where Stitch is trying to convince Jumba and Pleakley to help him rescue Lilo from Captain Gantu. We later learn that "Ih" just means "yes", making it funnier.
Jumba: What?! After all you put me through, you expect me to help you just like that? Just like that?!
Pleakley: "Fine"? You're doing what he says?
Jumba: He's very persuasive.
- Inverted in the VeggieTales parody of The Lord of the Rings, where a six-or-so character inscription above a door turns out to be a really long riddle.
Leg 'O Lamb: It said all that?
Randolf: It's a highly efficient tongue. You can fit a whole book on a napkin.
- Balto: Muk's translations of Luk's whimpering are usually longer than the sounds Luk makes. But taking the cake is when Luk makes one, short whimper, which Muk translates as: "Oh, the shame of the polar bear who fears the water! No wonder we are shunned by our fellow bear. Woe is us!"
- Saludos Amigos: José Carioca speaks a long array of Portuguese language, which causes Donald to be up to his neck in translation dictionaries trying to keep up with him. José Carioca finishes by saying "Or as they say in America, let's go see the town!"
- When Wayne and Cassandra are talking in Cantonese in Wayne's World, their spoken bits get shorter as the accompanying subtitles get continuously longer. Right before the end, they have to stop talking to let the subtitles catch up.
- In Lost in Translation, the director gives Bill Murray's character long, rambling instructions in Japanese, which the studio translator shortens considerably. Murray notices, asking, "Is that everything? It seemed like he said quite a bit more than that." (Answer: It was everything of import. The director was a bit... pretentious in his direction.)
- The director may have been a bit pretentious, but the interpreter Bill Murray's character hired (or the company hired, that was producing the commercial) wasn't doing her job in giving him an accurate translation of what the director was saying so Murray had no real clue of what particular look the director wanted him to portray other than which direction to face his head and body.
- Krippendorf's Tribe has a scene where the titular fake tribe's chief (the titular Krippendorf, the researcher who has made up this tribe, in disguise) is on a talk show with Krippendorf's wife. The host asks him what he thinks of America, and he makes three syllables, which translate somewhat longer. The host is bewildered that it would be the case, but the almost-girlfriend says the tribe's language is succinct.
- Kung Pow! Enter the Fist does it as part of its Gag Dub. There are a few parts where the actor's mouths move for a very long time, but the dub says something really short.
- A variant shows up in The Court Jester, with sign language. Danny Kaye pays very close attention to a drawn-out and complicated series of signs, only to explain to the interrogating soldier, "She says no." It's promptly lampshaded:
Captain: What took her so long?!
- Charlie Chaplin did this twice in his 1940 film The Great Dictator.
- One example uses dictation instead of translation — his Hitler parody, Adenoid Hynkel, would say a long sentence, and his secretary would transcribe it in a couple keystrokes. Another sentence, and again a couple keystrokes. A single word, and suddenly the secretary is typing something that might be the original manuscript of Order of the Phoenix.
- Earlier in the movie, Hynkel is delivering a speech, commented on by an English speaking narrator. Some passages are translated word by word (like "liberty is abolished"), while others — like Hynkel's rambling about the beauty of the Tomanian women — are paraphrased with a lot of details. Then, one very long passage of Hynkel screaming, shaking his fists and growling is paraphrased only as: "His excellency has just referred to the Jewish population."
- The Three Stooges do this... from English to English. Moe started out dictating a message to Larry to type on a typewriter, and started with "Dear Sir"... leading to Larry typing for a considerable amount of time. Moe eventually asked him about this, whereupon Larry told him that he did not know how to spell "Sir".
- Inverted in AVP: Alien vs. Predator. Lex asks Sebastian how to say "Scared shitless," in Italian. His response: "Non vedo l'ora di uscire da questa piramide con te, perché mi sto cagando adosso." Which translates to "I can't wait to get out of this pyramid with you, because I'm shitting myself."
- In the 2003 Universal Studios version of Peter Pan, Hook asks the captive Tiger Lily if she knows where Peter is. Her response is to hurl a stream of insults at him in her native tongue and finish by spitting at his feet. Smee then translates: "She says, 'Sorry, but no.'"
- From Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian:
Kahmunrah: They didn't call me Kahmunrah the Trustworthy for nothing, all right? They didn't call me Kahmunrah the Trustworthy! They called me Kahmunrah the Bloodthirsty who kills whoever doesn't give Kahmunrah exactly what he wants in the moment that he wants it, which is right now when I had also better get the combination and the tablet!
Larry: That's what they called you?
Kahmunrah: It was shorter in Egyptian.
- In Battlefield Earth, Terl tells Johnny that he's an expert marksman who graduated top of his class at the academy and that if any of the rat-brain man-animals try to escape he'll gun them down. Johnny summarizes it as "Try to run, he'll kill us." Terl asks, "That's it?"
- Played straight in Meteor (1979). A Russian scientist is meeting with a U.S. General Ripper to begin politically sensitive negotiations to aim nuclear missiles at the oncoming Death from Above. Each side has their "English voice" and "Russian voice", both speaking at the same time to avoid accusations of duplicity. Eventually Sean Connery gets tired of the babble and just has them speaking English with the pretty female Russian translating — at the end the general turns to his Russian voice and demands, "Is that what I said?" The translator just says, "Yes."
- Early in Seven Samurai, one of the peasants expresses his uncertainty about what Kambei is planning with a fairly long sentence. The subtitle boils it down to, "I'm confused."
- Inverted in the title sequence of Brain Candy: Mark McKinney makes a long, poetic, nihilistic speech to his therapist, in German with English subtitles. The therapist tells him his doesn't understand German. McKinney replies, "scheisse," which is subtitled, "The nipples of Mother Hope have run dry."
- Dr. Evil gives a brief one in Austin Powers, when he's telling Scott to keep quiet. After making a several second long mockery of what is possibly supposed to be Chinese, he ends with, "subtitle: Zip it."
- In The Painted Veil, 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. The warlord responds with an angry tirade:
Warlord: [in Chinese] Is he finished? [Yu nods] I won't sacrifice my men to that cholera mess. Forget it! When people die, it's destiny! I'll have nothing to do with it! [pointing from Yu to Fane] You, get him out of here!Colonel Yu: [deadpan, in English] He said no.
- In Soviet movie The Diamond Arm, during a segment set in a foreign country, two minor characters get into a heated argument. After one of them goes on a long tirade, the voiceover says "Shut up". The other character answers with an equally long tirade, translated by the same voiceover as "Sorry". And the third tirade, from the first guy again, is translated as "Untranslatable play of words".
- In Soviet SF Moscow-Cassiopeia the developers demonstrate a "meaning catcher". First it translates a dog's whine as "Put this thing away from me! Let me down! I'd rather have a bone." Then a long speech of a foreign scientist becomes "Excellent."
- A Communist functionary from the Soviet Union travels to Red China to a give a speech. After he has spoken for several minutes, he remembers to let the translator do his job. To his surprise, the Chinese guy says but one word: "Ping!" But nobody seems to mind, so he continues his speech. When he stops again, the translator says "Ling ping!" He wonders again, but finishes his speech, after which the translator says "Ling ping ching!" Later, back in the Soviet Union, he asks a professor for Chinese what these three sentences could mean. The professor says: "I am not sure whether you are pronouncing it right, but it could well mean 'Bullshit', 'big bullshit' and 'big bullshit over'..."
