Failing to count your words correctly undercuts the emphasis made by announcing the number of words a character plans to use, and makes the character look slightly more foolish. Counting is usually a simple task, and people usually only try one to four words when emphasizing their statements this way. So failing to count correctly moves the emphasis from the character's point to making the scene or character using it somewhat more comical.
The key aspect of this trope is a dissonance between the words declared and the words used. Contractions like "can't", "won't", "ain't" can all be used for one/two words. A character that says, "Four words: It wasn't me." and a character that says "Three words: It wasn't me." are both counting their words correctly, even if they are counting differently. A character who says "Three words: It was not me." messed up, because even if they intended the contraction, they forgot to use it.
Rarely, we have examples of the speaking character giving the right number, but getting "corrected" by another character who miscounted.
- A 1980s commercial for Alka Seltzer cold medicine where a group of construction workers touted the product; one of them said "in a word: it works."
- From an 80s car commercial starring Jim Varney as Ernest P. Worrell: "I've got one word for you, Vern, new car!"
- A PlayStation3 commercial featuring Kevin Butler, claimed "montage" is two words.
Customer: Dear PlayStation! Just got my PS3! So whatcha got?
Kevin Butler: What do I got? Two words: mon, tage.
- The Latin American advertising "Cebollas" (Onions) for Iphone 6s has a Colombian character saying about a video: "Tres palabras: ¡Per-fec-ta!" ("Three words: per-fec-t").
- A Running Gag in Disney's Hercules (the movie, the TV series, and the Hercules-themed world in Kingdom Hearts) is that every time Philoctetes attempts Two Words: Added Emphasis, he gets the count wrong.
"I got two words for ya kid—I am retired!"
"What is that?!"
"Two words — am-scray!" (Pig Latin for scram, for those under a rock.)
Hercules (imitating Phil): Two words: Duck!
Phil: "My answer is two words..." (Gets hit by lightning) "...o-kay." (Followed up with "You win. Oh gods. Oh vay.")
- After the "retired" line, a confused Hercules is then seen counting it out. As a Bilingual Bonus, "I am retired" is two words in Ancient Greek.
- In Phil's song "One Last Hope", the lines "Askin' me to jump into the fray/My answer is two words:" set him to rhyme with something like "No way." Then he's forced to make a Last-Second Word Swap.
- During Toy Story 2, Stinky Pete was explaining the reason for the declining popularity of Woody's Roundup; "Two words: Sput Nik." Stinky Pete was referring to unmanned Russian satellite Sputnik, the beginning of the "Space Race".
- Ali G In Da House has a character tell people their two words: "Keep It Real!". This is of course immediately pointed out that that's three words, and it's followed by a debate on whether "it" counts as a word because of how short it is.
Harry Stamper: A.J., I got just five words for you: Damn glad to see you, boy!
- When Harry Stamper uses reunites with A.J., he adds an extra word to the five he declares:
A.J.: That's six words.
A.J.: You know, Harry, there are only, uh, five words, I want to hear from you right now and those words are: you know A.J., I really look up to you, you been a hero of mine for sometime, and I'm really impressed with your work and I'm emotionally closed off... [beat] That's like, I dunno, that's like eleven words or something. You know what how 'bout just: A.J., I'm sorry and I love you?
- A.J. also miscounts when talking to Harry, getting his number wrong twice:
- Baby Driver: Bats does this, counting off each world and promptly Lampshades it:
"[We live in a world] consisting of three things, and that's money, sex, drugs, and action. (Looks at his hand) Oh shit, that's four."
- Big Fat Liar: In the awful movie-in-a-movie, Whittaker and Fowl, Whitaker is told "shut the heck up" is two words.
Listen, Whitaker, I am not your father and I'm not your priest. I got two words for you: shut the heck up! You talk way too much... can we cut?
- In Dude, Where's My Car?, after Jesse and Chester get thrown out of the twins' house, one of the characters splits the word "management" into two words.
"I got three words for you! Anger manage ment!"
- In Midnight Run Walsh is grows aggravated by Mardukas' nagging, finally telling him to "shut up".
Mardukas: Jack, you're a grown man. You have control over your own words.
Walsh: You're God damn right I do, so here come two for you; "shut the fuck up".
