"My favourite thing in the Sun, ever, is the Sun's letters page, 'Dear Sun', where you tell Britain what you think. Not just any thought though, like 'move arm now' or 'eat breakfast this morning'- preferably a thought that might inspire some hatred and antipathy towards people that are slightly different."
The protagonist has had enough. This is the last straw. That evil empire's
in for it now. He's going to... write a strongly worded letter?
An attempt at some brave or heroic action that falls ludicrously short. When played for laughs, it's often applied to timid or nerdy characters who mean well but aren't prepared to do anything useful. When played for drama, it designates a character who ought
to be one of the good guys but who places too much faith in "the proper authorities" and will likely hinder the heroes by insisting they do so too.
Often a satire of diplomats. (Of course, if the diplomat has a strong country behind him, this actually isn't so weak.)
Compare Poke the Poodle
, the villainous version.
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- Peter Cook's character Sir Arthur Streeb-Greebling says of World War II: "Absolutely ghastly business. I was completely against it." ("Well, I think we all were.") "Yes, well, I wrote a letter."
- Glen "That Canadian Guy" Foster has mocked this in one of his routines: "What will happen if we print these words? Oh! We'll get letters! Oh my god, more words with paragraphs and punctuation! Aaah!"
- One of the habits of the Swedish superhero Kapten Stofil ("Captain Geezer"). Many of his first adventures ends with his civilian alter ego writing one. However, as a superhero he is so good at it that supervillains fear them!. And the superhero group he is a member of, Vänner Av Ordning, has a name that not just is a pun on the Justice League (it means "Friends of Order") - it also reflects the standard signature of a Strongly Worded Letter. The Concerned Citizens might be a good translation.
- Played straight in the early issue of The Authority to a villain that has just turned Moscow into a charnel house. The U.N. ups the response by blatantly cough not sending in a kill squad.
- This◊ Punch cartoon from 1935, satirising the League of Nations.
- In the Super Mario Bros. story 'Bedtime For Drainhead', Luigi tells the sleep-deprived Mario (Fresh from a 72 hour-long reading marathon of his Dirk Drainhead comics) that Toad has been kidnapped by King Koopa.
Luigi: And you know what we're gonna do, don't you?
Mario: Write a strongly worded letter to the Mushroom Times...in the morning!
- Team America had the UN inspector, Hans Blix and Kim Jong-il have this exchange;
Hans: I'm sorry, but I must be firm with you. Let me see your whole palace or else!
Kim Jong-il: Or else what?
Hans: Or else, we will be very, very angry with you. And we will write you a letter, telling you how angry we are!
- A Civil Action had an unintentional subversion: the movie was about a corporation that polluted and caused illnesses, and the climax was the good lawyer writing a letter.
- James Cameron's Titanic.
I don't know about you, but I intend to go write a strongly worded letter to the White Star Line
about all this.
- Casino Royale (1967) has Woody Allen in Central America, threatening an angry letter to The Times, as he's stood before a firing squad.
- Marmee does this in response to Amy's teacher striking her with a ruler in the film version of Little Women.
- In Keith Laumer's Retief stories, the diplomats of the Corps Diplomatique Terrestrienne (Terran Diplomatic Corps) often spoke of sending strongly worded messages instead of taking effective action. Of course, these "strongly worded letters" are often delivered by the biggest, most powerful warships in the galaxy.
- Mr. Tyler, neighbor of Adam Young in Good Omens and Tadfield's resident busybody, who will send a very angry letter to the local newspaper about all these young trouble-makers riding motorcycles, littering his lawn, and driving burning cars, just you wait.
Not for R. P. Tyler the soapbox, the polemic verse, the broadsheet. R. P. Tyler's chosen forum was the letter column of the Tadfield Advertiser. If a neighbour's tree was inconsiderate enough to shed leaves into R. P. Tyler's garden, R. P. Tyler would first carefully sweep them all up, place them in boxes, and leave the boxes outside his neighbour's front door, with a stern note. Then he would write a letter to the Tadfield Advertiser. If he sighted teenagers sitting on the village green, their portable cassette players playing, and they were enjoying themselves, he would take it upon himself to point out to them the error of their ways. And after he had fled their jeering, he would write to the Tadfield Advertiser on the Decline of Morality and the Youth of Today.
