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Cryptic Conversation

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This is the favorite pastime of the Zen Survivor, Waif Prophet, Eccentric Mentor, and any character with even a smidgen of knowledge on the setting's Back Story, or plots that are happening that the hero knows nothing about.

Just like a villain can't resist Evil Gloating, these characters will often hold entire conversations (one sided or not) using only vague, cryptic, ominous, and frequently Double Entendre laden terms and phrases to confuse the player and character. Why don't they spill the beans quickly to help bring down the Evil Overlord? Well, usually the character in question either wants to protect or manipulate the hero, other times they want to hide the truth. Of course, sometimes they do want to spill their guts but can't, due to a geas or binding oath, and even the little they do dish out can get them in trouble. The Author of the character in question might not have mapped out that far ahead into the series, or they want to have a character that's "in the know" who won't spoil the big twist in the end. And of course, there's always doing it just to look cool and mysterious regardless of reasons.

Often, these Poor Communication Kills will only frustrate the player/hero's attempts at solving the most recent dilemma, eventually riling them (and us) enough to tell the offending Mentors to shove your vagueness someplace painful. At least, unless a Translator Buddy is there.

This is related to how prophecies are never clear or straightforward, full of loopholes and interpretations. Creators might use these dialogues as place holders for Schrödinger's Gun, keeping them purposely vague enough to fit any Retcon in they need to.

Common set ups for this include but are not limited to:

Common Cryptic Conversations will have:

Common Cryptic Conversationalists will be:

Compare and contrast:


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    Anime & Manga 
  • Attack on Titan: In ch. 46, Reiner, Bertholt, and Ymir have multiple conversations right over the head of Eren (and the audience), throwing out tantalizing hints while ignoring requests to explain themselves.
  • Eden of the East is in love with this trope, and makes use of it so often that listing all the examples is simply impossible.
  • There are a couple of this in Fullmetal Alchemist, most notably among Father and the homunculi about the so called "promised day".
    • Which was pretty obviously going to be a solar eclipse long before Brosh's younger siblings woke him up wanting to borrow his telescope...
  • Gilgamesh has some of this starting in the second episode. There are several sentences that are mostly composed of ellipses ("Debt collectors...?" "The contract for me... my organs... my sister... ...") At the beginning, since you've seen some of it, you can infer the lines not said, but the same can't necessarily of the characters, and in some cases is frustrating to the viewer.
  • Yuki and Itsuki have one of these in the first episode of The Melancholy Of Haruhi Suzumiya. Predictably, Kyon calls them on it.
  • Although not intentionally vague, about half of everything anyone said in the first season of Higurashi: When They Cry was misunderstood by the other person because of their own preconceptions, usually leading to paranoia and literal Poor Communication Kills.
  • Inuyasha: When Inuyasha fails to master Tessaiga's new absorption power, Sesshoumaru saves him with Tenseiga. Sesshoumaru cryptically tells Inuyasha he's failing to understand the point of a sword. However, despite one-shotting the enemy by following Toutousai's cryptic advice to "grow in strength", Sesshoumaru also fails to master his own new power. Inuyasha needs to learn that swords cut things, no matter what power they possess; Sesshoumaru needs to learn warriors should only fight when motivated by the strength of their compassion.
  • Carim Gracia of Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha StrikerS has the ability to magically create prophecies that turn out to be pretty vague thanks to the fact that they come in poem form, can be interpreted in many ways, and are written in the dead Ancient Belka language, adding even more ambiguities due to translation and mistranslation. Thanks to these factors, she considers them as useful as a fairly accurate horoscope.
  • Almost everything Itachi from Naruto has EVER said.
  • Neon Genesis Evangelion is infamous for this, with any plot-related conversation involving Gendo or SEELE being the greatest offenders. Incidentally, it is far from the most Egregious example in anime; unlike, say, Xenogears, these conversations never resort to the cheap trick of vague pronouns or adjectives; the characters involved talk frankly about the subjects at hand... it's just that the viewers won't understand what these things are until they happen, if then.
  • Justified in Puella Magi Madoka Magica: Homura refuses to explain herself because she already tried, in many previous timelines. No one believed her, and it mostly made things worse. Her first chat with Madoka is a completely straight example, with Homura implying that some vague disaster will befall Madoka's friends and family if she "changes herself." But it soon becomes clear that she specifically wants her to not become a Magical Girl, and she reveals exactly why this would be bad once Madoka is in a position to believe her.
  • Quon from RahXephon speaks like this more often than not... the meaning of the terms she absently throw around in reference to the hero and his Humongous Mecha do not become clear untill the end of the series, but along the way, others 'in the know' makes occasional use of them, creating sinister suggestions of their true importance.
  • Revolutionary Girl Utena loves obfuscated allusions, and it is part of what makes rewatches of this series so rewarding.
    • The Greek Chorus shadow plays relate to the themes of the episode, but vary in how easy they are to parse. Some of them aren't straightforward in the slightest, and the viewer is always on their own about how to interpret them.
    • Touga, Anthy, and Akio are primary vectors of this trope in the main action of the series, especially when they get together.
    • The framing device of episode 13 is one long cryptic conversation; so cryptic that there is doubt about who he is talking to. Is he talking to the silent prince, or to Anthy? Her figure is silhouetted in the doorway with Akio as he leaves. If the viewer assumes he's talking to Anthy, the scene is more even more sinister than it initially seems.
  • Used and abused extensively in both Tsubasa -RESERVoir CHRoNiCLE- and xxxHOLiC, most often delivered by Yuuko, Fai and Fei Wang. It took more than twenty volumes of hearing people referring cryptically to Fei Wang's "wish" before it was revealed what it actually was. Another dragged-out example are the constant allusions to how "Syaoran is the person closest to Watanuki".
    • Even the Exposition is typically given via Cryptic Conversation; you need to wait a while longer (sometimes months) to get more exposition to explain the cryptic parts of the last batch. Even when everything is said outright, its still somewhat hard to comprehend, giving the impression of this trope on occasion even when things are being said outright.
  • Vampire Knight has a lot of this, usually involving Kaname.
  • Lampshaded in YuYu Hakusho when Kurama says something akin to "Oh, I see. It must be... that." and Yusuke responds that he is going to start charging him money every time he is vague.

