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Emotionally Tongue-Tied

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"If I were to say s——something apologetic... it would reflect my feelings in the matter... accurately."
Valentine, MirrorMask

Talking can be hard, especially if you're speaking from the heart. Of course, this tendency is often played up in fiction to the point where characters find themselves unable to even say a particularly emotionally charged word or phrase, often an apology or declaration of love. This may be because it goes against the character's self-image, or simply because they're shy in general. This trait in Anime is most commonly associated with the Tsundere (particularly Type A) and the Dandere.

Supertrope to I "Uh" You, Too, Gibberish of Love, and Starstruck Speechless. Compare to Cannot Spit It Out and Gagging on Your Words.


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    Anime and Manga 
  • In omake materials for Puella Magi Madoka Magica, Homura finds herself unable to write a Valentine card because she overthinks her feelings.
  • Ranma ½:
    • In the manga version of the Shinnosuke/Ryugenzawa story arc, Ranma is hit with a severe case of this when, for once, he's trying to be nice to Akane and speak from his heart, and he's utterly frustrated that he can't say a single word.
    • When Ranma deeply hurts Akane's feelings in the Battle Dogi arc, he tries to apologize to her and sincerely say that he thought she looked cute. He stutters on "cute" for a while, before finally just screaming it in frustration. Much to his dismay, she thinks he's lying when he finally manages to get the word out.

  • Jon in Garfield has a really serious case of this. He can't even say it when his Love Interest is not present!
  • Sonic the Comic: In issue #76, when Porker Lewis quits the Freedom Fighters, Sonic is angry at him, Nigel Kitching explains in a forum post that this was "because he didn't want Porker to go - not because he despised him for his cowardice but because he was just so desperate for Porker to stay. It's just Sonic's inability to express his feelings get him so screwed up."

    Fan Works 
  • Child of the Storm has Harry unable to spit out his Love Confession to Carol thanks to this, and he instead resorts to saying "as you wish". Being a Pop-Cultured Badass, she figures it out very quickly - and is just as tongue-tied herself. Given that both have issues with emotional openness, this isn't surprising.
  • When Sephiroth tries to apologize to Cloud for triggering him and instigating a fight in The Fifth Act, he's at a loss for what to do because he's never had to apologize for anything.
  • In the Contractually Obligated Chaos series, Beetlejuice can't handle any kind of emotional speech, although he and the object of his affections work out a suitable I "Uh" You, Too that serves the purpose. It's eventually clarified that he is literally physically incapable of expressing emotions in words, at least most of the time. As the Mr. Exposition of the series says, "The more he feels, the less he articulates."
  • In the Dragon Age: Inquisition AU story Beyond Heroes, Varric has this as one of his issues. More specifically, he has issues with the word 'love' in a romantic sense, since The First Cut Is the Deepest.
  • Duran And Kiyohime's Omake Theater: Natsuki has a bit of difficulty expressing her feelings to Shizuru. In Chapter 92. she tries to write a poem for Shizuru. Shizuru is flattered by the mere effort, but Natsuki is flustered and embarrassed. She ends up going on a rant about Shizuru's teasing, and how romantic gestures always come easily to her while Natsuki always messes up saying "I love you"
    Shizuru: You didn't just then.
  • Olive's Last Partner:
    • Oscar is rendered speechless when Olive tops off her Not-So-Final Confession to him and breaks down crying onto his shoulder. Once he remembers Otto's tenth birthday party and how he hid under the table to avoid answering Otto's question of whom Olive's last partner is, he snaps out of it and decides to answer her with his own Not-So-Final Confession.
    • In Chapter 5, Oscar tries to tell Olive that what he said in the Boiler Room was completely genuine, but he can't muster up the ability to form a coherent sentence and keeps cutting himself off out of nervousness. Lucky for him, he doesn't have to finish, as Olive understands what he's saying and tells him that she too spoke from the heart.
    • After the events of "Skip Day", with Otto rescuing a sick Olive from skydiving out of a plane without a parachute and falling to her death, Olive explains to Oscar what happened when she becomes cured of the Skips thanks to Oscar speeding up the time in the lab's quarantine room. He's so taken aback by the fact that Olive nearly died that he can't form a single word and finds himself hugging her tightly instead.

