Created By: chihuahua0 on July 27, 2011 Last Edited By: Arivne on August 9, 2016

Burly Detective Syndrome

Referring to a named character by their description, not name

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Trope
[Stratadrake thinks this has been collecting dust long enough; Up for Grabs. May still need a better title though.]

Glancing upward, the alluring complexion noted the stalwart giant as he rapidly approached. A faint glimmer sparked from the pair of deep blue ovals of the amorous female as she motioned toward Grignr, enticing him to join her. The barbarian seated himself upon a stool at the wenches side...

A form of Purple Prose where a writer replaces a characterís name not with a pronoun but a descriptor, usually in the form "the [adjective] [noun]," such as "the burly detective" (as the Turkey City Lexicon calls it, in a nod to the Mike Shayne series).

It's often done by an author to avoid a sense of redundancy when having to refer to the same character repeatedly; an occasional change of address can break up a potentially endless stream of "Bob said"s ("Bob did", "Bob was", etc.) and provide some variety. However, it must be used sparingly -- an author who never refers to the character the same way twice is doing the audience no favors. Addressing a character in too many different ways at once distracts from the flow of reading, and at worst, the audience might think these labels refer to different characters rather than the same one.

The naming equivalent of Said Bookism. Also known (in the MLP:FiM fandom) as "Lavender Unicorn Syndrome", after the series's protagonist lavender unicorn Twilight Sparkle.


Examples:

Since this is considered Bad Writing, please avoid using it to complain about fanfics you donít like or their authors.

Literature


Community Feedback Replies: 81
  • July 27, 2011
    smashingmelons
    I've seen this in nearly every fafic I've ever read, even otherwise good ones. It really bugs me, but unfortunately I can't think of any examples right now.
  • July 27, 2011
    Indalecio
    Needs a better name. I originally thought this was trope about burly detectives. I was going to suggest Detective Bullock from Batman The Animated Series.

    How about The Nondescript Troper?
  • July 27, 2011
    SmashingMelons42
    ^Agreed.
  • July 28, 2011
    Koveras
    We Have This I Swear. I have seen something very similar around here and it is not yet linked to above...
  • July 28, 2011
    Frank75
    The TCL entry potholes to Who Is This Guy Again, but that's not what you mean.
  • July 28, 2011
    Xtifr
    • The Epic(ly bad) fantasy novella, The Eye Of Argon, is full of examples of this and all the other bad writing tropes that make it such a great party game. Grignr is "the [adjective] barbarian" or "the Ecordian", or "the hulking brute" and Carthana is "the wench" or "the female".
    "'By the surly beard of Mrifk, Grignr kneels to no man!' scowled the massive barbarian."
  • July 28, 2011
    cityofmist
    Seconding that about the fanfics. Lots of Supernatural stories do this, referring to Castiel and Dean/Sam as 'the angel' and 'the hunter'.
  • July 28, 2011
    chihuahua0
    The problem with the name is that this is a pre-existing term and its sister tropes sproat pre-existing terms too, but this name's obscurity is questionable.

    ^^ Could you elaborate a little, like give one of the dialogue tags?
  • January 3, 2012
    chihuahua0
    -poke-
  • January 3, 2012
    Stratadrake
    "Burly Detective Syndrome" in Google scores about 700,000 hits, however, if you include the quotation marks then this reduces the score to about 4,000 .

    Laconic would definitely be "fear of using proper names in writing".
  • January 3, 2012
    YouKeepUsingThatWord
    Burly Detective is listed in the Turkey City Lexicon where it's currently directed to Who Is This Guy Again which doesn't quite sound like the same thing.

    I knew exactly what Burly Detective meant which I think just means I've read the Turkey City Lexicon before. And I'm inclined to be more lenient with titles if they originated outside of TV Tropes, like this one has.
  • January 3, 2012
    abk0100
    If you're still looking for a name, it could be "That Guy With The ____ I'm not sure what goes in the blank, but it's a start, and it would be good to start with an already well-know phrase like that.
  • January 3, 2012
    peccantis
    Slash fanfiction is particularly bad with "the other man".
  • January 3, 2012
    YouKeepUsingThatWord
    The Adjective Noun is the pattern these things usually follow.