    Comic Books 
  • From Birds of Prey:
    Shiva: The master left me only one item. It is on my person.
    Black Canary: I'll give you a dollar to stop being cryptic. Please say you'll take it.

    Comic Strips 
  • In one Foxtrot strip, Peter and his girlfriend have such a conversation over the phone; the last panel shows his brother Jason listening in and musing that his spying may have gotten a bit obvious.

    Fan Works 
  • A lot of them in Aeon Natum Engel and Aeon Entelechy Evangelion. The stand-out is the conversation of two creepy girls in the prologue of the latter.
  • In Chapter 32 of BlazBlue Alternative: Remnant, when Rachel brings Ragna and Ruby to her realm to explain things to them, she does so in an awfully vague manner that irritates the two. When Ragna calls her out on it, she explains that giving them the full story would potentially be costly to both themselves and those around them, as the secrets she keeps are very dangerous. Ruby snarks that she also does it for fun, which Rachel doesn't deny.
  • A Fortune Teller holds one of these with Calvin's parents in Calvin & Hobbes: The Series. She chides them for being Locked Out of the Loop about Calvin's heroics, before claiming "they're coming". Needless to say, Calvin's parents are unnerved.
  • Child of the Storm:
    • Doctor Strange, a massively powerful Seer and Time Master (thanks to the fact that the Time Stone transformed him to ensure Thanos' defeat) and therefore immensely knowledgeable, tends towards these. This is partly because he's a Trickster Mentor with a side of eccentricity on the sly, partly because he rather enjoys being cryptic because he knows exactly how infuriating it is. However, he's not shy of giving very detailed and explicit instructions if the situation merits it - this is usually a sign that something serious is going on.
    • 'Nathan' - actually an alternate version of Harry, who's more than a thousand years older than him, tends towards this. This is partly because he enjoys winding up his younger counterpart, partly because he refuses to spoon-feed him, but mostly because he's not entirely sure how different their timelines are (since they diverged long before the story started) and therefore is wary of accidentally sending Harry down the wrong track.
    • The Three Norns are even more cryptic than Strange, most of the time, something not helped by the way they tend to spread one person's words across three people.
  • Archer in Fate/stay night [Unlimited Blade Works] Abridged frequently does a less-than-thorough job of explaining things, generally by referencing parts of the wider [[Franchise/Nasuverse Nasuverse]] that nobody else understands and then refusing to elaborate further. Just as often though, he's actually slipping up by accidentally dropping hints about his true identity as an alternate-future Shirou who has already gone through a version of these events already; his flimsy attempts to change the subject or insist that those slips were definitely not important annoys everyone. It even backfires on him once; when Archer genuinely tries to give a less-than-subtle hint about his intentions with Caster, Lancer just assumes he's spouting more cryptic nonsense and ignores it. Afterwards, Archer admits that he slips into being cryptic a bit too easily.
  • Friendship Is Magic: The Adventures of Spike: Most of Spike's conversations with Dreamy are like this. He lampshades how annoying it is.
  • Learning How to Be a Princess lampshades this in one chapter, when Emperor Belos is trying to enroll Luz into Hexside. Since he doesn't want the fact he has a family to be public knowledge yet, he cryptically and repeatedly tells a confused Principal Bump that he just wishes to enroll "someone", before his wife Camila straightforwardly reveals that said person is their daughter.
    Belos: Camila!
    Camila: Well, you weren't going to say anything!
  • The Powers of Harmony: Prior to the various reveals, most of the conversations between the Guards and/or the Princesses play out like this, if only due to the audience having no idea what they're talking about.
  • Turnabout Storm: Celestia holds a couple of cryptic conversations with Twilight and Phoenix, confusing and irritating the heck out of them. The strongest example though comes from The Stinger in the final episode, where Celestia holds a conversation with someone else, with the viewers only hearing Celestia's words until the very end. That other someone is heavily implied to be the ghost of Mia Fey, Phoenix's deceased mentor.
  • During the 1000 Review special of This Bites!, Cross asks his future-self Wyvern if he's caused anything Nine Minutes-ish. Fans of the story know he's asking if he caused a Bad Future.
  • In Vacation Means Chaos Xander takes a look at Hawkeye and says six to which Hawkeye corrects him seven and mentions that Xander's a five. Steve Rogers is confused as to what they're talking about until Hawkeye says they're commenting on how many hidden weapons the other is carrying.
  • Done on accident a few times in A Teacher's Glory, such as when Naruto and Sasuke have an entire conversation with sentences that consist only of a couple words like "Iajutsu" and "Eight inches". They're not attempting to be cryptic so much as they simply don't require any syntax.
  • Us and Them: Whenever the Cetra speak with the planet, they usually wind up in one of these.

