Discworld / Unseen Academicals
The 37th book in the Discworld
series, Unseen Academicals
is about football. Well, slightly about football. Mostly it's about people, but then, aren't they all?Unseen Academicals
tells the story of what happens when the Patrician of Ankh-Morpork tries to bring civilisation to the ancient and tradition-laden game of Foot-the-Ball. Since said traditions include a generous measure of mob violence both on and off the pitch, this proves a somewhat dicey project.
At the heart of the plot is the need for Unseen University to field a team (the eponymous Academicals), but as the story progresses this becomes almost academic
as the emotional focus of the story shifts to the downstairs staff
whose work makes the team possible.
Preceded by Making Money
, followed by Snuff
. Preceded in the Wizards series by The Last Continent
(or The Science of Discworld 3
, if you're counting those).
film adaptation has been in development since 2011 but has suffered repeated delays.
This book features notable examples of:
- Accidental Innuendo: (in-universe) See the Visual Innuendo example.
- Actually Pretty Funny: Contains the only example in the series of the Patrician laughing out loud:
Lady Margolotta: I would like you to teach [the orcs] civilized behaviour.
Mr. Nutt: I think that would be quite possible. And who would you send to teach the humans?
- Actually, That's My Assistant: Glenda mouthing off about Lady Margolotta to someone she thinks is her librarian. The woman she thought was Lady Margolotta was the librarian.
- Ain't No Rule:
- Averted for the final gambit of the climactic game. Although it's ancient and obscure, the rule in question was established early on and there's a very good reason it exists in the first place. "The ball shall be called the ball..."
- Played straight for some of the other tactics used:
- Since the rules are still being written and Ponder is in charge, there is not yet a rule regarding player species, as this would force the Academicals' best goalie off the team. It is implied an Obvious Rule Patch will be made as soon as the game is over.
- Ponder doesn't realize he needs to establish a rule for acceptable footwear until star player Bengo is fouled with heavy iron cleats and nearly crippled.
- The coaches spend almost as much time hammering out the complex offsides rules between plays as the players spend with the ball in motion.
- All Psychology Is Freudian: Mr. Nutt's method of psychotherapy revolves around acknowledging repressed memories and emotions (especially vis-a-vis paternal/maternal conflict), and is based entirely on Uberwaldian philosophy which comes complete with nonsensical Germanesque names. He even adopts the stock gag-Austrian accent (with "ze" for "the"), explaining that it's "soothing". And afterwards, he asks for a cigar.
- Aluminum Christmas Trees: Mob football was the medieval precursor to the modern game, and it was about as violent as the Ankh-Morpork version.
- Always Camp: Pepe the fashionista, but only when he's working.
- Always Chaotic Evil: A widely-held belief regarding orcs, ultimately proved false. Ankh-Morpork doesn't seem to hold this against Nutt all that much...mostly because Ankh-Morpork assumes everybody's a vicious murdering bastard deep down.
- Ambiguously Gay: Pepe again. Word of God (Shrug Of Gay?) is "he's probably as gay as a treeful of monkeys, but you can never tell". This is especially complicated because Pepe's a "dwarf convert" who defies both dwarf and human notions about sexuality.
- Animal Athlete Loophole: Ain't No Rule saying an orangutan can't play football! Since the wizards are writing the rules of football themselves as they go along, obviously there wouldn't be ...until after the game.
- Ain't no rule saying a sentient piece of luggage can't play football either. The only reason that it's scrapped from the team (although included on the cover art) is because it's absolutely horrible at it.
- Anti-Magic: The (former) Dean, as referee, puts up such a field around the pitch, to ensure that the wizards don't cheat via magic. Trev notices with dismay that he included himself in this effect. It doesn't hinder ghostly or divine possession, which work on different principles.
- Arc Words: "The leopard can change his shorts."
- Armor of Invincibility: Micromail, which can No Sell a sledgehammer blow to the nuts.
- Awesome by Analysis: Mr. Nutt knows exactly how much force it would take to tear your head off, and what muscles would give him trouble in the process. Fortunately for you, he'd much rather think about how to turn ragtag bunch of wizards into a credible football team.
- Back from the Dead: Happens automatically to Nutt, thanks to the "little brother" incorporated into orcs by the Igors who created them.
- Badass Boast: Ridcully has one near the end of the book about an assault on one of the wizards.
"Because if anyone has poisoned our Librarian, then, although I am not, by nature, a vindictive man, I will see to it that this university hunts down the poisoner by every thaumic, mystic, and occult means available and makes the rest of their life not only as horrible as they can imagine it, but as horrible as I can imagine it. And you can depend on it, gentlemen, that I have already started work on it."
