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Blunt Metaphors Trauma

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Whatever they're about to do, she's burned up for it.

Omi: He who is to be laughing last, laughs most loudly!
Raimundo: What Omi did to that sentence is what we're going to do to you!

Beyond simple language structure are the aspects of figurative language: idioms, metaphors, similes, and other things that go beyond exact word meanings in a sentence. This trope is when a character will screw up such terms. This can range from using the wrong word in a term, to getting the whole meaning wrong.

The three most common causes are when a character is a non-native speaker of a language (if not an outright Funny Foreigner), is very Literal-Minded, or came from Cloudcuckooland.

This is usually Played for Laughs. A Threat Backfire is a possible result of this.

This can even happen when the non-native speaker tries to use idioms from that character's language, and it loses its meaning in the translation.

In reality, it is not unusual for this to be caused by literal translation from a known language, such as "having one's ass circled in noodles" (though, simple misunderstandings are also a frequent cause of this trope). But in TV Land, it's more often done by taking an existing expression from a language/culture different from the character's and replacing its words with synonyms from the same language, something highly improbable in real life, but is excused due to Rule of Funny.

The misspeaker isn't always the sole butt of the joke, though; often, such gags highlight how ridiculous and/or arbitrary the idioms are in the first place. Why can something be "a piece of cake" or "as easy as pie", but vice versa sounds utterly ridiculous?

A Sister Trope to Literal Metaphor (where an unlikely event sounds like a mangled metaphor).

Compare Mixed Metaphor, Metaphorgotten, Buffy Speak, Malaproper, Expospeak Gag, Sidetracked by the Analogy, [Popular Saying], But..., and Either "World Domination", or Something About Bananas.

Not to be confused with Weapons-Grade Vocabulary, though both may seem to be physically painful at times.


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  • A commercial for IBM's Watson has two sportscasters talking about a player's skill, and one asks Watson for his statistical take. The computer says the player can hit a jump shot "from a densely populated urban area". One of them clarifies that he means "from way downtown," and Watson says he's still learning.

    Anime & Manga 
  • On an Omake of Bleach, Isane Kotetsu and Nemu Kurotsuchi were assigned to take pictures of Byakuya. While Nemu was taking the pictures, she was saying "Butter" instead of "Cheese" (which Isane mentioned to her). This exact same one also turned up with Lens Banki in Engine Sentai Go-onger.
  • Angol Mois of Sgt. Frog has a habit of appending her sentences with yojijukugo (Japanese idioms composed of four kanji characters) that are almost, but not quite, appropriate for the situation. One episode has her taking tuition for this.
  • Nia in Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann. Sure, she rejected Simon when he asked her for marriage, because he wanted to become "one with her" and two people can't be physically merged… Which is funny considering that her English VA (pre-time skip) is the same as Starfire mentioned below.
  • Lemmy from To Heart is constantly messing up Japanese phrases.

    Comic Books 
  • From a Batman comic:
    Thug: This is a crime family. A syndicate. You're the top dog on the pyramid and we're all the little fish on the bottom rung of the totem pole.
  • Hawkman (the alien version) can have this problem, Depending on the Writer. In one story he remarks that Green Arrow looks like "death reheated", causing GA to explain the phrase is "death warmed over".
  • In Alan Moore's comic Tom Strong, a Russian science hero, as well as Tesla's volcano-man boyfriend Val, constantly mess up all sorts of figures of speech. The titular character was raised in a gravity chamber - the Russian refers to it as the "tank of seriousness".

    Comic Strips 
  • This is one of the main gags in The Troubles Of Dictionary Jaques. In one strip he interprets "butt in" as meaning to hit people with his head rather than simply interrupting them, despite the situation calling for the latter usage of "butt".

    Fan Works 
  • In The Domino City Effect, Vivian Willow, a Japanese girl, tries to tell her arrogant and rude opponent Sam to 'break a leg' in English. However, she messed up on the translation, and instead tells Sam to "break your legs." He is understandably scared of her after that.
  • Subverted in The Dragon King's Temple. Over the first several chapters, Zuko and Toph repeatedly and increasingly urgently ask SG1 to "let them see sunlight". SG1, due to encountering this trope frequently among offworlders, assume that this is just a metaphor for feeling confined. It isn't until Zuko collapses and goes into a seizure that they realize that Zuko will actually die if cut off from Sun for too long.
  • In Ebott's Wake, monsters often cite incorrect or grotesquely hybridized versions of various idioms.
    DJ Pantz/Burgie: Yeah, you can shoot a messenger[,] but you can't lead him to water.
  • Rogal Dorn in If the Emperor Had a Text-to-Speech Device takes this to a whole new level, much to his father's frustration. Even the simplest of idioms, such as calling someone a "shithead", are completely lost on him. The one time Rogal attempts to use a metaphor himself, he presents his simple chessmaster analogy as if it is an incredibly difficult and abstract comparison to grasp.
    • The same also seems to apply to Karstodes, but only when he's being criticized by the Emperor.
    • The Skitarii suffer from this as well, but in their case at least it can be excused somewhat by the fact that they are mostly mechanical.

