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Expo Label

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Two Examples of an Expo Label, including this caption note 

As You Know, one of the more obnoxious side-effects of creating a believable world in Speculative Fiction is Expospeak. Aha! I've got it! An alternative to using a narrator (or making characters look bat-shit crazy as they stand around talking to themselves) is to label everything so clearly that the audience can tell what it is without further explanation! Everything shall be Exactly What It Says on the Tin!

Most ordinary things are not labeled like that in Real Life. While an Expo Label or two can help with the pacing, they can easily come across as silly and awkward.

On the other hand, various scientific and technical fields are notorious for labeling everything in sight. Console gauges, dials and switches are often clearly marked, with broken components tagged as such to reduce costly (or potentially lethal) operator errors. Programming courses actually encourage you to label every single thing you code. And, obviously, medicine bottles have to tell you what's contained in them and how frequently you take doses of said medicine.

Accordingly, the Big Red Button often has an Expo Label. Bonus points if it's handwritten on a piece of masking tape because the creator hasn't had the time or inclination to mount anything permanent. When it's a secret location that's being labeled, it's a Neon Sign Hideout.


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    Card Games 
  • Super Munchkin: One possible Origin involves stubbing one's toe on a "super enriched radioactive block of stuff", helpfully labeled as such.

    Comic Books 
  • ClanDestine (1994): Author (and secret Long-Lived superhuman) Walter Destine's coffee mug simply has MUG printed on it.
  • Superman:
    • The Immortal Superman: As Superman is observing the lifeless rock which Earth has become in the far future, two humongous robots arrive and start towing the planet away. Superman spots a label on their front sides that says "Galactic Sanitation Dept."
    • The Plague of the Antibiotic Man: Amalak's teleportation raygun is placed on top of a pillar neatly labeled "Teleportation Beam". Amusingly, he is his starship's only passenger, so he does not really need to mark anything.
    • The Supergirl-Batgirl Plot: In Gotham, there is a billboard placed right to an atomic reactor, which helpfully reads "Danger - Atomic reactor".
    • One issue has the Floating Anti-gravity Bed of Krypton. Lois Lane sleeps on it while in the Fortress of Solitude. Despite its label, she was still confused when she found it floating.
    • Sensor Autodog. It looks like a dog and is used by the Science Police to hunt criminals by scent.
    • Another issue has a Projector for Dematerializing Any Matter for One Minute. Perry White uses it and an invisibility belt, both from Superman's Superhero Trophy Shelf.
    • "Gang Lords' Clubhouse" in Supergirl (1972) #6. The cover shows the interior of a gang headquarters with one of the gang members kissing Supergirl.
    • After Superboy defeats the Luthor Android, he finds the labeled computer tapes inside it.
    • In a Supergirl story, she's shown working out on a machine labeled "Super Powers Tester" to check on her invulnerability, Super-Strength and heat vision abilities.
    • The Legion of Super-Heroes!: Lightning Lad, Saturn Girl and Cosmic Boy's desks have labels which helpfully show their names and powers.
    • Supergirl's Three Super Girl-Friends: Brainiac has neatly labeled the controls on his ship (his force-shield machine has written "Force-Shield Controls" on the forefront, and buttons are conveniently labeled "on" and "off"), even though he is the only who uses his equipment.
    • The Living Legends of Superman, Riley Bendix's spacecraft has helpfully written on one side: "Riley's Chariot".
    • "Superpussycat (formerly Superman) Habitat: Kryptonite Cage". Cover of Supermans Girlfriend Lois Lane #70. As Lois Lane and Catwoman fight, the cage containing Superman is shown nearby.
    • "Convention of Anti-Superman Gang". Cover of Superman's Pal, Jimmy Olsen #87. The title villains are shown voting whether Superman should be killed or not.
    • Action Comics #259: "Luthor Trap to Capture Superboy". Superboy, the narrator, and Luthor all lampshade how stupid Superboy walking into an obvious trap is.
    • "Tip of Mount Everest". A plane is shown approaching Mount Everest, with the pilot saying that they might have crashed into it if Superman hadn't put up the sign.
    • A Silver Age Jimmy Olsen story features him being chased by a helpfully-labelled robot specifically trained to smash cameras.
    • "News Machine". The title device is built into the side of a mountain. It shows an image of Jimmy Olsen crying, with two Humanoid Aliens commenting on it.
  • Strange Adventures #136, story "The Robot Who Lost Its Head". The cover shows a robot looking for its head on the labeled shelf.
  • The Flash:
    • The cover of The Flash Comics #52: The Mechanical Brain show the title device with the Flash and other characters running around it.
    • In the cover of The Flash #210, a giant robotic machine shows Abraham Lincoln being shot by John Wilkes the year 2971.
  • "Soundproof Gestapo Headquarters" in the cover of an issue of The Fighting Yank. For some reason the title headquarters has a sign that says it's soundproofed.
  • The cover of Young Allies #5 shows a motion picture camera with with this label to tell the audience how dangerous it is.
  • In The Black Terror #12, the cover shows the title hero fighting Japanese soldiers on the television with some children looking on.
  • In USA Comics #2, a horde of Nazi solders led by Adolf Hitler driving an underground boring machine crash into a tunnel helpfully labeled so the audience knows where it is.
  • Scott Pilgrim: Absolutely everywhere. The characters can see them as well.

