She has no idea how right she is...
That is... a really interesting painting. White:
Thank you. Yeah, that's me, taking the bull by the horns. It's how I handle business. It's a metaphor. Kate:
I get it. White:
But that actually happened, though.
uses a figure of speech. Bob reiterates the usual metaphorical meaning. Alice says no, she meant it literally.
There's also a variation in which Bob questions the metaphor, and Alice responds sarcastically
that she meant it literally. See also Visual Pun
for when a play on words is given literal visualization. Related to Not Hyperbole
, where what seems like an exaggeration isn't, and Made from Real Girl Scouts
, where the literal meaning is true... and you really wish it wasn't.
Compare Double Meaning
, Not Hyperbole
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Anime & Manga
- Revolutionary Girl Utena:
- Word of God says that "Utena is the vehicle through which Anthy escapes from Ohtori." Which is one explanation for why she suddenly turns into a sports-car near the end of Adolescence of Utena.
- In the show, Nanami thinks she's (literally) laid an egg and asks her brother how he feels about girls who lay eggs. "Do you know why we've been able to live together so happily? It's because you aren't the type of girl who lays eggs."
- In Rocket Girls, Yukari is offered a job that's "so simple even a monkey could do it" — an astronaut.
- A variation occurs in an episode of Azumanga Daioh, when Chiyo, overwhelmed at the preparations for the Culture Fest, begs someone to turn back the clock before it's too late. Osaka takes this as literal instruction.
- In Neon Genesis Evangelion, the last half of the episode is set to a backdrop of Beethoven's "Ode to Joy". When Kaworu enters Heaven's Door to merge with Adam (and destroy humanity), they sing a part with two of these metaphors:
Freude trinken alle Wesen
An dem Brüsten der Natur
Alle Guten, alle Bösen
Folgen ihrer Rosenspur
Kusse gab sie uns und Reben
Einen Freund geprüft im Tod
Wollust ward dem Wurm gegeben
Und der Cherub steht vor Gott
- From Birds of Prey #93:
- In Scott Pilgrim, Ramona says that her last ex-boyfriend Gideon has a way of getting inside her head. Scott agrees, prompting Ramona to tell him that she means Gideon has a way of literally invading her subconscious.
- A variant, making it part of the mystery, in a Mickey Mouse comics story that casts Mickey as a professional detective: A man accused of destroying evidence against the local mob boss is in a mentally not very stable condition, and some of his ravings include the mention of "the monkey on my back". It turns out this refers to the actual pet monkey of the mob boss, who likes to jump down to the backs of intruders and tear them with his claws.
- Calvin and Hobbes: Several of Calvin's Imagine Spots involve this. Many other comics have since picked up on this and done it ad nauseum.
- In an early Garfield strip, Garfield wakes up, and steps out of bed, not realizing its at the edge of the table, which he falls off of. Jon franticly asks what happens, and Garfield replies, "I got up on the wrong side of bed."
- In Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality:
"Yes," Hermione said, her voice might have been a little acerbic, "that was what I said to Professor Flitwick while I was apologizing to him, that I knew things had gotten out of hand, and he yelled: Really, Miss Granger? Do you think? in a squeak so loud that my ears caught on fire. I mean my ears actually caught on fire. Professor Flitwick had to put them out again."
Harry had put his hand to his forehead. "Excuse me," Harry said. His face was perfectly straight. "Sometimes I still have a little trouble getting used to that sort of thing."
- In The Legend of Zelda fanfic Tangled In Time, Fyrus recalls his mother calling him "a little prince" when he was younger. After being crowned King of the Gerudo, he realizes that she was dropping hints about his heritage.
- Rosario Vampire: Brightest Darkness Act VI: In chapter 35, while explaining why they don't want Talon to free them from their servitude, Jovian and Jacqueline say that they'll die without him. Talon assumes that they're just being dramatic, until they explain that part of their summoning spell includes a curse that will eventually kill them unless they have a master to serve.
Films — Animation
Films — Live-Action
- Happens in the film My Favorite Year. Alan Swan is drunk, and hanging off a building by a fire hose.
"I think Alan Swan is beneath us!"
"Of course he's beneath us. He's an actor!"
"No! I think Alan Swann is beneath us right now!"
- This is how The Human Torch in the 2005 Fantastic Four film discovers his powers — he is skiing with a friend and he suddenly catches fire.
Nurse: Johnny! You're on fire!
Johnny: Thanks! you're pretty good too!
Nurse: No, you're on fire!
- A Hard Days Night has another variant:
Paul: He can't just walk out on us like this!
John: Can't he? He's done it, son!
- In Aguirre, the Wrath of God, the expedition is descending the Andes, having already had some difficulties. One character says optimistically, "It can only go up from here!" Another looks at the slope they're on and corrects him literally, "No, down." Actually, the second character is also metaphorically right: things got worse drastically.
- In Village of the Damned (the original version), the protagonist focuses on the words "brick wall" to hide how he plans to kill the psychic children. We see their attempts to break through his Psychic Static as a literal brick wall, which slowly falls to pieces as they force their way in. By the time they finish breaking through, there isn't enough time left to stop the explosives from going off.
- In Star Trek V: The Final Frontier, Kirk at first assumes Spock is speaking metaphorically when he says that Sybok is his brother.
- A nice example in Keeping The Faith, when Bonnie Rose is boasting about daughter Rose's professional achievements to the hot new Rabbi: "My mum does all my PR," Rose explains. "I know what you mean. Mine too," says the Rabbi. "No, I mean really. My mum's firm does all my PR."
- In Euro Trip, Scotty and Cooper are at the Vatican and have managed to sneak into a room with the Pope's clothes. Cooper puts on the Pope's hat and accidentally sets it on fire but doesn't notice. This little exchange takes place:
Scott: Cooper, the hat! The hat! The hat is on fire!