- A sheriff catches a crook who only speaks some foreign language, and so the sheriff says to the translator "Tell him that unless he tells us where he hid all the money he stole, we're going to execute him." The translator relays this message, and the criminal sobs and gives the translator a detailed description of the exact location where he buried the loot. The translator turns to the sheriff and says "He says 'Over my dead body.'". The joke also frequently has the translator be not a professional interpreter but a bilingual lawyer. Another version makes the interrogator a New York Mafioso, the victim a recent Russian immigrant, and the punch line has the translator say, "Boss, he says you don't have the balls to shoot him."
- Used in A Series of Unfortunate Events: Judging by the translations in-text, almost everything Sunny says carries a lot of meaning per sound. Complete sentences aren't more than two syllables long until she starts learning a little English in the later books, and she seems to get a lot more across with her babytalk.
- Both versions are used a lot in Discworld novels.
- In Jingo, "Aagragaah" in troll literally means "der time when you see dem little pebbles and you jus' know dere's gonna be a great big landslide on toppa you and it already too late to run", but is more usefully translated as "forebodings". And according to Vimes, the Klatchian word "vindaloo" actually translates literally to "mouth-scalding gristle for macho foreign idiots".
- Trollish does a good deal of this. Granny Weatherwax has a Trollish nickname approximately translating as "she who should be avoided".
- Dwarfish tends to go in more for bad puns, or purely incomprehensible. "Sh'rt'atz" is Littlebottom's family name. "Littlebottom" is by way of being a Tactful Translation.
- The Nac Mac Feegles' "Crivens!" can be translated as anything from "My goodness!" to "I've just lost my temper and there is going to be trouble (for you)," depending on usage. It's actually a fairly stereotypical (mild) Scots swearword, so in the UK, it doesn't really need translation.
- The Librarian of Unseen University is a wizard who was transformed into an orangutan. He manages to get a lot of mileage out of the word "Ook".
- A Borogravian song mentioned in Monstrous Regiment is titled "Plogviehze!", which means "The Sun Has Risen, Let's Make War!" According to Vimes, "You need a very special history to get all that into one word."
- Equal Rites features the word "p'ch'zarni'chiwkov" used by the small tribe of the K'turni, which means: "The nasty little sound of a sword being unsheathed right behind one at just the point when one thought one had disposed of one's enemies."
- Happens a lot with the Agatean language in Interesting Times, as it's mostly an inflectional language. In the same book, it's mentioned that in various regions of the Disc "Aargh" can mean anything from "highly enjoyable" to "your wife is a big hippo". Also, one of the Silver Horde members uses the battle cry "P'charnkov!" which means "Your feet shall be cut off and buried several yards from your body so your ghost won't walk".
- Umnian is an entirely contextual language, meaning that there isn't a single word that won't have a different meaning when used in a different sentence. Thusly the "Ten Gold Golems" that the Golem trust had excavated and directed to Ankh Morpork turned out to be "Ten Thousand Golems"..
- An interesting English to English translation, quite a bit of time in Unseen Academicals is devoted to an extremely long, flowery love poem from Trev to Juliet — both of whom are somewhat... less-than-literate. The message is translated, with the help of Nutt, from Trev's original, "I think you're really fit. I really fancy you. Can we have a date? No hanky panky, I promise" to said long poem. Of course, once Juliet gets it, Glenda has to translate the poem back for her. Naturally, she translates it as, "He really fancies you, thinks you're really fit, how about a date, no hanky panky, he promises." In fact Nutt had foreseen this, and the long version doubles as a poem from him to Glenda.
- In The Colour of Magic, the Trob equivalent of the word "remarkable" is "a thing which may happen but once in the usable lifetime of a canoe hollowed dilligently by axe and fire from the tallest diamondwood tree that grows in the noted diamondwood forests on the lower slopes of Mount Awayawa, home of the firegods or so it is said". When Rincewind tries to swear at twoflower in Trob, the only thing he can think of is "You little(such as one who, while wearing a copper nosering, stands in a footbath atop mount Raruaruaha during a heavy thunderstorm and shouts that Alohura, Goddess of Lightning, has the facial features of a diseased uloruaha root)!"
- In The Malloreon, Toth, a mute Gentle Giant, can communicate elaborately with Durnik using nothing more than a vague gesture or two. As it turns out, the sign language is only a pretense: the real communication is via a form of telepathy.
- In The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy Ford gained the nickname "Ix" in his school years, which translates from Betelgeusian as "boy who does not know what a Hrung is nor why one should happen to collapse on Betelgeuse Seven" (a reference to the calamity that claimed Ford's homeworld, the Great Collapsing Hrung Disaster of Betelguese VII).
- Dave Barry Slept Here:
- A "convenient interpreter" helps Columbus introduce himself to the Native Americans:
Columbus: You guys are Indians, right?
Tribal Chief: K'ham anonoda jawe. ("No. We came over from Asia about twenty thousand years ago via the Land Bridge.")
- Dave Barry also likes to claim that German is like this; the German translation of "Go Brits!" is "Wannfahrtdersugab ein Umwievieluhrkommteran!" Another time he claims that the German word for "subway" is "Goenundergroundenpayenfairenandridearoundintrainen".
- A "convenient interpreter" helps Columbus introduce himself to the Native Americans:
- Pretty much everything in the Entish language in The Lord of the Rings falls into this. Every tree, hill, rock, Ent, and everything else has an enormously long name, which seems to incorporate describing its location, its entire history, and how they feel about it. Merry and Pippin speculated that they must take several hours just to say "Good Morning." Ents in turn call every other language "hasty" for using such short words to describe the world, though they can learn such languages to communicate with "hasty folk."
- In Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix Umbridge's speech on the first day of term is in English, it's just that it is incredibly long-winded leaving Harry, Ron and many other students clueless to its meaning. Hermione, of course, doesn't succumb to Attention Deficit... Ooh, Shiny! during Umbridge's boring, long-winded speech. She has to answer her own 'pop quiz' to Ron and Harry about two representative lines therefrom, and does it in this way: "It means the Ministry's interfering at Hogwarts."
- From The Meaning of Liff :
Welsh word which literally translates as 'leaking-biro-by-the-glass-hole-of-the-clerk-of-the-bank-has-been-taken-to-another-place-leaving-only-the-special-inkwell-and-three-inches-of-tin-chain'.
- Cryptonomicon has Qwghlmian, a language so concise that "Gxnn bhldh sqrd m!" means "I was at the pub, asking for a job as a rat hunter, and my neighbor's dog had rabies". Or, depending on the dialect, it could also mean "You look beautiful", or maybe "While I was at the mill to file a complaint for a sack with a weak seam that ripped apart on Thursday, the owner's way of speaking made me understand that Mary's grand-aunt, an old single woman with a questionable reputation when she was younger, had a fungal infection in her toenails".
- Also shows up in The Baroque Cycle, where a character sends off a letter composed of 40,000 Qwghlmian runes to be translated and receives a 400,000-words text in return.
