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Busman's Vocabulary

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When a character in a certain profession isn't on the job, they're going to still use jargon from that profession, basically to let us know what they do for a living. Mafia guys will use "whacked" and the like, chefs will use culinary language, and so forth.

Contrast with Spy Speak. TV Tropes Will Ruin Your Vocabulary could be considered a subtrope. Compare Job Mindset Inertia.


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    Anime & Manga 
  • Sanji of One Piece frequently uses allusions to food when he's calling his attacks. This is more obvious in the English dub, but the Japanese has a few food phrases too.
  • Cilan in Pokémon the Series: Black & White uses culinary lingo in other, unrelated contexts pretty much every episode he's in. While he is a chef, his main profession is Pokémon Connoisseur, which means he basically does this for a living.
  • In Ranma ½, professional chef Ukyo Kuonji uses — in the English version — "sugar", "honey", and other food names as intimacy markers. Not a very noticeable trait, but the fact remains that she (almost) never used "dear" or other such markers.
    • In Portuguese, she used "Você tá frito comigo" once - this would literally mean "You're fried with (by fighting against) me". "You're toast!" would be a more natural (thus better) translation, though.
  • In the Sgt. Frog manga (at least in the English version), Keroro refers to Aki Hinata as "General Mom" frequently in early chapters.
  • Tyranno in the English dub of Yu-Gi-Oh! GX refers to his friends by army ranks, the school as a base of operations, and his dorm room as HQ. He also uses military slang at every opportunity. (In the original Japanese, he was a dinosaur-themed duelist with a Verbal Tic).
  • Dr. Minoru Kamiya has a penchant for this in YuYu Hakusho - In English, he says "Pronounced dead!" when attacking Yusuke from behind. In Portuguese, during the fight with Yusuke, he says "Não vou usar nenhum instrumento para te fazer uma autópsia!" - In English, "I will use no instruments to dissect you!".

    Comic Books 
  • Batman: The Trigger Twins talk almost exclusively like characters from a Western movie.
  • Deadpool: Supporting character Fenway manages to work a baseball metaphor into practically every sentence.
  • Superman: In the Superman: Man of Steel Annual #5, (apart of the Legends of the Dead Earth event) the main character comes from an ocean planet, where he's a fisherman. Once he develops Superman-powers and starts flying through space and destroying Imperial starships single-handedly, he refers to himself as a minnow overpowering sharks.

    Fan Works 
  • Falkner and his father Walker in Pokémon Reset Bloodlines, both of which are Flying-type Gym Leaders who use mainly avian Pokémon, are rather fond of using figures of speech involving birds (adapted to Pokémon) such as "Don't count your Pidgeys before they hatch" or "Early Spearow gets the Caterpie".

    Films — Animation 
  • Lampshaded and deconstructed in Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs: Flint's father Tim is a fisherman, and he tries to use fishing metaphors when speaking to him, which Flint doesn't understand. This is both a cause of, and contributer to, their emotionally distant relationship, until Flint finds a way to get around it.
  • Corpse Bride: The town crier still prefixes all of his speech with "Hear ye, hear ye!" even when off duty.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Combined with Trouble Entendre: Near the start of Pulp Fiction, Professional Killers Vincent and Jules are talking before a job, and Vincent casually mentions that their boss Marcellus asked Vincent to take care of Marcellus' wife while Marcellus was out of town. Jules reacts with shock and assumes that Marcellus meant to kill the wife, Vincent has to clarify.
  • Used as a plot point in The Taking of Pelham One Two Three remake: Garber hypothesizes Ryder must have worked in Wall Street since he's constantly framing the hostage situation and the money exchange in financial terms ("commodities", "futures contract", "spot trade", etc). Not only is Garber right, but Ryder's goal isn't taking the ransom money itself but profiting from the market crash caused by the suspicions of terrorism behind the hijacking.

