Unicorn: Butterfly, even one [unicorn]? Tell me that you saw only one.
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.
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
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).
is a Sister Trope
where someone speaks only through quotes or remixes of messages from TV, film or radio. This is a subtrope of Reference Overdosed
Anime and Manga
- The people in the Bing commercials (a.k.a. "Search Overload Syndrome").
- 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.
Film - Live Action
- 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 - Western Animation
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.