A character, for whatever reason, doesn't speak. However, it's a matter of importance to emphasize that they aren't speaking. How do you show it?
Simple: use an ellipsis. This is better known as "...", and is usually used to represent either where part of a paragraph/sentence was removed or a break in the thought. Thus, when a character is either mute or choosing not to speak, their dialogue box/speech bubble/subtitle becomes an ellipsis to show that is the case. Sometimes appears as an exclamation mark or question mark, which also imply the silence while carrying a message of their own (and usually with a situation-appropriate shift in facial expression). Often used for a Beat Panel or when a character has nothing to say.
Occasionally this shows up for added emphasis in animation as a form of Painting the Medium.
Compare Dramatic Ellipsis, Melodramatic Pause, and Sweat Drop. A Silent Protagonist may sometimes speak only in this. Compare also Chirping Crickets, if the whole cast of characters is too stunned or embarrassed to speak. Turns up in comics as the word *crickets* in place of a speech bubble.
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Anime & Manga
Manga will also use a certain "onomatopoeia" for this purpose: "shin" (or "shiiiiin", or "shi-n"). So, if you see a giant "shi~n" over a scene, you know it's completely silent. For pronounced silence, look for "jiiin".
Possibly first introduced to the West by Golgo 13; Duke Togo/Golgo 13 is quite fond of this.
Jyu Viole Grace from Tower of God almost never talks, resorting to this instead.
Sasuke was already a ninja of few words, but when he recruited his own team, he went dead silent for a few chapters while they argued amongst each other. Fortunately, the author was considerate enough to feature a cel of Sasuke saying "..." after every joke and insult, with the same blank look on his face. If he hadn't, we would have never known Sasuke was ignoring them and it would have seemed like he just suddenly disappeared. They seem to have a stock of Sasukes with Visible Silence, for all the times the manga cuts to him just to have him say nothing.
Hinata says one while witnessing Sakura hugging Naruto after punching him for his recklessness upon his return to the village after defeating Pain, for unknown reasons.
Karin herself gets in on it when she observes the Danzo/Sasuke fight from the sidelines, during which her speech balloons were about 60% punctuation, including three consecutive Visible Silencesall on one page.
Naruto himself after he learns of Sasuke becoming an international criminal. For a long time his speech bubbles are mostly full of dots as he hears one person after another elaborate to him what kind of person his former friend really is.
Probably 75% of Itachi's dialogue consists of this. He's a bit more talkative when he's revived as a zombie. Probably because he doesn't have to pretend to be evil anymore.
Used on the melancholic Nemu Kurotsuchi in Bleach while displaying the members of Shinigami Women's Association during the very first meeting shown in the Shinigami Cup clip. In the anime, Apache gets one while waiting for Allon to respond to her commands.
Taken Up to Eleven in the Excel♥Saga anime with Daimaru Subiyoshi, the obese Only Sane Man. He has no spoken dialogue-all of his lines are written across the screen, and most of them do end in ellipses. He's also probably the most articulate and vocally eloquent among the cast. He speaks in the manga, though, albeit with a Kansai/English accent.
A large ellipsis appears dot by dot in the background in School Rumble while Eri 'connects the dots' regarding Harima and Yakumo. Yakumo is in the tea room, fixing Harima's jacket. Harima often comes by the tea room you say? "..."
In an episode of Lucky Star, there is one of these when Konata asks Yui if she remembers her childhood, which the absent-minded adult most certainly does not. Not only that, but after the first four dots appear, Konata starts chorusing them as they appear with a mumbled "Dot, Dot, Dot, Dot!", in what is probably a little lampshading of this trope - Konata is, after all, very Genre Savvy.
In Rurouni Kenshin, where the title character Kenshin witnesses an attack occurring in an alleyway, in his atoning state he does not want to fight, and simply says "...", and is then immediately kicked in the head by Sanosuke who demands "What do you mean, '...'!?"