- In Nineteen Eighty-Four, part of the function of Newspeak is to fit complex concepts into single words. For example, the sentence "Oldthinkers unbellyfeel Ingsoc" roughly translates as "Those whose ideas were formed before the Revolution cannot have a full emotional understanding of the principles of English Socialism". Interestingly, the whole point is, in fact, to obfuscate, or eliminate, the more complex thoughts.
- In Agaton Sax we have Graelic (which seems to be a No Celebrities Were Harmed of Gaelic), which can say lots in just a few words, and Brosnian (supposedly a Slavic language) which is the exact opposite. This becomes a Running Gag because the hero is an omniglot, and several villains speak these languages — Diabolical Mastermind professor Julius Mosca uses Graelic as a secret language in his organisation because it is so rare, and his colleague doctor Anaxagoras Frank uses Brosnian in his organisation because he is Brosnian, and so are his chief henchmen.
- The Rod Albright Alien Adventures series features the alien Old Master Tar Gibbons, where "Tar" is not his first name but rather an honorific with no Earth language equivalent, commonly translated as "wise and beloved warrior who could kill me with his little finger if he should so desire."
- A Goosebumps Series 2000 book called Brain Juice has Insufferable Genius aliens as the antagonists. When the human characters ask how they're speaking English, the haughty aliens explain that they learned it in an hour, and that in their language, saying "hello" requires 400 words.
- Dragonlance: The gnomes of Krynn speak Common, but their names for people, places, and things are absurdly long and tend to be interrupted. Sometimes the interruption becomes the new name. Hence, Mount Nevermind. Inspired by the human race's gift for brevity, they began to shorten their proverbs (usually long enough to require several hours to quote one) to much shorter form, such as "A gear" or "hydrodynamics." This practice is said to bring tears of joy to the gnomish elders, awestruck by such skill in verbal shortform.
- The Translator Microbes in Illegal Aliens by Nick Pollotta and Phil Foglio seem to have this as a built in function. When humans ask the Alien Engineer questions about his ship, his lengthy and highly detailed answers all tend to get translated as "yellow paint makes it go faster" or "you push the button and it starts". The Engineer in question is highly impressed as he assumes human language is so nuanced that his dissertation on hyperspace physics can be condensed into a short phrase.
- In book three of Temeraire, William Laurence finds himself on the receiving end of this after some feral dragons that followed his dragon down from the mountains steal some imperial cattle just outside of Istanbul, not understanding the concept of property or how they are to behave so close to the capital.
...to Laurence's great relief, the captain in the lead lifted his speaking-trumpet to his mouth to bellow at them, at some length. "He says to land," Tharkay translated, with improbable brevity; at Laurence's frowning look he added, "and he calls us a great many impolite names; do you wish them all translated?"
- In Citizen of the Galaxy by Robert A. Heinlein we are told that the Free Traders can state a relationship such as "my maternal foster half-stepuncle by marriage, once removed and now deceased" in one word, which means that relationship and no other.
- Star Bores has the minor alien Suburbia's speech rendered as a series of circular symbols. The first of his two lines, a greeting to Jello Knight Bing-Bong Gin, is translated in a footnote as "You hairy Jello nonce." Bing-Bong Gin offers to buy his Podracer, to which he replies with an entire paragraph, translated in the footnotes as "No." Interestingly, each letter of Suburbia's speech does correspond to one English letter, so by starting with the letters from the accurately-translated first line, you can find out what Suburbia really thought of Bing-Bong.
- Used in a serious way in Stanisław Lem's Imaginary Magnitude, with the future science of "prognolinguistics" which tries to reconstruct (preconstruct?) future languages. The more advanced a language is, the higher is its information density. In a "level 2" language, a short sentence is the equivalent of a long encyclopedia article, while a similarly short sentence in a "level 3" language would take 140 years to read aloud when translated to a modern-day language.
- X-Wing Series: According to Tal'dira, the name Wedge Antilles sounds a lot like "one so foul as to induce vomiting in a rancor" in Twi'leki. He pronounces it Wedgan'tilles instead.
- In Craig Shaw Gardner's Bride of the Slime Monster the main character ends up in a foreign film universe where the inhabitants speak gibberish. At one point the woman he's following says "Snucksen vorden merkna valarie" and the subtitle reads:
I am glad you are so happy. However, we must see my sister before dark. She is expecting us, after all, and the distance, while not great, can be tiring, especially if you have to walk into the wind.
- Who Stole the News?, a non-fiction book on foreign correspondence reporting, relates how a reporter was interviewing a Vietnamese woman whose village had been destroyed in an attack. She gives a detailed and tearful account in her own language, miming thrown grenades, explosions, people dying... until the reporter interrupts to ask his translator what she's saying. The response? "She is unhappy."
- In The Legion of Videssos, a Videssian diplomat makes an extensive speech to a group of hostile Khamorth barbarians, while his translator makes a game attempt to translate it into the Khamorth tongue. This trope comes into play after the speech, when one of the diplomat's Videssian guards helpfully "translates" it from court Videssian into ordinary language: "Don't kill us".
- From "That Share of Glory" by CM Kornbluth: Alen is translating between two traders who do not have a common language.
"Well," said Garthkint, "perhaps I can take a couple of your gauds. For some youngster who wishes a cheap ring."
"He's getting to it," Alen told the trader.
"High time," grunted blackbeard.
"The trader asks me to inform you," said Alen, switching back to Lyran, "that he is unable to sell in lots smaller than five hundred gems."
"A compact language, Cephean," said Garthkint, narrowing his eyes.
"Is it not?" Alen blandly agreed.
- Somewhither: The Ursprache includes a lot of brief words for specific, complex types of crimes and torture. For example, "hamhattapars'h" means "a family murder-suicide where a mother kills all her children starting with the youngest, and then herself, on a holy day".
- One Doctor Who novel says that 'Gallifrey' (the name of the Doctor's homeworld) translates to 'They that walk in the shadows'. Which is not as bad as some other examples, but is still something of a mouthful.
- In Foundation, the Second Foundation has advanced so much in the science of psychology that they have made their own language, which allows them to "say" long sentences and torrents of information just by using a few gestures. For example, a starting conversation about a candidate's suitability to become one of the leaders can be reduced to rising a finger and smiling.
- The Stormlight Archive: The people of the Horneater Peaks have names that are literally poems, which people from other nations can't pronounce, much less remember, so they simplify it down to one word. The main Horneater character is named Numuhukumakiaki'aialunamor, a poetic description of every rock his father found on the day he was born; he goes by Rock. This causes a bit of confusion when he introduces his family. One of his sons is named after every rock Rock found on the day he was born, and also generally goes by Rock; Rock awkwardly says he's "a different rock." Likewise, his wife normally translates her name as Song, and one of their daughters is also known as Song.
- In an episode of 30 Rock, Jack discovers that Liz can speak German. When he asks her in German whether Jenna was trying to hit on the last in the Hanover royal line, her really long answer is translated in subtitles to "Yeah."
- On M*A*S*H, Father Mulcahy attempted to calm down a POW repeating the phrase "Bung chao", which he believed to mean "peace and friendship". According to Radar, however, those two syllables meant "your daughter's pregnancy brings joy to our entire village".