Cooper: We don't need no water let the motha..."
Scott: I'm not kidding! Look!
Cooper: Oh, holy shit!
- The campy 1992 movie Highway To Hell has a scene where the old proverb "The road to Hell is paved with good intentions" very literally; in the scene, the souls of good-intentioned sinners are ground into pavement by a team of workers who look like Andy Warhol, from the Good Intentions Paving Company. "I was only sleeping with my husband's boss to advance his career", one of them says sadly.
- This happens in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. Searching in a crypt under a library (which was an old converted church), Indiana Jones says, "Rats." Dr. Schneider asks what's wrong, and he repeats his statement, pointing out hundreds of rats moving around in the tunnel.
- In Hocus Pocus, the witches sing "I Put a Spell on You" to a crowd of party-goers. It puts them into a trance.
- Happens in Mrs. Doubtfire.
Miranda: How did your husband die?
Mrs. Doubtfire: He was quite fond of the drink. It was the drink that killed him.
Miranda: How awful, he was an alcoholic?
Mrs. Doubtfire: No, he was hit by a Guinness truck, so it was quite literally the drink that killed him.
- Occurs in Bugsy Malone. One of Fat Sams workers says he can't stop Dandy Dan's gang because "he's all tied up" (he's actually tied up). Fat Sam replies "I don't care how busy you are."
- In Time, with its premise of using the time of your life as currency, regularly features phrases such as "spending time", "out of time", and "give me a minute" used in a literal sense.
- Airplane: The series is fond of this trope in general.
- As a visual gag, when someone is warned about the shit hitting the fan. Cut to a view of the fan.
- There's also the lead character's "Drinking Problem"... cue him clumsily spilling his drink all over his face.
- In the sequel, one character is told, "Don't come apart on me!" His limbs promptly begin to fall off. In a later scene, he literally turns to jelly.
- In the first The Naked Gun, Jane is standing up on a ladder at a bookcase, with Lt. Drebin on the ground, the impression that he's looking up her skirt. Drebin cracks "Nice beaver!", after which Jane comes down with a taxidermy beaver ("Thanks, I just had it stuffed.").
- In one scene of Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story, we learn that the film's villain, sleazy fitness mogul White Goodman, has a painting of himself riding a wild bull hanging in his office. He helpfully states that it's a metaphor for how he runs his business ("Taking the bull by the horns,"). Then he adds that, even though it's a metaphor, the scene in the painting actually happened to him. (It probably didn't.)
- In Being There, Chance the gardener's comments about plants are mistaken for profound metaphorical statements about the economy.
Chance: As long as the roots are not severed, all is well. And all will be well in the garden.... In the garden, growth has its seasons. First comes spring and summer, but then we have fall and winter. And then we get spring and summer again....
Benjamin Rand: I think what our insightful young friend is saying is that we welcome the inevitable seasons of nature, but we're upset by the seasons of our economy....
The President: Well, Mr. Gardner, I must admit that is one of the most refreshing and optimistic statements I've heard in a very, very long time. I admire your good, solid sense. That's precisely what we lack on Capitol Hill.
- As Harpo Marx proves in Horse Feathers, you can indeed burn a candle at both ends.
- Early in Trainspotting, the heroin-addicted protagonist goes to a friend in hopes of scoring one last hit before he goes clean, but finds that said friend only has opium anal suppositories. Disappointed, but realizing that they're the closest thing to heroin that he's going to get, he takes the suppositories, inserts them into his anus, and remarks "For all the good they've done me, I might as well have stuck 'em up my arse!"
- In Mission: Impossible II, when Ethan and Luther meet again, Luther ends up stepping in sheep droppings. This conversation takes place:
Luther Stickell: Shit.
Ethan Hunt: Yes it is.
- In Who Framed Roger Rabbit, R.K. Maroon claims that Dumbo "works for peanuts". Meaning Maroon literally pays Dumbo with peanuts. (Seeing as he's an elephant.)
- In Addams Family Values, Gomez says that baby Pupert has his grandfather's eyes.
Morticia: Gomez, take those out of his mouth.
- The same joke is used in Hot Shots.
- At the beginning of It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World when Jimmy Durante's character dies, his leg spasms - and kicks a bucket.
- In Spaceballs, when Dark Helmet reports to President Skroob that they've lost Princess Vespa on the desert planet, he orders them to "Comb the desert!". In the next scene, the Mooks are "combing" it... With giant combs. (Colonel Sanders does turn to Dark Helmet to ask if they're being too literal.)
- In Little Shop of Horrors, Mr. Mushnick sarcastically asks Audrey way she's late for work (he knows her boyfriend is abusive, but she's reluctant to admit it):
Mushnick: Let me guess, you were all tied up.
Audrey: No, just handcuffed a little.
- Towards the beginning of The Jerk, Navin Johnson literally learns the difference between shit and Shinola from his adoptive father.
Mr. Johnson: (points at pile of manure) You see that, son? That's shit. (takes out bottle of Shinola) And this is Shinola.
Navin: (pointing) Shit... Shinola...
Mr. Johnson: Yeah, you're going to be fine.
- Apollo 13: In both Real Life and the film, the carbon dioxide levels aboard the Lunar Module are rising faster than anticipated, because the LM's air filters weren't designed for such high levels. But the air filters from the command module, which would handle it, are square, whereas the filters for the LM are round. Flight director Gene Kranz immediately lampshades this, facepalming too.
Kranz: Well, I suggest you gentlemen invent a way to put a square peg in a round hole. Rapidly.
- What did the Sphinx say when Oedipus answered his riddle? "Motherfucker!"
- I wondered why the Frisbee was getting bigger, and then it hit me.
- Vampires suck. Werewolves bite.
- Walking into a bar...
- What's the capital of Thailand? Bangkok!
