Created By: Earnest on May 15, 2012 Last Edited By: Earnest on February 18, 2013
Troped

Speaks Only In Pop-Culture References

A character communicates by quoting other media.

Name Space:
Main
Page Type:
Trope
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.


Examples:

Advertising
  • 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.

Literature
  • 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.
Community Feedback Replies: 71
  • May 15, 2012
    sgamer82
    • TK in Angel Beats has dialogue consisting almost entirely of lyrics and titles of non-Japanese songs.
  • May 15, 2012
    randomsurfer
    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.
  • May 16, 2012
    randomsurfer
    • 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.
  • May 16, 2012
    Kayube
    Sue Hopkins from Genshiken mostly talks in quotes from anime and manga.
  • May 16, 2012
    ccoa
    Literature examples:

    • 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.
  • May 16, 2012
    mdulwich
    For a while Hiro in Heroes is only able to communicate in pop-culture references due to his mind being manipulated.
  • May 16, 2012
    katiek
    The people in the Bing commercials (a.k.a. "Search Overload Syndrome").
  • May 16, 2012
    CosmicRock
    In the 1986 Transformers animated film, "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.
  • May 16, 2012
    TBTabby
    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.
  • May 16, 2012
    arblues
    Abed from Community embodies this trope.
  • May 16, 2012
    Topazan
  • May 16, 2012
    Fanra
    The web comic Pv P has the character the LOLbat, a Batman parody who always speaks in internet memes.
  • May 17, 2012
    TonyG
    The Scarecrow in The Wiz communicates by reading quotes from the newspaper in his stuffing.
  • May 17, 2012
    robinjohnson
    • Whose Line Is It Anyway had a game where the players had to improvise a scene, speaking only in well-known song titles.
  • May 17, 2012
    TrustBen
    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.
  • May 17, 2012
    randomsurfer
    • 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?
  • May 17, 2012
    willynilly91
    The main cast of the "Big Bang Theory" make at least one science fiction reference each episode.
  • May 17, 2012
    Mozgwsloiku
    This is currently covered by Radio Mouth
  • May 17, 2012
    fulltimeD
    ^ I feel like that needs to be renamed, it's pretty non-indicative, but I can't think of a half-decent title right now.
  • May 18, 2012
    Earnest
  • May 18, 2012
    fulltimeD
    That's better...
  • May 18, 2012
    Kellor
    Plato, the talking motorcycle from Team Knight Rider. His rider Trek was the same way.
  • May 18, 2012
    DrakeClawfang
    Film - Batteries Not Included, Harry only speaks in commercial taglines.
  • May 19, 2012
    TrustBen
    This proposal would be much stronger with updates.
  • August 9, 2012
    Noah1
  • August 9, 2012
    DragonQuestZ
  • August 9, 2012
    MorwenEdhelwen
    Spelling mistake in the first post; it's "Romberg."
  • August 10, 2012
    peccantis
    Wouldn't a less specific name be better?

    Anyways, IRL:
    • 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.
  • August 15, 2012
    cabr321
    How is this different from Radio Mouth?
  • August 16, 2012
    ccoa
    Radio Mouth is narrower, but there doesn't seem to be a reason for it to be. I'm not sure why "only quotes from TV and radio" and "quotes from all media" should be distinct.

    Radio Mouth should probably be TR Sed and one merged into the other.
  • August 16, 2012
    Lumpenprole
    How does someone learn the metaphors if everyone only speaks in metaphors?
  • August 16, 2012
    Earnest
    ^^ Okay, I started a TRS thread on Radio Mouth.

    ^ I really have no clue. Presumably they start off teaching normal language, then force kids to learn to speak in metaphor or go hungry? Or maybe the metaphor/phrase just becomes a single, really long word to which they only later learn the etymology.
  • August 16, 2012
    Koveras
    Do characters communicating exclusively in the quotes from The Bible or a similar sacred text count?
  • August 16, 2012
    Earnest
    Don't see why not. They probably also cross over into some other tropes like Church Militant or the like too.
  • August 16, 2012
    Koveras
    Except that Bible is not really pop-culture but simply culture. ^^; Anyhow, the two examples:

    • The Chanters in the Dragon Age series are required to only communicate with other people in the verses of the Chant of the Light (a sacred text in the series) as part of their oaths.
    • The hermit monks on the Canaan Island in Pelagia and the Black Monk (a Spin Off of the Erast Fandorin series) are not allowed to speak at all, but their prior may utter five words a day, four of which must be a quote from the Bible.
  • August 16, 2012
    ccoa
    I would say the Bible is pop culture. It's in the mainstream culture of the West, is it not?
  • August 16, 2012
    Goldfritha
    It's culture. Which is why the title should be non-specific. How aobut Speaks In Shout Outs?

