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Literal-Minded

Rocket: His people are completely literal. Metaphors are gonna go over his head.
Drax: Nothing goes over my head. My reflexes are too fast. I would catch it.

A literal minded person just doesn't get figurative speech, instead interpreting instructions, idioms, understatement, sarcasm, and so forth completely literally.

Some of the ways this trope is played:

Characters who have this as a primary characteristic will occasionally be The Comically Serious. Compare Literal Metaphor, Shaped Like Itself, and Double Meaning. Compare and contrast Literalist Snarking.

Examples

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    Anime & Manga 
  • One Astro Boy story has Astro succumb to this when Ochanomizu says he'll find the authorities who sent Astro to be scrapped and "grease their palms". He then uses a rapid-fire sequence of these to make a computer implode.
  • Axis Powers Hetalia:
    France: Just shake your ass at them or something.
    (later)
    Italy: Oh, oh, Japan! Want to see my bum?
  • Tower of God: When the dwarvish Evan complains about the Big Guy Kurudan looking down on him, he literally gets down on his belly (and still reaches to Evan's hips).
  • One Azumanga Daioh episode had the main characters planning for an event and running behind schedule. Chiyo comments that she wishes they could turn back the clock. Cue Osaka standing on a chair trying to wind the clock backwards.
  • Sumomo/Plum from Chobits can only take questions literally, according to Shinbo, due to her lack of processing power as a "laptop" Persocom.
  • Tetsuma Joe from Eyeshield 21 always follows directions. Exactly. When his coach warned him not to overeat before a game, he didn't eat for three days. And at one point, The Kid tells Joe "wake me up in about three hours". Exactly three hours later, and despite the fact that Kid is nowhere nearby, Joe leaps out the window of a moving bus just to go find Kid and wake him up. On another occasion, Kid asks Tetsuma to get him up at eight AM. So Tetsuma actually counts down the seconds until 8 AM IN HIS SLEEP.
  • Sagittarius from Fairy Tail. At one point, Lucy asks him to make a fire, but he replies that he doesn't have pyrokinesis. A few minutes later, he figures out what she really wanted and makes a fire by launching his arrows at some machines and making them explode.
  • Sōsuke Sagara from Full Metal Panic!. His literal-mindedness provides a lot of humor in quite a few serious situations (as well as not serious situations). One particular Funny Moment in the novels comes during the Behemoth arc. Sōsuke defeated Takuma, which is supposed to result in a Tear Jerker moment, where the dying Takuma moans, "I lost, sister. Why'd I lose?..." Sōsuke proceeds to take the question literally, and tactlessly attempts to explain to Takuma why he failed so miserably in an "I-told-you-so, but did you listen?" sort of way. Needless to say, Kaname tells him to shut up, and Tessa tries to repair the dramatic atmosphere.
  • Used in Gunslinger Girl for their Creepy Child moments, as they've been brainwashed to obey their handlers without question. When one handler first starts instructing a girl, he's annoyed at her inability to hit the target (actually because she's not become used to her cyborg implants) and tells her not to leave the range until she can consistently hit the target. The next day it's pouring down rain and the handler grouches that he hasn't seen any sign of the girl he's supposed to be teaching. He's told to go to the firing range where he finds her cold and shivering, still trying to hit the target as instructed after practicing all night.
  • Nia from Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann.
  • When asked for the reasons behind her actions ("What are you thinking?!") resident Idiot Savant Mashiro (who is often seen by viewers as autistic) in Sakurasou no Pet na Kanojo answers instead with exactly what is she thinking at the moment: ("Of the Earth").
  • Otonashi in Angel Beats!.
  • In an episode of Suite Pretty Cure ♪, Kanade tells Ellen, who's getting ready for her first day of school (ever), to write her name on the board big so the others can see it. She writes her name on the board big, taking up the entire board.
  • A popular form of joke in Pokémon. However, in the English dubs some jokes get Lost in Translation.
  • Goku from Dragon Ball was like this as a child, like thinking that Bulma really turned into a turtle because she was moving too slow.

    Comic Books 
  • Various Characters in Chick Tracts are literal-minded, but we're supposed to agree with them on every single issue in The Bible. But then again, Jack Chick is a Fundamentalist IRL.
  • Bart Allen (Impulse/Kid Flash) is pretty literal-minded, though it could be justified in his case: not only is he from the future, but he grew up in virtual reality.
    Superman: The Pope was very understanding — especially when you wondered if he was Catholic.
    Bart: A lot of people I know keep asking!
  • Werner has lots and lots of examples of this, even whole stories based on being literal-minded. However, most of them are impossible to translate to English for demonstration purposes.
    Hörni: Say something!
    Kalli: Something!
    Hörni: You shall not say something, you shall say something!
    Kalli: Something!
  • One Archie Comics story was about a new foreign transfer student attending Riverdale High. The concept was that every time a character used a figure of speech, she would confuse it for what it would mean in a literal sense.
  • The Viz character Mr Logic takes everything said literally. For example when he is asked to boil the kettle he points out that the kettle is made out of stainless steel and he cant produce a temperature high enough to boil stainless steel.

