aka: Elephants Child
But there was one Elephant — a new Elephant — an Elephant's Child — who was full of 'satiable curtiosity, and that means he asked ever so many questions. And he lived in Africa, and he filled all Africa with his 'satiable curtiosities.
A person, usually young, who is full
of questions. (All in total innocence
, of course.)
Curiosity Is a Crapshoot
even for them, but tends to be good.
Not the Mouthy Kid
; generally perfectly polite except for their questions, and completely oblivious to the fact they could be considered rude.
Often features as The Watson
, to make Mr. Exposition
a Justified Trope
, since the child doesn't actually know what is being Infodumped
on them — that's why they're asking the question. But perfectly capable of being just a characterization trope. Also frequently the source of the Armor-Piercing Question
— not so much because of insight as being Too Dumb to Fool
Contrast Curious as a Monkey
, which describes someone who believes in discovering how things work by experiment. A Constantly Curious
person is a more persistent nuisance, but doesn't make trouble on quite so grand a scale.
See also Little Jimmy
, who has no characterization except his ignorance.
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Anime & Manga
- Impulse, who was depicted on one comic cover asking the Riddler dozens of questions at superspeed.
- Astra from the First Family in Astro City.
- Posy Simmonds' Benji Weber: "But why has that lady got big boozums?"
- When Mafalda isn't acting as a Soapbox Sadie, then she acts this trope. Later, this is somewhat passed to her little brother Guille.
- Scamp in the story Little Sir Question Box. He doesn't ask nearly as many questions in any other story.
- In the Sandman story arc "Brief Lives", Dream is more or less guilted into chaperoning Delirium around trying to track down their missing brother, and all through the sequence Del keeps asking "What's the word for [insert thing there isn't a word for]?" She's generally ignored, to the point that the reader usually gives up trying to find answers to questions that clearly don't have them. Eventually she asks "What's the word for things not being the same always?" as they're driving away, and Dream answers "Change." It's quite nicely done.
- It's implied in Neil Gaiman's story "When is a Door" that the Riddler was exactly this as a youngster, much to the irritation of his parents and teachers.
- Back in the 1930s, Atomic Robo proved to be obnoxiously curious when it came to pulp noir scenarios.
Robo: Holy socks, gangsters! Do you know Al Capone? What's he like? What's he eat for breakfast? Wow, and a gunfighter! Is that a Smith and Wesson? A Colt? Remington!... Why do you wear a mask? Are you deformed? Or are you part of a secret order? Ooh! Is it for assassins?
- This exchange from Yu Gi Oh The Abridged Series, episode 18:
Yami Bakura: Hand over the boy, Tristan, or I'll swallow your soul!
Tristan: But... why?
Yami Bakura: Ever since Yugi defeated me in a duel, I've been looking for a new body. One without a soul. Mokuba's should do just fine.
Tristan: But... why?
Yami Bakura: Because I'm evil!
Tristan: But... why?
Yami Bakura: I don't know, I'm just evil! What do you expect?
Tristan: But... why?
Yami Bakura: Well, I suppose my parents never loved me enough. They were always dressing me like a girl. Do you know they wanted to call me Florence? Who names a boy Florence? Idiots, that's who!
Films — Animation
- Fievel Mousekewitz from An American Tail. Because of his curiosity, he ends up separated from his family.
- Kirikou from Kirikou and the Sorceress.
Kirikou: (after asking a lot of "Whys") Why?
The Wise Old Man of the Mountain: You're quite right to keep asking me "why", but from one "why" to the next we'll go right back to the Creation of the World — and beyond that knowing you. We'll never have time to talk about Karaba, the Sorceress.
