I Do Not Speak Nonverbal

"I'm terribly sorry, Finland, but I don't understand random-flailing-with-knife language. I tried to interpret it, but I gave up when you used the same sign for Vodka! and There's a cat under the house!."

Whether it is animation or live action, animators and actors go to great lengths to make their characters expressive and emotionally believable; otherwise, the character will have to verbalize emotion. Sometimes, characters are unable to perceive what the spectator can. Facial cues? Voice inflection? Grunts? Contortions? None of these communicate anything if you can't speak.

It can be played for comedy or drama. It'll usually involve a Cute Mute trying to convey a message. The message will invariably go whoosh! over the head of the receiver.

Related to Nonverbal Miscommunication. Compare Talking Through Technique.

Examples

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    Anime and Manga 
  • Elfen Lied: Kouta and Yuka can't figure out what's wrong with Lucy/Nyuu clutching her crotch, running around and only able to say Nyuu! with different inflections; they just stare at her blankly, wonder what her name is and she ends up peeing on the floor.
  • Potemayo: Poor Mikan can't perceive hostility from Potemayo, no matter how often she gestures, growls or shouts shaaaaa!. Jumping onto Mikan's head in a facehugger fashion seems to work.
  • In Eyeshield 21, Komusubi only speaks in "Powerful-ese", the language of powerful men. Which means the only members of the main cast who understand him are his Sempai Kurita - and, presumably due to Rule of Funny, Mamori. This is important at one point in the story, when Kurita doubts his strength so much that he can no longer understand Komusubi.

    Film 
  • In Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back, Jay and Silent Bob's pet monkey is stolen en route to Hollywood. Jay bemoans the fact that they have no idea where the van is going. Silent Bob tries to indicate to him using hand gestures, but Jay—seemingly for the first time—doesn't seem to get it, causing both guys endless frustration. Silent Bob eventually breaks down and screams at Jay.
    Silent Bob: THE SIGN! ON THE BACK OF THE CAR! SAID CRITTERS! OF HOLLYWOOD! YOU DUMB FUCK!!

  • Enchanted: The cute talking chipmunk finds his voice has gone upon arriving in the real world. He resorts to highly impressive and detailed mime; cue Prince Edward completely failing to grasp the point.
  • Chicken Little:
    Abby Mallard: (smiles broadly) Runt, should Chicken Little have a good talk with his father and clear the air *wink*... (frowns) or keep searching for Band-Aid solutions and never deal with the problem?
    Runt: Pfft! Band-Aid solutions.
    Abby Mallard: Runt!
    Runt: I'm sorry! I'm very bad at reading facial cues!
  • Young Frankenstein has the hilarious scene where the monster gets spooked and throttles Frederick, and unable to tell his dimwitted assistants to give him the sedative, he has to charade it while being strangled. This is after he explicitly checked with them that the sedative was prepared before waking the monster. The strangling starts at about 2:58 here.
  • A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum has a scene in which the trickster slave Pseudolus is trying to pass himself off as a soothsayer. A knowledgeable friend stands behind the man Pseudolus is trying to gull, desperately miming information to him. "You are looking for ..." (Baby-rocking motions.) "A child." (Two fingers.) "Two childs. Children!" (Friend mimes muscles.) "A big strong boy, and..." (Friend mimes floaty skipping.) "...a strange little boy. Girl! A little girl!"
  • Lilo does a good job following Nani's mimed instructions on what to say to the social worker... for a little while.

    Literature 
  • In Good Omens, a misunderstood wink to The Ditz leads to the newborn Antichrist being given to the wrong family, and Hilarity Ensues.
  • Towards the end of Pride and Prejudice, Mrs. Bennet is trying to get Jane and Mr. Bingley alone and keeps winking at her other daughters to get them to leave. Elizabeth just ignores this, but finally Kitty asks explicitly why her mother keeps winking at her. Mrs. Bennet denies everything.
  • In Persuasion, Anne tries to ask Admiral Croft if Wentworth seemed upset in his letter about Louisa and Benwick's sudden marriage, since they'd had every appearance of being ready to marry themselves. Croft replies that Wentworth didn't mention being upset, and even after Anne tries to clarify that she means the tone of the letter doesn't really understand what she's getting at. (It doesn't help that he knows Wentworth as his straightforward brother-in-law, whereas Anne has been repeatedly subjected to his innocuous, Double Meaning remarks about how upset he was over their broken engagement.)
  • In Sourcery, it is remarked that Rincewind is not very good at nonverbal communications.
  • The main character of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time, due to being autistic.
  • Near the beginning of Wolf Hall, Thomas Cromwell laments that he has no way to signal to Wolsey that he shouldn't be ripping Thomas Boleyn a new one; somehow there's no discreet Italian hand signal for "Back off, the king is fucking his daughter."

