"My safeword is 'OW!'"
Sometimes a word that really means "No" is needed, but the actual word "no" isn't available for one reason or another. A "safe word" can be aimed at the person who interacts with you, to underscore that you really need to hit the emergency brake. Or it could be meant for a third party that might come to your aid. Or both.
In the American BDSM
subculture, three safe words are widespread: Red for full stop emergency shutdown, yellow for "This is too hard, I need us to slow down," and green for "Don't mind my screams, you can push harder." Other countries' BDSM scenes can be considerably more lax, though, with some even forgoing safewords altogether and placing the responsibility on the dom to ensure that things don't get out of hand. Sometimes, such as when the bottom is gagged or may have difficulty verbalizing under stress, a setup is employed where the bottom holds an object that will make a noticeable noise when dropped and drops it as their safe "word".
Of course, any word can be used as a safe word. And the concept is not limited to sexual situations either. Commonly used by undercover operatives of all kinds while wearing a wire or being in a bugged room, people engaged in a combat sport, and people engaged in a setting where reality and fiction could easily be mixed up
. (See Covert Distress Code
When Played for Drama
, (sub)cultural flavor or similar, the safe word is likely to be either "red" or some other simple word that isn't easily used by mistake. When Played for Laughs
, it is instead likely to be:
- Something hilariously unsexy, such as the name of an Ugly Politician Local to Area Where Writer Lives.
- Something which can be confused easily with something else, leading to hilarious consequences when the safe word is invoked by mistake.
- Something which is hard to remember or hard to pronounce, giving the character a really hard time.
Compare Safe, Sane and Consensual
. Contrast Trust Password
No sexual or sexualized Real Life Examples Please. Non-sexual examples are okay.
Anime and Manga
- Gundam SEED Destiny has a version of this that is both extreme and stupid. The the Earth Alliance's enhanced soldiers each possess a "block word" that's supposed to render them docile. What it actually does, however, is drive them completely nuts. To make matters worse, the two block words we hear are common words that one is very likely to hear on a daily basis: "die" for Stella and "mother" for Auel. In fact, the one time we see Auel subjected to his block word he blurts out Stella's during his mad ranting, making the situation that much worse.
- Indirect in City of Dreams: Those who don't want to play anymore simply wake up.
- A Buffy the Vampire Slayer fanfic has the safe word Hellmouth, chosen for its unsexyness.
- A Harry Potter song-fic for Rihanna's S&M, were the safe word, and title, was Skittles.
- Another Harry Potter fanfic, called Roll Out The Red Carpet, plays with this trope; When Ron and Hermione role-play, they use the phrase "Jam Jar" as a sign to stop (as they acknowledge that, when playing particular roles, "stop" and "no" might just be them acting). They almost get into trouble when, upon almost getting caught in Hermione's office, Ron doesn't stop what he's doing because she didn't say jam jar and he thought she liked it, and it leads to a Crowning Moment of Heartwarming later on when Ron uses the safe word to make sure that Hermione's okay with what they're doing, and to check that he's not hurting her too much.
- In a My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic fanfic called My Little Slave Fluttershy is involved in a lengthy rape-dungeon roleplay which she eventually brings to an end in Chapter 29 - as she thinks it's going to get Twilight and Applejack hurt - giving the safe-word, "Butterflies", at least 19 times..
- In the Ironman fanfic, A Kink in the Armor, Tony and Pepper use 'board meeting' as a safe word.
- The NCIS fic "Shards To a Whole" combines this trope with "You Called Me X, It Must Be Serious"; Since Tim McGee and Abby Scuito seldom call each other by their full names, Tim's safe word is "Abigail" while Abby's safe word is "Timothy".
- Eurotrip features a combination of confusion and hard to remember when Cooper unknowingly goes into a BDSM club, Vandersexxx. The safe word in question? "Flüggåɘnk∂€čhiœßøl∫ên." Yes, thats the Euro symbol, a partial derivative sign (∂), and an integration sign in there.
- Four Christmases: The main characters are visiting the parents. They decide to use the word "mistletoe" for when they cannot take it any longer and want an excuse to leave.
- The Goods: Live Hard, Sell Hard has one character, after being bored with "making love," tells the girl he is with to do whatever she wants. His safe word is "Blueberry Pancakes."