Films — Live-Action
- 2010: The Year We Make Contact:
(Heywood Floyd is jogging, while Christopher Floyd is riding a go-kart alongside him.) Christopher:
How far away is Jupiter? Floyd:
Why does it take two and a half years to go and come back? Floyd:
'Cause it's so far. Christopher:
Why don't you go faster? Floyd:
Oh. Are you gonna forget about me? Floyd:
No. I love you. Christopher:
I won't forget about you. Floyd:
We'll be able to talk to each other, see each other on television. Christopher:
Oh. ...Daddy? Floyd:
Mommy said you're gonna be asleep for a long time. Floyd:
That's true. Christopher:
Are you gonna die? Floyd: What? Christopher:
Are you gonna die? Floyd:
Why do you say that? Christopher:
When Jamie's grandfather died, Mommy told me that he would be asleep for a long time. Floyd:
No, no, no. This is different. They're gonna wake me up... but you have to sleep on the way up, and sleep on the way down, otherwise... you'd go cuckoo... and there wouldn't be enough food aboard on the flight for everybody. Christopher:
I don't understand.
- From Big Daddy:
Hey Misto, why are you sitting on the gwond? Homeless Man:
This is where I live, little man. Julian:
Why? Homeless Man:
Well in retrospect I made some really bad choices after high school. Julian:
Why? Homeless Man:
This was during the so-called "disco era", but for me it was more like the doing mushrooms era. Julian:
Why? Homeless Man:
I never really thought about that kid, I was never "Mr. Popularity" in high school and I watched Fantasia
a lot, and so one day it just clicked. Julian:
Why? Sonny (interrupting him)
Hey yappy, could you just end the conversation and I'll get you an Egg Mcmuffin.
- In Religulous, Bill Maher uses this tactic during his interviews with religious believers:
Bill: So, you believe that when you die you'll be in a better place?
Believer: I'll be with Jesus Christ.
Bill: And that's a better place?
Believer: It's a better place.
Bill: So why don't you kill yourself?
- Uncle Buck:
Miles: Where do you live?
Buck: In the city.
Miles: You have a house?
Miles: Own or rent?
Miles: What do you do for a living?
Buck: Lots of things.
Miles: Where's your office?
Buck: I don't have one.
Miles: How come?
Buck: I don't need one.
Miles: Where's your wife?
Buck: Don't have one.
Miles: How come?
Buck: It's a long story.
Miles: You have kids?
Buck: No I don't.
Miles: How come?
Buck: It's an even longer story.
Miles: Are you my Dad's brother?
Buck: What's your record for consecutive questions asked?
Buck: I'm your Dad's brother all right.
Miles: You have much more hair in your nose than my Dad.
Buck: How nice of you to notice.
Miles: I'm a kid — that's my job.
- Rudyard Kipling's The Elephant's Child is the former Trope Namer.
- See if you can find the audio version, read by Jack Nicholson and with music by Bobby McFerrin. It's great.
- See also Kipling's "Six Honest Serving Men".
- Kipling's Rikki-Tikki-Tavi is a member of a mongoose clan whose motto is "run and find out," and shows elements of this, except the humans can't understand his questions.
- In William King's Warhammer 40000 novel Space Wolf, Ragnar asks many questions of a "wizard" they carry on their ship. And when the man saves him after his heart had failed, he still has questions.
"Always questions, eh? You haven't changed much, boy."
- Robert A. Heinlein's Friday has the title heroine ordered to become this halfway through; she even refers to it as "feeding the Elephant's Child."
- J. R. R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings: Pippin during the ride with Gandalf to Minas Tirith. Gandalf tries answering questions, but finds each answer just leads to more questions. Exposition nicely done.
- While Merry was riding with Gandalf:
Pippin: Did you get any news, any information out of him?
Merry: Yes, a good deal. More than usual. But you heard it all or most of it: you were close by, and we were talking no secrets. But you can go with him tomorrow, if you think you can get more out of him — and if he'll have you.
- While Pippin is riding with Gandalf:
(Pippin asks several questions about Shadowfax and the Palantiri)
"But I should like to know-" Pippin began.
"Mercy!" cried Gandalf. "If the giving of information is to be the cure of your inquisitiveness, I shall spend all the rest of my days in answering you. What more do you want to know?"
"The names of all the stars, and of all living things, and the whole history of Middle-earth and Over-heaven and of the Sundering Seas," laughed Pippin. "Of course! What less?"
- In Dan Abnett's Ravenor novels, the Street Urchin Zael blossoms into this when he stops being unnerved by the inquisitor's retinue.
