Something that looks like a Koan (a Chinese Buddhist riddle meant to encourage contemplation), walks like a koan, quacks like a koan, but lacks substance. It sounds meaningful at first, but after you think a moment, instead of getting some rush of insight, you realize that it is nothing more than nonsense, or just a joke dressed up in profundity's hand-me-downs. Like ice cream itself, it looks good and tastes good, but is ultimately just empty calories.
Usually done for comedy value, but all too often a result of genuine pretensions on the part of the writers. Of course, some would argue that all koans are Ice Cream Koans, but then again others would argue that all Ice Cream Koans are genuine Koans. It's most likely a difference in intent (and/or pretension) that distinguishes the two.
If done savvily enough, is indeed a form of Truth in Television—the point of a Zen koan (literally "Public Case", a story), is to show that contradiction is actually a delusion, and help the student let go of the mental habit of arranging things into dichotomies (because both extremes, despite their apparent contradiction, are actually one thing). Strangely enough, the Trope Namer above that actually mentions ice cream, while seeming nonsensical, does actually make sense.
Compare Mistaken for Profound, Seemingly Profound Fool, When Is Purple, Metaphorgotten and Mind Screw. Compare and contrast "Shaggy Frog" Story. Contrast Proverbial Wisdom. For when the words are meant to make sense, see Meaningless Meaningful Words. Related to True Art Is Incomprehensible. Has nothing to do with actual Ice Cream, Sailor Moon Character or the absolute angel. Might be confused with the famous Confucian sayings (which are also Chinese, but not Buddhist), which tend to be recited in You No Take Candle English.
- "Chocolate Coated Truth Tastes Better" from the wrapper of a chocolate candy. Presumably it tastes better than non-chocolate-covered Truth.
- "The more you know, the more you Kohl's." -Utterly nonsensical slogan that plays over the PA in Kohl's department stores every five minutes.
- A few Burma-Shave ads engaged in this, especially since the format lent itself quite well to it.
A PEACH LOOKS GOOD
WITH LOTS OF FUZZ
BUT MAN'S NO PEACH
AND NEVER WAS
- This particular one gets a bit stranger if you take into account that "peach" can be slang for vulva or vagina...
- Peach was also slang for a very good person—as in the phrase "You're a peach"—which was almost certainly the meaning they were going for here. Even then it comes off very strange.
- It's quite simple, really: The point of the rhyme is that the fuzz which covers a peach's outer surface looks good, but trying to emulate a peach by walking around with Perma-Stubble only makes one look unkempt. In a word: "You're not a peach, so get rid of that fuzz with Burma-Shave."
- Dr Bronner's liquid soaps' bottles are plastered with this, all written in tiny font and with dubious grammar. It seems he means something quite nice and positive, but it's basically impossible to tell for sure:
As teach astronomers Abraham-Israel-Moses-Buddha-Hillel-Jesus-Spinoza-Paine-Sagan & Mohammed, inspired every 76 years, 6000 years by the Messenger of God's Law, the sign of the Messiah, Halley's Comet: "WE'RE ALL ONE OR NONE!" "THERE IS NO GOD BUT GOD!" "TEACH LOVE THY ENEMY!" "LISTEN CHILDREN ETERNAL FATHER ETERNALLY ONE!" Israel-Moses-Buddha-Jesus-Mohammed: ONE! ALL ONE! 1st: If I'm not for me, who am I? Nobody! 2nd: Yet, if I'm only for me, what am I? Nothing! 3rd: If not now, when? Once more: Unless constructive-selfish I work hard, like Mark Spitz, perfecting first me, absolute nothing can help perfect me!
- It's much milder since Emmanuel Bronner died.
- Gen from Genesis of Aquarion does these Once per Episode.
- A message in a hot springs resort in Slayers says:
Even in a hurry
Rest your hand calmly
Do not let it slip away
the slippery mushroom.
- In The Slash: Bloody to Fair, Ronnie responds to Ennis's questions about his apparent omniscience (caused by being, well, literally omniscient) with a rambling existential monologue that seems profound and mysterious at first glance, but was really just to confuse her into dropping the subject.
- Cynthia of Pokémon is accused of this trope in the Diamond & Pearl part of the anime. Many times, she would refer to the saying "When one life touches another life, a new life is born." Unfortunately, considering that the common recipients were Ash and Paul, the context came off as something else.
- The English Gag Dub of Ghost Stories did this at least twice because it could, each time eliciting a response of utter bafflement from one of the main characters.
"One who runs with the Lotus Cheetah seeks the majestic mountain in springtime."
- Riina Tada of THE iDOLM@STER: Cinderella Girls spouts off a couple of these to hide her lack of rock song knowledge, providing sayings like "if you think it's rock, it's rock".
- Monty Python's "The Adventures of Ralph Mellish, Hot Dogs And Knickers" (from Matching Tie & Handkerchief):
Dr. Quote: The human brain is like an enormous fish. It's flat and slimy, and has gills through which it can see.
- Ross Noble's Unrealtime DVD has the announcer of the intro movie muse that "'It is no easier for a blind man to see the pigs of reality, than it is for a man with no arms to throw open the doors of perception.' And from this, we learn that old Chinese people don't half talk a load of old bollocks."
- Renaissance festival comedy team Puke and Snot like to work the line "He who shall, so shall he who" into their routines.
- Wondermark combines this with metaphorgotten:
"God, with a sword, can make a man a king. But a king, with a sword, can only make a man a knight. A knight, with a sword, can make a man a corpse. So... I kind of forgot where I was going there."
- Sounds like the point was meant the be "A sword can't be used to elevate someone to your level" or something. May not be complete nonsense, it may just be that the delivery was scatterbrained.
- The comic "Warrior" (as reviewed by Noah "Spoony" Antwiler) is practically MADE of these.
- Archie Comics:
- In one story, Reggie Mantle fancies himself a martial arts expert and walks around town alternating bogus "moves" with pseudo-profound sayings along the lines of "As the grasshopper drinks of the morning dew, so is adversity pondered in the dungeons of Caliban," and "As broccoli on the dinner plate of life, so is the flower of transgression."
- During the '60s and '70s, the writers were faced with the problem of portraying hippies in a way that did not take a stand on any of the day's important issues — they did not support hippies but did not want to alienate readers who did. Hippies were thus depicted as carrying signs with slogans that really meant nothing, such as "Stamp Out Togetherness".
- Spider-Man Mangaverse has a ton of these in the climactic 'ninja' fight-scene. Most are, upon further reflection, ridiculous.
- Street Fighter gives us "Once you were like this stream... laughing, flowing around life. Now you are like this tree—strong, flexible... but yet rooted in your obsession."
- The Grim Adventures of Billy & Mandy: "Present Tense" (Cartoon Network Block Party #36, October 2007) has Grim fearing his demise is eminent, so he goes to the Otherworld to seek advice from Nostradamus.
Nostradamus: (meditating) A boney hand taps the legs of the iron tripod. Bubbling oil troubles his hood and his heart. Fear: He trembles in his robes. Divided attention; the gods never sleep.
- Turns out he was referring to some 200 years into the future where Grim is still subservient to future incarnations of Billy and Mandy.
- The comic strip occasionally gave us gems from the Elbonians.
Elbonian A: The holy scrolls said a dog will fall from the sky... Actually, they say "never shave your duck," but it's not literal. You have to interpret it.
Elbonian B: You mean I CAN shave my duck?!
- A wise Elbonian once said, "in a race between a turtle and a rock, don't varnish your clams."
- The comic strip occasionally gave us gems from the Elbonians.
- The Far Side parodied this once with the classic "if a tree falls in a forest" koan:
"If a tree falls in a forest, and it hits a mime, does anybody care?"
- Garfield offers this observation:
Garfield: Life is like a birdbath. It's made of concrete, filled with water, and, uh... birds like to splash in it. Boy, that was dumb. Life isn't anything like a birdbath. Life... is like a sock monkey...