    Comic Strips 
  • In Dilbert:
    • Somebody had to go around putting labels on things like coffee pots to comply with the ISO 9000 labeling standards. He also had "Stupid Label Guy" printed on his back. This may have been inspired by a Real Life incident in which everything in a lab was labelled for the benefit of a visiting executive. One of the labels covered a product logo which provided the same information (plus a brand name).
    • One strip shows Elbonia before the fall of communism: everything is labeled (pig, house, mud farm). The next panel shows it after the country became capitalist: MY pig, MY house, MY mud farm.
  • In just about every Political Cartoon ever (I wonder what that giant monster represents?)
    • Parodied in Stan Kelly's cartoons in The Onion—every single character or object required for understanding the message has a giant label on them. Common characters with prominent labels include "Innocent Kids," "Today's No-Good Teens," and The Grim Reaper labeled with any trend Ripped from the Headlines that the creator hates.
    • Cracked and Chainsawsuit also made fun of it as well.
    • Also parodied in the Discworld novel Making Money, where a cartoon in the Ankh-Morpork Times shows a group of literal fat cats in top hats, with a sign above them reading "The Banks". Vetinari comments "Subtle indeed."
    • Parodied by an F Minus strip that showed a political cartoonist at home, wearing a T-shirt saying "consumer" and telling his kid to put on a "future of America" shirt.
  • A The Far Side cartoon had a man standing in his yard after painting labels such as THE HOUSE, MY SHIRT, THE DOG, THE CAT on everything with a caption of "There! That should clear things up around here!"

    Films — Live-Action 
  • In the press conference scene in Danger: Diabolik, Diabolik's gear has labels for "Exhilarating Gas" and "Anti-Exhilarating Gas Pills". The Mystery Science Theater 3000 guys got a good chuckle out of this when they riffed the movie in their final episode.
  • A justified variant used in Memento, when the main character has to carry polaroids of everyone with labels like "Don't believe his lies" because he is unable to form any long-term memories.
  • Parodied in Spaceballs:
    Sign: Self Destruct Button. Do not push unless you really really mean it!
  • Who Framed Roger Rabbit: During the chase scene, Benny the Cab yells for his passengers to "pull the lever!" Asked "which one?", a sign pops out of the dashboard, marked with a pointing arrow and the words THIS LEVER, STUPID.