- In Reservoir Dogs, Mr. Pink gives Mr. White a long argument about why waitresses should not be tipped automatically, before concluding with "Two words: learn to fucking type."
- So I Married an Axe Murderer:
Tony: Two words: Therapy.
- True Lies: One of the characters breaks the word "insane" into two words: "Okay, I've got two words for that: In. Sane."
- After the villain in Tank Girl screams in Tank Girl's face, she counts "your teeth" as one word.
"I got two words for you...Brush your teeth!"
- In The World's End, after being asked how his mother's funeral was, Gary answers: "It's difficult to put into words. But if I had to choose three, I would say, 'Really, really sad.' Oh, no, that's two, isn't it? How about, 'Really, very sad'?".
- Wayne's World 2: Wayne fights kung fu with Mr. Wong, Cassandra's father, and, with his voice dubbed, claims to know all seven animal techniques: "The crane, the stag, the horse, the tiger, the bat, the rat, the monkey." Then he adds an eighth: "The beetle" (imitates Ringo Starr drumming).
- In The King of Marvin Gardens, Sally complains of David, "He's only got one thing. That's depression, suspicion, and mistrust," while counting to three on her fingers.
- Used in this joke: The three most common errors in computer science are segmentation faults and off by one errors.
- Rosalie Murray, in Agnes Grey, describes Mr Weston negatively. Her animosity leads her to describe four negative traits instead of the three she announced. She corrects herself immediately after.
"I can give you his description in three words ... an insensate, ugly, stupid blockhead. That's four, but no matter ..."
- In Moving Pictures, the word "impossible" is counted as two words by a secondary character. Fans assume this is a reference to legendary Hollywood producer Samuel Goldwyn, malaproper and simile-mangler extraordinaire.
"In a word — im-possible!"
"That's two words," said Dibbler.
- Monty Python's Flying Circus has a prolonged example:
Ximenez: Our chief weapon is surprise... surprise and fear... fear and surprise...
Our two weapons are fear and surprise... and ruthless efficiency....
Our three weapons are fear, surprise, and ruthless efficiency... and an almost fanatical devotion to the Pope.... Our four...
- Kara DioGuardi, the new judge on American Idol, critiqued a contestant with "six words: one of the best performances of the night." Ryan Seacrest mocked her on the next episode by introducing her as "three words: Kara DioGuardi."
- The Big Bang Theory: Raj suggests a way out of a jam to Howard, but gets confused because "3-D" is an acronym for three-dimensional.
Two words. 3-D printer. (beat) Wait. Or is that three words?
- Shawn's attempt to dissuade his friend on Boy Meets World runs into a stumbling block as he stops at the correct number of words, but then realizes that he didn't say enough to make his point.
Shawn: Here's what I got for you - Two Words: Uncle Mike's
Shawn: I'm gonna need more words.
- In another episode, Minkus gives Shawn two words: "Antiperspirant", causing a confused Shawn to say, "That's six words."
- The Commish: One episode opens with Tony on the phone to a friend inviting him out to dinner, when the friend refuses, Tony wants to know why. The friend attempts to be succinct, by using "forget about it" as one word.
Friend: One word: Forget about it.
- Corner Gas:
- In the pilot, Hank from Corner Gas counts "boycott" as two words.
Hank: Two words: Boycott.
- Another one in the later episode "Hank Talkin'", where Hank (incorrectly) thinks his blog is a hit:
Narrating Hank: Does it feel good to be a hit? In a word: It sure does.
- In the pilot, Hank from Corner Gas counts "boycott" as two words.
- In the first episode of Forever Knight, Nick Knight has been unwillingly partnered with Don Schanke, who is telling Nick he's a better cop thanks to his gut instincts. Just then Nick goes roaring up an alley because his vampire super-hearing has picked up a woman being murdered. When Schanke asks how he knew, Nick says sarcastically, "Three words: In-tu-ition."
- Friends episode "The One With The List" has Joey make a suggestion to a girl, mistaking the word "threesome" for two words.
"I got two words for you. Threesome."
- On Garth Marenghis Darkplace: Character splits "telekinesis" into two words.
I've got two words for you, Sanch. Tele... Kinesis.
- Hang Time: Episode "Trouble in Paradise," when Danny confronts Chris about "stealing" Julie (after pointing out that Danny can't say two words to her), Daddy responds that he has two words for him, and says four instead.
