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Flashback to Catchphrase

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Young Ruri: Excuse me. What is the meaning of this word? "Baka"?
Teacher: Um... That's a word that you shouldn't use in polite conversation.
Young Ruri: Baka...

A major character has some sort of catchphrase or other profound statement which defines their character. A "Flashback to Catchphrase" is a flashback which takes place before the series chronology (or at least before this major character was introduced) which shows the moment in which the phrase came into their vernacular.

Sometimes they come up with it themselves and automatically remember it due to it occurring at a pivotal moment in their lives. Other times it's depicted in more of a throwaway-moment where they just like the way it sounds.

In some situations it's another character, sometimes appearing only in this flashback, giving some sage advice which forms the basis for said catchphrase or profound sentiment.

Some examples even show that hitherto, the character had been engaging in the opposite fashion of their familiar, later, catch-phrase spouting self before learning their signature words!

Can occur in an Origins Episode or Start of Darkness. Compare Ironic Echo, Meaningful Echo, Early Personality Signs.


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    Anime and Manga 
  • Several times in Mobile Suit Gundam Wing, Heero Yuy states "The best way to live your life is by acting on your emotions." The prequel manga Episode Zero shows that he picked up the phrase from his mentor-slash-father figure Odin Lowe and it's one of the last things he says to 8-year-old Heero before dying.
  • Not quite this trope, but related: In Kuroko's Basketball, Izuki has a habit of making cringe-worthy puns left and right. And the flashback arc to the founding of the basketball team of course had to show a scene where the team is in a restaurant and Izuki overhears a bad pun on the name of a Korean condiment. Cue Izuki being visibly stricken by it.
  • During Martian Successor Nadesico's origin episode for Ruri, among the other things she experienced in the facility where she was raised, we learn that she was inexplicably drawn to the word "baka" the moment she saw it, as shown in the page quote. By this point the viewer knows well that she latched onto it for the rest of her life.
  • Early on in Naruto, Kakashi says "Ninjas who break the rules are scum. But ninjas who abandon their friends are worse than scum." During Kakashi Gaiden, when Kakashi had been attempting to follow the rules strictly to the letter at the expense of a captured teammate, his other teammate pretty much says this.
  • At the beginning of Rurouni Kenshin, Kenshin says his motto that "a sword is a weapon, and kenjutsu is the art of killing". Later we learn this phrase comes from his sensei Hiko.
  • The Haruhi Suzumiya short story Rainy Day tells the origin of Kyon's trademark "Yare yare". (Roughly translated, "Good grief", "Oh brother" or any real generic exclamation of exasperation.)
  • Subverted in Black Jack where Pinoko's origin episode still doesn't explain her Character Tic of putting her hands to her cheeks and saying "Oh no!", which shocked Jack the first time. Apparently she just did it one day for no reason.

    Comic Books 
  • Judge Dredd: One of Judge Death's catch phrases is "The Crime is Life, the Sentence is Death!". His Origins Episode shows him first using this phrase when, immediately after becoming an undead killing machine, he pays the Chief Judge of his homeworld a visit to execute and replace him. His fellow Dark Judges approve.
    "Now that is good!"

  • Interestingly inverted in Back to the Future, with Doc's "If you put your mind to it, you can accomplish anything!" being repeated by Marty to his 17-year-old father while in 1955, to discover back in the future that George has adopted it as his motto.
    • Another inversion, Older Doc's use of the word "heavy".
  • In Casino Royale (2006), you learn that "Bond, James Bond" was at first "Mathis, Rene Mathis", pronounced by his French ally on their first meeting.
  • In The Great Gatsby (2013), Jay Gatsby has a habit of calling people "old sport". It's eventually revealed via this trope that he picked this up from his old mentor Dan Cody.