- The increasingly trite sayings given by The Sphinx in Mystery Men. For example: "When you can balance a tack hammer on your head, you will head off your foes with a balanced attack." Mr. Furious later points out to the others that the Sphinx's koans are just rearranging the words in a given question asked him. Nobody else seems to see his point. Lampshaded when Sphinx tries to get Furious to calm down:
Sphinx: If you do not master your rage...
Furious: [cutting him off] Your rage will become your master?
Furious: That's what you were going to say, right?
Sphinx: ... Not necessarily.
- Spice World includes this transparently nonsensical saying:
"When the rabbit of chaos is pursued by the ferret of disorder through the fields of anarchy, it is time to hang your pants on the line of darkness. Whether they are clean or not.
"Do. Not. Be. That. Rabbit."
- Kung Pow! Enter the Fist:
- Mu Shu Fasa deliberately baffles The Chosen One with a Koan.
Chosen One: What is this Evil Council everyone speaks of?
Mu Shu Fasa: The answer you seek lies in the stars above.
Chosen One: I don't understand.
Mu Shu Fasa: Of course you don't, I'm speaking in riddles. That's kind of the point. Like, a clue that will later make you go "Oh that's what he meant! Stars Above!"
- For the record, the Dark Council turns out to be aliens. French aliens.
Mu Shu Fasa: Stars above. Aliens. Was I right, or what?
- Mu Shu Fasa deliberately baffles The Chosen One with a Koan.
- In The Gamers 2: Dorkness Rising, Brother Silence, a most stubborn monk (who is NOT an elf) converses mainly in these, until finally he spouts this winner:
Brother Silence: He who stumbles around in darkness with a stick is blind. But he who... sticks out in darkness... is... fluorescent!
DM: ... Lose 50 experience.
- In Mafia!, the mafia don offers these words of wisdom at the end of his toast at his son's wedding:
Don: A wise man once told me, "A man is like a piece of cheese." [long pause; takes a sip of wine; sits down]
- In the Loop:
- Simon Foster tells the world's media "To walk the path of peace, we must be prepared to climb the mountain of conflict."
- Linton Barwick is also fond of coming out with soundbites that sound deep and meaningful but hold little substance. As is his chief asskisser, Chad, whose own feeble attempts at currying favour with his boss by doing this sound even worse. This eventually provokes a fed-up British character to inform him that he sounds like "a crap Jesus."
- "In the land of truth, my friend, the man with one fact, is the King."
- The Martian ambassador's speech in Mars Attacks! ends with one of these. "... For dark is the suede that mows like a harvest." Neatly lampshaded by Rod Steiger's character: "What the HELL does that mean?!" Note that the humans need a (human-made) translating machine to understand the Martians. It's never outright stated, but there are a few hints (like the above) that the machine is not working correctly.
- Raising Arizona: Well, there's what's right, and there's what's right, and never the twain shall meet.
- In Stranger Than Fiction, the guy from human resources loves these. The lead comments quietly that he thinks he's "an idiot".
"A tree doesn't... think it's a tree? It is a tree!"
- Hilariously lampshaded in Tropic Thunder.
Kirk: I don't read the script, the script reads me.
Kevin: [beat] What the hell does that even mean?
- An outtake from the 1980s film The Fiendish Plot of Dr. Fu Manchu has Peter Sellers apparently ad-libbing one before breaking into helpless laughter: "When you are great with spheroid, it is not known for whom the ball falls."
- Discussed and deconstructed in Pulp Fiction. Jules loves to shout a dramatic biblical verse before killing his enemies. Said verse is seemingly an Ice Cream Koan (it's not even really from the Bible; it's a quote from a Sonny Chiba movie) and Jules is perfectly upfront that he just thinks it sounds cool. But than at the end of the movie he's given reason to think about it and realizes that it's actually remarkably applicable to his life.
Jules: The path of the righteous man is beset on all sides by the inequities of the selfish and the tyranny of evil men. Blessed is he who, in the name of charity and good will, shepherds the weak through the valley of the darkness, for he is truly his brother's keeper and the finder of lost children. And I will strike down upon thee with great vengeance and furious anger those who attempt to poison and destroy My brothers. And you will know I am the Lord when I lay My vengeance upon you.
- This trope is a driving force for much of the plot of Being There, where the intellectually disabled Chance's ramblings about gardening, television, and other facets of his life are repeatedly mistaken for profound political and philosophical musings.
- The Russian Reversal jokes, at least the less serious, less seditious ones. A very common theme to the "Soviet Russia" joke is that everything in Soviet Russia is backwards even if it doesn't make sense. Cars drive people, clothes wear people, lighters lit people, buildings stand on people, etc, etc.
- How many Zen Buddhists does it take to change a light bulb? Two. One to change it and one not to change it.
- If a man says something in a forest and a woman isn't there to hear him, is he still wrong?
- If a woman says something in a forest and a man isn't there to hear her, is she still complaining?
- Most of the "Confucius Say" jokes utilize a combination of this, incredible lame puns and Literal-Minded, such as "Man who farts in church sits in his own pew".
- Man who stands on toilet is high on pot.
- Man who runs in front of car is tired. Man who runs behind car is exhausted.
- Man who makes love with woman on top is always fucking up.
- "How do you think the unthinkable?" is a deep question and will give you deep responses (or a confused "You don't, because that's what 'unthinkable' means"). When you give the Speech Impediment answer "With an ithberg (iceberg)" you'll get some great groans.
- The trope could almost be called "Life is a Fountain", after an old joke on these lines. The joke has a hundred varieties, but they all play out like this:
A guru is on his deathbed, surrounded by his students. With a great effort, the guru gasps out, "Life... is a fountain."
The students ponder the wisdom, until one finally asks, "Why?"
The guru thinks for a minute, then says, "Nu, so it's not a fountain."
- Spoofed in 'Thief of Time'':
In the Second Scroll of Wen the Eternally Surprised a story is written concerning one day when the apprentice Clodpool, in a rebellious mood, approached Wen and spoke thusly:
"Master, what is the difference between a humanistic, monastic system of belief in which wisdom is sought by means of an apparently nonsensical system of questions and answers, and a lot of mystic gibberish made up on the spur of the moment?"
Wen considered this for some time, and at last said: "A fish!"
And Clodpool went away, satisfied.
- Lu-Tze's way, the Way of Mrs. Cosmopolite, is entirely composed of mundane, common-sense sayings such as "There is no time like the present." One could argue the normally irreverent Lu-Tze treats these as deeply profound to make a point. This was a Brick Joke from references to other followers of The Way of Mrs. Cosmopolite. It is shown in Thief of Time the reason for that is because 1) Wisdom seems more wise if it's from far away, and 2) the common-sense sayings are coincidentally slightly different from but functionally synonymous to phrases from the Books of Wen the Eternally Surprised (though some vary into Malaproper, such as "there is no time but/like the present").
- The passwords for the secret society in Guards! Guards! are meaningless phrases that the society thought sounded wise, like "The significant owl hoots in the night" and "Yet verily the rose is within the thorn." This is then repeatedly lampshaded when several secret societies meet in the same street (or the same building at different times) and are so similar that a newcomer only realizes halfway through the password exchange that he's at the wrong door.
- Also the scene in Mort where Princess Keli consults Cutwell and they decide to try the Discworld equivalent of I Ching. They get no information at all from "at evening the mollusc is silent among the almond blossom," and Cutwell concludes it probably lost something in translation.
- The great Agatean philosopher Ly Tin Weedle is quoted in Interesting Times as saying "An ass may do the work of an ox in a time of no horses," and "When many expect a mighty stallion they will find hooves on an ant." The Discworld Companion says that once you get the hang of it you can make these up at a rate of ten a minute.
- Constable Visit's protest placard in The Fifth Elephant is the Omnian proverb "What profit it a kingdom if the oxen be deflated?"
- The Ephebian philosopher Didactylos (Small Gods) generally prefers aphorisms such as "You can't trust any bugger further you can throw him, and there's nothing you can do about it, so let's have a drink," but is also responsible for "It's a wise crow that knows which way the camel points".