- In the book Anansi Boys, Tiger is trapped in a cave with the thoroughly annoying Grahame Coats. Tiger warns him to not be irritating or he will bite Coats's head off.
Grahame Coats: You keep using the phrase "bite my head off." Now when you say "bite my head off," I take it I can assume that it is actually some kind of metaphorical statement, implying that you'll shout at me, perhaps rather angrily?
Tiger: Bite your head off. Then crunch it. Then swallow it.
- From Skulduggery Pleasant, when the titular character's subconscious becomes a physical, evil being the main characters have to fight.
Valkyrie "But if you can confront your inner demons"
Skulduggery: "I did confront my inner demon. I punched him in the face and he exploded."
- The Truth, about the Discworld's first newspaper, begins with someone yelling "Stop the presses!"... because the cart carrying the printing press in question has come loose and is careening down the street.
- The Colour of Magic has the world's first tourist attempting to convince a bunch of brawling heroes to pose for a picture. He barely speaks their language and none of them have ever seen a camera before. His guide tells them that the box the man is carrying has a little imp inside who will draw them really quickly, in an obvious attempt to keep them from getting confused or asking too many questions. The guide is as surprised as the reader when the imp turns out to be real.
- One of the possible results of dark-light photography is that the resulting photo will show a metaphor as if it were literal. For instance, someone whose father looms high in their life is pictured with their father standing behind them and looking down over their shoulder.
- In Going Postal, Moist's reaction to seeing the once-proud Post Office is "Oh, shit!" Mr Pump reproves him for his language, but he explains it was a statement of fact: the place is filled with pigeon droppings. Then he finds out they're actually piles of dead letters covered in pigeon droppings.
- A variant in Feet of Clay, where the literal interpretation leads to the metaphorical one: Early in the book Chalky the Troll examines some clay and says it's crank (a coarse clay) with a lot of grog (pre-fired clay) in it. It's also been sort of heated, but not baked properly, leaving it crumbly. When the insane Golem King appears, he's cranky, groggy, half-baked and cracking up.
- It's a minor Running Gag that Corporal Nobbs has the body of a twenty-year-old, though "nobody's quite sure where he keeps it."
- In Moving Pictures, characters affected by the magic of Holy Wood really do have stars in their eyes.
- The Dresden Files. Inverted in Death Masks: Dresden tells Molly she's sounding all grown up, and Molly snarks that "The breast fairy came to visit and everything." Quoth Dresden, to the reader, "Some might find it significant that it took me a second to realize she wasn't being literal about the faerie. Sometimes I hate my life."
- Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency had Eskimo Words For Snow gag running into this, which doubles as a Brick Joke to a moment when Dirk's secretary rips a handful of pages out of a dictionary in order to make it fit in a desk drawer:
The word "impossible" is not in my dictionary. In fact, everything between "herring" and "marmalade" appears to be missing.
- In Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, Tom Riddle tells Wormtail he will get to "perform a task most [his] followers would give their right hand to perform" — little does Wormtail know that to perform the task you literally have to sacrifice your right hand as a flesh offering for Dark Magic.
- The Phantom Tollbooth is loaded with these types of jokes. It starts with Milo literally going beyond Expectations on his way to the Land of Wisdom, and includes moments like him and his companions jumping to Conclusions (a small Desert Island off the coast) and having to swim back to the mainland.
- Done in the narration in Star Carrier: Earth Strike during a Xenofiction moment.
- The Benny Hill Show:
- A prison scene has a piano against a brick wall, and the narrator states, "During this dark time, music was his only escape", followed by Benny climbing on top of the piano to get over the wall.
- In a sketch on the beach, Benny is reading a book titled How to Pick Up Girls. Then, he tries to physically lift a swimsuit-clad beauty, and gets slapped for it.
- Frasier has this on several occasions, being a World of Snark:
Frasier: Niles, is there a lightbulb over my head?
Niles: You have an idea?
Frasier: No, I'm literally asking if there's a lightbulb over my head! Of course I have an idea!
- After Niles is caught out in a Closet Shuffle when he falls asleep over a breakfast trolley:
Lilith: You have egg on your face.
Niles: That's an understatement, I'm mortified! I—
Lilith: No, actual egg! It's in your hair, too...
- This is a regular gag for Sophia on The Golden Girls:
Sophia: Then it happened, what every runner dreads. I hit the wall.
Dorothy: Aww, you ran out of steam.
Sophia: No, I actually hit a wall!
- Used in the Wings episode "Plane Nine From Nantucket":
Joe: Who won the arm-wrestling match?
Helen: Fay licked me.
Joe: She beat you, huh?
Helen: No, she licked me. She literally licked my hand. I was so startled, she caught me off-guard, pinned me to the table.
- A recurring element on Sabrina the Teenage Witch.
- An episode put an interesting spin on this one:
J.D.: We could have sex again.
Elliot: Bite me.
J.D.: Oh, come on, I was kidding! It's a joke!
Elliot: No, I mean it. Like you did last night. (takes off her shirt and throws it at him) Come bite me.
- In another, Elliot talks about how great her fiancee Keith is, saying he would walk through fire for her. A Gilligan Cut shows the Janitor trying to convince Keith to literally walk through fire to prove the his love for Elliot. note
- Babylon 5: Lord Kiro mentions that his aunt once told him he would be "killed by shadows". He doesn't think it makes any sense. Pity no one told him about that ancient alien race who call themselves The Shadows...
- Pushing Daisies:
- "Smell of Success":
Emerson: Your book was a bomb.
Napoleon: Who are you to criticize my life's work?!
Emerson: (deadpan) Your book. Was a bomb. It exploded.
- "Bad Habits":
Emerson: That's bat crap.
Olive: It's a frickin' convent. Show some respect.
Emerson: (pointing at the white-streaked wall of the bell tower) I'm showing you bat crap.
