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Trope n. A conceptual figure of speech, a storytelling shorthand for a concept that the audience will recognize and understand instantly.

A trope commonly seen in trailers for movies and video games as well as in the actual material where one of the first things shown to the viewer is the definition of an existing but uncommon word or one that solely exists within the fictional universe portrayed. Either way, the word tends to be central to the story. The definition tends to be formatted as if coming straight out of a dictionary or encyclopedia and may include a reference to an actual in-universe book.

Starting a speech with a dictionary definition is widely considered to be a lame way to format an introduction. It's a stock gag for a speech to start this way to signal that it's low-effort or foolish. A common variant is to have the speaker define a similar but completely different word by mistake.

Oftentimes the word will be an Arc Word.

Sub-Trope of Epigraph. Compare From the Latin "Intro Ducere".


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    Anime & Manga 

    Films — Animation 
  • The teaser trailer for Disney's Zootopia has the word "anthropomorphic" appear in large Courier typeface, which Nick (the red fox character) pushes away. The narrator defines it as "a big, fancy word that means they walk around on two feet, they do not go to work nude ..." as key words from the definition appear on screen in the same type face. The definition never appears in its entirety as an actual dictionary entry though.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Dogma opens with "Disclaimer: 1) a renunciation of any claim to or connection with; 2) disavowal; 3) a statement made to save one's own ass."
  • Pacific Rim showed translations for the Japanese word "Kaiju" and the German word "Jaeger", the names for the monsters and mechas respectively.
  • Pulp Fiction opens with both definitions of the word "pulp".
  • Sicario opens with a black screen explaining in text what "sicario" means (it comes from a fanatical sect of Jews who knifed Roman occupiers and their collaborators in Judea, and it has come mean "hitman" in Mexico), though it's not in a dictionary structure.
  • Twister opened with the dictionary definition of a tornado.
  • The trailer for Vertigo opens with a zoom-up on the description of "Vertigo" in a dictionary.
  • Alfred Hitchcock was also responsible for an Older Than Television example in Sabotage, with a close-up of a printed dictionary definition of "sabotage" at the very beginning.
  • The Aggression Scale opens with the dictionary definition of "aggression scale": a four-part behavior rating scale used to evaluate and document the “frequency and severity” of aggressive episodes. The rating scale is made up of four categories; verbal aggression, aggression against objects, aggression against self, and aggression against others.
  • Played for Laughs with the intro to Bubba Ho Tep. The film starts with a definition of the Ancient Egyptian word "Hotep"... then defines the word "Bubba".

  • Dragon Bones starts with "Hurog means dragon" under the chapter title, and the protagonist repeats the definition in an inner monologue on the second page. It foreshadows much of the plot.
  • David Weber's The Apocalypse Troll uses definitions from the fictional "Webster-Wangchi Unabridged Dictionary of Standard English" as chapter epigraphs.
  • The eighth Alex Rider book, Crocodile Tears, starts with a definition of its title as its epigraph. This was done at the insistence of author Anthony Horowitz's publishers, who felt the phrase was not in common use and most readers wouldn't understand what it meant, and initially wanted him to change the title completely. They eventually backed down but insisted on the inclusion of the definition at the beginning.
  • InCryptid novels often start this way. For example, the first book has this before the prologue:
Cryptid, noun:
1. Any creature whose existence has been suggested but not proven scientifically. Term officially coined by cryptozoologist John E. Wall in 1983.
2. That thing that's getting ready to eat your head.
3. See also: "monster."

    Live-Action TV 
  • Code Black opens with a definition of its title. ("An influx of patients so great, there aren't enough resources to treat them all.") It then explains that while the average ER is in Code Black five times a year, the hospital where the show takes place experiences that three hundred times a year.
  • Every episode (there may have been exceptions) of CSI: Cyber opened with a hacking term significant to the episode and its definition.
  • Halt and Catch Fire opens with the definition of its title:
    An early computer command that sent the machine into a race condition, forcing all instructions to compete for superiority at once.
    Control of the computer could not be regained.
  • The Mentalist season 1 starts with a black screen with the following text slowly fading in:
    mentalist /'men-te-list/ noun. Someone who uses mental acuity, hypnosis and/or suggestion. A master manipulator of thoughts and behavior.
  • Season 2 of SeaQuest DSV opens with the dictionary entry for "dagger", as that word has gained a new meaning by the time the show takes place:
    1. a short, pointed, sharp-edged weapon used for stabbing. 2. a reference mark used in printing. 3. a genetically engineered life form manufactured in the early 21st century. see dark age of genetics.

  • PDF liner notes for the MP3 album Requiem Reimagined open with the definitions of the two words:
    req´ · ui · em — a musical composition setting parts of a requiem Mass, or of a similar character. An act or token of remembrance.
    re · im · ag´ · ine — reinterpret (an event, work of art, etc.) imaginatively; rethink.
  • The first teaser for the music video of BTS's "FAKE LOVE" (which contains scenes only made for the teaser itself) opens with the definition of "Magic Shop" (also one of the songs from the album "FAKE LOVE" comes from, LOVE YOURSELF: Tear), introducing the themes of the album as well as the themes of the story of the music video within this part of the BTS Universe:
    'Magic Shop' is a psychodramatic technique that exchanges fear for a positive attitude.
  • Evillious Chronicles: The music video of "Gift from the Princess Who Brought Sleep" opens with an entry from an English-to-Japanese dictionary defining the word "gift", which is also the Gratuitous English Arc Word of the song. Or so it seems. About halfway through the video, the dictionary entry is shown again, only to be replaced with a German-to-Japanese dictionary entry — and in German, "Gift" means "poison".
  • "Weird Al" Yankovic's music video for the song "Word Crimes" is filled with dictionary imagery. Appropriate because it is all about common cases of poor spelling and grammatical mistakes in emails.