    Comic Strips 

    Fan Works 
  • In the My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic Ship Fic Twilights List, Rainbow Dash shows some signs of this, believing that pruning apple trees is some sort of strange excuse for Applejack to not come watch her new stunt because apple trees don't grow prunes. She also is confused by metaphors, though that may also be an outgrowth of her lack of ability to construct proper metaphors herself.
  • In Kyon Big Damn Hero, Kyon starts chatting with Sasaki, who brings up that most of his events were most probably organized by someone else. His PDA, being able to learn and adapt, brings up his event planner immediately. He then tries to avoid meetings with her with lame excuses that Skynet (his PDA) obligingly fills his schedule with as it doesn't understand Kyon is lying.
  • Inverted in Chapter 8 of Thousand Shinji, Rei is asked by Asuka, "Aren't you hot wearing all that??" To which Rei replied, "Yes. Very. Thank you." It took Asuka couple seconds to figure out what Rei had said, then she became more specific.
  • From Calvin & Hobbes: The Series:
    Tracer: (narrating) That night, when I got home, I received a call from Mimi Dejour. She said she wanted to meet me at the club right away. Since I had no idea where the Club Right Away was, I suggested the Club Flamingo. She agreed.
  • In the A Certain Magical Index fic Clash of the unlikely lovers, Accelerator and Vento of the Front have sex, with Vento eventually screaming, "My pussy is on fire!" Last Order, who was outside, is traumatized, thinking Vento was talking about an actual cat that was on fire.
  • In Equestria: A History Revealed, the Lemony Narrator certainly fits this well. She tends to analyze minute details behind word choice in an attempt to find some hidden meaning.
    • However, this is not always the case, as sometimes she ignores the literal meaning for a more symbolic one. She really tends to go either way depending on what supports her way of thinking the best at the moment.
  • In the Sherlock fanfic Baker School Blitz, Sherlock will answer all of John's hyperbolic questions literally, without fail. He'll also deliver nothing but facts when questioned, something John discovers is a mixed bag.
  • Turnabout Storm: Every metaphor Phoenix uses inevitably flies over Pinkie's head. For example, she says she missed the part where Sonata was throwing daggers out of her eyes, and wishes she could do that.
  • In Growing Up Kneazle Harry, thanks to being raised by a Kneazle pride, had a tough time with human idioms, to the point where Hermione commented "Harry, sometime we really need to discuss your literal interpretation of life."
  • In Leftovers, when Kurenai wakes Naruto up at 6 AM, he mutters, "This better not be about that Jesus guy. I didn't even look for him the first time."

    Films — Animation 
  • The Lion King: Pumbaa and Timon occasionally.
  • The main character in There Lived Kozyavin who takes the order "go this way" literally and ends up walking quite a distance.
  • In Tinker Bell and the Lost Treasure, when Terrance is telling Silvermist about how Tink lost her temper at him, at first she thinks Tink literally exploded.
  • In Hercules, when Hercules gets knocked around by Nessus, Phil tells him to use his head to fight back. Hercules then sends Nessus flying with a charging headbutt.
    Phil: All right! Not bad, kid! Not exactly what I had in mind, but not bad.
  • Max in Mary and Max has this, due to his Asperger's Syndrome, as detailed in the Real Life section.
  • Emmet from The LEGO Movie, upon being told to act like a stool, barges into a saloon and loudly declares that the patrons should come sit on him.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Freddy Got Fingered: "You must get inside the animal."
  • Zoolander: "The files are inside the computer..."
  • Inside Spaceballs, Colonel Sandurz and Dark Helmet are ordered to comb the desert, searching for the protagonists. Guess what happens. This is Played for Laughs, but only for the audience... From the non-reaction Sandurz and Helmet give after hearing the troop's report and their giant combs, we can only assume that they really wanted them to comb through the desert like they did!
  • In Temple Grandin we see the autistic Temple's interpretation of idioms (Temple's Aunt: "We wake up with the chickens around here!" Temple: (after imagining her relatives perched on a fence in their PJ's) *laughing* "That's ridiculous!"). This gets her in a bit of trouble when she builds a hugbox and a psychiatrist asks her if she gets a release from it and she says yes (because if there wasn't a release lever she couldn't get out). Unfortunately she doesn't clarify that part and her hugbox gets taken away.
  • In a Swedish movie called In Space, There Are No Emotions, the (autistic) main character, Simon, states during a monologue that he dislikes people who speak in sayings and metaphor.
    His Boss: Come on, get to work now, Simon! Time is money!
    Simon: ... (yelling, as his boss walks away) No, it's not! Time is time! Money is money!
  • Peter in Finding Neverland. At the very least, he can't (or won't) imagine that a dog is a bear, for instance.
  • This memorable dialogue from Star Trek IV:
    Interrogator: Okay, let's take it from the top.
    Pavel Chekov: The top of what?
    Interrogator: Name.
    Chekov: My name?
    Interrogator: (sarcastically) No, my name!
    Chekov: I do not know your name.
    Interrogator: You play games with me mister, and you're through!
    Chekov: I am? May I go now?
  • In What About Bob?, Bill Murray's character literally walks in small steps when presented with Richard Dreyfus' psychiatrist character's published "Baby Steps" approach to life, and seems to think it's helping.
  • In Who Framed Roger Rabbit, Eddie visits the Ink and Paint Club and orders a Scotch on the rocks, and one of the penguin waiters returns to him with a glass of Scotch... filled with rocks. Despite Genre Savvy Eddie having told the penguin that he meant ice.
  • TRON: Legacy; Kevin Flynn orders Clu, a computer program, to create the perfect system. Living beings aren't perfect.
  • Airplane! abuses this trope very frequently:
    Dr. Rumack: Captain, how soon can we land?
    Oveur: I can't tell.
    Dr. Rumack: You can tell me. I'm a doctor.
    Oveur: No. I mean I'm just not sure.
    Dr. Rumack: Can't you take a guess?
    Oveur: Well... not for another two hours.
    Dr. Rumack: (beat) You can't take a guess for another two hours?
    • And again:
    Striker: Well, I flew single-engine fighters in the Air Force, but this plane has four engines. It's an entirely different kind of flying - altogether!
    Randy and Rumack: It's an entirely different kind of flying.
  • Drax from Guardians of the Galaxy. As mentioned in the page quote, his entire species is Literal Minded and can't understand metaphors, which goes to show that while Drax is a big intimidating warrior, he's just as nuts as the other members of the team.