- Buffy the Vampire Slayer:
Buffy: [My mom] saw these scores, and her head spun around and exploded.
Giles: I've been living on the Hellmouth too long... that was metaphorical, wasn't it?
- A somewhat different kind of inversion occurs in "A New Man", after Giles has been turned into a demon:
Spike: Hey, picked up a tail...
Giles: Yes, just a little, uh... Hurts when I sit.
Spike I mean someone's following us.
- Played straight by the Mayor:
- Also played straight in what Xander says in "Dead Man's Party" during the big What the Hell, Hero? moment against Buffy for running away at the end of season 2. Unbeknownst to the gang, a small-scale Zombie Apocalypse is going on at that very moment:
Xander: You can't just bury stuff, Buffy! It'll come right back up to get you.
- Part of the modus operandi of Vengeance Demons.
Rachel: I wish you could all feel what's it like to have your hearts ripped out.
Anyanka: Wish granted.
- Angel: One of the prophecies that has Wolfram & Hart so worked up regarding a pregnant vampire states that on the foretold night, there will be no birth, only death. They do relax somewhat at that, concluding that the offspring will either be miscarried or stillborn or killed before it can be born. It turns out that this is actually a literal statement: The vampire is undead, her body isn't designed to give birth and magic protecting the baby from harm means a C-section cannot be performed either. Her solution is to stake herself. Her body disintegrates into dust, leaving the (very alive) baby lying on the ground where her body used to be.
- Arrested Development:
- One doctor does this a few times, saying that "we lost him" when a patient escaped, "it looks like he's dead" to refer to a patient covered in blue paint, and "he's going to be all right" after Buster loses his left hand.
- In another episode, Michael repeatedly asked his imprisoned father about finances, only to be told "There's money in the banana stand." Michael assumes that just meant that the sales from the banana stand would always be there but really the banana stand is lined with $250,000 in unmarked bills but Michael doesn't learn about it until after the stand burns to the ground.
- In one episode of The Gruen Transfer, "The Pitch" had two advertising agencies competing to "sell ice to Eskimos".
- In Jonas:
Nick: She got a frog in her throat.
Kevin: There is a bug going around.
Nick: No, she was swimming in the swamp and got an actual frog in her throat. She's at the hospital right now getting a frog-ectomy.
- In one episode of Spaced Mike walks off in the pub saying he has to "point the pink pistol at the porcelain firing range". When he gets back he is carrying an actual pink pistol.
- In Supernatural:
Dean: Where'd you serve?
Guy: Fallujah — two tours. Got back a little over a year ago. Takes one to know one. Where'd you serve?
Guy: No, seriously.
Dean: Seriously. Hell.
- Doctor Who:
- In the new Battlestar Galactica, Baltar asks the "imaginary" Head Six what she really is. Her response? An angel of God sent to guide humanity. And it turns out that she was being completely serious.
- In an episode of I Dream of Jeannie, Major Healey has invited everyone to a party in his completely bare apartment. He tells Major Nelson that new furniture would be installed "in the blink of an eye. Um, where did you say Jeannie was?"
- Stargate SG-1:
- From the episode "1969":
What was the weapon you used? Col. O'Neill:
) Weapon? Maj. Thornberg:
Our cameras saw some sort of weapon. Col. O'Neill:
Oh. Well, it's hard to say. Maj. Thornberg:
Some sort of state secret? Col. O'Neill:
No, just difficult to pronounce
- It was a Goa'uld Zat'nik'tel, for reference. And that's not even the least pronounceable term in Goa'uld language — that would be the Tacluchnatagamuntoron, which even the always proper Teal'c shortens to "tacs".
- In season 9 episode "Off the Grid", when asked how he managed to have Big Eater Goa'uld Nerus leave the SGC while unknowingly carrying a subspace tracker, General Landry answers that "It was a piece of cake..." (of cupcake, to be precise).
- One is lampshaded in the episode "Icarus". After Hawkman jumps from a window with his wings on fire, General Wilson points out that he had intended the name to be a metaphor for Clark's fall from grace. Or to use the paraphrasing given in a recap:
"Look, when I named this project Icarus, I never expected an actual dude with flaming wings falling from the sky. This is totally awesome. I love life."
- In an earlier episode, when Clark Kent catches a life-threatening fever, a doctor tries to give him a shot:
Pa Kent: You can't do that! (the doctor is outraged) No, I mean you literally can't do that.
(the doctor tells him off and sticks the needle in, which goes in fine because the fever neutralized Clark's invulnerability)
- Being Human: Annie is talking to another ghost, who mentions that her death was "a terrible shock". Annie replies, "Well, I should think it would be!" The other ghost then explains that she meant it literally; she died by electrocution.
- In one Charmed episode, the Seer says she sees nothing. Her master assumes she failed to see the future, but she means, "Nothing. No Life. No World."
- 30 Rock:
- During a song at the 2006 Oscars, Jack Black bolsters Will Ferrell by telling him they may not win any awards, but they'll win "the ultimate fight".
Jack: And I'm not speaking in a metaphor, I mean literally. I am going to fight the nominees.
- "Gay Witch Hunt", the third-season premiere of the U.S. edition of The Office.
Toby: Oscar's really gay.
Toby: I mean for real.
Michael: Yeah, I know.
Toby: No, he's attracted to other men.
Michael: Okay, little too far, crossed the line.
Toby: Okay, I am telling you Oscar is an actual homosexual.
- In Hercules The Legendary Journeys, reference to the manure Hercules cleared from the Augean Stables has someone say "Holy—" "Exactly."
- In the pilot of Mr. Sunshine, after Crystal dumps Ben for Alonzo, they are just proceeding in opposite directions when the missing elephant turns up.
- Wizards of Waverly Place:
Alex: You've got to help me!
