Unicorn: Butterfly, even one [unicorn]? Tell me that you saw only one.
Unicorn: Serves me right for even asking you; all butterflies know is songs and poetry and anything else they hear. I guess you mean well. Fly away butterfly.
This is when a character communicates almost solely by using someone else's words: it can be speeches, books, songs, movies, TV, radio, proverbs, The Bible
, religious tracts
, or other mass media. The reasons for this vary: they may have grown up obsessed with the source material or media, have language or memory problems that makes it impossible for them to speak normally, or their education is almost exclusively the quoted source material
to the point they are unable to conceive of language or original thought outside of it. In milder cases, they may only use speech patterns, vocabulary and other affectations, but at full tilt they will only
communicate through quoting others, perhaps even becoming Lost in Character
. This can be especially problematic if the source material is limited in scope. Imagine someone in a scifi setting trying to describe the week's Technobabble
issues using only lines from Shakespeare
In the case of characters who are unable rather than unwilling to speak using their own words, this trope can eventually be overcome somewhat like learning a new language, with the character making an effort to address their problem. Those who simply choose to speak this may also drop it, though it's unlikely as it tends to be a defining character trait for many. As to why a character would choose to liberally pepper their speech with quotes, it may be that they're trying to seem smart and cultured, the culture they grew up in encourages it or they feel the source they quote from said it best (so why say it less poetically in your own words?).
Going off this last point, authors tend to like this character trait because when using highly symbolic and layered sources it adds a lot of subtext and Genius Bonus
for viewers. However if instead the character speaks only
through a very narrow range of pop-culture references, they tend to get dated very, very
fast (and may become annoying or anachronistic). The longer one of these characters talks, the higher the probability that they say one of "But Wait, There's More!
", "Offer Void In Nebraska
" or "Slices, Dices, and Makes Julienne Fries
This is a subtrope of Reference Overdosed
. May overlap with Motor Mouth
and Strange Syntax Speaker
, and Waxing Lyrical
if the character uses song lyrics.
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- The people in the Bing commercials (a.k.a. "Search Overload Syndrome").
Anime & Manga
- TK from Angel Beats! tends to speak in English song lyrics and titles. Possibly a parody as it's noted in one episode that despite this he actually speaks poor regular English.
- Occidental Otaku Susana ("Sue") Hopkins from Genshiken 90% of what she says are Anime quotes (often quite obscure, but always relevant).
- Image Comics' Horridus is a Cute Monster Girl who was kept locked in a basement for most of her life, with a TV as her only companion. She learned to talk from it, so most of the things she says are catch phrases and advertising slogans.
- In the Transformers comic Shattered Glass, Beachcomber has a faulty processor, and after the Autobots land on Earth he starts speaking almost exclusively in song lyrics from the 60s and 70s, almost as if he were picking up a radio station.
Film - Live Action
- The Scarecrow in The Wiz sometimes communicates by reading quotes from the newspaper in his stuffing.
- *batteries not included: Harry only speaks in commercial taglines.
- Number Five/Johnny Five does a lot of this in both Short Circuit movies, especially due to his exposure to television in the first film.
- In Explorers, the three kids meet aliens who pick up English from watching television. One did a better job than the other so the latter communicates by speaking out tv catch phrases and clips from old black and white tv recordings.
- Bumblebee from the live action Transformers film had a damaged voice box and could only communicate via his car radio. This turned him into a bit of a Deadpan Snarker. (And one of the soundbites he plays is the alien from Explorers.) His voice was repaired by the end of the first film, but in the sequels he went back to speaking in soundbites.
- Weebo in Flubber uses clips from old Disney films incorporated into her regular speech.
- LV from the British film Little Voice has an incredible talent for mimicking different singers' voices. Towards the end of the movie during a particularly traumatic event, she seems to get "stuck" and only speaks in quotes from different songs and movies. Once everything gets resolved, she's back to normal.
- Variation: In the movie version of Being There, Chance the Gardener doesn't so much speak in shout outs — though his speech does reflect the trope that Realistic Diction Is Unrealistic because it's what he knows from television — as behave in shout outs. He almost unconsciously imitates physical behaviors he sees on the small screen. He can give a confident, hearty handshake to the President of the United States because he saw news footage of someone else giving the President one, and recreates the Orbital Kiss from the original Thomas Crown Affair with a woman who's in love with him when she enters the room at just the right moment.