- In fact, he writes so many letters about things he dislikes that the Advertiser isn't capable of fitting them all in their 'Letters to the Editor' page, which resulted in him writing another letter complaining about the fact that they didn't print some of his previous letters.
- In P. G. Wodehouse's Jeeves and Wooster novel "Thank You, Jeeves", Bertie Wooster is giving serious contemplation of threatening to write one of these to the Times when the local busybody policeman yet again bangs on the door of Bertie's rented cottage in the middle of the night. Only it turns out it's not the policeman this time, and so the whole matter is dropped.
- In the Blandings Castle series, the Duke of Dunstable is "a great writer of letters to the Times", and the Government "could not move a step without hearing from him". Given the Duke's character, such letters could not fail to be strongly worded.
- La Résistance in the Discworld novel, Interesting Times did this to rebel against the emperor. As the China stand-in, they have to have revolutionary elements, but as the feudal China stand-in, they're just too deferential to go through with it, instead shouting slogans like "we humbly suggest reasonable change within a respectable time frame if that's not too much to ask!"
- "Gently Push Over The Forces Of Oppression!" Rincewind gets so frustrated with it that he suggests "Slightly Bad Things Please Happen To Our Enemies!"
- Also from Discworld, Monstrous Regiment has Nuggan, a god who is described by a diplomat as the divine counterpart of the kind of person who constantly sends Strongly Worded Letters to the editor signing off as "Disgusted of Ankh-Morpork". (See "Disgusted of Tunbridge Wells" in Real Life, below.) This was supposed to convince Sam Vimes that Nuggan is not actually insane.
- The rest of the novel is actually quite Anvilicious about what life would be like if likes of "Disgusted of Tunbridge Wells" weren't writing Strongly Worded Letters but actually running the country, ie completely and utterly FUBAR.
- In Rebel Stand, the cast is looking over new developments in the war. Since the book is written by Aaron Allston, they snark constantly.
Wedge: "I don't like this notion of dovin basal mines that pursue you."
Han: "Me, either. I'm going to draft a strongly worded letter to the Yuuzhan Vong high commander and insist he stop using them."
- In Storm From The Shadows, the Manticorans send several letters of varying strongly-worded-ness. Mind you, the first such letter is delivered by a division of destroyers which are destroyed by a squadron of Solarian League Navy warships after a misunderstanding several days later.
- The second such letter, much more strongly worded and in response to the spoilered out incident, is delivered personally by a Vice Admiral in command of a squadron of battlecruisers. Rather than accept this letter, the Solarian Admiral moves his squadron to engage the smaller Manticoran unit. After the Admiral's ship is destroyed long before his ships can get close enough to fire at the Manticoran warships, the new commander of the Solarian squadron chooses to accept the letter.
- The third letter is being delivered by only one destroyer, but after what happened after the delivery of the first letter, and given that the destroyer finds a ridiculously large fleet of Solarian Super Dreadnoughts they decide to turn around and go home to report what they've found before announcing themselves.
- In the main Honor Harrington story, War of Honor, diplomatic notes from the Republic of Haven become more and more strongly worded as the current Manticoran Government deliberately strings them along. It doesn't help that other parties were deliberately altering some of the diplomatic notes to aid in this.
- In The Last Unicorn, Captain Cully requests that one of his men sing a song of Cully's heroics. The musician later angrily gets up and reveals that, rather than valiantly fighting off the three villains in the song, he wrote them a letter - which he didn't even sign.
- In the world Harry Potter, howlers are what happens if you could hear the voice of the writer of said Strongly worded letter. It's taken Up to Eleven when Molly Weasley writes one to Ron.
- The longer you go without opening the Howler, the louder it will shout the message.