Crumbs: I wish I could, but my hands are tied.
Alex: You don't believe me either?
Crumbs: No, I mean my hands are tied. (shows Alex he's handcuffed to the table)
- Mark's discussion in Parks and Recreation of why he decided to turn his life around: "I hit rock bottom that night. I mean I literally fell to the bottom of a pit and hit a rock. I remember laying there thinking, there's probably a good reason why I'm down here. And then I remember thinking I need morphine."
- In Blackadder IV, episode "Captain Cook", Baldrick paints a picture.
Blackadder: What's it called Baldrick? "The Vomiting Cavalier"?
George: That's not supposed to be vomit; it's dabs of light.
Baldrick: No, it's vomit. You told me to paint what comes from within.
- Horrible Histories:
- In the Mystery Science Theater 3000 treatment of Space Mutiny, Crow pretends to be excited about watching the climactic battle, at first.
Crow: Wow! I am on the edge of my seat! (beat) I should probably scoot back a little; I'd be more comfortable.
Mike: Yeah, you've got a lot more room back there.
- In "Bringing Up Baby", the fourth-season premiere of Modern Family, sitting on their sofa mulling their failed second adoption, Mitchell tells Cam that they have to talk about the elephant in the room. He agrees, and the camera pulls back to show a large stuffed elephant on one of the chairs, apparently received as a baby gift. For good measure, the gag repeats itself after one of them mentions the 800-pound gorilla.
- Used in a particularly dark (still funny) instance in Community, about the head of a law firm losing his job.
Lawyer: He got too old. Swam with the sharks and got eaten!
Jeff: He created the firm! You can't lose your job when you're the boss.
Lawyer: Not if you're dead. That shark thing was not a metaphor.
- Married... with Children: Al once made a Deal with the Devil and ended up Dragged Off to Hell. There, he commented it was hot like in hell. He then realized why.
- Moone Boy:
Martin: "Playing with myself?" How'd they know I was playing with myself?
(cut to Martin under the covers with a flashlight — playing foosball with himself)
- A subtle example in Game of Thrones. When the character known up until that point only as The Boy is about to kill one of Theon's guards, the guard exclaims, "Bastard!" This should be a pretty big hint that The Boy is actually Roose Bolton's (literal and figurative) bastard son Ramsay, who has been mentioned once or twice.
- In an episode of Becker:
Sorry I'm late, I was tied up all morning. Linda:
Hey, so was I! Becker:
Linda, I wasn't actually
tied up. Linda:
Oh, uh, then neither was I.
- It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia: The gang realizes they have too many unresolved issues with various people around town and decide to use Thanksgiving dinner as an opportunity to "squash their beefs." Dennis interprets this metaphorically, but the rest of the gang takes a more literal approach, deciding that they should serve squash and beef for dinner, literally bury a hatchet in the ground, and physically wipe a slate clean. Dennis immediately points out that this is all "very on the nose."
- Master Minds has "...and make himself millions" as one of their catchphrases, but they added the word "literally" in the case of Wesley Weber, Canada's most notorious counterfeiter.
- In the Sherlock episode "The Sign of Three", Sherlock is giving a speech as John's best man and reminisces about some of their more interesting cases (none of which were shown in past episodes). He mentions the "Elephant in the Room". Cut to the two of them staring at something big in a room and the sound of an elephant trumpet.
- In the fourth episode of the fifth series of Misfits, one of the members of the superpower support group is a gay man who involuntarily teleports into the nearest closet whenever he denies his sexuality.
- Downton Abbey: In Series 4, Charles Blake helps Lady Mary save the Crawley family's recently delivered pigs from dehydration:
Mary: You've certainly saved our bacon. Literally!
- As a show run on Double Entendre, 'Allo 'Allo! featured many of these. It was particularly common for men to tell the women they had 'something in their pants' for them (as this was a favorite smuggling tactic).
- Black Jesus: On being told a bag of fertilizer costs $800, one of Jesus' crew says, "I don't even have $800 to my name, you know what that means? That means my life ain't worth a sack of shit!"
- In Detectorists:
Lance: Listen, I've never admitted this to anyone, but I really won the lottery the day Maggie left me.
Sophie: Right. You mean what, you didn't realise at the time but actually it was the best thing that could have happened?
Sophie: What did you mean then, "I won the lottery"?
Lance: I won the lottery the day Maggie left me.
Sophie: Sorry, what do you mean?
Lance: What part of "I won the lottery" do you not understand?
- In Covert Affairs: Auggie gets slapped, somewhat deservedly, by a hot-headed ex-girlfriend as soon as she sees him after two years apart (which she spent in prison, by the way).
Auggie: Didn't see that coming.
Tash: You should have. Do you know what I've been through the last two years?
Auggie: (waves folded white cane) I meant because I'm blind.
- "At your command, before you here I stand, my heart is in my hand — yeucch!" from Tom Lehrer's "The Masochism Tango".
- Variation in Gorillaz's We Are the Dury:
Murdoc: It can be very distracting when you've got six or seven decomposing zombies stuck up your chimney flue.
2D: We've got a chimney flue?
Murdoc: I'm speaking metaphorically, D. I'm using the analogy of the chimney flue to describe the, um, passageways of our flowing creativity. The zombies, in this case, are used as a metaphor for blockages to the airways, figuratively speaking.
Murdoc: No. There really are about six undead carcasses stuck up the studio chimney.
2D: Oh. Well, that'd explain the smell.
- "Weird Al" Yankovic's "Albuquerque" does this in two places. Once, where a guy sarcastically says, "Noooo, I want you to cut off my arms and legs with chainsaws!", and another time, when another guy says "I haven't had a bite in days."
- The Lonely Island song "Punch You In The Jeans" says in the chorus that "this is not a metaphor". The song is literally about violence against clothing.
