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:
- Adolescence of Utena: "Utena is the vehicle through which Anthy escapes from Ohtori."
- 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.
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 Day's 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!
- 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 stuffed mounted 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 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.
- 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.
- 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 letters.
- 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."
- 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!
- 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 particuarly 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!
- "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".
- 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.
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, Don't 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.
- 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: Yes, when it comes to "bugs in the security system" 2000 crickets would indeed be the stuff of legend.
- 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?
- 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's Top 11 Best Avatar: The Last Airbender episodes. After Dante Basco as Zuko punches down the Critic out of the video player and into the YouTube comments section below, the Nostalgia retaliates by calling out a "Flame War". That is, he grabs negative comments and throw them at the firebender. And when low on ammunition, he yells "Joss Whedon is overrated!" to make more appears.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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..."
- In the Lite Sprites special, the sprites are lost in a cave, and Meadow begins to glow. The other girls try to tell her this, but she takes it as a compliment instead.
- Used to the point of a Hurricane of Puns in the Tex Avery short Symphony in Slang, where Noah Webster and St. Peter try to interpret the slang-filled life story of a new arrival at the Pearly Gates.
- Ski-Nose, the Bob Hope caricature in the Bakshi Mighty Mouse episode "Bat With a Golden Tongue," greets the audience at an awards ceremony as "ladies and germs," and sure enough, the tables are populated by ladies and germs.
- My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic:
- In "Call of the Cutie", when Apple Bloom is upset, Rainbow Dash sees her and comments that she has a dark cloud hanging over her head. Fortunately, Rainbow Dash is a weatherpony, and can move the actual dark cloud elsewhere.
- In "Twilight's Kingdom - Part 1", Discord's ears are burning. Yes, literally.
- Kim Possible: Drakken and Shego go "shopping":
(salesman describes the features of a weather machine they're looking at
We'll take it! Salesman:
Great! Hey, why don't we step into the office. Drakken:
No, I mean we'll take
(they steal the weather machine
- Dexter's Laboratory: Dexter once held a garage sale. Like what happened in the Kim Possible example, two aliens showed up saying they would take his light converters. Once he said how much he was charging for each pair, they repeated they would take the light converters and he understood.
- In The Pink Panther series where Pink isn't silent, there was one episode where a bad guy was illegally drilling for oil in an Alaskian village. A villager told Pink he was threading on thin ice. After Pink told the villager he agreed with the metaphor, the villager explained he meant it literally.
- Jackie Chan Adventures: Jade once used the Snake Talisman to sneak in during one of Jackie's missions. After he's complimented for defeating some bad guys "alone", she complained by asking if she was invisible. Duh, as she said once she realized she was indeed invisible because of the talisman's power.
- In "The Jade Monkey", Jade uses the Monkey Talisman to turn the Dark Hand enforcer Ratso into a rat and herself into a monkey to avoid the other enforcers. When Jackie realizes this, we get this line:
Jackie: Jade turned Ratso into a rat and herself into a monkey? I'm a monkey's uncle.
- Batman: The Brave and the Bold got a creepy example in "Deep Cover for Batman". While Batman is in a Mirror Universe where heroes are villains, the alternate version of Blue Beetle, Scarlet Scarab, comments that he has the heart of a hero. An eavesdropping Batman wonders if he's a possible ally... only for Scarab to add that he keeps it in a jar in his closet.
- Done a fair number of times on the Beetlejuice cartoon, with its love of visual puns. In one episode, Beetlejuice is hosting a Show Within a Show and excuses himself for "a few words from our sponsors"... the words turn out to be "BUY!", "NEW!" and "FREE!"
- In the Animaniacs short "Video Revue", the Warner siblings are in a video store, fleeing from a T. rex that came out of a Jurassic Park video — so they decide to drop some "bombs" on it, including Heaven's Gate, Ishtar, and Howard the Duck.
- The Grim Adventures of Billy & Mandy, "It's Hokey Mon!": Grim has created chaos after being badgered into bringing kids' Hokey-Monster cards to life, and Mandy puts a stop to things by making her own monster for Grim to bring to life, which she describes with the phrase "Makes toast out of all other monsters." In this case, Mandy's monster literally turns its enemies into slices of toast.
- The Golden Girls is spoofed on Robot Chicken when Sophia describes her encounter with a high school basketball team: They run a (model) train on her and she gets their (basket)balls in her face.
- In an episode on My Gym Partner's a Monkey, Adam wants to try a game at a carnival where you have to knock over pins; the carnie tells him, "Sure kid, knock yourself out." When Adam tries, the ball ricochets back, and beans him in the forehead, knocking him to the ground. The carnie says, "You know, kid, usually that's a figure of speech..."
- In the first episode of the obscure series The Fairy Tale Police Department, the female officer Chris gets a call from her male partner informing her that he's been attacked by the Three Little Pigs (very long story) and she responds "You're pulling my leg!" He remarks "Funny you should use that phrase." as one of the pigs pulls his leg.
- In the The Adventures of Jimmy Neutron: Boy Genius episode "Crouching Jimmy, Hidden Sheen":
Jimmy: It's Yoo Yee's temple, alright. And it's crawling with ninjas!
(cut to the ninjas literally crawling on the ground)
- 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◊.