Created By: IridescentIndividual on February 12, 2012 Last Edited By: WaterBlap on November 11, 2017

Expert in Underwater Basket Weaving

A character who has an utterly useless skill.

Name Space:
Main
Page Type:
Trope
Up for Grabs

Possible titles:

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This is basically when a character has expertise in a totally useless skill. It may be a cool, weird, fun, or even an astonishing skill, but it's never useful for the character in any situation, or other characters are convinced the skill is totally useless. If it happens to be useful in a particularly specific situation but is useless everywhere else, then it's also this trope since Tropes Are Flexible and can be Played With.

Sometimes, writers will establish a character having this skill early in the work and then use the apparently useless skill in an important way later on so that no detail is pointless. This trope is when the skill itself is essentially pointless for the character to have, and when it is not useful outside rare or oddly specific situations like a balancing-chopsticks-on-your-nose competition or the like. This trope can also apply if that rare event ends up saving the day.

This trope may be in play in order to establish some Hidden Depths to a character or to try — successfully or otherwise — to flesh out the characters. Fleshing out supporting characters in this way may help keep the narrative focused on the Main Characters, giving them some depth without spending a lot of time of them. Meanwhile, fleshing out the Main Characters in this way may help show their quirkiness or help develop their backstory. That is, Draco used to be a professional clown so he knows how to make balloon animals along with his more useful skills.

This kind of skill can also be used as part of a joke, especially if the other characters never asked about it. If the most often mentioned skills of a supporting character are this trope, then they may be doubling as the Plucky Comic Relief. And if this character is a superhero, whose powers are not themselves useless, then they may be a Super Zero.

If the useless skill is actually a Stock Superpower or would better be described as a useless power rather than skill or talent, then you're looking for What Kind of Lame Power Is Heart, Anyway? or that specific Stock Superpower.

Sub-Trope of What Kind of Lame Power Is Heart, Anyway?, which covers superpowers whereas this is specific to skills and talents, and also of This Looks Like a Job for Aquaman, which is when an otherwise useless superpower is phenomenally useful because of the specific situation or challenge. See also Chekhov's Skill if the apparently useless skill is learned during the story and becomes useful later on.


Examples

Anime & Manga
  • In Sket Dance, the other characters mercilessly admit how boring Bossun's special ability to "concentrate really well" is.

Comic Books
  • The mailman in Fantastic Four, Willie Lumpkin, jokingly suggests that he should join the Fantastic Four because of his special ability to wiggle his ears.
  • In one Donald Duck comic, Donald is put in a machine meant to determine his greatest aptitude, and it turns out that he has the innate gift for snake charming. He spends the rest of the stories moping about this trick of fate, only for the skill to be useful when he gets attacked by a giant snake.

Film
  • The Breakfast Club:
    • Claire demonstrates her ability to apply lip color by tucking into her bra and rubbing her mouth against it.
    • Without ever demonstrating it, Allison claims that she can write, eat, and play "Heart and Soul" on the piano with her toes.

Literature
  • In The Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul, they meet a girl in a sanitarium who spends all day reciting letters and numbers. Her doctors have figured out that she's accurately reciting the New York Stock Exchange daily trades in chronological order. However, she does it 24 hours after it happens, so the doctors there think it's useless — unlike if she were doing it 24 hours in advance. Thus, they don't really care why she's doing it. They even suspect that she's really faking it by somehow getting her hands on the numbers and memorizing them to repeat the next day.

Tabletop Games
  • The rulebook of the 6th edition of Hero System specifically asks GMs not to ask players to spend points on useless skills and abilities.
  • Dungeons & Dragons characters can invest in "Craft" and "Profession" skills, some of which are so specific and so orthogonal to the adventuring trade that they're usually only of use to NPCs and as prerequisites for certain obscure Prestige Classes. For example, the Archdevil Mammon, Lord of the Third Circle of Hell, happens to be a fantastically skilled bookkeeper.

Theatre
  • Major-General Stanley from The Pirates of Penzance introduces himself with the iconic Major General Song in which he lists such useless and/or absurd talents like humming a fugue, writing a washing bill in Babylonic cuneiform or telling at sight a Mauser rifle from a javelin. At the end of the song he just admits he doesn't have much knowledge a military man should have.