- Tons of jokes on The Muppet Show involve Literal Metaphor. In fact, if one were to say that on the show, you would be accurate in predicting that one character would ask if he means that there are a lot of them, only to be shown thousands of pounds of joke books.
- This extends to a number of other Muppet works. The Muppet Movie, for example, features jokes about "starting off with a bang", "drinks on the house", and a "fork in the road".
Radio & Audioplay
- In the Doctor Who audio drama "The Whispering Forest", Turlough and Nyssa are wandering through tunnels, and Turglough says the hairs on the back of his neck are sticking up. Nyssa assumes he means the caves are spooky, but he actually means they're filled with static electricity.
- Something similar happens in Grim Fandango, with Glottis complaining that being fired is like they reached into his chest, tore out his heart, and tossed it into the woods, while doing exactly that to himself. This is rather too serious for Manny to bother questioning the odd choice of metaphor or why he's bothering to act it out literally at the same time.
- Evil Genius has a brainwashing device for restoring a minion's smarts. How does it restore smarts, you ask? It sucks the patient's brain out through their ear, washes it with a special chemical concoction, then sticks it back in again.
- Command & Conquer: Renegade had a cutscene where Havoc is escaping from a Nod compound with Sydney Mobius, who is driving the truck. They start arguing, and Havoc then calmly says "cow". She blows up, assuming he called her a cow. A little more urgently, he points forward, "No, cow!" They end up almost hitting an actual cow crossing the road.
Sydney: ... PIG!
Havoc: No, cow. (points)
- The "bloody mess" trait/perk from the series leaves a literal bloody mess of organs whenever you kill an enemy if you have it.
- The Treeminders of Fallout 3 constantly mistake Harold's requests for a Mercy Kill for some sort of riddle.
- Borderlands 2:
- After completing a quest given to you by Patricia Tannis, she states that she has "a pile of blood money with your name on it" with her. She soon assures you that wasn't a metaphor.
- Inverted later, when Sir Hammerlock promises to pay you "a pretty penny" if you do a favor for him. He immediately clarifies that he's not talking about just giving you a literal penny, seemingly under the assumption that you're unfamiliar with the expression.
- In Stubbs the Zombie in Rebel Without a Pulse, the Chief of Police threatens to dance on Stubbs' grave. When you finally confront them, he prepares to take this literally by challenging Stubbs to a dance contest that takes the form of a "Simon Says" Mini-Game.
- After clearing the Mysterious Island War quest in Kingdom of Loathing, either the Orcish Frat House or the Hippy Camp (or possibly both) will be bombed back to the Stone Age... as in, the monsters will be replaced by more powerful cave-man versions of the enemies normally found there.
- In Tekken 6's Scenario Campaign mode, on Christie's stage. Her universal dialogue with whoever the player's character is, involves her asking for the whereabouts of Eddy, with the player's character telling her they honestly don't know. Christie believes they're lying, calls them a Mishima devil, and tells them not to play dumb with her. Possibly using the term devil in a number of ways: being an afro latina character and accusing the player of taking advantage of her as a minority (i.e. white devil), or maybe just accusing the player of being deceptive and evil. Either way, her irrationality to find Eddy automatically assumes the player to be working for the Mishimas, which leads to the metaphor she uses. However, you can actually play as Devil Jin, who is a literal devil transformed version of one of the Mishima characters.
- The recipe for a Hideous Hangover Cure in The Curse of Monkey Island includes "Hair of the Dog that bit you". Literally. You need to take some hair from a dog that bit you.
- Shows up in Far Cry 3:
Willis: You have ten seconds to tell me who you are before I remotely detonate the C4 under the table and this whole place explodes like a pop bottle.
Willis: I doubt it. Five seconds.
- In Team Fortress 2 the Spy's main attack is "backstabbing" his "teammates" by literally stabbing them in the back with a knife while disguised as someone on their team.
- In an early episode of Questionable Content, Marten describes his job as being "the office bitch". This is his official job title.
- One patron in Unshelved runs into a problem like this when his girlfriend wants to close the book on their relationship.
- In Finders Keepers, Death sends Cailyn Asher a knife after Card asks for her (Death's) help. When Cailyn, Card, and Lady Scarring examine the knife later, Scarring calls it "the cutting edge." Cailyn of course asks what it is the cutting edge of, only to be told that the knife is the Cutting Edge, and it literally cuts theory from reality.
- One strip from Exterminatus Now:
Eastwood: Oh, I assure you I'm pissing myself with fear.
Virus: Well, I wouldn't go that far.
Rogue: I would. Just noticed. Watch your step there.
Virus: Oohh, right, NOT a metaphor.
- Dan and Mab's Furry Adventures can be literal at times:
- Everyday Heroes:
- Jane confesses to her neighbor Joan that she used to be a villain. When Joan expresses doubt, Jane assures her it's true; "Been there, done that, got the T-shirt!" And to prove it, she shows Joan the T-shirt. (Also a Shout-Out to Narbonic.)
- Also, it's not polite to say "don't get all bent out of shape" to a man with a spinal injury.
- The Order of the Stick:
- Sluggy Freelance:
Riff: How did your blind date go?
Torg: She got eaten by the alien.
Riff: All right! Way to go man! ...Oh, you meant that literally.
Torg: How the hell did you think I meant it?
Riff: Not sure, didn't really think about it too much, but it sounded dirty!
- What is either Bun-bun himself or Gwynn's internal representation of Bun-bun mocks her current problems (possessed by a demon, imprisoned in a sort of fantasy world within her mind) by playing the world's smallest violin. Then he drops it down his ear.
- Elsewhere, the invention of the Chick Magnet.
- In the Years of Yarncraft game, Torg was once handed his ass by the Forest Yetis of Black Rook Caverns. First literally, and then figuratively too in all likehood.