    Live Action TV 
  • In an early episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation, Data's long lost brother Lore is found and assembled. It quickly becomes evident that every time he lies, he has a facial tic so horrid that you fear he's having a seizure. Yet no member of the crew ever notices or comments on this. In the end, he actually has to point this out, just in case the audience didn't figure it out.
    • In another episode, a deaf and mute mediator's translators are killed, and the crew has a difficult time understanding him, except Troi (who's telepathic) and Data (who knows sign language).
  • Stargate SG-1's 200th episode, "200", has an invisible Jack O'Neill frustrated at his teammates "ignoring" his hand gestures, though this is really just a case of Jack being difficult, as usual.
  • In an episode of Charmed, Paige is voiceless and Phoebe can't hear. Phoebe is amazingly unable to understand anything Paige communicates to her.
  • Whenever characters in How I Met Your Mother attempt to psychically communicate with one another, there's a 50/50 chance this will either be played straight or subverted (i.e., they'll actually understand subtle eye squinting). When Robin tries to warn Lily not to open her bridal shower present (a move that involves motioning explicitly to the present) Lily merely thinks it's that time of the month.
  • The scene from the Extras Christmas special where Andy has Maggie pretend to be his PA. The "OK" sign, for example, is interpreted as, "He's an asshole... er, he plays darts all the time?"
  • In 30 Rock Liz is trying to get Tracy to repeat the story she told his wife about his absence. Specifically, that his pet snake had got sick and he had to take it to the vet, which as one might imagine is difficult to convey in motions. However, he does it perfectly, so she nods her head and gives him a thumbs up.
  • An episode of The George Lopez Show had George standing behind his mother, trying to signal to Angie why she should not let her borrow the car.
    Angie: Because . . . you will suck your thumb and milk a cow.

    Video Games 
  • Mass Effect uses a variant: There's an alien race - the elcor - whose facial cues are so subtle (and the body language involves scent) that other races are completely incapable of interpreting it. They sound almost exactly like Eeyore and say what emotion they are expressing at the beginning of a sentence. For example, imagine Eeyore saying: "Fearful surprise: Why are all of you aiming your guns at me."
    • And then you hear a news story about how some rich eccentric is putting on a production of Hamlet with the cast consisting entirely of elcor. Clocking in at over 14 hours long.
      "Insincere endorsement: You have not experienced Shakespeare until you have heard him in the voice of elcor."
    • In some cases at least, the emotion statement seems to be added in by their translator software. Which has caused at least one elcor to get smart about it:
      Asari: Wait, did you hack your translator so you could control your kinetic language processing?
      Elcor: With a sincerity such that skepticism would be insulting: No.
    • The one occasion when an elcor speaks to you without an emotion statement, the circumstances are such that it's a major Tear Jerker.
  • Early on in Final Fantasy X Tidus fall in with a group of Al Bhed salvegers, none of whom seem to speak Tidus' language. One attempts to convey something to Tidus through a series of grunts and gestures which are entirely lost on Tidus.

    Web Comics 

    Web Original 
  • Homestar Runner will take nearly everything you say as literal, even if it isn't. He's just that dim, and that trusting.

    Western Animation 
  • From the animated Zorro show from the 1980s: At one point Zorro dresses up as a Spanish soldier and takes the Captain hostage. The Captain tries to alert his Lieutenant via winking. Quoth the Lieutenant: "Captain, you are winking! Do you have something in your eye?" Captain: (Face Palm).
  • Count Duckula has Nanny, who takes everything literally.
  • In The Simpsons, Homer Simpson does it on more than one occasion:
    Chief Wiggum: Gee, I'd hate to close you down. Maybe we can reach a little, uh, understanding here. (Holds out the palm of his hand and motions his fingers so as to suggest that this is a bribe).
    Homer: I understand.
    Bart: Um, hey, Dad, I... I think he wants...
    Chief Wiggum: Uh, let me put it this way. I'm looking for my friend Bill. (nods as he says Bill) Have you seen any Bills around here? (nods)
    Homer: No. (points at Bart) He's Bart.
    Chief Wiggum: (groans) I... Listen carefully, and watch me wink as I speak, okay?
    Homer: Okay.
    Chief Wiggum: The guy I'm really looking for, wink (winks), is Mr. Bribe, wink, wink (winks twice) (holds out hand again).
    Homer: (beat) It's a ring toss game.
    Chief Wiggum: (annoyed) All right, that's it, I'm shutting this game down!
    ——
    Homer: (sickly sweet) Oh, look at me! I'm making people happy! I'm the Magical Man from Happy-Land, in a gumdrop house on Lollipop Lane! (leaves the room, slamming the door) (pokes his head back in) Oh, by the way, I was being sarcastic. (closes the door)
    Marge: Well, DUH!
  • Despite the extent to which Courage the Cowardly Dog will go to try and nonverbally warn of impending danger (even sometimes shapeshifting into ominous images), Muriel is never able to figure it out (and often implicitly trusts obviously threatening people), while Eustace just angrily dismisses and occasionally physically or mentally abuses him.
  • On one Looney Tunes short, Elmer Fudd's wife wonders what to make for dinner, and their dog uses pantomime to suggest roast duck (Daffy Duck to be exact, whom the dog can't stand). After she misreads every clue, the dog loses his patience and outright tells her "NO! Roast D-U-C-K duck! Sheesh!"
  • Played with in one episode of Ed, Edd n Eddy. Eddy is trying to use some sort of hand signals to communicate a plan to his buddies. Ed gets all excited and responds with incredibly over-the-top pantomime. Eddy nods and claims "Let's go!" This seems to be one big aversion, until Double D lampshades this saying "Oh like any of that really meant anything!"
  • From The Fairly OddParents! episode "Pipe Down":
    Timmy's Dad: (to Timmy) You are the WORST charades player ever! (windmills his arms) This is not a bulldozer. (hops up and down) This is not a fudgesicle. (pretends to row a boat) And how is this Ghostbusters II!?


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