Created By: RossN on June 23, 2013 Last Edited By: RossN on February 8, 2016

Hilariously Illiterate

TheDitz can\'t read or write.

Name Space:
Main
Page Type:
Trope

One common joke to show that a character is not very bright is to give them issues with reading and writing. Obviously there is is some similarity with the use of dyslexia in fiction but there is a subtle difference; with this trope the use of illiteracy is a joke to establish or confirm a character's stupidity rather than a joke about dyslexia as such.

May slowly be fading out due to Values Dissonance and growing awareness of learning difficulties.

While any Ditz might employ this trope a disproportionate number of characters who display it are Brainless Beauties, perhaps because it is one of the easiest ways to joke about a character's stupidity without going into splastick violence.

Contrast with Never Learned to Read, a dramatic rather than comedic trope where instead of stupidity illiteracy is the result of lack of education.


Examples:

Comic Books
  • The page image comes from the 1950s comic Dizzy Dames which enjoyed using this joke. Another version had Moronica walking cheerfully across a lawn and telling off a cop who tried to stop her by pointing at a 'Please Stay Off The Grass' sign ("See - Police Stay Off the Grass.")

Film - Live Action
  • In the film version of Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, when Harry disguises himself as Goyle, using Polyjuice Potion, he forgets to take off his glasses. When Malfoy notices it, Harry quickly says he was reading. Malfoy asks (either cynically or with genuine surprise): "You can read?"
  • In one Three Stooges short, the stooges play managers to a prizefighter. When the fighter hits his head before the big match and is knocked unconscious, Moe tells Shemp to go get some ammonia (i.e. smelling salts) to wake him up with. Since Shemp can't read very well, he gets a bottle of ether instead, because it says, "for insomnia" and he confuses the words insomnia and ammonia. Needless to say, this doesn't help the boxer's condition any.
  • In an Abbott And Costello film whose name escapes me, they're at a restaurant and the waiter points out a sign saying (I think) "Watch your hat and coat." Costello replies, "Who's smoking?"

Live-Action TV
  • Kelly Bundy from Married... with Children was often portrayed as barely literate. Or sometimes not even that
    Kelly: Oh, the pressure. Kelly, you have to go to school. Kelly, you have to pass. Kelly, you have to learn to read. How am I supposed to grow up with all this hanging over my head?
  • Used as one off gag on Drake & Josh. Resident ditsy guy Drake reads off that a rare pepper is from South Am-ER-RE-ka and wonders where that is. The pepper was actually from South America [[note Drake lives in the United States of America so he should have been familiar with the spelling/pronunciation]]. Another episode has him put in intensive English class, but that wasn't so much because of this trope, but rather having an English teacher that openly hates him.
  • As of season two, Charlie in It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia is illiterate (or possibly dyslexic, per Rule of Funny). [1]
  • Xena: Warrior Princess: When Ares is about to marry Xena, her Identical Stranger Meg is hired to jump out of the cake at Ares' Stag Party. She comes out wearing nothing but icing and chants "Gimmie an A! Gimmie an R! Gimmie an S! Gimmie an E! Whaddya got? Go Ares!"

Tabletop Games
  • Dungeons & Dragons 3.X has it in the rules. Barbarians, stereotyped as Dumb Muscle, have to spend a skill point or take a level in another class to become literate.

Video Games
  • Despite what Touhou fanon often depicts, canon Cirno actually averts this. She's capable of reading and writing basic Japanese. By fairy standards she's a genius.