  • In the Discworld novel Night Watch, a Time Traveling Vimes, buying a pie from a young CMOT Dibbler, says "And that's cutting your own throat, eh?". While the young salesman is initially confused he later decides he likes the sound of it, supposedly creating a Stable Time Loop. Although not really, as the man Vimes is pretending to be was a real person in the original timeline. On the other hand, who knows?
  • In Honor Harrington, the main character's catchphrase is "Let's be about it." On her midshipwoman's cruise, guess what her first commanding officer seems to say at every opportunity?
  • A number of Harry Dresden's spell phrases and sayings are this. Being Jim Butcher's works, these almost always overlap with Stealth Pun. Fliccum Bicus? Harry tried to cheat at a fire-starting spell. His mentor told him that he wouldn't always be able to "flick his bic".
  • In the web-novel Domina, Derek and Laura swear "silver and gold," which almost certainly comes from their parents' catchphrase "silver moon and golden sun." In a flashback chapter, someone asks what it means. Turns out it doesn't mean anything at all.
    Maria: It means that the moon is silver and the sun is gold. Does it have to have anything deeper than that?
  • The Horus Heresy novels introduce, at various points, the phrases "Let the galaxy burn," "The Emperor protects," and "Death to the False Emperor!" - all of which are still in use ten thousand years later.