- A page of the webcomic Real Life Fiction, aptly titled "Too Literal", has a cold medecine that "may cause drow-siness".note
- From Hark A Vagrant: Cry "Havoc!" and let slip the dogs of war!
- One comic of Skin Horse does it with a metaphor that doesn't even exist.
- This is a commonly used punchline in Penny Arcade.
- In MeatShield, Leonid the pseudo-lich once did a bit of soul-searching. Since at the time he was a disembodied head that had been stuffed inside his Soul Jar, this didn't take very long. (For that matter, the fact that this particular phylactery is indeed a jar may fall into Literal Metaphor too.)
- Gunnerkrigg Court has Coyote and Renard referring to Annie as "fire-headed girl" and telling her "there's a fire in you... fire that belonged to your mother!" — repeatedly. She takes all these mentions as cringe-worthy attempts at being poetic in regards to how much she is like her mother, Surma. It's not the case. This wasn't about her temper or anything, at least not directly. They said what they meant, as straightforward as possible. By her basic nature she is a fire creature, part-human part-fire-elemental, which means her mother's fire/soul was literally passed to her, resulting in Surma's death as Antimony matured.
- In Brawl in the Family, Kingsonnn Dededoo is here to clean your clock.
- In Faux Pas, waiting all morning to say "A little birdie told me."
- In Girl Genius, when he was young, Gilgamesh Wulfenbach built a clank for "picking up girls".
Gil: Well, when I was a kid, we heard some of the older guys talking, but we were kind of... um... unclear on the concept, and, well...
Zoing: Itworkz! itworkz!
Bang: That is so just like you... soooo pathetic.
- Free Fall:
- Rusty and Co.: At the beginning of a Level 6 strip, Y.T. warns Mimic: "Don't crossss me." At the end of the strip, Mimic does exactly that (using Y.T.'s stretched body to cross a chasm); the lamia ain't happy about it.
Y.T.: Whu'd I jusst sssay, hah?
- anti-HEROES: In "Ineffective Roadblock", Kaalinor proudly states, "If you're trying to get inside this tower, you'll have to go through me first!" Courageous of him, true, but since he's a ghost and his opponent a lich, Finx has absolutely no trouble just walking through Kaal's incorporeal body.
- TV Tropes: Sometimes a trope is played in a way that its title is taken literally.
- Lethal Chef: When someone's cooking results in death.
- Typhoid Mary was a cook who carried Typhoid, but showed no symptoms of it. She's said to have spread typhoid to several households, and is known to have killed at least 3 people.
- Wait Wait Dont Tell Me discussed a recipe from a British chef once called for "henbane". What he meant was fat hen, a pleasant herb. Henbane is poisonous.
- Lethal Eatery: Health inspections exist for a reason. Poorly-cooked food, or making uncooked food like nachos right after handling something that SHOULD be cooked can lead to food poisoning, which can be deadly.
- Oh, Crap: Bring My Brown Pants (it's even lampshaded in the description).
"... first you say it, then you do it!" — Bill Cosby
- Backseat Driver: The driver's seat is in the back (see page image for a cartoon example). It also happened in real life (such as the Woods Spider).
- Mama Bear: When this trope meets Bears Are Bad News.
- Papa Wolf: When the father is indeed a wolf.
- Atop the Fourth Wall: "Welcome to Atop the Fourth Wall, where bad comics burn." This is usually a figure of speech referring to the comic being critically roasted, but on three occasions thus far he has literally set the comics on fire once he's finished reviewing them. It is important to note that he only used this AFTER setting a comic on fire....
- JesuOtaku often says metaphorical-sounding things in her anime reviews immediately before showing clips of those exact things happening — for instance, that one villain crushes the heroes' lives like marbles, or that another abandons the goals for which his sister sacrificed everything and screws her.
- Transolar Galactica's first episode revolves around Captain Trigger ordering his helmsman to steer to "the second star to the right, straight on 'til morning."
Captain Trigger: Let me tell you something: whether my orders are technical, dangerous or goddamned beautifully metaphorical, you better flogging well do 'em. So when I tell you, Ensign Yasaki, to take the second star to the right and drive straight on till morning, you better flogging well do it. You got that?
- Welcome to Night Vale:
- A recurring bit of weirdness when comments are made by a group. When Cecil says "The City Council said...", he probably doesn't mean that they released a statement, or used a spokesman, but that the whole Council spoke as one in hive-minded unison.
- Also, metaphor in general. There's a really, really good chance that its meant 100% literally. (e.g. "Home is where the heart is. You'll never guess where we hid it, though.")
- The Nostalgia Critic:
- Used in Stroker and Hoop to turn protecting the sword of the fire lotus into a Shaggy Dog Story, when all it did was light up.
Villain: The ancient scrolls said its power shone like a lantern... We always assumed it was a metaphor.
Stroker: Yeah... I guess it must have seemed a lot cooler before they invented flashlights.
- An example from when the crew are floating in space collecting Chronotons:
Leela: All right, cool your jets, hotshot.
Fry: C'mon Leela, why won't you go out with me? We both know there's something there!
Leela: No, I mean cool your jets. You're melting Bender's face.
- And another when Zoidberg is trying to do standup:
Zoidberg: Good evening ladies and germs.
Zoidberg: That wasn't a joke! I was talking to Dean Streptococcus!
- Bender's middle name is actually "Bending".
- In "The Bots and the Bees", as Bender drinks at popular club The Hip Joint, he overhears the following from a robot bar patron:
Robot: I need to loosen up, give me a screwdriver.
(bartender lays a flathead screwdriver on the bar in front of her)
- In "Bender's Game", an ordinary outhouse is occupied by a wizardly version of Farnsworth.
Just a minute. (closes the door
(waving around his nose
) Methinks he's casting a powerful spell indeed.