  • Early videocassette releases from Cabin Fever Entertainment had their Vanity Plate preceded by the definition for "cabin fever".

    Video Games 
  • The Hope trailer for The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings.
    WITCHERS, so called by the Nordlings (q.v.), were an elite and mysterious caste of warrior-monks. They are portrayed in popular lore as possessing magic powers and superhuman abilities. W. were believed to combat evil spirits, beasts and all manner of dark forces. In reality (...) w. served the monarchs of the North in the tribal wars they waged against one another.
  • The trailer for the 3DS remake for Xenoblade Chronicles 1.
    The Monado - a divine sword capable of disturbing the very fabric of existence.
  • Astral Chain: Each chapter is given a one-word title. Accompanying each title is a definition for the word used on the title card.
  • Xenophobe displays this text during Attract Mode, and, with slightly different wording, on the arcade cabinet's control panel as well:
    XENOPHOBE (zē-nō-fōb)
    One who has a deathly fear of anything alien
  • The U.S. cover for Odium includes a dictionary definition of the title (and the title itself is spelled with accent marks and a syllable divider, the way it would be in a dictionary headword):
    ōdi∙um n. def. - hate coupled with disgust
  • PataNoir starts with the word "pataphor" being defined ("an extended metaphor that creates its own context"). The game revolves around picking up and using stuff that's described in similes, so it makes sense.

    Web Original 
  • Ken Block's very first Gymkhana video presented this over the screen before Ken first shot off on a souped-up Subaru:

    An automotive sport that takes place on an open field or parking lot and requires drivers to skillfully maneuver their cars around a series of cones, slaloms, 180 degree turns, 360 degree turns, figure eight turns or other obstacles using extreme acceleration, braking, and drifting.

    Similar to "autocross", Gymkhana courses are often very complex and memorizing the course is a significant part of achieving a fast time.

    Ken wanted to take this concept further and on a larger scale for his practice and testing, and this is the result...
  • Whateley Universe: In Test Tube Babies:
    ‘test’: n., an examination or evaluation
    ‘tube’: n., slang term for television or video-related imagery
    ‘babies’: n., colloquially, neophytes or tyros
  • Yu-Gi-Oh! The Abridged Series: The Pyramid of Light movie starts with giving the definition of "abridged", then of Yu-Gi-Oh!.note 

In-Universe Examples:

    Live-Action TV 
  • In The Office (US), Michael starts off his speech with, "Webster's Dictionary defines 'wedding' as 'the fusing of two metals with a hot torch.'" He's clearly mistaken the definition of "welding" for "wedding."
  • In Friends: Rachel starts out a speech with, "Webster's Dictionary defines 'marriage' as... Okay, forget that! That sucks! Okay? Never mind! Forget it!"
  • In Community, Jeff starts a wedding speech with "Webster's Dictionary defines 'marriage' as-" before being booed and shouted down by his friends for such a lame opening.
    Annie: "Webster's Dictionary defines"? That's the Jim Belushi of speech openings. It accomplishes nothing, but everyone keeps using it and nobody knows why.
  • Childrens Hospital has a character mistake "love" for "louver" in a speech: "Webster's Dictionary defines 'love' as a roof lantern or turret, often with slatted apertures for escape or smoke or admission of light in a medieval building."
  • Parks and Recreation: Leslie starts to make a speech like this but runs out of time: "At first glance, it may seem as though Ron Swanson and I have nothing in common, but Webster's dictionary defines 'friend'—"
  • Yellowjackets: Ally makes the questionable decision to cite "" for the definition of "reunion" at the start of her 25-year high school reunion speech.
  • Barry: As part of the montage of Barry's classmates giving ill-advised tributes to Ryan during his memorial, Natalie begins a eulogy by citing the definition of 'death' from Webster's Dictionary.

    Western Animation 
  • This is a recurring gag on The Simpsons:
    • Joe Frazier starts out his speech to give Homer a fake award with, "Webster's Dictionary defines 'excellence' as 'the quality or condition of being excellent.' And now the winner of the first annual Montgomery Burns Award for Outstanding Achievement in the Field of Excellence."
    • In "Treehouse of Horror IV," Lionel Hutz uses this trope at the beginning of his opening remarks trying to invalidate Homer's contract with the devil: ""But I ask you, what is a contract? Webster's defines it as 'an agreement under the law which is unbreakable.' Which is un-breakable! ... Excuse me. I must use the restroom."
    • When Homer begins a lecture on how to maintain a successful marriage, he begins, ""Now, what is a wedding? Well, Webster's Dictionary describes a wedding as 'the process of removing weeds from one's garden.'"
    • In "Simprovised," Homer attempts to improvise the opening of his speech with, "Webster's Dictionary defines... a speech as a... series of words that... (murmuring) elo... quently..."
  • Family Guy: Chris begins his campaign speech for homecoming king with, "Webster's dictionary defines 'smegma' as 'a sebaceous, cheese-like substance around the head of the penis.'