Translation: "Yes"

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"That is a great deal of meaning to put into such a short name."
Drazi ambassador to Tirk, whose name apparently means "Don't touch me, I'm not having another child after this ever again", The Legend of the Rangers

Alice's Log - Establishing Diplomatic Relations With The Aulthatropse People: Day Three

After recent troubles with the local translator led to him being sacked, I have offered to use my Magical Computer as a translation device.

Gethinsavin:"Mashakatara vazookary bashabasha nook, vazoopti kanazook tri, flabbalabba dingdong dooda, sizzabizzaborp."
Magical Computer: "Hello, how are you?"

Alice: "I'm doing very well. I slept well last night, and the weather here is quite pleasant."
Magical Computer: "Blop."

Gethinsavin: "Bork?"
Magical Computer: "Are you sure this device is working correctly? All its translations are very short. Or very long, in this case."

Alice: "Well, while people commonly expect short phrases in one language to be equally short in another, sometimes short phrases are translated into surprisingly long ones."
Magical Computer: "Zippu."

Gethinsavin: "Dakka."
Magical Computer: "Ah, yes, I'm familiar with this concept. Many shows parody this to exaggerated effect by having a single word in a foreign language become a long phrase in one's native language, or a ridiculously long phrase in a foreign language translate to a single word in a native language."

Alice: "Yes. This concept is closely related to Fun with Subtitles, which may overlap with Bilingual Bonus."
Magical Computer: "Zedru."

Gethinsavin: "Bieffess."
Magical Computer: "I suppose this could be considered Truth in Television, seeing as it's happening to us right now. If I hadn't fired our old translator yesterday, I would suspect that he would be doing a Tactful Translation and thus editing and carefully rephrasing some of what we were saying."

Alice: "How interesting."
Magical Computer: "Yakka foob mog. Grug pubbawup zink wattoom gazork. Chumble spuzz."

Gethinsavin: "Gort! Klaatu Barada Nikto."
Magical Computer: ERROR - translation not found.

Alice: "I guess sometimes phrases have no meaning given."
Magical Computer: "Bah-weep-Graaaaagnah wheep ni ni bong."

Gethinsavin: "Ikaljionzerk."
Magical Computer: "Well, why don't we begin listing examples of this trope."

Examples of Translation: "Yes" include:

Anime and Manga

  • 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.)
  • 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!"
  • In 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.
  • Vatonage roughly translates into "to bring light to that which is shrouded in darkness."

Comic Books

  • Lobo's name means "one who devours your entrails and thoroughly enjoys it." More than one character has thought it meant "wolf" like one would expect.


  • Occurs in Wayne's World, when Wayne and Cassandra are talking in Cantonese: at one point 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. "Is that everything? It seemed like he said quite a bit more than that."
  • 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 wife says the tribe's language is succinct.
  • Naturally, Kung Pow did it.
  • 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?!
Kaye: Stutters.

  • Older Than Television: 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 deliveing a speech, commented on by an English speaking narrator. Some passages are translated word by word (like 'liberty is abolished') 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'.
  • A variant occurs near the end of the Lilo and Stitch movie, where Stitch is trying to convince Jumba and Pleakley to help him rescue Lilo from Captain Gantu.

Jumba: What?! After all you put me through, you expect me to help you just like that? Just like that?!
Stitch: Ih.
Jumba: Fine!
Pleakley: "Fine"? You're doing what he says?
Jumba: He's very persuasive.

  • 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 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."
  • Also inverted in the Veggie Tales 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.

  • In 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!"
  • 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?"
  • The Danish subtitles for The Sound of Music did this in the scene where the Mother Superior tells Maria "Don't worry. Sometimes when God closes a door, he opens a window." The Danish read "Don't worry."
  • 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 The 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."


  • 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 Series of Unfortunate Events: Sunny Baudelaire.
  • 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".
    • 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.
    • 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".
    • 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 The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy Ford gained the nickname "Ix" in his school years, which translates from Betelgeusian as "boy who is not able satisfactorily to explain what a Hrung is, nor why it should choose to collapse on Betelgeuse Seven."
  • In 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!" in Dave Barry Slept Here is "Wannfahrtdersugab ein Umwievieluhrkommteran!"
  • Pretty much everything in the Entish language in Lord of the Rings falls into this. They can take several hours just to say "Good Morning", and every tree, hill and rock has an enormously long name, which seems to incorporate describing its location, history, and how they feel about it. Ents in turn are quite surprised at how the other races use such short words to describe the world.
  • 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'.

(after an Ottoman Captain bellows at length towards them via speaking trumpet) "He says to land," Tharkay translated, with improbable brevity; at Lawrence'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.