Danny: "Yeah! Well, I have two words for you: stay away... from her."
- During Harry Enfield's sketch "The Yorkshireman", a character calls something a 'shite', and since they said it was two words, they repeat the first word again.
"I've two words to say to that: shite!"
"What's the other one?"
- In Hill Street Blues, one detective tried to remind another why they should stay away from a flirty high-school girl, but they made "statutory" two words.
Washington: Three words, JD: Statue. Tory. Rape.
- An exchange between Ash and Danny, where Danny is threatening a lawsuit and Ash is mocking his intelligence:
Danny: ... I'll be using three of my favourite words. "Unsubstantiated", "Libelous" and "Court Case".
Ash: "Court Case" is two words.
Danny: Oh, yeah? Well, I used a bloody hyphen!
- In the episode "Eat Yourself Slender", where The Mark is led to believe Mickey is an art dealer who isn't averse to stealing on behalf of wealthy clients:
Dr Dean DeVille: I've got four words for you. Four very simple words. Can. You. Acquire. The. (laughs) Five words...
- An exchange between Ash and Danny, where Danny is threatening a lawsuit and Ash is mocking his intelligence:
- In the original Australian version of Kath and Kim, there's a Running Gag of Kath saying two or three words after saying, "Now, I've got one word to say to you, Kimmy..." The running gag climaxes with the following quote:
Kath: Now Kimmy look at me. I've got one word to say to you: Move out tout-de-suite, go back to Brett. Get real, you'll never get any better!
- The King of Queens has a short gag with Arthur badly choosing his statements, culminating in his admitting that it wasn't working out when he predicted how many words he was trying to use.
Arthur: I've got two words; I'm staying right here!
Carrie: That's four words!
Arthur: Well, here's another four: screw you!
Carrie: Dad, that's two words.
Doug: Arthur, maybe you should stop saying how many words you're going to say in advance.
Arthur: Yeah, once you do that, you're pretty much trapped in a hole, eh?
- Lost Girl: Bo, in episode "The Mourning After", tries to recover from his miscounting by claiming the words were hyphenated, which makes them two single words.
Bo: Two words: Lauren kiss-my-ass. (Takes shot) Lot of hyphens in that last one.
- In the The Monkees episode "Monkee vs. Machine", Mike tells Peter not to argue with him, and Peter immediately disputes with him over the pedantry of his statement.
Mike: Remember these three little words: Don't argue.
Peter: That's two words.
Mike: You're starting already.
- On an episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000, Joel is complaining, and Dr. Forrester responds with "Two words, Joel: Get Overit", even extending a finger for each "word".
- The first season of The Office (UK), some of Tim's papers are on Gareth's desk and he makes a ruckus about it while Tim is on a sales call. Gareth doesn't miscount the number of words he's using, but he also tries to specify the number of syllables in his word as well. Sadly, "demarcation" is four syllables, not two.
Tim: What are you doing?
Gareth: One word, Two Syllables, Demarcation.
- The magician Rudy Coby, in one of his TV specials, invokes Two Words: Added Emphasis, while an offscreen character's prediction is corrected:
Rudy Coby: Everything you've seen today can be explained with just one word:
Offscreen Guy: Hairspray.
Rudy Coby: No, hair spray is two words. One word: science.
- In Scrubs, JD is dismissing another character, and catches himself in the middle of his miscounted sentence, pointing out the additional number he needed.
"Three words. Sucks to be, adding a fourth, you!"
- In an episode of Seinfeld where George is trying to break his engagement to Susan, Kramer suggests, "Two words: pre-nup."
- In the third season of Slings & Arrows, developing the rivalry between the musical cast and the young members of the King Lear cast has one of the characters suggest "Three words: Stink Bomb".
- In 30 Rock, Donaghy announces "one word: surge", and Tracy attempts to "correct" him.
Donaghy: One word: Surge.
Tracy: That's two words!
- From The West Wing:
- During a presidential debate Bartlet's opponent Robert Ritchie (a Bush parody) claims that Bartlet will try and excuse high federal costs with one big word: 'Unfunded Mandate'. In his rebuttal, Bartlet is quick to point out that that's actually two words, undercutting Ritchie's dramatic statement.