    More examples from Eye of Argon, to demonstrate:

    The engrossed titan ignored the queries of the inquisitive female, pulling her towards him and crushing her sagging nipples to his yearning chest.

    "To hell with you, braggard!" Bellowed the angered Ecordian, as he hefted his finely honed broad sword.

  • February 25, 2012
    Pezt
    How about calling it "Noun Neurosis" or "Said the Adjective Noun"?
  • April 25, 2013
    GilvaLepista
    Perhaps we should call it "The Burly Detective Syndrome," since part of what makes it so harrowing to read is the constant repetition of "the."

    I like "The Burly Detective" though, because in order to avoid ever using the same tag twice the author will end up using increasingly insane adjectives, often incorrectly.

    "Said the Adjective Noun" also works. It gets the message across succinctly, and would be much easier to find in search engines. When first looking to see if this trope already existed, searching for "noun" and other various variations turned up nothing, although this problem would be solved if the page were published and linked with Said Bookism and Bad Writing.

    My personal favorites are the hyphenated ones. For example, "he turned to the strawberry-loving male" had me almost in tears because it was so ridiculous; the fact that the boy liked strawberries was completely irrelevant and made no sense in context. That same story also contained (multiple times) the delightful line, "the eleven-year-old male."
  • April 25, 2013
    willthiswork
    Just as a general rule it is a good idea to avoid examples that are just "fanfics in this fandom tend to do this" and to try and dig up specific examples if you can. I know it is more work, but general examples tend to attract more natter and complaining, an this is something that is likey to attract compaining without any additional help!

    As for me I will see if I can hunt down one or two of the many, many Homestuck fics that refer to trolls by their starsign; "The Cancer," "The Capricorn," etc. That has always driven me mad.
  • April 25, 2013
    DunDun
    How is this related to Said Bookism. Or, for that matter, Tom Swifty. After reading this draft, I thought it was what Said Bookism is, i.e., insane dialogue tags (tags instead of "said" or "asked" being overused).

    After rereading the draft a few times I know what my specific issue is: you begin with what Said Bookism is and then explain the name of this trope. You should begin with what the trope is, contrast it a little (i.e. one sentence) with Said Bookism, then explain the name of the trope.

    This is supposed to be when character names in dialogue tags are hidden for some reason, i.e., "the burly detective said," while Said Bookism is when "said" or "asked" are avoided in dialogue tags, i.e., "he brusquely inquired." Clarity is important, and the trope name definitely seems unclear. Burly Detective Syndrome sounds like an archetype. Burly Detective Syndrome Tags uses an already established term and makes it clear to tropers that this is about the dialogue tags.
  • April 25, 2013
    MetaFour
    Perhaps make Lavender Unicorn Syndrome a redirect?
  • April 25, 2013
    DunDun
    ^Honestly, I'd rather both LUS and BDS redirects to a name that makes more sense without context.
  • April 25, 2013
    GilvaLepista
    @Dun Dun Upon reading your post, I have to say I agree. It took a very long time for me to find this page with its current title. Some options: Hurricane Of Nouns, No Proper Nouns, Noun Neurosis (from Pezt), The Nondescript Troper (from Indalecio), Replacement Word Syndrome, The Adjective Noun Syndrome, Allusion Delusion.

    I almost want to call this The Grey-Eyed Goddess Syndrome, because this is used repeatedly throughout The Iliad in reference to Athena. It's actually very common in older literature, and they often use tags that refer to characters/characteristics modern audiences aren't familiar with, which is part of what makes them so difficult to read. The first time I read the book, I had no clue that grey eyes were so strongly associated with Athena, and it took me a while to figure out who the term referred to. However, not everyone is an Ancient-Greece-phile, so it's probably best to use something that doesn't require context to understand.

    I don't like Lavender Unicorn Syndrome because that implies this is always a bad thing; something more opinions-neutral would be appreciated, although the fact that the term is more widely known may warrant a redirect. This word usage isn't necessarily a bad thing as long as it isn't overused, or used in nonsensical context. It makes perfect sense to use long-winded terms of endearment if you're from Ancient Greece and you're talking about Athena.