    Film — Live-Action 
  • In 2010: The Year We Make Contact, a Russian cosmonaut says, "It's a piece of pie," whereupon an American astronaut corrects him: "Cake." Later, the same cosmonaut says, "It's as easy as cake," only to be corrected once again: "Pie."
  • Airplane!: In the Flashback scene where Ted Stryker relives his first meeting Elaine and asks a sailor seated next to him in the bar to pinch him. The sailor becomes visibly uncomfortable and slides away.
  • In the Back to the Future trilogy, Biff does this about once in each movie. An example that he uses just once is "Make like a tree and get outta here." And in the second film, he uses "That's as funny as a screen door on a battleship," to which Marty quips from out of earshot, "Screen door on a submarine, you dork." English isn't his second language though, he's just a dumb side of beef. Even his older self gets fed up with his butcherings of idioms:
    Old Biff: (Dope Slap to '50s Biff) It's leave, you idiot! 'Make like a tree, and leave.' You sound like a damn fool when you say it wrong!
  • Officer Lenina Huxley of Demolition Man commits an idiomatic screwup practically every minute, most of them having to do with her love of 20th Century American culture. Even considering the mass sanitation of culture inflicted upon the future Los— ahem, San Angelinos by their Moral Guardian mayor, many of her malapropisms simply defy belief.
    • This:
      Huxley: Why don't you take your job, and shovel it.
      John Spartan: "Take this job and shovel it"? Close enough.
    • And earlier in the film, this classic:
      Huxley: Let's blow this guy.
      John Spartan: Away. Blow this guy away!.
    • And later:
      Huxley: Simon Phoenix really matched his meat! You really licked his ass!
      Spartan: [relatively calm expression] Huxley?
      Huxley: Yes?
      Spartan: That's met his match, and kicked, kicked his ass.
  • Marvel Cinematic Universe:
  • In the Short Circuit movies, it's surprisingly not Number Five who has this problem, but rather the wacky Indian sidekick Ben:
    "I have to go to the jack."
    "I am sick of wearing the dress in this family."
    [Howard] "Don't tell me its laser is still armed." [Ben] "Bimbo."
    "Keep that power on or I'll beat the living headlights out of you!"
    "Newton Crosby, let us break wind!" Meaning he wants them run away.
    • However, Johnny 5 does exhibit this in Short Circuit 2 after he is brutally attacked by the bad guys...
    "Piece of corn! Can of cake! Suck doup..."
  • In Transylvania 6-5000, Mayor Lepescu keeps mangling American idioms, saying things like "until the cows go home" and "having to beat them off with a rake".

