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Exactly What It Says On The Tin / Literature

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Exactly What It Says on the Tin in literature.


In General:

  • Children's authors seem to be quite fond of this trope. An 8-year-old student submitted the following review of The Boy Whose Mother Was A Pirate: "It's about a boy and his mum and the boy's a boy and the mum's a pirate."
  • Scientific works, technical manuals, textbooks and similar non-fiction generally use this standard. Readers are far more likely to find and pick up a book on, say, fluid mechanics if the title is something extremely straightforward like "The Theory of Fluid Mechanics". The main exception is in the elements of Language Marches On where older texts are concerned.
    • For example Philosophiæ Naturalis Principia Mathematica — Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy. 'Natural philosophy' is now referred to as science.
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    • Zur Elektrodynamik bewegter Körper — "On the Electrodynamics of Moving Bodies". We now call the theory Einstein described in it special relativity.
    • On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life by Charles Darwin.
    • In the case of scientific papers, Exactly What It Says on the Tin is standard practice for titles: So many get published that the title has to say enough about the content that potential readers searching for relevant material can find it and then read the abstract.
  • It's not just scientific publications. Academic books, instruction manuals, almost everything tended to have this sort of title in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. This was affectionately parodied by the musicologist Robert O. Gjerdingen in his 2007 book Music in the Galant Style, Being an Essay on Various Schemata Characteristic of Eighteenth-Century Music for Courtly Chambers, Chapels, and Theaters, Including Tasteful Passages of Music Drawn from Most Excellent Chapel Masters in the Employ of Noble and Noteworthy Personages, Said Music All Collected for the Reader's Delectation on the World Wide Web. See also a parodic use of Antiquated Linguistics on that one. Come to think of it, it was actually pretty much a TV Tropes of eighteenth-century music...


Individual Works:

  • Alien in a Small Town by Jim Cleaveland is about an alien who winds up spending years living in a small Pennsylvania Dutch town.
  • In All The Way To The Gallows, the short story "A Most Offensive Weapon", about a sentient weapon that makes offensive comments to everyone in hearing range.
  • The title of An Almanac of Complete World Knowledge Compiled with Instructive Annotation and Arranged in Useful Order by Me, John Hodgman, a Professional Writer, in The Areas of My Expertise, which Include: Matters Historical; Matters Literary; Matters Cryptozoological; Hobo Matters; Food, Drink, & Cheese (a Kind of Food); Squirrels & Lobsters & Eels; Haircuts; Utopia; What Will Happen in the Future; and Most Other Subjects; Illustrated with a Reasonable Number of Tables and Figures, and Featuring the Best of "Were You Aware of It?", John Hodgman's Long-Running Newspaper Novelty Column of Strange Facts and Oddities of the Bizarre gives you a pretty good idea of what you're in for.
    • There's also For your Consideration, The Firms of Dutton Riverhead Books of New York City, Publishers of Ken Follett, Darin Strauss, David Rees, and the RZA, Present in the English Language: A Further Compendium of Complete World Knowledge in "The Areas Of My Expertise" Assembled and Illumined by Me, John Hodgman, A Famous Minor Television Personality* , Offering More Information Than You Require' On subjects as Diverse As: The Past (As There Is Always More of it), The Future (As There is Still Some Left), All of the Presidents of the United States, The Secrets of Hollywood, Gambling, The Sport of the Asthmatic Man (Including Hermit-Crab Racing), Strange Encounters with Aliens, How to Buy a Computer, How to Cook an Owl, And Most Other Subjects, Plus: Answers To Your Questions Posed via Electronic Mail, And: 700 Mole-Man Names, Including Their Occupations.
      * Formerly a Former Professional Literary Agent and Professional Writer, AKA "The Deranged Millionaire". That's right, this book has a footnote in the title.
  • The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford. (Later adapted into a film by the same name.)
  • The titles of some books in The Bible leave no doubt as to their contents — in particular, Proverbs, Psalms, and Lamentations. Also, the word "Bible" means "book"note . It's a book of books.
  • The Book of Useless Information. It's a book... which contains useless information.
  • The Book With No Pictures has no pictures, but that doesn't stop it from being funny.
  • A collection of short stories by David Foster Wallace called Brief Interviews with Hideous Men.
  • The Catcher Was a Spy: The Mysterious Life of Moe Berg. Yes, he was both a major league catcher and a spy—sometimes at the same time.
