Created By: Abodos on August 4, 2013 Last Edited By: Abodos on August 6, 2013
Troped

Word Salad Horror

Random words and non-sequiturs used in such a way and in such a context as to be creepy.

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"For the first time we have risen, and I see we are being consumed. I see circles that are not circles. Billions of dead souls inside containment. Unravellers have eaten country's moral fabric, turning hearts into filth. I'm from a kingdom level above human. What does that yield? A hokey smile that damns an entire nation. There is no hope."

This is what happens when bizarre phrases, Non Sequiturs, and random successions of words are used and arranged either to be frightening on their own or to imply that something sinister is going on behind the scenes. The Word Salad might result from some supernatural alteration of local reality, a Nightmare Sequence, a drug-induced hallucination, an Eldritch Abomination oblivious to the fact that this is not how those Puny Earthlings actually talk, and many other myriad causes.

Compare and contrast Cryptic Conversation, with which this trope frequently overlaps. Subtrope of Surreal Horror.

Examples:

Film
  • The Fog (1980). While Stevie Wayne is playing station promos on a tape recorder, supernatural things start to happen and the tape recorder plays a bizarre message.
    Something that one lives with like an albatross round the neck. No, more like a millstone. A plumbing stone, by God. Damn them all.

Live-Action Television
  • Any scene in Twin Peaks that takes place in the Black Lodge turns into this. While there's usually some meaning behind what's being said, it's done in a very obfuscating manner.
    The Man From Another Place: I've got good news! That gum you like is going to come back in style.

Video Games
  • Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty features this as part of its memorable ending, with the Colonel suddenly spouting off bizarre nonsense over the codec to Raiden. This is the first indication that it's a fake AI Colonel.
    Colonel: I hear it's amazing when the famous purple stuffed worm in flap-jaw space with the tuning fork does a raw blink on Hari Kiri Rock. I need scissors! 61!
  • The Twin Peaks-esque Show Within a Show "Address Unknown" in Max Payne is all about this.
    • When Max is tripping on Valkyr in the part 3 prologue, he receives a "prank call" (in his dream), wherein the caller just spouts creepy nonsense at him, until Max puts the phone back down. For extra creepiness, just a bit later, Max receives another call, wherein the caller tries to explain to him that he has been drugged. Max proceeds to call it nonsense in exactly the same words as before and put the phone down.
      "...bartender shiny stuff and dreams are made of stooped necromancers. He sings like a banana wrist having strayed too close to the constellations on their shaved skulls. The rain of frogs ended and the rain of blood comes down. Doing their lips and then I'll be gone! The city was an image, riding the bar. He yearns to get a taste of those tentacles..."
  • The "Taken" enemies in Alan Wake spout this constantly. The words usually seem to have something to do with the possessed individual's former life, but they do not appear to comprehend the sense behind their words. Sometimes skirts the line between horror and Narm.
    Fisherman: Omega-3 fatty acids are good for your heart!

Visual Novels
  • Tsukihime has several pages of this while Shiki is bedridden in Hisui's route.

Web Original
  • SCP Foundation has several:
    • SCP-1981 a.k.a. "RONALD REAGAN CUT UP WHILE TALKING", which provides the page quote, is a VHS tape showing Ronald Reagan's "Evil Empire" speech, only the speech and concurrent events are different with each viewing. Each iteration has in common Reagan talking about various events that happened after the real life speech, surreal references to gruesome subjects like Cold-Blooded Torture along with nonsensical subjects, Reagan being mutilated by invisible forces while casually continuing the speech, and a black-robed figure who replaces a random member of Reagan's cabinet each time. The Foundation speculates the tape and its garbled nonsense has something to do with the then-living Reagan's Alzheimer's.
    • SCP-058 is some creature resembling a cow heart with limbs that constantly spouts off completely incomprehensible phrases even while going around killing humans.
      SCP-058: I had dreams of the queen wonders that lived inside the hearts of love and silent treatments of all the elderly that I knew were once whole.
    • SCP-1782 is a rather anomalous room whose randomly manifested entities and disembodied voices say some very bizarre phrases, most prominent of which is "There's a hole in the wall in the bottom of the floor."
  • Happens all the time on Welcome to Night Vale, particularly when Cecil reads advertisements, notices, or whatever else he is handed by others in the studio. A Running Gag is for Cecil to announce "a word from our sponsors," and then read an "advertisement" consisting of an extremely surreal Word Salad Horror passage, followed by the name and slogan of a real-world company such as Audible.com or Home Depot. For bonus creepy points, sometimes the real slogan is followed by a nightmarish variation on the same phrase.