  • In the book 2010: Odyssey Two, one of the American astronauts makes a joke about how the tiny quarters are more like sixteenths. Naturally, it has to be explained.
  • The eponymous main character of the children's series Amelia Bedelia is very literal minded. If you ask her to dress the chicken, you will receive a fowl wearing a very cute dress. If you ask her to watch for the fork in the road, she will quite diligently keep an eye out for said utensil lying in the roadway. And so on.
  • Aximili-Esgarrouth-Isthill of Animorphs: Being an alien, metaphors don't really work well with him. He has a tendency to take instructions literally, which, combined with him being in public in human morph, makes for some very funny situations. (He also has a notable fascination with pronouncing things, as in his original form he has no mouth and communicates telepathically. Hence the repeated syllables.)
    Ax: Spicy, right? This flavour-or-or-is called spicy?
    Rachel: Yeah, it's spicy. Hot, too.
    Ax: Yes, the temperature is hot. Hot-tuh.
    Rachel: No, I meant the flavour is hot. The temperature too, though. Skip it.
    Ax: Skip?
    Rachel: Uh, no. Forget it. Drop it.
    No sooner were those last words out of my mouth than I regretted them. Ax promptly dropped the container of refried beans he'd been holding. It landed wrong side down on the table.
    • Another personal favorite with Ax, when he attends a school dance:
      Marco: That girl is warm for your form. She wants your body.
      Ax: I would like to shuffle my artificial hooves to the music with you. But you cannot have my body. My bo. Dee.
      • Perhaps "she wants your body" was not the best phrase to use in a series where the villains are literal body-snatchers in the first place.
  • The alien character Eve in the Blaster Master book by F.X. Nine often mangles popular catch phrases. Jason usually figures them out quickly, though, and corrects her.
    Eve: We're about to become Social Studies!
    Jason: mean History.
  • The Cosmere: Most worldhoppers have access to a set of Connection effects that let them speak the native language of whatever region they're in. However, if the worldhopper isn't careful, the effect can end up translating their metaphors literally.
  • In Count to the Eschaton, Menelaus is a little careless in his speech to Oenoe, a member of a race genetically engineered to be sexually omnivorous:
    Menelaus: "And if that happens, I'll be royally screwed."
    Oenoe: "Congratulations!"
  • The viewpoint character of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time has severe Asperger's Syndrome, and points out metaphors and idioms because he can't figure out what they mean. He knows the theory, if not how to apply it, but despises figurative language together with all other kinds of lies.
  • Occurs often in the Discworld. Pratchett, as a rule, is very, very fond of overanalysing idioms and taking things literally.
    • Ankh-Morporkians, in particular, are infamous for their literal-mindedness when it comes to metaphors, and former ruler Olaf Quimby II even wrote a law requiring all metaphors to be able to be made literal. The law still exists, and the current ruler enforces it in order to keep that sort of people occupied. In Quimby's memory, the Morporkians still say "the pen is mightier than a sword" with the addition, "but only if the pen is very sharp and sword very small". Apparently, the king had demanded an unusually smart poet to prove the phrase on himself.
    • Archchancellor Ridcully. From Lords and Ladies:
    "Using a metaphor with Ridcully was like waving a red flag in front of — like showing something very annoying to a person who was annoyed by it."
    • Captain Carrot is a six-foot-tall dwarf who has inherited his (adopted) race's understanding of such things as irony ("sort of like iron"). Upon first arriving in Ankh-Morpork in Guards! Guards!, when instructed to "charge these men" he rushes at them wielding an axe in each hand and screaming the ancient Dwarf battlecry "NEE-NAW-NEE-NAW". In the same book, he's told to "throw the book at him" and the thrown book smacks the target on the head, knocking him over a ledge to his Disney Villain Death. He seems to have mostly gotten over this in later appearances.
    • Also the rogue Auditor Myria LeJean (a.k.a. Unity).
    Myria: Oh. They [Wienrich & Boettcher] make chocolate?
    Susan: Does a bear poo in the woods?
    [Lady LeJean looked thoughtful for a moment.]
    Myria: Yes, I believe that most varieties do indeed excrete as you suggest, at least in the temperate zones, but there are several that-
    Susan: I meant to say that, yes, they make chocolate.
    • The Auditors. For instance, when asked "Can I offer you a drink?" an Auditor will respond that yes, it does believe you are capable of making that request.
    • From Thief of Time, an exchange between Wen the Eternally Surprised and not-too-bright apprentice Clodpool.
    Wen: But I will teach you how to deal with time as you would a coat, to be worn when necessary and discarded when not.
    Clodpool: Will I have to wash it?
    Wen: (stares at him for a bit) That was either a very complex piece of thinking on your part, Clodpool, or you were just trying to overextend a metaphor in a very stupid way.note 
    • Even Death himself runs into this trope. In Reaper Man, upon being told that "diamonds are a girl's best friend", he sets off to rob a particularly large one from the Lost Temple of Doom of Offler the Crocodile God. It leads to some shenanigans with the High Priest, the other priest who was not high, and Indiana Jones jokes.
  • Don Quixote: Subverted with the Biscayan, who is another of the many Victimized Bystanders Don Quixote will find in his adventures. He talks exclusively in this fashion when he engages with Don Quixote in a duel to the death. Even with that, Don Quixote understands him perfectly:
    One of the squires in attendance upon the coach, a Biscayan, was listening to all Don Quixote was saying, and, perceiving that he would not allow the coach to go on, but was saying it must return at once to El Toboso, he made at him, and seizing his lance addressed him in bad Castilian and worse Biscayan after his fashion, "Begone, caballero, and ill go with thee; by the God that made me, unless thou quittest coach, slayest thee as art here a Biscayan."
    Don Quixote understood him quite well, and answered him very quietly, "If thou wert a knight, as thou art none, I should have already chastised thy folly and rashness, miserable creature." To which the Biscayan returned, "I no gentleman!—I swear to God thou liest as I am Christian: if thou droppest lance and drawest sword, soon shalt thou see thou art carrying water to the cat: Biscayan on land, hidalgo at sea, hidalgo at the devil, and look, if thou sayest otherwise thou liest."
  • Professor Abraham Van Helsing in Dracula:
    Van Helsing: Well, the milk that is spilt cries not out afterwards, as you say.
  • Dragonback: Draycos' response to metaphors is practically a running gag.
    Draycos: Pardon?
    Jack: Skip it.
    • You'd think Draycos would catch on a little quicker, being a poet and all.
  • The Dresden Files: The Fae are prone to this. Asking one to "watch my back" will probably have them ask you to lean forward in your chair so they can see it. Particularly old wizards have been known to do it too, as a result of age-inflicted cultural disassociation. When "Drinking the Kool-Aid" is used, Arthur Langtry needs to be reminded of the Jonestown mass suicide, which happened in his lifetime.
  • The Flight Engineer: The Independent Command uses a similar gag with an English-to-Fibian computerized translator (it's the first time the Commonwealth and the Fibians have had peaceful interactions with each other). One of the humans asks the Fibians to "cut us some slack" in the event of any social faux pas, which mightily confuses the Fibian ("How does one cut looseness?"). Peter Raeder calls it like it is: one of those expressions that has long been divorced from what it originally referred to.
  • Yuki Nagato from Haruhi Suzumiya is prone to this, due to being a Humanoid Interface who doesn't understand human figures of speech.
    Kyon: "I don't really have a glasses fetish anyway."
    Yuki: "What is a glasses fetish?"
    Kyon: "No way!"
    Yuki: "Way."
  • Hermes, a talking motorcycle from Kino's Journey, seems to have this problem a lot (examples include "Vanity is not for the sake of Mothers" and "When in Rome do as tigers do").
  • Journey to Chaos: Annala is such a bookworm that she can use the metaphors from many and diverse cultures correctly. She understands the cultural underpinnings for them and uses them in the proper context. This comes in handy during the global politicking of Mana Mutation Menace.
  • In Rihannsu: The Empty Chair the Enterprise crew is working closely with a renegade Romulan crew. The other side has been provided with universal translators but at one point one of the Enterprise crew uses an idiom that the UT apparently translated literally, which confuses the Romulan. Uhura complains that she's going to have to adjust the UT's idiom filter again.
  • Star Trek: The Lost Era: The Buried Age has Data, before character development. In their first conversation, Picard could swear some of what little hair he has left is going from the sheer exasperation, and he has to ask how if Data is supposedly programmed with all this knowledge, simple idioms are beyond him. Data answers that it requires understanding of social context, which he often lacks.

