Emotionally Tongue Tied

If I were to say s——something apologetic... it would reflect my feelings in the matter... accurately.
Valentine, MirrorMask

Talking can be hard, especially if you're speaking from the heart. Of course this tendency is often played up in fiction to the point where characters find themselves unable to even say a particularly emotionally-charged word or phrase, often an apology or declaration of love. This may because it goes against the character's self-image, or simply because they're shy in general.

Supertrope to I Uh You Too and Gibberish of Love. Compare to Cannot Spit It Out and Gagging on Your Words.


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    Anime and Manga 
  • In the manga version of Ranma Ĺ's Shinnosuke/Ryugenzawa story arc, Ranma is hit with a severe case of this when, for once, he's trying to be nice to Akane and speak from his heart, and he's utterly frustrated that he can't say a single word.
    • When Ranma deeply hurts Akane's feelings in the Battle Dogi arc, he tries to apologize to her and sincerely say that he thought she looked cute. He stutters on "cute" for a while, before finally just screaming it in frustration. Much to his dismay, she thinks he's lying when he finally manages to get the word out.
  • In omake materials for Puella Magi Madoka Magica, Homura finds herself unable to write a Valentine card because she overthinks her feelings. This is one of many hints that Homura isn't emotionally healthy; she would kill for Madoka but she can't confess to her.

  • Jon in Garfield has a really serious case of this. He can't even say it when his Love Interest is not present!

     Fan Works 

  • Otto from A Fish Called Wanda has this problem with "sorry." (At least when he's not actually sorry: When he beats the living crap out of Archie after mistaking him for a burglar, he says "sorry" very easily.)
  • Valentine in MirrorMask is incapable of saying "sorry", even when he's apologizing to the heroine after betraying her. In fact, he's been unable to patch up his relationship with his tower (don't ask) for some time, because they had a fight once and "Valentines never apologize." However, when it becomes a matter of life and death, he is able to overcome his pride and say sorry. When we finally meet Other Valentine, he apologizes quite freely for things like accidentally bumping into people.
    • This also applies to Helena, who can't bring herself to actually apologize after being rude to her mother. It is quite notable that the "Get Well Soon" card she gives has a drawing of Valentine's tower on it.
  • In Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Johnny Depp's Willy Wonka has extreme difficulty with words such as "parent", "family", "mother", or "father". But, weirdly, not "mom and dad."
  • Sam from Ghost can only say "ditto" instead of "I love you." Inverted in the end, when he's the one who says "I love you" to Molly when he departs to the afterlife and she replies with "ditto".
  • The Collector in Demon Knight tries to propose tp Jeryline. His attempts are hampered by his complete inability to say the word "love".

  • In the Discworld novel The Fifth Elephant, Angua's werewolf parents have trouble with the syllable "vet". This makes diplomacy with the Ankh-Morpork patrician Lord Vetinari very difficult.
  • The focus of this poem is the author trying to express the depth of her romantic feelings, and failing completely; everything she can think of is either cliched or sounds stupid. In the end she gives up, saying simply:
    maybe iíll just cut the crap
    and let you know that
    i love you.