    Film — Live-Action 
  • Blind Chance has an extremely puzzling phone conversation between Witek, the protagonist, and his dying father. The film then plays three different versions of events, in which Witek makes different choice based on his reflection on said conversation. The ambiguity is even stronger in the original version, due to difference in grammatical structures between Polish and English (and makes it near-impossible to fully capture in translation the perplexive nature of what the dying man said).
    Father: I wanted to tell you this, because you might not make it on timenote . You don't have to do anything.
    Witek: I don't have to do anything in what way?
    Father: In any way.
  • The Matrix films, a very lot, as skewered in this Maddox parody
    • The second two of The Matrix trilogy are possible subversions. It turns out that The Oracle makes deliberately vague prophecies partially because she only has a limited insight into the future through predicting the choices of others, partially so she has some way to pretend to have predicted any turn of events, and partially in order to cause the other characters to carry out her prophecies. After all, "would [Neo] have really [broken the vase] if [the Oracle] hadn't said anything?"
  • Monty Python and the Holy Grail has "Scene 24" (so called in the movie).
  • Ocean's Twelve:
    • Humorously deconstructed in Danny and Rusty meet up with an informant, with Linus insisting on tagging along. Before the meeting, they tell Linus that the informant only discusses business in a certain code and they don't have time to teach him, so he'll just have to play along:
      Informant: So, business?
      Danny: Business.
      Rusty: A doctor, who specializes in skin diseases, will dream he has fallen asleep in front of the television. Later, he will wake up in front of the television, but not remember his dream.
      Informant: (speaking to Linus) Would you agree?
      Linus: (thouroughly confused)
      Danny: If all the animals along the equator were capable of flattery, then Thanksgiving and Halloween... would fall... on the same day.
      Rusty: Mm.
      Informant: Yeah.
      Informant: When I was four years old, I watched my mother kill a spider... with a tea cozy. Years later, I realized it was not a spider — it was my Uncle Harold.
      Linus: ...Oh, let the sun beat down upon my face, stars fill my dreams.
      Ryan: (facepalm)
      Linus: I am a traveler in both time and space, to be where I have been.
      (moments later, outside the restaurant)
      Rusty: Kashmir?
      Danny: Is that your idea of making a contribution?
      Rusty: We hadn't even started. We ain't even got to the terms yet.
      Danny: We came this close to losing that.
      Linus: Hey, I don't even understand what happened in there. What did I say?
      Danny: You called his niece a whore.
      Rusty: A very cheap one.
      Linus: What?
      Danny: She's seven.
    • It isn't until much later in the movie, after Linus is rescued from prison by his mother that he figures out that all the nonsense phrases he'd heard really were just nonsense; a Lost in Translation con that Danny and Rusty (along with the informant) played on him, partly as a practical joke, and partly because they didn't want him screwing up their negotiations.
  • Tia Dalma from Pirates of the Caribbean really loves conversing in this way.
  • David Mamet movies are famous for their stylized and often cryptic dialogue. In Spartan, naturalistic speech is used only when the main character is speaking code phrases.
  • Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan
    • Kirk and Spock try to have one of these so that Spock can inform him that the ship is much less damaged than Khan had thought without letting their eavesdropping enemy know. However, the code is so ridiculously transparent that one has to assume Khan had an Idiot Ball stuck in both ears not to realize.
    • Kirk and Spock later mention that The Book (Starfleet regulations) specifies that they shouldn't openly discuss their plans when they think their communications were compromised. It was an incredibly obvious code to Kirk and Spock, but then it had to be for Kirk to catch on and go along with it. Khan has only been around either of them for a few hours, years in the past, and couldn't be expected to realize when they are hint-hinting at each other.
    • Also relies on Spock's pointed reference to Lt. Saavik, whom Khan has never met and only seen on the Reliant's viewscreen the one time he visually communicated with Kirk (and given Khan's obsession with revenge on Kirk, it's likely he didn't even notice her.) Saavik's penchant for quoting regulations is what Spock was referring to, something Khan had no possible way of knowing. It's actually a pretty brilliant verbal code, especially given it was entirely made up on the spot.
  • Star Wars, if you believe Obi-Wan Kenobi's story that Darth Vader killed Luke's father was, as he put it, "True From A Certain Point Of View.", a.k.a Metaphorically True.
    • The Jedi in general in both the films and the EU tend to do this, but Yoda is indisputably the master, just about everything he ever says is cryptic.