  • In The Host (2008), after the souls take over human civilization, just about everything has a large, obvious label on it, made even more helpful by the fact that all of their products have Exactly What It Says on the Tin kind of names (for example, there are two medical salves called simply "Heal" and "No Pain").

    Live-Action TV 
  • The old Batman (1966) TV show:
    • Almost everything in the Bat Cave had a label on it, especially with the "Bat" stuff.
    • The Batmobile even had a fake label: Whenever Batman and Robin got off the car, they covered the label of the "Anti-Theft Activator" with one reading "Start Button". It was shown working at least once, against the Riddler.
    • Episode "Ma Parker". The cells of Ma Parker and her criminal children each had a label with the occupant's name.
    • Someone created a Twitter account documenting the show's use of this.
  • In Beakman's World, Beakman can always find the really dangerous stuff in the cabinet marked REALLY DANGEROUS STUFF.
  • Buffy the Vampire Slayer
    • In the episode "Gingerbread", the bottle used to knock out Buffy, helpfully labeled (in uppercase bold letters, with nothing else on the label) "CHLOROFORM".
    • The box of Rat Poison with "Rat Poison" on it in "Earshot".
    • Also, their plan to attack the Mayor with a box labeled "Ebola".
  • Castle: The NYPD wears bulletproof vests labeled "Police". In the second episode, Castle gets one custom-made... that's labeled "Writer".
    • The helpfully labeled vests for law enforcement is Truth in Television in the US. Less so for crime novelists.
  • Doctor Who:
    • In the very early serial "The Edge of Destruction" (and only there), the TARDIS console has a Fast Return Switch. You can tell because it has "Fast Return Switch" scrawled above it in felt tip.
    • Averted when the Fifth Doctor is wandering the TARDIS corridors in a disordered state in "Castrovalva": he finds a medkit in a wall panel in which everything is clearly, but esoterically, labeled.
      The Doctor: (reading the labels) The potion. The solution. Oh, my little friend, if only you were.
    • Lampshaded in "The Age of Steel": Mickey and Jake are looking for the transmitter controls, and Mickey asks what it looks like. Jake responds sarcastically that it'll have a sign with "Transmitter Controls" in big red letters on it. It does.
    • Invoked in "Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS", where the Doctor inscribes the words "Big Friendly Button" onto a Big Red Button so that his alternate timeline self will know he's supposed to press it.
    • "The Zygon Inversion": Clara, while dreaming, finds a tube of toothpaste helpfully labelled "This is Toothpaste".
  • In an episode of The Gates, the producers wanted to remind viewers that Sarah was still drinking Devon's magic-poisoned tea without forcing that plot thread into an otherwise already busy episode... so they showed her drinking out of a giant ceramic mug labeled MUG OF TEA.
  • In Knight Rider, every button on KITT's control panel had a label. The ones that did useful things had plain English labels like "Turbo Boost" or "Oil Slick", while the buttons that were never used had obscure labels like "7DLA", "6RM" or "Pᴇɴɢ". After the remodel of the control panel in Season 3, the useless buttons had word salad labels like "Fire Assign" instead. Subverted in season 4 when an important-looking button just labeled "C" was added to the control panel, and neither Michael nor newly-upgraded KITT knew what it did. It turned KITT into a convertible.
  • Everything — and we mean everything — in Look Around You, with those embossed red stickers that used to be used in laboratories. In one Credits Gag, a male scientist presents a female scientist (played by Sarah Alexander of Coupling fame) a box of chocolates labelled in this way, which included one item purporting to be sulphur.
  • The bins in the workshop in MythBusters are all carefully labeled. Some of them with rather odd contents. RAW MEAT, for example.
  • On an episode of Smackdown The Dudley Boys steal Chris Jericho's gear which includes a balm to be used on one's posterior, which is labelled "ASS CREAM" in big letters.
  • Averted pretty much entirely through Star Trek's run. The Original Series simply omitted labels on buttons and such entirely. In the spin-off series, they were labeled with in-jokes, vague terms, and most often with a few random numbers. By the time DS9 and Voyager came around, the panels and buttons were shown using actual screens and the labels started becoming a little more descriptive. It helped that television quality had advanced to the point that people stood a good chance of being able to read them at that point.

