I didn't mean to. Jack, Samantha, Daniel:
He didn't mean to. Teal'c:
It was not his intention.
Verbal affectation common to characters who are heavily disassociated from Earth-culture, especially to mark a character as very serious and/or intellectual. Most common with The Spock
Similar to a mild form of Robo Speak
- smarter robots will use Spock Speak
instead of Robo Speak
. Also sometimes applied to characters from the past, perhaps under the misguided assumption that slang is a modern invention.
is a collection of verbal mannerisms designed to show that a character may be functionally fluent in English, but lacks the usual syntax. It distances the speaker from human society, but also gives a sense that the speaker is very smart.
Specific affectations usually include:
- Excessively rigid adherence to proper word use and grammar
- Total (or near-total) avoidance of contractions (except when the actor forgets)
- Avoidance of slang
- Clipped tones and a very precise way of speaking, underplaying emotions (except for a sort of mild disappointment in the listener)
- Heavy use of the Expospeak Gag
- An inability to learn metaphor and figures of speech
- Inability to get or tell jokes, including sarcasm
- Preferring longer or more technical terms to simpler ones ("Affirmative" instead of "Yes")
- Heavy use of understated, single-word reactions ("Fascinating," "Indeed."), without any intensifiers: "Indeed" would work equally well as a response to "Would you like some coffee?" as to "They're going to kill us all!"
- A preference for the passive voice over active voice ("It is done" vs. "I did it")
- Ludicrous Precision in estimates of numbers, most often time and distance
Bizarrely, these affectations can be combined with Ye Olde Butcherede Englishe
in some examples of Flowery Elizabethan English
Real world note: There are people in the real world for whom Spock Speak is natural. When the size of the vocabulary exceeds by far the level of social skill, people naturally use their strengths to compensate for their weaknesses — or indeed, may not realize that there is something abnormal about their using grammar and vocabulary that is perfectly familiar to them
. Autism causes a focus on precision and difficulty recognizing social cues; when accompanied by high intelligence, this focus may make slang and contractions seem pointlessly vague. People with high-functioning autism (for Asperger Syndrome
, "pedantic speech" is a diagnostic criterion), may prefer to speak using something like Spock Speak. In modern times, however, they are taught (or teach themselves) colloquial speech. Before high-functioning autism was an official diagnosis, such people often found themselves at home as university professors—possibly the origin
for the Spock-speaking "absent-minded professor". Nowadays, most fictional examples of that stereotype either have such a condition or are subject to speculation (canonical or otherwise
) that they do.
Legal jargon can also be considered a real-life case of Spock Speak. Sometimes, all it takes to create a void in a contract or a law is a grammar mistake — in one well-known case, a missing comma allowed one party to a contract to terminate it much earlier than the other party expected, costing the second party millions. As a result, legal documents must be written very precisely and carefully, in order to allow for only one way to understand the text. Usually, this involves writing the documents in a highly rigid and formal grammar, using the legal terms exactly as defined in the laws and the legal terms dictionary, and using any other word exactly as defined in Merriam-Webster's (or the OED
, if you're British). However the accepted dictionary definitions of words can still be quite subjective. And a long history of trying to make laws more specific and rigid by using increasingly specialized language has left most laws bloated and confusing. In fact a lawyer's main job is to interpret the written word of the law — hence the need for court cases, as they tend to interpret it in favor of their client. The trend in courts as of late (as in, since some time in the 1970s) has been to be a little more open to reading laws and contracts in a less literal manner, but the damage is already done—contracts and statutes tend to be unnecessarily wordy.
In addition, some non-native speakers speak this way due to imperfect grasp of the language (and because, unfortunately enough, this is the kind of English taught in schools and universities, while "ordinary" speech can only be learned in the street, by conversing with native speakers). The language learned from a standard educational tape or university course is almost entirely devoid of idiom and local dialect, and very little emphasis is placed on practical use of the language.