- Badass Bookworm: Mr. Nutt, who doesn't let go of his Sesquipedalian Loquaciousness even when prodding serious buttock.
- The Bard on Board: Trev and Juliet are Romeo and...well, you know from rival football teams. A lot of references to the play ensue, including "two teams, alike in villainy!"
- Beat the Curse Out of Him: Dr. Hix is the only one who dares to do this when Ridcully is under the control of a haunted artifact, which is exactly why he holds that job in the first place.
- The Big Damn Kiss: When Juliet and Trev kiss at the end of the match, they float in the air and are lit with a golden glow. Other characters comment on this.
- Bilingual Bonus:
- The fashion magazine that Juliet reads is Bu-Bubble or, more likely, Beau Beaux Belle - three different words for "beautiful" in French.
- The lines from philosophical works Nutt quotes are infinitely more hilarious if you understand German. (One, for example mentions sweet, vanilla-flavoured desserts.)
- Black and Gray Morality (maybe Grey and Gray Morality):
- Lady Margolotta's plans for Uberwald are far better than any of the alternatives but the means to the end are not necessarily nice. As evidenced by her Kick the Dog moments during Nutt's education.
"One day I was a young boy... when I saw a mother otter with her cubs. Even as I watched, the mother otter dived into the water and came up with a plump salmon, which she subdued... As she ate it, while of course it was still alive, the body split and the pink roes spilled out much to the delight of the baby otters. Mother and children dining upon mother and children. And that is when I first learned about evil. It is built into the very nature of the universe. Every world spins in pain. If there is any kind of supreme being, it is up to all of us to become his moral superior." — Lord Vetinari, in a rare moment of (tipsy) candor
- The Blacksmith: Mr. Nutt shoes a horse for the carriage company and silvers Glenda's tins. No, not like that.
- The Blade Always Lands Pointy End In: Happens when Angua tosses Juliet's pin-on Dolly badge on the table next to Trev's hand. Even the narrative isn't sure if it's deliberate or not.
- Blatant Lies: Glenda tells Ottomy that she and Juliet missed the game because they were cleaning the ovens, causing him to look slowly around the kitchen at the lack of grime, cloths, soap, gloves, etc. She then ads that they just finished cleaning up.
- Blood Sport: Street football is essentially this before Vetinari and UU get involved. Ponder mentions that in ancient times, losing teams could be throttled, and the painted urn that gets the story started depicts a player who's been brutally kicked by his opponent.
- Brain Bleach: Glenda and those slightly-less-than-three seconds of orcs in combat.
- Brain Drain: Pseudopolis' new Brazeneck College is trying to poach talent from Unseen University. Their Archchancellor used to be UU's Dean, and the head of their technomancy department was once Ponder Stibbons' best student. They even offered Ponder the post of Bursar, but he never even asked what the salary was. After all, even if they made him a professor, he'd probably have a lot less clout than as UU's Jack-of-All-Trades.
- Brainless Beauty: Juliet, although not nearly as brainless as Glenda thinks.
- Brick Joke:
- Back in Feet of Clay, Vimes had an affirmative action snit in response to a bigoted complaint and said he'd accept a gorgon in the Watch. Now a Noodle Incident reveals that the Watch recently recruited a Medusa who accidentally turned three people to stone when a gust of wind knocked off her sunglasses.
- Mightily Oates' axe and unique style of spreading the light of Om reappear for the first time since Carpe Jugulum.
- The longest-air-time bricks come from Sourcery, published 21 years earlier.
- The only earlier reference to the race of orcs.
- Rincewind asks to be excused from play with a note from his mother. Ridcully rejects this as Rincewind himself said his mother had abandoned him before birth (Discworld. Don't ask how). Rincewind then asks to be excused to go look for her.
- And then there's the literal Brick Joke. After the heated meeting between Ridcully and Henry, Former Dean and Current Archchancellor of Brazeneck, Ponder sees Rincewind putting one of his socks back on. He once stopped an Eldrich Abomination by hitting it with half a brick in a sock. Ponder notes that it was probably the same sock.
- Back in Reaper Man, there was a throw-away line about Ridcully wanting to get a team together for the 'Sity And Guild Match, described in the Discworld Companion as a slightly modernised version of Poor(e) Boys Fun.
- Quoth tells Susan about the profession of candle dribbler in Soul Music. It's not until this book that we find out the raven wasn't pulling her leg.
- An earlier Discworld book describes "anti-crimes," and Hix can be said to be committing one: planting tickets for his amateur theater group's productions in people's pockets is the opposite of pickpocketing (especially since it's implied his group isn't very good).
