Semantic Superpower

A power that is defined solely by wording, and thus capable of a great deal of stretching what it is capable of. To use an example from One Piece, the hypothetical power of "pushing" could be used to "push" people at massive speed in order to fake teleportation, to push concepts or to push away attacks. Can be used to justify Heart Is an Awesome Power. Done poorly, it comes across as an Asspull unless it's obviously being Played for Laughs.

See also When All You Have Is a Hammer, Imagination-Based Superpower, and Swiss Army Superpower. Compare/contrast the Inverse Law of Complexity to Power. Not to be confused with superpowers that actually consist of using speech or specific words.


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    Anime and Manga 
  • In Maken-ki!, this is how Celia's "reverse" power works. Normally, she just uses it to reverse someone's momentum when they attack her, and for a while everyone assumes that's all she can do. However, she can also reverse a fighter's strength (making them weak), reverse the Determinator's aggression (turning him into an apathetic mess) and reverse her own gender (turning her from her natural male gender into a girl).
  • It's common in One Piece for Devil Fruit users to not have any obvious limits to their powers. In fact, it's stated that one of the true marks of a strong fruit user is how much experience they have with their powers and by extension, how many of these uses for their powers they can figure out.
    • A good example is Kuma, alluded to in the trope description, who has the power to repel things. He often uses this to repel attacks, but it turns out he can repel the pain from a person's body, or send someone basically anywhere in the world they can travel to via a straight line (or taking gravity into account, a parabolic curve). That straight line limitation is only as far as one can guess.
  • Aphorism is literally this. All the powers of the characters are based on a single kanji. Someone with the character for "flame" can produce flames, for example. It's even possible to change your power by interpreting that character differently.
  • The "hundred power" possessed by Kotetsu and Barnaby in Tiger & Bunny is said to increase their abilities a hundredfold. They primarily make use of the considerable boost this gives to their strength, speed, and ability to resist injury, but Kotetsu is also shown using it as a Healing Factor and to enhance his senses when needed.
  • In Tsukihime and Kara no Kyoukai there exist the Mystic Eyes of Death Perception which allow you to see the "lines of death" of objects, which cause the object to be destroyed when cut. This has been applied not only to destroy inanimate objects and mortal beings but also numerous immortals, poisons, telekinetic attacks and barriers and even space. The concept of death is stretched to tbe point where it is said that by the end of Kara no Kyoukai Shiki at full power is basically a god.
  • Josuke from JoJolion. His stand, Soft & Wet, has the power to "steal" anything from something, which boils down to removing a certain property from something. He has already used it to remove friction from a floor and the "click" sound from a light switch.
    • The same goes for Paisley Park, the Stand of Yasuho Hirose, from the same part. It possesses the power of "guidance", which has been used to organize internet search and GPS... or to give others a presentiment to push them exactly where they should be.
    • JJBA is actually full of these. The most famous example being a stand whose ability can return anything to zero. It's used to set an enemy's death to "zero". Since he can no longer die, he gets caught in a cycle where he constantly "dies" then wakes back up a few moments before "dying" again. The character profile suggests that this power can expand to nearly anything, such as a person's motivation.
  • The magical girls' individual power in Puella Magi Madoka Magica and its spin-offs came from their wishes; some pretty obvious simply from the wish's wording, some do not. More specific the wish is, more dictated the power would be. Sayaka who wished for her crush's hand to be healed has power to heal anyone almost instantly, while Mami who wished to survive a car crash has her power derived from a Buddhish philosophy of "connecting to life" which then granted her power to create ribbons, which then she can manipulate and shape as she wishes. Those barriers, muskets and cannons she uses? Made from ribbons. And in Rebellion, she makes a clone, who spent previous 3 minutes fighting Homura in an elaborate Gun Fu battle, out of those ribbons.
  • Sayumi Takanashi of Inou Battle Wa Nichijoukei No Naka De has Origin Root, the power to restore things back to their original state. In contrast to other powers in the series that are very straightforward, it depends on interpretation and is used from healing damage to the body and fixing clothes, to teleporting backwards (by restoring oneself back to where she originally came from) to rescuing Hatoko from kidnappers by restoring the literature club back to original state with all its members present. This almost certainly includes being able to resurrect the dead, but she swore not to ever try that. Being reliant on interpretation also imposes its limits, as she cannot just restore people's superpowers away even though she wants to, as she does not subconsciously believe that having superpowers is the normal state now.