  • In The Fifth Elephant, we're told that Commander Vimes studies geography as though it were a crime scene ("Would you recognise that glacier if you saw it again?") Mostly though, he talks to people as though he was conducting an investigation because he always is.
    • Even off-duty Assassins will talk about inhumation rather than murder.
  • In Forced Perspectives by Tim Powers, the villain has a computer science background, as do some of his underlings, and they use computer networking metaphors to describe the psychic phenomena their plot revolves around. It's also used as a generational indicator: the members of the plot from the 1960s that he's attempting to revive used a telephone switchboard analogy to describe the same phenomena, while his Gen Z nieces use a metaphor about smartphone apps.
  • In The Land of Green Ginger, Sinbad the Sailor ("Son of the Sinbad!") talks largely in nautical clichés, to the point that the reader (who first encounters him sailing a small boat on a calm river) may well doubt his authenticity.
    "But if you're coming aboard ye'll have to Shake a Leg, ye Pesky Landlubbers!" he added. "There's a Squall coming up on the Port Bow!"
    "Which is the Port Bow?" asked Abu Ali.
    "Whichever you prefer," said Sinbad generously. "I find that Either answers Admirably. All Aboard that's Coming Aboard!"
  • The infamous Weather Report Narration quote from Neuromancer ("The sky above the port was the colour of television, tuned to a dead channel.") is sometimes interpreted this way. A reader who grew up in the age of digital television might well interpret that as the grey-hat hacker protagonist looking up at a beautiful clear blue sky and being unable to think of a description that didn't involve a screen of some sort, and conclude he'd been spending too much time in his Hacker Cave instead of getting out in the fresh air. But the book was written in the 1980s, and he's actually describing a gloomy, overcast sky.
  • Older Than Radio: Charles Dickens' character Mr. Lilyvick, in Nicholas Nickleby, a water-rate collector who uses references to pipes, taps etc. in his "normal" conversation.
  • Discussed in The Paradoxes of Mr Pond.
    Pond: Men may argue for principles not entirely their own, for various reasons; as a joke in a rag debate, or covered by professional etiquette, like a barrister, or merely exaggerating something neglected and needing emphasis; long before we come to those who do it hypocritically or for hire. A man can argue for principles not his own. But a man cannot argue from principles not his own; the first principles he assumes, even for sophistry or advocacy, will probably be his own fundamental first principles. The very language he uses will betray him. That Bolshevist bookseller professed to be a bourgeois; but he talked like a Bolshevist about a bourgeois. He talked about exploitation and the class-war. So you tried to imagine yourself a Socialist; but you did not talk like a Socialist. You talked about the Social Contract, like old Rousseau.
  • Siuan Sanche in The Wheel of Time grew up a fisherwoman before becoming Aes Sedai, so she always uses fishing jargon and metaphors. Perrin is the same with blacksmith lingo.