  • In Mad Magazine's spoof 'Doone' 'Duke Leto' rules that until the end of the crisis they will converse only in complete sentences. To the relief of his mentat who was about to call a time out to find out what they were talking about.
  • The Oracle in Voices gives its prophecies in odd, Koan-like fragments: short phrases like "broken mend broken" and "to keep bees from apple blossoms." Naturally, this has historically allowed the people asking the question to interpret the meaning to support the thing they already wanted to do, sometimes with disastrous results.
  • The Chronicles of Amber begins with Corwin/Corey having conversations with his sister and brother about things they know all about, and he has no memory of... and yet he still manages to make them think he's fully aware of everything and perhaps knows more than they do, and takes over control of the situation.
  • On Darwath, this is master wizard Ingold Inglorion's favorite method of teaching wizardry. His apprentice Rudy Solis gets a full dose of it during their journey to the Wizards' City of Quo in The Walls of Air.
  • In The Dinosaur Lords, the two Grey Angels have this conversation. It's not cryptic to them, and they didn't intend it as such, being alone during the conversation, but the reader knows very little of what they know and the subject of their discussion, so all the conversation conveys to the readers is that matters are getting grim indeed.
  • The Dresden Files
    • In Proven Guilty, it is explained that prophecies have to be deliberately vague. If a prophecy is too detailed (e.g., "Your car will be stolen Friday"), and you act on it (move your car so it's not stolen), then that creates the question of how did you know your car would be stolen if it wasn't, which leads to a paradox, which can lead to very bad things.
    • In the RPG book, Harry notes that the Gatekeeper always speaks like he knows more than he's letting on, and if you asked him something as simple as "What do you want on your pizza?", he'd ramble on and give you an answer that didn't make any sense until later. Then he giggles at the idea of the Gatekeeper eating pizza.
    • Harry is also sometimes deliberately cryptic when talking to his allies. Not because he's trying to protect them or anything. It's just that being sneaky and cryptic and mysterious is pretty much heroin for wizards.
    • The Sidhe are also like this, to the extreme. Harry has commented on several occasions that getting information out of them is like pulling teeth. Their tendency to speak in a convoluted, indirect fashion actually becomes a plot point in Cold Days. When Maeve actually gives straight answers, it turns out to be an indication that she has been corrupted by Nemesis... and has become capable of lying.
  • Robin Goodfellow from An Elegy for the Still-living loves these.
    “I want to say that I dislike you, but I find that I cannot.”
    “We know each other too well for dislike. There's only hate between us now.”
    “I never saw you before today.”
    “Aye. And how long's today, then? The lives we tell ourselves are the ones we begin to believe.”
    “Do you mean the lies we tell ourselves? I did not lie about it.”
    “Not you sir. No. You would never lie. Why, I can't imagine what came over me, to even suggest such a thing as that. That you would lie? Absurd.”
    “Me what?”
    “To be frank, I doubt I have understood any word that's come from you since we met.”
    “Frankly, Frank, if I made any more sense I'd go mad. Then they'd call me wise.”
    “Who would?”
  • Would you believe Eragon had one of these with a bird?
  • Ayatani Zweil in Dan Abnett's Warhammer 40,000 Gaunt's Ghosts novels is so prone to this that Gaunt wonders why they have kept him on as chaplain.
    • In the same universe, the same author also came up with Glossia in the Eisenhorn and Ravenor books, which was a coded language based entirely around metaphor. Examples phrases include "Thorn wishes aegis, rapturous beast below,"Aegis, arising, the colours of space," and "Rose thorn, abundant, by flamelight crescent." Some of it can be guessed at, the rest... not so much.
  • Traditional Chinese courtesy requires indirection and ritual self denigration in conversation allowing for very polite and cryptic threats. A prize example is Judge Dee's various conversations with the Big Bad in The Chinese Bell Murders.
  • The Little Prince: The conversation with the snake. It starts out straightforward, but as it goes on, the snake starts speaking more cryptically, dressing up words in poetic metaphor. The prince describes it as speaking in riddles.
    The little prince gazed at him for a long time.
    "You are a funny animal," he said at last. "You are no thicker than a finger..."
    "But I am more powerful than the finger of a king," said the snake.
    The little prince smiled.
    "You are not very powerful. You haven't even any feet. You cannot even travel..."
    "I can carry you farther than any ship could take you," said the snake.
    He twined himself around the little prince's ankle, like a golden bracelet.
    "Whomever I touch, I send back to the earth from whence he came," the snake spoke again. "But you are innocent and true, and you come from a star..."
    The little prince made no reply.
    "You move me to pity—you are so weak on this Earth made of granite," the snake said. "I can help you, some day, if you grow too homesick for your own planet. I can—"
    "Oh! I understand you very well," said the little prince. "But why do you always speak in riddles?"
    "I solve them all," said the snake.
    And they were both silent.
  • The Lord of the Rings:
    • Conversations between mortals of various stripes and Elves apparently tend to go like this a lot. After trying unsuccessfully to get useful information out of Gildor near the beginning of The Fellowship of the Ring, a very annoyed Frodo remarks that, "And it is also said, 'Go not to the Elves for counsel, for they will say both no and yes.'" Gildor, amused, replies that Elves tend to be cryptic because they believe giving clear advice one way or the other is dangerous, and it's best for people to figure things out for themselves.
    • Gandalf also loves being cryptic. Lampshaded by Aragorn at one point, saying "In one thing, you have not changed, my friend: you still speak in riddles."
  • In MARZENA we have Livia and Helena doing a little bit of Spy Speak and making several references to their first conversation making it also a Noodle Incident, and there's also a conversation between Lauren and Helena, where Helena attempts to Spy Speak to Dr. Lauren although the Doctor doesn't have a clue and just answer her questions straight up.
  • Weber & Ringo's novel We Few has a two-page conversation consisting of mixed allusions, metaphors, indirections, and double meanings. On the surface, it's about a meat supplier trying to get a contract with the Home Fleet. The subtext is that 1) the Prince has returned, 2) he is neither the useless playboy people remember him as nor the villain that the current powers are painting him as, 3) the current powers have turned the Queen into their puppet, 4) he is preparing to overthrow them, 5) he has support among some of the other fleets, 6) part of the plan involves assassinating the admiral of the Fleet, and 7) he is requesting that, once that happens, the Home Fleet support him or, at the least, stand aside.