    Literature 
  • The schoolboy protagonist of the novel Vintage Stuff by Tom Sharpe. When told to descend by flying fox and then come straight back to the top of the cliff, he descends on the flying fox and then climbs back up along the cable.
  • The generics in the Thursday Next series have no personality, and hence no grasp of anything other than perfectly formal, literal language. Even just saying "sorry" when not apologising confuses them.
  • The protagonist and title character of the Amelia Bedelia books by Peggy Parish is the patron saint of this trope and the former namer. It's her entire shtick and the entirety of the plot: her employers give her a list of instructions and then leave, and by the time they're back she's dusted the furniture (with dusting powder), dressed the chicken (in a gingham dress), and drawn the curtains (quite a decent likeness)... Fortunately for her continued employment prospects, she's a very good cook.
    • Except for that one time that she made a date cake by cutting dates out of a calendar.
    • And a sponge cake with an actual cut up sponge.
    • On the other hand, her "tea cake" (a cake made with brewed tea mixed into the batter) turned out to be quite a success at her boss lady's luncheon. This is not surprising: bara brith, or tea bread, is cooked exactly this way in North Wales and is a local delicacy. Think of a sweet fruit-laden bread made with stewed tea. Delicious.
    • Herman Parish recently launched a prequel series featuring the adventures of her as a schoolgirl. Her literal-mindedness has some charming results, such as the time when she wanted to earn enough money for a bike and took a series of odd jobs, resultin in fiascoes such as when a customer at a restaurant told her that he wanted her to get a pie "and step on it!"
  • The Curious Incident Of The Dog In The Nighttime: Nearly every conversation Christopher has involves some of this.
  • Some of Isaac Asimov's stories have a robot interpreting insufficiently-precise orders in inconvenient ways as a major part of the plot.
    • For example, in "Little Lost Robot", an exasperated researcher tells a potentially-dangerous experimental robot, "Go lose yourself!" The robot immediately hides among a consignment of identical-looking, but harmless, robots that are due to be shipped elsewhere, then starts to go insane from the stress of maintaining the deception. The robot was going crazy more because his First Law protections were deliberately, but incorrectly, weakened. He was angry at the guy who'd yelled at him and was proving his superiority by staying lost. Later stories have more intelligent robots intentionally becoming literal-minded when it served their purposes (to better serve humanity).
  • Discworld
    • Dwarfs from the Discworld, and by extension Dwarf-by-adoption Carrot Ironfoundersson. In one case this proves fatal. Fortunately, the victim deserved it. Though Carrot hadn't yet developed the Obfuscating Stupidity that defines him in later books, it's possible he purposely misinterpreted Vimes's order for the good of the city. It's equally possible Vimes purposely gave him orders that Carrot would likely misunderstand.
    • Similarly, never tell Cohen the Barbarian that you would "rather die than betray my emperor". He will be all too happy to oblige.
    • Ankh-Morpork citizens are known for a certain amount of this, if not so much as the dwarfish race in general is. The Light Fantastic mentions former Patrician of Ankh-Morpork Olaf Quimby II, who tried to legally enforce accuracy in idioms, like figuring out how bad a poke in the eye with a blunt stick could be, or establishing a standard recipe for the pie to which something "as nice as pie" is compared. He was killed in a duel with a disgruntled poet while testing "The pen is mightier than the sword".
    • Current Patrician Havelock Vetinari is endeavoring to put a crimp on clichés and idioms. Current Ankh-Morpork law states that any form of expression must have some basis in reality. If a face "launched a thousand ships", he'll expect the appropriate manifests, for example. But, this being the Discworld, things have a way of resolving themselves (like the Pork Futures Warehouse seen in Men at Arms, which stores semi-existent pork that will become real later).
    • Golems tend to follow all instructions literally. In some cases, it's because they don't think the way living people do (they're typically portrayed like computers or robots — one in particular becomes a Watchman and starts using lines out of RoboCop). In other cases, it might be because they're rebelling against their owners.
    • Death and the Auditors are frequently prone to this trope, having only a limited grasp of human quirks and psychology.
    • Stanley Howler from Going Postal is highly susceptible to this trope, particularly when following official Post Office procedures. While trapped in a burning building, he took the safety-manual instruction to "Remain calm" literally and hence, wasn't frightened.
    • The GURPS Discworld RPG book explains this from the dwarves point of view, to help players with dwarf PCs. Dwarves find the human tendency to speak in metaphor to be both confusing and annoying. You ask a human how long until the explosion, and instead of a useful answer you get a little meditation about the beauty of flames and the fragility of life. The books explain it: precise language is a useful survival trait in as dangerous a profession as mining.
    • The tendency for people to take metaphors literally is a common humoristic element in the series. One of the early novels actually justifies it in that the Discworld's de facto instability of reality and a history of high-powered Reality Warpers duking it out have actually severely bred out the capacity for imagination.
    • Used for Black Comedy in '"Carpe Jugularum'' when the de Magpyrs claim there's no way that their ancestress could have bathed in the blood of 200 virgins — because, as they've tested, the bath starts overflowing after 80 virgins have been bled dry into it.
  • Bubba in The Sookie Stackhouse Mysteries.
  • In John C. Wright's The Golden Transcedence, a character coming to with amnesia is told he consented to forgot what, exactly, he had consented to. He asks how he can know this is true, and the computer answers that in fact, he doesn't know it.
  • Alec Lightwood from The Mortal Instruments has a tendency to misinterpret sarcasm.
    • Jace once told Clary "If there were such a thing as terminal literalism, you would have died at birth."
  • Shows up several times in The Phantom Tollbooth. When Officer Shrift (who is also the judge and the jailer of Dictionopolis) is asked if he can give Milo a short sentence for causing a mess in the Word Market, Shrift replies "How about 'I am'? That's the shortest sentence I know."
  • Lenny in Of Mice and Men. Poor guy...
  • Star Trek Novelverse
    • Torvig Bu-kar-nguv from Star Trek: Titan. His experiments to determine the truth about "gut feelings" in one of the novels consisted of introducing nanites into his crewmates' food, so as to monitor their intestines.
    • In the Star Trek: Voyager Relaunch, Dr. Sharak is sometimes like this. Interestingly enough, the problem results from the comparative lack of literal reference in his own language. Because his native tongue is constructed around metaphor, he's had to adapt to the direct references of Federation Standard and so takes idiomatic expressions at face value. It seems he's learned too well how to think and express himself in a non-Tamarian manner.
  • Animorphs Ax had this from time to time, mostly because he didn't understand human humor.
    • In The Hork-Bajir Chronicles, Dak Hamee draws a picture of his friend Jagil Hullan, but Jagil doesn't understand, saying, "That is not me. I am me."
  • In Warrior Cats, the ditzy kittypet Fuzz, who appeared in a short story in Secrets of the Clans. He asks Barley's name, and Barley, taken by surprise, responds, "Er... Barley." Then when he calls him "Erbarley", Barley says "No. Just Barley." So Fuzz proceeds to call him "Justbarley" for the rest of the story.
  • In the Junie B. Jones books, Junie B. can be this sometimes, such as in That Meanie Jim's Birthday, when Grandma Helen Miller tells her that Jim is trying to "get her goat."
  • Everything in Winnie the Pooh, being based on children's logic. For example, the idea that Pooh living "under the name of Sanders" means that he has the word written above his door.
  • The main character in the More Than Human series was prone to this, being an android designed to look like a teenager. When a classmate commented that a particular teacher would be giving them a ton of homework, he asked if she'd deliver it in a truck.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Angel: In one instance, several employees of the Wolfram & Hart were reported to have been sacked with actual sacks, and Knox mentioned that on at least one occasion they literally fired an employee.
    • As mentioned by Harmony, there are also non-Human resources.
  • The Price Is Right: How some contestants interpret the explanation of a given game's rules. While examples do exist from the Bob Barker era, these have become somewhat more frequent since Drew Carey took over as host. It remains debated whether these explanations are due to poorly worded instructions or the contestant being unable to interpret figurative language.