- This used to be a Running Gag on the Australian TV comedy series Fast Forward (later Full Frontal) whenever they'd spoof the multicultural TV channel SBS. Either a long stream of gibberish that went on and on would be translated as "Yes", or a single word in the made-up foreign language would lead to an endless stream of subtitles.
- In She Spies, a show that likes dragging jokes out, D.D. is teaching English to Icelandic workers. One of them offers her some flowers, and says "D'boi". The translation is an awfully long sentence expressing his love and gratitude towards her for teaching him, and later develops into a hint of romantic feelings for her, ending on a sad note about how she would never love him back. She explains that she just wants to be friends, and asks if he can't understand that. He answers in a long sentence, the translation of which is "no".
- Bonus points for a few dirty-sounding words in that long answer that strongly imply that he'd like nothing more than to bone her right then and there.
- In an episode of Murphy Brown, Murphy voices the suspicion that translators of arthouse-style foreign films intentionally do this as a prank on Americans.
- A frequent running gag in I Love Lucy is how Ricki will rant in Spanish when especially angry, which is most of the time. On on occasion, he says "Este mujer está loca. Hemos estado casados por veinte años y mira lo que ha hecho a mí." While the straight translation is "This lady is crazy. We've been married for twenty years and look what she's done to me", the sub says succinctly: "She's nuts"
- The popular game "Foreign Film Dub" on Whose Line Is It Anyway? features one contestant vaguely imitating a foreign language, while the other "dubs" the dialogue into English. Frequent use is made of this trope.
- In the classic Doctor Who story "The Two Doctors," which was filmed and took place in Spain. A British man notices a sign reading "PROHIBIDA LA ENTRADA A PERSONAS NO AUTORIZADAS," which his Spanish girlfriend helpfully translates for him as "keep out."
- In case you're wondering, the sign literally says "Entry forbidden to persons not authorized", or more idiomatically, "Unauthorized personnel prohibited"/"Authorized personnel only."
- It IS a valid translation, though.
- Have I Got News for You has a variant on this trope- in the Missing Words round, where a headline has some words blanked out for the contestants to guess, jokes are often made by giving an answer significantly too long or short for the given space.
- A funny variation on Barney Miller: an attractive deaf woman is a witness to a crime, requiring Officer Levitt, who can sign (to the surprise of all), to translate for her. She and Dietrich hit it off, so he asks her out to dinner. In reply, she signs very rapidly and animatedly, finishing off with a flourish of hand gestures around her open mouth. Levitt turns to Dietrich and says: "I take it she prefers Szechuan."
- A Bit of Fry and Laurie featured a business meeting sketch with Stephen Fry acting as translator for Hugh Laurie and his opposite number from a fictional vaguely eastern European country, and opened with both variations on this gag: a short phrase translated into a much longer one, and a long phrase translated with a single word. It then went on to mine the other common language barrier gags, such as a mundane word in English ("price" in this case) which has no direct or even approximate translation into the other language, another mundane phrase in English which happens to be identical to a childish vulgarity in the other language, and yet another mundane phrase which turns out to be identical to a much more offensive vulgarity (leading the meeting - and the sketch - to break down).
- In the language spoken on Chanel 9, "chinky chinky chinkenta chinkenta cancho canta canta chinkenta pentos" is the word for five.
- One Mad TV sketch parodying a badly-translated Korean soap opera had a character utter a single syllable, while the subtitles for the one-syllable sentence filled up the whole screen.
- Chespirito did this in an early sketch, with a secretary reading while he typed on a typewriter.
- An episode of Home Improvement has Tim and his hired "granite man" communicating using short grunts with very long subtitles. Part of the joke is that, thanks to the men's expressions and body language, the conversation is completely understandable without them.
- Yes, Minister manages to do this English (theoretically) to English, thanks to Sir Humphrey and Bernard's inevitable waves of Bureaucratese (which inevitably translate to a short sentence of words of no more than two syllable, and sometimes literally "yes").
- The most triumphant example is probably from the follow-up series Yes, Prime Minister:
Sir Humphrey: Prime Minister I must strongly protest in the strongest possible terms, my profound opposition to a newly instituted practice which imposes severe and intolerable restrictions upon the ingress and egress of senior members of the hierarchy and which will in all probability, should the current deplorable innovation be perpetuated, precipitate a constriction of the channels of communication and culminate in a condition of organisational atrophy and administrative paralysis which will render effectively impossible the coherent and coordinated discharge of the function of government within Her Majesty's United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.Jim: You mean you've lost your key?
- Or more accurately, "I want my key back!"
- Unless, of course, it's this (from the Christmas Special "Party Games"):
Sir Humphrey: "I wonder if I might crave your momentary indulgence in order to discharge a by no means disagreeable obligation which has, over the years, become more or less established practice in government service as we approach the terminal period of the year — calendar, of course, not financial — in fact, not to put too fine a point on it, Week Fifty-One — and submit to you, with all appropriate deference, for your consideration at a convenient juncture, a sincere and sanguine expectation — indeed confidence — indeed one might go so far as to say hope — that the aforementioned period may be, at the end of the day, when all relevant factors have been taken into consideration, susceptible to being deemed to be such as to merit a final verdict of having been by no means unsatisfactory in its overall outcome and, in the final analysis, to give grounds for being judged, on mature reflection, to have been conducive to generating a degree of gratification which will be seen in retrospect to have been significantly higher than the general average."[Beat]Jim Hacker: "Are you trying to say "Happy Christmas," Humphrey?"Sir Humphrey: "Yes, Minister."
- And of course:
Jim Hacker: "It was the one question today to which I could give a clear, simple, straightforward honest answer."Sir Humphrey: "Yes... Unfortunately, although the answer was indeed clear, simple and straightforward, there is some difficulty in justifiably assigning to it the fourth of the epithets you applied to the statement, inasmuch as the precise correlation between the information you communicated and the facts insofar as they can be determined and demonstrated is such as to cause epistemological problems of sufficient magnitude as to lay upon the logical and semantic resources of the English language a heavier burden than they can reasonably be expected to bear."Jim Hacker: "Epistemological? What are you talking about?"Sir Humphrey: "You told a lie."Jim Hacker: "A lie?"Sir Humphrey: "A lie."Jim Hacker: "What do you mean a lie?"Sir Humphrey: "I mean you... Lied. Ah, yes, I know this is a difficult concept to get across to a politician, um... you, er... ah yes, you did not tell the truth."
- The most triumphant example is probably from the follow-up series Yes, Prime Minister:
- Happens in Only Fools and Horses from English to English when the trio meet Anna, a German girl who has just been fired from her job as au pair because she's pregnant. As the slightly more educated one in the family, Rodney is forced to translate for Del Boy and Albert. The exchange goes something like this:
Anna: Mr Wainwright said that my disruptive influence on Spencer makes it inexpedient for me to remain.Del Boy and Albert: *looking at Rodney for a translation* Please?Rodney: He said, "On yer bike."Del Boy: *grins, nodding sudden understanding* Oh, on yer bike!