  • The Stranger Times: "Flesh. Loves. Enter." Those three words are the only clue a certain ghost can give to her lover. While it may sound like Word-Salad Horror at first, it's actually a set of codewords that work in a geocode app to show her soul remnant's location.
  • Warrior Cats: For no discernible reason, StarClan is often cryptic when speaking to or giving prophecies to the Clans. This is lampshaded by Jayfeather in Shattered Sky when their advice for defeating Darktail is "the Clans must remember their names", and he complains about StarClan always being vague.
  • Subverted in The Way of Kings (2010), where Dalinar thinks he's receiving these kinds of answers from what turns out to be essentially a prerecorded message, asking it questions and taking whatever it says next as a cryptic response. This causes him to mistake with tragic results the advice "Yes, act with honor and honor will aid you." for an answer to the question of whether he should trust Sadeas, to which the correct answer is a resounding no.
  • In Worm, Taylor has one with Glaistig Uaine, who uses the metaphor of actors in a play to drop hints about the plot.
    • Tailor gets called out for doing this with a villain by one of her teammates, who doesn't know what she's talking about talking about either.
      Cuff: You're doing that crazy mastermind thing again.
      Taylor: Which crazy mastermind thing?
      Cuff: Where you talk to the other masterminds and one of you leaves something unsaid, and the other knows what that thing is without asking.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Happens annoyingly in the second season of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., when it's revealed that Agents Mack and Bobbi joined Team Coulson with a secret agenda of their own that they only talk about in vague terms. At one point, Bobbi is unsure about keeping her ex-husband Hunter out of the loop, and Mack gives her a nonsensical speech that ends in "...Maybe in the next world, we can all be friends again." Even if you rewatch the episode knowing Mack and Bobbi are part of secret faction within SHIELD that seeks to unseat Coulson as Director because they distrust him after he was resurrected with alien blood, Mack's speech STILL makes no sense.
  • Kosh from Babylon 5 exemplifies this trope, except that it's frequently hard to get him into a conversation at all. Here, take a read, it's hilarious.
    • What's scary? Many of them DO make sense in the end.
    • It seems to be a trait of Vorlons in general. After Kosh is killed, another Vorlon (named Ulkesh) arrives to take his place, with no one but the command staff supposed to know that this isn't the same "Kosh".
      Sheridan: Your government neglected to tell me your name.
      Ulkesh: Kosh.
      Sheridan: Uh, yes, I understand that's how we're supposed to address you publicly, but privately? What should we call you?
      Ulkesh: Kosh.
      Ivanova: Ambassador Kosh... is dead.
      Ulkesh: We are all Kosh. [walks away]
      Sheridan: Well, he's a Vorlon, alright.
      Ivanova: Yup.
  • The Hybrids in Battlestar Galactica are the CPU of the Cylon Basestars. They all speak in surreal phrases which mix ship status reports, poetry, quasi-biblical verse, and ominous prophecy on current events. Of course, they're insane, so it's not like they have a choice in delivery. However, the eldest Hybrid was scarily lucid, and gave pretty concrete prophecy and warnings.
  • Buffy the Vampire Slayer:
    • Angel in the first few episodes. Appears out of the darkness, says something cryptic, then disappears.
      • She lampshades it nicely, with 'you couldn't just say it's a vampire with a fork?'
    • Pretty much all Whistler ever says.
  • Doctor Who:
    • "Rose": The Doctor explains why he doesn't give out a proper name thusly:
      The Doctor: Do you know like we were saying, about the earth revolving? It's like when you're a kid, the first time they tell you that the world is turning and you just can't quite believe it 'cause everything looks like it's standing still. I can feel it... the turn of the earth. The ground beneath our feet is spinning at a thousand miles an hour. The entire planet is hurtling around the sun at sixty seven thousand miles an hour. And I can feel it. We're falling through space, you and me, clinging to the skin of this tiny little world. And, if we let go... That's who I am. Now forget me.
    • "The Stolen Earth"/"Journey's End" had the Mad Oracle Dalek Caan in this role.
      Dalek Caan: He is coming. The threefold man... he dances in the lonely places...
    • "The Big Bang": During the Doctor's conversation with River at the end, he's left baffled because she talks in mystery terms to avoid spoilers.
  • Pretty much every line in Lost.
    • Lost is this trope.
    • But no scene in Lost better demonstrates this trope than the opening of the season 5 finale, in which Jacob and a currently unnamed man casually discuss the usage of human beings as pawns in some kind of battle of wills on the island.
  • Father Mulcahy tries this strategy several times on M*A*S*H in order to give another character vital information without revealing what someone told in in confession. One led to him and Klinger getting shot at while trying to retrieve penicillin stolen by the black market, and worse Klinger ripping his skirt.
  • In Merlin (2008), Trickster Mentor Kilgarrah loves this trope, always promising Merlin that "you will discover in time, young warlock," or somesuch.
  • Skins: In season 2, Cassie exchanges one with her teacher during her final exam. It ends with them dancing on Funkytown.
  • Oma Desala in Stargate SG-1.
    • Pretty much anything to do with the Ancients or other Ascended beings, as evidenced by Daniel when he got ascended for a season, to name one example.
    • This appears, on some level, to be because of the "rules" of being Ascended, which includes not being able to directly interfere, which probably extends to just spitting things out.
    • Lampshaded when he uses one of Oma's particularly confusing statements ("If you immediately know the candlelight is fire, then the meal was cooked a long time ago") to test a fake version of Oma taken from his memories: since he never figured out what the hell Oma was talking about, the fake Oma didn't know what it meant either.
      O'Neill: No, I'm all for subtlety but that is downright encrypted.
  • Star Trek: The Next Generation: Darmok, and Jalad... at Tanagra.
    • Though TNG has many examples of this (The Samaritan Snare and Rascals immediately spring to mind), Darmok might not qualify. The alien species were speaking quite plainly; it is just that they speak a different language, built around a radically different communications phenotype.
  • Parodied in That Mitchell and Webb Look where a generic evil genius is giving vague commands to his minions until one of them objects on the basis that it's confusing. And brings up the time they spent months actually hoping a guy would have an accident instead of arranging one.
  • Twin Peaks; The owls are not what they seem.
    • Twin Peaks is Cryptic Conversation: The Show. There have been entire books written about what a large portion of the dialogue actually means. Also this gets ramped up in Twin Peaks: The Return.