Much of literal Spock Speak
- what the character Spock says - can be traced back to (of all things) American commercial aviation
. Gene Roddenberry served as a US Army Air Forces
pilot in World War II
and then worked as TWA pilot before he moved to Los Angeles (where he made his living as a cop). The limitations of 1940s and 1950s communications equipment made it hard for a listener to tell the difference between a quick "yes" and a quick "no" - both would sound like a staticky "uh". "Affirmative" and "negative" were easier to differentiate. Standard, precise language also made it easier for pilots to communicate in emergencies - they didn't have to stop to think what to say. Roddenberry may have based the character of Spock on pilots he knew, in the same way that he based the character of Kirk on Daryl Gates of the LAPD. Yes, that one.
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Anime and Manga
- Yuki Nagato from Suzumiya Haruhi. She speaks like that because she's an "alien-human interface"; in plain English, she's the mouthpiece of an incredibly intelligent and rational alien entity that cannot communicate through speech. However, there is another such interface in the series which is able to pose as an attractive and highly popular schoolgirl, exhibiting none of the "robotic" tendencies of Nagato. Why one is more convincingly human than the other is never explained.
- Fanon claims that the reason the other interface goes Ax Crazy and tries to kill Kyon is because having and showing emotions make her more unstable. While Nagato is stable because she doesn't have strong emotions. This is supported by the fourth novel, wherein her emotional buildup from a previous arc causes a massive and largely unwanted (depending on which fanon camp you sit with) reality shift.
- Miyu in Mai-HiME. It is not particularly obvious, though, and the later revelation of her being a Robot Girl has been known to take some people by surprise. In Mai-Otome, her manner of speech is more naturalistic, indicating a more favorable role overall.
- Kurau from Kurau Phantom Memory talks in a very emotionless and analytical fashion very unfitting for a twelve-year old right after she merges with the Rynax-entity. She starts talking more normally when she regains her human memories, much to the relief of her father.
- Nia from Gurren Lagann, being a princess, tends to speak in Spock Speak. (At least in translation; in the original Japanese she speaks fluent Keigo.) Memorable is her use of "Well met" over "Hello" as a greeting. Even on her answering machine. Repeatedly lampshaded.
- Most famous is her rendering of the Gurren-dan motto: "Are you aware of exactly who I am?"
- Fanon tends to do this to Near from Death Note. Even though he demonstrates his ability to swear, among other things, several times (at least in some translations.)
- In Durarara!! Vorona's speech tends to be a mix of this and... something thanks to the fact that she learned speaking Japanese entirely from textbooks.
- Sousuke from Full Metal Panic, exhibiting most of the above requirements. He almost always prefers "affirmative," speaks in short phrases, has a complete lack of understanding of slang and all of the more normal behavior for someone his age. Tessa utilizes a much milder case when she's in command, but in her case it's a choice, and her Not So Stoic moments are more numerous, especially around Sousuke.
- Kuroko, the stoic titular protagonist of Kuroko No Basuke, always speaks very calmly and politely.
- The X-Men's Storm, as well as Magneto and Colossus (and many other minor characters) as written by Chris Claremont. Storm always speaks this way, even in other-media adaptations, though she doesn't in the live action movies.
- Perennial Fantastic Four villain The Super-Skrull talks like this, like most of his race we've seen so far. In an issue of Young Avengers, his lack of contractions even used to identify him posing as another character.
- Perceptor speaks like this in the Marvel Transformers Generation 1 comic, so much so that other character have trouble understanding him. Shockwave too, but to a lesser extent.
- Those who speak in Mark Trail have incredibly strange diction, using no contractions to speak of and sounding painfully formal, all while using too many exclamation points!!
- James-Michael in Omega The Unknown, due to being raised by robots.
- X-23, having never been exposed to the outside world while growing up, speaks in a very rigid, measured way. She also doesn't use slang and has never once used a contraction.