Webcomic

Western Animation
  • Homer Simpson has at least once claimed to be unable to read. From the same show Miss Springfield, Mayor Quimby's Dumb Blonde mistress, once mistook his sash saying 'Mayor' for 'Major' and thought he was in the army.
  • The Merrie Melodies cartoon "Cat-Tails For Two" features the smaller cat George trying to capture Speedy Gonzales aboard a cargo ship. One effort involves fireworks, which ends with George getting blasted to a frazzle. The larger cat Benny seeks to comfort George with some water. He finds a bucket of liquid, and reads: "P-E-T-R-O-L. Huh, that's a funny way to spell water." Benny douses the smoldering George with the "water." It doesn't help.
  • Thimbo, Corvax's not-too-bright sidekick in Muzzy in Gondoland cannot read.
  • In the Looney Tunes short, "A Bear For Punishment", Junior Bear decides to fetch Pa his pipe on Father's Day. When he is looking for tobacco to stuff in the pipe, he finds a can, and reads: "G-U-N-P-O-W-D-E-R", thinking it's tobacco. As a result, the pipe explodes in Pa's face when Junior lights it.
    • In another Bear short, Junior needs to put out a fire and grabs a bucket already full of liquid. "G-A-S. Sure is a funny way to spell water."

Community Feedback Replies: 29
  • June 23, 2013
    StarSword
    Tabletop Games:
    • Dungeons And Dragons 3.X has it in the rules. Barbarians, stereotyped as Dumb Muscle, have to spend a skill point or take a level in another class to become literate.
  • June 24, 2013
    DracMonster
    You'll need to distinguish this from Never Learned To Read. It's not the same but the difference will need to be specified to fight Trope Decay.
  • July 7, 2013
    DAN004
    Suggesting Hilariously Illiterate for alt title.
  • July 7, 2013
    xanderiskander
    Seconding Hilariously Illiterate. The title should emphasize it's a comedy trope.