  • In the song "Witch Doctor" by Ross Bagdasarian, Sr., the "advice" that the witch doctor gives the man for winning the girl's heart is really just gibberish note  but he apparently he sees some meaning in it, even if the listeners can't.

    Puppet Shows 

    Tabletop Games 
  • A lot of Forgotten Realms sources used this.
    • The best case may be this Mintiper's tetrastich. It ostensibly speaks about the beauty of the forest, for those in the know hints at a weird magical artifact, and "mantle" as an elven type of personal magical defences in Forgotten Realms. With a straight, but obscure reference to the matter at the end. Also may be misinterpreted as a reference to another artifact and comparison with elven royals who tend to practice High Magic.
  • In Paranoia, the GM may narrate this way to help keep the PCs in the dark:
    PC: (in a vehicle with unlabeled controls and no manual) I press button #5.
    [The vehicle drops anchor entirely normally.]
    GM: Sounds like something big just fell off.

  • In BIONICLE, this drives Kopaka nuts. Every second character he comes across talks this way.
    Kopaka: I swear one day a villain will give a straight answer to a straight question and when it happens I'll be so shocked I'll—
    Pohatu: Crack a smile?

    Video Games 
  • Assassin's Creed: Altair is always on the end of these and is clearly shown as being irritated by it. He eventually calls Al-Mualim out on this.
    Altair: [very agitated] You speak in circles, master! You praise me for being observant then tell me not to be! What is the aim of this?!
  • In Baldur's Gate, you can carry one with a shady individual in one of the eponymous city's inn. The only way to end it is to acknowledge that you have no idea what you are talking about. The rogue expresses surprise, with a hint of respect, that you were able to fake the conversation for so long and then disappears, never to be seen again...
  • Used constantly in BlazBlue by Jubei and Rachel. Lampshaded just as much by Ragna:
    Ragna: I have no freaking clue what you're saying. Can you speak in human for me?
  • Between levels in Bomb Chicken, you're taken to a room with a giant statue of a bird, and treated to a cryptic quote from an unknown source. They don't really make much more sense once you reach the end of the game. The source of the voice is apparently the final boss — a horribly mutated chicken that also lays bombs.
  • In Brutal Orchestra, Osman Sinnoks speaks in terms that the player is never given direct connection to in-game. Nowak and Bosch are also just as confused, but when they state that they have no desire to die, the conversation turns threatening and a fight commences.
  • The Praetorian Resistance in City of Heroes communicates entirely in a metaphor- and symbol-ridden argot that is difficult at best to decipher. One Resistance contact with whom players may interact is so deep into their lingo that he is all but incomprehensible — despite the fact that he's handing out mission assignments.
  • In The Darkside Detective, Agent McScream (the protagonist's evil double from the Dark World) speaks almost entirely in vaguely ominous utterances.
  • Deltarune:
    • Many instances of Production Foreshadowing in Undertale built up to an entity implied to be Dr. Gaster hijacking the official Twitter account and inviting the audience for a "very, very interesting" experiment where they must accept everything that follows from that point on. The player's SOUL is introduced into the game as they help "The Voice" create a vessel in a ominous void of darkness. As soon as they're done, what seems like a second unknown Voice claims the player has no choice in the matter and uncerimoniously discards the vessel to force the SOUL into the role of Kris.
    • When Jevil is defeated, he cryptically speaks about the Knight, Queen and the fountains of darkness. Talking to Seam after this will have him talk about their shared past, and imply it was Dr. Gaster who informed Jevil about the true nature of the world, making his views "darker yet darker".
    • Spamton speaks in a bizarre self-censored language and appears to be constantly watched by someone who keeps him from explaining too much to Kris. At one point he confusingly speaks of somebody named "Mike" to Kris like the man's a villain, but the Spamton Sweepstakes clarifies Mike was a friend and somebody named "Tenna" is their shared enemy. Once you defeat Spamton, you can talk to the Addisons about him and one cryptically mentions Spamton hastily leaving a phone hanging with somebody still speaking on the other side. But when the Addison picked it up, there was nothing but "garbage noise" — the same one Kris can hear on their own phone in the dark worlds. The same one from Dr. Gaster's Entry #17...
    • There are lines of "unused" dialogue in the game's code from somebody trapped in the darkness. In-game, they end up using Spamton as a medium at one point. The salesman pretends nothing happened, but then adds it looked like they were talking to "you".
    • Onionsan tells Kris about investigating a mysterious song that comes from the sea. A strangely familiar song that is "not new", as in, the one mentioned by the River Person back in Undertale.
    • The Spamton Sweepstakes donation event ended with a disembodied voice attempting to convince the audience to kick Spamton out of the spotlight and silence him forever, saying he isn't any better than the rest of them.
    • A 2024 Valentine's Day newsletter to players came with a variety of postcards from various characters, including a mysterious "illegible" letter that is conveyed to the reader's heart in All Caps text and disappears after being read (the file was replaced by a blank card shortly afterwards). It could be from Dr. Gaster due to the letter's nature, the writer's strange remarks and how they acknowledge Deltarune itself but it doesn't match his usual mannerisms — particularly in the Japanese version of the card. The author mentions they need to help somebody that, ironically enough, they have forgotten about. Was it themself? Well, peharps... Then they bid farewell with an odd typo: "GOOD BY!"
  • Subverted hilariously in Dragon Age: Origins. The PC is performing contract kills for an assassin guild. She or he corresponds with a messenger from the guild who constantly speaks in cryptic messages. By choosing the correct dialogue options and acting confused as to what the messenger means, the PC can eventually frustrate the messenger enough that he says (and I paraphrase), "Yes, yes, you kill the target, you get the reward!" Whereas before, he only alluded to it.
    • Played straight with Flemeth. Practically every conversation with her has her speaking in riddles and chiding you for acting like you understand what she's truly talking about. She gets no better when dealing with Hawke in Dragon Age II.
    • Similarily, the petrified oracle Eleni Zinovia is incredibly cryptic. In the Mage origin, Jowan dismisses the statue's prophecies as nonsense.
    • Sandal occasionally utters these in Dragon Age II. "One day, the magic will come back, all of it. Everyone will be as they once were. When he rises, all will see." It doesn't appear to foreshadow anything that happens in Dragon Age II, but perhaps someday we'll see...