- Little Sophie from Els Pelgrom's Little Sophie And Lanky Flop (Kleine Sofie en Lange Wapper in the original Dutch) starts out at this. Her constant questions include "Why is the grass green?", "Why are people poor?" and "What is death?" Entirely subverted when the book turns into something rather a lot like Achewood and her questions are answered through ruthless demonstration.... It's written for 10-year-olds.
- In Diana Wynne Jones's Chrestomanci story "The Sage of Theare", the Sage of Theare is a child prophecied to bring about the end of the world by being an Elephant's Child in a world that runs on order.
- In Eragon, Brom complained that Eragon was this, even though all of his questions seemed reasonable. A bit of irony there, as later on, Oromis stated that Brom ( later revealed to be Eragon's father) was this way when he was his pupil.
- Littlest One ( or Gossamer, as she is later known as) from Gossamer is this.
- Fawn from The Sharing Knife is full of curiosity and wonder. Dag takes it as a sign of her intelligence, that she doesn't accept the world at face value but wants to know how it works. Unfortunately, Fawn's hidebound family thought it was a sign of stupidity, that she could never just get on with her life but had to stop and harp on about trivial details.
- The Polish poem Staś Pytalski by Jan Brzechwa.
- The Little Prince not only is full of questions, but never gives up on a question until he gets an answer.
- German humorist Spoerl described himself as this in his memories:
Boy: Why do I have to eat?
Mother: So you'll grow up big and strong.
Boy: Why do I have to grow up big and strong?
Mother: So you'll be able to earn your own money.
Boy: Why do I have to earn my own money?
Mother: So you will always have something to eat.
Boy: Why do I have to eat?
:: As he concluded, "after this, our nineteenth nanny quit."
- Dave Barry brings this up in Babies and Other Hazards of Sex in a conversation with his son, Robert.
Robert: What are those?
Dave: Those are goats.
- In John Habberton's Helen's Babies, "Budge has a terrifying faculty for asking questions" — and sometimes blurts out the answers again, later, at awkward moments.
- The heroine of the picture book "Why?" (Lindsey Camp/Tony Ross) does this, and inadvertantly saves the planet from alien demolition.
- The little Whistler kids in A Brother's Price gleefully go through the luggage of their guests and plan to try and break open a locked portable desk. Their older sister Summer is aghast.
- Little Miss Curious from the Mr Men series.
- Roger McGough's poem "Tell Me Why".
- Michael Rosen's children's poem "Who? Why? Where? What?" from Don't Put Mustard in the Custard.
- Fanny Brice's Baby Snooks was somewhere in between this and the Mouthy Kid. Her sole reason for existence appeared to be to drive her father to the very brink of insanity, but she did it without apparent malice — just pure innocent mischief.
- Teeny, the little girl who chats with Fibber on Fibber McGee and Molly. "Hey, mister, whatcha doin', hmm?"
- From Robin Williams: A Night At The Met:
"My son is three, he wants to know everything in the goddamn world! He looks up: 'Why is the sky blue?' Well, because of the atmosphere. 'Why is there atmosphere?' Well, because we have to breathe. 'Why do we have to breathe?' 'WHO ARE YOU, CARL SAGAN? A year ago, you were sitting in your own shit! You were eating boogers five months ago! Now you want to know the nature of the universe, Baby Buddha?! Go ask Mommy, she's omnipotent, she knows everything!'"
- Possibly Louis C.K.'s Crowning Moment of Funny:
Louis: Well, because some things are and some things are not.
Louis: Well, because things that are not can't be.
Louis: Because then nothing wouldn't be! You can't have fucking nothing isn't, everything is!
Louis: 'Cause if nothing wasn't, there'd be fucking all kinds of shit, like giant ants with top hats dancin' around... there's no room for all that shit!
Louis: Aw, fuck you, eat your French fries, you little shit. Goddammit.
- The set-up here is that whenever you see a parent snapping at their child to shut up, it's best to just assume this part came first and mind your own business.
- Dylan Moran also uses this in Monster.
Son: What do you call the space in between the bits that stick out of a comb?
Dad: I don't know.
Son: Then, what do you call the place underneath the kettle?
Dad: I DON'T KNOW! Bedtime, bedtime...
- Little Sally's role in Urinetown lampshades this.