- In a preface to "The Sea and Little Fishes", Terry Pratchett explains that the title is a reference to the ancient saying "The big sea does not care which way the little fishes swim," which he made up at some point and thought sounded "wise, in a slightly stupid sort of way." Lu-Tze would go on to use it in Night Watch.
- Spoofed in 'Thief of Time'':
- The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy:
- Hark ye unto the wise words of Ford Prefect from So Long, and Thanks for All the Fish: "Life is like a grapefruit. It's sort of orangy-yellow and dimpled on the outside, wet and squidgy in the middle. It's got pips inside, too. Oh, and some people have a half a one for breakfast."
- And don't forget that "Time is an illusion. Lunchtime doubly so." Arthur Lampshades it when he says that Reader's Digest loves that sort of statement.
- And perhaps the most well known Ice Cream Koan: "What is the answer to the ultimate question of life, the universe and everything?" "Forty-two." This is very significant as, like a koan, the answer of "Forty-Two" isn't really an answer, it just means that you're not asking the right question. You need to reach a higher level of enlightenment to truly understand it.
- In Discordianism, the "postmodern religion" often referenced by The Illuminatus! Trilogy, the answer to every "deep" question is always "Five tons of flax."
- The Discordians got this from a real Zen koan, where one of several accepted answers to "What is the Buddha?" is "Three pounds of flax".
- A large amount of Discordian wisdom looks like ice cream koans. So do a lot of Discordian jokes. And if you're trying to figure out if a particular Discordian koan is a joke or wisdom, you're doing it wrong.
- Even if you're doing it right, you're doing it wrong.
- In fact, Discordians deliberately use them to gum up their own and other people's brains. These are referred to in the Principia Discordia as "Mondos".
- What is the difference between an Iced Cream Koan, a Zen Koan, and a joke? If you need to ask, no answer will satisfy you (fnord).
- In The Game of Sunken Places by M.T. Anderson, the alien Speculant habitually speaks this way, which one of the boy protagonists treats as a contest: "When the Time of Naming arrives, then shall the unnamed and unnameable be called by its True Name." "I'll bet it has a name, and you just can't remember it, you sly devil." "The Unnameable has no name. Truth cannot be concealed behind Fiction. The Casket of Deliverance has found the Pearl of Wisdom lacking, and the Bone of No Sight shall, in the latter-" "Okay," said Gregory. "You win." The Speculant waited. "Really," said Gregory. "Ten nothing. Your game."
- The phrases of the Zensunni sect from Dune are said to intended to be ice cream koans, similar to Zen as mentioned above. The difference is that they are intended to get the listener to recognize nonsense and obfuscation, regardless of how logically-constructed and reasonable it may appear.
- In The Dresden Files novel "Dead Beat", wacky Medical Examiner Butters gets stuck riding in a car Dresden's magic frizzled into repeating obnoxiously, "The door is ajar." When Dresden apologizes, Butters claims it was actually quite peaceful, Zen almost.
Butters: "Time is a River. Life is a Journey. The Door is a Jar."
- "Let things have been as they have been, nonetheless they've been somehow; so far it has never been that things would be nohow." - Josef vejk from Jaroslav Haek's The Fateful Adventures of the Good Soldier vejk During the World War mentions a man he knew, who said this before court.
- Quite a few accidental ones pop up in Maradonia and the Seven Bridges by Gloria Tesch. Multiple attempts at profundity fall flat throughout the book.
Maya: Queen Aquamarisha, dreams are the touch stones of our character. [emphasis from the original]
- Actually, that's a Henry David Thoreau quote, but whether it counts as this trope in the original context is a matter of opinion.
- Humanx Commonwealth: An ominous line from Mid-Flinx could be considered a subversion. When Teal informs Aimee that "You do not wear the cristif, the cristif wears you", Aimee assumes the native woman is just invoking some superstitious ice cream koan about the flower in her hair. In truth, Teal means that the flower is literally wearing Aimee, as it's an invasive parasite that's covertly driven its tendrils into Aimee's body and is consuming her from within.
- In the Orson Scott Card novel Children of the Mind, Peter and Wang-Mu travel to the planet Divine Wind, settled by the Japanese. As Peter explains to Wang-Mu, there are two kinds of philosophers: analytical and gnomic. The former require one to be highly-educated, while the latter just require you to speak in ice cream koans and have a traveling companion try to interpret that given the context. Wang-Mu tries to pretend to be a gnomic philosopher, but quickly drops it, as she is far too logical for this.
- Kozma Prutkov (a collective pseudonym of several XIX-century Russian satirists) is famous for his aphorisms that embody this trope. Some of them contain genuinely profound thoughts, but most are banalities and nonsense expressed in humorously profound philosophical language.
"When casting pebbles into water, look at the ripples being formed thereby. Otherwise this activity will be an empty amusement."
"Where is the beginning of the end that comes at the end of the beginning?"
"Snap a mare on the nose and she will flap her tail."
"Young girls are much like checkerpieces; every one wants to become a lady, but not every one succeeds".note
If the cage with an elephant is labeled "buffalo", don't believe your eyes.note
- Kaz Cooke's Little Book of Crap consists entirely of statements like "He who goes about exultant and boastful in thongs will indulgeth a bull ant before long".
- The Two Princesses of Bamarre: The protagonist's father has an entire book (Homely Truths) filled with these, which he consults before he does anything. After the protagonist tells Vollys, a dragon, about the Truths, Vollys makes up a few of her own.
Vollys: "What I adore about the best of them is that they almost mean something!"
- In Spirit Hunters Kitsune Sura is a Taoist with a rather unique interpretation of things. She often spouts things like "Abiding in a mustard seed, I shall gaze down upon the stars and mountains."
- In Alien in a Small Town, we're treated to a single verse of alien religious scripture, without any context: All events we experience are buffets in the backward-rushing gale of time.
- Similar to the Sphinx are the words of Jimmy Smits's character Frank in this SNL sketch:
Partner: Well, anyway, we solved the case. I guess that's what really matters.
Frank: Well... did we solve the case? Or... did the case solve us?
- Stargate SG-1:
Monk: The sun is warm; the wind is wild; the grass is green along the shore. Here no bull can hide.
- A koan-speaking monk who speaks mostly in koans that made sense with respect to the situation, except "If you immediately know the candlelight is fire, then the meal was cooked a long time ago." This one seemed to basically translate as "you need to learn to understand it, I can't just tell you" and was consequently a way of telling Daniel "I can't just answer your questions." The way of looking at it seemed to be that understanding had to come after simple knowledge. So you can know what fire is and even use it to cook your food, but to actually understand the nature of fire and how it can be converted into candlelight will come later. If you try to make the understanding happen now, you require that the simple knowledge must have existed a long time ago. Originally the koan was prefaced by the koan "Because it is so clear it takes a longer time to realize it." which seems to be as close to an explanation as the monk provides. This particular "koan" is actually based on a Chinese proverb of a man who starved because he didn't realize he could light his stove with flame from his candle. In this context — immediately after Daniel claims that the Harsesis will be safe with him — the monk is telling Daniel that the child is already well protected, and proceeds to demonstrate how by teaching Daniel about Oma. The rest of the monk's speech better fits this trope, as it is mostly just obtuse metaphors, one of which Jack calls him put on:
Jack: Oh, I don't know about that.
- Apparently, the only way to actually understand this one is to Ascend to a Higher Plane of Existence. Daniel even uses this as a ploy when he suspects that he's being Mind Probed instead of talking to the Ancient who helped him ascend:
"Oma": You control the barrier between your consciousness and what you seek. You merely need to open your mind. The truth is, all knowledge, everything that is and was and will be, is everywhere? Out there, and in all of us.
Daniel: If you immediately know the candlelight is fire, then the meal was cooked a long time ago.
Daniel: No. You're trying to understand it, aren't you?
"Oma": It means what you want it to mean.
Daniel: No it doesn't. And you're not Oma.
["Oma" morphs into Replicarter]
Replicarter: No, I'm not, but it doesn't matter. Thanks to you, I found what I was looking for.
- A perfect example from earlier in the episode (around the time when Daniel begins to cotton on):
"Oma": If you are seeking an absolute truth, you will not find it. Only truth that applies to you.
