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.
- 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.
- 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?
- 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.
- 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?"
- 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.")
- 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.
- 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.