    One frequently cited example occured on the June 1, 2011, episode, where a contestant playing the Race Game — where the objective is to match four price tags with their correct prizes in a 45-second time frame, and correct any mistakes if time allows — was told by Carey to "throw" the tags in front of the prizes she thought they matched. Carey meant, "place them quickly on the podiums, because you have just a short amount of time to play this game," but the contestant literally interpreted the instructions and threw the price tags on the floor in front of the prizes. When confusion reigned, it was ultimately decided that the contestant should be given the benefit of the doubt and was given all four prizes.
  • Small Wonder: Vicki the robot/child. Much of the show's humor comes from her literal interpretation of simple instructions.
  • Star Trek
    • Spock from Star Trek: The Original Series.
    • In the early years, Commander Data on Star Trek: The Next Generation (though he was generally wise enough to question the idiom before actually implementing such an order).
    • Also, the computer from Next Generation. It was a small running gag for Geordi in particular to have difficulty with the computer, given the casual way he would address it. Then there was that time Geordi accidentally created a super-powered artificial intelligence by asking the computer to create an opponent worthy of Data's skills...
  • Mork of Mork and Mindy does this a lot, especially in the first season.
  • Played with in Step by Step, involving Cody's homemade ice cream sandwiches.
  • The aliens of 3rd Rock from the Sun are sometimes like this, especially in the earlier episodes:
    Mary: Are you seeing anybody?
    Sally: I'm looking at you, aren't I?
  • Hymie the robot from Get Smart. It was unwise to tell him "Kill the light".
  • Waldo Faldo from Family Matters is like this at times. For example, when Carl mentioned he knew a celebrity and Eddie said "get out of here!" in surprise, Waldo said "You can stay, Mr. Winslow."
  • Kyle from All The Small Things; it's one of the autism-like symptoms he displays.
  • Teal'c of Stargate SG-1. Take an episode where the team encounters a society who can create energy via heavy water and want it to wage war.
    Daniel: Their planet is on fire and we're offering them oil.
    Teal'c: We are in fact offering them water, Daniel Jackson.
    Daniel: I was speaking metaphorically.
    Jack: Well stop it. It's not fair to Teal'c.
  • Ziva from NCIS, on occasion. Once, the team had to come in on a Sunday, and Tony joked that Gibbs was wearing a suit because he was getting married again:
    (Tony gets up and heads for the victim's home; Ziva stays)
    Gibbs: (angrily) Are you waiting for an invitation, Officer David?
    Ziva: (clueless) Oh. So you really are getting married?
    Tony: He means you're with me.
    Ziva: Oh!
  • Buffy the Vampire Slayer:
    • Anya is very much like this.
    Anya: That's so very humorous. Make fun of the ex-demon! I can just hear you in private. "I dislike that Anya. She's newly human and strangely literal."
    • Willow is also this. "Kiss Rocks? Why would anyone want to kiss— oh."
    • Also a giveaway for robots.
  • Arrested Development
    • The Literal Doctor (a.k.a Dr. Wordsmith).
    The Doctor: It looks like he's dead.
    Lucille: Oh my God!
    Michael: Just to be clear, it looks like he's dead, or he is dead?
    The Doctor: It just looks like he's dead. He's got, like, blue paint on him or something, but he's going to be fine.
    GOB: What is wrong with you!?
    • In another instance:
    The Doctor: We lost him.
    • When Buster loses his left hand, the doctor said he would be all right.
    Lucille: But you said he's going to be all right.
    Dr. Wordsmith: Yes. He's lost his left hand, so he's going to be "all right".
    Lucille: You son of a bitch! I hate this doctor!
    Michael: He's a very literal man.
  • Bones
    • Temperance "Bones" Brennan. Oh Lordy!
    Bones: It's not a spaceship.
    Booth: Well, if it smells like a duck, walks like a duck, quacks like a duck...
    Bones: Then it would be a duck, not a spaceship. Your point escapes me.
    • Zack Addy had shades of this too.
    Cam: Well, it's a pickle. The platform's a crime scene, but we need to access it to investigate the crime.
    Angela: A "cake and eat it too" situation.
    Zack: Is it a cake or a pickle?
    Hodgins: It's Schrödinger's Cat.
    Zack: That I understand. Cakes and pickles meant nothing to me.
  • Bernard in Yes, Minister could be a tad slow to realize something was not intended literally, although not quite as serious as most examples.
    Sir Humphrey: I'm taking the director of the bank to lunch, we might manage to cook something up.
    Bernard: Why don't you go to a restaurant — oh... I see what you mean.
  • The Big Bang Theory
    • Sheldon. Sometimes so is Leonard.
    Penny: I give up, he's impossible.
    Sheldon: I can't be impossible, I exist. I believe what you meant to say is, "I give up, he's improbable."
    • Another example:
    Leonard: For God's sake, Sheldon, do I have to hold up a "sarcasm" sign every time I open my mouth?
    Sheldon: (intrigued) You have a sarcasm sign?
    (a few moments later, Leonard actually made the sign)
  • There was a sketch on The Amanda Show about a family with this condition. Naturally, they were named "The Literals".
  • Some of the angels on Supernatural. While most of the angels encountered (notably Zachariah (surprisingly), Anna (who had been human) and Gabriel (the Trickster)) seem to understand sarcasm and are often sarcastic themselves, others have more difficulty—particularly Uriel and especially, especially Castiel:
    Dean: Your buddy Lucifer—
    Uriel: Lucifer is no friend of ours.
    [...]
    Dean: Try New Mexico, I heard [God]'s on a tortilla.
    Castiel: No, He's not on any flatbread.
    • And, in a moment of Ho Yay for many fangirls:
    Dean: You know what, blow me, Cas.
    Cue a slightly confused expression on Castiel's face.
    • Also from "Mommy Dearest":
    Dean: Why's it always gotta be me that makes the call, huh? It's not like Cas lives in my ass, dude's busy!
    [Bobby and Sam give Dean a disbelieving look]
    [Castiel shows up an inch behind Dean]
    Dean: Cas, get outta my ass!
    Castiel: I was never in...your... [awkward looks]
  • From an episode of Bottom:
    Eddie: Shit your pants, did you? Cry, did you?
    Richie: No, quite the opposite, actually.
    Eddie: What? You sucked water in through your eyeballs?
  • Frequently, Mr. Rumbold from Are You Being Served?.
  • Subverted in an episode of iCarly: Carly, Sam and Freddie knows a dead man had hidden a recipe inside his computer, but fail to find it. Turns out it was inside the computer, so the kids had failed to follow the literal logic of the owner.
  • Keeping Up Appearances episode "Iron Age Remains" had this dialogue (though Onslow was only pretending to not understand):
    Rose: I'm at the crossroads!
    Onslow: You wouldn't be passing an off-license, would you?
    Rose: I mean the big crossroads! Do you continue with your life, or do you just give in?
    Onslow: Could you go to the off-license first, then struggle with your life?
    Rose: (to Daisy) Your Onslow is such a pleb.
  • The dolls in Dollhouse are often like this. For example, Alpha's Handler suggests he watch his step when he gets caught coming onto Echo. Alpha does exactly that: he walks away by staring at his feet.
  • Terminators are naturally ripe for this joke. In The Sarah Connor Chronicles, a Terminator is searching the schools for John Connor by posing as an FBI agent carrying out a drugs investigation. The school administrator asks him "Look me in the eye and tell me you've never smoked a little marijuana." The terminator does just that (it is, after all, true!)
  • El Chavo del ocho: El Chavo does this when Don Ramon is explaining him how to play bowling (starting at approximately 2:23)
  • K-9 did this once in the Doctor Who episode, "The Pirate Planet";
    Doctor: There we are, K-9, we got the first segment to the Key to Time, piece of cake.
    K-9: Piece of cake. Radial segment of baked confection, relevance to the Key to Time nil.
    Doctor: Like I said, piece of cake.
  • On Leverage, Parker often is often this way.
    Nate and Sophie: (discussing their current con) The Fiddle Game.
    Parker: I don't know how to play the fiddle.
  • At the end of an episode of Grace Under Fire, the title character laments to Nadine on how her ex-husband is behind on his rent payments. She explains that they agreed on the exact amount to be paid "under the table"... then suddenly says "Oh no. He couldn't be THAT stupid." She then reaches under the table they are sitting at and finds an envelope full of money.
    Grace: Maybe next time I should say it's "on the house" just to see what happens.
  • Gary Bell from Alphas tends toward this, as a result of having Autism. He gets the concept of metaphors and sarcasm, but he doesn't always recognize them... or understand them when they're used.
    Bill: Who's manning the fort?
    Gary: It's not a fort, Bill; it's a bad metaphor. Forts have ramparts and cannons.
  • Seen in Lost In Oz, as Alex tries to explain to the Wicked Witch that she didn't mean to be involved in what was going on.
    Alex: I was told that if I freed that little girl I could go home. I don't have any part in this, I'm just stuck in the middle.
    Witch: You poor girl... stuck in the middle... (brandishes knife) Allow me to illustrate what that phrase means to me.
  • On The IT Crowd, Moss is very literal minded.
  • Latka and Jim on Series/((Taxi}}.
  • Rose on The Golden Girls is very much this way - it seems to be common to people from St. Olaf.