- In the Sherlock Holmes case, "The Adventure of the Second Stain", a letter written by an unnamed European leader to Britain is described as being so inflammatory that its public release would lead to war. The British Government, wanting cooler heads to prevail and to avoid war, want Holmes to recover the missing letter before it can be put in the hands of third parties who would gain advantage by war.
Live Action TV
- In an early MADtv sketch, "Annie Ho" (a gangsta film as written and directed by Woody Allen), a neurotic gangsta on the way to a drive-by shooting asks his colleagues, "Do we really have to kill this guy? Can't we just send him a nasty note?"
- Frasier has done this a few times. One time he got his way by accident, but since he was still deluded that this trope was the proper way, he still didn't consider it a victory.
- From Drake & Josh: "I sent him a very angry letter, with, like, five frownie faces."
- In an episode of Scrubs, Turk and J.D. believe a nurse has got their patient's file confused with someone else's. J.D. insists on taking the lead in confronting her, and Turk asks if he's going to write one of his strongly worded letters. J.D. replies that he's not, because he doesn't have his thesaurus. It's not clear if Turk realises what a lame response the letter would be, or thinks it's going too far.
- This was a standard response by Sir Humphrey of Yes, Minister fame to diplomatic niggles, on one occasion saying it had not yet been sent because they had not secured an agreement from the people they were sending it to on how strongly worded it would be.
- Used in Yes Prime Minister when discussing how to deal with the leader of a local council.
Sir Humphrey: Have you considered a strongly worded letter?
Jim Hacker: And get an even more strongly worded letter back? Copied to all the newspapers? I think not, Humphrey.
- Used in Red Dwarf when Rimmer, after having his anger sucked out by a polymorph that feeds on human emotions, suggests that they defeat the creature by hitting it "hard and fast" with a "major leaflet campaign... And if that's not enough, then I'm sorry, it's time for the t-shirts".
- And in "The Beginning", Rimmer starts writing a strongly worded letter to Geneva complaining that the simulants are violating Treaty 5 as said simulants are launching a barrage of photon mutilators at the Starbug.
- In the last series of A Bit of Fry and Laurie, a very drawn-out version of their typical "vox pops" scenes had a woman played by Laurie threatening to write "a very stiff letter... on cardboard."
- Another sketch involved Laurie's character attempting to convince a psychiatrist played by Fry that he was mad. To Laurie's annoyance, the psychiatrist refuses to believe that he's anything other than eccentric, and he announces that he'll be writing a very stiff letter to the Daily Mail about this. That gets the psychiatrist's attention.
- In the "Summer" episode of The Vicar of Dibley, David Horton writes one of these to the water company that is actually not very strong at all. Subverted by Geraldine's letter, an excerpt of which is "Dear Mr. Useless Babboon's Bottom, It might interest you to know that down our way, you're about as popular as Judas Iscariot at a disciple reunion." It is also implied that she uses the word "dickhead" (or "dick-head, as she's unsure if there's a hyphen.
- In one episode of Mama's Family when Vint finds out that he's been laid off, Iola decides to write a "scathing letter" to his company.
Iola: "And believe you me, they are not getting the floral stationery!"
- A Double Subversion occurs on The Golden Girls when Rose sends a letter to Gorbachev about nuclear disarmament. She actually receives a response from him, saying he would like to hold a press conference with her, but just before the conference starts Rose finds out that Gorbachev thought a little girl wrote the letter.
- A common additional punchline to jokes about Too Soon or Dude, Not Funny! current events told by Jay Leno was for Leno to mime writing a letter while muttering "Dear Mr. Leno, I just saw your recent show and..."
- Part of the regular Self-Deprecation on the The Basil Brush Show.
- A recurring character in the last season of The Chaser's War On Everything was an angry letter who would watch the show, waiting for something offensive to happen so he could write a Strongly Worded Letter to The ABC. He was never disappointed.
- One episode of The Suite Life of Zack and Cody has Cody suggesting writing a one of these to the city council in order to prevent a park from being bulldozed.