- On Sesame Street, one Bert and Ernie sketch has them playing cavemen, with Bert as a father and Ernie as his son. They'd say "Ooga" or "Mooga," then translate it into an English sentence. After going back and forth for a while, Ernie says, "Oogaoogamoogamoogamoogaoogamoogaoogaoogamoogamoogaoogamooga!" and translates it to, "Thanks, dad!"
- Played for laughs in Blackadder II, when Queenie — swept up in the national fervour over the return of Sir Walter Raleigh — greets him with 'traditional' sea-faring lingo:
Queenie: Splice me timbers, Sir Walter, it's bucko to see you, old matey!
Sir Walter Raleigh: ... I'm sorry?
Blackadder: She says 'hello'.
- Better Off Ted: As part of a complicated lie, Ted tells his date Danielle that he's an Indian and given her "translations" of various words in his invented native language. Linda finds out and uses this to force him to confess to the lie. At the end of the episode, she apologizes:
Linda: Hey Ted—pillomaya. That means "I'm sorry I messed things up for you with Danielle, but I was pissed you dated someone from that stupid list when we had a deal we wouldn't, but ruining your love life was a douchey thing to do." Pillomaya: a simple word for a complex idea.
- In The Big Bang Theory, Howard is helping Raj communicate with a deaf girl with whom he is on a date, Howard knowing sign language. Raj gives increadibly longwinded Purple Prose descriptions he wants Howard to translate, which Howard stares at Raj, and signs stuff like "You look very pretty".
- In an El Chapulín Colorado episode, Chapulín is trying to help an archeologist and his partner avoid getting sacrificed in a Dizcotec tribe ritual, and this exchange happens:
Tribe Chief: (to Chapulin) Salveca mi eca!Archeologist: Yes, yes! Answer "salveca bireca", please!Chapulín: What does that mean?Archeologist: It's a deal you can make so the lady and I are not to be sacrificed to their great idol, because according to the Dizcotec tribe constitution, that states, in the article 324, clause B, paragraph 341, that our life may be spared if someone can manage to defeat the youngest son of the Dizcotec chief in a one-on-one fight!Chapulín: And who has to fight with his son?Archeologist: (to Tribe Chief) Que ca lucheca con hijeca?Tribe Chief: Teca teca zacateca, teca teca chitimeca, teca teca zapoteca, teca teca de manteca, teca teca dizcoteca, teca teca teca teca teca tripa seca!Chapulin: What did he say?Archeologist: You.
- In the Breaking Bad episode "Full Measure", Mike rescues Chow, Gus's chemical supplier, who was being held hostage by the Juárez Cartel. After he's done, there's this exchange:
Mike: The lady out front- Hey lady, are you still there? (to Chow) Ask her if she's still there.
Chow: (in Chinese) Peng, are you still there?
(Peng gives a lenghty, panicked reply in Chinese)
Chow: She says yes.
- On NYPD Blue, Sipowicz once asked Martinez to help him talk to someone who only spoke Spanish. Sipowicz asked a question, Martinez translated it, and the guy went into a fairly long-winded answer. Martinez, presumably just trying to simplify things, translated it as "No." Sipowicz got annoyed and said, "I know what 'no' is, 'no' is 'no!'"
- A similar situation occurs in the 2nd-season episode "Cop Suey." Kelly enlists the help of a detective from another precinct, Harold Ng, to find the killer of a cop in Chinatown. Interrogating the suspect, Ng briefly converses with him and tells Kelly he only said "No" to a question. When Kelly points out the length of their back-and-forth remarks, Ng relents and says the suspect asked him, "Why are you working with these white ghosts?", and was worried that Kelly would be offended by the remark.
- A for Andromeda. When Kaufman announces that multinational corporation Intel has effectively taken over the country, the translator shows his disapproval via this trope.
Kaufman: The army and all other branches will report directly to the President. The present parliament will not be called back into session. Help will continue to be provided by...(Translator gives long stream of Arabic)Kaufman: ...a new international technological and trading consortium...Translator: Intel.(Kaufman glares at translator)
- Conan did a special in South Korea. When he asked an expert at an aquarium how to tell a male octopus from a female one, he received a long explanation, conspicuously uncut for the audience, followed by a much terser translation.
- In the mini series Answered by Fire, an Australian police officer working for the United Nations and his Timorese interpreter get into an argument over this trope.
Policeman: Do me a favour mate, just tell me exactly what they saying.Translator: That's what I do.Policeman: No, that's not what you did. You got into a bloody shouting match with those guys and you tell me everything's fine.Translator: But it is fine!Policeman: No, it's not fine. Look, I just need you to do your job properly, OK?Translator: Look the job said in-ter-pre-tor. Right? That's what I was doing.Policeman: Well I need you to translate everything, word-for-word.Translator: Yeah, yeah — sometimes, people don't understand why you're saying something, and they start talking about something else. Then I have to tell them, it doesn't matter! You don't want to hear that stuff.Policeman: Yeah, well I do want to hear that stuff—Translator: But it's not about anything—Policeman: Just translate everything, word-for-word, you got it?
- Inverted in Kaamelott, when Merlin hears a wolf howling in the distance and deduces that a twelve-year old female fell because of a landslide, broke her leg and deviated her hips. It's either limping or not walking straight, he's not sure..
- The tag team Kaientai used this during the late 90s and early 2000s. Taka Michinoku would give a hammy promo into a microphone, though no one would hear what he was actually saying. It would come out sounding like a bad Godzilla translation and would be villainous scenery chewing, usually with Taka claiming that the team is "EVIL!" He would then hand the microphone to Funaki, who would speak for a few seconds to a minute, once again without any words being heard. No matter how long he went on or what he seemed to be saying, it would always be translated as "Indeed!"
- Once when they had Malia Hosaka with them, whom Taka referred to as his girlfriend, instead of handing the microphone to Funaki at the end of his part, he handed it to her. It was the same voice as Funaki's translation, but with a higher pitch, still only saying "Indeed!"
- Les Luthiers do it in "Cartas de Color", where an African tribesman dictates a letter that is sent with drum beats. The word "but" requires more than ten beats, while the sentence "you must be very careful and pronounce the magical words exactly as I taught them to you" is conveyed in just two beats. This is explained as "tachygraphy".
- Flanders and Swann did this in one of their comic songs in the 1950s...
''Oh its hard to say, olimakityluchachichichi, but in Tonga that means "no",If I ever have the money, 'tis to Tonga I shall go...For each lovely Tongan maiden there, will gladly make a date,and by the time she's said olimakityluchachichichi,It is usually too late!''
- Guy Lombardo's "Managua Nicaragua:"
Managua, Nicaragua is a heavenly place
You ask a senorita for a 'leetle' embrace
She answers you, "Caramba! scram-ba bambarito"
In Managua, Nicaragua, that's "No"
- Older Than Steam; used by Molière in his play The Bourgeois Gentleman. The title character is duped by people pretending to be Turks. They speak in a combination of nonsense and the original linga franca — a combination of French, Spanish, Italian, and some Arabic — and their speech is "translated" to him.
Cleonte: [disguised as a Turkish prince] Bel men.
Covielle: He says will you please accompany him immediately to be prepared for the ceremony, so that you may both proceed subsequently with all speed to meet your daughter, and so expedite the solemnification of his marriage to her.