- Madame Sharn poo-poos Glenda's insistence that Juliet should keep working in the kitchens with, "What is this? Emberella?" In Witches Abroad, even Embers herself noted the silliness of her own name and circumstances.
- At the beginning of the book, the Faculty are congratulating themselves on the successful Hunt of the Megapode. At the end of the book, when discussing the rampage of the Blit-Chicken in Pseudopolis, Ponder and Ridcully agree that they don't need to hurry to help, as they have better things to do than run around after birds.
- The Horseman's Word is evidently just as effective for Nutt as for Jason Ogg. Of course, Nutt demonstrated that he could handle anvils and big hammers at a very young age...
- The race of Furies was obliquely mentioned in Eric, as one of many Classical Mythology-flavored creatures a Tsortean sergeant had fought in his military career. Granted, they may have been more common in the era of the Tsortean War.
- Bullying a Dragon:
- Andy and his followers taunting Nutt about his species.
- To whomever poisoned the Librarian, congratulations. You have just angered a 300 pound ape and his boss, who not just a Boisterous Bruiser but also one of the most powerful wizards on the Disc. In a word: Run.
- Card-Carrying Villain: Professor Hix, by university statute. They need someone around who can ignore the rules a bit but still knows when to stop.
- Centipede's Dilemma: Trev makes it clear that many of the amazing tricks he can do kicking a can don't work if he thinks about them.
- Chainmail Bikini: Micromail is implied to be used primarily for underlayers (given how everyone talks about the lack of chafing) and is modeled complete with a false beard.
- Changing of the Guard: Between Ponder's ascent to the University Council (most of it, in fact; Ponder holds enough different positions to form both a quorum and a majority all by himself, so he can call meetings and hold binding votes without another soul present), Nutt's implied future as Mightily Oats's successor, Adrian Turnipseed's professorship, and the youth of the cast in general, this book builds upon other recent Discworld novels in bringing a fresh generation of characters to the fore.
- Character Development:
- Offscreen, Mightily Oats has become a Badass Preacher and ethnographer in some of the most remote and dangerous parts of Uberwald.
- Ponder Stibbons is shedding his No Respect Guy tag as he proves himself a very skilled researcher who is also capable of managing all of UU's day-to-day affairs, including deftly manipulating much older and more ruthless wizards.
- Dr. Hix is considerably more confident and influential here than in Making Money. Insorcizing Professor Flead seems to have had the intended effect and let him move up in the department.
- We even learn a little more about the Patrician's secretary, Drumknott, although he has changed very little as a character since he was introduced in Feet of Clay. For example, both Vimes and Vetinari take it as a price of doing business that all employees will steal small things from the workplace like leftover food or office supplies. Drumknott buys all his own paperclips. Vetinari believes a woman would have to dress up as a manila envelope to get his attention.
- Chekhov's Gun:
- Children Are Innocent: In this case, "innocent" can be taken in the legalistic sense of "innocent of being irredeemable psychopathic murderers until proven guilty". Even if you call them pups. Even if they are infant orcs.
- Color-Coded Wizardry: Parodied with UU's late sports instructor, Evans the Striped. Presumably he wore some sort of striped rugby shirt, or even a referee's black and white striped jersey.
- Continuity Porn: At least, by Discworld standards. The text is liberally decorated with Continuity Nods, including to some of the Early Installment Weirdness books like Sourcery that are rarely acknowledged later in the series.
- Covers Always Lie:
- Vetinari sadly does not referee the game.
- Glenda and Juliet are not dressed as cheerleaders, although they do watch the match.
- The Luggage is implied to be part of the team. This was tried but failed because of the Centipede's Dilemma.
- Crouching Moron, Hidden Badass: Pepe. And Nutt.
- Crushing Handshake:
- Subverted when Andy tries this on Nutt, and doesn't achieve anything but to make his own hand sore.
- Played straight with Hoggett, who "to his credit, hardly winced when it was taken for a firm handshake" by Ridcully.
- Demoted to Extra: Rincewind is not a key part of the team's strategy, much to his relief. Vimes and Angua only show up as antagonists. William de Worde has a cameo as proto-announcer for the match. The Postmaster-General is mentioned as waiting to see Vetinari, but makes no actual appearance.
- Does Not Know His Own Strength: Inverted when Trev insists Nutt punch his arm, then admits that he didn't know Nutt's own strength while favoring his bruised biceps.
- Does This Remind You of Anything?: Someone throwing a banana to the Librarian while on the field is reminiscent of real-world racist insults to black football players by throwing bananas at them.
- Dramatic Irony: Anyone reading Discworld books in the first place is probably Genre Savvy enough to realize that Glenda is talking to Lady Margolotta in the coaching house — if not immediately, then certainly by the third paragraph.