  • Most characters from Drowned God: Conspiracy of the Ages speak like this by default, usually in metaphors and allusions to history, with many of them outright trying to deceive you. One of the biggest themes of the game is the covering-up of history, which the player must discover the truth behind by digging through every breadcrumb of story the game throws at you. Some characters like Baphomet, The Relic Hunter, and Horus are especially prone to this.
  • In Everhood, any encounter with The Voice qualifies, but especially so when it offers to tell you the Absolute Truths, which the voice cautions that learning might help or hurt you.
  • Ulysses of Fallout: New Vegas speaks entirely in metaphorical terms with heavy use of symbolism in his language. For example, he tends to refer to NCR and Caesar's Legion as the Bear and the Bull, the animals depicted on their respective flags.
  • The Vortigaunts from Half-Life 2 may qualify here, although it doesn't always take a theoretical physicist the figure out the meaning of their word play.
  • A lot of what White Face says in Imscared seemingly does not make a whole lot of sense. It is coherent, but it has little to no context or provocation, such as its excessive apologizing.
  • Kingdom Hearts employs this trope several times over the course of the series, especially in regards to optional bosses and secret endings that hint towards the next sequel.
    • Especially where Namine erases Sora and his friends' memories of their time together with her, the only remaining evidence being a cryptic line written in Jiminy Cricket's journal "Thank Namine" and "We must return to save them from their torment". The answer to the last line becomes a major focus of Kingdom Hearts coded
    • Doubly so in the Final Mix versions. The fact that there's a Optional Boss known by fans as the "Enigmatic Man" should be proof enough of this.
  • Parodied in Knights of the Old Republic II: The Sith Lords:
    Atton: Just so you Jedi know, the whole "cryptic routine" isn't mysterious, it's just irritating. If you really can see the future, you should be at the pazaak table.
    Exile: But to know the future, one must know yourself.
    Atton: What was that, some kind of joke? That's what I'm talking about. 'Jedi Talk.' You two should start your own little Jedi Academy.
    Exile: But to teach, one must be willing to learn.
    Atton: All right, all right! Cut it out, I get it, I get it. The last Jedi in the galaxy, I get the comedian who runs around in his underwear.
    • Played entirely straight with Kreia. Everything she says is open for interpretation, half-true, entirely true (but told in a misleading way), or heavily layered with her unique blend of Jedi and Sith ideas. Fifteen years after the game's release it's still a topic of debate as to what she knew or what her true motives were.
  • The "End Poem" in Minecraft has two disembodied voice saying seemingly meaningless things yet feel meaningful.
  • Yeesha of Myst V and Uru is the queen of this.
  • Everyone is cryptic in Persona 2. Including your own party members, who will wax introspective in minor conversations. The protagonist only avoids this by never talking.
  • In Pillars of Eternity, the gods (when the player speaks with them) are extremely fond of this, hinting and alluding without actually saying. Since the player finds out a secret about them that makes them much less impressive at the end of the game, most of them drop this in the sequel, Pillars of Eternity II: Deadfire. Rymrgand still keeps it up, even to his fellow gods, because he figures out what Eothas is up to well before any of his fellow deities, and supports it for entirely different reasons than Eothas is doing it.
  • It's more of a "cryptic monologue", but Tezkhra's thoughts in The Reconstruction often take the form of this, making vague references and trailing off before anything important is revealed.
  • The hidden terminals in Superhot. The Player Character uses them to ask the AI controlling superhot.exe questions, but the responses frequently raise more questions than they answer.
  • Undertale:
    • Sans often implies to the protagonist that he comes from somewhere other than the Underground, in a way that suggests he thinks the child should know what he's going on about. Convincing Sans to give his bedroom's key to the protagonist results in an elaborate prank where the kid walks aimlessly in the dark before Papyrus turns the lights on and the place is revealed to be messy but otherwise normal, with a note reading "the truth is that you got owned, nerd..." A second key left within reach unlocks the back room of Sans' house, which contains yet more mysterious items. This is all heavily implied to be Production Foreshadowing for Deltarune.
    • The hidden scenes regarding Dr. Gaster involve Glitch Entity characters cyptically describing how his consciousness got split across time and space. A report from him to two unknown people about an expanding darkness is only viewable via hacking. A Sound Test screen features melodies titled "Happy Town", "Meat Factory" and "Trouble Dingle" that are all overriden by "Gaster's Theme" before an entity thanks the player for their "feedback". Furthermore, the website for Deltarune was first launched shortly after the release of Undertale in secret with two ominous messages from Gaster to the players.
    • The "River Person" is a hooded person on a boat that serves as Fast Travel. They can randomly warn the protagonist about a "man who came from another world" (possibly Sans, considering his ramblings) and a "man who speaks in hands" (possibly Dr. Gaster, who speaks in uppercase Wingdings symbols that include hands). Sometimes they speak of an "old song coming from the sea", which is later mentioned by Onionsan in the setting of Deltarune.
    • A "Clam Girl" NPC insists that the protagonist should meet their neighbor "Suzy" and that it might be the reason the kid fell into the Underground to begin with. The Nintendo Switch port modifies the scene so that she laments how the protagonist never met Suzy... before adding that they will soon enough and changing into a Glitch Entity before disappearing. The first demo for Deltarune, where Susie is a major character, was released shortly afterwards.
    • One update added a cryptic message from a certain entity to somebody unknown that can only be read by datamining the game's code. Version 1.05A included an additional line reading "HE IS" before version 1.06 immediately removed it. The greeting and mannerisms suggest this is Chara, the Fallen Child talking, but if so, just who is it that they of all people would show such deference to?
      "Greetings. You have made yourself completely clear. Understood. I, your humble servant, will follow you to the utmost..."
  • At the ending of XCOM: Enemy Unknown final boss skirts around this; laying out quite simply how all the various factions in the Alien Hierarchy came to exist but being overly vague as to why they exist or why they attacked Earth in the first place. Perhaps it's a Sequel Hook.
  • Taken to truly absurd levels with the Gazel Ministry in Xenogears, who spend hours upon hours discussing whether this or that character has helped or hindered their plan that they exhaust a thesaurus alluding to without actually describing.