Daniel: ... That is so extremely unhelpful.
- There was another episode in which the Harsesis child, Shifu, appears, after having spent several years under Oma's care. He also spoke only in koans.
Shifu: If the instrument is broken, then the music will be sour.
Daniel: The music does not play the musician.
Shifu: Normally, there is truth in that.
Daniel: That's good, because I have no idea what I was talking about.
- This does make sense by the end of the episode, though. The SGC wants to use the Goa'uld race-memory to build defenses against the Goa'uld. Shifu demonstrates to Daniel that since it's race memory, you can't just take the technical knowledge without also acquiring the personality traits of a Goa'uld. So in this particular case, the music does indeed play the musician. In the same episode, Jack tries to explain one of Shifu's koans to Hammond:
Daniel Jackson: Shifu. This is General Hammond. He's the leader of this facility.
George Hammond: Welcome to Earth.
Shifu: A spark lights a flame but the candle will only burn as long as the wick.
Jack O'Neill: If I may, Sir. I think what he means is the wick is the center of the candle and ostensibly a great leader, like yourself, is essential to the whole ball of wax. Basically what it means is that, it's always better to have a big long wick. Right?
Daniel Jackson: Don't look at me.
- Home Improvement: Tim Taylor was always accidentally inventing these, taking Wilson's wisdom and misquoting it later on in the show as mangled but humorous gibberish. An example: when his faulty memory turns a quote from Winston Churchill about representatives from each branch of the military being put together amounting to "the sum of their fears" when it sounds more to him like the Village People playing poker, into the following advice for his son: "You know Winston Churchill? Scared to death of the Village People."
Wilson: You know Tim, there's an old folk saying: "Obsessions are like fire and water. Good servants, but bad masters."
Tim: [later] It's like Bad Masterson said: "You can't get obsessed the way old people drive through water if their servants are on fire."
- Used all the time by protagonist Souji Tendou in Kamen Rider Kabuto, leads to many theories about his grandmother in fandom. To elaborate, Souji had an endless supply of profound sounding quotes made by his never seen grandmother which he readily used at every opportunity — even if they were only tangentially related to the matter at hand.
- Babylon 5:
- G'Kar did a few when his followers failed to grasp his point, just to shut them up:
Follower: What is truth? And what is God?
G'Kar: [long explanation]
Follower: Ah... yes... but, what is truth? And what is God?
G'Kar: [sighs] Truth is... [throws up his hands in exasperation] a river.
Follower: Ah, yes! And what is God?
G'Kar: God is... the mouth of the river.
- This was also a bad habit of Byron's, sharing space with blackmail, arrogance, and having a really bad haircut.
- While Kosh delivered many a genuine Koan in the course of the series, in "Deathwalker" he proceeded to engage in a cryptic conversation with a character named Abbut which consisted mostly of these. It counts as this trope because the real purpose of the conversation was to get a mental scan of Talia, ostensibly there as a telepathic mediator, to stimulate and preserve her feelings of reflection, surprise and terror. If her character hadn't left the show, this would have been used as insurace after "Divided Loyalties".
- G'Kar did a few when his followers failed to grasp his point, just to shut them up:
- The Mighty Boosh is fond of playing with these. "We all dream... but do we really dream?" and from the radio, "if you look at a pebble, you will see your own face!" is Howard's scornful example of Rudy Monchego's "simple rustic wisdom."
- A Running Gag on F Troop. Chief Wild Eagle has an old Indian saying for every occasion, though they come across as sheer gibberish. Lampshaded on occasion when he admits he doesn't know what a saying is supposed to mean.
- An example used by Soupy Sales on his old TV show: "A wet bird does not fly at night."
- In the Doctor Who episode "The Fires of Pompeii", the Doctor and a soothsayer trade these.
Lucius: A name is but a cloud upon a summer wind!
Doctor: But the wind is felt most keenly in the dark.
Lucius: But what is the dark other than an omen of the sun?
- It went on like that. So when it turns out he does have the ability to see the future and knows exactly who the Doctor is, it's quite the Oh, Crap! moment.
- Notably, the last expression, with which the Doctor "wins" the exchange, is "I concede that every sun must set, yet the son of the father must also rise," which, in addition to being meaningless, also relies on a pun (son/sun) that doesn't work in Latin, the language they were supposedly speaking at the time. It would explain why the soothsayer gave up at that point, actually; from his perspective it was random gibberish.
- The Seventh Doctor was known to get human expressions mixed up from time to time, with one resulting in a koan: "Time and tide melts the snowman."
- One of the skits on Retro Game Master (or the Japanese original anyway) is to have a monk read aloud from a video game strategy guide, which makes the writing sound like prophetic wisdom.
- Lampshaded on The Office (US) — Michael's Last Dundies:
Deangelo: Maybe I just need to look into my heart. Deangelo, where is Michael Scott?
Michael: I am here, in a good way. I've been here the whole time.
Oscar: The analytical part of me wants to examine it. But I know it has no content.
- In the first episode of Mr. Show, a priest after he discovers he's been tricked by his friends gives us one of these:
Father Jim: When life gives me lemons, I make lemonade. When I ask someone for a glass of water and they give me a glass of sand, I turn it over, make a sand castle and then pretend I'm the king. If somebody throws a rock at my head, I pretend that the bruise is a faded tattoo, and that I was once a sailor and ran a sweatshop in Singapore . . . I'm not too proud of that time in my imaginary life.
- Get Smart. Max tries to come up with a pearl of wisdom at the end of an episode, with expected results.
Max: Life is like a shirt. If you lose your buttons... no. I know: Life is like a sheet!
99: (waiting) Yes?
Max: Why? Isn't life like a sheet?
- Phil Dunphy on Modern Family has a few of these. "When Life gives you lemonade, make lemons. Life will be all like whaatt?"
- Banacek has an "old Polish proverb" for every occasion.
Banacek: A truly wise man never plays leapfrog with a Unicorn.
- Star Trek: Voyager. Many of Neelix's "Talaxian sayings" are these:
"Good news wears no clothes.""When the road before you splits in two, take the third path."
Young Tuvok: If I was meant to deny feelings, why was I born with them? Where's the logic in that?Vulcan Master: Hidden for you to find. Or in plain sight for you to ignore.Young Tuvok: You speak in riddles because the truth frightens you!
- A flashback scene revealed how Tuvok was a Former Teen Rebel against the Vulcan philosophy of strict emotional control.
Kim: There's an old Chinese expression. Stay out of harm's way.Paris: That's not a Chinese expression!Kim: If it works, use it.
- Inverted in "Parturition".
- Half of the things that Gary Busey says on World's Dumbest... fall under this, usually with the rest of the cast making faces behind his back.
- In Barney Miller, Japanese-American cop Nick Yemana would occasionally come out with a piece of "Oriental wisdom" from his grandfather that ended up like this, such as "Many things look bleak at the moment of their occurrence, but at least we ain't got locusts."
- In the Pilot Movie for Kung Fu: The Legend Continues when Peter quotes his father back to him.
Peter: "Ah yes. Darkness shall overcome the light," as you would say. "But splinters of black will easily be crushed. The illumination of one candle shall forever touch mankind's luminous spirit."Kwai Chang: I never said anything like that. Means absolutely nothing.Peter: I know. Sounded great though, didn't it?
- Sally on The Dick Van Dyke Show frequently quotes her Aunt Agnes, much to the confusion of her fellow writers, and herself.
Sally: "Every time I think of those words, I want to cry..."Buddy: "How come?"Sally: "Because I think my Aunt Agnes is a nut!"
- M*A*S*H plays it seriously in "Sometimes You Hear The Bullet." An underage soldier confides to Hawkeye so he can serve but later Hawkeye's childhood friend dies before him in the O.R. Henry tries to offer a note of philosophy.
Henry: All I know is what they told me at medical school. Rule one: kids die. Rule two: Doctors can't change rule one.
- Father Mulcahy handwaves this when General Steele ("The General Flipped At Dawn") says "There are no atheists in foxholes."