- Early-Bird Cameo: The birds in question are the Sisters, whose species (Furies) was briefly mentioned in Eric.
- Easily Distracted Referee: Henry the Dean in the big game, who misses lots of blatant fouls.
- Equal-Opportunity Evil: Dr. Hix mentions that the Department of Post-Mortem Communications gets a pass from the "no female wizards" rule when he tries to recruit Glenda.
- The Empire: This is the first book to go into any kind of detail about the fallen Evil Empire of Uberwald (also called the Unholy Empire and the Dark Empire in earlier books). According to Word of God, it's the Fantasy Counterpart Culture of the Soviet Union, combined with some fairly obvious nods to Mordor.
- Everybody Lives: Unusually for a Discworld story, Death only shows up once to tell a character he's not dead yet. Then again... some things you don't want to live through.
- Expospeak Gag: Nutt's erudite and verbose way of answering questions.
- Expy: Glenda has rather a lot in common with Agnes Nitt, albeit with a less downtrodden main personality and a better integrated Perdita-analogue (which is also in her case released by large amounts of sherry, not innate magical ability). Her relationship with Juliet also echoes Agnes' relationship with Christine, though Juliet is a more sympathetic version of a Brainless Beauty.
- Famed In-Story: Trev's father, Dave Likely.
- Food Porn: Just read those descriptions of Glenda's pies.
- The Actually, That's My Assistant scene is hinted at early, when the woman Glenda identifies as Lady Margolotta who is actually her librarian complains that it's too noisy in the coaching house.
- Ponder asks what Brazeneck is using to power Pex, and reacts with just a hint of unholy glee.
- A Friend in Need: Glenda, Juliet, Mr Nutt, and Trev swap around bailing each other out in the course of the plot.
- Genius Bruiser: Again, Mr. Nutt. He's a member of a race of specially-bred super soldiers, and also read and memorized most of Lady Margolotta's library. Which means he can tell you just how much force note it will take to snap your neck, and which muscles will get in the way.
- Girls Love Stuffed Animals: Even the three-eyed ones, who are more enlightened than the average bear.
- Good Old Ways: Changing the rules of football? Unthinkable! Glenda's description of it has enough innate magic to cause false memories in every wizard listening.
- Good Shepherd: Mightily Oats from Carpe Jugulum appears only in the backstory, but he appears to have grown into this role, bringing Forgiveness with him wherever he travels.
- Groin Attack: Andy tries this on Trev, but runs into Pepe's gift.
- Hat of Authority: The Archchancellor's Hat, valued perhaps even more for its conferred status than its magical abilities, is hotly contested between the rival wizard universities.
- Henchmen Race: The orcs were designed purely to serve as weapons, and most people assumed that they weren't capable of functioning without someone to give them orders.
- Horses Hate Him: Mr. Nutt's aroma is distressing to horses; even the Horseman's Word only compels them to comply very, very unhappily.
- Humans Are Bastards: People believe that orcs were created by magically and/or eugenically altering goblins. At the end, Vetinari reveals that, no, orcs are descended from humans. Goblins aren't vicious enough (an assessment borne out by Snuff).
- I Call It "Vera": We find out that the double-headed battle-axe carried by Mightily Oats at the end of Carpe Jugulum now has a name: Forgiveness.
- I Don't Pay You to Think: Smeems tells Mr. Nutt this. Unfortunately, when he gets stuck on top of the Emperor candle, he needs Nutt to figure out how to get him down. Nutt does it, but still says, "I thought I wasn't paid to think, sir."
- I Drank What?: Madame Sharn may or may not have actually drunk from the bottle in which Pepe relieved himself.
- I Gave My Word: Trev promised his Mum he'd never play football.
- I'll Take Two Beers Too: After the wizards catch the Megapode, one of the maids asks them what they want to eat. Ridcully gives an impressive list of food (including "cheese boards one through five") and then says "Anyone else want to add anything?"
- I'm Melting: Not shown, but Evans the Striped reportedly expired in a Type E example, i.e. he evaporated.
- Implausible Deniability: The giant ever-burning candle known as the Emperor did not go out, even if Nutt's vision tricked him into thinking it did. This must be so, because Smeems insists as much... just like he did on the prior two occasions it's not gone out on his watch.
- Indestructible Edible: Professor Macarona's dehydrated pasta, the equivalent of Roundworld ramen.
- Inherently Funny Words: Gloing.
- In My Language That Sounds Like: Various bits of dwarfish fall victim to this here.