The credits sequence of FLCL is a sequence of still photos following around a scooter, interspersed with some animation of Haruko riding the scooter. When it breaks down she kicks it over. A thought bubble with a vertical ellipse pops up over the scooter before it scoots off on its own.
In Azumanga Daioh, for whatever reason, the ellipsis appears behind Mr. Tadakichi, signifying his silence. But Mr. Tadakichi is a dog, and a fairly quiet one, at that, so...?
About 80% of Yuki Nagato's "dialog" in the Suzumiya Haruhi novellas (it'd be a higher proportion, but her Spock Speak takes up a lot of space). The anime, having a fairly "realistic" style, forgoes the visible ellipses.
In YuYu Hakusho, some of the characters are sitting silently in a room next to the one with an important meeting in it. They're having a conversation in written form. One of them holds up a piece of paper with an ellipsis on it, and immediately gets reprimanded with another piece of paper that says "You don't have to write the dramatic pauses!" in Japanese. In the manga, it's the same, with Chu writing "Idiot! Don't waste paper on silence!"
Dragon Ball Z uses this once, when Juuhachigou (#18) throws a fight against Mr. Satan (Hercule). It's used to show just how underwhelming the attack is before she throws herself out of the ring.
Killy from Blame!! has more ellipses in his vocabulary than words.
Hanaukyō Maid Tai. Ryuuka, when she first learns Taro is the new head of the Hanaukyo family.
Death Note uses this when team members make shocking statements during the investigation of Kira. One conversation between Light and Near consists half of intense pauses, which the NPA members think is just freaking weird, causing them to emit the occasional ellipsis of their own. The stand-alone "...!" also puts in an appearance. It's internal monologue, which does at least keep you from wondering how you'd pronounce that.
Used in Fullmetal Alchemist when Ed and Ling are inside Gluttony's stomach. Ed transmutes a giant hole into the sea of blood, and they drop a torch into it to see where it hits the bottom. While they're waiting, and waiting, and waiting, we see an ellipses over their heads.
In Sangatsu no Lion, Rei is frequently guilty of this due to his meek personality and his tendency to contemplate on his own problems.
In Full Metal Panic? Fumoffu, Kaname has this reaction when she sees the school rugby team finding a miniscule pebble on the pitch and treating it as if it were a major safety hazard.
In the Exiles comic, Psylocke had just won a battle with a villainous alter-ego, and asked Sabertooth whether he would have killed her if the other one had won. ". . ." She assures him that she's grateful and would do the same for him.
In one issue of Amazing Spider-man it is implied that "..." made by Spidey is some kind of an inarticulate sound, as another character asked about it.
Volume 4 of Scott Pilgrim features this a few times. It's also the most cartoony / manga-ey of the bunch.
Played with in the Richard Hell song, "Blank Generation." In the chorus, he sometimes sings "I belong to the... generation." The official lyric sheet renders this as a Title Drop with, "I belong to the ______ generation."
Poncho has done this a couple of times in Pooch Cafe.
In Fallout 3 you can have a conversation with one NPC consisting mostly of him saying "..." and you saying "[Say nothing]" He will comment at the end that you two understand each other perfectly.
Final Fantasy and other Squaresoft RPGs often have this, when the characters aren't outright Heroic Mimes. In fact, such a speech bubble is used in combat to indicate the "Mute" status effect.
Abused heavily in Final Fantasy VII by (the appropriately named) Rude, though he still gestures and moves. Reno even lampshades this in the movie, where he doesn't talk much either. Tifa, meanwhile, gets ellipses every time she misses an opportunity to talk about crucial plot details. There's even one part (when Cloud is currently comatose) that Tifa says "..." and everyone else turns around as if they heard her say something. Maybe it's meant to indicate she whimpered?
Squall from Final Fantasy VIII, described by one reviewer as "Master of the ellipsis", in one instance using over a dozen. Ward does this throughout the second half of the game, after a throat injury renders him truly mute.
