Cryptically Unhelpful Answer

Tobias: We didn't know if it was rude to ask, but, uh... How do you eat with no mouth?
Ax: What do you mean, how do I eat? I have hooves, don't I

Whenever the heroes, and by extension the audience, have a question, it's generally good form for it to be answered at some point, lest the audience get pissed and demand their money back. These questions can vary in importance, but when it comes to the Cryptically Unhelpful Answer, they sometimes have one thing in common: The answers are cryptic. As well as unhelpful.

Sometimes "answers" don't really answer your question. Sometimes they leave the heroes and the audience even more confused than they were before. It's intentional on the part of the author, but not intentional on the part of whoever's doing the answering.

Contrast the Cryptic Conversation, where the Eccentric Mentor purposely makes the answer cryptic and unhelpful. Often overlaps with the Mathematician's Answer, where the answer is technically correct, but not helpful in the slightest. Compare Ice-Cream Koan.

Compare with Non-Answer, and Voodoo Shark.


    open/close all folders 

     Anime and Manga  
  • In the anime of Ouran Highschool Host Club: Haruhi's confusion as to where a grand piano seemingly appeared out of nowhere is brushed aside like this.
    Haruhi: When did that grand piano get there?
    Kyoya: Well it is a music room.

     Fan Works 

     Film - Animated  
  • From Yellow Submarine:
    Lord Mayor: Get help!
    Admiral Fred: But where should I go?
    Lord Mayor: No time for trivialities!

     Film - Live Action  
  • The Matrix and its sequels are notorious for this, especially during Neo's conversations with The Oracle. Although this is likely intentional, in order to give the viewer the choice between multiple interpretations.
  • Happens in Pirates of the Caribbean when Jack is studying Sao Feng's navigational charts. Even lampshaded.
    Jack: "Up is down"? Well, that's maddeningly unhelpful. Why are these things never clear?
  • The Mystery Man from Lost Highway gives several examples of this trope. He IS the Mystery Man, after all.
    Fred: How'd you get inside my house?!
    Mystery Man: You invited me. It is not my custom to go where I'm not wanted.

  • In the Belgariad / Malloreon these are abundant, leading to various characters (mostly Beldin and Belgarath) remarking how they hate riddles. When asked of one character why this is the only answer she gives, she tells them that it makes people think more about her words. Plus she knows it irritates people.
  • As evidenced by the page quote, Ax of Animorphs had a tendency to answer personal questions this way early on since not sharing information with other species is deeply engrained in Andalite culture (and with good reason). They absorb nutrients through their hooves, in case you were wondering.
  • Found in the epilogue of The Orphan's Tales. The Girl has wondered her entire lonely life about the mysterious woman who gave her a knife and told her to tell stories. When the Girl meets her again, she asks her why the woman left her alone for so long? The closest Aerie gets to answering is "The world is wide, and the raising of children is a delicate matter." Helpful stuff.

     Live Action TV  
  • Star Trek: Deep Space Nine: Worf refuses to explain why 23rd-century Klingons don't look like their 24th-century counterparts, saying only, "We do not discuss it with outsiders!" It wasn't until Season 2 of Enterprise that we got a canon explanation.
  • The X-Files: This is the job of every one of Mulder's Mysterious Informants. Mulder would snap at them from time to time when their vagueness would get unbearable.
  • Ambassador Kosh of Babylon 5 has dialogue consisting of almost nothing but this trope. It's even lampshaded in the series.
    Sheridan: (sighs) Well, as answers go, short, to the point, utterly useless, and totally consistent with what I've come to expect from a Vorlon.
    Kosh: Good.
    • He's far from the only one, although the ambassadors usually only resort to this when they need to rather than as a habit.
    Ta'Lon: That was a stirring reply, Citizen G'Kar. Unfortunately, while all answers are replies, not all replies are answers.
  • Lampshaded by Daniel Jackson in Stargate SG-1, when conversing with Oma Desala, who generally speaks in koans:
    Oma: If you're seeking truth that applies to all, you will not find it. Only truth that applies to you.
    Daniel: That is so amazingly unhelpful...]
    • In at least one case there's a good reason for it: "Oma" is actually Repli-Carter trying to pick Daniel's brain; she doesn't understand any of the stuff herself, and she's really looking for Daniel to provide her an explanation.

     Web Comics 
  • In Koan Of The Day, the guru makes a habit of this.
  • A common theme in Gunnerkrigg Court anytime someone asks Coyote a question. He is, afterall, a Trickster God. Even lampshaded here.
    Antimony: Coyote, can you tell me, what is Gunnerkrigg Court?
    Coyote: Why... It is man's endeavour to become god!
    Coyote: How is that for an enigmatic answer?
    Ysengrin: Very enigmatic. It barely answers anything at all.
    Antimony: In fact, it raises more questions than before.

     Western Animation 
  • My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic: Zecora's insistence on rhyming when she speaks means that her speech is usually very convoluted and hard to understand. In her introductory episode, she tells the protagonists "Beware, beware, you pony folk; those leaves of blue are not a joke!" Somewhat more helpful would have been if she'd said "Don't go near the blue flowers, they're dangerous." But then we couldn't have had a full episode ending with learning not to judge by appearances.