    Live-Action Television 
  • Prison Break: A number of character traits for the characters are revealed through a 1st season episode that had a lot of flashbacks in it.
  • Frasier Crane's catchphrase was "I'm listening"—revealed to be in a flashback episode to inadvertently come from Frasier's father Martin, who had been trying to listen to a football game while his son was talking.
  • "Two Cathedrals", the second-season finale of The West Wing used this trope as the basis of the episode. President Jed Bartlet is prompted by the death of his secretary, Mrs. Landingham to flash back to when he met her as a young boy. His mannerisms in the past (putting his hands in his pockets and smiling when he's made up his mind to do something other people will not like) are referenced to foreshadow his exact actions at the press conference he calls to announce he will, in fact, be running for re-election with a relapsing/remitting course of multiple sclerosis.
  • One Halloween episode of That '70s Show has a flashback to the day Red first uttered his catchphrase because he doesn't want to hang out with their then new neighbor Bob:
    Red: He's an ass. And he's dumb. He's a... (spotlight and Cherubic Choir) ...dumbass.
  • Heroes does this when Hiro meets himself as a child.
  • Known as it is for flashbacks, a season 3 episode of Lost features one of Desmonds flashbacks to his time in a monastery, revealing where he got his curious habit of calling people "Brother". He picked it up from the monks.
    • Also, Locke's flashback in season 4 gives us a teenaged John uttering the phrase "Don't tell me what I can't do!" that would later define his character.
      • Prior to that episode, another episode in which we see how Locke was paralyzed featured a doctor telling Locke that he shouldn't tell himself what he can't do. It was mistakenly assumed this was where he picked up the catchphrase until the above episode aired.
    • One of the straightest examples of this trope is Jack's infamous "catchphrase" (which he says twice in the whole series) of "WE HAVE TO GO BAAAACK!" In a season 5 flashback, we learn Locke first said this to Jack.
    • Hurley's mantra "you make your own luck" has interesting origins. He heard it from both his father and Martha Toomey before using it on the Island.
      • The numbers themselves qualify, to some degree. In "This Place is Death" we get a time travel flashback to 1988, and we get to hear the mysterious transmission of the numbers from the Island. This was also heard by Sam Toomey and Leonard Simms, which is how it got to Hurley. And since the transmission sounds a bit like Hurley's voice...
      • Then in season 6 it's gently suggested that the ultimate origin of the numbers was Jacob's pointless affinity for numbers in general.
  • In How I Met Your Mother, it's revealed that womanizer Barney used to be a hippie, and that his look, attitude and catchphrases all come from the guy who stole his girlfriend off him. Except "Suit Up!", which came from an advertisement.
  • Used to some effect in Torchwood. Captain Jack Harkness says in the introductory narration "The 21st century is when everything changes, and you gotta be ready." In the Series 2 episode "Fragments", there's a flashback to 1999 in Jack's past, where Jack comes back from a mission and his former team leader, Alex, has killed the rest of the team. Alex, just before killing himself, says, "Everything changes in the 21st century. We aren't ready."
  • Though it isn't a flashback, Stargate SG-1 had a scene where Jacob Carter used his daughter's catchphrase "Holy Hannah", showing us where she picked it up.
  • Though it's not a catchphrase, J.D.'s moussed-up hair from Scrubs was apparently due to a suggestion by his college buddy, Spencer.
    (in a flashback)
    Spencer: Why don't you just mousse the crap out of it — straight up!
    (end flashback)
    J.D.: My life changed that day.
  • The Doctor Who episode "Let's Kill Hitler" features River Song's first meeting with the Doctor (not to be confused with the Doctor's first meeting with River, which is "Silence in the Library"). Pretty much the first thing he says to her once she's regenerated is a warning about "spoilers", which she doesn't understand. He also spends some time spouting numbered "rules" and commenting "I hope you're writing this down!", before finishing, of course, with "Rule One. The Doctor lies."
  • Before the Enterprise leaves on its first mission in Star Trek: Enterprise; a small sending-off ceremony is held. During the ceremony Admiral Forrest plays a quick video clip from Zefrem Cochrane, the man who invented the warp engine and laid the foundation for the new era of interspecies cooperation and space travel. Cochrane's speech reveals the origin of the famed "where no man/one has gone before" motto adopted by Starfleet and made famous to every Star Trek viewer.
    On this site, a powerful engine will be built. An engine that will allow us to travel a thousand times faster than we can today. Think of it, thousands of worlds at our fingertips. And with it, we will explore strange new worlds. Seek out new life and new civilizations. And it'll allow us to go... boldly... where no man has gone before."
  • The Community episode "Heroic Origins" flashes back to the party where Troy injures himself doing a keg flip. It also turns out to be the party where Annie ran through a plate glass window. When she does so, the flying glass pops two balloons next to Magnitude.
    Magnitude: Pop pop?
  • Possibly inverted on Arrested Development. In the episode "Amigos", Michael pays Gene Parmesan for his services only for Gene to return a minute later and say "I counted it. Come on." Gob is in the background when he says that and adopts "Come on" as a catch phrase.
  • In the Only Fools and Horses Prequel series Rock & Chips, a teenaged Del says "One day, I'm gonna be a millionaire!"
  • Game of Thrones has a tragic example (obviously) with Hodor whom Bran accidentally mind raped when he traveled to the past.
  • The Burn Notice prequel The Fall Of Sam Axe features the first time Sam used his Go-to Alias of Chuck Finley, this time as a Line-of-Sight Alias from seeing the pitcher on the cover of a sports magazine.
  • Though not a catch phrase, there's the Dope Slap that Gibbs uses on NCIS. During a series of flashbacks in "Hiatus", it's revealed that he got it from his former boss, Mike Franks. That, and Rule #6: "Never say you're sorry. It's a sign of weakness."
    • And as for the rules themselves, another flashback episode reveals that he got the idea when he met his future wife Shannon.
  • The Seinfeld episode "The Betrayal" runs its scenes in reverse-chronological order and has George saying "you can stuff your sorries in a sack" a lot. The end of the episode reveals Susan saying it to him two years before the events of the episode back when she was still alive.
  • Monk: "Mr. Monk and Little Monk" shows a flashback to Monk as a child speaking to the lunch lady. He compliments her baking, and she remarks, "It's a gift and a curse," since the food she makes is delicious but unhealthy. That phrase is how adult Monk describes his obsessive attention to detail.
  • Young Sheldon: "A Stunted Childhood and a Can of Fancy Mixed Nuts" is this to Sheldon's making-a-joke catchphrase "Bazinga!" from TBBT. It turns out Bazinga is the name of a company selling practical joke items, whose slogan is "If it's funny, it's a Bazinga!". Ten-year-old Sheldon takes that literally and adopts the word as an indication that he is making a joke.

     Puppet Shows 
  • In the Fraggle Rock episode "Mokey, Then and Now", Mokey travels back in time to when Fraggles were bald, had leaders and never laughed. She coins the phrase "Dance your cares away", which is instantly adopted as the motto for a new era in Fraggle history.