Mr. Jordan: He said all that in two words?
Covielle: That's the Turkish language for you. A couple of words and you've said it all.
- Ar tonelico:
- The Conlang Hymmnos puts a lot of emphasis on communicating the emotions of the speaker. Because they have special rules for this, it means that a relatively short phrase can end up much longer in English.
- Taken Up to Eleven with Pastalie dialect, which is even less verbose and connotes even more meaning. As an example, hEmYEmArI can be roughly translated as, "I will gladly do my best to sing for your happiness, even though I'm a little nervous."
- In Knights of the Old Republic II, most of Visquis's dialogue is like this, including a string of dialogue that lasts for several seconds and translates simply as "Mira". It's also unskippable without mods, which is quite frustrating.
- Continued in the sequel Star Wars: The Old Republic, where NPCs can talk for almost a full minute and only say one or two words.
- These are, by and large, almost certainly unintentional examples since, at least in Knights of the Old Republic and Knights of the Old Republic II: The Sith Lords, there are only a handful of alien speech files that are used and reused for all aliens of a given species and gender. None of the alien speech is actually intended to literally translate to whatever the subtitles read, and is pretty much just to save on time and cost of voice acting.
- In the humorous game Robert Redford Save the Day: Episode 2, when talking to a cat using a Cat-to-English dictionary:
Robert: miu ("Please come down from the tree because I'm on a mission from God and I was asked to get you down from this tree and return you to your rightful owner Mrs. Plumberstein who is eagerly awaiting your return")Cat: MiawW miowOAw mia mioo mioo miwoamwo maou maou miowwwwwwww moa mow maow mieow mieowww miow mio mio moiaw ("Fuck off")
- In both Fallen London and Sunless Sea, the Correspondence usually tends towards the "extra-condensed" version, due to being a series of symbols. However, it can get ridiculously specific, with there being specific symbols for "Almost Never Remembered", "Forever Plummeting Towards the Earth" and "A Colophon Printed on Living Skin".
- This happens in Trauma Center: New Blood, in some sort of African language. It's even lampshaded in a Let's Play.
Maria: ...Ef teda shan estino?
Worker: Ton pon bwasse.
Maria: ...He says it's about a two-hour walk from here.
Kaisap112: He said that in three words?
- In the Fallen London universe (which covers Sunless Sea and Sunless Skies), the Correspondence is strange like that. Each symbol packs a ton of meaning in it, with "The imagined contents of a span of time between when an event was supposed to occur, and when it finally did" having its own sigil. Though when you write a name with it, you must use seven sigils, which is an awful lot of meaning to pack in a name. This is important, typos in Correspondence can result in ocular hemorrhaging and spontaneous combustion of both materials and writer.
- Happens a few times in Katawa Shoujo, when a length sign language exchange from the deaf Shizune gets translated by her friend Misha as something extremely short and simple. Hisao suspects the girls are inserting private asides about him in between segments of conversation, and he's probably right.
- In an episode of Red vs. Blue, O'Malley orders his robot army to hurry up but, since they were built by Lopez who speaks in Spanish, O'Malley has to ask Lopez how to say "hurry up" in spanish. Lopez decides to mess with him:
O'Malley: [speaking in Spanish] Hey everyone! I'm a purple jerk who likes to drink motor oil! [in English] That seemed awfully long for just "hurry up".
Lopez: [in Spanish] It's a very poetic language.
- Try not to think too hard about how O'Malley can perfectly understand Lopez — who only speaks Spanish — yet has no idea what he just said.
- In this Request Comics, a person gets a Chinese character tattoo, but doesn't know what it means. It turns out to mean "The guy who wrote this doesn't know Chinese. He just thought it looked cool."
"That's a single character in Chinese?"
"It comes up a lot."
- In this Darths & Droids strip the Ubese phrase "Ay yoto" apparently means "With this! A holovid of the final charity performance of the traditional Gungan creation legend, to raise money for the Naboo refugee crisis, prior to the destruction of the Gungan race."
- Lillian from Go Get a Roomie! tells a story in which "Blop" is translated as first "You're Beautiful" and then "Thank-you it means a lot to me, and you're just as beautiful"
- The Order of the Stick: The bonus art "Common Drow Hand Signs"◊ veers into this. A single gesture can mean "literally dripping in poison", and a female drow pointing at her chest is "If we lives in a matriarchy, why do we always dress like this?" On the other hand, "soup" require several full-body moves.
- Done in This Episode of Hey Shipwreck. For example, translating "What the f*ck" as "I do not understand why logic seems to be avoided at all cost for some reason, and I'm just very frustrated at the fact that we have been unable to let go of certain practices, that although have become routine, are not as beneficial as other options that have become available to us."
- Water. Also, dry (it's a long word in Japanese.)
- TV Tropes Will Ruin Your Vocabulary.
- The biggest offender seems to be Zeerust. Which upon translation into plain English, approximately means "the Narm-inducing phenomenon in which a work created in the past had its own sense of futurism which, to modern audiences, ironically makes the work seem dated." Oh wait, I need to explain Narm first!
- Narm in plain English is "an attempted serious moment or scene in a film or other media, which due to the absurd nature or poor execution of said moment, instead makes the scene unintentionally comical." Or, in slightly less plain English, "unintentional bathos".
- Memetic Mutation in the sense that we define it here also runs on this, in that a short phrase or scene from a work takes on a whole set of connotations for fans of that work that might be completely opaque to non-fans who don't get the context.
- Lilo & Stitch: The Series: In the episode "Richter":
- In the South Park episode "Goobacks", Mr Garrison is obliged to teach Futurespeak (a guttural merger of every current language). The English phrase "The 11:15 bus from Denver arrived twelve hours late" becomes a single-syllable grunt in Futurespeak.
- The Merrie Melodies short "Wackiki Wabbit" uses this: A really long stretch of Polynesian nonsense translates to "What's up, doc?" while a shorter one becomes "Now is the time for every good man to come to the aid of his party." Then, one of the sailors says: "Gee, thanks!", which is subtitled back into the language Bugs was speaking, and is two lines long. His companion points to the subtitle and asks: "Did you say all that?"
- According to The Simpsons, "Shimatta bakame!" is Japanese for "D'oh!" It's not a real phrase, technically. "Shimatta" literally means "done, but to a negative effect," and has the meaning of "drat!" or "dammit!". "Bakame" carries the meaning of "the damned fool" or "that moron!" It is not, however, an inaccurate translation: He's calling himself a screw up (spoken Japanese often drops the subject), which is actually pretty close to what "D'oh" implies anyway. A rough translation might be "now you've done it, you moron!"
- Family Guy has an Imagine Spot where Quagmire is dreaming himself in The Lord of the Rings, as Arwen's husband. He says a long, long phrase in Elvish. Subtitles: "Giggity".
- Peter recounts the family's history in a different episode, and tells them of one of his ancestors, silent film actor Black-Eye Griffin. A clip is shown of Black-Eye noticing some pie and visibly speaking for several seconds; the intertitle simply reads "That's pie".