    Also the bullet points in the description aren't necessary. They can just be a regular part of the description. Albeit still separated.
  • July 7, 2013
    RossN
    I'm not fond of Hilariously Illiterate. Yes it emphasizes this is a comedy trope but I think it is more important to emphasize it is about stupid characters. Dumb Muscle and Brainless Beauty are usually comedy tropes too but they emphasize the ditziness first.
  • July 7, 2013
    randomsurfer
    • In a One Angry Juror episode of Family Guy we learn via Inner Monologue that recurring character (and juror) Carl has never learned to read or write. When his guilty vote is found to be just a scribbled line, he claims that that's how it's written in Latin. Subverted in that Carl is one of the more erudite characters on Family Guy.
    • In an Abbott And Costello film whose name escapes me, they're at a restaurant and the waiter points out a sign saying (I think) "Watch your hat and coat." Costello replies, "Who's smoking?"
    • In a story from the comic book Monster Cops (seen here) Vampirella reveals that she wouldn't be able to pay a ticket for indecency because she wouldn't know where to go - "I don't know how to read!" Followed by a helpful Note From Ed: "This story takes place before Vampirella knew how to read."
  • July 8, 2013
    RossN
    Hmm that Family Guy example sounds more like Never Learned To Read to me. Maybe the Monster Cops one too (I'm not familiar with the comic - is Vampirella a DItz?).
  • July 13, 2013
    TrueShadow1
    • Despite what Touhou fanon often depicts, canon Cirno actually averts this. She's capable of reading and writing basic Japanese. By fairy standards she's a genius.
  • July 13, 2013
    paycheckgurl
    • Used as one off gag on Drake And Josh. Resident ditsy guy Drake reads off that a rare pepper is from South Am-ER-RE-ka and wonders where that is. The pepper was actually from South America [[note Drake lives in the United States of America so he should have been familiar with the spelling/pronunciation]]. Another episode has him put in intensive English class, but that wasn't so much because of this trope, but rather having an English teacher that openly hates him.
  • July 15, 2013
    oneuglybunny
    Western Animation
    • The Merrie Melodies cartoon "Cat-Tails For Two" features the smaller cat George trying to capture Speedy Gonzales aboard a cargo ship. One effort involves fireworks, which ends with George getting blasted to a frazzle. The larger cat Benny seeks to comfort George with some water. He finds a bucket of liquid, and reads: "P-E-T-R-O-L. Huh, that's a funny way to spell water." Benny douses the smoldering George with the "water." It doesn't help.
  • March 10, 2014
    FlyingDuckManGenesis
    • In the Looney Tunes short, "A Bear For Punishment", Junior Bear decides to fetch Pa his pipe on Father's Day. When he is looking for tobacco to stuff in the pipe, he finds a can, and reads: "G-U-N-P-O-W-D-E-R", thinking it's tobacco. As a result, the pipe explodes in Pa's face when Junior lights it.
  • March 10, 2014
    randomsurfer
    ^In another Bear short, Junior needs to put out a fire and grabs a bucket already full of liquid. "G-A-S. Sure is a funny way to spell water."
  • March 10, 2014
    Snicka
    Western Animation: Live Action Film:
    • In the film version of Harry Potter And The Chamber Of Secrets, when Harry disguises himself as Goyle, using Polyjuice Potion, he forgets to take off his glasses. When Malfoy notices it, Harry quickly says he was reading. Malfoy asks (either cynically or with genuine surprise): "You can read?"
  • March 10, 2014
    DAN004
  • March 10, 2014
    ShanghaiSlave
    Hilariously Illiterate works if it's for jokes. if someone is illiterate, it kinda follows that he's supposedly dumb. it's rare to find geniuses who can't read or write.
  • March 11, 2014
    Astaroth
  • March 14, 2014
    RossN
    Changed name to Hilariously Illiterate.
  • March 14, 2014
    JonnyB
    In one Three Stooges short, the stooges play managers to a prizefighter. When the fighter hits his head before the big match and is knocked unconscious, Moe tells Shemp to go get some ammonia (i.e. smelling salts) to wake him up with. Since Shemp can't read very well, he gets a bottle of ether instead, because it says, "for insomnia" and he confuses the words insomnia and ammonia. Needless to say, this doesn't help the boxer's condition any.
  • March 14, 2014
    Duncan
    As of season two, Charlie in Its Always Sunny In Philadelphia is illiterate (or possibly dyslexic, per Rule Of Funny). [1]
  • May 30, 2014
    randomsurfer
    Xena Warrior Princess: When Ares is about to marry Xena, her Identical Stranger Meg is hired to jump out of the cake at Ares' Stag Party. She comes out wearing nothing but icing and chants "Gimmie an A! Gimmie an R! Gimmie an S! Gimmie an E! Whaddya got? Go Ares!"
  • March 21, 2015
    DAN004
    Bump
  • March 22, 2015
    LadyEvil
    • Several episodes of Beavis And Butthead reveal that the Dumb Duo are not very good at reading. They even dismiss text heavy music videos with "If I wanted to read, I'd go to school!"
  • March 22, 2015
    StrixObscuro
    Video Games
    • The events of Lost Vikings are kicked off after one of the titular Vikings misreads a sign saying "do not touch" - he thought it said "donut touch".
  • February 7, 2016
    DAN004
    Bump
  • February 7, 2016
    TonyG
    Film - Animation
    • Bing Bong from Inside Out gets Joy and Sadness in trouble when they go inside the Abstract Thought chamber, thinking the "Danger" sign reads "Short cut".
  • February 7, 2016
    Antigone3
    The Elenium: Kalten is technically literate, but his spelling is atrocious. At some point in the backstory, he tried to write a six-letter word and got all six letters wrong. The word in question? His name.
  • February 7, 2016
    LadyEvil
    • Beavis And Butthead are commonly shown as being unable to read. For example, Butt-Head misreads "Horse Farm, trespassers will be prosecuted" as an advertisement for whores and prostitutes.
  • February 8, 2016
    PsiPaula4
    I think this is a viable trope, however, I think the examples need to, if possible, specify that the character's illiteracy is played for laughs, because otherwise, the trope they're looking for is Never Learned To Read.
  • February 8, 2016
    Snicka
    ^^^^ Also Justified in Bing Bong's case, as he's the Imaginary Friend of a little girl who came up with him when she still couldn't read.

Three days must pass before this YKTTW is Launchworthy or Discardable

http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/discussion.php?id=5mi8hbj0lvh0va3wwe3livst