  • Charlie and the Chocolate Factory takes it to a whole new level, to the point that MANY of the chapters have a title that spoils the ensuing events. "Augustus Gloop Goes Up the Pipe" and "Mike Teavee Is Sent By Television" are just examples, and not the worst ones.
  • The City of Dreaming Books by Walter Moers includes "A very short chapter in which not much is going to happen".
  • In a similar vein, there's Conjuring: Being a Definitive Account of the Venerable Arts of Sorcery, Prestidigitation, Wizardry, Deception, & Chicanery and of the Mountebanks & Scoundrels Who Have Perpetrated These Subterfuges on a Bewildered Public, by James Randi Esq., a Contrite Rascal Once Dedicated to these Wicked Practices but Now Almost Totally Reformed.
  • Daphne Eloise Slater, Who's Tall for Her Age, a children's book about a third-grade girl who is, well, tall for her age.
  • One of the supplementary books for the Deltora Quest series is The Deltora Book of Monsters, an illustrated book about Deltora's (and the Shadowlands) many monsters.
  • Dust and Shadow: An Account of the Ripper Killings by Dr. John H. Watson, by Lyndsay Faye. Dr. Watson chronicles Sherlock Holmes catching Jack the Ripper.
  • Australian children's author Paul Jennings has a book named "How Hedley Hopkins Did a Dare, Robbed a Grave, Made a New Friend Who Might Not Have Really Been There at All, and While He Was at It Committed a Terrible Sin Which Everyone Was Doing Even Though He Didn't Know It" which, unsurprisingly, is about how Hedley Hopkins did a dare, robbed a grave, made a new friend who might not have really been there at all, and while he was at it committed a terrible sin which everyone was doing even though he didn't know it.
  • The Hero and His Elf Bride Open a Pizza Parlor in Another World. Adding insult to injury(?), the hero ends up in the situation described by the title through reincarnation, after being run over by a pizza-delivery moped.
  • How NOT to Write a Novel is about the many types of mistakes that one can make when writing a novel. Or to put it more simply, how not to write one (well).
  • How to Avoid Huge Ships.
  • How to Make Love to Adrian Colesberry by Adrian Colesberry.
  • In 1950 Mathematician Claude Shannon published his seminal work How to Teach Computers How to Play Chess. It was about how you could teach Computers how to play Chess.
  • Neil Gaiman wrote a poem called A hundred words to talk of death.
  • I'm a Behemoth, an S-Ranked Monster, but Mistaken for a Cat, I Live as an Elf Girl's Pet. Baby behemoths apparently look exactly like housecats.
  • I've Been Killing Slimes for 300 Years and Maxed Out My Level: The main character killed slimes for 300 years and maxed out her level.
  • I Want My Hat Back: The protagonist has lost possession of his hat and wants it back.
  • On a different kind of arcane subject, Joel on Software: And on Diverse and Occasionally Related Matters That Will Prove of Interest to Software Developers, Designers, and Managers, and to Those Who, Whether by Good Fortune or Ill Luck, Work with Them in Some Capacity.
  • King of the Dinosaurs: Tyrannosaurus rex: Go on guess what this book's about.
  • Rudyard Kipling's "Lament of the Border Cattle Thief" is a poem about someone who crossed a border, stole cattle, got caught, and is upset about it.
  • Knaves On Waves is about pirates. Shocking.
  • Latawnya, the Naughty Horse, Learns to Say "No" to Drugs is indeed about a wayward equine who gets the Drugs Are Bad anvil dropped on her.
  • Cordwainer Smith's short story "Mark Elf" is a semi-aversion which doubles as a kind of Stealth Pun. The phrase "Mark Elf" does indeed appear in the story, but not in connection with anybody named Mark, elfin or otherwise. It refers to a "Mark Elf" (German for "Model Eleven") man-hunter robot.
  • David Drake's short story collection Men Hunting Things and its sequel Things Hunting Men.
  • The title of A Million Random Digits With 100,000 Normal Deviates is as instructional as can be: the book's contents include a million random digits and 100,000 normal deviates.
  • The Historiography Moby-Duck. The True Story of 28,800 Bath Toys Lost at Sea and of the Beachcombers, Oceanographers, Environmentalists, and Fools, Including the Author, Who Went in Search of Them by Donovan Hohn is an account of his years-long hunt for the Friendly Floatees of the 1992 spill, and of all the other people that also hunted for them.
  • Der Münchner im Himmel, meaning "The Munich citizen in Heaven", is about Alois Hingerl, who, previously living in Munich, ends up in Fluffy Cloud Heaven after his death early in the story.
  • No Bugles No Drums by G. Gilmore was reportedly named this way by a witty publishing agent who came to aid of the author when he was struggling with a proper title for his work. She asked him if there was anything in the book about either bugles or drums. When the confused Gilmore said that there wasn't a single word about either of those things in it, since it was the life story of the marathon runner Peter Snell, she smiled and said that it was the perfect title then.
  • One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn. It describes one day in the life of a man. His name is Ivan Denisovich. 51,000 words.
  • Romance of the Three Kingdoms has this in its chapters. Take the one called "Xiahou Dun Plucks Out and Swallows His Wounded Eye". Guess what happens in this chapter.
  • Loren Estleman's pastiche Sherlock Holmes Versus Dracula.
  • Skeleton Knight in Another World. A gamer winds up in a gamery universe, as a skeleton knight.
  • The story of a Common Soldier of Army Life in the Civil War, 1861-1865. Who knows, maybe it is a Cyberpunk Thriller...
  • Super-Frog Saves Tokyo By Haruki Murakami is about how a super-powerful frog saves Tokyo. And no, it's not a trash story.
  • I Was A Sword When I Reincarnated, a.k.a. Reincarnated As A Sword. Neither requires much further explanation.
  • Tortall Universe: The Protector of the Small quartet has rather basic titles: First Test, Page, Squire, and Lady Knight. The plots: Keladry of Mindelan enters page training on probation, becomes a full page, then a squire, and finally a knight. (Given Kel's matter-of-fact personality, this rather fits her.) The series title counts too — Kel spends most of her time defending animals and people who are either physically small or overlooked by society, or both.
  • Travels through Italy containing new and curious observations on that country; particularly the Grand Duchy of Tuscany; the Ecclesiastical State or the Dominions of the Pope; the Kingdom of Naples; the Republics of Venice and Genoa; and other Italian states. Wherein the present state of those countries is accurately described, as to their different kinds of government, situation, extent, revenue, power, trade, manners, and customs; but more especially their ANTIQUITIES as temples, triumphal arches, pillars, baths, amphitheatres, aqueducts, catacombs, ruins, and public ways; as also their MODERN CURIOSITIES, churches, convents, palaces, villas, castles, forts, bridges and public roads. With the most authentic account yet published of capital pieces in PAINTING, SCULPTURE, & ARCHITECTURE that are to be seen in Italy: Including remarks on the ANCIENT and PRESENT STATE of ITALY, of the ARTS AND SCIENCES which have flourished the re, and of TASTE in PAINTING; with the characters of the principal painters, and other artists. By John Northall, Esq. Captain in his Britannic Majesty's Royal Regiment of Artillery. Illustrated with A Map of Italy, a route of this Tour, and several copperplates, engraved from drawings taken on the spot. (London: S. Hooper and S. Bladon, 1766)
  • The illustrated Japanese translation of Twilight was called The Boy Whom I Love Is a Vampire.
  • The Unexplained: It's about unexplained phenomena.
  • All chapter titles in A. A. Milne's Winnie the Pooh. The first one of the first book was called "In Which We Are Introduced to Winnie-the-Pooh and Some Bees and the Stories Begin", for crying out loud.
  • Captain Underpants and the Invasion of the Incredibly Naughty Cafeteria Ladies from Outer Space (and the Subsequent Assault of the Equally Evil Lunchroom Zombie Nerds). Most of the other Captain Underpants books also qualify or come close; for example, Captain Underpants and the Perilous Plot of Professor Poopypants.
  • The Dumb Bunnies stars a family of bunnies and their incredible stupidity. Also applies to the sequels The Dumb Bunnies' Easter and The Dumb Bunnies Go to the Zoo. Not coincidentally, these come from the creator of Captain Underpants.
  • Joey Pigza Swallowed The Key: The book is about main character Joey Pigza, and he swallows a key at one point.
  • Jesus Christ was born on 21 September 5 BC. Take a wild guess what this book's main thesis is.


  • In Alex and the Ironic Gentleman, there is a character called The Extremely Ginormous Octopus. Guess what he is.
  • The Ashenden spy stories by W. Somerset Maugham featured a character called "The Hairless Mexican".
    "Because he's hairless and because he's a Mexican."
  • Discworld:
    • Parodied by Terry Pratchett, who mentions a book How to Kille Insects. This is a big and heavy book, used for hitting insects with...
    • Sourcery, “it was no clear why the Ice Giants were called the Ice Giants. The first reason was that they were giants. The second was that they were made of ice”.
    • Jingo has the Curious Squid. The reader is informed right away that they are so called because, as well as being squid, they're curious.
    • Unseen Academicals parodies the trope with the following conversation:
      Hix: A lot of really interesting stuff happened under the Evil Emperor.
      Glenda: Evil stuff.
      Hix: Yes, that was rather the point. Evil Emperor. Evil Empire. It did what it said on the iron maiden.
    • In Snuff, it's invoked again when describing the troll Detritus's converted siege weapon crossbow, the piecemaker, "which could, as it were, do what it said on the box."
    • All of Leonard of Quirm's inventions, such as "the going under the water safely device". He's a brilliant inventor, but his genius tends to give out when it comes to naming things.
  • In Doom: Knee-Deep in the Dead, Fly and Arlene are coming up with Reporting Names for the monsters they fight. Fly asks for a suggestion for the flying skulls he's fought and Arlene's response is "flying skulls". Fly misunderstands it as a question, confirms that he's seen flying skull monsters, and asks again for a suggestion. Arlene's response:
    Arlene: Flying skulls, you lamebrain! Call 'em as you see 'em.
  • The Dragonlance Saga:
    • Many times there is this weapon mentioned called a "Dragonlance". A character by the name of Fizban tries to explain all he knows about this great mystical weapon by relaying, "It was a weapon similar to — no, it wasn't. Actually it was — no, it wasn't that either. It was closer to... almost a...m rather it was, sort of a — lance, that's it! A lance!" He nodded earnestly. "And it was quite good against dragons."
    • The leader of the original Companions was Tanis Half-Elven, named so because the elves that raised him didn't know the name of his human father, and they would be damned if they were going to give him the family name of his mother. Lampshaded when one of his new companions asked him why he wasn't named "Half-Human"?
  • Forest Kingdom: First mentioned in the Hawk & Fisher spinoff series' book 2 (Winner Takes All), the "No Tax On Liquor" party is a political party that's single-handedly run and funded by a Lord Sinclair, and is dedicated to... getting rid of the tax on liquor.
  • The "every-flavor beans" from Harry Potter. They include not only all good flavors, but literally every possible flavor including, infamously, earwax. Why anyone would buy a candy that tastes awful most of the time is best explained by Rule of Funny.
  • In the Hurog duology, with the eponymous castle as well as the main character. The castle, as well as the family, is called Hurog, which means "dragon" in their ancient language. Turns out the castle is built over the bones of a dragon. The main character takes on the title of "Hurogmeten", which means "Guardian of Dragons". He does Exactly What It Says On The Tin. Turns out, dragons can turn into humans and the family has dragon blood. Which, incidentally, is the title of the second book of the series.
  • Ararat Rat Rap, a book mentioned in The Mark and the Void sounds like an exotic, foreign literary title, but it's actually very literal: it's about a rat from Ararat, who raps.
  • In Portlandtown, the legendary Hanged Man is called that because he was hanged, and survived.
  • Saving Max has a prosthetics company called "Prosthetics, Inc."
  • The settlement of Achten Tan from the first volume of Tales From The Year Between has two ribs restaurants, one in the northern part of the ribcage of the skeleton in which the city is built and one in the south. They're called North Ribs Ribs and South Ribs Ribs. (North Ribs Ribs: the best ribs in North Ribs!)
  • The Big Dead Tree from The Twits. It's a tree, it's big, and it's dead.
  • Invoked by Unsong's version of The Devil when explaining the setting's Physical Hell.
    I want you to know that all of those people who say that Hell is the absence of God, or Hell is a name people give to their suffering on earth, or Hell is other people, or Hell is oblivion, or Hell is some nice place where atheists get to live free from divine tyranny –- all of that is wishful thinking. Hell is a place full of fire and demons under the earth where you will be tortured forever. It's Exactly What It Says on the Tin.
  • Xandri Corelel: During her time on Karrckchak, Xandri lives near a trading town called Trade Town.