Literalist Snarking

Batman: Let her go!
The Joker: ...Very poor choice of words. (proceeds to let go of Rachel so she falls out the window he has been dangling her out of)

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.

See also Grammar Nazi, whose more snarky varieties are prone to this. 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.



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

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 and 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.

Tabletop Games
  • Warhammer 40K: Captain Cortez, the single toughest Space Marine in the Imperium, who's had every bone in his body 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 "I don't wanna hear another peep out of you!", 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 fill you full of lead!" 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.

Web Animation
  • Strong Bad from Homestar Runner shows signs of this, such as in the 2nd sbemail, where a typo from a sender's email results in him trying to kill "Homsar":
    "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."