    Live Action TV 
  • Fonzie on Happy Days and his difficulties with the words "Love" and "Sorry," as well as the phrase "I was wrong."
  • Sam and Diane on Cheers encounter a similar problem.
    • Sam actually has no trouble saying the word "love" ... except when he means it.
  • Al on Married... with Children according to Peggy "has difficulty saying certain things, like "I love you", "thank you" and "look out, there's a car coming."
  • Maynard G. Krebs, a beatnik in The Many Loves Of Dobie Gillis, cannot bring himself to say the word "job." He also reacts with a terrified yelp to the word "work".
  • Minor subversion: On Sports Night, Danny finds himself incapable of pronouncing the name of tennis player Yevgeny Kafelnikov and, convinced that he's suffering some kind of nervous breakdown, races to his psychologist where he actually has a breakthrough. Nevertheless, his psychologist points out that Yevgeny Kafelnikov is simply a very difficult name to say.
  • In Ned's Declassified School Survival Guide, Guide to: Bad Habits, Ned's bad habit was his inability to say no.
  • In Red Dwarf, Kryten has a similar, but opposite, problem. His programming means he readily apologises or admits fault, but leaves him incapable of calling Rimmer a sme... a smee... a smee heee...
    • This was also the theme of their music video Tongue Tied.
  • In the Colbert Report parody of Bill O'Reilly's "We'll do it live!" outburst, Stephen's rage is triggered by having to read out the words "I'm sorry".
  • In Press Gang, Lynda and Spike are unable to bring themselves to say 'love' to each other and end up resorting to anagrams, declaring "I vole you".
  • Artemus Gordon practically makes his living at never being lost for words. However, when it comes to asking a girl he loves to marry him in "The Night of the Big Blast," he just can't get it out.
  • Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Giles can't form the words to ask Jenny out, but has no trouble with words like 'amenable' and 'indecorous'.
  • In the Stargate Atlantis episode "Sateda", Sheppard tries to tell Teyla how much he cares about his friends, but is so uncomfortable with it that she has to fill in words like "feelings" and "family" for him.
  • Damon Salvatore of The Vampire Diaries has a problem with apologies under certain circumstances - he is willing to apologise on his own terms, but when another character requests or demands an apology from him, he rudely refuses, no matter how far in the wrong he is or how much trouble he could save himself and others by just giving in. Klaus Mikaelson is even worse - he is almost never able to make a sincere and non-sarcastic apology, even when he clearly wants to. At one point he basically admits that he wishes he knew how to make other people forgive him, but that he doesn't really know how to go about it.
  • In The Adventures of Superman episode "The Human Bomb", Jimmy Olsen has a difficult time saying "I love you" to his girlfriend.
    Jimmy: Miriam, I may not be able to keep our date tonight. No, not the next night either. Maybe never — but I want you to know...Miriam, you know what I mean.
  • Multiple examples of this trope are mixed in with the thick Belligerent Sexual Tension between Castle and Beckett in Castle. Some are almost painful to watch.
    Castle: If—if anything happens to her...it... [sighs]
    Martha: [his mother] Go on.
    Castle: I-I...
    Martha: Oh, Richard, Richard. For a man who makes a living with words, you sure have a hell of a time finding them when it counts.
  • In the Leverage episode "The Double Blind Job", Parker, who often has trouble in social situations, can't quite bring herself to tell Hardison that she has feelings for him, and ends up blurting out "I have feelings for... pretzels." Unusually for this trope, Hardison knows exactly what she really means, and responds, "They're right here when you want them."
    • This is later used as a cute Call Back when after defusing a bomb she tells him that she is in the mood for pretzels.
  • Community does this with Annie. She interrupts Troy and Randi's date to tell Troy she has feelings for him.
    Annie: NO! Before you two proceed, I have one thing to say.
    [long pause]
    Troy: ...Did you...say it already?
  • In one episode of Psych, Shawn, inspired by a case he's working on, asks his father Henry that if he were dying and had only a few seconds to get a message to Shawn, what would it be? Henry admits that there is something he would want to say, but he spends so much time tap-dancing around it that Shawn gets fed up and leaves. It's only after Shawn is out of earshot that Henry admits that the message would be "I love you".
    • Later, after Henry has been shot and is unconscious, Shawn sits by his hospital bed and says:
      Shawn: I appreciate what you do...not always how you do it, but, you know, what you do is good. And I just—I don't think now is a good time for you to go, okay? That's all. And I love you...r french toast.
  • Stargate Atlantis has a very sweet moment between Sheppard and Teyla while they're on a mission to rescue Ronon.
    Sheppard: Look, Teyla. I'm not really good at, uh... [pause] Actually, I'm—I'm terrible at expressing...I don't know what you'd call it, uh...
    Teyla: Feelings?
    Sheppard: Yeah, sure, OK. The point is, I don't really have good, uh...
    Teyla: Social skills.
    Sheppard: Well, that is why I enjoyed flying choppers in the most remote part of my world before all this craziness happened, but, uh, you should know, I don't have, uh...
    Teyla: Friends?
    [Sheppard looks at her indignantly]
    Sheppard: No, I have friends. [long pause] You, Elizabeth, Ronon, Carson, even Rodney, are the closest thing I have to a...
    Teyla: A family?
    Sheppard: [nodding] I'd do anything...for any one of you. If I had to give up my life the way Ronon was going to, I would.
    [Sheppard starts to walk away]
    Teyla: Thank you...for everything you meant to say.

    New Media 
  • In the RiffTrax dub of Twilight, since there were so many awkward silences in the film, the guys usually "fixed it" by saying "...Line?"

  • In some stage adaptations of The Hobbit, Thorin has trouble with saying Smaug's name. With the right actors, it leads to hilarity.