    Music 
  • Amanda Palmer in "Vegemite (The Black Death)":
    As though it wasn't bad enough, you also eat this shit for lunch, which means we can't spend any time together.
    What kind of relationship is that?
    The choice is yours. My heart is in your hands.
    Please wash your hands, you just had vegemite for lunch.
  • Similarly, Tom Lehrer in "The Masochism Tango":
    At your command
    Before you here I stand,
    My heart is in my hand.
    Ewww.
  • "Weird Al" Yankovic's "Albuquerque":
    So I see this guy Marty trying to carry this big ol' sofa up the stairs all by himself, and I say "Hey, y'want me t'help you with that?"
    And Marty, he just rolls his eyes and goes "Noooo, I want you to cut off my arms and legs with a chainsaw!"
    So I did.
  • The Lonely Island's Threw it on the Ground has this gem:
    I was at the farmer's market with my so-called "girlfriend."
    She hands me her cell phone, says it's my dad.
    Maaaan, this ain't my dad. This is a cell phone!
    I threw it on the GROOOOOOOOOOOUND!!!
  • Knorkator's Wie weit ist es bis zum Horizont (how far is it to the horizon): Turns out the solution to this problem is the Pythagorean theorem, which results in an average distance of 4650m for a person whose eye level is 1,70m above the ground.
  • They Might Be Giants, "Hey Mr. DJ, I Thought You Said We Had a Deal":
    I could never sleep my way to the top
    'Cause my alarm clock always wakes me right up