    Comic Books 
  • Mirror Master, one of The Flash's enemies, can do just about whatever the writer can imagine as long as it involves light and/or glass, up to and including creating entire mirror universes.
    "I can use a mirror a thousand different ways. Can turn a man inside out. Cut a hole through a seven-foot concrete wall. Make ye see things from yer fantasies—or from yer worst nightmares." (The Flash vol. 2 #212)
  • Cypher of X-Men, whose only power is the ability to understand all languages. After being written as completely useless 99% of the time, writers upgraded his powers to include programming languages and a dozen other things most sane people would never label a language. For example, understanding "body language" lets him know what somebody's going to do in a fight before they make the move. And let's not get into how broken it is to have total understanding of the language of magic.
  • Various versions of the villainous android Amazo possess the combined powers of the Justice League. One version of Amazo turned out to possess the JLA's abilities on a conceptual level to such a degree that he could copy all members present or not and he was depowered and defeated when the heroes temporarily disbanded the JLA.
  • Doctor Strange is the Master of all Mystic Arts, thank you. In an early appearance he saves some bystanders using the Indian rope trick, an old standard from stage magic.
  • Some writers of Aquaman give him power over any living thing that has a connection to the sea. The trick is that it doesn't have to be a present connection: so long as the creature, or its ancestors, was in the sea at some point in time, he can control it. And guess where virtually all life on Earth originates from?

    Fan Works 
  • In the Danny Phantom fanfiction, Harmless, Jazz thinks the Box Ghost's powers could operate like this. With some flexibility about what he considers "boxes," it could provide him with a lot more versatility.

  • In Inheritance Cycle, this is basically how the Ancient Language works, with skilled/imaginative magicians able to perform feats using words that have no obvious relation. For example, Selena was able to use the word for "heal" to perform a form of Psychic-Assisted Suicide by "healing" people of all of their negative emotions, which caused them to just stand there in a state of total bliss while she just walked up to them and calmly murdered them all.
  • In the Alcatraz Series, the Smedry family have Talents like "being late", "talking nonsense", "getting lost", "tripping and falling" or "breaking things". Doesn't sound like much - until you consider that "being late" to a meeting with a bullet or "breaking" the space-time continuum are fully acceptable uses of these Talents.
  • John Taylor from Nightside has the power to find things. Things include lost people, secret paths, bullets that were just in your gun, air that was just in your lungs, crucial weaknesses, your death or the possibility that you were never born.
    • Quite a few other characters have powers to "choose and enforce an alternative timeline/reality/possibility." How far removed the new reality will be depends only on the user.
  • Sandry in the Circle of Magic series is a stitch witch, having magical powers over thread and anything made of it. This ability extends to things that can be treated as thread. For example, she wove her magic and the magic of her three friends together to save them during an earthquake, and she 'stitched' the soul of her uncle, the Duke of Emelean, to his body and kept him alive during his heart attack until the Healers could get to him. She is the only known stitch witch that can do this, since her teacher Lark, a Great Mage, can't spin or weave magic.