- The series lampshaded a Vinick adviser's mistake in the season six episode "In God We Trust". The adviser recommended that the senator continue to repeat four words, but Bartlet pointed out there were five words in the statement.
"Fully respect Reverend Butler's position"
"That's five words."
- NewsRadio: Jimmy announces that he's going to build a 200-story building. When Joe questions if that's even possible, Jimmy answers, "I have two words for you: mon-ey and lots of it."
- How I Met Your Mother: Narrowly subverted by Robin on one occasion.
- Reba: In the episode "Reba the Landlord", Van says "let it go" and "paper plates" quickly and insists on claiming each phrase as one word. Reba tries to correct Van once before doing it herself (using the phrase "let it go") late in the episode.
- Inverted in Buffy the Vampire Slayer when Buffy demands Spike explain what he is doing in five words or less.
Spike: Out for a walk. [realizes he has a word to spare] Bitch.
- Fast and Loose, from the producers of Whose Line Is It Anyway?, adds quickfire games in between the actual games by simply posing questions to the players like "Describe Yourself In Three Words":
Humphrey Kerr: Humphrey Like Ham.
Jonathan Mangum: Not Good At Math.
Justin Edwards: Earth, Wind & Fire.
- Denis Leary's song "Asshole": "Two words... Nuclear fuckin' weapons!"
- Played with in "Weird Al" Yankovic's "This Song Is Just Six Words Long". The song itself has a lot more words than that, but the title is already seven words. This is not obvious in writing (as people who don't get the joke tend to write "song's"), but he is clearly singing to the tune of "I've got my mind set on you".
- The titular character of the Les Luthiers play "Manuel Darío" falls to this trope twice in a row:
Manuel Darío: The care and compassion you have all shown to me is something I can sum up in one word: "Thank you". (his musicians gesture a number two to him, and Manuel Darío takes notice of that) "Thank you twice".
- In Bloom County, the newly personality-reversed Steve Dallas attempts to convince his old, vapid girlfriend Quiche to look at things the way he now does, but she's not interested in playing along with his "one word" association game.
Steve: Now I want you to say the first word that comes to mind when I say this: Celibacy.
Quiche: Don't let the door hit you on the way out.
Steve: That's ten words...
- The April 22, 2005 strip of Garfield has Jon on the phone, trying to get a date with Ellen. He miscounts "restraining order" as a single word.
Jon: Ellen, how's about I zip over to your place and serenade you with my accordion? [Beat Panel] Restraining order is such an ugly word, Ellen.
Garfield: That's two words, dummy.
- Paul Heyman, in a shoot-promo, fired off an often quoted version during the first ever "ECW One Night Stand" pay-per-view event, addressing members of WWE's RAW and SmackDown! brands who had crashed the show - in particular, Adam "Edge" Copeland. He counted Matt Hardy's name as two words, but inserted Freaking in the middle. Edge's response was to spit out his beer and yell back, "That's three words, Paul!" And then used Matt Hardy's signature hand motion to indicate that it is indeed 3 words.
Heyman: * I* have two words for you...
(Paul steps halfway through the ropes, then flaps his hands outward)
Heyman: MATT FREAKING HARDY!
- Christy from Martin McDonagh's The Lieutenant Of Inishmore miscounts "splinter group" and is corrected by Padraic.
Christy: Does the word "splinter group" mean anything to ya?
Padraic: "Splinter group?" Splinter group's two words.
- Gilbert and Sullivan's The Pirates of Penzance has pirate Samuel say the line:
"Permit me, I'll explain in two words: we propose to marry your daughters."
- This being G&S, the director often has fun with it. One production has it rendered as "We propose-to-marry-your-daughters" (with the pirate counting the words on his fingers, and being surprised when he reaches six) while another has three separate pirates deliver two words each. Others have a pirate deliver the first two, "We propose," and have the Major-General be confused or offended that he's being proposed to before the sentence continues.
- Phil from the Hercules-themed world in Kingdom Hearts was always getting "two words" wrong.
"Two words: You guys. Ain't. Heroes!"
- When he messed this up in Kingdom Hearts, Goofy, of all characters, even counted the words and got confused when he heard four instead of two.
"Kid, I got two words of advice for you: ATTACK!!"Phil: Two words: You ain't heroes!
- When Sora's confronts Cerberus...