- Invoked in an episode of Power Rangers Jungle Fury by R.J. who delivers one to Dai Shi after a fight, just to mess with him.
Dai Shi: "Consider this a draw, but hear me Wolf Master: tomorrow is another day!"R.J.: "And tomorrow, today will be yesterday!"R.J.: (To his father) "I always like to leave my enemies with a confusing thought."
- Black Books: When the Little Book Of Calm is swallowed, and hijinks ensue:
"Add a dab of lavender to your milk, leave town with an orange, and pretend you're laughing at it."
- Monty Python's Flying Circus: Gavin Millarrrrrrrrrrrrrr's report on a Neville Shunt play that uses railway timetables as a metaphor turns into a non-stop series of koans.
Some people have made the mistake of seeing Shunt's work as a load of rubbish about railway timetables, but clever people like me who talk loudly in restaurants see this as a deliberate ambiguity, a plea for understanding in a mechanized world. The points are frozen, the beast is dead. What is the difference? What indeed is the point? The point is frozen, the beast is late out of Paddington, the point is taken. If La Fontaine's elk would spurn Tom Jones, the engine must be our head, the dining car our oesophagus, the guard's van our left lung, the cattle car our shins, the first class compartment a piece of skin at the nape of the neck, and the level crossing an electric elk called Simon. The clarity is devastating. But where is the ambiguity? It's over there in a box. Shunt is saying the 8.15 from Gillingham when in reality he means the 8.13 from Gillingham. The train is the same, only the time is altered. Ecce homo, ergo elk. La Fontaine new his sister and knew her bloody well. The point is taken, the beast is moulting, the fluff gets up your nose. The illusion is complete; it is reality, the reality is illusion and the ambiguity is the only truth. But is the truth, as Hitchcock observes, in the box? No, there isn't room; the ambiguity has put on weight. The point is taken, the elk is dead, the beast stops at Swindon, Chabrol stops at nothing, I'm having treatment and La Fontaine can get knotted.
- System of a Down's "Aerials" is also composed of these. "Life is a waterfall/ We drink from the river/ then we turn around and put up our walls" Word of God has said that this song doesn't really mean anything, but that was just a joke. The song has been confirmed to be about how a mentally handicapped child looks at the world by both Shavo and Daron.
- Brazilian rock band Engenheiros do Hawaii puts no less than 57 of those in each song as a matter of principle.
- Flight of the Conchords revels in intentionally invoking this trope, particularly in Cello Tape. "Life is like a retractable pencil/If you push on it too hard it's gonna break/People are like paper dolls/Paper dolls and people, they have a similar shape."
- Comedian Bo Burnham performs a song called "#Deep" which is basically a collection of these in a comical attempt to sound pretentious. "If life is an ocean, I am a deep and handsome fish/A fish that's drowning/If the artistic process is the birth canal, then I am a freshly jellied kid/come witness my crowning."
- Nicely parodied in "In Held 'Twas In I" by Procol Harum:
...Let me remind you of the pilgrim who asked for an audience with the Dalai Lama. He was told he must first spend five years in contemplation.
After the five years, he was ushered into the Dalai Lama's presence, who said,
"Well, my son, what do you wish to know?"
So the pilgrim said, "I wish to know the meaning of life, father."
And the Dalai Lama smiled and said, "Well, my son, life is like a beanstalk... isn't it?"
- The Beatles' "I Am The Walrus" starts off with this ("I am he as you are he and you are me and we are all together") and is chockfull of these. Its spoof by The Rutles, "Piggy In The Middle," effects this as well.
- At the end of recording "I Am The Walrus", John Lennon is reputed to have said "Let's see the buggers work that one out"; as the song was at least partially intended as a Take That! to the fans who constantly looked for hidden meanings in other Beatles songs.
- Welcome to Night Vale:
- The proverbs at the end of every episode.
Men are from Mars. Women are from Venus. Earth is a hallucination. Podcasts are dreams.
A bar walks into a bar. The bartender is a snake eating its own tail. The windows look out only onto the face of the one who looks.
Biologically speaking, we are all people made up of smaller people.
Pain is just weakness leaving the body, and then being replaced by pain. Lots of pain.
- Cecil also opens most episodes with these. For example:
Rabbits are not what they seem to be.
Silence is golden. Words are vibrations. Thoughts are magic.
Bananas are hardly that slippery. But watch your step anyway.
The optimist says the glass is half full. The pessimist says the glass is half empty. It is only the truth seeker who wonders "Why is the glass there? Why is there water all over the floor? Why is it covering every other surface of the house? Who — or what — is doing this to us?"
There is a thin semantic line separating "weird" and "beautiful", and that line is covered in jellyfish.
- The proverbs at the end of every episode.
- At random points in a few episodes of Wreckless Media Radio, co-host Bryan Corpolongo lists these. Usually during a discussion of fortune cookie fortunes or motivational speakers. They are frequently bizarre.
- The British newspaper columnist Miles Kington would sometimes write a column filled with "Albanian proverbs", which "tend to be poetic and evocative. You sit and think about them for a while, and savour them. Then you realise that they're either meaningless or wrong." They included:
- Is there anything that an elephant would consider as being big?
- Does a bridge go over a river? Or does the river go under the bridge? (Yes.)
- Whoever said that it takes two to tango had forgotten about the musicians in the band.
- From The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy:
The nearest approach the Guide makes to this matter is on page seven-thousand-and-twenty-three, which includes the words expect the unexpected. This advice has annoyed many Hitch-Hikers in that it is A - glib, and B - a contradiction in terms.
- The sign-off phrase of I'm Sorry I Haven't a Clue is always a variation of this concerning Time, Eternity, Fate and Destiny. The Other Wiki gives us:
"And so, as the hunter of time blasts the moose of eternity, and the dairy counter worker of fate sighs and grabs her mop, I notice it's the end of the show"; and
"And so, as the loose-bowelled pigeon of time swoops low over the unsuspecting tourist of destiny, and the flatulent skunk of fate wanders into the air-conditioning system of eternity, I notice it's the end of the show."
- The following joke from A Prairie Home Companion. You're supposed to get it easily.
Two penguins are sitting on an iceberg, when one turns to the other and says, "You look like you're wearing a tuxedo." The first penguin says, "What makes you think I'm not?"
- Bob and Ray had a recurring character, Wing Po, an Asian philosopher who wandered the old west dispensing wisdom. Well, sorta wisdom.
- The Coodabeen Champions has Guru Bob, a sport-loving guru whose spiritual advice mainly consists of sporting cliches presented as quotes from religious or historical figures.
- The Dungeons & Dragons module Mad Monkey vs. Dragon Claw gives the character Mad Monkey a whole page of sayings of a type called "fortune cookie philosophy". One example is "The goose may fly, the fox may stalk, but only the pig hunts for truffles with his nose."
- This is the M.O. of the Over the Edge character Koanhead. Of course, when he unloads one, it comes true.
- The Shadowrun signature character Man-of-Many-Names contributes to in-universe conversations this way. Other shadowtalkers find it odd and occasionally disturbing when his comments make sense.
- Every time Snake saves his data in Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty, Otacon will tell him a proverb and explain its meaning as a Call-Back to Mei Ling's role in the original Metal Gear Solid. Rather, he fails hilariously to explain their meanings. While the proverbs are legit, his rambling explanations of the meanings vary from wildly incorrect to technically correct but with the wrongest possible justification. If you save your game enough times and hear enough of Otacon's proverbs, Mei Ling actually shows up to deliver a proverb properly and scolds Otacon for losing the cheat sheet she gave him.
Snake: What do pre-ripped jeans have to do with the natural order of things?
- In Monkey Island 2: LeChuck's Revenge, Herman Toothrot asks Guybrush "If a tree falls in the forest and no one is around to hear it, what color is the tree?" After guessing about forty different colors, Guybrush correctly guesses "All colors":
Herman: Exactly. Now, what has this experience taught you?
Guybrush: That philosophy isn't worth my time.
Herman: I'm very impressed! It takes most people years to reach this point. You have learned all that you can from me. Go forth into the world with confidence.