Video Games
  • In Pokémon, magikarp is infamous for starting out with only one ability, which has no effect whatsoever, called Splash. It takes considerable patience to train it to the point where it can learn a useful move like Tackle.

Webcomics
  • In Dan and Mab's Furry Adventures , the Succubus And Incubus Academy has several courses that seem to specifically teach useless skills. Such courses mainly serve as excuses for the succubi and incubi to stay in school for as long as they want, since they're mostly immortal. Abel is a prime example and gets called out on it, to which he replies that grass-growing is "a rewarding and therapeutic activity."
  • In xkcd's Every Major's Terrible strip, nearly every academic major you could care to mention is given one large Take That! as training students to have completely useless skills and knowledge. The only one not insulted would be engineering.
    Though physics seems to promise you a Richard Feynman-like career, the wiki page for "Physics Major" redirects to "Engineer."

Real Life
  • Underwater basket weaving is an idiomatic phrase that means "a course or major that is absurd, useless, or completely irrelevant." It's used either in a pejorative sense or in the opposite sense. For example, calling the social sciences "underwater basket weaving subjects" versus avoiding singling out any specific major.
Community Feedback Replies: 60
  • February 12, 2012
    Ryusui
    • Guybrush Threepwood's ability to hold his breath underwater for ten minutes is usually treated as this. It's actually come in handy when he was tied to a heavy gold idol and kicked into the ocean to drown, and later when he needed to explore the ocean floor without a diving suit.
  • February 12, 2012
    ParadiscaCorbasi
    • Playfully subverted in the 1960s Batman series. The villains had tied Batman, Robin and Batgirl into some kind of human knot, and Batman's ability to wiggle his ears helped them escape it.
  • February 12, 2012
    SharleeD
    • In The Breakfast Club, Claire demonstrates her ability to apply lip color by tucking the lipstick into her bra and rubbing her mouth against it. Allison claims (but does not demonstrate) that she can write, eat, and play "Heart And Soul" on the piano with her toes.
  • February 12, 2012
    nitrokitty
    • In Sket Dance, Bossun has the power to... concentrate really well. Granted, it's fairly useful in a school setting, but other characters mercilessly lampshade what a boring ability it is.
  • February 14, 2012
    Shnakepup
    Before this gets out of hand: The laconic states that that is an utterly useless ability. So if the ability is actually useful later (like in the above Monkey Island and Batman examples), it shouldn't go here.
  • February 14, 2012
    randomsurfer
    Fantastic Four: Mailman Willie Lumpkin wants to join the FF with his special ability - he can wiggle his ears.
  • February 14, 2012
    Antigone3
    The 6th Edition Hero System rulebook specifically states that a GM should not ask a player to spend points on skills/abilities like this.
  • Bumping this.
  • May 5, 2012
    randomsurfer
    In one of the Hitchhikers Guide To The Galaxy books (I forget which) they meet a girl in a sanatarium who spends all day reciting letters and numbers. Her doctors have figured out that she's accurately reciting the New York Stock Exchange daily trades in chronological order. However, she does it 24 hours after it happens; the doctors there think it's useless (if she were doing it 24 hours in advance that'd be different), ergo they don't really care why she's doing it. They even suspect that she's really faking it by somehow getting her hands on the numbers and memorizing them to repeat the next day.
  • May 6, 2012
    BlackDragon
    In DMFA, SAIA (The Succubus And Incubus Academy) have several courses that seem to specifically BE this. They mainly serve as an excuse for Cubi (who are, after all, mostly immortal) to stay in school for as long as they want, putting off having to face the largely-hostile world outside. "Oh no, I'm not ready to graduate yet, I need to finish my Grass-Growing coursework first!" Abel is a prime example, and gets called out on it once, to which he replies, "Hey! I'll have you know that grass-growing is a rewarding and therapeutic activity!"

