troperville

tools

toys


main index

Narrative

Genre

Media

Topical Tropes

Other Categories

TV Tropes Org
random
Tongue Tied

''Oh, I'm begging on my knees
Sweet, sweet darling listen please
Understand me when I say:
Be-durble-diggle-doggle-diggle-doddle-diddle-day''
Red Dwarf, The Tongue Tied Song

A Tongue Tied character has some extremely important knowledge, and just Cannot Spit It Out... quite literally.

Sometimes a victim has to be kept quiet about what exactly has happened to him, or he may have learned a secret that someone doesn't want him to share. He can be threatened or encouraged to lie, but this is unreliable. Some villains attempt elaborate brainwashing or Laser-Guided Amnesia, but these options are all startlingly reversible. In light of this, the occasional magically-inclined villain will place a curse on his victim that also leaves the victim Tongue Tied.

He isn't silenced completely; the curse doesn't ordinarily prevent him from speaking or casting magic. The cursed individual just becomes unable to communicate a certain piece of information, like "I'm not really a frog, I'm a transformed prince!" or "I know where the villain's hideout is!" or "I'm under a curse!" If he tries to talk about this particular subject, he may be unable to speak at all, it may all come out as gibberish, or he may be magically forced to give a cover story in place of the truth he desperately wants to tell. In fact, this is often a secondary effect of a Baleful Polymorph curse, preventing the transformed character from getting help for his condition.

This "curse" is usually magical in nature, since the character will find himself unable to share the secret regardless of how badly he wants or needs to, but mental conditioning can sometimes be used to similar effect.

A Tongue Tied character may occasionally function as The Speechless, and his problem is very similar to the character who Cannot Spit It Out. Compare Keeping Secrets Sucks. Tongue Twister is the mundane equivalent.


Examples:

    open/close all folders 

     Anime and Manga 
  • In Howl's Moving Castle, Sophie is unable to tell anyone that the Witch of the Wastes has turned her into an old woman.
    • This is an exact example in the movie, but not in the book. In the book it is a subversion, because almost everyone knows about it, and has tried to lift the spell from her.
    • A similar case applies to the connection between Calcifer and Howl; he's unable to reveal what it is, but Sophie's allowed to guess or figure it out on her own.
  • This is the effect of the Talking Heads stand from JoJo's Bizarre Adventure Part 5, however the person affected by it is entirely incapable of telling the truth.
  • In Alice 19th, Mayura magically "forbids" Alice to tell Kyo about her feelings for him - and about the spell she uses to do this.
  • "I was so shocked that I tried to use [classified information]... and then [classified information]..."
  • Sai of Naruto and all other members of Root had seals placed on their tongues to keep them from betraying any of Danzo's information. However, when Danzo dies, those seals are gone.
  • Ahiru in Princess Tutu cannot tell Mytho that she loves him, or else she will disappear in a speck of light. It turns out Ahiru's actual feelings for Mytho are non-romantic, that Drosselmeyer is manipulating the story to make it a tragedy, and that the deal is resolved with her not fading away.
  • In Ah! My Goddess goddesses cannot speak of classified information. Belldandy has knowledge of the nature of Urd's goddess and demon halves, but experiences pain if she tries to tell anyone about it. Urd is able to get around this by asking yes or no questions and telling Belldandy to nod or shake her head.
  • When the Master Star Reader in Seirei no Moribito is sharing top secret and potentially highly dangerous information, he commands the servants who are present to cover their faces and ignore everything they are hearing. However this turns out to be actually purely ceremonial with no actual magical compulsion behind it and it's only their loyalty to their master that keeps them from ever revealing what is spoken within the sanctuary. At one point, a group of them aranges for Shuga to recieve information his master wanted to keep from him and sneak him into the forbidden archives, as they believe the master to making a terrible mistake.