- In one episode of Black Books, they are building very noisily next door to Bernard's shop and will continue doing so for two weeks, leading to this exchange:
Bernard: I'll tell you what I'll do, I'll write a letter to the council.
Fran: Wh-what are you gonna say?
Bernard: I'll say: "Dear Council, please don't build beside us for the next two weeks."
Manny: Yeah, but what if that doesn't work?
Fran: Yeah, yeah, what are you gonna do if that doesn't work?
Bernard: You wanna know what I'll do?
Bernard: I will... drink heavily and shout at you!
Manny: Yeah, but I won't be able to hear you, will I? Because I'll be living in Drillsville!
Bernard: Well, then I'll write you a letter as well!
- Doctor Who: During "The Monster of Peladon", the ambassador from Alpha Centauri threatens to make their displeasure known by sending an official communication to the Galatic Federation. This is during the middle of an armed uprising against the government.
- The fondness of the English for these was parodied multiple times in Monty Python's Flying Circus with sketches containing letters complaining about the sketches (and in some cases the previous letter).
- Parodied in one instance on The Young Ones:
Rik: I'm going to write to my MP!
Neil: You don't have an MP, Rik. You're an anarchist.
- Characters on The Goon Show would often threaten to write an angry letter to The Times when being robbed, kidnapped, having their country invaded, being hit by a batter pudding, etc.
- This being The Goon Show, this is often treated as actually being a credible threat. On one occasion, when Neddie Seagoon tried to write a letter to the papers complaining about his hands being tied behind his back, Grytpype-Thynne attempts to throw them off the scent by substituting a "Dear sir, today I heard the first cuckoo" letter.
- I'm Sorry I Haven't A Clue: The letters from Mrs Trellis of North Wales would sometimes veer into this territory; not helped by the fact that she was often unaware of exactly what programme she was writing to.
- The Mark Steel Solution had a recurring character, Mr. Cul-de-sac, who was constantly writing absurd letters of complaint to anyone and everyone. He would always end by reading one he'd started, that went "Why, oh why, oh why, oh why, oh why, oh why..." before admitting that "That's as far as I've got with that one, but it's coming along, don't you think!?"
- On The News Quiz, Sandi sometimes reacts to controversial gags with "Oh, there'll be letters!"
- Ask a Ninja had this question in Episode 17, "Ninja Omnibus".
Q: What is the best way to begin a strongly worded message to a retailer who has wronged you?
A: "I'm a ninja."
- The Cinema Snob alluded to this in his Maniac review:
"I swear, if this turns out to be another story from the mannequin guy from Dr. Sex
, then I'm going to write my 34th angry letter to Ted V. Mikels
- While not exactly a letter, Yu-Gi-Oh! The Abridged Series has something in the same spirit.
Seto Kaiba: I don't take kindly to kidnapping and attempted murder, but you do have a god card, so I guess I'll let it slide. However, try anything funny and I'll issue you a stern warning and wag my finger at you. Then you'll be sorry.
- Parodied in The Fairly OddParents, a particularly stupid alien plays this trope, claiming it will write an angry letter. He then proceeds to ask if a large red letter Q is angry enough. The other high-caliber response he has to the situation is... pouting.
- In Aqua Teen Hunger Force, Frylock writes an angry letter to the city for a radioactive black man putting the bite on Master Shake. Shake stands near Frylock, helping him to make the letter even angrier.
- The Simpsons:
- From "Who Shot Mr. Burns?":
Mayor Quimby: We are all upset by Mr. Burns' plan to block out our sun. It is time for decisive action! I have here a polite but firm letter to Mr. Burns' underlings who, with some cajoling, will pass it along to him or at least give him the gist of it.
- From a later episode, featuring Homer's college nerd friends:
Benjamin: That Dean is going to get an indignant e-mail.
Doug: You should do it with bold red letters.
Gary: My computer has 512 shades of red.
