Semantic Superpower

The Dragonborn: So the Key unlocks any door?
Karliah: Well, yes, but the Key isn't only restricted to physical barriers. All of us possess untapped abilities; the potential to wield great power securely sealed within our minds. Once you realize the Key can access these traits, the potential becomes limitless.

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.


Examples

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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. 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 ate the Paw-Paw Fruit. A paw man, he can push and repel anything with the paws on his hands. While he can repel any attack he can put his hand on, he can do more with it. He can push the air at supersonic speeds as a powerful ranged attack while also pushing himself so fast he seems to be teleporting. He can push the air and concentrate it into a large paw bubble and condense it to make a pressure explosive. He can send someone basically anywhere in the world they can travel to via a straight line (or taking gravity into account, a parabolic curve) at intense speeds. That straight line limitation is only as far as one can guess. He can even repel the pain out of someone, taking the form of an omnious red bubble that can then be pushed into someone to deal them the damage and fatigue the other person had.
    • Another notable case is Trafalgar Law, who has the power to operate on things inside a spherical space. Being a surgeon, the ability to perform operations is fitting, but living things are not the only thing he can operate on and the word "operate" itself is not limited to a medical context. This translates to him being able to literally "work" (i.e. "operate") on anything inside his space, manipulating and modifying everything inside.
  • 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.
  • JoJo's Bizarre Adventure:
    • 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.
    • Paisley Park, with 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.
    • Gold Experience Requiem 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.
    • After merging his Stand, Whitesnake, with the Green Baby, Pucci's powers gain the motif of the ability to manipulate gravity: C-moon can reverse gravity, but also has the ability to turn things inside out by inverting their center of gravity. However, since gravity in the literal and metaphorical senses is a major theme of JoJo part 6, the ability is also implied to give Pucci Plot Armor.
  • 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 When Supernatural Battles Became Commonplace 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?
  • Teen Titans: Beast Boy can take the form of any animal. Do alien life forms count? Mythic animals? Depends on writer and/or retcon. Various versions of him have also become groups of animals and a werebeast that combined traits from multiple animals.
  • Nico from Runaways has the Staff of One, a powerful Magic Staff that can do just about anything. The only limitation is that she can't use the same command twice and expect the same result. However, she can get away with using synonyms. A cursory look at the English language alone (and there's no reason to assume she's limited to English) proves that the Staff's limitation isn't much of a limitation at all.

    Fan Works 
  • Child of the Storm does this a fair bit, the author showing a penchant for extrapolating the logical potential of a character's abilities. One prime example is Sean Cassidy a.k.a. Banshee, who is canonically a fairly weak X-Man with the power of sound manipulation. This usually means he can fly and scream really loudly and that's about it. Here, thanks to a little imagination, a little application of physics and a few uses of Cassidy's lesser known abilities, he's now capable of pulling a Stealth Hi/Bye that Batman would be proud of by dulling the sound around him (which works on claymore mines, to the misfortune of more than one HYDRA Agent), a sonar that Daredevil would be envious of and the ability to, by hitting the right frequency, resonate and shatter wood, concrete and bone. Oh, and then there's his Compelling Voice. You really don't want to know what he can do with that.
  • 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.
  • Some of the more creative uses of Pokemon abilities in the Pokeumans universe have incorporated this. For instance Pain Split, which is normally used to equal out physical damage, has also been used to displace emotional pain as well.

    Film 
  • In Disney's Sleeping Beauty, the fairies can only "do good to bring joy and happiness." This implies that they can't use offensive or martial magic, but there's a loophole: "good" can be interpreted fairly broadly (killing Maleficent might be considered evil, but they didn't kill her themselves, they helped Phillip to do it), and "to bring joy and happiness" includes what makes themselves happy (as turning Diablo into a gargoyle made Merryweather happy).