- An episode of Rugrats has a parody of Godzilla ostensibly dubbed from Japanese. At one point a character moves his mouth quite a bit but the dubbed version only says "Yeah"
- Used in a Tom and Jerry short, "Little Runaway". A runaway seal befriends Jerry and informs him of his plight in "seal-speak", which is translated at the bottom of the screen so that the viewers can understand what he's saying. When Jerry agrees to take care of him, the baby seal enthusiastically barks for several seconds with a short 'thanks' appearing on the screen.
- Arnold's parents' wedding ceremony in Hey Arnold! was done in the local language. It takes several hours to get through "Do you Miles take Stella to be your lawfully wedded wife", several more to get through "Do you Stella take Miles to be your lawfully wedded husband", but only a short phrase for "And by the power vested in me... ...I now pronounce you man and wife".
- The "West Side Pigeons" Goodfeathers sketch in Animaniacs has one scene in which the Godpigeon talks to Squit, who completely misunderstands him. The last of the Godpigeon's lines takes seven seconds to utter. It's subtitled as "See ya."
- There's also an episode where Yakko, Wakko, and Dot were abducted by aliens. The alien gives his leader a long response to his leader's command which subtitles to "Okay."
- Happens in an episode of The Amazing World of Gumball. The title character, when inquiring about Darwin's job skills, asks if Darwin can speak Chinese. He responds in a long Chinese sentence which is subtitled "No."
- Another episode of Gumball features Chris Morris the school hamster, who is accidentally let loose from his cage. He squeaks once, and it is subtitled as "You kept me imprisoned for an eternity. But today, at the sunset of my life, I shall walk proud and free. To a new life of happiness and abundance and I shall see the daylight once more."—he's already finished talking and started walking away by the time half of that was on screen. Later on several indignant squeaks from him is subtitled as "Forget you."
- Inverted in the "Shoyu Weenie" episode of Harvey Birdman, Attorney at Law, where a Japanese character's exclamation "Oi!" is subtitled as "They stole our song!"
- Ugly Americans has the Manbird language, which consists entirely in different inflections of the phrase "Suck my balls".
Mark: [hesitantly] Sssuck my balls. [Mr. Calametti slaps him] Ah!
Mr. Calametti: You just called my father a coward!
Mark: [cheerily] Suck my... balls!
Mr. Calametti: Now you're asking for salad.
- Inverted on Kaeloo. Quack Quack the duck, who can only speak in quacks, can use a single "Quack" to narrate a whole story which takes about 20 seconds to say in English.
- In Dave the Barbarian, one episode has a brief appearance by two kilt-wearing characters speaking in pseudo-Scottish gibberish while bagpipes play in the background. A single syllable is subtitled as "What luck, Angus Macdougal Mackenzie Maclommond Machaggis Macteague!"
- Many languages do not actually have the words "yes" and "no." Instead one responds to a yes/no question by repeating the question or key verb, but in the positive or negative:
- In Irish Gaelic, if you are asked "Ar mhaith leat x?" (Do you like x?), one would respond either "Is maith liom" ("I like") or "Nior maith liom" ("I do not like").
- In Mandarin Chinese, the closest thing they have is "是 （shi）" which means "It is" note and "不是（Bu Shi）" meaning "It is not." Otherwise they just put "不（bu）" in front of the verb like they do in Gaelic. This is the cause of the infamous Recursive Translation that rendered Darth Vader's Big "NO!" from Revenge of the Sith as "do not want" in Backstroke of the West. And Now You Know.
- In Ithkuil, virtually every sentence or phrase seems to be short, and becomes much longer in translation. For example, a sentence made of 5 characters in Ithkuil means "On the contrary, I think it may turn out that this rugged mountain range trails off at some point." Its rendering in phonetic script is "Tram-mļöi hhâsmařpţuktôx".
- Even in terms of words, Ithkuil has some simple roots that have really complex definitions: one root, "-Pʰ-", means a "mix of humor and shame one feels upon pulling a joke on someone or at their expense but the target doesnt 'get it' or remains ignorant of the joke".
- Turkish has a few expressions that can be difficult to precisely translate. "Kolay gelsin" is a regular sentence that literally means "May it become easy" but is said to people working while you aren't, meaning something along the lines of "I see that you work and while I don't know for how long, I hope you're able to do your work easily and aren't exhausted". It is common to say this to strangers seen working as well and is sometimes simply used to initiate a conversation without saying hello.
- According to Cracked, the Pascuense (the language spoken in Easter Island) word "tingo" means "to remove every object from a person's house one by one until nothing is left." Also referred to by QI in the book ''The Meaning of Tingo''
- American Sign Language (and probably other sign languages) uses very succinct gestures and relies a lot on facial expression and directionality. So, the phrase 'she helped me reluctantly again and again' can theoretically be communicated with one sign. Likewise 'I'll do it myself' is one sign, and 'she asked me to tell you to take the keys from her and give them to me' can be communicated in four signs.
- Jerry Potts, a Métis guide and translator, was notorious for not liking to talk a lot. Once, after a Native Chief had spent several minutes greeting some White guests, he translated the speech as "He says he's damn happy you're here."
- A Latin example is the phrase "Mutatis Mutandis" (sometimes abbreviated to MM, even) which translates as "after the things that should have been changed, have been changed". It's one example of an entire grammatical construction, the ablative absolute, which can be expressed with as few as two words in Latin but typically requires a translation along the lines of "When / Since / Because / While / After [x] was / has been / had been [y]" depending on context.
- Body Language and Intonation can convey large amounts of information with a single word.
- A few Armenian words are like this; for instance, shaganakagoyn is the word for brown. It is however a lot more fun to say.
- The wonderfully useful Scottish word "tartle" means "to hesitate before introducing someone because you've just realised you've forgotten their name".
- Orka (Swedish) or orke (Norwegian) is a verb that means something to the extent of "to have the energy/strength/stamina for something" or "to not be too tired/fatigued/weak for something". When the word is said with a frustrated tone it carries the meaning of "but who would bother with what you just said, not me, that's for sure!" (The meaning is pretty much the same as in the Finnish verb "jaksaa" above.)
- There is also the Swedish word "Lagom" that, due to being equivalently translatable in very few languages, English not included amongst those, forcibly invokes this, and the fact that it is a very flexible word does not make things easier. A proper rough translation of "Lagom" into English would be something along the lines of "neither too [insert adjective] nor too [insert the adjective's antonym], but just simply adequate for this given situation".
- Basically "the Goldilocks zone", only that that story isn't as well-known outside the English language, making it a reverse Translation: "Yes" for many viewers who aren't familiar with it.
- There is also the Swedish word "Lagom" that, due to being equivalently translatable in very few languages, English not included amongst those, forcibly invokes this, and the fact that it is a very flexible word does not make things easier. A proper rough translation of "Lagom" into English would be something along the lines of "neither too [insert adjective] nor too [insert the adjective's antonym], but just simply adequate for this given situation".
- Chargoggagoggmanchauggauggagoggchaubunagungamaugg, up top, is awesome. Translated, it means "fishing place at the boundary," which local wags have rendered as "We'll fish on our side, you fish on your side, and no one fishes in the middle". The locals are quite proud of it.