- George R. R. Martin's recurring character Haviland Tuf is averse to human contact; his habitual usage of excessively formal language helps him to maintain an acceptable emotional distance from anyone with whom he must converse — while permitting him to use biting sarcasm with complete impunity.
- In Steve Miller and Sharon Lee's Liaden Universe space operas, Liadens speak in very polite and frequently roundabout form. This is in part because the stories often draw inspiration from Edwardian romances, and partly because Liadens are a culture where the slightest insult might provoke a lethal duel, depending on the temperament of the one insulted. It also frequently serves as a Translation Convention to give readers a sense of the formalized structure of the Liaden, especially High Liaden, tongue.
- Older Than Television spoof: In E. E. “Doc” Smith's The Skylark of Space, Richard Seaton is a very intelligent, intuitive genius - who speaks like a 1930's caricature of someone from the Bronx. When asked about this by his then-girlfriend, he launches into a couple of paragraphs of perfectly-grammatical Spock Speak, until forcibly told to shut up by that same aforementioned girlfriend, now exasperated with him.
- Aximili from Animorphs...when he's not in human form. (When he's in human form, he's just crazy.) Ax's internal monologue is not quite as formal as his speech, though it is still clearly the thought process of someone foreign to American culture; when speaking, he's actively affecting a formal tone because he believes that's how a soldier in the Andalite military should act.
- The character of Dominil in Martin Millar's Lonely Werewolf Girl is generally considered the most intelligent member of her family, with a double degree from Oxford. She is also considered icy and enigmatic, and when she tries to help her cousins with their band, she tells their guitarist that their stage fright is not something she can empathize with, and his reply makes her ask if he thinks she is lacking in empathy. He lampshades this by responding: "Well, yeah, if you go around saying things like 'It is not something with which I can easily empathize'."
- In Battletech novels, members of the Clans make a point of not using contractions (at least in the classical sense, as several Clan-exclusive terms are at least portmanteaus if not full-on contractions). Given that most Clan characters are warriors they also use many military terms and end up using a form of Spock speak.
- The title character of F.M. Busby's Rissa Kerguelen series early on adopted a disguise with a persona including Spock Speak, and for some reason kept the speech pattern when she dropped the rest of the disguise. She was, however, perfectly capable of using contractions — if disguised as someone else.
- Nearly everybody in Manticore talks like this in the Honor Harrington series, often taking a dozen more words to get their point across than is really necessary, with absolutely flawless diction all around. It's somewhat justified in that the main characters are all either highly trained and educated starship crews, nobility, or both, but there's no excuse for them still speaking that way when, say, they've been stuck on a prison planet for a year and a half and the narration goes at length to point out how casual they are with each other.
- In the Courts of the Crimson Kings, a sci-fi novel by S. M. Stirling. The Martian language can convey a lot of information simply, but sounds formal when translated into English. Thus Your pleasantly agreeable personality contrasts in an intriguing manner with the brutish power of your appearance is actually You look macho but you're actually sweet and gentle.
- None of the characters in Deltora Quest are capable of using verbal contractions.
- ...unless they're either A)in severe distress or B)evil.
- Jeeves is a master of Spock Speak who predates Spock by about half a century! This trope could legitimately be called "Jeeves Speak", but "Spock Speak" is much snappier.
- Despite using this speech pattern and having a generally stoic demeanor, Jeeves does understand humor and sarcasm, and his Spock Speak lends itself well to the occasional Stealth Insult.
- The Jeeves-like later adaptations of Alfred Pennyworth do this, too.
- Shane Drinion in The Pale King, who may not be human.
Live Action TV
- Spock in Star Trek: The Original Series. Fascinating.
- Averted in the pilot episode, where he speaks like everyone else. In the pilot it was the First Officer, Number One, who spoke Spock Speak. She and Spock were rolled into one character when the high mucky-mucks objected to both of them.
