Literalist Snarking

Shooter: I eat pieces of shit like you for breakfast!
Happy: You eat pieces of shit for breakfast?
Shooter: (beat) No.

This is the technique of putting a sarcastic twist on the more plain meaning of something. Though literal-mindedness is often associated with not understanding sarcasm, in some cases snarking and literal-mindedness can go hand-in-hand.

Often involves a Mathematician's Answer. See also Grammar Nazi, whose more snarky varieties are prone to responding to misspoken statements as if they were what the speaker meant to say. If one acts on the sarcastic twist, it's a Jerkass Genie. If the snarky twist is the intended meaning, it may be a form of Literal Metaphor.


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     Anime and Manga 


  • Don Lockwood does this to himself in Singin' in the Rain to prove a point:
    Lina: Oh Donny! You couldn't kiss me like that and not mean it just a teensy bit!
    Don Lockwood: Meet the greatest actor in the world! I'd rather kiss a tarantula.
    Lina: You don't mean that.
    Don Lockwood: I don't—hey Joe, get me a tarantula.
  • From The Empire Strikes Back:
    Han Solo: Afraid I was gonna leave without giving you a goodbye kiss?
    Princess Leia: I'd just as soon kiss a Wookiee.
    Han Solo: I can arrange that. You could use a good kiss.

  • Vetinari in Discworld is infamous for this.
    • Terry Pratchett's work is made of this: "Don't let me detain you"; "Throw the book at him"; "I would rather die than betray the emperor", etc.
      • Though the second one was accidental as Sam Vimes remembered too late that Carrot was very literal minded, the book was around several thousand pages and about thirty pounds, and they were on a tower.
    • This example from Going Postal:
      Moist: If you shove a broom up my arse, I could probably sweep the floor too!
      Vetinari: An excellent idea. Drumknott, do we have a broom closet on this floor?
    • Combined with the Narrative Profanity Filter in Mort:
      Thief 1: Oh —— me, a ——ing wizard. I hate ——ing wizards!
      Thief 2: You shouldn't —— them then.
    • From Wyrd Sisters
      Guard: There's a knocking without.
      Fool: Without? Without what?
      Guard: Without the door, idiot!
      Fool: A knocking without a door? This isn't some kind of Zen, is it?
    • In Jingo, Carrot goes to fight some Klatchians (though Angua convinces him not to), and says "My strength is as the strength of ten, because my heart is pure!" Angua responds with "Well, there's eleven of them." (This isn't the only thing that convinces him; sending Angua on board their ship in wolf shape is a better plan anyway.)
    • Glenda has some moments with this in Unseen Academicals, like when Nutt tells her "I am alive" (meaning not an Undead) and she says "A live what?" And when a waiter at the banquet says "Vetinari has ears everywhere" she says she only sees two ears.
  • Le Pacte des Marchombres presents an unusual example, as the two main characters make fun of a crook by being Literal Snarkers about their own threat.
    Crook: Piss off!
    Ellana: Here's my counter offer. You leave this inn now, without a sound, and promise never to step back in here, and I won't break you into a thousand pieces.
    Jilano: (from a table afar) It's a fool's bargain!
    Ellana: (pretending to get mad) And why's that?
    Jilano: Because even if you hit hard, you'll break twelve bones at best. Let's say twenty because it's you. It's a far cry from the thousand pieces you claim.
    Ellana: It's an expression. You shouldn't take it literally.
    Jilano: Surely, but this good sir could feel cheated.
    Ellana: Fine. (turns back to the crook) Here's my new counter offer. You leave this inn now, without a sound, and promise never to step back in here, and I won't break you into twelve pieces. Maybe twenty because it's me.
    • And then she actually starts breaking his bones, while counting to twelve. She gets to five, then goes back to three because there aren't actually any bones in the nose and ear. The crook, understandably, flees way before she gets to twelve (or twenty because it's her).
  • Harry Potter, when he decides to get his snark on, tends toward this variety of snark.
    Draco Malfoy: You're dead, Potter.
    Harry Potter: Funny, you'd think I'd have stopped walking around...
  • A Song of Ice and Fire: Jaime combines this with some grisly Black Humor when he gets a fancy new necklace with his own hand as the pendant.
    Roose: You have lost a hand.
    Jaime: No. I have it here, hanging about my neck.
  • Sherlock Holmes: Lestrade is complaining that Holmes is making a big deal of some slightly contradictory evidence:
    "I find it hard enough to tackle facts, Holmes, without flying away after theories and fancies."
    "You are right," said Holmes demurely; "you do find it very hard to tackle the facts."
  • In John Moore's Fractured Fairy Tale, Bad Prince Charlie, Charlie is being taken to see a priestess who is reputed to be have the power of prophecy. Charlie is a bit skeptical, but his friend tells him not to underestimate her until he's heard what she has to say.
    "Fine. I'll hear what she has to say and then I'll underestimate her."