    For the record, personally, I would go with either No Proper Nouns or The Adjective Noun Syndrome.
  • April 25, 2013
    DunDun
    ^I'm not sure if you're referring to what I said or what willthiswork said. Anyways, I don't think this is so much about the use of nouns than the use of titles as descriptors. No Proper Nouns is much better in my opinion than TANSyndrome because it's not about having an adjective-noun tag but a title or other useless descriptor (i.e. instead of "blonde woman" it's "the blonde"). Now that I think of it, Titled Descriptor or Titles As Descriptor might be better than the ones I suggested.
  • April 25, 2013
    randomsurfer
    The Bible: In the Gospel of John, John is referred to as "the disciple whom Jesus loved" or similar 6 times.
  • April 26, 2013
    TheHandle
    I instantly thought of Lavender Unicorn Syndrome.

    I suggest Said The Adjective Noun. Or Anything But Their Name. Or Proper Noun Avoidance.

    I like Proper Noun Avoidance.

    Calling it a "syndrome" would imply it's unusual or even bad, which it isn't; it's a tool that was developed for legitimate uses, and sometimes is overused.
  • April 27, 2013
    GilvaLepista
    @/The Handle Proper Noun Avoidance probably isn't the best term since, as you'll see in the revised post, avoidance isn't always the motivation.

    @/Dun Dun Names as clinical-sounding as Title Descriptor are probably best to avoid, because they're non-intuitive and difficult to remember.

    I have edited the original post to include a better description, and to only include examples which cite a specific work (i.e. have removed all "this fandom tends to" examples).

    This trope's name is still largely up in the air. I agree that "syndrome" gives it an unwarranted negativity, but Lavender Unicorn Syndrome is already in use, so we might consider importing it as The Lavender Unicorn. Since this is a type of Purple Prose, it makes sense to have "lavender" in the name, and it's a lot easier to remember than any of the literature-class names, including those that I originally suggested :)
  • April 27, 2013
    reub2000
  • April 27, 2013
    GilvaLepista
    ^ Does the fat controller have a real name? This example sounds more like Everyone Calls Him Barkeep. (I have edited the description to make this distinction more obvious.)
  • April 27, 2013
    reub2000
    Yes, The Fat Controller does have a name. Rarely ever used in the UK voice over. So is the trope that the character has no name?
  • April 27, 2013
    GilvaLepista
    As long as he has a name, then yes, it is this trope. This is actually quite a good example, so thank you for bringing it up.

    Type 2

    Western Animation
  • June 4, 2013
    chihuahua0
    Necro!

    I think only Type 3 is "The Burly Detective Syndrome", in the context that other people use it. Type 1 is the usage of ephithets, or simply nicknames. Instead of being a way of avoiding "overusing" characters' names, it's rather a way of memorizing characters and things in oral literature.

    Type 2 is the character's using nicknames, and not really the author. I'm not familiar enough to know how to deal with it.

    Type 3 is "Burly Detective Syndrome".

    So we rather have three different tropes tied together by the same general strand. So we can designate The Burly Detective Syndrome name to Type 3 to make it a subtrope, name the rest of the types (since Type 1 stuff is discouraged), and make the name for the supertrope.

    Now for a more general name...Said The Adjective Noun sounds negative (and only Type 3 dips toward Bad Writing; the other types have different intentions). So far, Said The Adjective Noun is the best name, but it's rather neutral and the naming convention is iffy.
  • June 5, 2013
    Arivne
    Type Labels Are Not Examples says that examples should not be divided into Type1, Type 2, etc.

    Instead, use a descriptive name. For example:

    • Type 1 => Famous Characteristic
    • Type 2 => Point Of View
    • Type 3 => Avoid Repetition
  • August 13, 2013
    Stratadrake
    I think that the definition does need to be restricted more or less to #3, as it is rarely an in-universe thing.

