Chinese whispers, Arab phone (from the French: "Le téléphone arabe"), Russian Scandal, Stille Post (Silent Post) or Telephone is a game in which each successive participant secretly whispers to the next a phrase or sentence whispered to them by the preceding participant. Cumulative errors from mishearing often result in the sentence heard by the last player differing greatly and amusingly from the one uttered by the first. It is most often played by children as a party game or in the playground. It is often invoked as a metaphor for cumulative error, especially the inaccuracies of rumours or gossip.
The game has many other names, including the telephone game, Broken Telephone, Crazy Telephone, operator, grapevine, whisper down the lane and Pass It Down. In the United States, "Telephone" is the most common name for the game. The name "Chinese whispers" reflects the former stereotype in Europe of the Chinese language as being incomprehensible. It is little-used in the United States and may be considered offensive. It remains the common British name for the game.
If the game has been 'successful', the final message will bear little or no resemblance to the original, because of the cumulative effect of mistakes along the line. Deliberately changing the phrase is often considered cheating, but if the starting phrase is poorly chosen, there may be disappointingly little natural change.
One variation known as "operator" allows each listener one chance to ask his or her neighbour for a repetition, as if assistance from the line operator were available by calling that word.
As well as providing amusement, the game can have educational value. It shows how easily information can become corrupted by indirect communication. The game has been used in schools to simulate the spread of gossip and supposed harmful effects. It can also be used to teach young children to moderate the volume of their voice, and how to listen attentively;in this case, a game is a success if the message is transmitted accurately with each child "whispering" rather than "shouting". It can also be used for older or adult learners of a foreign language, where the challenge of speaking comprehensibly, and understanding, is more difficult because of the low volume, and hence a greater mastery of the fine points of pronunciation is required.
The following is excerpted from the movie Johnny Dangerously:
An apocryphal example from World War I of a message being sent down the trench line is Send reinforcements, we're going to advance which became Send three and fourpence, we're going to a dance (three and fourpence is three shillings and four pence in old British money).
TWO government ministers were last night urged to have "Chinese whispers" about the introduction of Mandarin as a language on the Leaving Certificate curriculum.
May 28, 2010; 'Chinese whispers' about Mandarin on the Leaving Cert Fergus Black TWO government ministers were last night urged to have...