    Live-Action TV 
  • In Season 19 of The Amazing Race, former NFL player Marcus could always be counted on to pull out a football metaphor.
  • The Big Bang Theory gang always manages to work scientific metaphors into life, to the constant frustration of the token cast member of normal intellect, Penny. One notable one is Schrödinger's Cat, which becomes a recurring theme and is the only scientific principle Penny can ever remember.
  • Sometimes happens in Bones. It’s not unknown for Brennan to bring up anthropological explanations for things even when she isn’t working.
  • Ghosts (UK): The Captain uses military terminology to describe everyday activities, even long after his death and return as a housebound ghost.
    The Captain: We work in shifts. Campaign of attrition. Guerilla war.
    Pat: Why is it always about war with you?
    [The Captain incredulously gestures at his uniform]
  • In Hank Zipzer, Hank's father Stan is a sports journalist and tends to express everything in terms of sports metaphors.
  • Doctor Hourani, in House, does this in a hospital and to a co-worker (namely, well, House). Instead of saying "I must be crazy" or "I must be hallucinating", he says "I must be having a complex partial seizure...".
  • Our Miss Brooks: Miss Brooks discusses grammar and parts of speech on and off the job.
  • Near the end of an episode of The Sopranos, Tony tells a guy that a job might involve "getting messy. Real wet work." The FBI agents listening prick up their ears, only to realize a few seconds later he's asking someone to fix his burst water heater.
  • In Spin City, after it's revealed that one of the mayor's associates is, in fact, a mafioso, he mentions that he first suspected something when said associate invited the mayor to go fishing with, "Let's go whack some fish."
  • Star Trek: Deep Space Nine: Played for gross-out laughs in one episode. A surgeon eating lunch refers to cutting his food as a "lateral incision", which disgusts Jake Sisko so much that he runs out of the room, thinking he's going to throw up. Luckily, though, he doesn't.
  • Star Trek: Enterprise: Hoshi is a linguist, and in "Two Days and Two Nights", she uses "learned several new conjugations" as a jokey Unusual Euphemism for a one-night stand.
  • Star Trek: Voyager:
    • While the doctor doesn't usually do this, in "Body and Soul", he mentions a man who kissed him "using his face as a tongue depressor".
    • B'Elanna Torres is an engineer, and again she doesn't normally talk this way, but in "Lineage", she makes an analogy by comparing genetic engineering (which she wanted to do to her and Tom Paris's unborn daughter) to using tools to fix a machine.
      Tom: "She's not a machine; she's our daughter!"
  • In the first episode of The Troop, a student's vocational test suggested he'd become an accountant. The student used accounting terms while voicing his objections to this.
  • The Wire:
    • A gangbanger talks on the phone about "capping his dawg's ass". The police bring him in on murder charges, only to realize that he was talking about putting down an actual dog.
    • When Professional Killer Snoop is in the market for a nail gun, she's confused about what she should buy until the salesman starts using firearms terms like "caliber" to describe a model. She perks up and exchanges lingo with the salesman before handing him a wad of bills. When Chris asks what she bought, she rattles off the nail gun's attributes as if it's some kind of badass machinegun.

    Tabletop Games 
  • One of the sample characters in Discworld Roleplaying Game is Hunchsides Modoscousin, who has his cousin Modo, the gardener at Unseen University, as a Contact who can supply him with information about UU. He's listed as "somewhat reliable", which means that on a critical failure, his info is simply untrue; in Modo's case this isn't due to deliberate lying but "misleading gardening jargon".

    Video Games 
  • Danganronpa:
    • Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc: Aoi Asahina tends to spout inspirational quotes from famous athletes that she has memorized for the sake of her training. It's revealed in a Free-Time Event that she joined six athletics clubs in her last school and swimming just so happened to stand out as the talent that got her scholarship into Hope's Peak.
    • Kazuichi Soda in Danganronpa 2: Goodbye Despair often refers to being excited as "engines revving!" as if to refer to his talent as the Ultimate Mechanic.
    • Kaede Akamatsu in Danganronpa V3: Killing Harmony often reflects on pieces of classical music to describe her mood or situations in which they could be fitting, as per her talent of the Ultimate Pianist.
    • Sometimes happens when a student initiates a Rebuttal Showdown in 2 or V3 (the minigame doesn't exist in 1). For example, Ultimate Photographer Mahiru Koizumi declares "Your reasoning is out of focus!"
  • Hermes from Octopath Traveler II is a slight variation. She's a dancer who hails from the port town of Canalbrine, so she often sprinkles water-related phrases in her dialogue, such as calling her audience "little fishies" and saying that dancing is like swimming in an ocean.
  • The Subway Masters, Ingo and Emmet, in Pokémon Black and White constantly speak in train-related phrases, such as their pre-battle dialogue always including "All aboard!" This is so ingrained into their personalities that when Ingo got Laser-Guided Amnesia and ended up in Hisui, he still spoke like this despite forgetting that he was once one of the heads of the Battle Subway.
  • Nate Logan from the SSX series, a cornfed ranch hand from Colorado, often says things like "Durn horse threw a shoe!" after a wipeout.