- One of the novels explains that Spock learned English from Earth university textbooks, explaining his rigid sentence structure and lack of contractions, as well as his odd pronunciation of some words ("sen-sores") Which is in itself silly, since his mom is Canadian. It's more likely to be an at least semi-conscious choice to have as many Vulcan behavioral tics as possible—he has severe insecurities about how good a Vulcan he is, and about being acknowledged as one by other people. His father talks the same way. T'Pau, T'Pring and Stonn, not being diplomats or with Starfleet, have an even more stilted speech pattern.
- Also, Data of Star Trek: The Next Generation. Indeed, the way to tell him apart from his Evil Twin Lore was that Lore did use contractions. (Ironically, at the end of the very episode which introduced Lore, Brent Spiner flubbed one of his lines, causing Data to use a contraction.) (Or did he? It's so blatant you have to wonder if it was intentional.)
- Seven of Nine from Star Trek: Voyager. And Tuvok.
- Kai from Lexx does probably the best Spock Speak in television history, superior even to the Trope Namer. Lexx, the titular ship, does a pretty decent job of it himself, as does 790 and several other of the less human characters on this show. The only ones who don't talk this way are the thoroughly human characters of a quite low level of knowledge about things, Stanley and Xev/Zev, the ones who are typically having things explained to them in perfect expository Spock Speak.
- K-9 and most "advanced" aliens in Doctor Who. Affirmative, Master.
- Zen, Orac, and Avon in Blake's 7. Confirmed.
- All of the Observers in Fringe.
- All the Jaffa in Stargate SG-1, although the "indeed" is a Verbal Tic unique to Teal'c. Indeed. (When Teal'c guest stars in Stargate Atlantis, Ronon is apparently the first person to ever mention Teal'c's penchant for such speech, and he is surprised to discover that he does, in fact, say "indeed" a lot.) Parodied in the series finale "Unending," when "indeed" becomes the last word ever said in the show — but this time, it's said by everyone but Teal'c.
- Lennier in Babylon 5. "Informal speech would be... inappropriate."
- Notable exception: TIM in The Tomorrow People actually speaks much more naturally than many of the non-electronic advanced aliens. One of the Big Finish audios comments extensively on how unusual this is.
- Telling example: in Knight Rider, KITT does not use Spock Speak for the most part (though he does once go medieval on a hacker for compelling him to say "ain't"), nor do the vehicles from Team Knight Rider, but his Evil Twin KARR, and TKR's Evil Counterpart KRO do.
- Also, the KITT of the 2008 series engages in Spock Speak, but his patterns of speech appear to be slowly getting more natural as his AI develops.
- Anya of Buffy the Vampire Slayer developed into this, first as a consequence of being a former demon with limited knowledge of humans. Later it was revealed that she had when she had been an ordinary human she had always used SpockSpeak. Charitably we may assume she was an Aspie. (Her lack of understanding about mortality on the other hand...well, a thousand years is a long time.)
- Lampshaded when Anya says of April, "She speaks with a strange evenness and selects her words a shade too precisely," and Xander responds, "Well, some of us like that kind of thing in a girl."
- Later on Angel, Illyria used this as well, though she occasionally managed to confuse others when using a longer word instead of a short, convenient one. (One humorous example was when she said she and Wesley were "no longer having intercourse." Spike assumed sexual intercourse and did a Double Take before her real meaning kicked in.)
- Parodied mercilessly in the Saturday Night Live sketch (and subsequent movie) Coneheads.
- Grover of Sesame Street.
- In the first season of Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers, Billy, being the smart one of the group, used lots of Spock Speak, and required the use of Trini to translate what Billy said to the rest of the group. Needless to say that this stopped on the second season when the actress playing Trini left.
- Sheldon from The Big Bang Theory is like that. Just let this example speak for itself:
Sheldon: Well, I'm polymerized tree sap and you're an inorganic adhesive, so whatever verbal projectile you launch in my direction is reflected off of me, returns on its original trajectory and adheres to you.