In Final Fantasy VI, Celes, upset over Locke thinking that she betrayed him and the rest of the group, gives him this when they meet up again in Albrook. Terra also gets a few, mostly having to do with her own identity and the nature of love, and then there's Shadow.
After the destruction of Alexandria in Final Fantasy IX, Dagger becomes mute out of shock and some of her attacks fail because she's unable to concentrate. She only breaks her silence after visiting the grave of her mother.
There's one point in Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles: Ring of Fates where Meeth and Gnash have a conversation that is made up of ellipses. What the conversation was about could probably be guessed from their facial expressions in the text box.
In Pokémon, this is pretty much Red's "Catch Phrase", as befitting one who was the original games' Heroic Mime. In Pokémon Gold and Silver, you can visit Red atop Mt. Silver. He only says "..." when you talk to him, before and after the battle. Even in his appearance in Pokémon Stadium 2, he only says "...", when something important happens in the battles, even though every other trainer has selected phrases that they say. The tradition continues in Pokémon Black 2 and White 2, where, once again, he says nothing but "..." The one exception is Super Smash Bros. Brawl, if you believe that the character is supposed to be Red and not some other random Pokemon Trainer.
In Pokémon Diamond and Pearl/Platinum, if you refuse to be Professor Rowan's deputy for the Pokédex, he threatens you with unending ellipses until you comply.
In Pokémon Conquest, everything the player character 'says' during the story consists of this, with a question mark or exclamation point stuck on the end if s/he is especially confused/surprised.
Rescue Team has two points where the only options are ellipses. First time it's when Gengar publicly exclaims you're the Pokémon from Ninetales legend, which turns out to be a lie and then when you reach Mt. Freeze entrance as fugitives.
In Drakengard, the protagonist, Caim, is rendered mute quite early in the game; although he does have a few visible silence moments, his muteness is usually shown by a completely empty text box. In the sequel, wherein Caim plays a supporting/villain role, he has been "upgraded" to regular visible silence, likely for the benefit of players unaware of his mute condition.
Many eastern RPGs employ animated speech bubbles with ellipses that appear above characters' heads (instead of talking through dialogue boxes) when they're speechless, amongst them the Tales Series and any Nippon Ichi game.
If you visit Luigi as soon as you get to Toad Town in Paper Mario (or at least before you trigger his other scenes), Goombario and Luigi throw ellipses at each other, but Luigi's ellipsis has four dots. In addition, when Merlon and his ancestor tell their stories, much of what they say is ellipses, obscuring any point to the stories.
Later in the game, an NPC who suspects Mario of wrongdoing elaborates on this line: "..." "I said, '...'! I don't talk to penguin killers!"
At one point in Neverwinter Nights 2, namely in Ammon Jerro's Haven, Qara says "..." if you're playing a male character and offer Baalbisan to reveal your private parts to prove this.
Crono in the game Chrono Trigger embodies the role of the Silent Protagonist. In fact, his ability to communicate through silence is so well developed that the player can only wonder if Crono regularly practices giving meaningful looks in the mirror.
The player can do this by using the mirror in his house, making this evidently the case.
It's a surreal enough game as it is, but Superman on the NES has NPCs who will 'say' the expression, "...........!?" to him when talked to. Maybe they're still reeling from shock at seeing the one and only Superman? Except that they say it to Clark Kent, too...
In The Witcher you encounter a man who has taken a vow of silence and only says "..." when clicked. You can choose to reply "...". Or you can get him drunk so he forgets his vow.
Also in a quest in Runescape, you meet a monk who has taken a vow of silence. He says "...". If you then answer "...", he replies "...". If you then again reply with "...", the monk will again say "...". But then another monk nearby suddenly says "Will you stop that noise?!"
In a (rather silly) scene from the game Threads of Fate, the main character's only response to the appearance of another character is seventy-six periods, followed by the query, "Am I dreaming?" Seventy-six.
The Wild ARMs games make heavy use of this, to the point where very often characters will have nine, twelve or more dots before they say anything. They make it a bit easier by treating each set of three dots as a separate character.