    Puppet Shows 
  • Gerry Anderson's shows take place in a very well-labeled future.

    Video Games 

  • Girl Genius
    • Many things are labeled in this world, especially in Castle Heterodyne. Many of those labels are hilarious. For example "Poison — Illiteracy reduction effort".
    • In the Cinderella theater break, Agatha's miniature volcano has a labeled "innocent town" at its foot.
  • Goblins: Forgath wears a helmet that is labeled, "This is a helmet." The backstory of why his helmet is labeled like this, which is more tragic than it sounds, is only revealed in a print-only side story.
  • In El Goonish Shive, these are sometimes used during Q&A segments.
  • Gunnerkrigg Court: It mixes the Expo Label with blatant untruths to give us the "NO Spare Robot Parts" sign.

    Web Original 

    Western Animation 
  • Batman: Return of the Caped Crusaders, being an homage to the 60s TV series, brings back the labels.
  • Birdman (1967) episode "The Constrictor". The titular villain's submarine has an escape hatch helpfully labelled "Escape Hatch" to make sure the audience knows what it is.
  • Bugs Bunny cartoons:
    • Hair-Raising Hare. The Mad Scientist's castle says "Evil Scientist" in blinking neon lights, and the monster's cell has "Monster" on the door.
    • Hyde and Hare. In Dr. Jekyll's laboratory the Laboratory door says "Laboratory" and the Store Room door says "Store Room". Why he would need those signs when he works there is not explained.
  • Edd, of Ed, Edd n Eddy, had everything in his room labeled.
  • The Powerpuff Girls (1998): In "Mo Job", Mojo Jojo shoots at Buttercup with a ray gun, but Buttercup defiantly stands there, confident she can take whatever Mojo dishes out. But then Blossom notices Mojo Jojo just happens to have labelled the gun (in his usual comically-verbose manner) "Special Liquid-Electron Gun Specially Designed For Shooting the Antidote of Chemical X at the Powerpuff Girls and Eliminating Their Powers".
  • When Ned Flanders let The Simpsons borrow his summer cabin, he left these on everything, complete with "-diddly".
    "He actually wrote '-diddly!'"
  • Space Ghost
    • "The Space Ark". Inside the title ship there's a control to activate the Force Shield, with a label that says "Force Shield".
    • "Two Faces of Doom". The Force Beam control switch in Brak's ship is labeled "Force Beam".
  • This often appeared in the 1973/74 season of Superfriends.
    • "The Androids"
      • The Cape Courageous missile base control room has an alarm that's labeled "Alarm" and buttons that are marked "Don't Press" and "Danger".
      • Dr. Rebos' food truck has a button labeled "Dining Room Open". Naturally it causes a dining room to open out of the back of the truck.
    • "The Baffles Puzzle". The submarine that Aquaman finds has an air lock labeled "Air Lock".
    • "The Balloon People". An obvious elevator has a giant "Elevator" label above it. Likewise, some launch tunes are labeled "Launch Tubes".
    • "Dr. Pelagian's War"
      • On the TroubAlert panel there's a slot labeled "Blow Ups". No, it doesn't make things explode - when a picture is slipped into it the computer blows it up to larger size.
      • Dr. Pelagian's submarine has a side panel that opens and closes. It's labeled "Side Panel", "Open" and "Close".
      • Dr. Pelagian's submarine also has a computer that's labeled "Computer".
      • Miss Caraway's power plant has a building that contains freon gas. It's labeled - wait for it - "Freon".
    • "The Fantastic Frerps"
      • The Hall of the Justice League has: a box of letters (not the kind you mail, the kind you put on a blackboard to spell words) marked "Letters", a Data Collector section of the Justice League computer marked "Data Collector", and a spray can filled with Frerp solvent marked "Frerp Solvent".