    Live-Action TV 
  • The Newcomers did this on Alien Nation. For example:
    George Francisco: Wild whores couldn't drag me away.
    • Mathew Sykes's last name translated in the Newcomer language to a contraction of 'excrement' and 'cranium', so every time he introduced himself to a Newcomer they laughed when he gave his name as 'Detective Sykes'.
  • Trance in Andromeda:
    Trance: [...] patching him up is easy as cake.
    Dylan: Easy as pie.
    Trance: Are you sure about that? I think that making pie is a lot harder than cake.
  • Babylon 5:
    • Londo Mollari, in the episode "Chrysalis", gets a common human metaphor mangled for him by Vir, who mixed up ducks for cats:
      Londo: What are those Earth creatures called? Feathers, long bill, webbed feet...go 'quack'?
      Vir: Cats.
      Londo: I'm being nibbled to death by cats!
    • Delenn also had this trouble early on, although she got better once she fell in love with John Sheridan.
  • Sheldon of The Big Bang Theory tends to zigzag between this and Literal-Minded due to being such a analytically Insufferable Genius. Most of the time Leonard and the others had to translate for Penny and other people in the beginning.
    • Also Raj, who's native to India, sometimes gets the phrase wrong:
      [after Leonard strikes out with Penny]
      Raj: You need to get back on the whores.
      Howard: "Horse". The phrase is "get back on the horse".
      Raj: Dude, that's disgusting!
  • Baldrick (from season 2 onward) and George (from seasons 3 & 4) of Blackadder. Particularly notable since they are native English speakers, albeit stupid ones.
  • Temperance "Bones" Brennan, when she gets over her "I don't know what that means" phase and starts guessing at what's right:
    Local cop: Is she serious?
    Brennan: Serious as a gas attack.
    Booth: Heart attack, Bones.
  • Anya from Buffy the Vampire Slayer often has problems understanding our human jokes and references, and takes great pleasure in pointing out that fact. In flashback we find out she was like that before she became a demon too.
  • Doctor Who:
    • The 7th Doctor was prone to doing this immediately following his regeneration, although it was dropped after a couple of stories. his first episode alone gave us:
    "You don't understand regeneration, Mel. It's a lottery, and I've drawn the short plank."
    "Fit as a trombone.'
    "Absence makes the nose grow longer."
    The Doctor: Fine words butter no parsnips.
    Mel: Doctor! You promised you were going to stop doing that!
    The Doctor: That one's genuine. I swear.
    • Happens frequently with Sontarans, who being a Proud Warrior Race don't really get most metaphors. Case in point, in one episode a human working with some Sontarans enthuses that what they're doing is cool. Cue blank looks from the Sontarans ("Is the temperature significant?").
    • Though the Master is usually more socially discerning, the Eric Roberts incarnation in ''The TV Movie'' runs into this when his human companion Chang Lee tries to start some small talk with a reluctant Master.
    Lee: Hey, after this is over, do you know what I'll do?
    The Master, (visibly irritated): I don't want to know.
    Lee: (laughing) Hah! You kill me.
    The Master: (baffled) ………You want me to kill you?!
  • Farscape, particularly Aeryn saying "She gives me a woody" when she meant willies. This is also an instance of the series overall playing with the trope; the characters carry Translator Microbes and so most of the time the alien characters use perfect idioms, as they're really just speaking in their own language and the microbes cause the hearer (and audience) to hear an expression with the intended meaning. Aeryn doesn't start mangling metaphors until she begins to fall in love with John Crichton, a lost human astronaut—causing John (and the audience) to realize that she's actually trying to learn English (and to fervently wish she'd stop.)
    Aeryn: Jirl power.
    John: Girl! It's "girl power". Would you quit speakin' English?!
  • In an episode of Foyle's War, The Mole, an Englishman posing as a French refugee with a thick accent, seems not to know the expression "throw your cap into the ring"; Foyle has already seen him finish an English cryptic crossword puzzle, so what he's giving away is that he wants people to think he's less fluent than he is.
  • The posh Tahani runs into this when she tries to use slang on The Good Place:
    Tahani: Eleanor, I have really made love to the Queen's Corgi!
    Eleanor: (thinks for a second before getting it) Royally screwed the pooch?
  • Horrible Histories: "Easy peasy, squeeze the lemon."
  • Ricky Ricardo in I Love Lucy frequently bungles English idioms, resulting in memorable lines like "Don't cross their chickens before their bridges are hatched."
  • Became a Running Gag in Kyle XY, to the extent that people would use metaphors in front of Kyle, immediately catch themselves and then explain what they meant.
  • Baber in Little Mosque on the Prairie is prone to these, although not oblivious:
    "You are either with us, or the highway! Yes, yes, even I know that was wrong, but I was on a roll."
  • Love O2O: Yu Ban Shan mangles almost every idiom he tries to use.
    Bei Wei Wei: Stir the deaf and enlighten the blind? If Old Man Yu's old Chinese teachers could hear him use idioms like this, I wonder if they would cry!
  • In the Monk episode "Mr. Monk Meets the Playboy," Randy is so awestruck when the team enters Dexter Larsen's bedroom while questioning Larsen about the murder of his publisher that he asks Stottlemeyer to pinch him. Stottlemeyer naturally says "no".
  • Happened to the Monty Python crew in real life, when they did an episode in German for Germans, learning it by rote. The phrase "we are sitting you down and scaring the shit out of you in Bavaria" caused disgusted reactions from the German crew. They have no such idiom, so the translation was literally "we are causing you to involuntarily excrete on your chairs in Bavaria".
  • Ziva in NCIS, very, very frequently.
    Ziva: "It's like shooting fish in a pond."
    Tony: "Barrel, Ziva."
    Ziva: "...Why would fish be in a barrel?"
    • This conversation from "Hiatus (Part II)":
      Ziva: Ducky, drip it!
      Ducky: Do you mean "drop it" or "zip it"?
      Ziva: Ah, American idioms drive me up the hall!