    Video Games / Visual Novels 
  • In the Japanese version of Breath of Fire II, a clue as to the mercenary El (Farlan in the retranslation)'s true identity is the fact that he can't say the masculine pronoun "ore" without stuttering. In a rarely-seen cutscene, it's revealed that the mercenary is actually Princess Elfarlan herself.
  • In a Point-and-Click Game Innocent Until Caught, after you are bailed out of jail by Narm (no, really, that's his name), you have an option to thank him for it. The protagonist, after a few attempts, refuses, considering that Narm is life-defyingly stupid.
  • Kaidan if you decide to romance him in Mass Effect 1:
    Kaidan: Of course. You always leave a way out. That's what I lo- appreciate about you.
    Shepard: Galaxy in the balance and you trip talking to me.
  • Laharl in Disgaea Infinite has to be blackmailed by Etna into congratulating Flonne for becoming an Angel Trainee again. And when he does, the words barely come out of his mouth.
  • An extreme version of this trope is Guybrush Threepwood in The Secret Of Monkey Island, where he can't talk at all to Elaine Marley, instead muttering nonsensical gibberish.
  • The infamous High Wind scene from Final Fantasy VII, where Cloud gets awkward expressing thanks to Tifa being supportive of him, which Tifa replies to with "Words aren't the only way to convey your feelings.".

  • Happens in Homestuck when Jake outright asks whether Jane has a crush on him. She tries to dance around the subject, too nervous to answer yes, and when he pushes her she finally answers... "no". Hilarity Ensues. Also drama.
    • Also played for laughs with Caliborn, who by his own admission instinctively starts mashing keys whenever he is forced to type "love", "friend", or other related words.
  • Dumbing of Age: Defied by Walky.
    Walky: Girls always say "I love you!" an' the dude is always "I can't say it for some dumb reason" — I mean, c'mon, dude, just say it. I'm so not making this a third-act climax sorta thing.
  • In The Order of the Stick, Haley at one point becomes unable to speak intelligibly at all for some time until she expresses her feelings for Elan by an Anguished Declaration of Love.
  • For the first year of Avalon, the characters seem (progressively less) unable to say the word "lesbian", which complicates Ceilidh's attempts to ascertain whether her best friend Phoebe is one (as rumor would have it). When she finally asks Ryan outright why he would ask out a lesbian, she learns all about what started the rumor, among other things. Unfortunately, by this time Ceilidh's constant innuendo has half the school — including Phoebe herself — convinced that she's a lesbian.

    Web Original 
  • Invoked in Legion of Net.Heroes; after a lengthy storyline in which Legionnaire Decibel Dude is framed for murder and hunted by the Legion, he shows up with the evidence to clear his name. LNH leader Ultimate Ninja attempts to apologize, but can't quite manage the word "sorry". After two or three attempts, Decibel Dude lets him off the hook.
  • In Dragon Ball Z Abridged, Vegeta attempts to recruit the heroes for a fight he can't handle on his own any more than the heroes can. "Every fiber of my being wants to puke at once when I say this, but I need your heh... I need your he-eeh-eeeeh..." Gohan responds, "You need our help?" "That, yes."
  • Played for Laughs by The Nostalgia Chick. She literally gags on words like "nice" and "good".

    Western Animation 
  • In The Powerpuff Girls episode "Paste Makes Waste", Buttercup can't bring herself to say "I'm sorry" to another kid she was teasing... until said kid is turned into a giant monster and goes on a rampage, and she has to say it in order to pacify him.
  • Foster's Home for Imaginary Friends: In "Where There's A Wilt, There's A Way", Wilt tries to watch the big basketball game, but keeps getting distracted because of his inability to say "no", and he ends up Missing the Good Stuff.
  • The Simpsons: Marge Simpson had the same chronic doormat problem when Gill wouldn't leave their house.
  • In Sponge Bob Square Pants, in the episode "Fools in April", Squidward has so much trouble telling SpongeBob he's sorry that it causes his head to explode.
  • Metalocalypse: Saying "I'm sorry" is so difficult for Nathan Explosion that he vomits up blood.
  • In Archer, Lana has trouble expressing direct affection for Cyril, partially because she's uncertain about commitment because of being hurt by Archer, and partially because she's not entirely sure how much she likes the dweebish, if dependable (and well endowed) Cyril.

Alternative Title(s):

Vocabulary Avoidance