    Video Games 
  • In Tales of Symphonia: Dawn of the New World, Emil has a flashback to when Richter says, "Courage is the magic that turns dreams into reality." It then becomes Emil's own catchphrase.
    • Note that the player sees when Richter says this in the first place. And then when we see the flashback... again and again and...
  • Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney:
    • "The only time a lawyer can cry is when it's all over." The origins of this repeated line are shown in the fourth case of Trials and Tribulations.
    • Dual Destinies shows the origins of Apollo Justice's catchphrase "I'm fine!" He actually shared it with his best friend from school, and they would say it to eachother when their spirits were low.
  • Axel is known far and wide for his catchphrase — "Got it memorized?" — almost always used after introducing himself. In the recent prequel, though, we see just where it came from. As a child, he decided that he'd be metaphorically immortal if everyone remembers him always.
  • The Overwatch comic "Uprising" shows Tracer (Lena Oxton)'s first mission as a member of Overwatch. When she meets Torbjörn, he sarcastically greets her with "Looks like the cavalry's here". When Tracer became renowned herself, her catchphrase was "Cheers, love! The cavalry's here!"
    Cadet Oxton : ...the cavalry's here... not bad... not half bad.

     Web Original  
  • "Memory is the key." in Red vs. Blue. So much that Caboose lampshades this ("Aren't we done with this already?")
  • The Order of the Stick:
    • Big Bad Xykon adopted his name as a teenager after meeting a thinly-veiled parody of Professor Charles Xavier from the X-Men (called the S-Men, because it's a team of sorcerers), specifically because he thinks names that start with "X" sound cooler.
    • Also, Haley's distaste for her lime green Boots of Speed (mentioned several times throughout the strip) is shown to be the result of Crystal mocking them on their first meeting.

     Western Animation  

  • Beetlejuice: "There comes a time, Babes, when you do things you've never done. When you say things you've never said. And so, for the first time ever, I said those magic words: 'It's SHOWTIME!'"
  • In Phineas and Ferb, Harmless Villain Dr. Doofenshmirtz often expresses the intention to take over "the entire Tri-State Area!" The episode "What Do It Do?" shows us a flashback to a date he went on in high school with the future Linda Flynn, and when he tells her he plans to take over the world, she suggests that he start small.
  • The Simpsons
    • In the episode Dangerous Curves Ahead, we get a flashback to one of Homer's many catchphrases: When Homer and Marge are dating, they meet the newly-wed Flanderses for the first time. Homer initially likes Ned, but when they stop at a motel, Neddy says an unmarried couple can't share a room.
    Homer: I never thought I'd say this, but, stupid Flanders.
  • In the Whole Episode Flashback of Teen Titans where we finally get to see them meet, ("Go!") Cyborg fires his sonic blaster for the first time.
    • In the same episode it shows why Beast Boy says "dude" and the beginning of Robin's catchphrase.
  • The Cleveland Show episode "Mama Drama" showed a flashback of Donna and Auntie Mama showing that Donna was amused when the latter accidentally farted, saying she can be as "outrageous" as she/he wants, which led to Auntie Mama's constant farting and the phrase "I'm outrageous!".
    Cleveland: What an origin story.
  • Tyler the Cute Biker from Gravity Falls has the catchphrase "Get 'im, get 'im!", commonly used to cheer on people during a fight. Then in "A Tale of Two Stans", we see a young Tyler with his mother, learning to ride a bike just outside the Author's laboratory. As bright lights and loud noises flash from the building, his mother hurries him along while shouting "Get out, get out!"
  • The Venture Bros. establishes "Go Team Venture" as the catch phrase of contemporary Hank and Dean Venture. However, in "Past Tense" we learn that it was inherited from the original Team Venture that were the comrades of their grandfather Jonas. Unlike Hank and Dean's own invocations, when reunited Team Venture say the phrase it causes epic theme music to play and a fancy logo to be superimposed over the screen.
    Hank: Now that's how it's done!
  • In The Amazing World of Gumball episode "The Origins", we see when Darwin started calling his parents "Mr. Dad" and "Mrs. Mom".
    Darwin: I know you didn't flush me on purpose Mr. Watterson.
    Richard: Please son, call me dad.
    Darwin: OK, Mr. Dad.
  • In the prequel episode, though it took until Season 2 to implement, of Code Lyoko, Jim tells his story of a "vicious beaver" he fought in Quebec. After a stint of laughter, Ulrich said "Honestly I think you're better off not talking about it." It becomes "I'd rather not talk about it" later an episode of Season 4.


Video Example(s):


Bart's first word

Bart says his first word ("Ay carumba!") after walking in on his parents having sex.

How well does it match the trope?

5 (8 votes)

Example of:

Main / BabysFirstWords

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