    As for titles, since this is basically the proper-name equivalent of Said Bookism, what about Name Bookism? Not that I'm fond of it, just going for broke here.
  • August 13, 2013
    DAN004
  • August 13, 2013
    jayoungr
    The literary term for this kind of thing is an epithet, and it might be worth linking to the Wikipedia article: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Epithet. "An epithet ... or byname is a descriptive term (word or phrase) accompanying or occurring in place of a name and having entered common usage."
  • August 13, 2013
    Stratadrake
    An epithet is something else. I've cut the definition down strictly to #3, because that is the proper definition of BDS / LUS.
  • August 14, 2013
    Marz1200
    I'm not sure if this counts or not since it was not used to avoid repetition, the character was always referred to as that by The Narrator:

    • The Narrator in Pushing Daisies always referred to Ned as The Piemaker, except when referring to him as child where he called him Young Ned. A possible reason for this was to avoid saying Ned's last name, which was never revealed.
  • March 23, 2014
    bootmii
    Hat.
  • March 23, 2014
    DAN004
  • March 23, 2014
    needsanewhobby
    The Iliad and The Odyssey are full of these (to make the poems, which were spread by oral tradition, easier to remember). It's not even limited to characters: places and inanimate objects have their own epithets too. Odysseus is generally "cunning Odysseus" but has at least a dozen epithets.
  • March 23, 2014
    Paradisesnake
    Pulled a hat from this. Hats are supposed to be given at a point when the draft is fully ready to be launched. This one has only two examples listed so far so it's not ready yet.
  • March 23, 2014
    daefaroth
    This hasn't been edited since August of last year. Does anyone know why this was necro'd? Is someone taking this over?
  • March 24, 2014
    Arivne
    ^ A troper named bootmii added a post noting that they had given this a hat.
  • March 24, 2014
    daefaroth
    So, I figure if anyone wants to grab this they should say so, otherwise we should just let it drop back down the list into obscurity.
  • March 24, 2014
    robinjohnson
    The general form of this is called elegant variation by grammarians. In UK journalism they're called "knobbly monsters" after an infamous attempt to avoid using the word 'crocodiles' again in an article about crocodiles.
  • March 24, 2014
    OmarKarindu
    I suggest The Descriptive Epithet as a trope name: it keeps the "the," adds the word "descriptive" which might aid searches, and employs the technical term "epithet" which might aid other searches. It's a bit redundant in meaning, but it also mirrors the structure of the trope's signal phrasing in the wild.

    It's also worth noting that Tropes Are Not Bad. This can be used as it is in Homer, but I've also seen it used as a sort of fancy title for characters, e.g. "the (Vampire) Slayer" in the Buffyverse; or to depict how, say, an ancient prophecy or a semi-mystical tradition refers to a character, e.g. the phrase The Chosen One or the use of "the Amyrlin Seat" in the Wheel Of Time series and "the vampire with a soul" in Angel; and it has a history of use in comic books, especially DC Comics works of the Golden Age Of Comic Books and the Silver Age, where almost every hero or group of hero had a heroic epithet, e.g. Superman as the Man of Steel, the Flash being nicknamed the Scarlet Speedster, Batman being called the Darknight Detective and later the Dark Knight, and so on. Alan Moore rather famously used a variant of the technique to describe the Justice League when they showed up in his Swamp Thing run, and Frank Miller did as well when The Avengers turned up in the famous "Born Again" storyline in Daredevil.
  • March 24, 2014
    daefaroth
    ^Except that's not really what this is about. This isn't about referring to Batman as the Dark Knight, this is about referring to him as the caped vigilante.

    Basically it is using a characters description rather than a name.
  • March 24, 2014
    OmarKarindu
    Right, but "the Dark Knight" is meant as a description of the character; otherwise the nickname makes little to no sense. If, say, Conan is repeatedly called "the barbarian" or "the Cimmerian," does that no longer count because the title of the series is often given as Conan the Barbarian or even Conan the Cimmerian? Where's the line being drawn and how does it work, exactly?