Sora: That's not right!
Goofy: Yeah, he said three words.
Phil: Now remember, the best way to become a hero comes down to two words.
- Then of course:
Goofy: *Starts counting on his fingers, Sora and Donald watch*
Phil: Eat. Bathe. Sleep.
Sora/Donald/Goofy: *Start laughing*
Sora: The games are canceled? Why?
- And another one at the end of that level in that game:
Phil: Three words: everyone's pooped!
Goofy: Wait a minute, that was only two words.
Phil: Two Words: Student. Teacher. Ratio.
- Kingdom Hearts: Birth by Sleep has Ventus do the same thing Goofy did.
Ven: *Counting on his fingers* One. Two. Huh?
- Hoxton, in PAYDAY 2, adds "fucking" when describing the dangers of Thursdays in Hazelton Prison, but forgets to count it in the "two words" he's presenting.
Hoxton: Two words: fucking Kinky Night.
- In Pokemon Black2and White 2, call Hugh on the Xtransceiver before going to reversal mountain to ask where he is, and he'll count "Reversal Mountain" as one word, and then correct himself.
Hugh: One word, Reversal Mountain. No wait, that's two words.
- In Sonic Lost World, Sonic says to Zomom:
Sonic: One word of helpful advice: diet and exercise!
Zomom: That's three words!
- In Star Fox 64, if you fail to defeat all of the Star Wolf members in Fortuna (but shoot at least Wolf and Leon down), Pigma will tease you as he retreats by breaking "loser" into two words.
I got two words for ya: LO-SER!!!
- Sometimes in Animal Crossing: Pocket Camp, Filbert or Punchy will make this mistake after fulfilling a request.
I've got two words for you: you rule... a lot. Wait, was that more than two?
- Comes up in the Steam Announcement Trailer of BattleBlock Theater, though the Narrator is pretty quick to correct himself.
Narrator: I've got two words that'll change your life forever: STEAM! ...uh, version!
- The Dreadful has Liz planning to join a mostly non-human faith. She misunderstands most of the facts of this faith, emphasized when her answer to one question is simply "Two words: Polygamy."
- In this Schlock Mercenary strip, Captain Tagon is telling the woman who is technically his boss, to move. "Why are you issuing orders to me, Tagon?" "Two words: Bomb on Board."
- Darths & Droids: Keybounce's guest commentary below page 1644 begins with "I have two comments on this strip." A numbered list follows, with four items. Number Four is "I can't count."
- The internet reviewer Benzaie does this for amusement value, where he will sum up a game in two words, at least one of the words being four or five words all squished together; For example, he sums up the Sega Genesis adaptation of Bram Stoker's Dracula as "Two words: Castlevaniaripoff withagaymusic!" For additional comical effect, he can still mangle his description somehow even if it is just two words: "Two words: Abo Nus!" (A Bonus).
- In one of the Flash animations Wizards of the Coast made to promote Dungeons & Dragons 4th Edition a troll being interviewed by a mind flayer says "Three words: Re- gener- uhhhhhhhhh -ation."
- Homestar Runner: In the Strong Bad Email "for kids", Strong Bad reacts to seeing Homsar's TV show for preschoolers, doing a version of this joke that lasts nearly twenty seconds and even hanging a lampshade at the end.
Strong Bad: I've got two words for the children that are raised on that crap: HELD BACK. REPEATING THE THIRD GRADE. LOW STANDARDIZED TEST SCORES. I GUESS THIS WAS MORE THAN TWO WORDS. THE PAPER, PLEASE TAKE US HOME.
- In the Jacksfilms video "Your Grammar Sucks #60", one of the atrocious comments is "I can sum it up in three words. Evolution is a lie", a quote from a user on a Christian forum. This promptly gets Lampshaded by the singer, who stares in disbelief at the other versions of himself onscreen.
- The Nostalgia Chick reviewed Armageddon, where Harry Stamper did more than just "two words" at a time. Always messing it up. One in particular ("AJ, I got just five words for you: Damn glad to see you boy!") had The Nostalgia Chick baffled and starting to count.
- The Runaway Guys' playthrough of New Super Mario Bros. U Lampshade the effect when they encounter Miiverse posts that begin with "Two words:" and follow it with a different number of words. One of Jon's own posts is the same as the trope name.