    Web Original 
  • Rainbow Dash Reads Homestuck parodies this; an asker asked something with a lot of *spoilers* so Rainbow replied with *spoilers*.
  • Invoked, requested, and lampshaded here in Homestuck:
    John: do you think that instead of telling me exactly why that is with a clear explanation, you can give me a series of really coy riddles about it and then sort of giggle?
    Nannasprite: When you pass through the first gate, everything will change. You will find the place where the constellations dance beneath the clouds. And then your true work may begin. Hoo hoo hoo!
    John: i suddenly understand everything!
  • Shortly before the main plot of Archipelago gets underway, Dream Weaver Paollo tries to send Credenza a warning about the Big Bad and his plans. When she has no clue who or what he's talking about, he expresses his frustration with the trope:
    Paollo: Darnit, what's the point of being omniscient when no one else is?
  • Ash & Cinders heavily indulges in this trope. It frequently happens whenever Orym and Thavian share a scene. There's even an entire chapter devoted to one of them.
  • Broken Saints can be heavy on this, particularly from the Big Bad.
  • Camdrome: A lot of Camdrome's answers are very cryptic and vague, and much of his replies come in a coded fashion featuring simple sentences, if any words at all. Later on in the game a trapped player using Camdrome's account was only able to discuss their situation through the use of YouTube video titles.
  • In The Gamer's Alliance, Taliesin talks to Leon about the Laws of the Andain by using riddles because he feels every Andain must figure out the laws and the true meanings behind the words themselves with no outside help.
  • At the beginning of Godslave's chapter 2, Heru and Oziris are shown talking briefly in manner just clear enough to let us know that Oziris is aware of what's going on, but not nearly enough for us to figure out why recent events are bad news.
  • In Gunnerkrigg Court Annie once asks Coyote what the Court is, and he replies "It is man's attempt to become God." Coyote immediately lampshades this by asking Ysengrim if it's a sufficiently cryptic answer, to which Ysengrim replies "Very cryptic. It barely answers anything at all." and Annie appends that it just raises more questions. Coyote of course, being a Trickster God, was going for this exactly and is delighted that it was so vague.
  • Discussed in The Order of the Stick, where Tarquin notes that the fact that his team is not speaking cryptically in regards to Malack's vampirism means that it's highly likely that the protagonists already found out about it.
  • Kor Icomb of Skies Unbroken tends to have these with a supernatural being known as Lady Luck. Compare and contrast Cosmic Plaything.
  • xkcd plays this trope off of several others in the "Race" story arc.
    Nathan: I'm down. Tell Summer 'The chickens are in the hayloft. Plan Gamma is a go.'
    Jewel: She says 'Plan Gamma acknowledged. The meercats are in the bag.'
    Nathan: ...
    Jewel: So we're good?
    Nathan: Hard to tell with her. Do you see an actual bag of meercats?
    Jewel: No.
    Nathan: Then we're probably good.

    Western Animation 

Good conversation.
Is that what this was?


Video Example(s):


Ms. Chatham

Ms. Chatham gives Cleo some very unspecific advice on what to expect from the full moon. Cleo takes the warning seriously, but repeating the warning doesn't make Rikki or Emma particularly concerned.

How well does it match the trope?

5 (5 votes)

Example of:

Main / CrypticConversation

Media sources: