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Ice-Cream Koan
Let that sink in for a while.

"Any sufficiently advanced riddle is indistinguishable from gibberish."

If you have ice cream, I will give it to you. If you have no ice cream, I will take it away from you. It is an Ice Cream Koan.

Something that looks like a Koan (a Chinese Buddhist riddle meant to encourage contemplation), walks like a koan, quacks like a koan, but lacks... substance. It sounds meaningful at first, but after you think a moment, instead of getting some rush of insight, you realize that it is nothing more than nonsense, or just a joke dressed up in profundity's hand-me-downs. Like ice cream itself, it looks good and tastes good, but is ultimately just empty calories.

Usually done for comedy value, but all too often a result of genuine pretensions on the part of the writers. Of course, some would argue that all koans are Ice Cream Koans, but then again others would argue that all Ice Cream Koans are genuine Koans. It's most likely a difference in intent (and/or pretension) that distinguishes the two.

If done savvily enough, is indeed a form of Truth in Television — the point of a Zen koan (literally "Public Case", a story), is to show that contradiction is actually a delusion, and help the student let go of the mental habit of arranging things into dichotomies (because both extremes, despite their apparent contradiction, are actually one thing).

Taken to the extreme (and stretched out), this becomes a full-fledged Word Salad Philosophy. If used as part of The Summation, can venture into Fauxlosophic Narration.

Compare Mistaken for Profound, Seemingly Profound Fool, When Is Purple. Compare and contrast Shaggy Frog Story. Related to True Art Is Incomprehensible. Has nothing to do with actual Ice Cream, Sailor Moon Character or the absolute angel. Might be confused with the famous Confucian sayings (which are also Chinese, but not Buddhist), which tend to be recited in You No Take Candle English.

Examples:

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    Anime 
  • Gen from Aquarion does these a lot.
  • In Gintama episode 1: "Having no money is like having a sinus infection. You just have to ignore it and not pick at it, and it’ll go away."
  • A message in a hot springs resort in Slayers says:
    Even in a hurry
    Rest your hand calmly
    Do not let it slip away
    ... The slippery mushroom.
    • Apparently, Red Priest Rezo from The Slayers knew a lot of those, judging by how he baffles the Slayers with crazy-sounding wisdom when they find his Soul Jar.
  • In The Slash: Bloody to Fair, Ronnie responds to Ennis's questions about his apparent omniscience (caused by being, well, literally omniscient) with a rambling existential monologue that seems profound and mysterious at first glance, but was really just to confuse her into dropping the subject.
  • Cynthia of the Pokmon anime is accused of this trope in the Diamond & Pearl part of the anime. Many times, she would refer to the saying "When one life touches another life, a new life is born." Unfortunately, considering that the common recipients were Ash and Paul, the context came off as something else.

    Comic Books 
  • Wondermark combines this with metaphorgotten:
    "God, with a sword, can make a man a king. But a king, with a sword, can only make a man a knight. A knight, with a sword, can make a man a corpse. So... I kind of forgot where I was going there."
  • The comic "Warrior" (as reviewed by Noah "Spoony" Antwiler) is practically MADE of these.
  • In one story, Reggie Mantle of Archie Comics fancies himself a martial arts expert and walks around town alternating bogus "moves" with pseudo-profound sayings along the lines of "As the grasshopper drinks of the morning dew, so is adversity pondered in the dungeons of Caliban," and "As broccoli on the dinner plate of life, so is the flower of transgression."
  • In Archie Comics during the '60s and '70s, the writers were faced with the problem of portraying hippies in a way that did not take a stand on any of the day's important issues — they did not support hippies but did not want to alienate readers who did. Hippies were thus depicted as carrying signs with slogans that really meant nothing, such as "Stamp Out Togetherness".
  • Spider-Man Mangaverse has a ton of these in the climatic 'ninja' fight-scene. Most are, upon further reflection, ridiculous.
  • Street Fighter gives us "Once you were like this stream... laughing, flowing around life. Now you are like this tree—strong, flexible... but yet rooted in your obsession."

    Film 
  • The increasingly trite sayings given by The Sphinx in Mystery Men. For example: "When you can balance a tack hammer on your head, you will head off your foes with a balanced attack." Mr. Furious later points out to the others that the Sphinx's koans are just rearranging the words in a given question asked him. Nobody else seems to see his point. Lampshaded when Sphinx tries to get Furious to calm down:
    Sphinx: If you do not master your rage...
    Furious: [cutting him off] Your rage will become your master?
    Sphinx: ...
    Furious: That's what you were going to say, right?
    Sphinx: ... Not necessarily.
  • Spice World includes this transparently nonsensical saying:
    "When the rabbit of chaos is pursued by the ferret of disorder through the fields of anarchy, it is time to hang your pants on the line of darkness. Whether they are clean or not.
    "Do. Not. Be. That. Rabbit."
  • Kung Pow!: Mu Shu Fasa in deliberately baffles the Chosen One with a Koan.
    Chosen One: What is this Evil Council everyone speaks of?
    Mu Shu Fasa: The answer you seek lies in the stars above.
    Chosen One: I don't understand.
    Mu Shu Fasa: Of course you don't, I'm speaking in riddles. That's kind of the point. Like, a clue that will later make you go "Oh that's what he meant! Stars Above!"
    • For the record, the Dark Council turns out to be aliens. French aliens.
  • In The Gamers 2: Dorkness Rising, Brother Silence, a most stubborn monk (who is NOT an elf) converses mainly in these, until finally he spouts this winner:
    Brother Silence: He who stumbles around in darkness with a stick is blind. But he who... sticks out in darkness... is... fluorescent!
    Beat
    DM: ... Lose 50 experience.
  • In Mafia!, the mafia don offers these words of wisdom at the end of his toast at his son's wedding:
    A wise man once told me, "A man is like a piece of cheese." [Long pause. Takes a sip of wine. Sits down.]
  • In In the Loop Simon Foster tells the world's media "To walk the path of peace, we must be prepared to climb the mountain of conflict."
    • Linton Barwick is also fond of coming out with soundbites that sound deep and meaningful but hold little substance. As is his chief asskisser, Chad, who's own feeble attempts at currying favour with his boss by doing this sound even worse. This eventually provokes a fed-up British character to inform him that he sounds like "a crap Jesus."
    • "In the land of truth, my friend, the man with one fact, is the King."
  • The Martian ambassador's speech in Mars Attacks! ends with one of these. "... For dark is the suede that mows like a harvest." Neatly lampshaded by Rod Steiger's character: "What the HELL does that mean?!"
  • Raising Arizona: Well, there's what's right, and there's what's right, and never the twain shall meet.
  • In Stranger Than Fiction, the guy from human resources loves these. The lead comments quietly that he thinks he's "an idiot".
    "A tree doesn't... think it's a tree? It is a tree!"
  • Hilariously lampshaded in Tropic Thunder.
    Kirk: "I don't read the script, the script reads me."
    Kevin: (beat) "What the hell does that even mean?"

    Jokes 
  • The Russian Reversal jokes, at least the less serious, less seditious ones. A very common theme to the "Soviet Russia" joke is that everything in Soviet Russia is backwards even if it doesn't make sense. Cars drive people, clothes wear people, lighters lit people, buildings stand on people, etc, etc.
  • How many Zen Buddhists does it take to change a light bulb? Two. One to change it and one not to change it.
  • If a man says something in a forest and a woman isn't there to hear him, is he still wrong?
  • Most of the "Confucius Say" jokes utilize a combination of this, Incredibly Lame Puns and Literal-Minded, such as "Man who farts in church sits in his own pew".
    • Man who stands on toilet is high on pot.
    • Man who runs in front of car is tired. Man who runs behind car is exhausted.

    Literature 
  • Spoofed in the Discworld novel Thief of Time:
    In the Second Scroll of Wen the Eternally Surprised a story is written concerning one day when the apprentice Clodpool, in a rebellious mood, approached Wen and spake thusly:
    "Master, what is the difference between a humanistic, monastic system of belief in which wisdom is sought by means of an apparently nonsensical system of questions and answers, and a lot of mystic gibberish made up on the spur of the moment?"
    Wen considered this for some time, and at last said: "A fish!"
    And Clodpool went away, satisfied.
    • Lu-Tze's way, the Way of Mrs. Cosmopolite, is entirely composed of mundane, common-sense sayings such as "There is no time like the present". One could argue the normally irreverent Lu-Tze treats these as deeply profound to make a point. This was a Brick Joke from references to other followers of The Way of Mrs. Cosmopolite. It is shown in Thief of Time the reason for that is because 1) Wisdom seems more wise if it's from far away, and 2) the common-sense sayings are coincidentally slightly different from but functionally synonymous to phrases from the Books of Wen the Eternally Surprised (though some vary into Malaproper, such as "there is no time but/like the present").
    • The passwords for the secret society in Guards! Guards! are meaningless phrases that the society thought sounded wise, like "The significant owl hoots in the night" and "Yet verily the rose is within the thorn."
    • This is then repeatedly lampshaded when several secret societies meet in the same street (or the same building at different times) and are so similar that a newcomer only realizes halfway through the password exchange that he's at the wrong door.
    • Also the scene in Mort where Princess Keli consults Cutwell and they decide to try the Discworld equivalent of I Ching. They get no information at all from "at evening the mollusc is silent among the almond blossom," and Cutwell concludes it probably lost something in translation.
    • The great Agatean philosopher Ly Tin Weedle is quoted in Interesting Times as saying "An ass may do the work of an ox in a time of no horses" and ""When many expect a mighty stallion they will find hooves on an ant". The Discworld Companion says that once you get the hang of it you can make these up at a rate of ten a minute.
    • The Ephebian philosopher Didactylos (Small Gods) generally prefers aphorisms such as "You can't trust any bugger further you can throw him, and there's nothing you can do about it, so let's have a drink", but is also responsible for "It's a wise crow that knows which way the camel points".
    • In a preface to "The Sea And Little Fishes", Terry Pratchett explains that the title is a reference to the ancient saying "The big sea does not care which way the little fishes swim", which he made up at some point and thought sounded "wise, in a slightly stupid sort of way". Lu-Tze would go on to use it in Night Watch.
  • The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy
    • Hark ye unto the wise words of Ford Prefect from So Long, and Thanks for All the Fish: "Life is like a grapefruit. It's sort of orangy-yellow and dimpled on the outside, wet and squidgy in the middle. It's got pips inside, too. Oh, and some people have a half a one for breakfast."
    • And don't forget that "Time is an illusion. Lunchtime doubly so."
    • And perhaps the most well known Ice Cream Koan: "What is the answer to the ultimate question of life, the universe and everything?" "Forty-two." This is very significant as, like a koan, the answer of "Forty-Two" isn't really an answer, it just means that you're not asking the right question. You need to reach a higher level of enlightenment to truly understand it.
  • In Discordianism, the "postmodern religion" often referenced by The Illuminatus! Trilogy, the answer to every "deep" question is always "Five tons of flax."
    • The Discordians got this from a real Zen koan, where one of several accepted answers to "What is the Buddha?" is "Three pounds of flax".
    • A large amount of Discordian wisdom looks like ice cream koans. So do a lot of Discordian jokes. And if you're trying to figure out if a particular Discordian koan is a joke or wisdom, you're doing it wrong.
    • Even if you're doing it right, you're doing it wrong.
    • In fact, Discordians deliberately use them to gum up their own and other people's brains. These are referred to in the Principia Discordia as "Mondos".
    • What is the difference between an Iced Cream Koan, a Zen Koan, and a joke? If you need to ask, no answer will satisfy you (fnord).
  • In The Game of Sunken Places by M.T. Anderson, the alien Speculant habitually speaks this way, which one of the boy protagonists treats as a contest: "When the Time of Naming arrives, then shall the unnamed and unnameable be called by its True Name." "I'll bet it has a name, and you just can't remember it, you sly devil." "The Unnameable has no name. Truth cannot be concealed behind Fiction. The Casket of Deliverance has found the Pearl of Wisdom lacking, and the Bone of No Sight shall, in the latter-" "Okay," said Gregory. "You win." The Speculant waited. "Really," said Gregory. "Ten nothing. Your game."
  • The phrases of the Zensunni sect from Dune are said to intended to be ice cream koans, similar to Zen as mentioned above. The difference is that they are intended to get the listener to recognize nonsense and obfuscation, regardless of how logically-constructed and reasonable it may appear.
  • In The Dresden Files novel "Dead Beat", wacky Medical Examiner Butters gets stuck riding in a car Dresden's magic frizzled into repeating obnoxiously, "The door is ajar." When Dresden apologizes, Butters claims it was actually quite peaceful, Zen almost.
    Butters: "Time is a River. Life is a Journey. The Door is a Jar."
  • "Let things have been as they have been, nonetheless they've been somehow; so far it has never been that things would be nohow." - Josef �vejk from Jaroslav Ha�ek's The Fateful Adventures of the Good Soldier �vejk During the World War mentions a man he knew, who said this before court.
  • Quite a few accidental ones pop up in Maradonia And The Seven Bridges by Gloria Tesch. Multiple attempts at profundity fall flat throughout the book.
    Maya: Queen Aquamarisha, dreams are the touch stones of our character. [emphasis from the original]
  • An ominous line from Mid-Flinx could be considered a subversion. When Teal informs Aimee that "You do not wear the cristif, the cristif wears you", Aimee assumes the native woman is just invoking some superstitious ice cream koan about the flower in her hair. In truth, Teal means that the flower is literally wearing Aimee, as it's an invasive parasite that's covertly driven its tendrils into Aimee's body and is consuming her from within.
  • In the Orson Scott Card novel Children of the Mind, Peter and Wang-Mu travel to the planet Divine Wind, settled by the Japanese. As Peter explains to Wang-Mu, there are two kinds of philosophers: analytical and gnomic. The former require one to be highly-educated, while the latter just require you to speak in ice cream koans and have a traveling companion try to interpret that given the context. Wang-Mu tries to pretend to be a gnomic philosopher, but quickly drops it, as she is far too logical for this.
  • In the words of Bilbo: "I don't know half of you half as well as I should like, and I like less than half of you half as well as you deserve." Which makes half as much sense as half a hole in the ground.
    • Also lampshaded when the narration mentions the hobbits standing around trying to work out if they had been insulted (the Sackville-Bagginses probably had been).
  • Kozma Prutkov (a collective pseudonym of several XIX-century Russian satirists) is famous for his aphorisms that embody this trope. Some of them contain genuinely profound thoughts, but most are banalities and nonsense expressed in humorously profound philosophical language.
    "When casting pebbles into water, look at the ripples being formed thereby. Otherwise this activity will be an empty amusement."
    "Where is the beginning of the end that comes at the end of the beginning?"
    "Snap a mare on the nose and she will flap her tail."
    "Young girls are much like checkerpieces; every one wants to become a lady, but not every one succeeds".note 
  • Kaz Cooke's Little Book of Crap consists entirely of statements like "He who goes about exultant and boastful in thongs will indulgeth a bull ant before long".
  • The Two Princesses of Bamarre: The protagonist's father has an entire book (Homely Truths) filled with these, which he consults before he does anything. After the protagonist tells Vollys, a dragon, about the Truths, Vollys makes up a few of her own.
    Vollys: "What I adore about the best of them is that they almost mean something!"

    Live Action TV 
  • Similar to the Sphinx are the words of Jimmy Smits's character Frank in this SNL sketch:
    Partner: Well, anyway, we solved the case. I guess that's what really matters.
    Frank: Well... did we solve the case? Or... did the case solve us?
  • Stargate SG-1 had a koan-speaking monk who spoke mostly in koans that made sense with respect to the situation, except "If you immediately know the candlelight is fire, then the meal was cooked a long time ago."
    • This one seemed to basically translate as "you need to learn to understand it, I can't just tell you" and was consequently a way of telling Daniel "I can't just answer your questions". The way of looking at it seemed to be that understanding had to come after simple knowledge. So you can know what fire is and even use it to cook your food, but to actually understand the nature of fire and how it can be converted into candlelight will come later. If you try to make the understanding happen now, you require that the simple knowledge must have existed a long time ago.
    • Originally the koan was prefaced by the koan "Because it is so clear it takes a longer time to realize it." which seems to be as close to an explanation as the monk provides.
    • Apparently, the only way to actually understand this one is to Ascend to a Higher Plane of Existence. Daniel even uses this as a ploy when he suspects that he's being Mind Probed instead of talking to the Ancient who helped him ascend:
      "Oma": You control the barrier between your consciousness and what you seek. You merely need to open your mind. The truth is, all knowledge, everything that is and was and will be, is everywhere ? out there, and in all of us.
      Daniel: If you immediately know the candlelight is fire, then the meal was cooked a long time ago.
      "Oma": Yes.
      Daniel: No. You're trying to understand it, aren't you?
      "Oma": It means what you want it to mean.
      Daniel: No it doesn't. And you're not Oma.
      ("Oma" morphs into Replicarter)
      Replicarter: No, I'm not, but it doesn't matter. Thanks to you, I found what I was looking for.
    • A perfect example from earlier in the episode (around the time when Daniel begins to cotton on):
      "Oma": If you are seeking an absolute truth, you will not find it. Only truth that applies to you.
      Daniel: ... That is so extremely unhelpful.
    • There was another episode in which the Harsesis child, Shifu, appears, after having spent several years under Oma's care. He also spoke only in koans.
      Shifu: If the instrument is broken, then the music will be sour.
      Daniel: The music does not play the musician.
      Shifu: Normally, there is truth in that.
      Daniel: That's good, because I have no idea what I was talking about.
      • This does make sense by the end of the episode, though. The SGC wants to use the Goa'uld race-memory to build defenses against the Goa'uld. Shifu demonstrates to Daniel that since it's race memory, you can't just take the technical knowledge without also acquiring the personality traits of a Goa'uld. So in this particular case, the music does indeed play the musician.
    • In the same episode, Jack tries to explain one of Shifu's koans to Hammond:
    Daniel Jackson: Shifu. This is General Hammond. He's the leader of this facility.
    George Hammond: Welcome to Earth.
    Shifu: A spark lights a flame but the candle will only burn as long as the wick.
    Jack O'Neill: If I may, Sir. I think what he means is the wick is the center of the candle and ostensibly a great leader, like yourself, is essential to the whole ball of wax. Basically what it means is that, it's always better to have a big long wick. Right?
    Daniel Jackson: Don't look at me.
  • Home Improvement: Tim Taylor was always accidentally inventing these, taking Wilson's wisdom and misquoting it later on in the show as mangled but humorous gibberish. An example: when his faulty memory turns a quote from Winston Churchill about representatives from each branch of the military being put together amounting to "the sum of their fears" when it sounds more to him like the Village People playing poker, into the following advice for his son: "You know Winston Churchill? Scared to death of the Village People."
    Wilson: You know Tim, there's an old folk saying: "Obsessions are like fire and water. Good servants, but bad masters."
    Tim (later): It's like Bad Masterson said: "You can't get obsessed the way old people drive through water if their servants are on fire."
  • Used all the time by protagonist Tendou Souji in Kamen Rider Kabuto, leads to many theories about his grandmother in fandom.
  • Babylon 5:
    • G'Kar did a few when his followers failed to grasp his point, just to shut them up:
    Follower: What is truth? And what is God?
    G'Kar: [long explanation]
    Follower: Ah... yes... but, what is truth? And what is God?
    G'Kar: [sighs] Truth is... [throws up his hands in exasperation] a river.
    Follower: Ah, yes! And what is God?
    G'Kar: God is... the mouth of the river.
    • This was also a bad habit of Byron's, sharing space with blackmail, arrogance, and having a really bad haircut.
    • While Kosh delivered many a genuine Koan in the course of the series, in "Deathwalker" he proceeded to engage in a cryptic conversation with a character named Abbut which consisted mostly of these. It counts as this trope because the real purpose of the conversation was to get a mental scan of Talia, ostensibly there as a telepathic mediator, so that her "real self" could be preserved. If her character hadn't left the show, this would have been how her character was restored after "Divided Loyalties".
  • The Mighty Boosh is fond of playing with these. "We all dream... but do we really dream?" and from the radio, "if you look at a pebble, you will see your own face!" is Howard's scornful example of Rudy Monchego's "simple rustic wisdom."
  • A Running Gag on F Troop. Chief Wild Eagle has an old Indian saying for every occasion, though they come across as sheer gibberish. Lampshaded on occasion when he admits he doesn't know what a saying is supposed to mean.
  • An example used by Soupy Sales on his old TV show: "A wet bird does not fly at night."
  • In the Doctor Who episode "The Fires of Pompeii", the Doctor and a soothsayer trade these.
    Lucius: A name is but a cloud upon a summer wind!
    Doctor: But the wind is felt most keenly in the dark.
    Lucius: But what is the dark other than an omen of the sun?
    • It went on like that. So when it turns out he does have the ability to see the future and knows exactly who the Doctor is, it's quite the Oh Crap moment.
    • Notably, the last expression, with which the Doctor "wins" the exchange, is "I concede that every sun must set, yet the son of the father must also rise," which, in addition to being meaningless, also relies on a pun (son/sun) that doesn't work in Latin, the language they were supposedly speaking at the time. It would explain why the soothsayer gave up at that point, actually; from his perspective it was random gibberish.
  • One of the skits on Retro Game Master (or the Japanese original anyway) is to have a monk read aloud from a video game strategy guide, which makes the writing sound like prophetic wisdom.
  • Lampshaded on "The Office" — Michael's Last Dundies:
    Deangelo: Maybe I just need to look into my heart. Deangelo, where is Michael Scott?
    Michael: I am here, in a good way. I've been here the whole time.
    Oscar: The analytical part of me wants to examine it. But I know it has no content.
  • In the first episode of Mr. Show, a priest after he discovers he's been tricked by his friends gives us one of these:
    Father Jim: When life gives me lemons, I make lemonade. When I ask someone for a glass of water and they give me a glass of sand, I turn it over, make a sand castle and then pretend I'm the king. If somebody throws a rock at my head, I pretend that the bruise is a faded tattoo, and that I was once a sailor and ran a sweatshop in Singapore . . . I'm not too proud of that time in my imaginary life.
  • Get Smart. Max tries to come up with a pearl of wisdom at the end of an episode, with expected results.
    Max: Life is like a shirt. If you lose your buttons... no. I know: Life is like a sheet!
    99: (waiting) Yes?
    Max: Why? Isn't life like a sheet?
  • Phil Dunphy on Modern Family has a few of these. "When Life gives you lemonade, make lemons. Life will be all like whaatt?"
  • Banacek has an "old Polish proverb" for every occasion.
    Banacek: A truly wise man never plays leapfrog with a Unicorn.
  • Many of Neelix's "Talaxian sayings" are these:
    "Good news wears no clothes."
    "When the road before you splits in two, take the third path."

    Music 
  • System of a Down's "Aerials" is also composed of these. "Life is a waterfall/ We drink from the river/ then we turn around and put up our walls" Word of God has said that this song doesn't really mean anything, but that was just a joke. The song has been confirmed to be about how a mentally handicapped child looks at the world by both Shavo and Daron.
  • Brazilian rock band Engenheiros do Hawaii puts no less than 57 of those in each song as a matter of principle.
  • Flight of the Conchords revels in intentionally invoking this trope, particularly in Cello Tape. "Life is like a retractable pencil/If you push on it too hard it's gonna break/People are like paper dolls/Paper dolls and people, they have a similar shape."
  • Comedian Bo Burnham performs a song called #Deep which is basically a collection of these in a comical attempt to sound pretentious. "If life is an ocean, I am a deep and handsome fish/A fish that's drowning/If the artistic process is the birth canal, then I am a freshly jellied kid/come witness my crowning."

    Newspapers 
  • The British newspaper columnist Miles Kington would sometimes write a column filled with "Albanian proverbs", which "tend to be poetic and evocative. You sit and think about them for a while, and savour them. Then you realise that they're either meaningless or wrong." They included:
    • Is there anything that an elephant would consider as being big?
    • Does a bridge go over a river? Or does the river go under the bridge? (Yes.)
    • Whoever said that it takes two to tango had forgotten about the musicians in the band.
  • The comic strip Dilbert occasionally gave us gems from the Elbonians.
    Elbonian A: The holy scrolls said a dog will fall from the sky... Actually, they say 'never shave your duck,' but it's not literal. You have to interpret it.
    Elbonian B: You mean I CAN shave my duck?!
    • A wise Elbonian once said, "in a race between a turtle and a rock, don't varnish your clams."
  • The Far Side parodied this once with the classic "if a tree falls in a forest" koan:
    "If a tree falls in a forest, and it hits a mime, does anybody care?"

    Radio 
  • From The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy:
    The nearest approach the Guide makes to this matter is on page seven-thousand-and-twenty-three, which includes the words �expect the unexpected.� This advice has annoyed many Hitch-Hikers in that it is �A� — glib, and �B� — a contradiction in terms.
  • The sign-off phrase of I'm Sorry I Haven't A Clue is always a variation of this concerning Time, Eternity, Fate and Destiny. The Other Wiki gives us:
    "And so, as the hunter of time blasts the moose of eternity, and the dairy counter worker of fate sighs and grabs her mop, I notice it's the end of the show"; and
    "And so, as the loose-bowelled pigeon of time swoops low over the unsuspecting tourist of destiny, and the flatulent skunk of fate wanders into the air-conditioning system of eternity, I notice it's the end of the show."
  • The following joke from A Prairie Home Companion. You're supposed to get it easily.
    Two penguins are sitting on an iceberg, when one turns to the other and says, "You look like you're wearing a tuxedo." The first penguin says, "What makes you think I'm not?"
  • Bob and Ray had a recurring character, Wing Po, an Asian philosopher who wandered the old west dispensing wisdom. Well, sorta wisdom.

    Stand Up Comedy 
  • Ross Noble's Unrealtime DVD has the announcer of the intro movie muse that "'It is no easier for a blind man to see the pigs of reality, than it is for a man with no arms to throw open the doors of perception.' And from this, we learn that old Chinese people don't half talk a load of old bollocks."

    Tabletop RPG 
  • The Dungeons & Dragons module Mad Monkey vs. Dragon Claw has the character Mad Monkey with a whole page of sayings of a type called "fortune cookie philosophy". One example is "The goose may fly, the fox may stalk, but only the pig hunts for truffles with his nose."
  • This is the M.O. of the Over the Edge character Koanhead. Of course, when he unloads one, it comes true.
  • The Shadowrun signature character Man-of-Many-Names contributes to in-universe conversations this way. Other shadowtalkers find it odd and occasionally disturbing when his comments make sense.

    Video Games 
  • Every time Snake saves his data in Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty, Otacon will tell him a proverb and explain its meaning as a Call Back to Mei Ling's role in the original Metal Gear Solid. Rather, he fails hilariously to explain their meanings. While the proverbs are legit, his rambling explanations of the meanings vary from wildly incorrect to technically correct but with the wrongest possible justification. If you save your game enough times and hear enough of Otacon's proverbs, Mei Ling actually shows up to deliver a proverb properly and scolds Otacon for losing the cheat sheet she gave him.
    Snake: What do pre-ripped jeans have to do with the natural order of things?
  • In Monkey Island 2: LeChuck's Revenge, Herman Toothrot asks Guybrush "If a tree falls in the forest and no one is around to hear it, what color is the tree?" After guessing about forty different colors, Guybrush correctly guesses "All colors":
    Herman: Exactly. Now, what has this experience taught you?
    Guybrush: That philosophy isn't worth my time.
    Herman: I'm very impressed! It takes most people years to reach this point. You have learned all that you can from me. Go forth into the world with confidence.
  • Xaero from Quake III: Arena spoke almost entirely in these.
  • The Like Likes in The Legend of Zelda are supposedly named for the fictitious proverb "Shield Eaters and World Leaders have many likes alike."
  • Doc Louis from Punch-Out!! is a master of these on a good day.
    Doc Louis: "Y'see, a comeback is like a yo-yo. You goin' down, but you're comin' right back up! And then you may end up walkin' the dog."
  • Cernd from Baldur's Gate II verges perilously close to this trope sometimes... and sometimes he dives right in.
    • Viconia the drow spoofs this in a conversation with the Druid / Fighter Jaheria, in an attempt to get a rise out of her.
    Viconia: If a tree falls in the forest, does anyone care?
  • The creators of Creatures hid this gem on the CD:
    "Seagulls cannot lick their own necks. This rarely seems to impede them."
  • The NES game Bad Street Brawler pushed one on you between each stage. The most (in)famous is the one before the first stage:
    Never trouble trouble till trouble troubles you!
  • In Grand Theft Auto IV, the spoof anime Princess Robot Bubblegum Show Within a Show has Master Hentai spouting a string of these to his pupil in a deliberately meandering and nonsensical manner.
  • The Stoic Club in EarthBound, where people stare at a rock and make strange philosophical conversation. To be fair, they're under the influence of some pretty weird cake.
  • In Chrono Trigger, the inhabitants of Zeal seem to like these. For instance, "Am I a butterfly dreaming I am a man, or am I a bowling ball dreaming I am a plate of sashimi?"
    • This one is a parody of a famous parable in the writings of Chinese philosopher Zhuangzi, in which Zhuangzi wakes from a dream of being a butterfly unsure if he is a butterfly dreaming he is a man or a man dreaming he is a butterfly.
  • In Dissidia: Final Fantasy, the trade accessories needed to craft each character's Level 100 weapon each come with a line or two relevant to that character. Several try to be profound and somewhat succeednote , while others are just nonsensical to the point they're almost meaningless.
    "One must make their soul like the wind to continue dreaming. Dreams will come true..."
  • Shen Yu spouts a few of these in with a terrible Chinese accent in Evil Genius when given orders by the player, such as "He who walk... arrive".
  • In Spyro: Enter the Dragonfly, a wise sensei dragon tells Spyro "The way of the dragon is to be a dragon." Spyro, being the type of character he is, actually rolls his eyes at this simultaneously redundant and nonsensical advice.
  • The Support class in Monday Night Combat is full of these, largely due to his poor mastery of the English language. "When a tree dies, only the woodpeckers profit."
  • In World of Warcraft, many of the Pandaren's /silly commands are these.
    How much deeper would the ocean be without sponges? Meditate on this.
    Mighty is the wind, but you can still break it. Meditate on this.
  • The hot-dog-stand man in Kingdom of Loathing spouts old sayings, reworded into complete absurdity.
    "According to conventional wisdom, a fig a day keeps the anthropologist away."
  • Steeper Yanru in Jade Empire offers the player several pieces of advice which he believes would make more sense if the patrons were to drink the wine.
  • The NES version of Baseball Stars has one as a cheat code. "What is a wren?" "A bird." "When isn't it?" "When it is."
  • Godot in Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney is prone to coffee-flavoured flavours of these. Everyone keeps asking him to start making sense, but he ignores them. Maya refers to them as part of his Coffeenese.