- Insistent Terminology: Professor Bengo Macarona, after scoring the first goal for the Academicals, insists that any chanting of his name also includes his full name and list of honours. Since this in its entirety is "Professor Macarona D.Thau (Bug), D.Maus (Chubb), Magistaludorum (QIS), Octavium (Hons), PHGK (Blit), DMSK, Mack, D.Thau (Bra), Visiting Professor in Chickens (Jahn the Conqueror University (Floor 2, Shrimp Packers Building, Genua)), Primo Octo (Deux), Visiting Professor of Blit/Slood Exchanges (Al Khali), KCbfJ, Reciprocating Professor of Blit Theory (Unki), D.Thau (Unki), Didimus Supremius (Unki), Emeritus Professor in Blit Substrate Determinations (Chubb), Chair of Blit and Music Studies (Quirm College for Young Ladies)" and the crowd actually agrees to go along with it, this turns the football chant "One Makaronah, there's only one Makaronah, there's only one Makaronah, one Makaro-naah" into an Overly Long Gag of absolutely EPIC proportions.
- Also, continuing a gag from Making Money, it's "Post-Mortem Communications", not "necromancy".
- Instant Expert: Averted. Trev's skill with a can does not transfer to a football.
- Interspecies Romance: Subverted, inverted, averted and every other kind of '"ted" you can think of with Pepe and Madame Sharn, as neither one of them gives a figgin for species, gender, or sexuality labels, so you can make what you want of their relationship. The trope is also played damn well straight with Glenda and Nutt... sort of. There's also the ambiguously romantic relationship between Lady Margolotta and Vetinari.
- I Was Told There Would Be Cake: "There will be cake."
- Kaiju: An accident at Brazeneck's Higher Energy Magic building unleashes a seventy-foot chicken onto the streets of Pseudopolis. And it's foreshadowed too. Early on, Ponder asks what Brazeneck is using to power their knockoff of Hex; the answer is chickens. Ponder's initial reaction is mildly alarm, and then smugness: he knows what will happen, and clearly has no interest in telling Adrian how to fix it. But then, they did steal the design for Hex (not to mention the Dean) - he isn't really fond of them.
- Karma Houdini: Defied. It looks like Andy Shank is going to get away virtually unscathed, but then the Camp Gay Pepe decides to make sure he gets what's coming to him.
- Kick the Dog: Nutt's upbringing combines this with Pet the Dog in the most warped way.
- Large Ham: Ridcully, as always, feels the need to declare to no one in particular "Change and decay! I am surrounded by traitors! They thwart me at every turn" when he sees the housekeeper's raided all his secret food stashes.
- Literal-Minded: Tell Glenda that "Vetinari has ears everywhere" and you'll get the reply "I only see two."
- Loads and Loads of Rules: Part of Vetinari's attempt to control the game, as trying to outwit a game of complex rules is less likely to end in bloodshed. Like Round World soccer, the offsides rules in particular seem to be extremely complex and hotly disputed.
- Long List / Overly Long Gag:
- Professor Macarona's full list of titles and honors goes on for about a full hardcover page. In reality it's only about an eight-line paragraph, but repeated so many times that it covers nearly two softcover pages - and audiobook readers may start to wonder if their file is stuck in a loop.
- Ridcully asks Ponder what the Academicals' problem is. The list of ways they are failing to grasp football takes up roughly the same space as the one above. Without repetition.
- Lower-Deck Episode: Many Discworld books have focused on the faculty of Unseen University and Equal Rites filled in several details about the household staff but this is the first book in which the staff become the main characters.
- Mama Bear: Glenda. According to Vetinari, it's In the Blood.
- Meaningful Name: Juliet, obviously. There's also Andy Shank; "shank" can mean a stabbing weapon. Also see Stealth Pun below for Trev Likely.
- Memetic Badass:
- Vimes, in-universe; as discussed in Night Watch, coppers in Ankh-Morpork (and the surrounding cities) are called "Sammies" or "Old Sam" for a reason. (On Roundworld, it's why British cops are "bobbies," or "Old Bill.")
- Mrs. Whitlow has an in-universe Memetic Domestic Badass reputation among the UU staff, which Glenda eventually sees through and subverts.
- Misapplied Phlebotinum: Orcs. The Evil Empire created a race of Genius Bruiser Super Soldiers capable of excelling in every field of warfare... and then drove them into battle in poorly-armed waves with men with whips to goad them on. Considering that Uberwald is the old and much-beloved home of Mad Science, they were probably built by Igors to drastically exceed their intended purpose. And that intended purpose seems to have been "an easy-to-breed humanoid lifeform with extremely rapid physical and mental development that allows for minimum time between birth and Zerg Rush use in battle". Most of them probably died long before their real potential began to show.