Live Action TV

  • In an episode of Thirty 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."
  • 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 Finnish 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.
    • Including a literal Translation: "Yes" where, upon being asked to dance, Stephen Frost answered with a drawn-out and very loud "NEIN!"...which of course was helpfully translated as a polite "Yes."
  • 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."
    • 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.
  • An episode of Home Improvement has Tim and his hired "granite man" communicating using short grunts with very long subtitles.
  • 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").

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."
Jim Hacker: "Are you trying to say "Happy Christmas," Humphrey?"
Sir Humphrey: "Yes, Minister."

  • During the latter days of the Attitude Era, Japanese tag-team Kaientai were given a push as a comedic Heel Tag Team whose entrances were badly dubbed English, with everything Funaki said and did translated, after several seconds of talking and gesticulation, into one long "In-DEEEEEEEED."
  • 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.


  • All the 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 audience, ironically makes the work seems dated." Oh wait, I need to explain Narm first!
      • ...what about "futurism"?
        • Wait, hold on..."The way that past works which ANTICIPATE the future, end up creating a distinctly dated future. Or, a future that could only be imagined in that era."


  • 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 it's 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!

  • A variation can be heard in Stan Freberg's 1951 recording of "I've Got You Under My Skin". Late in the song Freberg races ahead of the chorus and prompts them line-by-line with a increasingly rapidly-spewed version of the next lyrics they should sing, until finally he emits several seconds' worth of gibberish which, when sung by the chorus, turns out to be just the word "ear".

Video Games

  • Happens a few times in Katawa Shoujo, when a complex set of sign language from the deaf/mute 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.

Web Original

  • 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."
  • 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 decids 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: It's a very poetic language.

Western Animation

Stitch: Shibito! igota! Ih. if you do that, bebu.
Jumba: Ah, 626 has offered a deal. If 513 proves he can take of things by fixing crack in planet, Stitch will give him precious citrus ball. *beat* Stitch's language is very efficient.

  • 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 Lord of the Rings, as Arwen's husband. He says a long, long phrase in Elvish. Subtitles: "Giggity".
  • 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."

Real Life

  • 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).
  • A lot of these are due to the speaker's cultural knowledge and background. Think of the words 'Nazi' and 'Pins and needles' which could be translated as 'Someone with dogmatic views and a harsh manner of enforcing them on others' and 'A numb or tingling sensation when a limb has been left in an uncomfortable position for a long time.' Anglophones may know what they mean, but we have picked up the subtler connotations over a long time. We could redefine them as 'bad people' and 'a funny feeling' to be more concise, but this does remove some of the meaning. A lot of internet words (Trolls, lulz, noob...) can be like this to the older generation.
    • And let's not even get started on how to explain memes...
  • "mamihlapinatapai", a word from the Yaghan language of Tierra del Fuego, isn't exactly a short word, but in contrast to its meaning, "a look shared by two people with each wishing that the other will initiate something that both desire but which neither one wants to start", it's eminently succinct, much like "Twice Shy" in Tropese. With words like that, they could condense romance novels into romance pamphlets.
  • In the non-fiction Who Stole the News?: Why We Can't Keep Up With What Happens in the World and What We Can Do About It (now there's a title waiting for a Translation: "Yes") author Mort Rosenblum details an incident in the Vietnam War where a peasant woman gave a highly emotive description of an attack on her village. When the reporter asked what she'd said his translator replied: "She is unhappy."
  • Similarly, from the Nintendo history Game Over:

"Yamauchi entered the room abruptly and, without addressing anyone, stood at the end of the table. He became, as one of those present put it, 'unglued.' He began with a breathy, high-pitched tirade in a Marlon Brando monotone and quickly became loud and abusive. With a piercing cry, he swung his arm in an arc in front of him, shooting his outstretched index finger toward Greenberg... When Greenberg turned to Arakawa for help, he was met with a cold stare. By the time Yamauchi wound down, no one in the room said a word. The translator finally began to speak. "Mr. Yamauchi is very upset," the man said."