  • In Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Johnny Depp's Willy Wonka has extreme difficulty with words such as "parent", "family", "mother", or "father". But, weirdly, not "mom and dad."
  • The Collector in Demon Knight tries to propose to Jeryline. His attempts are hampered by his complete inability to say the word "love".
  • Otto from A Fish Called Wanda has this problem with "sorry." (At least when he's not actually sorry: When he beats the living crap out of Archie after mistaking him for a burglar, he says "sorry" very easily.)
  • Sam from Ghost (1990) can only say "ditto" instead of "I love you." Inverted in the end, when he's the one who says "I love you" to Molly when he departs to the afterlife and she replies with "ditto".
  • Simon from Love, Simon, after learning that Martin is blackmailing him, asks if Martin’s going to tell everyone that he’s gay — but can’t even say that he’s gay. He just stutters over it before amending it to leaking his emails.
    Simon: What if I say no, Martin? I mean, w-what are you gonna do? Gonna tell the whole school that I'm g-g-g— You're gonna leak my emails?
  • Valentine in MirrorMask is incapable of saying "sorry", even when he's apologizing to the heroine after betraying her. In fact, he's been unable to patch up his relationship with his tower (don't ask) for some time, because they had a fight once and "Valentines never apologize." However, when it becomes a matter of life and death, he is able to overcome his pride and say sorry. When we finally meet Other Valentine, he apologizes quite freely for things like accidentally bumping into people.
    • This also applies to Helena, who can't bring herself to actually apologize after being rude to her mother. It is quite notable that the "Get Well Soon" card she gives has a drawing of Valentine's tower on it.
  • The Village (2004): Lucius has the hardest time sharing his feelings for Ivy, but when he does, he spits it out.

  • In the Discworld novel The Fifth Elephant, Angua's werewolf parents have trouble with the syllable "vet". This makes diplomacy with the Ankh-Morpork patrician Lord Vetinari very difficult.
  • Felix from Doctrine of Labyrinths finds apologizing painful to the point where he gags on his words. On one memorable occasion, when he forces himself to apologize to his brother, he's described looking like he's barely suppressing a screaming tantrum. People are so used to him making vague non-apologies that when he says he's sorry for real, they are visibly dumbstruck, but it only really happens when he's done something so heinous he has no choice, or when he's having a mental breakdown.
  • At the end of the novelization of The Fugitive, Kimble tries to express his gratitude to Gerard, realizing that Gerard now knows that he's innocent and will be his ally in proving this, but finds himself unable to speak.
  • The focus of the poem i gave up on trying to write about you is the author trying to express the depth of her romantic feelings, and failing completely; everything she can think of is either cliched or sounds stupid. In the end, she gives up, saying simply:
    maybe i'll just cut the crap
    and let you know that
    i love you.
  • Six of Crows: Kaz cannot tell Inej how he feels, sometimes opting to say ridiculous things like telling her that crows have no manners because she's taken his breath and train of thought. But he can't say that, of course!
    Wylan: Why won't he just say he wants her back?
    Jesper: You've met Kaz, right?