- In "Blood Feud," this is surprisingly effective. Homer, angry at getting a thank-you note rather than a material reward after a blood transfusion from Bart saves Mr. Burns' life, sends him an insulting letter. After some cajoling by Smithers, Burns decides that the Simpsons do deserve a reward and sends them an expensive (but useless for practical purposes, and presumably not easily re-sellable) Olmec totem. Which, it is pointed out, is still more than they'd have gotten without sending the letter.
- So did the Resistance in Baron Underbite's country in the The Venture Bros.. Their primary means of rebellion was sneaking hairs into his water. In a subversion, it actually really pissed him off.
- At one point, Hank of King of the Hill is charged a ludicrous amount for a haircut by the US Army, and gets fed up to the point that he stands and declares that he is going to write to his Congressman. Naturally, he doesn't even know how to turn on the computer, and writes his letter out by hand. Subverted, when it's revealed that the Congressman obviously never even read Hank's letter.
- It is actually a bit of a Running Gag with Hank, who will usually threaten someone with a letter of dis-satisfactory.
- In the Sponge Bob Square Pants episode "Squidville", Squidward is chased by a mob of angry squids. When they corner him, the mob gives Squidward a well-thought-out grievance letter.
- On Hercules, when school rivals pull a prank on Prometeus Academy, student body president Adonis plans to retaliate with a strongly worded letter, "with lots of verbs, action words!"
- In one episode of Buzz Lightyear of Star Command, Zurg attacks the planet of Tangea and kidnaps their king. The Tangean response? To immediately form a committee to evaluate the situation. The "committee" is later seen preparing a letter to send to Zurg and one of them asks if "displeasure" is too harsh a word.
- Used in the Robot Chicken parody of Armageddon.
Annoyed fan: That's awful! Steve Tyler's been clean for YEARS. I've got to write an angry letter. Dear ass-faces...
- Very much Truth in Television in England, the local stereotype being a middle-aged, middle-class, Middle England busybody writing to the editor of the Daily Telegraph, often signing off with something along the lines of "Disgusted, of Tunbridge Wells".
- Anthropologist Kate Fox describes English complaints as falling into three mostly ineffectual categories: griping to someone who's in the same boat as you; shouting abusively at someone who isn't really responsible; or going home and writing a Strongly Worded Letter to whoever's in charge.
- American comedian Rich Hall in Live At The Apollo once said of British people that when they are annoyed, their response is typically a tut followed by: "...I'm gonna write a letter."
- Even more so for Daily Mail readers (although their online forum has replaced the letters page). The difference being that said letters really will be strongly worded. Sometimes to the extent of being frighteningly racist and borderline fascist.
- Can be just as applicable to some left wingers in the Guardian and Independent whose letters and comments can read like a parody of a stereotypical Soapbox Sadie.
- And both right and left leaning letter writers are very good at greeting dissent, whether gentle or unjustifiably harsh, with accusations that the other side are being boorish, racist, and vitriolic.
- A particularly notable example comes around exactly every two years. The Royal Mail alternates its Christmas stamp designs between secular and religious and has done so for decades. Nevertheless, every time the new designs are released in a secular year the exact same letters are printed about the 'War on Christmas' with only the names of the authors being different.
- Parodied in Private Eye, which often responds to a topical political issue by printing fake versions of the Telegraph (right-wing) and Guardian (left-wing) letters pages in parallel, with the same stereotypical right- and left-wing writers complaining in parallel about the same thing but for opposite reasons.
- Amnesty International got started this way. The key was that they wrote thousands of letters, so a government holding someone would stop and think "Wow, this guy's got friends" and let him out. They still do this, and sometimes it works.
- To nobody's surprise, Amnesty started in Britain.
- The BBC has even made this a TV show, Points Of View.
- In Finland, the stereotypical signoff is "kysynpä vaan " and/or "joukko huolestuneita äitejä" — "just asking" and "a group of concerned mothers" respectively.
- In Sweden, the sign-off is "Vän av ordning", literally "friend of order".