  • Relatively easy when using synonyms. Consider "Yes" (three letters, one syllable) and "Affirmative" (11 letters, 4 syllables).
  • According to's The 10 Coolest Foreign Words The English Language Needs, 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."
  • In a collection of Outtakes there was a western interviewer talking to a Chinese interviewee via a translator. The interviewer asked a simple question. The translator said something long in Chinese, and the interviewee gave an equally long reply. Then the translator said "Yes."
  • Finnish, due to its structure, can be capable of this. The word "juoksentelisinkohan" roughly means "I wonder if I should run around aimlessly?"
    • Interestingly enough, removing the "-han" suffix changes the meaning into "Should I run around aimlessly" meaning that in this case, "I wonder if" is three letters.
      • In quite a few English-speaking communities, appending "eh?" to a sentence will have a similar effect. Two letters and a shift in inflection.
  • 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".
  • Former Chelsea manager Claudio Ranieri, upon first joining the club, didn't speak a lick of English, so he had a translator translate in between sentences. Thankfully, the first match went well, and the manager ended with a 'thumbs up' sign. Which got translated.
    • One of the men assigned as his translator early on apparently didn't speak any Italian and simply made up his own analysis of a match as a translation of Ranieri's summary. He was sacked upon being found out. Ranieri did eventually learn a modest amount of English, but it could be argued that at the time (and some would say to this day), speaking English was not a requirement to be manager of Chelsea since almost the entire first team (bar Graeme Le Saux) hailed from outside the UK.
      • In fact, Graeme Le Saux is from Jersey, in the Channel Islands, which is a Crown Dependency and not strictly part of the UK.
  • The days of the week in Ojibwe are another example of the role of nuance, as the names for each day describe what is traditionally done on that day. Saturday, for example, is 11 syllables because its name actually means roughly "the day to wash the floors."
  • A joke: A sheriff catches a crook who only speaks some foreign language, and so the sheriffs 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 movie Up (two letters, one syllable) goes by some surprisingly lengthy monikers in some other countries. You wouldn't think such a simple pronoun adverb preposition would be so hard to translate, but getting the exact same nuance of the word "Up" in other languages can be rather difficult. It's seen a lot of Foreign Subtitle.
    • Same for Airplane!.
    • The title of Gone with the Wind is reduced to one character in Chinese. (飄 piāo, roughly translated as "moving with the wind".)
  • Happens very often in Chinese with four-word idioms. A whole slew of meanings, nuances, and connotations can be contained within, most commonly, four characters, and many are virtually impossible to understand without knowing the story behind the phrase. Some have simple translations or English idiomatic equivalents ("Play the lute to a cow" = "Casting pearls before swine"), ones that require longer explanations ("A spot in the jade": A tiny flaw in something otherwise perfect), and some poetics ones that turn out longer than an English equivalent ("Once bitten by a mosquito, fear mosquito bites all day". 10 characters in Chinese, same meaning as the English "Once bitten, twice shy".)
    • Classical Chinese in general is often like this, with its one-syllable words, compact grammar and tendency to drop subjects.
  • Jayus in Indonesian is once listed as among the most difficult words to translate. It refers to the nature of jokes that are so poorly made or told that the audience laugh anyway, precisely because it's not funny. It has a convenient Tropese translation though: So Unfunny It's Funny.
    • Its verb-form (ngejayus) goes into Mind Screw territory : to tell a jayus on purpose, not because he / she actually thinks its funny, but because it's a jayus, he / she knew it will make people laugh.
  • 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.
  • Irish Gaelic does not actually have words for yes or no. Instead one responds to a yes/no question with the verb and a positive or negative indicator. If asked "Ar mhaith leat X?"(Do you like X?), on would respond either "Is maith liom" or "Nior maith liom", "I like" and "I do not like", respectively.
    • Mandarin Chinese is the same. There are words that can be used as "yes" or "no", but translate to "correct"/"it is" or "it's not", respectively. Most of the time, you answer a question by repeating the verb in the affirmative or negative. So if someone asked you "Ni you ni de shu ma?" (Do you have your book?), you could respond with "dui" (right), "you" (I have), or "mei you" (I do not have).
  • Subverted in one Nike ad, which featured a Masai tribesman holding up a sneaker and speaking in his native language. This was subtitled "Just do it"...but as it turned out, he was really saying "I don't want these. Give me big shoes."
    • Nike didn't have a translator for the obscure language the tribesman spoke. They didn't count on someone in the United States actually knowing the language and pointing this fact out to them.
  • Jerry Potts, a Metis 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."
  • Apparently part of the Origin Story of Canada, at least according to those Heritage Minutes that we saw as kids. Michael Richards (tan and dressed in native regalia) invites the European explorers to the village - "Kanata" being the native word for village - and the translator misinterprets the statement as: "This nation's name is 'Canada.'" And the poor guy in the back insists that the chief is talking about the village. And no one listens to him. And thus, a nation was... well, named.