     Comic Books 
  • Baron Mordo does this to Stephen Strange in order to prevent him from telling the Ancient One of Mordo's treachery. It doesn't prevent him from asking to learn magic himself, however, and once he does so, the Ancient One immediately releases him from the spell, admitting he knew about Mordo all along.
  • Poison Ivy did this to the Wayne Foundation board members in one Batman story arc. She used mind control to get them to sign over the Foundation's assets to her and gave them a post-hypnotic suggestion that prevented them from telling anyone what had happened.
  • In Mighty Avengers, Cassie learns that "Wanda" is actually Loki in disguise, but he curses her into not telling anyone.

     Fan Works 
  • Power Games has a relatively benign example, with the translation function of the characters' Devices being used to replace their names with that of their assumed identities while they are in hiding, to prevent them from accidentally divulging their real names.
  • The Discworld fic Why And Weresees two Howondalandian characters literally tongue-tied. They are aware of information which is vital to the plot, but both Clement N'Effabl and Ruth N'Kweze are bound to silence by a magical curse imposed by a native wizard. Both are Howondalandians and were indoctrinated from birth to realise exactly what it means when a Witch-Finder (native magic-user) points the bone at you. Not only potent "boffo" but deadly, on a world where magic is real. while Clement finds a way to finesse the curse and indirectly communicate the information, both need to be exorcised for the curse to be lifted. Then, and only then, they can speak freely. (Whys and Weres on Fan Fic Net).

     Film 
  • Several Abbott and Costello films have Costello needed to impart some important information, usually that the movie's villain is nearby. However, while he mimes speaking the words, he's so scared that he literally cannot make any kind of audible sound.
  • Perhaps the reverse of this trope, in the movie Liar Liar; not only does a birthday wish prevent Jim Carrey from telling lies, he also cannot withhold the truth (lying by omission) or even ask a question that he knows will be answered with a lie.
  • Tales from Muppetland: The Frog Prince: The princess is cursed to speak in scrambled sentences so that she couldn't unmask the witch. The frog prince is the only one able to understand her, perhaps because he was transformed by the same witch.
    • Or because he's halfway competent, given that the princess, whenever asked who cursed her, points at her "Aunt Taminella" while shouting "Tant Aminella! Tant Aminella!" Her father, on the other hand ...
    • "Bake the Hall in the Candle of her Brain" is a bit trickier, but manageable ( "Break the ball in the handle of her cane", if you haven't seen it).