    New Media 

    Puppet Shows 
  • The Muppet Show
    • The Swedish Chef is often this way, such as when he makes chocolate mousse by rubbing chocolate on a moose, and his "chicken in a basket" involves him bouncing a chicken and then throwing it through a basketball net.
    • In addition, Gonzo. Once, when asked by Joel Grey if he wanted to go for a spin, he began spinning.
    • Statler can be like this. When Waldorf decided it was time for a tea break, Statler knocked the tea cup off the edge of the theater box, breaking it.
    • Animal. In the Zero Mostel episode, there's a knock and Kermit asks him to "get the door". Animal responds by ripping it off its hinges and bringing it over to Kermit.
  • Played with but averted on Sesame Street, during a "News Flash" segment involving Old King Cole:
    King Cole: Bring my my royal pipe, and step on it!
    Kermit: At this point you probably think we're going to make a cheap joke. But we're not.
  • Derryn the dog from The Ferals.
    Modi: We've got to use our brains.
    Derryn: But how do we get them out of our heads?
    Modi/Mixy: DERRYN!

    Radio 
  • Denis Norden did a piece on My Word about "Literalism", a condition he suffered from, and which could lead to embarassment, for example upon seeing a sign reading "Urinal out of order. Please use floor below."

    Theater 
  • Grumio from The Taming of the Shrew
  • Sheridan's THE CRITIC. The Lieutenant responds to Tilburina's impassioned "I see...) (in her mind's eye) speech with "The Spanish fleet thou can'st not see/Because... it is not yet in sight!"

    Video Games 
  • Die Anstalt: When told that he is an eagle by a motivational tape, Kroko really attempts to fly. The help guide even lampshades this: "The patient's infra-logical-predicative thinking hinders him to decipher metaphors."
  • Arc Rise Fantasia: Ryfia.
  • Eternal Sonata: Polka, judging by the first two cutscenes with her in it. Good job, Solfege.
  • Kingdom Hearts II: Auron (in the Underworld of the Colosseum), final plot-mandated interaction.
  • In LEGO Island, when Mama Brikolini is asked what it was that brought her to the island, she replies "The boat, silly."
  • Played for Laughs in RuneScape with Farli, a dwarf who seems to have little to no understanding of sarcasm, leading questions and the like.
  • Tales of Vesperia: Estellise.
    Yuri: You won't beat me in 100 years!
    Estellise: Because you're so old?
  • Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha A's Portable: The Gears of Destiny has Levi the Slasher, the Material of Power who prefers to leave the thinking to Stern and Lord Dearche. When Fate explains to her that the dead Alicia is now "beyond the skies", she interprets this to mean that she's currently abroad in another world.
  • Youmu Konpaku from Touhou has some shades of this going for her. Considering that her mistress is Saigyouji Yuyuko, Cryptic Conversationalist and Obfuscating Buttcuckoolander extraordinaire, taking things at face value is likely an adaption/resignation to the fact that poor Youmu has seldom, if ever, been able to understand what she is told anyway and, as such, has given up on even bothering to read into what's being said.
  • In a scene from Tears To Tiara 2, after a heartwarming You Are Not Alone moment with Hamil, Tart tells him that eventually he has to be able to shoulder her weight as well. Hamil smiles and say that's quite a burden. Tart replies saying how can Hamil be so weak when the little girl Charis can do it, surprising Hamil who was just wondering a moment ago where Tart and Charis were. Cuts to Charis shaking and limping up the rest of the mountain. She said she could, and in a moment of Literal-Minded Tart has Charis carry her up the mountain. And The Plucky Girl actually tried, and evidently got quite far. And she remained as cheerful as ever, determined to get stronger so next time she could do it all the way, leaving Hamil to facepalm and explain to the Goddess the actual physical limitations of a human girl.

    Visual Novels 
  • In Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney: Trials and Tribulations, this results in Pearl Fey pouring a roast's gravy on a picture, as she was ordered to "gravely roast" (i.e., in Hell) the person it depicted — and she was too young to understand. This is a Woolseyism — in the original Japanese, the order is something along the lines of "Give Misty Fey magnificent burial rites" — in kanji. Pearl can't read kanji very well, because she's only eight, so she reads "magnificent" as "curry" (they're pronounced the same) and covers the picture in it.

    Web Comics 

    Web Original 
  • Egoraptor's short Mr. Literal is about this type of character.
  • Linkara has an... interesting definition of "alcohol abuse". Cue 30 seconds of insulting a beer bottle.
    • In a later episode, told to "deck yourselves with boughs of holly" by a Christmas comic, he hits himself in the face with a wreath.
  • Tobuscus has a series on YouTube about adding lyrics to trailers. The lyrics themselves are about what's happening in the trailer.
  • The Angry Video Game Nerd in the Bible Games 3 episode, when he decides to "give his heart to Jesus". You can guess what happens.
  • When Peter tries to question Roy and Karen in Return of the Cartoon Man, they take expressions like "the elephant in the room" and "cut to the chase" literally. Visual Puns ensue.
  • Sparadrap from Noob. A guildmate mentionning a Pick-Up Group will conjure the image of a pick-up truck to his mind. In addition, he has trouble unserstanding that the same word can have a very different meaning in MMORPG and real life.