Film - Animated
- Wreck-Gar and all the Junkions from Transformers: The Movie: just as they apparently patched themselves up with junkyard scraps, their speech was a stew of radio announcers and commercials and such. (Sample dialogue: "Stop, thief! No welcome wagon 'Hello, stranger' with that new coffee flavor for you!") The reason for this being that they intercept Earth transmissions and apparently can't get enough of them.
- Radio from The Brave Little Toaster didn't communicate exclusively through radio phrases, but he did generally talk like a DJ and ocassionally did comments in the form of news reports or radio dramas.
- Ibor from Twice Upon a Time communicates through video clips playing on the TV set that makes up his head.
- In The Last Unicorn, it is the nature of butterflies to speak this way, repeating only snippets of songs and poetry they've overheard.
- In Book of the New Sun, soldiers from the Ascian empire are taught speaking entirely in quotations given by higher-ups. One soldier Severian meets manages to tell a story using these quotations.
- In Brother To Dragons Companion To Owls by Jane Lindskold, the main character can only communicate via quotes from literature. It's heavily implied that she is autistic.
- In The Son of Neptune the harpy Ella has this to a degree. While she can speak in short, original sentences of one to three words each, she's prone to peppering her speech or segueing into quotes from things she's read.
- The hermit monks on the Canaan Island in Pelagia and the Black Monk (a Spin-Off of the Erast Fandorin series) are not allowed to speak at all, but their prior may utter five words a day, four of which must be a quote from the Bible.
- The Savage in Aldus Huxley's Brave New World he peppers his conversation liberally with lines from William Shakespeare plays like The Tempest — hence the title of the book.
- Mrs. Who from A Wrinkle in Time is the second of the three celestial beings who accompany the children on their adventure. She usually speaks in quotations from famous thinkers and writers because she finds it too difficult to craft her own sentences.
- The Doctor's conversation with Centcomp in the Doctor Who New Adventures novel So Vile a Sin. The system wasn't designed to have a voice of its own, so it speaks "in a jarring mix of words, snipped from media sources".
'I,' she said, in the voice of a little girl. 'Know,' said a deep-voiced man with a Southern accent. 'You,' said an elderly woman.
- The living city in the Sixth Doctor short story "Walkin' City Blues" does likewise. Except instead of choosing the right words, it picks a programme that conveys the impression of what it's trying to say.
- In John W. Campbell's short story The Immortality Seekers, Penton and Blake encounter a Callistan dog-like creature who speaks telepathically by repeating things she's heard people say or think—a living phonograph machine, they call her. She has an editorial ability, though, and only repeats thoughts that are appropriate to a given topic or situation.
- In Too, Too Solid Flesh, one of the android actors undergoes a trauma leaving her able only to speak her lines from Hamlet.
- Smash Mouth played with this in the chorus of "Walkin' On The Sun"
So don't delay, act now.
Supplies are running out.
Allow, if you're still alive,
Six to eight years to arrive,
And if you follow there may
Be a tomorrow, but if
The offer's shunned,
You might as well be walking on the sun
- A song by a cappella rock band The House Jacks, "Good Things," has verses composed exclusively of slogans from commercials.
You're in, you're in good hands,note
Have it your way!note
If you don't look good, we don't look goodnote
You deserve a break today!note
- Kim Rosenthal, who many years later would become Mike's second wife in Doonesbury, spoke only in media-derived soundbites when she was a baby.
- Shakespug, a minor character in Get Fuzzy, prefers to speak only in lines from Shakespeare's many works. It's been shown that he can speak normal English, he just prefers not to.
- In The Wiz, the Scarecrow communicates by reading quotes from the newspaper in his stuffing. His wish is to have a brain so he can have thoughts of his own.
- The Chanters in the Dragon Age series are required to only communicate with other people in the verses of the Chant of the Light (a sacred text in the series) as part of their oaths. The player can attempt to mess with them, though they manage not to slip up.
- The Beast in Homeworld: Cataclysm communicates only by stringing together intercepted radio chatter. Since this chatter is culled from hundreds of ships it's previously devoured, this is a definite 'played for horror' case.
- The Sparrow Hill Road series has Gary the car, who communicates by twisting his radio dial to songs that give appropriate voice to his feelings.
- SCP-1502 of the SCP Foundation is a small robot designed to be obsessed with Boy Meets World, and which speaks only in Shawn Hunter's quotes from the series, as well as increasingly identifying itself with the character.
- During the Heian period in Japan it was in vogue for the aristocrats to know as much classic poetry as possible, and private conversations could well be held entirely in poetry quotations.
- In Real Life members of the Baker Street Irregulars fan club often hold conversations exclusively in quotes from the Sherlock Holmes Canon.