    In other words, if you want to exclude "the Dark Knight" or "the Slayer," you need some particular guidelines that explain why those aren't descriptive. (Heck, how exactly is, say, "the Scarlet Speedster" not a description? He's red and he runs fast). And if the trope is strictly for Bad Writing examples, then other sorts of epithets are very quickly going to create a Missing Supertrope while this trope becomes Complaining About Writing You Don't Like..
  • March 24, 2014
    daefaroth
    If you want this, take it and make it decent. Personally I think this is Complaining About Writing You Dont Like. All I was pointing out is that this is about referring in text to a character by their description rather than their name. And the reason I am excluding those is that the Dark Knight is a nickname and the dark knight is a description. Have you ever seen a sentence like "The dark knight leaped from the shadows and flung the thug to the ground." It is always capitalized. But I will concede the nickname is based on his physical description. The Man of Steel doesn't get that freebie as he isn't actually made of steel.

    If you still need my explanation as to why I feel it makes a difference I was basing it on the laconic. A nickname is still a name, especially if it is a nickname used in universe.
  • March 24, 2014
    DAN004
    ^ so one of you counts descriptions and nicknames, while the other counts only descriptions.

    I must say I side with the former...

    Again, Name Bookism.
  • March 26, 2014
    robinjohnson
    Actually, I think Elegant Variation may be a missing supertrope here. I might even have a go at writing it up in my copious free time.
  • March 26, 2014
    DAN004
    ^ Go aheeead.
  • May 24, 2014
    jszellmer
    Would constantly referring to an individual by their job count? I seem to see this variant in professionally published material the most.
  • May 24, 2014
    Bisected8
    I think the Buffy and Batman examples would fall under Red Baron - they're basically informal titles rather than descriptions ("The Slayer" being Buffy's job and "The Dark Knight", "Caped Crusader" being Batman's In Universe nicknames).
  • This came up in an episode of Johnny Bravo, I don't remember the name of it, I just remember Johnny suddenly had a job as a security guard or something, and spotted what looked to be someone swiping things where he worked, and the only way Johnny could describe him was, "The Two-Armed Guy". Said Two-Armed Guy turned out to be the chief of police, who was simply rummaging through the fridge (because he can), and busts the female cop Johnny was working with back down to meter maid.
  • May 24, 2014
    DAN004
    Is someone managing this?
  • May 25, 2014
    TheHandle
    I don't think so, but it's definitely tropeworthy. I think we need to change the Bad Writing qualifier, and instead of calling it a "tendency" we'll just refer specifically to the practice, and then warn against the cases where one could easily feel it was overused and/or abused.
  • May 25, 2014
    henke37
    The Lavender Unicorn Syndrome has been parodied by a fanfic where everyone is changed into that.
  • May 26, 2014
    WaterBlap
    I disagree that this is a sign of Bad Writing. To say otherwise just sounds like complaining to me.

    Also, the use of "syndrome" in the name also sounds like the trope itself is a bad thing. My vote for a new title is Name Bookism.
  • May 28, 2014
    robinjohnson
    It manifestly is bad writing - it's obfuscating and ambiguous. Look at the example paragraph and try to guess how many people are present in the scene. I agree it's maybe not the place of the TV Tropes article to make that judgement, but there are many authorities on writing that agree (Fowler's and George Orwell, to name the ones that come to mind immediately.)

    I can get behind Name Bookism. Still pretty sure there's a missing supertrope.
  • March 11, 2015
    Pteryx
    I'm personally of the opinion that what's widely known as Burly Detective Syndrome has a worse reputation than it deserves. When used in moderation, it can be helpful for avoiding pronoun confusion while being more engaging and less repetitive than just using names. "Moderation" when it comes to this trope is a very fine line to walk, however, encompassing not just avoiding overuse of epithets generally (they should supplement pronouns and names, not used to completely excise pronouns and reuse of names from your writing), but having the right number of them (only one or two can still be repetitive enough to call attention to itself, five or more gets hard to follow) and having them not be too fancy (three words tops if one of those words is a conjunction or the like, as in "Prince of Fooland"). Under no circumstances should it be used to show off all the fancy official titles your characters have.
  • March 11, 2015
    DAN004
  • March 11, 2015
    Gideoncrawle
    The problems I see with calling this trope Name Bookism are:
    1. It's a snowclone, and the Powers That Be on this wiki generally discourage creating new ones; and
    2. The etymology doesn't match. Said Bookism is called that because there used to be an actual book—called The "Said" Book—as well as numerous pamphlets and suchlike listing words that could stand in for "said" with varying degrees of grace. To the best of my knowledge, there's nothing similar for Name Bookism.
  • March 12, 2015
    DAN004
    Wanna call it Elegant Variation then?
  • March 12, 2015
    DragonQuestZ
    ^ Too vague. The particulars of this trope seem to be (and correct me if I'm mistaken) that a writer uses an occupation as a pronoun, rather than characters doing it. The name needs to reflect that to avoid misuse.