    ...come to think of it, I believe one of the other pointless courses he was taking was actually basket-weaving.
  • June 22, 2012
    Noah1
  • August 23, 2012
    Damr1990
  • August 24, 2012
    KarjamP
  • August 24, 2012
    EdgeOfDreams
    In Real Life, Underwater Basket Weaving is a real skill - certain plant materials can be woven while held underwater to keep them soft and bendable, then allowed to dry into a rigid, solid basket. Note also that only the basket is underwater, not the whole person weaving it.
  • August 24, 2012
    sidereal
    In the very offensive card game Pimp: The Backhanding, one of the women, Jenni, is an art school dropout and can make clay pots. The card says: "This ability is totally useless on the street." You get no bonuses from that skill in the game.
  • August 24, 2012
    abk0100
    That Hitch Hikers Guide example, it's actually from The Long Dark Tea Time Of The Soul
  • August 27, 2012
    captainsandwich
    "never be good for anything useful" sounds like tempting fate.
  • August 27, 2012
    surgoshan
    Literature

    • In the Xanth novels by Piers Anthony, where everyone born in Xanth has a single magic talent, some are known as "spot on the wall" talents, weak and useless. Except then a clever fan informed Mr. Anthony that someone with good control of his spots could create beautiful art... even a "useless" talent can be useful with some creativity.
  • August 27, 2012
    SharleeD
    • Dr. Horrible's flatmate in Dr Horribles Singalong Blog has the "superpower" of being ... moist. Which is his villain alias, poor guy.
  • August 28, 2012
    abk0100
  • August 28, 2012
    acrobox
    The Power Puff Girls: Bubbles is an Omniglot that can even commnicate with animals, Blossom has Ice Breath, and Buttercup is....the only person in Townsville who can curl her tongue.
  • August 28, 2012
    KarjamP
    ^^ The difference being this trope is about skills, while What Kind Of Lame Power Is Heart Anyway is about powers.
  • January 4, 2017
    Noah1
  • January 4, 2017
    tandra88
    Western Animation
    • In the Family Guy episode "Family Guy Viewer Mail #1", while most of the Griffin family receives awesome superpowers as a side effect of the toxic waste that is spilled on them, Meg gains the ability to grow her fingernails extremely long.
  • January 4, 2017
    NateTheGreat
    To me "underwater basket weaving" is a slang word meaning "useless college course or major", and The Other Wiki agrees with me. This may need a rename.
  • January 5, 2017
    Arivne
  • March 22, 2017
    Getta
    May lead to Super Zeroes.
  • March 23, 2017
    NateTheGreat
    This is the wrong name for this trope. Wikipedia page, Academia Stack Exchange, Word Finder.
  • March 23, 2017
    WaterBlap
    I added a bomb because
    1. Needs A Better Name: The name Underwater Basket Weaving is misusing an already established term, which will eventually lead to this trope coming to TRS for a rename — if it doesn't get caught by the crash rescue thread first.
    2. Needs A Better Description: The description is 50% Example As A Thesis and 49% description and 1% compare/contrast. I suggest simply starting with what the trope is exactly.

    I suggest "Underwater Basket Weaving" Skill as a possible rename.
  • March 24, 2017
    Getta
    ^ Agree
  • March 24, 2017
    NateTheGreat
    Except for the UBWS rename bit.
  • March 24, 2017
    Getta
    So maybe What Kind Of Lame Skill Is Underwater Basket Weaving Anyway?

    (Kidding)
  • March 24, 2017
    Getta
    So maybe What Kind Of Lame Skill Is Underwater Basket Weaving Anyway?

    (Kidding)
  • March 24, 2017
    Getta
    So maybe What Kind Of Lame Skill Is Underwater Basket Weaving Anyway?