    Literature 
  • 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," "waking up ugly," "dancing badly" 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. The guy who gets lost is the group's guide (it acts as a semi-randomized teleport; you'll get to your destination eventually, you'll just get to see a lot of other random locations first), the girl who wakes up ugly is the Master of Disguise (she's got a really broad definition of ugly), and the bad dancer is one of the deadliest martial artists in the world if there's music playing (when he says he's a bad dancer, he means bad dancer).
  • Nightside:
    • John Taylor 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 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.
  • In the Xanth series, reverse wood has an ability similar to the Maken-ki! example above, and can turn certain lame Talents into very deadly ones. Of course, given the Law Of Narrative Causality is an actual law of physics in this world, it's not surprising.
  • The major characters of Playing for Keeps apparently have lame abilities, but several of their powers actually have this function.
    • Main character Keepsie inherently protects her belongings by paralyzing anyone who tries to steal something from her. In other words, anything that's hers can't be taken away. She eventually realizes that her life "belongs" to her, which makes her completely immortal, and begins to extend this skill to several other metaphysical concepts. You know how people tend to call their companions "my friends?"
    • Michelle's power is the ability to carry and perfectly balance any tray, regardless of what's on it. She eventually translates this into a form of Super Strength—if something is technically resting on a tray (regardless of the size of both), she can pick it up.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Once Upon a Time has the Enchanted Sand, whose power makes anything broken appear fixed. It's first used on the broken blade of Excalibur, making it look like the sword is whole again. Later, it effectively works as a love potion when Arthur uses it on his wife Guinevere to fix their "broken" marriage after finding out about her affair with Lancelot. Then things get weird when he uses it to enslave Snow and David's minds after they find out about his nefarious goals, meaning... it fixed their broken trust or something?

    Tabletop Games 

    Video Games 
  • Touhou:
    • Yukari Yakumo's signature ability is the manipulation of boundaries. According to Yukari herself, this is a Swiss-Army Superpower which lets her do just about anything she wants, but Yukari's nature as an Unreliable Expositor makes things less than clear. In Canon she is capable of creating "gaps" that act as portals, created the "Border of Fantasy and Reality" around Gensokyo,note  and later assisted in constructing and maintaining the Great Hakurei Barrier.note  In Fan Fic, "Yukari got bored again" might as well be the setting equivalent of A Wizard Did It.
    • Suika has the ability to manipulate "density and sparseness". This lets her change size, transform into mist, and create mini-Suikas and black holes. In her debut appearance, she "gathered peoples' sentiments" at the Hakurei Shrine so that they would congregate there for parties.
    • Reisen describes her abilities as manipulation of madness, but their true nature is reading and altering waves in her surroundings. She typically uses this to scramble enemy brainwaves to mess up their focus, or bend light and sound to generate illusions, but she has displayed other applications for it as well: shooting Eye Beams, communicating with other Moon Rabbits from long distances, judging peoples' personalities, seeing the Three Fairies of Light while they're invisible, and creating ultrasonic pest repellents.
    • Reimu describes herself as having the ability to float in the sky, something which just about everyone can do already. But in a tight spot she will start teleporting around and turning intangible, while seemingly unaware that she is doing so. In truth, Reimu floats through life, instinctively following the path of least resistance to any problem (which is also the origin of her signature Homing Projectiles). The only limit on this ability is that her own thoughts cloud her instincts - she can become intangible simply by closing her eyes and clearing her mind of distractions.
    • Toyosatomimi no Miko can "listen to ten voices at once", a feat attributed to her historical counterpart Prince Shoutoku for his great skill at multitasking. In her case, however, she can choose to listen to the "Ten Desires" within a person's heart, learning their personality as well as their hopes and dreams. This ability also gives her a great affinity with ambient spirits of desire, allowing her to attract and absorb them for power.
  • 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 has 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).

    Web Comics 
  • 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. ("There is no problem that cannot be overcome by an imaginative and vigorous use of the animal husbandry skill.") 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 it's Not the Fall That Kills You, it's the ground.
  • 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.
    • Shockamancy is the magic of both electricity and any sort of surprise, including the Flash Mob ability the Archons use.
    • 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 a lot of Sburb class powers seem to depend on how creatively you can reinterpret the meaning of your class/aspect. For example, 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.
  • 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.
      Humphrey: OUR WINGS JUST FELL OFF!
      Maga: That doesn't really matter.
    • From the other direction, it takes them a while to learn how to use their power without killing, because the auto-pilot won't stop until they've won, and defines "winning" as "killing every enemy in sight." Mostly, they disarm opponents by "killing" their weapons. With more practice, they even learn how to use their powers for more mundane things.
      Soldier: What did you just do?
      Humphrey: Made us an escape route. I just had to convince myself this wall was trying to kill me.

    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 Academy of Superheroes 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.
  • 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 

http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/SemanticSuperpower