- The United States Congress has a tendency to send these, to the point that it's widely mocked in political circles. And it's only fair that they should send them, considering how many of their constituents write their own sternly-worded letters to their Congressmen. (That is, when they deign to send letters. More often they'll send in form emails—or worse, call their Congressman's office, giving the poor unpaid intern on the other end of the line an earful for something about which he/she can do nothing).
- The Declaration of Independence. Although they did kinda back it up with an army.
- This is a shoot-off of the old English tradition of writing Strongly Worded Letters, based off of a similar letter called The Declaration of Right by the House of Commons in 1689. Later that year adopted by Parliament as the Bill of Rights Act 1689, and (with the similar Scottish Claim of Right Act 1689) helped pave the way for a constitutional monarchy in Britain. When written by the right people, Strongly Worded Letters do work.
- A Declaration of Independence is a Strongly Worded Letter with an army and a navy.
- To quote Sam Seaborne in the Very Special Episode: "We jumped out from behind bushes while the British came down the road in their bright red jackets, but never has a war been so courteously declared. It was on parchment with calligraphy and 'Your Highness, we beseech you on this day in Philadelphia to bite me, if you please.'"
- The United Nations seems to be quite fond of sending angry letters. If you are funding terrorists, violating human rights, invading other nations, creating a fictional version of the UN for a web game etc, then you can expect your very own Strongly Worded Letter from the UN. Also frequently a point of criticism is that the UN rarely takes any action beyond sending these letters. Note, however, that there is a reason for this—namely, that sometimes, the only thing the UN is allowed to do is send a Strongly Worded Letter. To wit:
- The UN General Assembly—the part of the UN that includes representatives of all member countries—is forbidden by the UN Charter from issuing resolutions with binding effect (except for resolutions dealing with internal UN matters like the UN budget and nominations for UN bureaucrats), meaning that pretty much everything it does is a Strongly Worded Letter about something or other.
- The UN Security Council actually can order direct action, but it rarely does so, as the permanent members can veto any resolution, and if whoever is doing Bad Things is a friend of a permanent member (and that is very likely), the Council won't be able to pass any measure that requires action. That said, a lot of the time, what looks like a Strongly Worded Letter from the Security Council is actually the Council giving the countries that can spare the resources permission to take some kind of military action against the country doing the Bad Things, making it not so much a mere angry complaint as a court order (with the court being very politicized and the sheriff being a country).
- The Secretariat and other subordinate bodies of the UN bureaucracy can and do often condemn the Bad Things, but they cannot order it to stop; they merely manage that UN's innumerable agencies and other administrative responsibilities. That said, many of the UN agencies actually do do something; they tend to supply or coordinate humanitarian aid, alleviating the suffering caused by the Bad Things. Everyone seems to forget about this part of the UN's business—which is, truth be told, most of what they do—when saying that the organization "doesn't do anything."
- The Zaporozhian Cossacks' letter to the Ottoman Sultan, the writing of which has been eternalized in Ilya Repin's famous painting◊. To say it was strongly worded is to say nothing.
- This is, of course, the weapon of choice for many lawyers. It's often a subversion, too, in that ignoring those letters will usually create a great deal of trouble for the recipient.
- Of particular note is the letter sent in the case of Arkell v. Pressdram. Mr. Arkell had his lawyers send a stern warning to Pressdram (the publishers of Private Eye) because they had accused him of taking bribes. Pressdram and their lawyers, meanwhile, were certain that their evidence was good, and sent a reply, quoted here in full: "We acknowledge your letter of 29th April referring to Mr J. Arkell. We note that Mr Arkell's attitude to damages will be governed by the nature of our reply and would therefore be grateful if you would inform us what his attitude to damages would be, were he to learn that the nature of our reply is as follows: fuck off."
- "Open Letters" to one's personal bugbears have always been a popular means of spleen-venting on the internet. Unfortunately for those who create them, making authors feel a little bit better about themselves is, to date, the only thing they've ever really accomplished.