    Western Animation 
  • The Grim Adventures of Billy & Mandy: In "The Secret Snake Club", Irwin says that the reason he joins the macramé club is to "meet the chicks". Billy, being the goofball that he is, imagines himself dancing with baby chicks. In the same Imagine Spot, the chicks leave while Billy continues to dance.
  • Rugrats, since they're babies and haven't yet learned how to use metaphors and similes.
  • The William Clone in Season 4 of Code Lyoko.
  • Kim Possible
    • Ron Stoppable suffered from this occasionally.
    • Hego of Team Go also:
    Electronique: I twist the power of Team Go to bring Go City to its knees.
    Hego: But... um, cities don't have knees.
    • Also, Warmonga:
    Drakken: Warmonga! Show her the door!
    Warmonga: If you guide your vision to the left of our after-reactor corner, you can see our primary entrance.
    Drakken: No, Warmonga, I meant: Make her exit through the door.
    (Warmonga catches Shego and throws her, blowing a hole in the door)
    Drakken: Yes, well... I didn't mean literally through the actual door, but...
  • Happens more often than not to Starfire of Teen Titans.
  • Bobby's World. Granted, he's like 3 years old.
  • The title character of Life with Loopy. When told to go make a new friend, she "makes" a Robot Buddy out of old electronics.
  • Family Guy
    • Brian's human girlfriend Jillian is like this.
    • At a Renaissance Fair, a woman hits on Peter by asking if he wants to "take a gander under [my] frock"; confused, he gets a goose and shoves it under her dress.
    • See also the page quotation, wherein he takes "you're all DEAD" literally.
    • In an early episode, he promises Lois he'll set up an extravagant party for Stewie's first birthday, including (among other things) a "big-ass pinata". Later on, we find out that he did manage to get one, but...well, to quote Brian, "I sure hope candy comes out of that."
    • Peter in general tends to think with a literal mind and acts on it.
  • Animaniacs
    • There's that one episode when Yakko is the king. He suggests a polka-dot new flag (among other things, since this was the episode's Running Gag). Then someone is sure to ask: "Polka-dot?" and cue to the person dancing Polka with Yakko's sister Dot.
    • And in one particularly notorious incident, the Warners are involved in an Agatha Christie type investigation, and Yakko tells Dot to dust for prints. She finds Prince. As in the singer.
    Yakko: No, no, no, fingerprints!
    Dot: (looks at Prince)
    Prince: (grins)
    Dot: (frowns) I don't think so. (tosses Prince aside)
    • When the Warners are schooled by a Stern Teacher, they show that they literally have "eyes in the back of their heads", with Wakko having 9 eyes as opposed to 2. And then there's the "pop quiz"...
  • The Simpsons: Homer is usually prone to this. Then he subverts it by imagining what a Think Tank might be... namely a group of executive people having a discussion.
    Homer: (to the baffled Marge and Lisa) What? Can't I get one right at least?!
    • Specifically in one episode, Homer watches a dating game show where a guy says he loves a girl who makes bacon on the beach. Homer imagines himself literally doing that.
  • Duck in Little Bear does tasks too literally when she following Hen's steps in preparing a strawberry shortcake such as icing the cake and separating the eggs.
  • Pops from Regular Show seems to be an inverted case.
    Mordecai: Pops, you said you had a British taxi!
    Pops: British taxi? I thought you said brownish taxi.
    Mordecai: But that taxi's yellow.
    Pops: Yellow? My taxi is no coward; I guarantee you that!
  • DuckTales
    • Fenton Craskshell (Gizmo Duck) is literal-minded. Scrooge wants Fenton to liquidate his assets, except that he puts all of Scrooge's money in the lake.
    • Gyro Gearloose is one as well. In one episode, to increase the budget for a cheap sci-fi show as part of a way of reinventing it, Scrooge has Gyro build a new spaceship that he wants to be as realistic as possible. Gyro's response? Make it an actual working spaceship. He proceeds to do something like this again in the "Super Ducktales" 5-parter: after recovering his money from the above example with Fenton, Scrooge asks Gyro to build a security guard for his money bin that won't let anyone get to the bin. Gyro again takes him too literally and programs it to not let anybody get to the bin, Scrooge included.
  • Fred the squirrel from The Penguins of Madagascar.
    Skipper: We need you to take a look at this squirrel artefact.
    Fred: (looks at the artifact, then goes away) Okay then. Later, guys.
    Skipper Fred!
    King Julien The key! What about... the key?
    Fred What about it?
    Kowalski Well, we were hoping, you can tell us something about it.
    Fred Oh, tell you something about it? You said just look at it.
  • The Tex Avery cartoon Symphony in Slang is about a recently deceased man at the Pearly Gates, explaining his life story with incomprehensible slang terms. The angels interpret the whole thing literally, turning it into a Hurricane of Visual Puns.
  • In the South Park episode "Crippled Summer", Nathan and Mimsy try to sabotage Jimmy's team in an athletic competition, but because Mimsy is Literal Minded, their plans backfire. For instance: they make a fake map for a scavenger hunt that leads to a hostile Indian reservation, and Nathan tells Mimsy to "switch the map, switch the map". So he switches the maps twice, leaving them with their own fake map.
  • DeeDee in the Dexter's Laboratory episode "G.I.R.L. Squad" takes the "lick" part of "lick crime" too literally.
  • Inverted in the SpongeBob SquarePants episode "Dying For Pie". Squidward does whatever SpongeBob wants for the day because he thinks SpongeBob is going to die from eating an exploding pie. When this fails to happen, Squidward angrily tells him "You were supposed to explode!" SpongeBob then proceeds to metaphorically "explode":
    SpongeBob: Gary! You are gonna finish your dessert, and you are gonna like it!
    Squidward: THAT'S NOT WHAT I MEANT, YOU BARNACLEHEAD!!!
    SpongeBob: Ooh, good one.
    • In "Squid on Strike", SpongeBob takes Squidward's words about "dismantling the oppressive establishment" to heart and destroyed the Krusty Krab.
    • In "Imitation Krabs", Mr. Krabs tries to warn Spongebob to beware the depredations of his rival Plankton.
    SpongeBob: Don't worry Mr. Krabs, as long as these pants are square, and this sponge is Bob...I WILL NOT LET YOU DOWN!
    (cuts to Spongebob holding Mr. Krabs above his head)
    Mr. Krabs: Uh, Spongebob? Could you let me down?
  • My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic
    • Applejack slips into this for a couple of jokes. In "Sweet and Elite", she thought a garden party was about actual gardening.
    • Pinkie Pie does this a lot. Consider this exchange from "The Last Round-Up":
    Rainbow Dash: We gotta get her to spill the beans.
    Pinkie: What?! She has beans?! Ugh! I told her I was snacky!
    • Pinkie's sister Maud is an extreme example; she remarks that Applejack's apple cider "tastes like apples", and after stating that she is only interested in expressing herself through fashion (as opposed to fashion in general), when Rarity asks her what her frock is saying, she states in her usual placid monotone (though with a skeptical look), "It doesn't talk. It's a dress."
  • Mr. Herriman in Foster's Home for Imaginary Friends. In "The Big Cheese", he's told to enter "a random number" as the password to the house's new security system, and literally punches in a random security code for the new security system (he turned around and didn't even LOOK at the number he was punching in, which was why Herriman did what he did). The result: he can't remember the password and everyone, imaginary friends included, is locked out of the house.
    Herriman: The instruction said to enter the numbers at random.
    Frankie: (looks at instructions) Not "random" every single time!
  • An episode of Danger Mouse has Penfold deliberately invoking this after DM addresses the situation at hand:
    DM: We must act quickly.
    Penfold: (rapid-fire, gesturing) Tobeornotbethatisthequestionwhether'tisnobler
    tosuffertheslingsandarrowsofoutrageousfortune...
  • Archer: Krieger has successfully implanted a mind-control microchip into a rabbit.
    Archer: Could you put it in a person's brain?
    (beat)
    Krieger: It'd suffocate...
    Archer: Not the rabbit, idiot! The microchip!
    Krieger: Oh. Yes.
    Archer: Without killing the person?
    (beat)
    Krieger: ...maybe?
  • In Holly Hobbie And Friends: Surprise Party, when Holly says that old man Scranton's "bark is worse than his bite," Amy thinks that Scranton bit Holly.
  • Madison from Class of 3000. She brought fleas to a flea market and a garage to a garage sale.
  • One episode of Adventure Time revolves around the Ice King trying to stop a Professional Killer he hired, because he just wanted the assassin to literally hit Finn and Jake (punch them in the stomach), not murder them.
  • Ed, Edd n Eddy
    • In "Urban Ed", when Jonny steals Eddy's money jar Eddy tells Ed "Do something!" Ed asks if he can cater a party, which would technically be doing something.
    • In "Home-Cooked Eds", when Eddy tries to push the Kankers' trailer off his lawn he asks Ed to give him a hand, so Ed gives him Double D's hand.
    Ed: Found one! (chuckles)
  • Queen Delightful from The 7D:
    Doc: When we arrived home, we realized our front door was ajar.
    Delightful: How can the door be a jar? It's a door! *pulls out a jar of pickles* This is a jar. Of course, it's a pickle jar, and I do adore it. So maybe you're right.