- Xaero from Quake III: Arena spoke almost entirely in these.
- The Like Likes in The Legend of Zelda are supposedly named for the fictitious proverb "Shield Eaters and World Leaders have many likes alike."
- Doc Louis from Punch-Out!! is a master of these on a good day.
Doc Louis: "Y'see, a comeback is like a yo-yo. You goin' down, but you're comin' right back up! And then you may end up walkin' the dog."
- Cernd from Baldur's Gate II verges perilously close to this trope sometimes... and sometimes he dives right in.
Viconia: If a tree falls in the forest, does anyone care?
- Viconia the drow spoofs this in a conversation with the Druid / Fighter Jaheria, in an attempt to get a rise out of her.
- The creators of Creatures hid this gem on the CD:
"Seagulls cannot lick their own necks. This rarely seems to impede them."
- The NES game Bad Street Brawler pushed one on you between each stage. The most (in)famous is the one before the first stage:
Never trouble trouble till trouble troubles you!
- The playable character Zer0 from Borderlands 2 speaks in Haiku for 90% of his dialogue.
Zer0: (when killing an enemy with a Critical hit) Critical killing / Is an art unto itself / And I am Rembrandt.
- In Grand Theft Auto IV, the spoof anime Princess Robot Bubblegum Show Within a Show has Master Hentai spouting a string of these to his pupil in a deliberately meandering and nonsensical manner.
- The Stoic Club in EarthBound, where people stare at a rock and make strange philosophical conversation. To be fair, they're under the influence of some pretty weird cake.
- In Chrono Trigger, the inhabitants of Zeal seem to like these. For instance, "Am I a butterfly dreaming I am a man, or am I a bowling ball dreaming I am a plate of sashimi?"
- This one is a parody of a famous parable in the writings of Chinese philosopher Zhuangzi, in which Zhuangzi wakes from a dream of being a butterfly unsure if he is a butterfly dreaming he is a man or a man dreaming he is a butterfly.
- In Dissidia: Final Fantasy, the trade accessories needed to craft each character's Level 100 weapon each come with a line or two relevant to that character. Several try to be profound and somewhat succeednote , while others are just nonsensical to the point they're almost meaningless.
"One must make their soul like the wind to continue dreaming. Dreams will come true..."
- Shen Yu spouts a few of these in with a terrible Chinese accent in Evil Genius when given orders by the player, such as "He who walk... arrive".
- In Spyro: Enter the Dragonfly, a wise sensei dragon tells Spyro "The way of the dragon is to be a dragon." Spyro, being the type of character he is, actually rolls his eyes at this simultaneously redundant and nonsensical advice.
- The Support class in Monday Night Combat is full of these, largely due to his poor mastery of the English language. "When a tree dies, only the woodpeckers profit."
- In World of Warcraft, many of the Pandaren's /silly commands are these.
How much deeper would the ocean be without sponges? Meditate on this.
Mighty is the wind, but you can still break it. Meditate on this.
- The hot-dog-stand man in Kingdom of Loathing spouts old sayings, reworded into complete absurdity.
"According to conventional wisdom, a fig a day keeps the anthropologist away."
- Whereas the street vendors from Sleeping Dogs just make up their own:
"A man who never eats pork bun is never a whole man!"
Monk: What are you doing here?!
- The series of missions leading up to Winston's wedding also has a portion in which Wei needs to sneak into a monastery to pick an expensive flower from its garden, which he accomplishes by putting on a robe and B.S.ing these on the fly to "blend in" when confronted by the monks.
Wei Shen: When en... when energy flows among flowers... we are all everywhere. I... I am here... and not here. I, um... love flowers.
Monk: Ahh, Brother. So true, so true.
- Steeper Yanru in Jade Empire offers the player several pieces of advice which he believes would make more sense if the patrons were to drink the wine.
- The NES version of Baseball Stars has one as a cheat code. "What is a wren?" "A bird." "When isn't it?" "When it is."
- Godot in Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney: Trials and Tribulations is prone to coffee-flavoured flavours of these. Everyone keeps asking him to start making sense, but he ignores them. Phoenix refers to them as part of his Coffeenese.
Godot: Add the pureness of milk to the perfect, clear darkness of coffee. Stir. Thats the state of the witness's mind right now - - a cup of cafe au lait.
- Shi-Long Lang's "Lang Zi Says" quotes in Ace Attorney Investigations: Miles Edgeworth eventually degenerate into this, so much so that he stops trying.
Lang: Lang-Zi Says: Just go already!
- Shadow Warrior (1997) has fortune cookies as +50% health pickups. The line of text they display when you pick one up tends to be one of these (some of which are already listed in the Jokes section above). The 2013 reboot also includes them, but demotes their value to a mere 5%.
- During the Magi Origin of Dragon Age: Origins, the party encounters a magical talking statue that speaks in cryptic riddles. Jowan, the player character's best friend, is not impressed.
Jowan: I can do it too: "The sun grows dark, but lo, here comes the dawn!"
- In Knights of the Old Republic II: The Sith Lords The Exile is given the option to provide Ice Cream Koans when Atton complains about how Jedi talk in riddles all the time. He immediately doubles down that it's just his luck to be stuck with the only Jedi comedian in the galaxy.
- The manual for the videogame Bad Day on the Midway suggests that if players have moments of confusion, there is an "ultimate help device" from whom they can seek aid: Madame Mandrake, a mechanical Fortune Teller. Unfortunately she only offers useless mixed metaphors, randomly generated from a set of proverbial (and non-proverbial) sentence fragments. This can result in responses such as "An apple a day gathers no moss", "Self-preservation can't get blood from a turnip," and "A friend in need is made to be broken".
- In the Animal Crossing games from Wild World onward you can meet Pascal the Otter, who will hit you with such "deep truths" as "The more you learn, man, the less you know" and "The best things in life are free, but if you try to sell them, you always seem to make a killing".
- Darkest Dungeon: The Leper is usually a fan of regular koans and other sayings, whose meaning you can discern with a little thought even if they can be a little complicated. When he loses his mind and goes Irrational, however, his sayings, spouted with the same conviction and erudite tone, stop making any sense whatsoever and just sound ridiculous.
"Swamp in the heather. Summon the grapefruit cavalry."
- Clarence's Big Chance: One of the dialog choices during the date is "You're like a summer breeze blowing in the wind". Selecting it makes your date think you're poetic.
- In the Danganronpa series, Monokuma is full of these; particularly during the transition from night to morning with skits called "Monokuma Theater" where Monokuma continually spouts out his words of wisdom which all comes out as confusing nonsense.
- My Little Pony: Equestria Girls Digital Series: Spoofed by Pinkie in "Road Trippin", after she uses her sugar-exploding power.
Pinkie Pie: If a tree falls in the woods and then gets sprinkle-blasted to bits, did it ever really exist?
- Homestar Runner: In the Strong Bad Email "no loafing", Strong Bad decides to supplement the "NO LOAFING" sign in his computer room with some motivational posters, including a poster of a windsurfer with the caption "Failure is not a four-letter word" and a wood-burned image of a horse with the caption "The loneliest goat sees the last sunset last..."
- Subverted in this Furmentation page.
- Arguably every koan at Koan of the Day is one of these, but the trope is sent up most memorably in this koan.
- This is the entire schtick of Cho from No Need for Bushido. To wit.
Cho: I'm reminded of a wise saying I once heard about nomadic palm trees...
Cho: The loaf of bread that tries to twist its fate is not a loaf at all, but is, in fact, a pretzel.
Cho: ... and the greatest of these it the ostrich. (actually, we only got the end of that one, but considering the look on the inn hostess' face, we can assume it was a doozy).
- Ozy and Millie occasionally makes Zen jokes using Ice Cream Koans, like showing a Zen map ("Go one place and not another") or a Zen board game ("It's your turn to move by not moving").
- X-ing by not X-ing is a Running Gag in the comic. It's taken to even higher levels of absurdity when Llewellyn runs for president on the Zen Party ticket, and declares that he's running by not running. Ozy asks him why he's running, and he says he's running because he's not not running, and thus that he's not not running by not not not running.