- In Hungarian, "megcsörget" means "to call a mobile phone only to have it ring once so that the other person would call back, allowing the caller not to spend money on minutes". "Prozvonit" means the same in Czech and Slovak, and so does "cimnuti" (lit. "to pluck" or "to give somebody a pool") in Serbian, and in addition, teenagers and young adults use it often as a signal ("I'll give you a missed call when I'm ready to go."). In Romanian "dă bip" is the imperative version of that phrase; a not-quite-but-almost literal translation would be "beep me." In Finnish, the word for that type of call is "häläri", whose etymology probably is in a word that translates as "alerter". Turkish has the word Çağrı for the same concept, which literally means "call" and was used when pagers were popular. With pagers gone, the word found new use among mobile phone users.
- In Australian slang, the phrase "prank me" is used to describe the same thing. It originates from people calling their friends while said friend is in a meeting or a class, causing the phone to ring and the friend to get in trouble with their superior.
- In Spain, the word for that is "toque" ("poke").
- In Polish, either the phrase "puścić sygnał" or less often "puścić/posłać strzałkę" is used (literally "send a signal" and "send an arrow [symbol]").
- There's an improv game that involves two people having a conversation in a made-up foreign language and two "translators," one for each person, making up meanings for what they say. This trope tends to happen a lot. Also, sometimes someone will speak with a certain emotion and have it translated otherwise; for example, someone going on a long, angry-sounding rant, and having it translated as "I love you".
- In French, the common question words of 'who', 'what' and 'where' can be rendered as to 'qui est-ce que', 'qu'est-ce que' and 'où est-ce que' (who/what/where is it that). Admittedly, though, in everyday language, 'qui', 'quoi' and 'où' are fully sufficient.
- To ask someone what's up or what the problem is, you can say "Qu'est-ce qu'il y a?" which, rendered morpheme for morpheme, is "What is this that it there has?" Or, as we say in Quebec, "Skyâ?" — boiling that seven-morpheme phrase down to one syllable.
- French pronunciation makes the long words seem less long when spoken. "Qu'est-ce que" actually sounds like "Kesske", "qui est-ce que" is "key esske" and "où est-ce que" is "ooh esske".
- "Ilunga" is a word in one of the Bantu languages spoken in Africa that means "a person who is ready to forgive any abuse for the first time, to tolerate it a second time, but never a third time".
- Some English words like Jaywalking and Accountability don't have equivalents in other languages. The biggest example is Spanish: the closes translation of Jaywalking into Spanish is Crossing the street carelesslynote , which is not an actual offence in most Spanish-speaking countries. Of course, this makes any translated instances of Arson, Murder, and Jaywalking from American media even more poignant for Spanish-speaking audiences.
- Similarly, the concept of loitering doesn't exist in many languages, so for foreigners the idea that standing somewhere doing nothing can in itself be illegal can be jarring.
- Ditto in Japanese: The equivalents are 道路横断歩行 (Dōro ōdan hokō, translated roughly as Highway Crossing Walk) and 説明責任 (Setsumei sekinin, literally Explaining responsabilities) respectively, despite in the case of jaywalking is not being tolerated there.
- As this post on Tumblr attests, a more recent English example is the verb "rickroll", which refers to tricking someone into listening to "Never Gonna Give You Up" by Rick Astley.
- TV Tropes itself, as the Meta folder below will attest to.
- In the Madrid metro, they have a vocal announcement that says, "Atención, estación en curva. Al salir, tengan cuidado para no introducir el pie entre coche y andén." Literal translation: "Warning, curved station. When disembarking, take care not to insert your foot between the train car and the platform." Or as they say in London, "Mind the gap."note
- On the other hand, "Please allow other patrons to disembark before embarking" translates to "Dejen salir"note .
- Some writing systems, perhaps most notably, Chinese and related systems from neighbouring countries can have this sort of effect since just a couple of written characters can translate into entire sentences.
- Many Japanese names can be written with a single character while having fairly long pronunciations. For example, 源 is Minamoto - four times as long in the Roman alphabet.
- Sìzìchéngyǔ(Chinese)/Yojijukugo(Japanese), or "four character phrases" are frequently something of a pseudo-example. Even while most are only four to eight syllables long, being idiomatic expressions, they usually can't be meaningfully translated in less than a dozen words. As an example, 瓜田李下 translates to "Don't kneel down to tie your shoe in a melon field; nor adjust your hat under a pear tree, to avoid people misunderstanding it as you trying to steal something."
- Conversely, some of these yojijukugo (again, four to eight syllables long, and written using four frequently rather complex characters) can occasionally be translated to a single four- or five-letter word like 意趣遺恨 which means "spite".
- Mexican Spanish has lots of words, especially slang and idioms, who can stand for especially complex actions:
- Acomedirse: Doing something selflessly and without expecting anything in return, and without being ordered beforehand. In a Catholic country like Mexico, this is a very important value expected from people, especially younger ones.
- Alcahuete: Taking advantage of a particular situation, by doing nothing if that person thinks it can benefit him/her later by his innaction. It also stands for a person (a strawman) who helps to cover illicit actions. Basically, it's Accomplice by Inaction, albeit this is even more damning in Mexico than anywhere else. Oddly enough, the word came from Arabic "al-qawwed" and it's also used in Spanish theater slang for a curtain used to indicate that the intermission would be very short.
- Arremedar: Repeating a person's manner of speaking or repeating the last words spoken by a person in a scornful and insulting way, basically implying that the person to whom the insult is directed is stupid or his or her manner of speaking is ridiculous or not worthy of any respect.
- Feminicidio: Killing a woman. Used almost exclusively in Mexico, its use is a very controversial matter in that country.
- In Esperanto, the Universal Language, you can theoretically string together as many words as you like, as long as you follow the rules for compound words. For example, if you wanted to say "My Hovercraft Is Full of Eels", it could be "Mia ŝvebŝipo ozas de angiloj" (literal), "Mia ŝvebŝipo estas angiloza" (My hovercraft is "eelfull"), or even "Mia ŝvebŝipo angilozas" (My hovercraft eelfulls). It's usually considered bad form to make up words too much, though.
- In English, the habit of asking tag questions where the question is the reverse polarization of the statement ("It's a nice day, isn't it?" "You didn't finish your homework, did you?") means that answering the question usually requires one to completely restate a fact or offer an explanation ("Yes, it's lovely." "No, I didn't have time.") rather than just saying "yes" or "no". In French, if you say "non", that means "No, I have not/am not/did not", whereas "si" means both "yes" and "no" but indicates a positive response (Q: "Tu n'as pas finis tes devoirs?" A: "Si!" -> "You didn't finish your homework?" "Yes, I did finish it.")
- The Dutch word "swaffelen" means "to repeatedly hit one's penis against a person or object". (Jeremy Clarkson erroneously specified on an episode of QI that the object must be the Taj Mahal.)
- Different languages have vastly different numbers of syllables spoken per second, but the amount of information transmitted per second of spoken language is actually highly conserved across languages. Thus, the languages which feature very rapid speech transmit much less information per syllable than languages that feature much slower talking speeds. English and Chinese are on the lower end of speaking speeds, which makes those languages particularly likely to see other languages as being subjected to this trope.