    Web Animation 
  • Homestar Runner:
    • Prior to his Flanderization into creepiness incarnate, Coach Z would overuse sports metaphors to the point that other characters started calling him out on it. From "The Best Decemberween Ever":
      Coach Z: Well, Homestar, I'll tell ya. Buying a Decemberween present for Strong Bad is like a great sports play.
      Homestar: Let me guess. I can't just rush into the score zone.
      Coach Z: Hey, that's right!
      Homestar: Coach! That's your answer for everything!
    • Later inverted in "No Hands On Deck!" Bubs suggests that once Homestar's deck is complete, they can hang out on it drinking melonade.
      Homestar: Hey, yeah, melonade! We haven't talked about that in a while! And maybe we can eat some marshmellows, too!
      Bubs: And I like to dance!
  • Minilife TV: In "The Party (Season Finale)", the announcer of the 28th Legondo World Martial Arts Tournament prefaces his complaint about losing a game of Never Have I Ever with "ladies and gentlemen" as he does when announcing the fights.

  • Pick an xkcd strip. If it's not part of the joke, odds are Randall is doing it without fully realizing.

    Western Animation 
  • In Batman: The Brave and the Bold, Ronnie Raymond is a chemistry teacher who uses sports lingo in his classes, greatly confusing the students.
  • Tom Tucker in Family Guy still speaks like a news reporter even while not reporting the news.
  • Hermes Conrad of Futurama infuses his everyday language with references to bureaucracy. He also throws in semi-fabricated Jamaican idioms.
    Hermes: Requisition me a beat!
  • My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic: Many examples, mostly from Applejack. As a farm pony, she frequently uses farming-themed similes and metaphors, many of which involve apples; in "The Cutie Map Part 2", she calls them "countryisms", and there appears to be a connection between her ability to make "countryisms" and her other farming talents, since she loses her ability to talk like that when her cutie mark's taken away.
  • The Simpsons:
    • The Mafia men embody this trope. Fat Tony goes so far as to say his wife was "whacked by natural causes". There is also a subversion in the same episode, as Tony asks Legs to "hot-sync" his PalmPilot, and Legs thinks he meant to shoot it.
      Legs: I thought you meant *gcck* hot-sync it. You know how it is with us, everything means kill.
    • And the Sea Captain puts everything into nautical terms.
    • Principal Skinner often uses school lingo and expects others to apply elementary school moral standards even when he's not at work.
  • This is rather endemic in Wakfu. Amalia uses metaphors and expressions based on plants all the time (later episodes show us that most Sadida do the same). Likewise, Ruel's speech often alludes to money or wealth. Minor characters are also on it; Xav the Baker and his father Ratafouine are constantly referencing bread and baking. Even Nox isn't above making a few clocks or time-related quips.

    Real Life 
  • One of the main reasons TV Tropes Will Ruin Your Life.
  • Engineers are known to use highly technical jargon and verbiage outside of their work environment.
  • Any time people from the same profession get together (even if they are retired), they're going to talk shop. Listening to such conversations can be an education in itself. Talking shop with someone not in your profession can also be quite illuminating, as you struggle to find ways to describe terms that, to you, are self describing in and of themselves.
  • In the military, it's not the bathroom, it's the "latrine" or "head". It's not the floor, it's the "deck".
  • The old saying "swear like a sailor" is completely true. Some retired Navy personnel retain and use some, ah, colorful and inventive profanities when injured, angry, or frustrated. It's not "left" and "right", it's "port" and "starboard". And they are not windows, they are portholes and skylights.
  • Anyone who works with children for a living can find it hard to leave their "teacher voice" at work.
  • Strippers generally refer to the panties worn over a thong as "bottoms" or "shorts" and bras/corsets/whatever as "tops". Sentences like "yeah we take our bottoms off" (when said by a non-nude dancer) and "I need a new top" (when in the lingerie section) can cause lots of questions to be asked.
  • When such terms are used as a means to identify an in-group, this can be referred to as a shibboleth as per the story told in the Bible. In sociology, any ritual, custom, or speech used for this purpose can be considered a shibboleth.