- Invoked in Serenity: the phrase that puts River to sleep is referred to as one of these. Strangely, it's a popular Russian idiom that wouldn't make for a good code phrase in Real Life (it literally translates to "it's for chickens to laugh at" and means "it's ridiculous"). There must be no Russian-speakers at all in this system.
- Rod chooses the word "whiskey" for his safe word when practicing for the big stunt at the end of the film. Unfortunately, not only can he not pronounce the word correctly, but his crew is unable to help him anyway.
- Callahans Crosstime Saloon (Callahan's Lady):
- Played with by Spider Robinson. In the Bower at Lady Sally's (a pretty much anything-goes orgy room), there's only one safeword: "No". Also, Lady Sally's artists have a code word they can use to call for help if a client gets out of hand (the rooms are all on audiotape which is constantly monitored).
- In the later book Lady Slings the Booze one of Lady Sally's employees explains the concept of safewords to an outsider. They use two: "the First Word" (called Yellow in the trope description) and "the Second Word" (Red).
- Kushiels Legacy: A safe word is known as a signale. To persist with BDSM play after a partner has given the signale is considered heresy according to their religion of "Love as Thou Wilt."
- The Last Hot Time: Appears in this story by John M. Ford, as the hero learns about BDSM.
- A Strong Hand: In Catt Ford's story, the main couple use the safe words "London" (for stop) and "yellow" (for slow down).
- Ties That Bind: This is one of the topics Guy Baldwin discusses in this book.
- Saints Row: The Third has a brothel named Safe Word, a club for those with BDSM tastes. Kinzie mentions hers is teacup and she is quickly spirited away before she can reveal more squicky bits of information.
- In Saints Row IV, a recreated AI Tanya tells Kinzie she'd make a good addition to her brothel, Kinzie quickly cries out "Teacup!"
- A Sidequest in Dishonored involves messing with an art dealer strapped into an electric chair, using it for masochistic play. His safe word? "Retribution." Corvo can choose to ignore it and shock him until he passes out.
- At the beginning of Magicka, the player character(s) are accidentally dropped into a dungeon where the tutorial takes place. Someone from the party above shouts down, "Remember, the safe word is 'Banana!'" The pause menu will have an option simply labeled "Banana," which allows you to skip the tutorial.
- In Dragon Age: Inquisition, when romancing The Iron Bull he sets up a few ground rules due to the dom/sub dynamic present in the bedroom and the massive size differences between you two, one of which is using "Katoh" as your safeword. Later on, he can even talk about what he thinks the other companions might use as their own safewords.
- Marvel/DC: Apparently, Gobby's safe word is "pumpkin."
- In Tales Of MU, Mackenzie's safe word is "basement".
- In Family Guy, Peter and Lois use "banana" as the safe word when they do BDSM.
- In Team America: World Police, our hero has a safe word when playing with the terrorists, so that his friends will know when to pull him out. Because of the kind of movie this is, of course it doesn't work!
- Even better, it's less a safe word and more a "Safe Wild-Waving-Thrashing Gesture." Which makes it even more hilarious when it doesn't work, despite the sign being really, incredibly obvious.
- In the Superjail episode "Cold-Blooded", Jared is sent into the prison undercover (against his will). The warden tells him that if things get rough, he can just say the safe word and Jailbot will get him out of there. Hearing that the safe word is "Baby make weewee," Jared objects that it isn't a word, much to the Warden's annoyance. He then uses it almost immediately, but since the twins messed up Jailbot's circuitry, he's out of luck.
- The Simpsons has a non-sexual version in "Large Marge", where Bart's old elephant Stampy will flop on his side and become docile when he hears the word "Mugumbo". He uses this as part of a plan to restore Krusty's reputation, but he forgets the word at the key moment and doesn't remember it until Marge flashes her surgically-enhanced breasts at a trade show audience, causing him to cry out "Check out those mugumbos!"
- In a parody of Paranormal Activity, Homer has to accept the deal with a demon: in exchange for not taking Maggie away, he must get into a threesome with him and another demon, with the safeword being "cinnamon". Later, when Homer covers the camera and expresses his desire of trying something new, we hear the demon screaming "Cinnamon! Cinnamon!"