    • Urban Myth states this is similar to the origin of the word "taco," which supposedly was Nahuatl for "here, eat this," said to a Conquistador.
    • Supposedly also how the kangaroo was named. Captain Cook landed in Australia and asked a couple of Aboriginal people what the strange hopping creatures were. They replied "Kangaroo" which meant "I have no idea what you just said." (A researcher debunked this story in The Seventies).
    • This phenomenon is parodied in a Discworld book, which mentions Skund (which translates as 'Your Finger, You Fool'), and Mount Oolskunrahod (or, Mount 'Who is this fool who doesn't know what a mountain is?').
  • Latin usually translates to large sentences because Latin tends to use suffixes instead of modal verbs and such. Latin has no articles and pronouns can be freely dropped. Censeo aliquid agendum poni means I reckon that something that has to be made will be shown.
    • Latin also uses tenses that can be expressed with a single word in that language but requires quite a bit more in English. Nothing more blatant then the Future Perfect tense which can take a small word like "Ceno" which means "I Eat" change it and add a suffix to make it "Cenaveritis," longer yes but to translate "You all shall have eaten." Significantly longer.
      • A bit longer, but not much really: Those are all one syllable words, so the English sentence only contains one more syllable than the Latin word. In fast speech it'll end up being contracted down to something like you'll've eaten, which actually has fewer syllables.
  • Body Language and Intonation can convey large amounts of information with a single word.
  • Italian comedian Fabrizio Fontana is known to mock the hell out of this trope with his best-known characters, James Tont (in English that translates to "James Dumb"): after pretending to read a sign on a door, with a very intricate and long sentence written on it, when asked what that meant he always says, "Please knock.".
  • Depending on the context and the tone, a short vulgarity can convey a lot and mean extremely varied things.
  • Sometimes justified, as phrases such as "Does the Pope crap in the woods?" might be a tad difficult to explain to someone unfamiliar with the two phrases it spawned from: "Does a bear crap in the woods?" and "Is the Pope Catholic?" This is even worse if the audience is from a culture where neither of those questions would invoke an immediate "yes" and you only have two seconds of subtitles to get all of this across.
    • That depends what you want to do with the translation. If you only want to convey the meaning, a "very obviously so" or "you should know that" would almost always do, since the main use is as a rhetorical question piled upon another question with precisely this meaning. Often, there would be idioms which may differ slightly but carry a meaning similar enough to be understood. In short: most of the time translating does not need to include etymological or other background to the exact phrase or words used.
  • Despite common belief, this isn't actually a particularly common phenomenon of the German language. Words like Schadenfreude, Zugzwang, and Doppelganger have been adopted into the English language since they describe complex concepts in a short word, but even in German this is not a result of gramatical rules but just common consensus. Translated literary they simply mean "Damage-joy", "Move-compulsion", and "Twice-walker", though they are used to describe "Joy at the misfortune of others", "Being forced to take any action, though not taking any action would be preferable", and "A person looking identical to another person". To German speakers, these complex meanings are known only because someone once explained to you what they mean. They are no different than the english terms "social security" or "collateral damage", which require additional explainations to understand their meaning of "govermentally founded national programms to to financially support people without an income that covers minimum neccessary expenses" or "people injured or killed as a side effect of military action taking place in their proximity". However, German philosophers and scientists do have a long standing tradition of creating such words and making extensive use of them throughout all their works, which often end up not being translated.
    • An actual case is the German word "doch", which can be explained as "I deny that your negative statement is true, and in turn declare the opposite". For example if someone states "there is no milk in the fridge", you could simply reply with "doch". Meaning "Your statement is not true. There is indeed milk in the fridge."
  • The Finnish word "sisu" is most accurately translated as "having the will to keep going, no matter how many times you fail and no matter what difficulties you encounter", or roughly "perseverance".
    • There's also the verb "jaksaa" which means "to have the ability and will to not succumb to physical or mental stress (or laziness)". It's not the same as "sisu" at all, but it sure sounds like it when described in English!
      • English has a perfectly good for that: "to endure". Not a 100% direct equivalent, but used in the same situations.
  • Tropese itself. Most of the trope names translate to long explanations and comversations in Tropese (or making notes in Tropese in literature classes) tend to be much shorter.
    • It doesn't seem to be staying that way for long with the many trope name changes to make the tropes more new person friendly, such as Nakama being changed to True Companions or the rather egregious example (which could count as an example in itself) is the character trope the Boo Radley which was renamed to Misunderstood Loner with a Heart of Gold.
  • English has its fair share of small words with complex or self-contradictory definitions, partly because it's so fond of loan words and will steal a word like Schadenfreude rather than find a native equivalent. Try explaining the meaning of "kitsch" or "Irony" to someone who doesn't speak English (or, in the former case, German.)