- At least he uses contractions.
- He gets better over time. At least, he tries. Apparently, he's "getting remarkable fluency at" urban slang.
- The title character of I Dream of Jeannie spoke with an unusual tone of voice and no contractions. She also misunderstood metaphors, but no more often than any other Literal Genie.
- Temperance Brennan of Bones due to being a literal minded forensic anthropologist did this in the first couple of seasons. Usually saying "I don't know what that means." when her colleagues would make pop culture references. In later seasons however she's loosened up a bit, although she does still sometimes get her slang terms mixed up.
- Kryten from Red Dwarf sometimes does this:
Kryten: "What is this place?"
Rimmer: "It's a pub."
Kryten: "Pub. Ah yes, a place where people go to achieve advanced states of mental incompetence through the repeated consumption of fermented vegetable drinks."
- Ziva David from NCIS speaks very properly, at one point asking "What are contractions?"
- Life On Mars. DI Sam Tyler when interviewing witnesses, because he comes from an era where every word is recorded and saying the wrong thing can get a case thrown out of court. However this only confuses people in The Seventies.
- Castiel from Supernatural: he rarely uses contractions, has a formal way of talking ("I'm the one who gripped you tight and raised you from perdition"), and doesn't get pop culture or human jokes. Understandable, since he's an angel who hasn't walked among humans for two thousand years.
- Ethan Zobelle, from Sons Of Anarchy. There's a reason: he's not a real American, and needs to put some effort into hiding his slight European accent!
- Variation: The Clans, in Battletech-related properties, speak a sort of slang based on Spock Speak; for example, they use "Aff" and "Neg" (short for Affirmative and Negative) in place of "Yes" and "No". This is added to a host of Russian-derived terms and WikiWords to form an alien but comprehensible dialect of English. They have so long since forgone the use of contractions that they react to contractions as swear words.
- That's not that far-fetched; using contractions in Japanese (for instance "korya" instead of "kore wa") is perceived as harsher.
- In Paranoia, the Bot Abusers Manual encourages bots to talk this way as a means of hosing their buddies: why say "Get out of the way!" when you can say "Excuse me, citizen, but my sensors indicate an 84.7% probability that the approaching transbot will terminate your biological functions within 0.5 secondcycles after the completion of this sentence"?
- Vaarsuvius, from The Order of the Stick.
- Antimony from Gunnerkrigg Court uses Spock Speak, due to a very unusual childhood. When this guest comic was posted, several fans complained that Annie saying "Yeah" in the first panel was out of character. However, she seems to use it less when she's at ease, around friends.
- Apparently, Annie learned it from her father, Anthony, who spoke this way when he was her age:
Donald Donlan: Hey Tony, aren't you coming for lunch?
Anthony Carver: I have matters to attend to.
Donald Donlan: Oh... okay. We'll see you later then.
James Eglamore: "I have matters to attend to." Jeez, who talks like that?
- Faye in Questionable Content, early on in the series when she's deliberately trying to conceal her southern accent, having moved from Georgia to Massachusetts to escape a personal tragedy.
- Theo in Gold Coin Comics.
- Luca in The Meek doesn't use contractions, since his he actually speaking his third language according to Word Of God.
- Noah of El Goonish Shive very rarely uses contractions and just comes across as awkward in the flow of his speech.
- The Alpha Droids in Commander Kitty talk like a cross between this and, Robo Speak.
- The character of Two in Tales of MU speaks with a variation of this: as a freed golem, she speaks fairly formally, and especially does not wish to voice any opinion or preference. In the early chapters, she had serious problems saying that she wanted anything. This can be seen in the "Two's Diary" Bonus stories, where she crosses out any line that expresses any emotion or desire. She's gotten better as the story has gone on, however.