Community Feedback Replies: 13
  • August 4, 2013
    DAN004
    Overlaps with Cryptic Conversation would be expected here, just saying.
  • August 5, 2013
    aurora369
    The Twin Peaks-esque Show Within A Show "Address Unknown" in Max Payne is all about this.
  • August 5, 2013
    Arivne
    Film
    • The Fog (1980). While Stevie Wayne is playing station promos on a tape recorder, supernatural things start to happen and the tape recorder plays a bizarre message.
      Something that one lives with like an albatross round the neck. No, more like a millstone. A plumbing stone, by God. Damn them all.
  • August 5, 2013
    Paradisesnake
    Subtrope to Surreal Horror (or at least closely related). Also, the Max Payne example needs more context.
  • August 5, 2013
    billybobfred
    • Tsukihime has several pages of this while Shiki is bedridden in Hisui's route.
  • August 5, 2013
    MaxWest
    One US Acres segment Garfield And Friends has Wade Duck terrified of a letter received that simply reads "The bunny rabbits is coming."
  • August 5, 2013
    Abodos
    ^ I'm not familiar with that episode, but it seems like what the letter is saying is pretty unambiguous, and it sounds like Wade Duck is scared precisely because of the ominous message.
  • August 5, 2013
    TwoGunAngel
    Speaking of Max Payne, there's this one call that Max receives while on a bad Valkyr trip after the second act that is pretty much disturbing drug-induced nonsense. I don't recall the exact words off the top of my head.
  • August 6, 2013
    capsaicinfinity
    Another one for Web Original (or Radio or Podcasts- I'm not entirely sure where to put it)

    • Happens all the time on Welcome To Night Vale, particularly when Cecil reads advertisements, notices, or whatever else he is handed by others in the studio. A Running Gag is for Cecil to announce "a word from our sponsors," and then read an "advertisement" consisting of an extremely surreal Word Salad Horror passage, followed by the name and slogan of a real-world company such as Audible.com or Home Depot. For bonus creepy points, sometimes the real slogan is followed by a nightmarish variation on the same phrase.

    I may come back later and add a quoted section from one of these passages, which usually run pretty long. If Welcome To Night Vale is transcribed somewhere, that would be a great place to find such an example.
  • August 6, 2013
    aurora369
    2 Paradisesnake: Well, that's it. This show within a game is literally all about this. As in, it consists of nothing but this. The TV shows in Max Payne are mostly primitive, cycling content meant to evoke some familiar associations but not watchable as standalones. One evokes associations with kiddy cartoons, the other with soap operas. And there's this: Word Salad Horror and nothing else, to evoke the feeling of a Twin Peaks-esque show.
  • August 6, 2013
    Koveras
    • In Max Payne, when Max is tripping on Valkyr in the part 3 prologue, he receives a "prank call" (in his dream), wherein the caller just spouts creepy nonsense at him, until Max puts the phone back down. For extra creepiness, just a bit later, Max receives another call, wherein the caller tries to explain to him that he has been drugged. Max proceeds to call it nonsense in exactly the same words as before and put the phone down.

    For the record, here is the quote: "...bartender shiny stuff and dreams are made of stooped necromancers. He sings like a banana wrist having strayed too close to the constellations on their shaved skulls. The rain of frogs ended and the rain of blood comes down. Doing their lips and then I'll be gone! The city was an image, riding the bar. He yearns to get a taste of those tentacles..."
  • August 6, 2013
    Paradisesnake
    @aurora369: You see ^that?^ You can always describe the way a trope occurs in a work a little bit better, no matter the case. If something is invoked, you can tell how it's invoked. It's really not that complicated to add a context for an example.

    EDIT: Oh, and by the way, the Tsukihime example needs context.
  • August 6, 2013
    hbi2k
    • The "Taken" enemies in Alan Wake spout this constantly. The words usually seem to have something to do with the possessed individual's former life, but they do not appear to comprehend the sense behind their words. Sometimes skirts the line between horror and Narm.
      Fisherman: Omega-3 fatty acids are good for your heart!
http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/discussion.php?id=t8ln311skhayt90cqc82gizc&trope=WordSaladHorror