- This strip shows Ozy using an Ice Cream Koan to win a game. Maybe.
- In Arthur, King of Time and Space's space arc, Arthur tells a crewman that in life, "when one door closes, another opens." The crewman later repeats the saying as "Life is an airlock."
- From Schlock Mercenary:
"If a coffee machine passes a baseball bat in the forest, and the only one to see it is a mime, what does he tell the police?"
- One Irregular Webcomic! demonstrates that you should remember that a koan is not a cone.
- xkcd lampshades it in the Alt Text.
- Bob and George: That is the price you pay for playing Monopoly with an eskimo of the night.
- Let Reginald of Nedroid give you a few words of wisdom.
- Sluggy Freelance:
"The synergy of our multimedian experience must be conducive to econotric growth!"
- In "The Quatrix", a simulated version of Riff defends taking Kiki to see the Oracle by saying that "The future and past are merely directions on the same road." When it turns out that he's only doing it so that they can get back to deathmatching, he asserts that "Sometimes, to be deep, we must act shallow."
- In "The Isle of the Ployees", the Great Eeoh says "wise" things that are only irrelevant marketing gibberish.
- Oglaf's Sauna of Enlightenment has plenty of these on offer, with a decidedly NSFW mode of delivery.
- Too Much Information has a tendency to dip into this trope, particularly in the "Grandpy Says" pages.
- In Manly Guys Doing Manly Things, Commander Badass finds that the best way to prevent people overthinking the logistics of time travel and causing reality paradoxes is to distract them with a nonsensical koan during the trip.
- The Random Deepak Chopra Quote Generator does this by taking the various profound-sounding words from Chopra's tweets and mashing them up to form profound-sounding yet meaningless sentences.
The soul belongs to existential marvel!
- Several such sayings, in which reference to the phrase "ice cream koan" was coined, originated at MIT in the 1970s and found their way into the JargonFile. One example:
A novice was trying to fix a broken Lisp machine by turning the power off and on.
Knightnote , seeing what the student was doing, spoke sternly: "You cannot fix a machine by just power-cycling it with no understanding of what is going wrong."
Knight turned the machine off and on.
The machine worked.
- There are numerous of these in Dave Chisholm's not-quite-yet finished Let's Go to Utah. You can find it on his DeviantArt page.
- The Uncyclopedia offers this one:
"Zen makes no sense. Sense, however, does make Zen."
Zombocom is a portal without a door. There is no opening or closing at Zombocom. There is only the passing of seasons. It is another ring in the tree. It is not only the birds but all of life that moves from winter to spring.
- The semi-satirical writing style of controversial video game blogger Tim Rogers frequently involves throwing a lot (a lot) of clever-sounding statements and metaphors at the wall and seeing what sticks. Needless to say, for every legitimate gem of insight he produces, there are often several of these.
- Koenieg in The Intercontinental Union of Disgusting Characters tended to spout these, much to the chagrin of ally and enemy alike.
- Many of the horse_ebooks tweets end up sounding like these, albeit accidentally.
- Similarly to horse_ebooks, Jaden Smith has been criticized rather widely for his profound tweets:
- The subreddit I'm 14 And This Is Deep
- Weird Sun Twitters. For good examples, see the aggregator account Unit of Selection.
- Inspirobot is an AI with a website where it uses phrases, images and meaningful words to randomly generate inspirational quotes. Sometimes, it comes up with good ideas. Some other times, it produces vast amounts of these.
- raocow would sometimes say seemingly political or controversial sounding phrases in his Let's Plays that might just actually be meaningful and insightful. But if you think of it for a while, you will realize that it's just a plain Non Sequitur.
- From Ask a Ninja:
Question: If a ninja kills a man in the forest and there's no one else there, does he make a sound?
Answer: If a ninja does anything, anywhere, he doesn't make a sound. HE'S A NINJA! And if he does, it's probably the last sound you'll ever hear.
- Bennett the Sage makes several of these during Suburban Knights by switching words around. Example: "To answer the phone, the phone must answer you."
- Lampshaded in the Hardly Working episode "Airplane":
Amir: You Americans are all the same. You sacrifice so much for your freedom, but was it... how you say... sacrificed for you?
Dan: That sounded poetic, but made no sense!
- The Chronicles of Jaller: The titular character. He knows tons of meaningless phrases.
Jaller: Oh, come on, Axon, you know what they say: once the cottage cheese has been browning in the barn for too long, no chicken can out run it.
Axon: I'm gonna save a lot of time by pretending that is a real saying...
- An episode of Epic Rap Battles of History has Laozi do this to Sun Tzu, his teammate ("A bowl is most useful when it is empty."). The general has had enough at that point and tells the philosopher to fill that bowl with "shit that makes some sense." It actually did make sense in context (their best move at that point was to do nothing and let the other team tear each other apart) but there was no reason to be so cryptic about it.
- Invoked inThe Nostalgia Critic episode "Revenge of the Commercials". The Critic compares the old Pop Tarts slogan of "So cool, it's hot! So hot, it's cool!" to "one of those Zen riddles you're never supposed to actually get". It then shows two monks standing in a field, with sensei positing the slogan as a Koan, with the student reluctantly asking "pop tarts?" and being angrily told he's wrong.
- A ninja gives a particularly nonsensical, memetic and hilarious version in episode one of Black Dynamite:
Ninja: Ninjas do wrong to each other sometimes, and in that way, the force of the earth comes around the moon, and at that presence, the dirt, it overshadows the grass, so you like "I can't cut this grass; there's no sun coming through." So in order to enable each other, the two fruits have to look each other in the eye, understand we can only be ripe as the ripe is wrong. You know what I mean?Black Dynamite: Man, I never thought I'd see the day when the only person talking any sense was a damn ninja.
- In an episode of Adventures of Sonic the Hedgehog, the crane spouts random food jokes that make no sense as if they were kernels of wisdom. Naturally, Sonic spouts one at the end and makes it about his Trademark Favorite Food.
- Avatar: The Last Airbender:
Huu: Pants are an illusion, and so is death.
- Huu makes one by mutating an actual Koan he used in his last appearance:
- Zuko also creates Ice Cream Koans whenever he tries to imagine what his Uncle Iroh would say in a given situation.
Zuko-as-Iroh: Zuko, you have to look within yourself to save yourself from your other self. Only then will your true self reveal itself.
Zuko: Ugh, even when I'm talking for him I can't figure out what he means.
Zuko: Ugh, what would Uncle say? ... Sometimes clouds have two sides, a dark and light, and a silver lining in between. It's like a silver sandwich! So when life seems hard, just take a bite out of the silver sandwich.
Sokka: [suddenly catching sight of Suki] Maybe we haven't failed after all!
Zuko: That's the spirit. I can't believe that worked. I didn't know what I was saying.
Sokka: No, what you said didn't make sense at all.
- Iroh also lampshades his tendency to give ice cream koans at one point where Zuko is fighting a pirate. He rebukes his nephew with "Are you so busy fighting that you cannot see your ship has set sail?" to which is replied that it isn't the time for proverbs. Iroh points out the pirates' ship really is leaving without them, and then after the pirates make off with their ship while Zuko was busy laughing at them, he muses "maybe it should be a proverb..."
- The Zen Big Guy from The Mighty Ducks cartoon, Grin, would state that pain is an illusion, but quickly be forced to admit that it's an illusion that really really hurts.
- Subverted in The Secret Show. In the episode "The Trousers of Doom", the saying "Is not the cheesecake still a cheesecake after it has been consumed by the ox?" turns out to actually be a plot point.
- In Star Wars: Clone Wars, Jedi Master Luminara Unduli has a monologue during Bariss Ofee's lightsaber construction ceremony. It's actually correct, according to the themes of the franchise, but still somehow sounds like nonsense. Mostly she just rearranges the same six words over and over:
Luminara Unduli: The crystal is the heart of the blade. The heart is the crystal of the Jedi. The Jedi is the crystal of the Force. The Force is the blade of the heart. All are intertwined: the crystal, the blade, the Jedi. You are one.