    Then again, does this count if the narrator does it?
  • March 12, 2015
    DAN004
    ^ I mean, Elegant Variation IS a thing...
  • March 12, 2015
    DragonQuestZ
    ^ Well I can't really tell given the article itself seems to be done in purple prose, with no solid definition.
  • March 12, 2015
    robinjohnson
    As currently written, this would be a subtrope of Elegant Variation (if that was a trope), when it's used to refer to characters. I'm unsure whether EV should exist as a trope - it'd be hard not to make it complainy, but it certainly is a device used by writers (albeit a widely condemned one.)
  • April 15, 2016
    Korodzik
    Literature
    • Done in the Jakub Wedrowycz stories with exact regularity; if the protagonist has just been referred to as "Jakub", in the next sentence he will be "the exorcist", and then "Jakub" again, and so ad infinitum.

    Fan fic
  • April 15, 2016
    Alucard
    Gave a fifth hat, but for god's sake change the name.
  • April 15, 2016
    DAN004
    ^ you shouldn't have, if you think this still need changes.

    So... how should we call this? Name Bookism again? Or Loads And Loads Of Descriptive Referrals?
  • April 15, 2016
    DAN004
    And description could've been better.
  • April 15, 2016
    Aubren
    • Every Loki fanfic ever? ->"The raven haired man..."
  • April 15, 2016
    Jokubas
    I guess this is technically a trope (although, does it have narrative significance?), but it seems really forced to me. Keeping writing from being redundant seems pretty standard to me, and I don't think this has ever stood out to me in a story. Maybe a particularly odd case of it stood out, but not the idea of referring to a character like this itself. It seems a massive leap to call the entire thing bad writing, and trying to narrow down odd cases seems like some major YMMV territory.

    On the name, I don't even like Said Bookism. I don't know if it's pre-existing, but adding "ism" on top of something that sounds weird and already isn't well known (a Said Book), makes the thing look like gibberish.
  • April 16, 2016
    DAN004
    Is "writing style" a trope? Are peculiarities on someone's way of writings really tropes?

    I think this is tropeworthy but I can't think for what reason.

    I believe this can be done well too, if used sparingly or in a way that's hilarious or at least highly context-appropriate.
  • April 23, 2016
    Aubren
    @Dan 004 Thinking about it, literature and even video games have used this to hide the true identity of a character.
  • April 24, 2016
    DAN004
    Btw compare You Know The One
  • April 25, 2016
    Snicka
    • In The Lord Of The Rings: The Two Towers, several characters (such as Treebeard) refer to a character as "The White Wizard", implying that they are talking about Saruman. They are actually referring to Gandalf, who has just returned as Gandalf the White.
  • April 25, 2016
    Antigone3
    How does this differ from Everyone Calls Him Barkeep ?
  • April 25, 2016
    MegaMarioMan
    Everyone Calls Him Barkeep: Referred to by their job title or somesuch.

    Burly Detective Syndrome: Referred to by their description or somesuch.
  • April 30, 2016
    Pteryx
    Everyone Calls Him Barkeep happens in-world too, and sticks to one non-name consistently. Burly Detective Syndrome is purely a narrative thing and may use many non-names.
  • August 9, 2016
    DAN004
http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/discussion.php?id=iezt8r2urn1hse19kceo6nba