     Literature 
  • In the third book of The Immortals, Daine is prevented from telling anyone that there's a goddess running around causing havoc.
  • In Ella Enchanted, Ella (who has been given the "gift" of obedience), is ordered to tell no one about this "gift," so of course, she is forced to obey.
  • In the third book of Lynn Flewelling's Tamír Trilogy, the evil wizard puts one of these spells on the girl he forces the prince to marry, so she can't tell the prince of the wizard's machinations, including the fact that she's only a virgin because the wizard magically recreated her hymen.
  • The Summer Lady had this once in Jim Butcher's Small Favor; she'd been forbidden to talk about something by the Summer Queen.
    • This comes up multiple other times, where someone can magically be forced to not reveal details of something. Depending on the specifics, they can create roundabout ways to give information (such as cryptic clues leading to someone else who can help).
  • In Orson Scott Card's Shadow of the Hegemon, Sister Carlotta finds out the particulars of Bean's condition from a scientist who first proposed the theory. The scientist has to be very clever about telling her, because he has been conditioned to have a panic attack whenever he speaks about or even thinks about his old work.
  • In Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell, whenever Lady Pole or Stephen Black tries to tell anyone about the gentleman with the thistledown hair, they end up saying something completely unrelated and frequently nonsensical.
    • Apparently it's actually stories that almost match up with ancient faerie activities, being The Fair Folk it sounds total nonsense.
  • The Aes Sedai in Robert Jordan's The Wheel of Time are unable to lie due to a magical promise on the Oath Rod; consequently, when asked a direct question about a secret, the best they can do is give a misleading but true answer. With the result that many people don't believe them at all, since they know about this oath. There's also reason to believe that the Black Ajah have a magical compulsion against betraying their fellow darkfriends, which is why they can't reveal names even under torture.
    • The exact function of the Black Ajah oath is that is prevents them from divulging any of their secrets until the hour of their death. In the thirteenth book, one of them abuses this loophole by poisoning herself so that she can betray the Black Ajah to Egwene.
  • Germain from Eric Nylund's A Game of Universe claims to have a Tongue Tied spell placed on him, so that he can infiltrate a castle without anyone asking too many questions.
  • One of the Big Bads (there were three) of Callahan's Lady, written by Spider Robinson, can make anyone do whatever she asks of them, including failing to convey information. Fortunately thinking outside the box/in terms of puns, tends to work very well. "Please do not go down the stairs," is solved by leaping into the dumpster from an upstairs window.
  • In Harry Potter the Fidelius Charm might cause this. The charm makes it so that once a secret is entrusted to the Secret Keeper, the only way to discover the secret is for the Secret Keeper to tell you. One effect of this is that if you're told the secret by the Secret Keeper then you can't tell it to anyone else, but canon doesn't establish how this is done. In might do it via Tongue Tied (which is always how it happens in fanfic), it could cause a Contrived Coincidence to prevent a confession whenever you open your mouth to speak it, or or it could be something else entirely.
    • There actually is a literal and Canon example of a tongue-tying charm in Harry Potter. When a Secret Keeper dies, everyone who knows the secret becomes a Secret Keeper. This includes Snape, though he probably wouldn't have told anyway. To prevent him from blabbing, Moody places a literal tongue twister curse on the house, preventing him from revealing its location. Another example, also in book 7, occurs when Voldemort places a taboo on his name, causing Death Eaters to appear whenever anyone speaks it, in a delberate attempt to catch Harry & Co.
  • Sheri S. Tepper's The True Game series has an unusual variant: a character is prevented from speaking a certain piece of information, but is perfectly capable of writing it down. However, this bit of Tongue Tied is contagious: any person who reads the information will be unable to speak it aloud, even if they've never met the beings who laid the Tongue Tied magic on it.
  • In James Thurber's The 13 Clocks, the wicked duke had a curse put on the Princess Saralinda so that she can only say "I wish him well" in the duke's presence.
  • Mages in the Heralds of Valdemar series can place this spell on others. Ethical mages will only do it with permission.
  • In the Warcraft novel War Of The Ancients, Neltharion casts this spell on a Krasus coming from the future to prevent him from revealing his plans.
  • In The Belgariad by David Eddings, the protaganist Belgarion is spied upon by the Grolim Asharak (aka Chamdar) from his childhood days but a magical compulsion prevents him speaking about it until the spell is broken.
    • The prophecy that drives the story also has one in The Mallorean. Garion discovers a mysterious blot on his copy of the prophecy that drives him (and later Belgarath) into an uncharacteristic rage of frustration when he looks at it. But look away and its power fades. It turns out to have been the other prophecy tampering with the original prophet: even Belgarath's copy is affected. Garion needed the light of the Orb of Aldur to break the curse.
  • In a short story by Selma Lagerlöf, a young girl kidnapped by bandits has to solemnly swear she'll never tell what happened and where they're hiding to anyone. After escaping, she tells how to find them to her cat, while the family's in the room.
  • Part of Sophie's curse in Howl's Moving Castle includes the inability to explain or describe the curse to anyone else.
  • Non-informational variant: In Master of Five Magics, sorcerers become progressively more Tongue Tied when they recite their spells, which must be repeated three times without error to be effective. By the third recitation, they're usually struggling desperately to get their lips and tongue to shape the right sounds, not slip up and incur the mystical backlash from a botched spell.
  • The title character of Spider's Song is born tongue-tied and mute. He's tongue is "accidentally" cut free by a friend who doesn't remember doing it afterward.
  • A Phyllis Eisenstein character was trying to find out who his father was. His father (currently in the form of a young girl and by now a friend) was forbidden to tell anyone, but by silence and elliptical statements managed to make the whole story clear.
  • Firebird (Tyers): Firebird inquires about a prophecy Brennen's family is under; in order to be allowed to tell her, he first has to set up a mental block that prevents her from ever revealing the information she learns to anyone else.
  • The Laundry Series. The Laundry uses these to ensure its members don't talk about occult matters outside those who have a Need To Know. This causes problems when the protagonist's wife returns from a particularly nasty mission, and he has to get on the phone to the Laundry to get the geas taken off her so she can vent about it.
  • In one of Labyrinths of Echo books, the villain has an entire town Tongue Tied, preventing people from telling the truth. This works quite well... before Juffin asks a victim if he could tell a prefectly opposite lie...
  • This is one of the things Count Dracula does to his victim Mina Harker after biting her and forming a Psychic Link so he can spy on the heroes (Dr. Seward observes that her "tongue seems tied" and she seems desperately to want to speak at certain times but can't), undoubtedly to prevent her from turning the tables on him and sharing his plans with her teammates. Unfortunately for the Count, Mina finds a way to break his control during the magically-critical times of sunrise and sunset and provides very helpful Psychic Radar.