    Live-Action TV 
  • In The Adventures of Superman episode "The Human Bomb", Jimmy Olsen has a difficult time saying "I love you" to his girlfriend.
    Jimmy: Miriam, I may not be able to keep our date tonight. No, not the next night either. Maybe never — but I want you to know...Miriam, you know what I mean.
  • Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Giles can't form the words to ask Jenny out, but has no trouble with words like 'amenable' and 'indecorous'.
  • Multiple examples of this trope are mixed in with the thick Belligerent Sexual Tension between Castle and Beckett in Castle. Some are almost painful to watch.
    Castle: If—if anything happens to her... it... [sighs]
    Martha: [his mother] Go on.
    Castle: I-I...
    Martha: Oh, Richard, Richard. For a man who makes a living with words, you sure have a hell of a time finding them when it counts.
  • Sam and Diane on Cheers encounter a similar problem. Although, Sam actually has no trouble saying the word "love" ... except when he means it.
  • In The Colbert Report parody of Bill O'Reilly's "We'll do it live!" outburst, Stephen's rage is triggered by having to read out the words "I'm sorry".
  • Community does this with Annie. She interrupts Troy and Randi's date to tell Troy she has feelings for him.
    Annie: NO! Before you two proceed, I have one thing to say.
    [long pause]
    Troy: ...Did you... say it already?
  • Fonzie on Happy Days and his difficulties with the words "Love" and "Sorry," as well as the phrase "I was wrong."
  • In the Law & Order: UK episode following Alesha Philip's rape, her friend and co-worker DS Matt Devlin tries to chat with her and ask how she's doing, only to end up stumbling over his words. This is very significant considering how easily he flirted with her beforehand.
  • In the Leverage episode "The Double Blind Job", Parker, who often has trouble in social situations, can't quite bring herself to tell Hardison that she has feelings for him, and ends up blurting out "I have feelings for... pretzels." Unusually for this trope, Hardison knows exactly what she really means, and responds, "They're right here when you want them." This is later used as a cute Call-Back when, after defusing a bomb, she tells him that she is in the mood for pretzels.
  • Maynard G. Krebs, a beatnik in The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis, cannot bring himself to say the word "job." He also reacts with a terrified yelp to the word "work".
  • Al on Married... with Children, according to Peggy, has difficulty saying certain things, like "I love you", "thank you," and "look out, there's a car coming."
  • In Ned's Declassified School Survival Guide, Guide to: Bad Habits, Ned's bad habit was his inability to say no.
  • In Press Gang, Lynda and Spike are unable to bring themselves to say 'love' to each other and end up resorting to anagrams, declaring "I vole you".
  • In one episode of Psych, Shawn, inspired by a case he's working on, asks his father Henry that if he were dying and had only a few seconds to get a message to Shawn, what would it be? Henry admits that there is something he would want to say, but he spends so much time tap-dancing around it that Shawn gets fed up and leaves. It's only after Shawn is out of earshot that Henry admits that the message would be "I love you".
    • Later, after Henry has been shot and is unconscious, Shawn sits by his hospital bed and says:
      Shawn: I appreciate what you do...not always how you do it, but, you know, what you do is good. And I just—I don't think now is a good time for you to go, okay? That's all. And I love you...r french toast.
  • In Red Dwarf, Kryten has a similar, but opposite, problem. His programming means he readily apologises or admits fault, but leaves him incapable of calling Rimmer a sme... a smee... a smee heee...
  • David Rose from Schitt's Creek has a hard time apologizing in general and only really does so when he can't avoid it, but he finds it actively impossible to say the words "I'm sorry" to his sister Alexis (probably due to Sibling Rivalry) even when he clearly knows he's in the wrong. He has to be practically forced by Patrick into apologizing to her, and even then he does it in the vaguest way possible.
    David: I might have overreacted...and for that I am apologetic.
    Alexis:'re sorry?
    David: I am remorseful...over an action...I participated in.
  • Minor subversion: On Sports Night, Danny finds himself incapable of pronouncing the name of tennis player Yevgeny Kafelnikov and, convinced that he's suffering some kind of nervous breakdown, races to his psychologist where he actually has a breakthrough. Nevertheless, his psychologist points out that Yevgeny Kafelnikov is simply a very difficult name to say.
  • In the Stargate Atlantis episode "Sateda", while the two of them are on a mission to rescue Ronon, Sheppard tries to tell Teyla how much he cares about his friends but is so uncomfortable with it that she has to fill in words like "feelings" and "family" for him.
    Sheppard: Look, Teyla. I'm not really good at, uh... [pause] Actually, I'm — I'm terrible at expressing... I don't know what you'd call it, uh...
    Teyla: Feelings?
    Sheppard: Yeah, sure, OK. The point is, I don't really have good, uh...
    Teyla: Social skills.
    Sheppard: Well, that is why I enjoyed flying choppers in the most remote part of my world before all this craziness happened, but, uh, you should know, I don't have, uh...
    Teyla: Friends?
    [Sheppard looks at her indignantly]
    Sheppard: No, I have friends. [long pause] You, Elizabeth, Ronon, Carson, even Rodney, are the closest thing I have to a...
    Teyla: A family?
    Sheppard: [nodding] I'd do anything... for any one of you. If I had to give up my life the way Ronon was going to, I would.
    [Sheppard starts to walk away]
    Teyla: Thank you... for everything you meant to say.
  • Damon Salvatore of The Vampire Diaries has a problem with apologies under certain circumstances - he is willing to apologise on his own terms, but when another character requests or demands an apology from him, he rudely refuses, no matter how far in the wrong he is or how much trouble he could save himself and others by just giving in. Klaus Mikaelson is even worse - he is almost never able to make a sincere and non-sarcastic apology, even when he clearly wants to. At one point he basically admits that he wishes he knew how to make other people forgive him, but that he doesn't really know how to go about it.
  • The Wild Wild West: Artemus Gordon practically makes his living at never being lost for words. However, when it comes to asking a girl he loves to marry him in "The Night of the Big Blast," he just can't get it out.

