Speaks Only In Pop-Culture References YKTTW Discussion

Speaks Only In Pop-Culture References
A character communicates by quoting other media.
Better Name
(permanent link) added: 2012-05-15 19:57:56 sponsor: Earnest (last reply: 2013-02-18 02:24:11)

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Unicorn: Butterfly, even one [unicorn]? Tell me that you saw only one.
Butterfly: One? "One alone, to be my own..." "Up goes downwind, up go down!" "Go and catch a falling star..."
Unicorn: Serves me right for even asking you; all butterflies know is songs and poetry and anything else they hear. I guess you mean well. Fly away butterfly.
Butterfly: "Oh, I must take the A train." "Oh, I am a cook and a captain bold and the mate of the Nancy brig." "Has anybody here seen Kelly?"
-- The Last Unicorn [[hottip:*: In order, the songs and poems are: One alone by Sigmund Romberg, unknown, Go and catch a falling star, by John Donne, Take the A Train by Duke Ellington, The Yarn of the 'Nancy Bell by Sir William Schwenck Gilbert and Has Anybody Here Seen Kelly? by Florrie Forde.]]

Despite the name, the trope applies equally to characters who use references from other cultural sources, like quoting a book series, using snippets of songs or reciting poetry.

This is when a character communicates almost solely by using someone else's words: it can be speeches, books, songs, movies, TV, radio or other mass media. The reasons for this vary: they may have grown up obsessed with the source material or media, have language or memory problems that makes it impossible for them to speak normally, or their education is almost exclusively the quoted source material to the point they are unable to conceive of language or original thought outside of it. In milder cases, they may only use speech patterns, vocabulary and other affectations, but at full tilt they will only and exclusively communicate through quoting others, perhaps even becoming Lost in Character. This can be especially problematic if the source material is limited in scope. Imagine someone in a scifi setting trying to describe the week's Technobabble issues using only lines from Shakespeare.

In the case of characters who are unable rather than unwilling to speak using their own words, this trope can eventually be overcome somewhat like learning a new language, with the character making an effort to address their problem. Those who simply choose to speak this may also drop it, though it's unlikely as it tends to be a defining character trait for many.

If the character speaks only through a very narrow range of pop-culture references, they tend to get dated very, very fast (and become annoying or anachronistic, though YMMV).

Radio Mouth is a Sister Trope / Sub-Trope where someone speaks only through quotes or remixes of messages from TV, film or radio. This is a subtrope of Reference Overdosed.


  • The people in the Bing commercials (a.k.a. "Search Overload Syndrome").

Anime and Manga
  • TK in Angel Beats! has dialogue consisting almost entirely of lyrics and titles of non-Japanese songs.
  • Sue Hopkins from Genshiken mostly talks in quotes from anime and manga.

Comic Books
  • Image Comics' Horridus is a Cute Monster Girl who was kept locked in a basement for most of her life, with a TV as her only companion. She learned to talk from it, so most of the things she says are catch phrases and advertising slogans.

Film - Live Action
  • Bumblebee in the Transformers movies can only speak through replaying Earth radio recordings due to a faulty voice processor.
  • The Scarecrow in The Wiz communicates by reading quotes from the newspaper in his stuffing.
  • *batteries not included, Harry only speaks in commercial taglines.

Film - Western Animation
  • In the 1986 Transformers: The Movie, "Wreck-Gar" of the Junkion planet spoke in snippets and catch phrases of advertising messages. The reason for this being that they intercept Earth transmissions and apparently can't get enough of them.

  • In Brother To Dragons Companion To Owls by Jane Lindskold, the main character can only communicate via quotes from literature. It's heavily implied that she is autistic.
  • In The Son of Neptune the harpy Ella has this to a degree. While she can speak in short, original sentences of one to three words each, she's prone to peppering her speech or segueing into quotes from things she's read.

Live-Action TV
  • Plato, the talking motorcycle from Team Knight Rider. His rider Trek was the same way.
  • Night Court: Nana Visitor plays a homicidal crazy woman with Multiple Personalities . Her personalities are taken from various movies.
  • Kung Fu: The Legend Continues: In "Secret Place" the Perp Of The Week is a crazy man who speaks in the voices of various characters: John Wayne, Elvis, Scotty from Star Trek, Popeye, Jack Nicholson, etc. But not Johnny Carson, at least not now, because he's not on any more. (The episode appeared in 1993, when that was a recent occurance.)
    Peter: I know how this guy's mind works. He's a split personality, all of them famous. He lives in the pages of TV Guide.
  • The Greatest American Hero: On the rare occasions the aliens who gave Ralph the super suit contact him, they manipulate the radio so that one word snippets (from commercials, talk radio, and songs) come across making up a sentence. Does That Count?
  • Whose Line Is It Anyway? had a game where the players had to improvise a scene, speaking only in well-known song titles.
  • Bones: Brennan's cousin (played by her real-life sister) only communicates by quoting Ben Franklin until Brennan convinces her to say what she thinks, not what Franklin thought.
  • Abed from Community embodies this trope.
  • For a while Hiro in Heroes is only able to communicate in pop-culture references due to his mind being manipulated.
  • Star Trek: The Next Generation: The Enerprise encounters a species who communicate entirely in metaphor, and if you don't know the reference you won't be able to understand. The most repeated example "Darmok and Jalad at Tanagra" means two strangers who meet and join forces to fight a common enemy.

Newspaper Cartoons
  • Kim Rosenthal, who many years later would become Mike's second wife in Doonesbury, spoke only in media-derived soundbites when she was a baby.

Web Comics

Real Life
  • During the Heian period in Japan it was in vogue for the aristocrats to know as much classic poetry as possible, and private conversations could well be held entirely in poetry quotations.
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