     Live Action TV 
  • In one episode of Angel Lorne returns from a mission to gather information saying, "I can't talk about it. No, literally, they did a spell." He then subverts it by giving it to Angel in writing instead.
  • In a Muppet version of The Frog Prince, a princess is cursed to speak in scrambled sentences so that she couldn't tell that the witch who cast the spell is masquerading as the king's sister. The frog prince is the only one able to understand her, perhaps because he was transformed by the same witch.
    • Or that Robin had more than two brain cells to rub together. The Princess's father wasn't exactly Einstein, you know.
  • In Farscape, after Harvey (Scorpius's mental clone) has to reveal himself to John, he briefly edits his subconscious and makes him unable to talk about it.
  • In one episode of Jam, a lift in an office breaks down but the security guard, who has a speech impediment, physically can't get the words out in time to warn people. Several people step into the lift and fall to their deaths because he can't call out to them in time.
  • In The Sarah Jane Adventures, the Nightmare Man keeps Luke from ever saying his name to anyone. The protection doesn't apply to cameras, though.
  • Raj, in The Big Bang Theory, cannot even begin to talk to a woman unless he is drunk, in which case what he says can be highly inappropriate.

     Music 
  • Red Dwarf had the quote providing song as a fantasy sequence in one episode.

     Radio 
  • The song itself was first aired several years previously in BBC radio comedy Son of Cliche, set to music by Peter Brewis using words written by Brewis and Grant/Naylor.

     Tabletop Games 
  • D&D's Book of Vile Darkness includes a spell called "Forbidden Speech" which pretty much lets the caster specify one topic that the subject/victim will be unable to talk, write, or even telepathically communicate about.
    • In adventure I12 Egg of the Phoenix, High Cleric MacKurian is put under a Geas spell that prevents him from writing or saying the name of the Big Bad.
    • Dungeon Magazine articles include a curse that inflicts this effect on a character. The target is stunned (vomiting worms) until the end of the turn they try to communicate the information.
    • Exalted has a a similar spell, but in this case, the victim of the spell is subjected to wracking pain and uncontrollable vomiting whenever they try to talk about the forbidden subject. In addition to being much more sadistic, this version is probably less useful, since anyone who's heard of the spell will know that something's up.
  • The ritual Plague of Hiccups in Unknown Armies afflicts the victim with a fit of hiccups whenever he speaks a particular phrase. The snag here is that the hiccups don't trigger until after the victim speaks the phrase so it can't completely prevent discussion of the subject, just make it rather inconvenient.
  • Exalted also has the Ebon Dragon charm known as "Our Little Secret", in which you can render someone unable to tell anyone about what they saw you doing by making them feel guilt and shame. This can quite specifically only be used when the act in question would horrify the average person in the local culture.