- Mistaken for Foreigner: Glenda lampshades people's tendency to do this to dwarfs. When Juliet says that a dwarf who was rude should "go back where he came from," Glenda says "That'd be Treacle Mine Road, then. He was born in the city." Presumably, Glenda noticed his accent, while Juliet only noticed that he was a dwarf.
- Mistaken Identity: Courtesy of Glenda's total lack of useful cynicism in some areas.
- Motivation on a Stick: There's a scene with the wizards riding on the backs of the university porters and motivating them with a bottle of beer on the end of a stick.
- Mugging the Monster: Ponder recalls how his wizardry first manifested when he set fire to the trousers of a schoolyard bully who'd been giving him a wedgie.
- My Species Doth Protest Too Much: Played with in several instances.
- Nutt is an orc, but largely rejects violence. His Planet of Hats' hat get deconstructed by the end, though, showing that the orcs' bloodthirstiness had been an in-universe Dead Unicorn Trope.
- Pepe and Madame Sharn are both exceptions to Our Dwarves Are All the Same. In fact, they bring up some very interesting questions about how dwarves think about sex, gender, and sexuality. All dwarves look male by human standards, even clearly feminine-gendered dwarfs wear so many layers of leather and metal that it's impossible to guess anatomical sex, and it's not polite to ask what sex another dwarf is unless you're engaged to them. So do dwarves have any concept of sexual orientation, or of gender arising from anatomical sex?
- Also, Pepe is the second example of the fact that Discworld dwarves regard dwarfishness in a fashion closer to a religion than anything biological.
- Name's the Same: An in-universe example in Bledlow Nobbs (no relation). Anyone who might be mistaken for a relative of Nobby Nobbs is going to include the "(no relation)" every time.
- Never Gets Drunk: Subverted by Lord Vetinari. He matches a hall full of heavy drinkers twice his size mug-for-mug and most of them end up passing out. Vetinari only appears slightly tipsy, but then he stubs his toe on a stair, takes an extra 50 seconds to solve the Times crossword the next morning (even resorting to the dictionary) and Drumknott notes that he seems unusually talkative, though no less cogent. For him, that's the equivalent of getting married in Vegas.
- Nice to the Waiter: Ridcully and Lord Vetinari are both willing to hear and consider Glenda's thoughts on football and mob rule.
- Noodle Incident: Whatever happened on Tuesday. Ridcully's latest anti-Dean rant is still better than Tuesday.
- No Social Skills: Nutt, initially. He's read a lot in books, but applying that to the real world is something else.
- Nothing Is the Same Anymore: For the first time since Moving Pictures, UU has been shaken up by the departure of the Dean - and, not coincidentally, we finally learn his name, or at least his first name.
- Odd Job Gods: Pedestriana, the Goddess of Football.
- Offing the Mouth: The intellectual but totally unstreetwise Orc Mr Nutt gets this treatment from a gang of proto-football hooligans. His mistake was to try to engage them in debate on mob psychology and the sociopathology of overcrowded juvenile male rats. Nutt gets stabbed and left for dead by the gang.
- Our Nudity Is Different: The wizards are adamant they can't wear shorts that expose their knees, for fear of the effect this might have on women. The one woman who hears this has trouble keeping a straight face.
- Our Orcs Are Different: Mr. Nutt. They were made from humans, not from elves or goblins, and they are not Always Chaotic Evil.
- Overly Long Gag: The Bengo Macarona chant goes on for over two pages due to Macarona's insistance that the chanting crowd use his complete list of titles and awards.
- Passive-Aggressive Kombat: It's noted that high-ranking wizards cannot get into fights in public, because that could have dire magical consequences. Therefore Ridcully and Henry butt heads in a very masculine form of Politeness Judo.
- Picked Last: Referenced several times. Ponder is explicitly described as having been picked last for every game he couldn't make up an excuse to avoid. He's thrilled that this time around he can appoint himself scorekeeper and stay out of the action.
Ridcully: Now we all understand this! It's a boy thing! It's like little girls and the colour pink! You know how to do this! Pick the teams alternately so one of you ends up with the weird kid and the other with the fat kid. Some of the fastest mathematics of all time have been achieved by team captains trying not to end up with the weird kid - stay where you are, Rincewind!
- Playing Cyrano: Amusingly subverted, as Nutt ghost-writes a love letter to Juliet for Trev, who can't think of anything better to say than "I think you are really fit, want to go out? No hanky-panky, promise." This is, word for word, exactly how Glenda summarizes Nutt's poetic missive when Juliet asks her what all "Trev's" fancy words mean.