    Live Action TV 
  • The show Sherlock has a rather terrifying example. Sherlock has to prove a painting is a fake so Moriarty won't kill his hostage. Sherlock shouts, "Okay, I'll prove it. Just give me time." Moriarty's answer? Making his hostage, a CHILD, count down to his own fiery death. "Ten, nine, eight...."
  • Star Trek: Deep Space Nine has plenty of this, with the kings of the trope being Garak and Odo who can snark anything.
    • When a Klingon throws a rabidly insulting curse towards Odo in the Klingon language that's never translated in the episode ("Your mother has a smooth forehead"). It's clearly an insult about Odo's origins in what's probably a "son of a bitch" kind of way (except more insulting), and equally clearly meant to be rhetorical and a winning moment for the Klingon who says it, especially since the Klingon is clearly not expecting anyone around to be able to understand his language. Garak blandly responds with "Actually, I'm not sure Constable Odo has a mother", which completely takes the wind out of the Klingon's sails.
    • Bashir has his moments, too. Including bonus points for being able to pull this trope once on Garak.
    Garak: Doctor, has anyone ever told you that you're an infuriating pest?
    Bashir: Chief O'Brien. All the time. And I don't pay any attention to him, either.
    • Ziyal, of all people, as is clear when she gets fed up with Quark complaining about his business suffering under the Dominion.
    Quark: "The Jem'Hadar don't eat, don't drink, and they don't have sex. And if that wasn't bad enough, the Founders don't eat, don't drink, and they don't have sex either. Which, between you and me, makes my financial future less than promising."
    Ziyal: "It might not be so bad. For all we know, the Vorta could be gluttonous, alcoholic sex-maniacs."
  • From the first episode of The Cosby Show:
    (There's a knock on Cliff and Claire's bedroom door)
    Cliff: "Who is it?"
    (Vanessa and Rudy walk in)
    Cliff: "No. No, no, when I say, 'Who is it?' it doesn't mean for you to come in. When I say 'Who is it?' you say who it is."
    (Both girls walk back out, close the door, and knock again)
    Cliff: "Who is it?"
    Vanessa: "Who it is!"
  • Charlie from Mr & Mrs Murder is fond of these (being played by Shaun Micallef).
    Peter: Apparently, he's a real pussy cat.
    Charlie: An actual pussy cat. That's amazing.
  • In The Nanny, Niles will occasionally use this as a way to mess with C.C., for instance: when Maxwell goes to tell Fran she can't have her boyfriend in her room, Niles tells C.C. that he is "Upstairs with Miss Fine. Discussing the possibility of having sex in her room"; or telling her that "Miss Fine" is pregnant and "Mr Sheffield" is the father, neglecting to mention that those are the names of Grace's hamsters.
  • Blake's 7. In "The Harvest of Kairos", Servalan captures the Liberator, but its Master Computer is still a problem.
    Servalan: So tell me, Zen, how does one operate this craft?
    Zen: One manipulates the controls, and the craft functions accordingly.
    Servalan: Yes, and I've heard of your impudence. Now perhaps you will tell me how to manipulate the controls.

    Tabletop Games 
  • Warhammer 40,000: Captain Cortez of the 4th Company of the Crimson Fists, the single toughest Space Marine in the Imperium, who only has two bones in his entire body that haven't broken at least once, tends to react to minor things like getting entire limbs lopped off somewhat differently than normal people.
    I haven't lost an arm, brother. It's over there.

    Video Games 
  • Leon S. Kennedy, from Resident Evil, sometimes likes to respond to villains' dramatic statements by pretending to take them literally.
    Salazar: So maybe you do have nine lives. But it doesn't matter now, Mr. Kennedy! I've sent my right hand to dispose of you.
  • One of the clash quotes from Injustice: Gods Among Us:
    Harley Quinn: You fight like my grandma!
    Nightwing: You fought your grandma?
  • In The Curse of Monkey Island, you can have Guybrush do this to Wally/Bloodnose. When he warns you "One more peep out of you, and I'll do ya in!", one of the dialogue options is a deadpan "Peep". Guybrush can follow it up by responding to Wally's threat of "One more word, and I'll let you have it!" with "Word".
  • Sten of Dragon Age: Origins uses this constantly, either to avoid talking about uncomfortable subjects or to dryly insult his teammates. An example:
    Warden: What were you doing in that cage?
    Sten: Sitting, as you observed.
    Warden: That's not what I meant.
    Sten: It's what you asked.
  • In Persona 3, after Takaya gives a Motive Rant about "shining a light upon this darkened world", Junpei yells back:
    Junpei: You're so full of shit! I'm not dying so you can have a friggin' night-light!

    Web Animation 
  • Strong Bad from Homestar Runner shows signs of this, such as in the second episode of Strong Bad Email, where a typo from a sender's email results in him trying to kill "Homsar":
    Strong Bad: Keep sending me your questions, and I will keep making fun of your punctuation and spelling. I mean, answer them.

    Web Original 

    Western Animation 

    Real Life  
  • Voltaire's response when someone told him that coffee was "a slow poison": "I think it must be slow, for I have been drinking it for sixty-five years and am not dead yet."
  • The Monkees were told their song "Randy Scouse Git" was not acceptable in the UK because of its title, and would have to be released with an alternate title. So, they called it "Alternate Title."
  • When the founders of Megabots Inc. unveiled the Megabot Mk-II (and challenged Suidobashi Heavy Industries to a duel), they did so in a manner that played up Eagleland stereotypes, such as boasting about the robot being born in the fires of American innovation while a lab technician got singed by a gout of flame. Suidobashi Heavy Industries' agreed in their response video that the robot was "Super American".
  • G. K. Chesterton's response to one of Holbrook Jackson's platitudes.
    Jackson: The future will look upon man as we look upon the ichthyosaurus—as an extinct monster.
    Chesterton: The "future" won't look upon anything. No eyes.