    (Kidding)
  • October 26, 2017
    Pichu-kun
    Alice and Bob should be edited out.
  • October 26, 2017
    intastiel
    Marked the draft as Up For Grabs.
    • Dungeons And Dragons characters can invest in "Craft" and "Profession" skills, some of which are so specific and so orthogonal to the adventuring trade that they're usually only of use to NPCs and as prerequisites for certain obscure Prestige Classes. For example, the Archdevil Mammon, Lord of the Third Circle of Hell, happens to be a fantastically skilled bookkeeper.
  • October 27, 2017
    powerman228
    My dad always referred to this verbatim whenever he needed an example of some useless skill. We totally need this on the site ;)
  • October 28, 2017
    Diask
    • Major-General Stanley from The Pirates Of Penzance introduces himself with the iconic Major General Song, in which he lists such useless and/or absurd talents like humming a fugue, writing a washing bill in Babylonic cuneiform or telling at sight a Mauser rifle from a javelin. At the end of the song he just admits he doesn't have much knowledge a military man should have.
  • October 28, 2017
    Prime32
    I suggest "Underwater Basket Weaving" Skill as a possible rename.
    ^ Suggesting Expert In Underwater Basket Weaving.
  • October 28, 2017
    WaterBlap
  • October 28, 2017
    WaterBlap
    Also, since it's Up For Grabs, I revised and expanded the description. I tried explaining it's meaningfulness to works because as I was revising, I realized it wasn't exactly said how this wasn't chairs-y.
  • October 28, 2017
    intastiel
  • October 28, 2017
    ANTMuddle
    I think Utterly Useless Talent works perfectly fine as a trope title. A talent that serves absolutely no purpose in any context.
  • October 28, 2017
    PistolsAtDawn
    +2 Utterly Useless Talent. Under Water Basket Weaving is a preexsisting term meaning something different
  • October 28, 2017
    ANTMuddle
    Making it suitable for Adverbly Adjective Noun.
  • October 29, 2017
    Chabal2
    Pokemon: Magikarp is infamous for starting out with a grand total of one ability that has no effect whatsoever (Splash). It takes considerable patience to train it to the point where it can learn a useful move, and slightly more to evolve it. But when it does evolve, it becomes the vastly more powerful Gyarados.
  • October 29, 2017
    WaterBlap
    I'm trying to update some of the examples and add some others, but it's looking like I can't for some reason?

    EDIT: Nevermind. I guess I just needed to refresh the page. So, I updated the example section. I'm going to glance through WKOLPIHA to see if there's anything in there that isn't a power that could better fit here.
  • October 31, 2017
    ANTMuddle
    Bonus points if that utterly useless talent somehow saves the day.
  • November 1, 2017
    WaterBlap
    Yeah, the more I add to this the more I think it's a subtrope of both What Kind Of Lame Power Is Heart Anyway and This Looks Like A Job For Aquaman.
  • November 1, 2017
    Rytex
    Referenced by name in xkcd's Every Major's Terrible strip.
  • November 1, 2017
    Synchronicity
    Throw in another vote for Utterly Useless Talent. I've never even heard of underwater basket weaving to refer to such until this draft.
  • November 1, 2017
    ScroogeMacDuck
    I throw a vote for Expert In Underwater Basket Weaving
  • November 1, 2017
    intastiel
    I'll vote for Expert in Underwater Basket Weaving, if only to avoid the question of whether it becomes a subversion if the obscure, useless talent becomes relevant to some specific situation.
  • November 1, 2017
    PistolsAtDawn
    Expert in Underwater Basket Weaving works for me as well. either one is good
  • November 1, 2017
    WaterBlap
    Synchronicity's, Scrooge's, and Intastiel's votes are now reflected in the draft. I'm not sure how to count Pistols At Dawn's vote so, to avoid my own bias, I'm not adding it without some clarification.
  • November 1, 2017
    PistolsAtDawn
  • November 2, 2017
    ScroogeMacDuck
    Okay, here's an example for a change. In one Donald Duck comic, Donald was put in a machine meant to determine his greatest aptitude. He turned out to have an innate gift… for snake charming. (He spent the rest of the stories moping about this trick of fate, only for the skill to turn out useful in the very specific situation of being attacked by a giant snake).
  • November 6, 2017
    WaterBlap
    Tentatively changed title from Underwater Basket Weaving to Expert In Underwater Basket Weaving because that's the name that's in the lead. I don't think the old name should even be an option in the list of alternatives, so I won't include it there. Also, I've added the above example.
  • November 6, 2017
    ANTMuddle
    Underwater Basket Weaving Expert!
  • November 11, 2017
    Pichu-kun
    Any new name ideas?
http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/discussion.php?id=8s6dihgaatbowccjtysgvfxa