- Star Wars: The Clone Wars: Every single episode has a "Jedi quote" after the opening logo, the sort of thing you'd expect to find on a motivational poster. While a few manage to be genuinely inspirational, quite a few are nonsensical, redundant, or just plain stupid.
- At the end of the Adventure Time episode "The Other Tarts", the Royal Tart-Toter shows up randomly to deliver this sage bit of wisdom:
Tart-Toter: This cosmic dance of bursting decadence and withheld permissions twists all our arms collectively ... but if sweetness can win — and it can — then I'll still be here tomorrow to high-five you yesterday, my friend. Peace!
- Dad from The Brak Show often delivers these to Brak as words of wisdom, but they rarely help (and Brak rarely listens anyway). His strangest one by far is from "We Ski In Peace":
Dad: Brak, love is a word that once spoken to a woman can not be retracted, because they tend to remember that word, and they often marry you for it. [takes a long drag from a cigarette] Ah ... next thing you know, you take exit 42B, turn left to go .2 miles for the best chicken biscuits in town, and all because the best shoes from the best shoe designers are always 30% off.
Brak: What does that mean, dad?
Dad: It means, "Turn your house into cash."
- Incidentally, the stuff from the second half of his Koan appears on billboards a minute later.
- On The Grim Adventures of Billy & Mandy, one of Mandy's opening lines of dialog goes something like this: "Sometimes you drink the milk, sometimes the milk drinks you."
- The Simpsons plays with this for laughs in a horror special. When every computer on earth crashes (Homer's fault, of course) leading to an apocalypse, Homer appears to be lampshading Lisa's sarcasm, but then turns out to be this:
Lisa: Look at the wonders of technology now!
Homer: Wonders, Lisa, or blunders?
Lisa: [surprised] Dad ... I think that was implied by what I said.
Homer: Implied, Lisa, or implode?
- And in the episode "Colonel Homer", there's one that actually makes sense if you think about it, but it still amounts to a lame excuse:
Homer: Marge, it takes two to lie: one to lie, and one to listen.note
- Subverted and played straight in an early episode featuring Lisa trying to teach Bart Buddhist philosophy. When she asks him: "What is the sound of one hand clapping?" he repeatedly curls up his hand so that his fingers smack the bottom of his palm, making a miniaturized clapping sound.
- And in the episode "Colonel Homer", there's one that actually makes sense if you think about it, but it still amounts to a lame excuse:
- Parodied by Family Guy in this clip. The actual song lyrics:
There's revolution in the air. And also in the river. I'm not gonna cut my hair. The sky's up in the sky. And the rivers are the forests are the mountains are the sea. And I am you, but you are not me. And the visions of our minds are in the valleys which are valleys. And the oceans and a camel and my new socks and a book.
- Tito from Rocket Power often gave profound "Ancient Hawaiian" koans which most were actually pretty meaningful and were often relevant to the plot and/or moral of their respective episodes. The Ice Cream Koan comes from Sammy making fun of this in a video game based on his friends with the in-game Tito expy saying "Never drink milk from a coconut you find in the dark." Tito himself is baffled by this and argues that the ancient Hawaiians have never said that.
- The titular character of Xavier: Renegade Angel speaks this as a primary language, and he believes every word of it too.
They say when you die you shit your pants, but not me. I'm gonna shit my heart.
- Master Fung says these a lot in Xiaolin Showdown. When questioned on it, he admits he has a desk calendar.
Raimundo: I bet he writes this stuff on the back of his hand.Master Fung: No, Raimundo. I write them on the inside of my eyelids. That is why I blink so much.
- On Futurama, after Adlai shoos away the orphans belittling Leela, they begin discussing their careers. After dismissing her job as being "just a package delivery" job, he gives one of his own. It comes across as an unnecessary point of fact, but Leela appeared to be impressed by it.
Adlai: A package is just a box until it's delivered.
- Beetlejuice: In one episode BJ and Lydia deal with a poultrygeist, a ghostly chicken that has answers to every question, so they confuse it into submission by asking it koans. Beetlejuice delivers this gem:
Beetlejuice: If a tree falls on a lumberjack in the forest, and no one's around, does he make a sound?
- In Samurai Jack, Jack is communing with an ancient Monk in an attempt to regain his lost sword. When the Monk tries to offer Jack advice, Inner Jack (an amalgamation of Jack's anger and frustration) immediately accuses him of being this trope.
Jack: This isn't the path? I don't understand! Then you must show me the way!
Monk: I cannot. It is not for me to show you your path.
Inner Jack: THAT'S FORTUNE COOKIE NONSENSE!
- In Recess, Guru kid's advice consists mostly of these, and he even repeats the same ones to kids asking him completely different questions. Somehow though everyone still comes to him for advice.
- Bill Plympton's animated short "The Wiseman" (1991) has an old man saying these, interspersed with Deranged Animation. An excerpt that was turned into an MTV Station Ident is here.
- A common practice amongst real-life Trickster Mentor teachers is to toss a few Ice Cream Koans in among the genuine Koans. This both tests the student to see whether he or she was really paying attention and forces the student to learn to differentiate real wisdom from what merely pretends to be wise.
- Yogi Berra, a former Major League Baseball player, coach, and manager (and probable namesake of Yogi Bear), is one of the richest sources of Ice Cream Koans in popular culture. Over his career, he coined hundreds of Captain Obvious "Yogi-isms," published in multiple books, such as "it ain't over 'til it's over" and "you can observe a lot just by watching."
- The tales of the Sufi mystic, Mullah Nasrudin, work along this principle. although from a different culture (Islamic Sufi mysticism), Nasrudin's tales leave the reader wondering if they are profound wisdom, or Ice-Cream Koans, or a subtle mix of both.
- Matti Nykänen, Finnish top-notch ski jumper, has enriched the Finnish language with such nykänisms, such as "Life is the best time for a human being", "There are fifty-sixty chances for success", "So not?", "Life is like a ball of yarn: it begins and it ends" and "Up there in the tower you are all up yours".
- Billy Connolly gave one he got from a friend, in one of his standup shows: "Life is a waste of time. Time is a waste of life. Get wasted all the time, and you'll have the time of your life!"
- Occasionally, Friedrich Nietzsche's writings can pass for this.
- Jaden Smith has a penchant for writing these on Twitter.
Jaden: If a book store never runs out of a certain book, dose that mean that nobody reads it, or everybody reads it?
- Sometimes attributed to Kurt Vonnegut:
To be is to do — Socrates.To do is to be — Sartre.Do Be Do Be Do — Sinatra.
- Some of the maxims and sayings of Sepp Herberger, long-time coach of the German football team sound a lot like this, notably "After the game is before the game", "The next game is always the hardest game", "He who doesn't dig a pitfall for himself at least has one less pitfall to fall into", and "Some people think that when they talk about thinking they already think". Most of these, however, do make sense in a metaphorical or sarcastic manner.
- Neuroscientist and philosopher Daniel Dennett has used the term "Deepity" to describe a "seemingly profound statement" that has two levels of meanings, one that is trivially true and another one that sounds profound but is actually a meaningless statement. Allegedly it was coined by the teenage daughter of one of his friends. Rational Wiki uses this term for things like this. One example the wiki gives is the old advice "There is no 'I' in 'team'": there is no letter "i" in "team" and "you need to put aside your 'selfish' feeling for the good of the team" but never gives any reason as to why other than "you're a part of the team, so just go along with it".
- In 1995 the mercurial Manchester United player Eric Cantona held a press conference after winning an appeal against his conviction for assaulting an opposition fan. His sole statement was: "When seagulls follow the trawler it is because they think sardines will be thrown into the sea." The utterance was regarded by the assembled journalists as impenetrable, deep and typically French but, really, given the amount of headlines his antics generated, it's not that difficult to decipher.
- Fortune cookies tend to devolve into these whenever theyre not purposefully vague statements (or, at times, especially when). Example: Because of your melodic nature, the moonlight never misses an appointment.
...that's a horse.