    Tabletop Games 

    Video Games 
  • Touhou has a few examples, but assuming that all characters' powers work like this is a quick way to start a flame war.
    • Yukari Yakumo, with her "manipulation of boundaries", is pretty much the embodiment of this trope. She's only been seen using her powers to create portals, but by tweaking things like the boundaries of life and death, reality and fantasy, possible and impossible, etc., she's basically God. At least, according to an in-universe encyclopedia entry which was ghost-written by Yukari herself and thus may or may not be true.
    • Suika has the ability to manipulate density. This lets her change size, transform into mist, create mini-Suikas and black holes, and cause people to subconciously gather for a feast. How did that last one work? She manipulated population density.
    • Reimu has the power to drift through the air, in a world where everybody can fly anyway. However, Reimu can apply this trope to her power to fly, such as "drifting out of reality", an ability which would make her literally undefeatable if she didn't consciously curb it to abide by the spell-card rules.
  • In The Spellcasting Series, the UPPSSY spell turns anything into its opposite, broadly speaking. For instance, it will turn a two-by-four into a four-by-two, a jellyfish into a peanut butterfish, a crooked casino into a straight casino, or a flat-chested girl into a big-busted girl. Likewise, the RATANT spell turns a spell into similarly-sounding but vastly different spell, such as turning the "spell of opposites" into "spell of opossums".
  • As shown in the page quote, Skyrim gives us a perfect example in Nocturnal's Daedric Artifact, the Skeleton Key. It "unlocks" anything, in a very broadly-interpreted sense. This means that anything which is restricted, hidden or not used to its potential can be "unlocked" in this way. In the case of Mercer Frey, he uses it to gain Super Strength. However, the player is unable to use it as anything other than an unbreakable lockpick.
  • Not a superpower, but the hero of Quest for Glory has the potential to raise his lockpicking skill by using his lockpicks to pick his nose (if it doesn't kill him, instead.)
  • In the Disgaea series, thieves can steal equipment from enemies, but they can also steal metaphysical concepts like health (rendering the target poisoned), memory (causing the target to forget how to use skills), consciousness (causes target to fall asleep) and even stats (increasing the thief's own, permanently).

  • The titular Keys of the Exalted webcomic Keychain of Creation have the simple ability to unlock things, including the seals on the local Cosmic Horrors. However, according to Word of God, obtaining all five Keys grants the wielder omnipotence, as long as they can phrase the desired action as "unlocking." For example, the Deathlords are immortal, or one might say "locked" to life, and thus can be killed with proper use of the Keys.
  • Parodied by 8-Bit Theater: Red Mage is constantly showing his companions that he can make anything a Minmaxer's Delight. Lockpicking can be accomplished, for instance, using the pickpocket skill because it's just removing a lock from a pocket in a door. The interrogation skill is simply emptying pockets of information in people's minds. This being 8-Bit Theater, Insane Troll Logic is completely applicable if you're stupid enough to not wonder how it's at all possible. Likewise, Thief can steal things that are intangible or that don't exist, basically doing anything as long as can be called "theft". Fighter can block anything, including the ground from a fall. Fighter's "logic" for this is that he's blocked the other elements, so why not Earth?
  • The Kayoss Royal Family in L's Empire are all granted a single word. Any definition of that word is available to them as a power. The current king has the power of sound; so he can control sound waves, make whatever he says perfectly believable, and put anything into a perfect (sound) state.
  • Erfworld: "Turnamancers" have power over turns, but can also turn units.
    • Thanks to the mechanics of linking casters for a spell, creative use of linking can allow for this. Example? Parson linking an Earthamancer with a Croakamancer, and uncroaking (reviving) a volcano.
  • In Homestuck, Roxy is the Rogue of Void. This translates to Thief of Nothing, which sounds useless (not stealing anything) until Jade explains that she can steal the concept of nothingness from something to create it.
    • A lot of Sburb class powers seem to depend on how creatively you can reinterpret the meaning of your class/aspect.
  • In Use Sword On Monster, most of the protagonist characters have the ability to wield a weapon and go on "auto-pilot," allowing their body to heroically fight monsters by enchanting their swords and bodies. While most of them use swords, any weapon will do, and as it turns out, anything will do if you can conceive of it as a "weapon." Humphrey manages to expertly pilot a plane into a monster when Maga helps convince him it's just a really big sword.
    Maga: That doesn't really matter.

    Web Original 
  • Tales of MU fairy gifts: One character is blessed with the gift of "is always the strongest person in the room". When a dragon enters the same room as her, things start going out of hand.
    • Another character has the gift "divine laughter", a sparkling laughter which is appreciated by everyone except demonbloods, who react unfavorably to the "divine" part.
  • Lightfoot of ASH has the power to make anything he's touching go faster. Naturally, this lets him make himself go faster but he was also able to make a giant statue that would normally have taken a century to sink into the earth do so in minutes. His power makes things happen faster, not move faster.
  • Most, if not all characters with an arc in Playing for Keeps.
  • On This Very Wiki, much of the protagonist of this forum game's power is based on this. At least, until the And Now for Someone Completely Different(?).

    Western Animation