      Ducky: Well, actually... never mind.
    • Later subverted:
      Ziva: "I ran into a stone wall"
      Tony: "You mean a brick wall."
      Ziva: "No, I mean I backed into one."
    • Ziva's actress Cote de Pablo, a native Spanish speaker, falls prey to this on occasion as well, notably during an interview with co-star Michael Weatherly.
      Cote: ...but then you took me home and we totally clicked...
      Michael: That sounded bad.
      Cote: You totally...
      Michael: I drove you home.
      Cote: Okay, you drove me home and...
      Michael: Your dad's gonna see this...
  • Our Miss Brooks: Stretch Snodgrass is prone to this, along with his generally mangled grammar. For example, he once says "let's put all of our heads together". Another time ("Two Way Stretch Snodgrass") he mentions having a "king in his lingament".
  • Perfect Strangers's Balki, due to being a Literal-Minded Funny Foreigner. It's even in one of his catchphrases, "Get out of the city!" (as opposed to "Get out of town!")
  • In Police Squad!, Drebin mentions in his narration that at such a moment he asked the guy next to him to pinch him. Said guy, a big ugly bruiser, gives him an odd look and very carefully backs away.
  • In one episode of Round the Twist, Mr Gribble assures a group of Arab property investors that Nell's foreclosure is "all sewn up", "in the bag", "wrapped up" and "a shoo-in". Later, one of the investors smugly tells Tony, "She's sewn up in a bag, wrapped up in a shoe."
  • In Sliders, after Quinn finds his brother Colin, who's been living in a technologically-backward world, Colin starts learning about modern culture and slang words. So, when he first learns the slang meaning of "cool", he immediately starts extrapolating and assumes that "hot" means "bad". Rembrandt then further confuses him by explaining that both "hot" and "bad" also mean "good".
  • Stargate:
    • Stargate SG-1:
      • Teal'c is the most prone to this:
        Hammond: We've all been holding our breath down here.
        Teal'c: That is not wise.
        O'Neill: Lucy, I'm home!
        Teal'c: I am not Lucy.
        O'Neill: I know that. It's a reference to an old TV—never mind, open the door.
        Teal'c: I will summon the doctor.
        O'Neill: No, come on. I'm fine. I'm back to being myself. Just open up.
        Teal'c: I cannot be certain that you are back to being yourself. You referred to me as "Lucy".
        Teal'c: Things will not calm down, Daniel Jackson. They will, in fact, calm up.
      • O'Neill lampshades this during an argument about whether or not to help an alien race in the middle of a war by trading heavy water for alien technology.
        Daniel: Their whole world is in flames, and we're offering gasoline. How is that "help"?
        Teal'c: We are in fact offering water.
        O'Neill: Thank you!
        Daniel: I was speaking metaphorically.
        O'Neill: Well, stop it. It's not fair to Teal'c.
      • Teal'c eventually starts making jokes about this himself:
        O'Neill: Teal'c, you really don't have to stay here.
        Teal'c: Undomesticated equines could not remove me.
        O'Neill: Wild horses, Teal'c, the saying is... was that a joke?
        Teal'c: [self-satisfied smirk]
      • The Asgard fit, too.
        O'Neill: "I full well expected the other shoe to drop eventually."
        Thor: "We can only hope that this will be the last footwear to fall. "
      • Vala too.
        Lt. Colonel Mitchell: Well, you've got to open big, catch people's attention, make them think the whole thing is going to be jam-packed.
        Vala: Ooh, I love jam.
        [Mitchell, Jackson and Carter look at her]
        Vala: Oh, I get it. It's yet another playful twist on words in your "earth" language.
        [A little later, when she is asked what she thinks of the script.]
        Vala: Well, it certainly seems to be packed full of jam!
      • Specifically lampshaded and avoided by Vala in "The Pegasus Project":
        Lt. Colonel Mitchell: Like a kid up all night on Christmas Eve.
        Vala: I thought we imposed a moratorium on cultural references I wouldn't understand.
      • And later in the same episode.
        Rodney McKay: The size of a gate isn't arbitrary. It'd be like putting together a Saint Bernard and a chihuahua.
        Vala: And the problem with that would be?
        Rodney McKay: Well it's obviously a question of... oh, I get it, you're mocking me
        Vala: No, I'm not from Earth. I honestly didn't get the reference.
      • And Bra'tac
        O'Neill: We'll cross that bridge when we come to it.
        Bra'tac: No, the bridge is too well-guarded.
      • Double Subversion later when Bra'tac uses the same metaphor ... in the wrong context.
    • Fun example from Stargate Atlantis, which ventures into leader drama territory (though this is technically Blunt Simile Trauma).
      Sheppard: Well, that's why we're a team, like the Fantastic Four.
      [Ronon and Teyla stare at him]
      Sheppard: It's a comic book where superheroes fight crime and stuff. See, I'd be Mr Fantastic, Ronon would be The Thing, McKay would be the Human Torch...
      Sheppard [to Teyla]: You'd be the Invisible Woman.
      Teyla: I am not invisible.
      Sheppard: No. No, and McKay's not a human torch.
      Teyla: Well, how come you get to be Mr. Fantastic?
      Sheppard: Because he was the leader and I'm the...
  • Star Trek:
    • Spock is famous for taking metaphors literally:
      • For example, asking "Why would I wish to aim at [the broad side of a barn]?" It's funnier in context.
      • (After hearing the song Row, Row, Row Your Boat) "Life is not a dream."
      • Incorrectly, the hell, using swear words in Star Trek IV. He was trying the hell to communicate. He also the hell doesn't understand that "The hell I will" means the opposite of "I will."
      • "We are chasing... not wild aquatic fowl."
      • "Are you sure it isn't time for a colorful metaphor?"
      • Star Trek IV:
        Dr. Taylor: Are you sure you won't change your mind?
        Spock: Is there something wrong with the one I have?
    • It's not just Spock, either, especially when the crew time travels (figuratively or literally):
      Scotty: You mind your place, mister, or you'll... you'll be wearin' concrete galoshes.
      Krako: ...You mean cement overshoes?