    • "Kitsch" is found as a loanword in many other languages, though maybe not used as often as in English or German. "Irony" however is found in every European language (and it's practically always the same word). Probably there's a word for this in almost every language. So you should rather say that it may be hard to explain those terms to native speakers who don't understand them yet, like children.
      • It is true, however, that non-European languages have trouble with the word "irony," particularly distinguishing it from "sarcasm" (in many languages, the terms are one and the same). at least partly because the extended concept of irony in Western culture derives specifically from Aristotle's Poetics and what followed from there: dramatic and situational irony are often not immediately recognized as such, and Tragic and Socratic irony are specific in their origins to the West (specifically Greece, and even more specifically Athens).
  • 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".
  • "Maintenant", which is French for "now", can be an example, given the length difference, despite how quickly it may be pronounced.
    • On the same fashion, Watashi (3 syllabes) means "I" in Japanese, "Izquierda" is "Left" in Spanish and "straight ahead" are 2 words for meaning, well, straight ahead!
    • Truth is, in Japanese script "watashi" could be written with one character whereas the katakana transcription of English "I" (as "ai", naturally) would require two characters. Length is at least partially in the eye of the beholder.
    • As for the translation of a single long word into a short word, Spanish "murciélago" (10 letters, 4 syllables) translates into English "bat" (3 letters, 1 syllable).
      • The word murciélago gets bonus points for cramming the entire Spanish set of 5 vowels in a single word (and as such is used frequently as a trivia question).
  • Not exactly foreign, but use of technical jargon can often replace extremely complex phrases with single words. In anatomy, for example, "anticubital" translates as "of the inside surface of the crook of the elbow", while "interior portion of the chest cavity lying between the right and left lungs" is designated "mediastinum".
  • "Orka" is a Swedish 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".
    • Two other words that are hard to translate are "Fika" and "mysig". Fika refers to having a coffee/tea and preferably something to go with it, but it's only used between two or more people. Mysig basically means Cozy or Comfy, but can also mean "in harmony with" for example when taking an autumn walk in the forest.
    • "Blunda" is a word used whenever someone has their eyes closed. The short sentence "jag blundar" becomes in English "I am keeping my eyes shut."
    • The Danish versions of "Mysig" and "Orka" ("Hyggelig" og "Orker") is exactly the same.
  • Kwashiorkor, a form of malnutrition, is named for a word that in the Ga language of Ghana means "the disease the baby gets when a new baby comes", referring to the lack of protein when a baby is weaned from breastmilk onto polished rice, corn, and other carbohydrates.
  • Also happens with translating translations - the phrase "I'm going to the place in which I need to go" was said in a 1.5 second burst of Japanese. It was then retranslated from the Purple Prose into "I'm going back to camp" which was the original meaning of the sentence.
  • In Dutch, the word "gezellig" (literally: "companion-like") means "a friendly and cozy atmosphere, provided by an event, a location, and/or the people who are there". A single person can be "gezellig", but so can a forest, a slice of cake, a cup of tea, a church, a date, a festival, a wedding or even a funeral. It's considered one of the most central concepts in the Dutch language and culture. The same is true for their German cognates "gesellig" and "gemütlich".
    • A close equivalent, would be "Happy Place" perhaps (but less "happy" and more "comfortable" or "enjoyable")
  • Chargoggagoggmanchauggauggagoggchaubunagungamaugg, up top, is awesome. Translated, it means "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 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.
    • This routine originated as a sketch circa 1976 about gymnast Nadia Comăneci; it played out much the same but the punchline was "Yes, but she did not go through puberty." It can be heard on his 1979 album Reality... What a Concept.
  • Can happen very often in Georgian. Due to use of prefixes and suffixes the verb reflects the relations between almost every part of the sentence, so only verb gives us a lot of information. For example, "amishena" means "somebody built something for me", while "aashena" means "somebody built something". And, besides that, there are words like "shemomedjama", meaning "I ate the whole thing without intending to do so".
    • Something similar happens in Slovak too, mainly with prefixes. Take the basic verb "piť" which means "to drink". Then you have words like "zapiť" meaning "to wash something down", "odpiť" meaning "to take a sip of something", "pripiť" meaning "to make a toast to something" and "prepiť" which refers specifically to money and means "to spend all of (the money) drinking alcohol"
  • 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. In Romanian “dă bip” is the imperative version of that phrase; a not-quite-but-almost literal translation would be “beep me”.
    • 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.


  • 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 like in the Godzilla/Gojira movies, but they speak in English. After being told that they have to get out near the end of the act, Clyde rapidly moves his beak (confusing the other two) before saying simply, "No!"

  1. due to an unfortunate incident involving the "ferals" that followed the titular dragon and his crew from the Pamirs and several head of cattle belonging to the Imperial garrison at Istanbul