  • August 16, 2012
    randomsurfer
    In the Doctor Who serial "The Mind Robber" the Doctor and co are trapped in the Land of Fiction. One character is Lemuel Gulliver from Gullivers Travels, whose dialog is all oddly context-appropriate quotes from the book. Other Public Domain Characters appear, but he's the only one that does this.
  • August 17, 2012
    Koveras
    ^^^ If you put it that way, it looks fair enough...
  • August 18, 2012
    TheHandle
    Speaks In Shout Outs is more neutral, I think. Would also fit Poplonius of Hamlet and be a supertrope of Speaks In Proverbs.
  • August 18, 2012
    Kinswaous
    Another borderline pop culture/culture example: The Savage in Aldus Huxley's Brave New World speaks exclusively in William Shakespeare quotes.
  • September 27, 2012
    JakesBrain
    ^ Not exclusively in Shakespeare quotes, but he peppers his conversation liberally with lines from plays like The Tempest -- hence the title of the book.
  • September 27, 2012
    trissofredwall
    What about Mrs. Who from A Wrinkle In Time?
  • September 27, 2012
    JonnyB
    In the Peter Sellers film, Being There, Sellers' character speaks mostly in lines he's heard on TV.
  • September 27, 2012
    Noaqiyeum
    I agree that this should be broadened to include quotes and sayings of any kind, not just pop culture. (Mrs. Who was the first person I thought of, too.)

    ...Isn't the current name really unwieldy?
  • December 2, 2012
    SeptimusHeap
    Bump. Are we ready to launch, or are there issues to fix? Like the name, and the expansion suggested^?
  • December 2, 2012
    Earnest
    I think so, Speaks In Shout Outs has most support for a name and encompasses the suggested trope expansion without excluding anything.
  • December 3, 2012
    lexicon
    Launch? You mean merge, right? Shouldn't this be resolved in the TRS?
  • December 3, 2012
    SeptimusHeap
    Merge into what?
  • December 3, 2012
    lexicon
    On 2012-08-15 cabr321 said, "How is this different from Radio Mouth?" The tropers then decided that Radio Mouth needed a TRS and started it. In it they mention this.
  • December 3, 2012
    Mokurai
    In Real Life members of the Baker Street Irregulars fan club often hold conversations exclusively in quotes from the Sherlock Holmes Canon.
  • December 5, 2012
    MorningStar1337
    I reccomend changing the title to something along the lines of "Pop Cultural Echoes"
  • December 5, 2012
    MaxWest
    Number Five/Johnny Five does a lot of this in both Short Circuit movies, especially due to his exposure to television in the first film.
  • December 5, 2012
    PaulA
    Is it worth distinguishing between characters who speak in quotations, and characters (often but not always robots) who communicate by playing back the actual sounds?

    (Bumblebee from the live-action Transformers movie, and the aliens from The Greatest American Hero, would be examples of the latter. There are also a few more examples on the Radio Mouth page.)
  • December 5, 2012
    lexicon
    Human, robot, or alien, I don't think it matters what they are as long as they communicate using other's words. Each example should probably say why the character does it and if it's not human that might help to explain it.
  • December 6, 2012
    PaulA
    ^ The distinction I'm going for is not "human or other" it's "speaks the quotation with their own voice or plays a recording of the original speech". It feels to me like these are two different things: a character who does the former may be lacking in original thought, but has no trouble speaking, whereas a character who does the latter usually has no trouble thinking but has a speech impediment to work around.
  • December 6, 2012
    Goldfritha
    I think it's ready to go, if it's Speaks In Shout Outs
  • December 6, 2012
    lexicon
    @ Goldfritha - If you think it's ready to go then take it to the TRS of Radio Mouth. If this is launched then this or Radio Mouth with have to be cut for being a duplicate. They've already decided to change the name of Radio Mouth.

    @ Paul A - I don't think it matters if the character communicates in quotes because he's lacking in original thought or if he has a speech impediment to work around as long as he uses the words of other people instead of his own. Just to be sure you should take it the the TRS though.
  • December 6, 2012
    JonnyB
    In Peter Sellers' last film, Being There, Chance only uses gardening references and pop culture references he's seen on TV.
  • December 7, 2012
    Chernoskill
    Just a note, I read somewhere that Tarantino films are known for their long dialogues filled with pop-culture references... Not only pop-culture references, though.
  • December 17, 2012
    randomsurfer
    In another episode of Bones a Street Performer who portrays a live bronze statue of William Shakespeare speaks only in Shakespeare quotes; and unless your speech to him is in Shakespeare quotes he won't respond, just stand or sit completely still.
  • December 19, 2012
    SeptimusHeap
    Ok, anybody on board with renaming this Speaks In Shout Outs or something similar?
  • December 19, 2012
    Earnest
    ^ I'm sold.
  • December 20, 2012
    SeptimusHeap
    Anyone else? We only need a shorter name and then we can launch it.
  • December 20, 2012
    PaulA
    If we call this Speaks In Shout Outs, can we keep Radio Mouth for the examples of inhuman characters communicating through sound clips?
  • December 20, 2012
    lexicon
    If you launch this we have a duplicate trope to deal with. Please don't launch this without resolving the discussion on Radio Mouth.
  • December 20, 2012
    SeptimusHeap
    You need to read the crowner on that thread, please.
  • December 21, 2012
    lexicon
    Yes they're going to be merged. Why bother to launch this before merging the two of them?
  • December 21, 2012
    SeptimusHeap
    You can't merge a YKTTW and a page, you need to launch the page first.
  • December 21, 2012
    Diask
    • In Book Of The New Sun, soldiers from the Ascian empire are taught speaking entirely in quotations given by higher-ups. One soldier Severian meets manages to tell a story using these quotations.
  • February 18, 2013
    CompletelyNormalGuy
    Seems like everything is set, and Speaks In Shout Outs is a respectable name. Is there anything to stop us from going ahead and launching this one?
http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/discussion.php?id=smijpw17i40q3p902fqlpld0&trope=SpeaksInShoutouts