      Disgruntled guy in car: Hey, why don't ya watch where you're going, ya dumb-ass!
      Kirk: Well, a double dumb-ass on you!
    • Data in Star Trek: The Next Generation:
      • This is lampshaded in the pilot, as Picard asks "Data, how can you be programmed as a virtual encyclopedia of human information without knowing a simple word like 'snoop'?"
      • A good case occurs in the finale, a Time Trouble episode back to the beginning (among others...), where Data overhears another character discuss "burning the midnight oil." He not only suggests it's a bad idea — it would set off fire-suppression systems — but, once he learns what it means, he then suggests to Picard that to fix a certain system, he would need to "ignite the midnight petroleum."
      • In the episode "Data's Day" he mentions that he "may be pursuing an untamed ornithoid without cause." It takes Dr. Crusher a few seconds to realize he's talking about a wild goose chase.
      • In the Star Fleet Academy younger-readers books, it's revealed that Data wasn't at the Academy an hour before a fellow cadet suggested he "pull up a chair" and he proceeded to do just that — pull the chair off the floor — much to the amusement of his fellow cadets. Despite the chair in question being bolted to the floor at the time.
      • In one of the later EU novels, Data admits to Wesley that he'd been doing this on purpose from the very beginning, in an effort to understand human psychology better.
  • Castiel from Supernatural. But then again, Angels of the Lord can probably get a pass for being a bit too literal minded. (He learns to do a great deadpan eventually.)
    • Oddly enough, Castiel seems to be the only angel to suffer from this problem. The other angels - especially Zachariah - seem to enjoy using metaphors and pop culture references. Even Lucifer, who has been trapped in the pits of Hell for thousands of years, uses references he probably shouldn't be familiar with.
      Lucifer: Chock full of Ovaltine, are we?
      Lucifer: Sam Winchester, This Is Your Life!
    • It may have to do with how much mining of the vessel's mind they do. Zachariah and Lucifer are both completely willing to rip through whoever-that-is and Nick, while Cas appears to have put Jimmy to sleep for pretty much the whole time he was wearing him. Although he does have a lot of his mannerisms, we could put that down to muscle memory...or, you know, Misha Collins not being a godlike actor.
      • Demons just out of Hell appear to rely on this regularly—for example, the seven deadly sins in the start of season three pull things like "Here's Johnny!" while smashing down a door, when they haven't been out since the sixteenth century. And there isn't much to choose between, say, Zachariah and Crowley, so we can infer similar technique.
      • That Uriel is the 'funniest angel in the garrison' when there was Balthazar, and above them the kind of mind that makes of fake identities for two guys named Winchester and surnames them Smith & Wesson, really does say something weird about angel mentality. I'm not even sure what.
  • Taxi. Elaine tries to tutor Latka in small talk for a dinner party.
    Latka: I could eat a dog.
    Elaine: It's "horse". I could eat a horse.
    Latka: Yecch.
  • In the first season of Violetta, Francesca, who is Italian, replaces words in figurative expressions with similarly sounding ones as a Once an Episode Running Gag. When her friends correct her, she doesn't understand it.
  • This becomes a plot point in an episode of The West Wing. In preparation for a meeting between Bartlet and President Chigorin of Russia, Sam has a meeting with two aides of Chigorin's who are reasonably fluent in English, but keep needing idioms and other curveballs explained to them. At the end of the meeting, one of them produces a statement for a joint press conference between the presidents, saying that both nations want to "stem the tide" of nuclear proliferation and should start with themselves. The aide claims that the statement was his idea and that he wrote it himself. Sam realizes that he wouldn't know the expression "stem the tide," and correctly concludes that Chigorin wrote it and sent it along to the meeting as a message to Bartlet.