    New Media 
  • In the RiffTrax dub of Twilight, since there were so many awkward silences in the film, the guys usually "fixed it" by saying "...Line?"

    Puppet Shows 

  • In some stage adaptations of The Hobbit, Thorin has trouble with saying Smaug's name. With the right actors, it leads to hilarity.

    Video Games 
  • In the Japanese version of Breath of Fire II, a clue as to the mercenary El (Farlan in the retranslation)'s true identity is the fact that he can't say the masculine pronoun "ore" without stuttering. In a rarely-seen cutscene, it's revealed that the mercenary is actually Princess Elfarlan herself.
  • In Dragon Age: Origins, romanced Alistair has a really hard time telling the female Warden that he wants to spend the night with her. He manages to explain that whenever she's around he feels like his head is about to explode, which - depending on the dialogue option chosen - can leave her feeling amused or insulted. He gets there eventually.
  • The infamous Highwind scene from Final Fantasy VII, where Cloud gets awkward expressing thanks to Tifa for being supportive of him. Tifa replies, "Words aren't the only way to convey your feelings."
  • In a Point-and-Click Game Innocent Until Caught, after you are bailed out of jail by Narm (no, really, that's his name), you have an option to thank him for it. The protagonist, after a few attempts, refuses, considering that Narm is life-defyingly stupid.
  • Kaidan if you decide to romance him in Mass Effect:
    Kaidan: Of course. You always leave a way out. That's what I lo- appreciate about you.
    Shepard: Galaxy in the balance and you trip talking to me.
  • An extreme version of this trope is Guybrush Threepwood in The Secret of Monkey Island, where he can't talk at all to Elaine Marley, instead muttering nonsensical gibberish.

    Visual Novels 
  • In Disgaea Infinite, Laharl has to be blackmailed by Etna into congratulating Flonne for becoming an Angel Trainee again. And when he does, the words barely come out of his mouth.

  • For the first year of Avalon, the characters seem (progressively less) unable to say the word "lesbian", which complicates Ceilidh's attempts to ascertain whether her best friend Phoebe is one (as rumor would have it). When she finally asks Ryan outright why he would ask out a lesbian, she learns all about what started the rumor, among other things. Unfortunately, by this time Ceilidh's constant innuendo has half the school — including Phoebe herself — convinced that she's a lesbian.
  • Dumbing of Age: Defied by Walky.
    Walky: Girls always say "I love you!" an' the dude is always "I can't say it for some dumb reason" — I mean, c'mon, dude, just say it. I'm so not making this a third-act climax sorta thing.
  • Happens in Homestuck when Jake outright asks whether Jane has a crush on him. She tries to dance around the subject, too nervous to answer yes, and when he pushes her she finally answers... "no". Hilarity Ensues. Also drama.
    • Also played for laughs with Caliborn, who by his own admission instinctively starts mashing keys whenever he is forced to type "love", "friend", or other related words.
  • In The Order of the Stick, Haley at one point becomes unable to speak intelligibly at all for some time until she expresses her feelings for Elan by an Anguished Declaration of Love.