    Real Life 
  • If speaking on a very general level, people with Asperger Syndrome and autism. Although they can be taught what metaphors and idioms mean as one would learn a foreign language, understanding metaphors and idioms doesn't come naturally to them. Many people with Asperger's have been fascinated/obsessed with learning the meanings of different idioms at some point in their lives.
  • Schizophrenics have been noted in making errors with the meanings of metaphors and irony — typically that they do tend to take things literally.
  • Religious fundamentalism is defined by strict adherence to literal readings of their holy texts and orthodox theology.
  • Young children, particularly preschoolers, are extremely literal-minded. They lack both the life experience and the reasoning skills to understand figurative speech. It's one of the reasons why you have to be careful how you word things in order not to confuse or terrify your child. Example: When Aunt Maude passes away, you shouldn't tell your 4-year-old she's just "sleeping." You end up with a child who is terrified to go to bed, for fear it could happen to them. Also part of the reason why Disney is able to get so many innuendos in their movies without compromising the minds of young children. Parents get the figurative speech, the kids don't.
  • Work to Rule. In totalitarian societies like the old Soviet Union, literal interpretation of laws may be one of very few ways people can express discontent with them, since following poorly-chosen laws and thus becoming an inefficient worker will make the case that the laws have to be changed; this can also be seen on a smaller scale with workers in private firms.

    In communist/totalitarian economies, minimizing one's workload is often the only functional incentive, and Work-to-rule can be a way of achieving it. PJ O'Rourke's humorous example involving a Soviet shoe factory: "If they tell you to make 5,000 shoes, you make 5,000 left-footed baby shoes. If they tell you to produce 2,000 pounds of shoes, you make one giant concrete overshoe."
  • A computer will do exactly what you told it to do, whether you want it to or not.
  • This can happen to confused foreigners with limited understanding of a language, thus lacking knowledge of proverbs, slang and such. For example, one may respond to "tell me about it" by explaining the subject at hand.
  • Likewise, you'll probably get this reaction when trying to translate directly into a foreign language an expression or idiomatic with no equivalent in said language, and thus that can only be interpretated literally.
    • For example, a Canadian paper about bilingual traps in business mentions you shouldn't translate the expression "at the end of the day" to francophones, as they are likely to understand the task at hand is to be finished before nightfall.
    • Similarly, when in a French TV series a character tells another "you missed an episode," they're not breaking the fourth wall. It's just a common French expression to say someone is out of the loop.
  • For fun, go ask Troy Baker for a Shout-Out next time you see him at a convention.
  • Most trope names are confusing for many reasons and might get different interpretations (usually literal ones) from readers. This is partly why the I Thought It Meant page exist.


Lethal ChefStock CharactersLittle Jimmy
Lethal ChefCharacter Flaw IndexThe Load
Amelia BedeliaImageSource/LiteratureAesop's Fables

alternative title(s): Literally Minded
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