    Puppet Shows 
  • Fraggle Rock: In the episode "A Brush with Jealousy", Wembley keeps mixing up figures of speech.
    [Mokey watches from behind as Gobo, Wembley, Boober, and Pedley study her painting of Lanford.]
    Gobo: Hmm, typical Mokey.
    [Mokey gasps in horror.]
    Wembley: Yeah. Once you've seen one of Mokey's, you've seen 'em all.
    Mokey: I've... I've got to get out of here! [Runs off.]
    Pedley: Once you've seen one, you've seen them all? What's that supposed to mean?
    Wembley: Well, she paints the best pictures around. And once you've seen one of her paintings of anything, you've seen all the paintings you need to see about that thing. And... [He stops short, seeing the others shaking their heads.] No?
    Gobo No, Wembley. Right idea, but wrong expression.

  • Mister Kitzel on The Jack Benny Program did this along with being a Malaproper.
  • Karl Pilkington on The Ricky Gervais Show is often quizzed on metaphors, which he either doesn't understand or misinterprets completely. For instance, he believes "People who live in glass houses shouldn't throw stones" means "Don't chuck stuff about."

    Tabletop Games 
  • Sky-Scraper has this problem in Sentinels of the Multiverse due to having only reached Earth fairly recently.
    "All in the work of a lunar cycle! Wait. That is not quite right."

    Video Games 
  • *Hoorb!* A flesh person? The one whose air-sound is Dillo's inner core flies at the opportunity to put air-sounds into head-holes! Then you will make air-sounds back! Would you like to hear how Dillo's home planetary groupings were soiled into dusts before he came to the City of Heroes? We will be making tiny-words! How wonderful!
  • Ahti the Finnish janitor from Control makes extensive use of Finnish metaphors translated directly to English, such as "there will be work for the axe" (something is outrageous), "there's a dog buried in this" (something's fishy), "run with your head as your third leg" (run frantically), and "burn it into a reindeer" (burn it to a crisp).
  • One of the quips in Duke Nukem Forever goes as this:
    EDF Soldier: Now we can cause some damage!
    EDF Agent: You don't say "cause some damage" around Duke Nukem, man. You say we're going to "bust some balls" or "tear shit up".
    EDF Soldier: Oh, right. Uh, let's RUPTURE SOME SPLEENS TOGETHER!
    EDF Agent: Why are you such a douche?
  • Nick Nack in Fossil Fighters has a tendency to mutilate not only English idioms ("I can have my socks and feet them too!"), but sayings from other languages. How does he thank you from the bottom of his heart? "Airy cat oh! Grassy us! Donkey shines!"
  • A turian in Mass Effect makes this mistake with human language.
    "What is that charming human expression? A fly in the... lotion?"
    • Turians in general have a difficult time with human slang; their own language and culture is centered around clear and precise communication, so metaphors and slang tend to trip them up.
      James: Yeah! Like shooting fish in a barrel!
      Garrus: What?!
      James: Old human saying! Like fish! In a! Barrel!

      James: What's the matter, Scars? Chicken?
      Garrus: I don't even know what that is, though I have heard that everything in the galaxy tastes like it.
    • It's not just turians who have a problem. It's actually a major problem with humans in the galactic society: because they talk in a lot of slang, shorthand, and metaphors, other species are utterly perplexed by this manner of speech. For example, an asari socialite in the Mass Effect 3 Citadel DLC:
      Selyana: The humans are so resilient. Like that phrase of theirs: "Stiff one in the lips."
      Shepard: Stiff Upper Lip.
      Selyana: Right, of course. What did I say?
    • Mass Effect: Andromeda: Angaran teammate Jaal often finds himself frustrated by idiomatic speech, as the auto-translators between Milky Way languages and the angaran language Selesh are not as up-to-date just yet.
      Ryder: Don't push your luck.
      Jaal: [chuckles] But luck isn't something that can be "pushed". It comes to us like— ah. Idiom.
      Ryder: Yep.
      Jaal: Shit.

      Jaal: I'd rather have sand or ice through my crack than deal with politicians.
      Liam: Your "crack"? Is that some sort of euphemism, or an attempt at human slang?
      Jaal: Fuck over.
  • Mercenaries: In both Playground of Destruction and World In Flames, the Swedish Mattias demonstrates that while he speaks English fairly well he still doesn't understand all the idioms. In particular, when Fiona calls him a babysitter after he's hired to protect a VIP from hostile forces, he wonders why anyone would sit on a baby.
  • Team Fortress 2 :
    • The Heavy in does this a bit. "Oh, that slaps me on the knee!" Also, he once covered for the Soldier's job of posting on the official blog. He mentions something he calls a "button board"... Heavy, do you mean "keyboard"?
    • In the Blood in the Water comic, his sister Zhanna thinks assaulting a base "with extreme prejudice" means "be racist at them". Then again, Soldier seemingly made that mistake before.
  • General Sargas Ruk from Warframe is so focused on making his threats gory that he can't seem to decide if he's talking metaphorically or not.
    "Now we crush the greedy milk from their skulls!"
  • Xenoblade Chronicles X:
    • Almost everything L'cirufe says in, mainly because he's self-taught to speak other species' languages and not relying on Mira's universal translation magic.
    "It's a horse-eat-horse world!"
    "Truly, we are on the ninth cloud of seventh heaven!"
    • He even has a tendency to "correct" other people's metaphors:
      Phog: Well, that one gave me pins and needles.
      L: No, no, no. It had you on the pins and the needles.