    Web Original 
  • In Dragon Ball Z Abridged, Vegeta attempts to recruit the heroes for a fight he can't handle on his own any more than the heroes can. "Every fiber of my being wants to puke at once when I say this, but I need your heh... I need your he-eeh-eeeeh..." Gohan responds, "You need our help?" "That, yes."
  • Invoked in Legion of Net.Heroes; after a lengthy storyline in which Legionnaire Decibel Dude is framed for murder and hunted by the Legion, he shows up with the evidence to clear his name. LNH leader Ultimate Ninja attempts to apologize, but can't quite manage the word "sorry". After two or three attempts, Decibel Dude lets him off the hook.
  • Played for Laughs by The Nostalgia Chick. She literally gags on words like "nice" and "good".

    Western Animation 
  • The Amazing World of Gumball:
    • In "The Job", Nicole finds herself incapable of telling Richard that she's proud of him for getting a job as a pizza delivery man because she believes that he is not meant to have a job (which ultimately turns out to be true).
    • In "The Castle", Richard repeatedly struggles to say the word "no", even after he and the kids end up getting kicked out of the house by people taking advantage of his easygoing nature.
    • In "The Fuss", when Nicole realizes that it is not their anniversary and therefore has no reason to be angry with Richard for forgetting it, she has extreme difficulty admitting that she was wrong. Anais has to say it for her.
  • In Archer, Lana has trouble expressing direct affection for Cyril, partially because she's uncertain about commitment because of being hurt by Archer, and partially because she's not entirely sure how much she likes the dweebish but dependable (and well endowed) Cyril.
  • In one episode of the Beetlejuice cartoon, Lydia urges BJ to tell his brother, Donny, that he loves him. BJ is a little unsettled by the idea of using "the L-word," and struggles for a good minute before finally offering a compromise: "I don't... hate you like I used to." It's close enough for Donny.
  • In Bojack Horseman, the titular character is often this, as he struggles to express his emotions in a healthy or positive way after years of abuse by his parents. After accidentally dropping the "l-word" around his girlfriend Wanda, he immediately shouts, "No I don't!" and runs out of the house. When his ex-girlfriend asks him if he ever loved her, he initially says he doesn't "do the whole 'love' thing" before later admitting he loved her "as much as (he) was capable of loving anyone, which is never enough".
  • Foster's Home for Imaginary Friends: In "Where There's A Wilt, There's A Way", Wilt tries to watch the big basketball game, but keeps getting distracted because of his inability to say "no", and he ends up Missing the Good Stuff.
  • The Grim Adventures of Billy & Mandy: In the episode "Sickly Sweet," Billy and Grim stick the cursed Mask of the Beast on Mandy in an effort to make her be nice for a change... only Mandy is such a Jerkass that even something as simple as saying "please" is nearly impossible for her.
  • In The Looney Tunes Show episode "Newspaper Thief," Bugs throws an apology party for everything that Daffy has done over the years. When the time comes for Daffy to actually say he's sorry, he fails miserably.
    Bugs: You can't say it, can you?
    Daffy: I'm... solly.
    Bugs: (amazed) Did you just say you're solly?
    Daffy: I'm... soggy.
    Bugs: You're soggy?
    Daffy: I'm... sarming.
  • Metalocalypse: Saying "I'm sorry" is so difficult for Nathan Explosion that he vomits up blood.
  • Mickey Mouse (2013): The short "No" focuses on Mickey's inability to say "No" to his friends, leading Donald to teach him how. The plan works, only it works too well and causes Mickey to instinctively say "No" at times when he should have said "Yes".
  • In The Powerpuff Girls (1998) episode "Paste Makes Waste", Buttercup can't bring herself to say "I'm sorry" to another kid she was teasing for being a paste-eater. However, she's forced to when a fly infected with radioactive goo flies into his paste, tainting it and turns him into a giant glue monster. She struggles to say it the first time though it's still enough to get his attention and she's able to much better apologize to him.
    • This happens again at the end of "All Chalked Up" when Buttercup tries to apologize to Bubbles for smashing her chalk earlier. Bubbles interrupts before she can finish, saying she forgives her anyway.
  • The Simpsons: Marge Simpson had the same chronic doormat problem when Gill wouldn't leave their house.
  • In SpongeBob SquarePants, in the episode "Fools in April", Squidward has so much trouble telling SpongeBob he's sorry that it causes his head to explode.


Video Example(s):

Alternative Title(s): Vocabulary Avoidance



Three loves her big brother. Even though she thinks he's ugly.

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