    Web Comics 
  • Subverted in this Furmentation page.
  • Arguably every koan at Koan Of The Day is one of these, but the trope is sent up most memorably in this koan.
  • This is the entire schtick of Cho from No Need for Bushido. To wit.
    Cho: I'm reminded of a wise saying I once heard about nomadic palm trees...
    Cho: The loaf of bread that tries to twist its fate is not a loaf at all, but is, in fact, a pretzel.
    Cho: ... and the greatest of these it the ostrich. (actually, we only got the end of that one, but considering the look on the inn hostess' face, we can assume it was a doozy).
  • Ozy and Millie occasionally makes Zen jokes using Ice Cream Koans, like showing a Zen map ("Go one place and not another") or a Zen board game ("It's your turn to move by not moving").
    • X-ing by not X-ing is a Running Gag in the comic. It's taken to even higher levels of absurdity when Llewellyn runs for president on the Zen Party ticket, and declares that he's running by not running. Ozy asks him why he's running, and he says he's running because he's not not running, and thus that he's not not running by not not not running.
    • This strip shows Ozy using an Ice Cream Koan to win a game. Maybe.
  • In Arthur, King of Time and Space's space arc, Arthur tells a crewman that in life, "when one door closes, another opens." The crewman later repeats the saying as "Life is an airlock."
  • From Schlock Mercenary:
    "If a coffee machine passes a baseball bat in the forest, and the only one to see it is a mime, what does he tell the police?"
  • One Irregular Webcomic! demonstrates that you should remember that a koan is not a cone.
  • xkcd lampshades it in the Alt Text.
  • Bob and George: That is the price you pay for playing Monopoly with an eskimo of the night.
  • Let Reginald of Nedroid give you a few words of wisdom.
  • Sluggy Freelance:
    • In "The Quatrix", a simulated version of Riff defends taking Kiki to see the Oracle by saying that "The future and past are merely directions on the same road." When it turns out that he's only doing it so that they can get back to deathmatching, he asserts that "Sometimes, to be deep, we must act shallow."
    • In "The Isle of the Ployees", the Great Eeoh* says "wise" things that are only irrelevant marketing gibberish.
    "The synergy of our multimedian experience must be conducive to econotric growth!"

    Web Original 
  • The Random Deepak Chopra Quote Generator does this by taking the various profound sounding words from Chopra's tweets and mashing them up to form profound-sounding yet meaningless sentences.
    The soul belongs to existential marvel!
  • Several such sayings, in which reference to the phrase "ice cream koan" was coined, originated at MIT in the 1970s and found their way into the Jargon File. One example:
    A novice was trying to fix a broken Lisp machine by turning the power off and on.
    Knightnote , seeing what the student was doing, spoke sternly: "You cannot fix a machine by just power-cycling it with no understanding of what is going wrong."
    Knight turned the machine off and on.
    The machine worked.
  • There are numerous of these in Dave Chisholm's not-quite-yet finished Let's Go to Utah. You can find it on his DeviantArt page.
  • The Uncyclopedia offers this one:
    "Zen makes no sense. Sense, however, does make Zen."
  • The proverbs at the end of every episode of Welcome to Night Vale.
  • raocow would sometimes say seemingly political or controversial sounding phrases in his Lets Play's that might just actually be meaningful and insightful. But if you think of it for a while, you will realize that it's just a plain Non Sequitur.
  • At random points in a few episodes of Wreckless Media Radio, co-host Bryan Corpolongo lists these. Usually during a discussion of fortune cookie fortunes or motivational speakers. They are frequently bizarre.
  • From Ask a Ninja:
    Question: If a ninja kills a man in the forest and there's no one else there, does he make a sound?
    Answer: If a ninja does anything, anywhere, he doesn't make a sound. HE'S A NINJA! And if he does, it's probably the last sound you'll ever hear
  • Zombo.com.
    Zombocom is a portal without a door. There is no opening or closing at Zombocom. There is only the passing of seasons. It is another ring in the tree. It is not only the birds but all of life that moves from winter to spring.
  • Bennett the Sage makes several of these during Suburban Knights by switching words around. Example: "To answer the phone, the phone must answer you."
  • Lampshaded in the Hardly Working episode "Airplane":
    Amir: You Americans are all the same. You sacrifice so much for your freedom, but was it... how you say... sacrificed for you?
    Dan: That sounded poetic, but made no sense!
  • The semi-satirical writing style of controversial video game blogger Tim Rogers frequently involves throwing a lot (a lot) of clever-sounding statements and metaphors at the wall and seeing what sticks. Needless to say, for every legitimate gem of insight he produces, there are often several of these.
  • Koenieg in The Intercontinental Union of Disgusting Characters tended to spout these, much to the chagrin of ally and enemy alike.
  • Many of the horse_ebooks tweets end up sounding like these, albeit accidentally.
  • Rational Wiki uses the term "deepity" for statements like this.
  • Similarly to horse_ebooks, Jaden Smith has been criticized rather widely for his profound tweets:
  • The Chronicles of Jaller's titular character. He knows tons of meaningless phrases.
    Jaller: Oh, come on, Axon, you know what they say: once the cottage cheese has been browning in the barn for too long, no chicken can out run it.
    Axon: I'm gonna save a lot of time by pretending that is a real saying...