- Ultra Fast Pony, in "The Longest Engagement", as Pinkie Pie is planning Cadance's wedding reception.
Pinkie: Okay, I'm just gonna say one word, one word about your reception. And it's gonna blow your mind! [...] Anyway, here it is: Water balloons.Princess Cadance: That was two words. I am disgusted and unhappy!Pinkie: Don't worry, I'll keep working on it!
- Animaniacs is a comedy sketch series that loves to subvert drama and often miscounts their words.
"Three words....Thigh Monster.""In two words...Bubba is hot!"
- A variant occurs in the Ben 10 episode "Goodbye and Good Riddance" when Grandpa Max says "Actions speak louder than words, and I've got three of them: Aim and fire". "Aim and fire" is three words, not three actions.
- Cow and Chicken episode "Bad Chicken" has three examples, including one where the character realizes how they miscounted, but miscount a second time as well.
- When Cosmo, of The Fairly OddParents, told Timmy about "mouthwash", but counted it as two words, until Wanda corrected him, prompting him to repeat the word.
"I have two words for you: Mouthwash."
"Then I'll say it twice. Mouthwash! Mouthwash!"
- Schnozmo, Cosmo's brother, does this almost everytime he speaks.
- Johnny Bravo: "I've only got two words for you mister: no!"
- In Kim Possible, when Ron and Monique are forced to do a project together and Ron blows it off, Monique asks why she should do all the work. Ron, who knows Monique cares about her grades, holds up four fingers and ticks off a finger with each word: "Four words: Grade point average". And then he licks some cheese he notices on the one remaining finger.
- Used in the Megas XLR episode "A Clockwork Megas".
Coop: One word, pal. Game over.Kiva and Jamie: That's two words.Coop: Whatever.
- Phineas and Ferb:
- Candace says "I've got two words for you mum, Ge-la-tin!", followed by her mum looking confused.
- In response to Phineas urging Perry to drop them into a boiling pit of doom, Candace says: "Two Words: LA-VA!"
- Rocket Power used and lampshaded it in the episode "Mr. B is in the House"...
Twister: Two words: Our new teacher is Conroy, baby!Sam: That's six words, Twist.Twister: So?
- Rocky and Bullwinkle
"In a word: No Thank You!"
- One character:
"That's three words."
"In a word: You said it!"
- Another one:
"That's three words!"
"I'm a heavy tipper."
- SpongeBob SquarePants: Spongebob is surprised to see Patrick and asks his friend why he's here, and Patrick splits "nachos" into two words.
Patrick: Two words: Na-chos.
- In Squidbillies, Pestilence (of the Horsemen of the Apocalypse) declared who he was in "one word": "Apocalyptic horseman".
One word: Apocalyptic horseman, fool!
- Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (1987) had an example in "A Thing About Rats" when the head of a pest control company gave his reply to Baxter Stockman's offer in selling his Mousers.
"Well, to put it in a simple word: GET OUTTA HERE!"
Guy: I have three simple words for you, Kelly: loophole.Kelly: That's one word.Guy: Word up!
- In James Bond Jr., Gordo proclaims "Three words: Gimme a break". IQ argues that it's four, but Gordo insists on counting "gimme" as one word.
- Played with in The Spectacular Spider-Man, where Peter isn't confused by JJ getting the number wrong, but that he was able to get it right:
Peter: I'd like a word.J. Jonah Jameson: How about "scram?" Or two words? "Scram kid!" Or seventeen? "Get out of my office in two-point-three seconds or I'll staple you to a flagpole!"Peter: How did you count?
- In the Jelly Jamm episode "Operation Save Jammbo", Goomo suggests a solution to Planet Jammbo's trash problem - "Two words - re-cycle!" Mina promptly corrects him, pointing out it's just one word.
- Major League Baseball pitcher and one tough Dominican, the late Joaquin Andujar:
"There is one word in America that says it all, and that one word is, 'You never know.'"
- Legendary Malaproper and studio head Sam Goldwyn (the "G" in "MGM") is alleged to have responded "In two words: Im-Possible!" to a proposal he didn't like.
- Sports Commentary - Darts commentator Sid Waddell famously said "There's only one word for that: magic darts!"
- Pamela Anderson, on dealing with pre-wedding jitters: "I have two words for you: champagne!"