(Farnsworth opens the door to reveal a large cozy room
- The Flintstones: Done in the episode in which Barney Rubble and Fred Flintstone meet Dr. Sinister.
Barney: Hey look, Fred. The volcano's flipping its lid!
- The Simpsons:
- When Lisa is talking about guest-star Jay Sherman:
Lisa: I like him! He's smart, he's sensitive, he's clearly not obsessed with his physical appearance —
Homer: My ears are burning.
Lisa: Uh, I wasn't talking about you, Dad.
Homer: No, my ears are really burning. I wanted to see inside so I lit a Q-Tip.
- And another when members of the Legitimate Businessmen's Social Club catch sight of Troy McClure.
- In "The Great Money Caper":
How'd you get wise to us? Abe:
Are you kidding? They used to call me Grifty McGrift. I Wrote the Book
on flimflamming. (Bart looks at the back of the book he and Homer have been using and sees a picture of a young Abe.) Bart:
Wow, he did!
- Family Guy:
- This one:
Wow, Lois Griffin. Hey, I love your act! Nice melons. Peter:
Hey, listen pal! Lois:
Peter, I'm holding melons.
(she's holding two watermelons
And her hooters ain't bad either. Peter:
Now hang on a second there! Lois:
Peter, I'm holding hooters!
(she has two owls perched on her arm
Oh, sorry. Man:
No problem. (beat
) Your wife's hot! Peter:
All right, that's it!
- In another episode, Peter is trying to organize Stewie's first birthday party but one of the only things he could find was a "big-ass piñata"; pan over to show a large papier-mâché butt. Brian responds "I sure hope candy comes out of that."
- Phineas and Ferb:
- Double Subverted and played straight in the same episode. Charles and Rudy are two gay guys trying to help Archer seduce a gay spy named Ramon:
Rudy: I'd try The Cockfight.
Archer: A cockfight?
Charles: It's the name of a gay bar.
Rudy: But they do have actual cockfights there.
Charles: Latinos... you take the bad with the good.
Rudy: Look at slut just getting home!
Charles: Well, I guess our advice worked.
Archer: No! It didn't! Ramon blew me off.
Rudy: Then where were you all night?
Archer: Way the Christ out in the Everglades, burying some Dominican guy's rooster!
Archer: (beat) Wha...?
Charles: Oh, you meant literally.
- In the episode "Lo Scandalo", Kreiger is called in to dispose of a corpse in Malory's apartment.
Malory: And is Krieger... hard at work?
Archer: He literally might be, yes.
- In "The Honeymooners", when Archer steals Malory's limitless credit card, and proceeds to waste money:
Malory: (calmly) I am literally going to kill him.
Gilette: Well figurati—
Malory: LITERALLY. I'll lure him to my condo in Miami, drug his steak au poivre, drive him out to the middle of the Everglades, slather him with rancid chicken fat and then toss him to the gators!
Gilette: (shocked) That's pretty specific for a hypothetical...
Malory: Oh he is going to pay for this... literally.
- Looney Tunes: Marvin the Martian's "Earth-shattering kaboom" in Hare-Way to the Stars was a literal metaphor. Then it became metaphorical again — the Trope name for the explosion of a whole planet or moon (or humongous spacecraft), not just the Earth.
- In The Cleveland Show, Mr. Waterman is trying to find the rest of his Santa costume:
Where's my beard
? Mrs. Waterman:
Right here. (beat, then holds up a Santa beard
- Justice League Unlimited:
- Adventure Time:
- From "It Came from the Nightosphere", just after Finn and Marceline have started going after her dad, Finn asks how he can kill her father.
Marceline: Finn! You can't kill my dad!
Finn: Oh, right, I'm sorry—
Marceline: No, literally. You can't kill my dad. He's deathless.
- In "His Hero", when Finn and Jake convince Billy that fighting evil with violence isn't so pointless, Billy tells them "It's as if your words are filling a hole in my very being... Wanna watch?" He then parts his beard to show that a literal hole in his chest is being filled in again.
- American Dad!:
- From Avatar: The Last Airbender: "The Waterbending Scroll":
Uncle Iroh: (stops Zuko and a pirate captain from fighting) Are you so busy fighting you cannot see your own ship has set sail?
Prince Zuko: We have no time for your proverbs, Uncle!
Uncle Iroh: It's no proverb!
(cut to pirate ship being hijacked)
- Later, Zuko's ship gets hijacked. "Maybe it should be a proverb..."
- Most people take the name of the restaurant "Hooters" to be a euphemism for breasts, whereas they assert, probably for legal reasons, that they are talking about owls and everyone just misunderstands.
- Lampshaded by Grace Hopper with the "first actual case of [computer] bug being found"; the log entry from September 9, 1947 described a dead moth caught in the Harvard Mark II's circuitry, causing a short. The term "bug" was already being used to describe problems with telegraphs and other electrical equipment back in the 19th century.
- In 2014, Hell froze over.. Well, Hell, Michigan, anyway. Mind you, it is Michigan, so this happens on a regular basis.
- In an attempt to ruin the Victorian millionaire Timothy Dexter (who is known for being, frankly, insane), a few of his business rival somehow convinced him to spend most of his capital to send a ship-load of coal to Newcastle-upon-Tyne, a city that is the major producer of coal in England; in effect, literally sending coal to Newcastle. Coincidentally, when the coal arrived, the city was in the middle of a particularly hard frost and a coal miner's strike. Between the weather and the coal shortage, Dexter managed to make a killing.
- The practice of "controlled burning", containing wildfires by setting smaller fires to use up the fuel around the big fire, is a literal example of fighting fire with fire.
- Inverted with certain metaphors that used to be literal such as "worth his/her salt" and "worth its weight in gold" stem from times when salt and gold were used as money.
- George Eastman's house has an elephant in a room◊.