- Posthumous Character: Dave Likely. Trev lives forever in his father's shadow until he manages to outdo him with the final goal.
- Powder Keg Crowd: The Shove. Always. Vetinari's willing to stake his reputation on rewriting the rules because The Shove is so likely to spill over into riot.
- Prince Charming: Referenced; Glenda thinks Juliet deserves a handsome prince, which is why she disapproves of her hanging around with Trev Likely. Later Glenda realizes this isn't the whole truth: she's gotten too used to "crab-bucket" thinking to see the real potential in Trev...and in Juliet.
- Punch Clock Villain: A somewhat unusual version with Dr. Hix, of the Department of Necromancy... Er, Post-Mortem Communications, who is professionally obligated to be slightly evil from time to time, albeit within "acceptable levels" set by university regulations. Normally, he fulfills this obligation through minor mischief such as slipping people tickets to his community theater group. But it should also be noted that as the official Post-Mortem Communicator, Dr. Hix is also responsible for dealing with unofficial Post-Mortem Communicators. With fireballs, if necessary.
- Real Men Wear Pink: The Dimwell colors. Do you want to question a football hooligan's manhood? Didn't think so. Nutt theorizes that the pink was deliberately chosen to trick people into provoking the Dimwells.
- Rescue Romance: Trev doesn't really get Juliet's interest until after he saves her from being beaned during a football match (the old-fashioned footballs are made of wood and very heavy).
Juliet: He saved my life!
Glenda: That's no basis for a relationship! A polite thank you would have sufficed.
- Roboteching: Trev can do this with tin cans. It's all about the spin.
- Rugby Is Slaughter: The state of football in the beginning of the book. Part of Trev's backstory was that his father died on the pitch.
- Running Gag:
- "It doesn't chafe!"
- "Skull ring, remember?"
- "Hanky panky".
- "Bledlow Alf Nobbs (no relation)."
- The whistle of former university sports master, Evans the Striped.
- Second Verse Curse: Invoked; whoever wrote the Ankh-Morpork anthem knew nobody would remember the second verse so they just filled it with a bunch of "ner ner ner" to begin with.
- Serious Business: Football. Starts out as a subversion, as the only thing on the line seems to be a large portion of the University's food budget, and the wizards don't even need to win the game to retain that. Then the Archchancellor's Hat is wagered on the result. And then Vetinari commits to reforming the rules and it becomes a fight for the spirit of the game and for reason containing the mob. A loss for the Academicals could actually damage the Patrician's authority.
- Severed Head Sports: There is a rule explicitly stating that during a match any object that has been kicked by at least three players in succession is to be considered the ball. Guess what kind of impromptu ball created this rule...
- Shaped Like Itself: "Mostly they're just pies, sir. Made of... pie."
- Shoot the Dog: It's important that Mr. Nutt does not harm anyone, and publicly refrains from harming Andy when he'd be quite justified in doing so. However it's also important that Andy gets his just desserts, so Pepe obliges.
- Smug Snake: Andy Shank. He's an evil-minded little git who carries himself like Carcer Dun. Pepe educates him in why this shouldn't be so.
- Sophisticated as Hell: Asked what makes a good football trainer, Nutt gives a long answer that takes in psychology, metaphysics and quantum physics, concluding with:
It is my job to reduce this metaphysical overhead, as it were, and to give my lads some acceptable paradigm, such as, it might be, whack it right down the middle, my son, and at least if the goalie stops it you will have given him a hot handful he won't forget in a hurry.
- Spell My Name with an "S": Nutt. No S, two T's. Singular, not plural.
"Do you think the second T helps?"
"Probably not, sir."
- Spock Speak: Nutt, most of the time.
- Stealth Pun: Trev works in the university dribbling candles for wizardly pursuits. By the end of the book, he's dribbling footballs instead.
- He's also "Dave Likely's son"... or Likely's lad; a "likely lad" being either a skilled sportsman or a known troublemaker - and Trev's both.
- Un-stealthed in the back-cover copy, which calls him "a likely lad with a wonderful talent for kicking a tin can". (The pre-release blurb had much the same phrase, but called him an "urchin".)
- The three-eyed teddy, described as "more enlightened than the average bear" is an obvious reference to both the "third eye" of Eastern mysticism and Yogi Bear. Now think about where the title "yogi" comes from...
- Hix is Unseen University's token Black Magician.
- The team "Unseen Academicals" just happens to contain a number of not-seen-before staff of the Unseen University.
- Straight Gay: Professor Bengo Macarona of Genua, star football player, with 13 doctorates from Unki, QIS, and Chubb and a visiting professorship at Bugarup, cited in two hundred and thirty-six papers... and one divorce petition.