    Visual Novels 


    Web Original 
  • If the Emperor Had a Text-to-Speech Device has Rogal Dorn, one of the Emperor's sons. In Warhammer 40,000, he's extremely blunt and to the point, seeing no point in metaphor, or even lies, when getting the point across with the truth is so much faster. This series treats him as if he literally cannot comprehend the concept of metaphor.
    The Emperor: "Dammit, Rogal! Stop being such a sack of literal sauce!"
    Rogal: "There is no such sauce product."
  • Sailor Moon Abridged, the Episode 46/47 double-whammy:
    Ann: "Hopefully with two Cardians on our side this episode we'll succeed some way."
    Alan: "I'm not so sure. Like the humans say, I would not hold my dick about it."
    Ann: "...No. You... you mean 'breath.' Hold your breath."
    Alan: "...Why would I hold my breath if I could hold my dick?"

    Western Animation 
  • Archer does this often. The translator in "Heart of Archness" in particular cites the problem with translating idioms. Also: "Phrasing!"
  • In season 2 of BoJack Horseman, after the original director is fired, a very bland yet obedient and uncontroversial director named Abe is hired to direct the Secretariat biopic BoJack is starring in. After BoJack expresses concerns over the quality of the production, Abe reassures him that they "ain't making Casablanca". Naturally, BoJack thinks he meant the film is not intended to be good, but Abe meant it literally (as in, they are not making the actual movie Casablanca), for whatever reason. When BoJack criticizes the film, Abe becomes livid.
  • Captain Planet and the Planeteers
    • Despite all of the main cast inexplicably speaking English, Wheeler frequently had to correct Linka for this type of mistake in the earlier episodes, while the other characters seem to get them fine, despite not growing up in the US either. Luckily, being smitten with her, he finds it to be more cute and amusing than annoying.
    • In "The Big Clam-Up", Ma-Ti got into Sam Spade type detective novels and tried to use 1940's slang, only to get it all mixed up. One moment, in which he phrased "take the case" as "take the cake", even caused Gaia to engage in a very human moment of sighing.
  • Exile from Road Rovers is constantly defined by his mangling of the English language.
    Exile: Easy as cake. Like taking pie from a baby!
  • The toddlers in Rugrats do this a lot. For instance, Tommy says "back to Norman" instead of "back to normal", and Angelica interprets "break a leg" as "break some eggs."
  • The Simpsons: In "Lemon of Troy", Bart, before leaving to take revenge on Shelbyville kids who stole Springfield's lemon tree, tells Marge he's going to "teach some kids a lesson". She thinks he's going to become a tutor.
  • Sonic the Hedgehog (SatAM): Antoine is pretty good at this.
    Antoine: She was making me a bookcase!
    Rotor: You mean basket case.
    • He even messes up ones from his own language.
      Antoine: Sacre bleu cheese!
  • Star vs. the Forces of Evil: In "School Spirit", Marco tells Star that the Silver Hill Warriors "slaughters" the Echo Creek Possums every year, but she ends up believing their football game is to be a bloody battle. It is only after she booby traps the football field to strike the Warriors that Star discovers it's the name of a team and that "slaughter" meant "badly defeat".
  • Starfire in Teen Titans (2003). Poor girl doesn't know when "People are NOT talking about shovels".
  • Omi in Xiaolin Showdown (and later Xiaolin Chronicles) has this as a Running Gag, flubbing an idiom nearly every episode. The page quote is one time that Raimundo used how badly he mangles phrases into a pre-asskicking threat.
    Omi: Let us remove the lead!
    Kimiko: [It's] "Get the lead out".
    Omi: That too.
    • Everyone, friends and enemies alike, sometimes need a moment to decode what the actual idiom he was trying to say is.
      Omi: What goes in circles, goes the other way in circles.
      Wuya: ...Somebody translate! I'll be up all night!
      Clay: I think he means "What goes around comes around."
      Wuya: Oh please... that wasn't even close.
    • In one episode the villain Jack Spicer had to translate some of Omi's double-jointed dialogue for everyone else.
      Omi: [to Wuya] The jig is down! You are at the top of your rope! Spoon over that Wu!
      [very, very, VERY long pause as everyone looks around at each other waiting for someone to say something before Jack is shown thinking with his finger on his chin]
      Jack: Oh, oh, I got it! The jig is up, you are at the end of your rope, fork over the Wu! [does a little victory dance and opens his jacket to reveal a ribbon that says "Evil Genius"]
    • Also from Xiaolin Showdown.
      Omi: (To Jack) I demand that you spill your internal organs now!!
      Jack: (screams) What kind of sick people are you!?
      Raimundo: I think he means spill your guts.
    • And this gem (although the mangle in this case is, in the real world, a perfectly valid version of the phrase):
      Omi: Looks like we can kiss our backsides goodbye!
      Raimundo: You mean kiss our butts.
      Omi: That is most disgusting!
    • In this one:
      Omi: Yes! I am in heat!
      Raimundo: No, Omi! It's "on fire", "on fire!!"
    • This gem too:
      Omi: It would seem that Lady Luck is spitting on us!
      Raimundo: You mean Lady Luck is shining on us.
      [explosion happens under their feet and sends all four monks flying]
      Clay: I think the little guy might've had it right the first time.
    • And after enough times:
      Omi: Dojo, keep your nose in the game!
      Raimundo: Omi, you gotta be doing that on purpose.

Alternative Title(s): Idiom Proof Outsider, Does Not Understand Metaphors


Guardians of the Galaxy

Drax explains why metaphors cannot go over his head.

How well does it match the trope?

4.96 (24 votes)

Example of:

Main / BluntMetaphorsTrauma

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