- Shadowchild from Digger, who spends most of its early appearances asking questions of the form "Am I a ____?"
Digger: Okay. We have established that you are not poison oak, nor sorrel, nor a raspberry, nor one of several species of fish. You are not a cloud, not a pickax, and you are rather too ambulatory for a tree.
- From Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal: This comic.
- Meela in Strays.
- Pibgorn at least according to Nat Bustard
- In Sinfest, love brings this out in Fuschia.
- In Thistil Mistil Kistil, Loki's sons
- In Question Duck, the punchline is always the duck asking an off-the-wall question.
- Elijah And Azuu has two of these: Izza will occasionally ask "Why" repeatedly in response to various questions or requests (whether or not it makes sense), though she seems to use the response simply on autopilot and doesn't particularly care if the conversation is abruptly cut off. Fish, on the other hand, is very curious about the world, but since he kind of struggles with short term memory he tends to repeat himself.
- Mindy from Animaniacs.
- One MGM cartoon — House of Tomorrow (1949) by Tex Avery — about inventions has a device designed to answer children's incessant questions; the child turns it on and asks an unending series of questions until the machine roars, "Oh, shut up!" and fires a plunger to cover the child's mouth.
- Let it be noted that "incessant", in this case, means no pauses in between. As if the questions were one long sentence delivered speedily in one breath.
- Looney Tunes
- Porky Pig has a nephew who once behaved much like the MGM child above. But Porky was more patient.
- The semi-recurring character Little Blabber Mouse is like this. At the end of each cartoon, the W.C. Fields Mouse would do something to make him shut up like stick a piece of tape to his mouth.
- Goo from Foster's Home for Imaginary Friends, mixing with her being a Cloudcuckoolander.
- Wonderheart Bear on the CGI Care Bears series Care Bears: Welcome to Care-a-Lot is designed specifically to be this.
- Socrates pretty much lived his life walking around the Agora asking people questions. The Socratic Method, in which you debate with someone by simply asking them questions, is named after him. He was essentially brought to trial and sentenced to death on false charges just because he was so annoying.
- And because two of his students betrayed Athens to the Spartans, so he became a scapegoat.
- Clarification: The Socratic Method in action. The teacher is asking questions (75) of a class of third graders, and illustrating its usefulness as an educational tool.
- Many, many toddlers. "No," "Mama," "Papa," and "why" are among the first words children learn.
"Eat your vegetables."
"Because they're good for you."
"Because they've got the things big kids need to grow."
"Because they're colorful."
"Because they're vegetables."
"Because they're... just eat them."
- Studies have shown that a child will stop asking why if it's an actual answer, but they keep asking 'why' if they're given the brush off. In other words, kids aren't stupid, just ignorant. If you do your best to provide an explanation within the scope of their understanding, they'll stop trolling you. If you give them bullshit to shut them up, they'll bug you until you provide an explanation within the scope of their understanding.
"Eat your vegetables."
"Meat makes muscles, milk makes bones, vegetables make everything else."
Note that the final answer is still mostly bullshit, but it's not totally false, it's an attempt at a middle ground, and it provides a comprehensive explanation that positively responds to the child's inquiry.
- Asking questions might be an uniquely human ability. Apes have been taught sign language, and they are able to answer quite complex questions, but they never ask any.
- This is applied in business settings, where it's known as 5 Whys. Apparently, by asking "Why?" five times, you'll reach the root cause of a situation.
- The mathematician Kurt Goedel was given the nickname "Herr Warum" (Mr. Why) by his family when he was young because it was what he said most often. Similarly, the Scottish physicist James Clerk Maxwell is said to have always said "What's the go o' that?" about nearly everything when he was three.
- This is included in many Jewish Passover Seders. Part of the ceremony is for a child at the table to ask "Why do we ______?" to prompt an explanation of the significance of the traditions.
- Jeopardy champion and general living braintrust Ken Jennings said that he was one of these growing up. He also went on to say that he still was, and firmly believes that being like this is a very admirable trait. He says that you should find the answer to any question that shows up in your head whether it's "How does photosynthesis work?" or "How does the water get in a toilet bowl?" He says knowledge is power, arm yourself.