Ridcully: Angry husband?
Stibbons: Angry wife, as I heard it.
Ridcully: Oh, he was married, was he?
Stibbons: Not to my knowledge, Archchancellor.
- Super Soldier: Orcs. Super-strong, fast, can come Back from the Dead, super smart and with a natural teamwork instinct.
- Supreme Chef: Glenda. Her grandmother was the cook at the Assassins' Guild when Vetinari was a student; he still remembers the pies fondly, and practically (for Vetinari) salivates when he learns that the recipes were passed down. He's also the one to realize that Glenda would never even think of poisoning a pie because of the almost religious importance she places on food. He mentions at the end that he had been planning on offering her a job if things had turned out differently.
- Tall Poppy Syndrome: Referred to here as the "crab bucket". Not getting ideas above one's station is a huge part of the working class culture of Dolly Sisters, and much of Glenda's Character Development is learning to let go of the crab bucket mindset.
- Trev's attempts to teach Nutt to use colloquial street-dialect rather than formal Morporkian could also be considered this trope, although he's even less conscious of what he's doing.
- Tempting Banana: Ordinarily, of course, this is an apple's job. But in this case it was Schmuck Bait for the Librarian.
- Token Evil Teammate: Dr. Hix, again. It's in his job description.
- Too Dumb to Fool: Juliet can often tear down Glenda's white lies or deceptions, because she's too unimaginative to fill in the gaps on her own.
- Too Dumb to Live: UU's Mr. Floribunda apparently thought that using the Cabinet of Curiosity as a snack pantry was a good idea. Unfortunately for him, the rule that anything organic automatically returns to it within 14.14 hours did apply to bacon sandwiches ... even already-digested ones. Fortunately, he did live through whatever it was that happened to him.
- Try to Fit THAT on a Business Card!: The aforementioned Professor Macarona D.Thau (Bug), D.Maus (Chubb), Magistaludorum (QIS), Octavium (Hons), PHGK (Blit), DMSK, Mack, D.Thau (Bra), Visiting Professor in Chickens (Jahn the Conqueror University (Floor 2, Shrimp Packers Building, Genua)), Primo Octo (Deux), Visiting Professor of Blit/Slood Exchanges (Al Khali), KCbfJ, Reciprocating Professor of Blit Theory (Unki), D.Thau (Unki), Didimus Supremius (Unki), Emeritus Professor in Blit Substrate Determinations (Chubb), Chair of Blit and Music Studies (Quirm College for Young Ladies)
- Turn Out Like His Father: A touching version, once Trev comes to grips with pride in his father's achievements versus anger over his ignoble death.
Juliet: They said Dave Likely was your father.
Trev: Well, yes, that's true.
Juliet: Yes, but they used to say you were his son.
- Tyop on the Cover: One dust jacket has a synopsis that spells Vetinari as "Ventinari."
- Verbal Tic: Juliet's habit of ending every sentence with "Din't it?" or "Didn't I?" or something similar, innit.
- Visual Innuendo: Glenda points out that the proposed uniform design with "UU" on the front resembles breasts. (Especially since wizards are usually rather fat to begin with.) Used again when Dibler's bootleg memorabilia uses the original design, which actually had been the uniform for University teams in the past.
- Wham Line: Wham Word, in fact. A word most Discworld readers never expected to see in the books: ORC.
- World's Most Beautiful Woman: Juliet is described as pretty enough to make goddesses weep with jealousy.
- Worthy Opponent: Mr. Hoggett, captain of Ankh-Morpork United. Despite the fact that his team contains a number of jerks, cheats, and Andy Shank, he tries to play a fair game, apologizes to the ref for his team's illegal moves, and punches out Andy Shank for mucking up what would otherwise have been a fair and square game in a personal Crowning Moment of Awesome.
- Written by the Winners: The war against the Evil Empire is often referred to as this. For a start, calling it the "Evil Empire" implies that there were any good guys in that particular conflict. Snuff demonstrates that even the universally-maligned goblins are subject to this trope, as they're always at the losing end of history.
- Wrong Genre Savvy: Glenda knows trashy romance novel tropes backwards and forwards, and doesn't really get a handle on events until she stops thinking in those terms and starts working with Earn Your Happy Ending instead.
- Xtreme Kool Letterz: Dr. Hix was the son of Mr. and Mrs. Hicks, but "any man who wears a black robe and a skull ring isn't going to pass up the chance to have an X in his name".
- Your Princess Is in Another Castle: "You think it's over?" Done three times. A reference to a famous remark by the commentator at the end of the 1966 World Cup final: "They think it's all over..." (Whistle blows) "It is now!"