The Quiet Healer monster in Kingdom of Loathing occasionally has attack messages like "..., but misses."
The protagonist in Shining Force III only ever talks in ellipsis, but everyone around him acts like he's actually speaking. Example: White Mage - "What do we do about the refugees?" Protagonist - "......." Knight - "He's right. We have to save them!" This is doubly annoying because Shining Force III was made up of three parts with three different mains characters. In each part the main hero would only ever say "..."� but the other heroes would talk. This is also the case in all Shining Force games.
Parodied in Eat Lead: The Return of Matt Hazard, where the main character encounters Altos Tratus, a stereotypical JRPG hero who talks through textboxes that Matt needs to press a big green A button in front of him to get him to continue dialogue. Matt lampshades this, particularly his use of ellipses.
Matt: An ellipses? What the hell is that supposed to mean? My god, I have never understood you guys. How much time do players waste in their lifetimes clicking past stupid ellipses? Sigh...
Used quite a bit in Brass Restoration. There are upwards of six alternating dialogs of two characters conversing in varying lengths of ellipses.
Ren of Kagetsu Tohya and Melty Blood almost exclusively speaks in ellipses. People who speak with her must be telepathic.
Happens very often in Fire Emblem. Taken to extremes by Jaffar in 7, who does this so often that people actually are surprised when he has to say something different than "...".
Okage: Shadow king almost revolves around this premise. The main character Ari almost has all his dialogue options include a "...". There is even a point in the game where you will be relatively punished if you use that option.
Suikoden I and Suikoden II are bad for abusing the ellipses, ranging from 3 to 20 dots - usually to convey how long a piece of information takes to sink into a character, usually followed by a "!!!!!" One character, the aptly nicknamed "Silent Humphrey," speaks almost exclusively in Visible Silence, with a dialog in the second game taking more or less the same shape as the conversation with Gallows in the Fallout 3 example above.
In Mitadake High, players will usually express silence, either when listening to someone else or when they are left speechless with "..."
In Mother 3, The Masked Man speaks in ellipses, except in two cases- At the sixth needle, most likely giving commands to his army, as what he said wasn't even written onscreen, and During the final battle, after regaining his memory of being Claus, Lucas's brother, and then suffering mortal damage due to consciously reflecting a highly-powerful lightning bolt he fired off of Lucas's Franklin Badge, apologizing to his family before dying.
Titular character in Gish has "..." to say to every boss, except the final one.
Perennial Heroic Mime Samus gets a few of these in her penultimate conversation with Adam in Metroid Fusion. Depending on the context, she alternates between "..............." (long pause), "...?" (confused pause), "...!" (stunned pause) and "...?!". She actually speaks during this conversation, as well.
Issun does this a few times in Ōkami when a situation is making him uncomfortable. This can partially be blamed on the fact that Ammy is no help whatsoever.
Played for laughs in the cell phone game Surviving High School '08.
All of the Tales Series games utilize this in the written and/or emoticon style.
In Tales of Symphonia everybody, Lloyd especially, does this during dialog. There's one point where you have eight characters, they're all standing around chatting to somebody else, and the someone else says something and all eight of your characters get the "..." above their heads. This Visible Silence happens so much that you can count on every conversation in the game to have at least one, usually more.
Volt only communicates in ellipses. Apparently he actually is saying something, though, as the characters register that he's speaking, but nobody (except Raine) can understand what he's saying.
In several Tales games, any time a character says nothing and an emoticon showing an ellipsis appears usually means that they know something about any question or statement brought up in the conversation beforehand that they have decided not to tell the rest of the group. Seems especially prevalent in Tales of the Abyss.
Speech bubbles to this effect are used in Golden Sun, above all characters heads. There are also a few points in the game when Heroic Mime Isaac (and in the second game Felix) show up in the regular dialog boxes. It's particularly shocking when it does happen, because there are only two or three points in the game where it happens, so you know some really bad stuff is about to go down.