      • King Plasto's Elaborate Underground Base has quite a few: an egg storage room marked "Storage Room", an arena for creating Frerp eggs labeled "Frerp Arena", an entrance control panel marked "Entrance Control", and an obvious elevator with an "Elevator" label. At the end a number of buildings are created that are labeled "City Hall", "Barber Shop", "Library" and "City Jail".
    • In "The Menace of the White Dwarf", Raven's ship has two of them. The device that controls the white dwarf's gravity is labeled "Gravity Control - On/Off". The lever that controls the speed of objects moved by the white dwarf is labeled "High Speed".
    • "The Mysterious Moles". In the Hall of Justice a printer was labeled "Teletype".
    • "The Planet Splitter".
      • The galley in the spaceship has a door labeled "Galley".
      • The guidance system for Jor-El's rocket is labeled "Guidance".
      • During the Krypton Flash Back scene, in Jor-El's laboratory there's a Launch Control and Hanger Roof Door opener labeled "Launch Control" and "Hanger Roof Door".
      • A door-lifting device (hidden inside a wall!) has the label "Automatic Door Opener".
      • As with "The Balloon People", an obvious elevator has an "Elevator" label on it.
      • At the end Wonder Dog goes to a room labeled "Justice League Commissary" and "Wonder Dog's Food Storage", with areas labeled "Steak Bones" and "Sausages" that hold those items.
    • "The Power Pirate"
      • In the electrical power plant the Power Input and Power Output devices are marked "Power In Put" and "Power Out Put".
      • At the Hall of Justice the Super Friends' computer has a scan report device marked "Scan Report".
      • A nuclear power plant has a "Nuclear Power Plant" sign on it.
      • A button to automatically start the nuclear power plant is marked "Automatic Power Start".
    • "Professor Goodfellow's G.E.E.C.". The following items have labels/signs with their names on them: "G.E.E.C. Dog House", "G.E.E.C. Freighter", "Warning Panel", "Taxi Steering Controls" and "South Gate".
    • "The Shamon U"
      • A room with a cable car in it is labeled Cable Car Room. The label is where everyone who can see the sign can also see the cable car.
      • In Dr. Shamons's laboratory there's a control to alter the orientation of the giant U shaped magnet that's labeled "Shamon U" and a control to turn the turntable called "Turntable Control".
      • In the Justice League headquarters the door to the Justice League laboratory has a "Justice League Laboratory" sign.
    • "Too Hot To Handle"
      • In Kobar's lab there's a control to activate the sun-orbiting quadrotronic Solar Robot that's titled "Solar Robot Space Station". There's also an alarm to alert him when someone's approaching the solar robot: it's labeled Solar Robot Warning".
      • Doctor von Knowalot's laboratory in the City Observatory has a Data Collector marked "Data Collector".
    • "The Ultra Beam". A spectroscope has the label "Spectroscope" on it.
    • "The Watermen"
      • Wonder Woman's plane has two different buttons to release her "Wonder Net". One is labeled "Net Release" and one is just labeled "Net" (probably a continuity error).
      • In the speedboat that Robin, Marvin, Wendy and Wonder Dog use, the throttle is labeled "Throttle" and "Full".
    • "The Weather Maker"
      • A government building has: (a) a mail chute labeled "Mail Chute" (b) a container of nuclear fuel with "Nuclear Fuel" on it and (c) a Big Red Button with the label "To call police". Robin pushes it so the police will come and pick up some captured villains.
      • The villains' ship has: (a) a dial with "Weather Power" on it (b) Controls for the jet stream labeled "Jet: Maximum, Minimum, Off" and "Off, On and Irreversibly On" (c) A nuclear power plant in with the label "Nuclear Power Plant".
      • A building with a roof garden has a sign saying "Roof Garden" above the door leading to it.

    Real Life