    Western Animation 
  • A ninja gives a particularly nonsensical, memetic and hilarious version in episode one of Black Dynamite:
    Ninja: Ninjas do wrong to each other sometimes, and in that way, the force of the earth comes around the moon, and at that presence, the dirt, it overshadows the grass, so you like "I can't cut this grass; there's no sun coming through." So in order to enable each other, the two fruits have to look each other in the eye, understand we can only be ripe as the ripe is wrong. You know what I mean?
    Black Dynamite: Man, I never thought I'd see the day when the only person talking any sense was a damn ninja.
  • In an episode of Adventures of Sonic the Hedgehog, the crane spouts random food jokes that make no sense as if they were kernels of wisdom. Naturally, Sonic spouts one at the end and makes it about his Trademark Favorite Food.
  • Huu of Avatar: The Last Airbender made one by mutating an actual Koan he used on his last appearance:
    Huu: Pants are an illusion, and so is death.
    Zuko-as-Iroh: Zuko, you have to look within yourself to save yourself from your other self. Only then will your true self reveal itself.
    Zuko: Ugh, even when I'm talking for him I can't figure out what he means.
    • Also:
    Zuko: Ugh, what would Uncle say? ... Sometimes clouds have two sides, a dark and light, and a silver lining in between. It's like a silver sandwich! So when life seems hard, just take a bite out of the silver sandwich.
    Sokka: <suddenly catching sight of Suki> Maybe we haven't failed after all!
    Zuko: That's the spirit. I can't believe that worked. I didn't know what I was saying.
    Sokka: No, what you said didn't make sense at all.
  • The Zen Big Guy from The Mighty Ducks cartoon, Grin, would state that pain is an illusion, but quickly be forced to admit that it's an illusion that really really hurts.
  • Subverted in The Secret Show. In the episode "The Trousers of Doom", the saying "Is not the cheesecake still a cheesecake after it has been consumed by the ox?" turns out to actually be a plot point.
  • In Star Wars: Clone Wars, Jedi Master Luminara Unduli has a monologue during Bariss Ofee's lightsaber construction ceremony. It's actually correct, according to the themes of the franchise, but still somehow sounds like nonsense. Mostly she just rearranges the same six words over and over:
    Luminara Unduli: The crystal is the heart of the blade. The heart is the crystal of the Jedi. The Jedi is the crystal of the Force. The Force is the blade of the heart. All are intertwined: the crystal, the blade, the Jedi. You are one.
  • At the end of the Adventure Time episode "The Other Tarts", the Royal Tart-Toter shows up randomly to deliver this sage bit of wisdom:
    Tart-Toter: This cosmic dance of bursting decadence and withheld permissions twists all our arms collectively... but if sweetness can win�and it can�then I'll still be here tomorrow to high-five you yesterday, my friend. Peace!
  • Dad from The Brak Show often delivers these to Brak as words of wisdom, but they rarely help (and Brak rarely listens anyway). His strangest one by far is from "We Ski In Peace":
    Dad: Brak, love is a word that once spoken to a woman can not be retracted, because they tend to remember that word, and they often marry you for it. (takes a long drag from a cigarette) Ah... next thing you know, you take exit 42B, turn left to go .2 miles for the best chicken biscuits in town, and all because the best shoes from the best shoe designers are always 30% off.
    Brak: What does that mean, dad?
    Dad: It means, "Turn your house into cash."
    • Incidentally, the stuff from the second half of his Koan appears on billboards a minute later.
  • On The Grim Adventures of Billy & Mandy, one of Mandy's opening lines of dialog goes something like this: "Sometimes you drink the milk, sometimes the milk drinks you."
  • The Simpsons plays with this for laughs in a horror special. When every computer on earth crashes (Homer's fault, of course) leading to an apocalypse, Homer appears to be lampshading Lisa's sarcasm, but then turns out to be this:
    Lisa: Look at the wonders of technology now!
    Homer: Wonders, Lisa, or blunders?
    Lisa: (surprised) Dad... I think that was implied by what I said.
    Homer: Implied, Lisa, or implode?
    • And in the episode "Colonel Homer", there's one that actually makes sense if you think about it, but it still amounts to a lame excuse:
    Homer: Marge, it takes two to lie: one to lie, and one to listen.note 
  • Parodied by Family Guy in this clip. The actual song lyrics:
    There's revolution in the air. And also in the river. I'm not gonna cut my hair. The sky's up in the sky. And the rivers are the forests are the mountains are the sea. And I am you, but you are not me. And the visions of our minds are in the valleys which are valleys. And the oceans and a camel and my new socks and a book.
  • Tito from Rocket Power often gave profound "Ancient Hawaiian" koans which most were actually pretty meaningful and were often relevant to the plot and/or moral of their respective episodes. The ice cream koan comes from Sammy making fun of this in a video game based on his friends with the in-game Tito expy saying "Never drink milk from a coconut you find in the dark." Tito himself is baffled by this and argues that the ancient Hawaiians have never said that.

    Real Life 
  • Yogi Berra, a former Major League Baseball player, coach, and manager (and probable namesake of Yogi Bear), is one of the richest sources of Ice Cream Koans in popular culture. Over his career, he coined hundreds of Captain Obvious "Yogi-isms," published in multiple books, such as "it ain't over 'til it's over" and "you can observe a lot just by watching."
  • The tales of the Sufi mystic, Mullah Nasrudin, work along this principle. although from a different culture (Islamic Sufi mysticism), Nasrudin's tales leave the reader wondering if they are profound wisdom, or Ice-Cream Koans, or a subtle mix of both.
  • Matti Nyknen, Finnish top-notch ski jumper, has enriched the Finnish language with such nyknisms, such as "Life is the best time for a human being", "There are fifty-sixty chances for success", "So not?", "Life is like a ball of yarn: it begins and it ends" and "Up there in the tower you are all up yours".
  • Billy Connolly gave one he got from a friend, in one of his standup shows: "Life is a waste of time. Time is a waste of life. Get wasted all the time, and you'll have the time of your life!"
  • Occasionally, Friedrich Nietzsche's writings can pass for this.

KoanLanguage TropesKorean Honorifics
KoanCryptic ConversationMathematician's Answer
Hyde And SeekJust for PunAn Ice Person
Direct-to-VideoImageSource/InternetImpossible Shadow Puppets

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