     Video Games 
  • The plot of Kingdom Hearts 2 begins when a mysterious thief steals photos from everyone in town. It would be almost mundane, if not for everyone's sudden inability to say the word photo afterward.
  • The Ancient Conspiracy of the Metal Gear games inject their agents with nanomachines that cause them to say the nonsensical "La-li-lu-le-lo" when attempting to discuss them. See The Last Days of FOXHOUND example below.
  • One of the effects of Doopliss stealing Mario's body in Chapter 4 of Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door is Mario being unable to use his name. When he attempts to tell it to Vivian when she asks for it, she is unable to understand what he is saying (even moreso than we usually do).
    • It seemed like it was less of being able to understand him and more of being able to HEAR him - her response seems to indicate that, for example, Mario tried to say something but nothing came out, or it did come out but so quiet that she couldn't hear anything.
  • In The Wolf Among Us, Faith answers Bigby's questions about her work and employer with the phrase, "These lips are sealed." When Bigby meets Nerissa, the little mermaid at the nightclub where Faith worked, their conversation suggests that the phrase may be a magical means of keeping the girls quiet. Which is true; the magic is in the ribbon that all the girls at that nightclub wear around their necks. They can't tell anyone about the ribbon or what it does, and if the ribbon is removed, they die.

     Web Comics 
  • Gunnerkrigg Court: Coyote does this to Annie about the tooth he gave her: 'If you tell anyone in the forest about the tooth, even Ysengrin, this bind will snip off your hand'.
  • In The Last Days of FOXHOUND, Revolver Ocelot secretly brainwashes his teammates into being incapable of saying "The Patriots", the secret organization he works for. Instead, it comes out at "LA-LI-LU-LE-LO"
    Psycho Mantis: That conniving backstabbing son of a bitch SANTA CLAUS!"
    • Confirmed by the Metal Gear Solid Database. Further confirmed by MGS4; at one point Snake mentions the Patriots, to which a confused Meryl replies, "La-li-lu-le-lo?"
  • In Sluggy Freelance, Gwynn curses Torg to make donkey noises when he tries to tell people about the fact that she's using magic again. Unfortunately, her wording was a bit too broad. Not only does he start hee-hawing when he tries to say any important information (like "Zoe, help! Oasis has kidnapped me and taken me to a Poconos Resort to force me to marry her!"), he starts actually turning into a donkey!
  • Caused by behavioral conditioning as an elaborate joke in this xkcd comic.

     Web Original 
  • Miriam of Making the Cut is forced to not tell any of her friends that's she's been turned into a vampire, and the vampires are forcing her to be their spy.

     Western Animation 
  • One episode of The Amazing World of Gumball has incompetent guidance counselor Mr. Small accidentally doing this to Gumball and Darwin: when his attempts to break them from lying fail, he resorts to traumatizing them into silence with a puppet. Then he stumbles into the drawer of his own filing cabinet and gets locked inside. Gumball and Darwin try to help, but they're incapable of verbalizing what's going on to anyone...
  • The Fairly OddParents has an instance of this when Chester desperately tries to tell Timmy's Mom and Timmy's Dad that Vicky is evil. Every time he tries to do this however, a shock bracelet that she apparently attached to his leg electrocutes him brutally. He keeps trying until all of his hair is burned off and his body is covered with black soot. Each time the parents keep asking him to spit it out but eventually he gives up completely, at which point the device that tortured him gives him a piece of Cheese..

     Real Life 
  • Non-disclosure agreements.
    • Also known as "gag orders."
  • Selective mutism (a form of social anxiety) can manifest this way, rendering someone unable to talk when they are uncomfortable with the subject to be discussed or the person they are speaking to.


This Is Not a FloorMind ManipulationTrigger Phrase
Tomato SurpriseNarrative DevicesTotal Eclipse of the Plot
Super Human TraffickingA Slave to the IndexToo Important to Walk
Superior SuccessorImageSource/Anime & MangaToo Many Mouths
Tin TyrantAdded Alliterative AppealTongue Twister

random
TV Tropes by TV Tropes Foundation, LLC is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.
Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available from thestaff@tvtropes.org.
Privacy Policy
49034
1