- Another example is Two's former roommate, Dee, whose formal speech matches a formal upbringing. She also apologies frequently, at a level approaching a verbal tic.
- Survival of the Fittest version 4's 'Bounce' speaks with excessive formality, which is possibly because English wasn't her parents' first language, although intelligence plays a part.
- An invoked case of Memetic Mutation: People have used this trope to convert popular songs, as if they were performed by Spock himself. Most notably:
- "Milkshake" by Kelis
My frozen dairy-based confectionery attracts all the males of the species to the facility's perimeter. They unanimously agree on it's superiority, and I must concur. I could instruct you on the finer details, but that would require monetary recompense on your part.
- "Call Me, Maybe" by Carley Rae Jepsen
Salutations. I have just made your acquaintance, and this is highly illogical, but here is a series of numerical digits of which perhaps you will use to contact me by at a later time.
- As said at the top: Some people with autism.
- And lawyers, because legal jargon is like that.
- With good reason, like in science you want to make sure that you're saying exactly what you mean to say, and one word incorrectly applied on a contract can create a loophole that may cost someone millions of dollars.
- The medical community tends to do this, especially when recording something on a patient's chart. For example, a nurse can not write "John Doe is asleep" in his chart. She must write "John Doe appears to be asleep". He could be pretending to be asleep (which could be indicative of insomnia, anxiety, etc). The nurse would have no way of knowing if he really is asleep without hooking him up to a bunch of of unnecessary equipment.
- Richard Feynman told a story of how he was in Brazil and couldn't remember the Portuguese word for "so", but remembered a rule where in "ly" in English becomes "mente"... so he had to use "consequentemente", giving this impression to the people he was talking to.
- Foreign language syllabuses generally use the formal, received-pronunciation form of the language, as discussed briefly in the Terminator example above.
- Scientific journals expect to have a written form of Spock Speak in their articles, so even scientists who don't talk that way personally learn to emulate it in writing. This is obviously desirable in pursuit of precision.
- Likewise, a police officer filing a formal report (or even verbally reporting to a fellow officer) will write or speak in a formal manner out of habit; rather than saying 'he wouldn't get out and started yelling at me', the officer would report that 'the suspect failed to comply and became verbally uncooperative'.
- Done for the same reason lawyers do: Any informality or lack of precision may become an issue in court.
- Welfare and Social Service workers, at least the good ones, will often use this trope in writing of file histories. It aids in evaluating emotionally charged encounters by looking at just the facts as they presented, without getting caught up in value judgements or the perceptions of the person relaying their story.
- Similarly, customer histories at call centres. Due to data protection laws, customers can request a copy of their own file at any time, so employees have to be very careful about their wording when making notes. 'Guided customer through login process' sounds better than 'He forgot his password again'.
- Military personnel can alter between this and a Cluster F-Bomb seemingly at will, especially during radio communication. Precision is quite important when calling an artillery strike in.
- A Cluster F-Bomb is only using one word for lots of emotion, thus causing as little confusion as possible while still expressing utter urgency.
- The logic-based Constructed Language Lojban. You can easily speak complex ideas with unlimited emotion and no language barriers, at the cost of having really weird word-for-word translations.
- The classical difference between the two standards of Norwegian writing: Bokmål, based on Danish, is more prone to Spock Speak than Nynorsk, traditionally regarded as a more "straight-forward" way of expressing things. But then again, this can be seen as vulgar by some.
- Both versions turn into spock speak when written by a state official, however.
- Arabic gets this hard. Whenever anyone speaks in Standard Arabic, it inevitably sounds stilted and formal—i.e. Spock Speak. This is expected when what you're talking about is complex philosophy, abstract theology, or high politics (especially when you're from, say, Egypt and your interlocutor is, for instance, Moroccan). But when foreigners learning Arabic try to use Standard Arabic in relatively ordinary situations—like instructing a cabbie—it comes out quite ridiculous.