For instance, in the first Golden Sun game Isaac's face never appears in a dialogue window except for one jarring and hilarious piece of visible silence: "!!!" So silent he couldn't even 'gasp!'
And Isaac's son, Matthew, in Golden Sun: Dark Dawn continues the tradition of visible silence, but he also displays "..?", "...", "...!" and "!?". At one point, Matthew even swears, but it's only shown as "!@&*" and it only appears in the American version.
Beyond the Grave of both of the Gungrave games only "speaks" in ellipses, with one and only one exception. Such a Silent Protagonist is Grave, he doesn't even yell or grunt when he attacks or takes damage.
Happens frequently in Iji. Parodied with the Scrambler, which causes Iji to say "Dot dot dot" when she would normally say nothing (...).
One of the quests you can get in your weekly run of World of Warcraft's Icecrown Citadel gives you 30 minutes to save an NPC, by killing two bosses. If you run out of time, the second of these will taunt you, and the NPC will yell "..." before dying.
Also, if a character is speaking [Zombie], all dialogue is translated as ... ....... ... (except for the word "brains.")
At one point in Daxter, the subtitles will say "..." while Daxter is talking to another character. Said character actually makes a kind of "uhhhh...." sound, but it still counts.
The main character in Shantae: Risky's Revenge often responds with "...".
Toona/Raven is practically the QUEEN of the Visible Silence, responding to nearly everything you or even other NPCs say with "..." for the majority of the game.
Persona lives and breathes this trope. About 50%note percentage made up of Persona 3's script is a barrage of "...", "...." and ".....".
All of Shizune's dialogue in Katawa Shoujo is either "..." or "...!" because she's deaf and mute, and serves to indicate that she is signing something, and Misha's following statement is translating it rather than speaking for herself. Until you learn sign language, that is, at which point it's generally rendered in brackets unless Hisao is for some reason unable to understand it.
Zero is quite fond of these in Mega Man Zero, but they're hardly exclusive to him. The first game featured ellipses that had to be scrolled past, with more dots being added for each dialogue box. Later games stuck to the regular three dots.
Sengoku Basara: Every one of Fuuma Kotaro's dialogue boxes consists of ".....", if only to show that he is listening to whoever is talking at the time. Other characters sometimes do this when they're thinking or hiding something.
In RPG Shooter: Starwish, Mare's dialogue consists of this. Until the post- Earthwall-battle cutscene, that is. And even then, she only speaks when it is necessary.
Deuce: I have to duel you? But you'll totally annihilate my ass.
Mare: Your ass, luckily, is irrelevant.
Deuce: Is that a joke I just heard from the great Mare?
In Oblivion and Skyrim, you can go through the whole Dark Brotherhood quest line without saying anything by selecting (Remain silent).
Since the comic-book-inspired Immortal Souls uses a combination of static Character Portraits and Speech Bubbles for the dialogue, Visible Silence frequently gets used whenever someone would ordinarily react with a facial expression of some kind.
Once on Angry Beavers, where Daggett yells "what the dot dot dot question mark?"
This is actually really handy texting and in online chat programs, including IMs, IRC, MUCKS, and Second Life. It establishes that the silent one is paying attention, hasn't gone AFK, and isn't typing out a long statement... they just have nothing to say at the moment.
It's also used to express speechlessness at one's blatantly stupid, shocking, or just plain "witty" comment/message/post/reply, the equivalent of standing there with your mouth hanging open in amazement.
Roleplayers playing in these programs will also likely make frequent use of it in much the same way as other examples on this page.
In an odd real life example, a journalist attempting to interview the people involved in famed Japanese writer/homosexual/lunatic Yukio Mishima's dramatic suicide eventually received replies from three of them by phone, in which none of them said anything at all. Thus bringing new meaning to the phrase "No comment".
An example involving the more dramatic versions of this trope. After the release of Les Misérables, Victor Hugo was wondering how the novel was selling. He contacted his publisher via a telegram that contained a single character: "?" His publisher's response: "!" This is also the world record for the shortest correspondence in history.