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Kate: That is... a really interesting painting.
White: Thank you. Yeah, that's me, taking the bull by the horns. It's how I handle business. It's a metaphor.
Kate: I get it.
White: But that actually happened, though.
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Alice uses a figure of speech. Bob reiterates the usual metaphorical meaning. Alice says no, she meant it literally.

There's also a variation in which Bob questions the metaphor, and Alice responds sarcastically that she meant it literally. See also Visual Pun for when a play on words is given literal visualization. Related to Not Hyperbole, where what seems like an exaggeration isn't, and Made from Real Girl Scouts, where the literal meaning is true... and you really wish it wasn't.

A common way to lampshade the trope is "I've heard of [X], but this is ridiculous!".

Compare Double Meaning, Not Hyperbole, No Longer with Us, Exact Words.

Some Literal Metaphors are so common, they have their own tropes:

  • Kitchen Sink Included: Spoofing the phrase "Everything but the kitchen sink" by including a kitchen sink with a bunch of other random stuff.
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  • Literal Ass-Kicking: Kicking someone's ass generally means that you're going to beat up or defeat the person, but in this case you actually are kicking a person in (or inflicting another injury upon) their rear end.
  • Literal Ass-Kissing: Kissing someone's ass means that you're acting overly sycophantic towards someone, but in this case you actually are puckering up and pressing your lips against another person's backside.
  • Literal Bastard: The character is literally a child born out of wedlock.
  • Literal Change of Heart
  • Literal Cliffhanger
  • Literal Disarming: Preventing a person from using weapons by cutting off the arms holding the weapons instead of disabling or taking away the actual weapons.
  • Literal Maneater
  • Literal Split Personality: Instead of alternating between different personalities, this refers to a character being split into two or more individuals who each represent a different aspect of the character's personality.
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  • Literal Surveillance Bug
  • Position of Literal Power
  • Visual Pun: A sight gag involving a play on words, many of which may reference metaphors.

Example Subpages:

Other Examples:

    open/close all folders 

    Advertising 
  • Hey, how 'bout a nice Hawaiian Punch?
  • In The '80s, Granada TV Rental in the UK had a cartoon mascot of a leopard in a suit covered with multi-coloured polka dots, the point being that by offering a full guarantee and free delivery (unlike—it was implied but not exactly stated—their rivals) they were the leopard that had changed its spots.
  • As was his style, Leslie Nielsen did several in each commercial he appeared in, regardless of the product.
  • One Snickers campaign had characters that actually turned into different (often crabby) people when they got hungry.
  • A series of Santander Bank radio ads revolved around people going to competing banks and getting strange things there, such as a large metal pole ("the shaft"), a man named Jack who follows them around doing exercises ("Jack squat"), or a coat of wool growing on their body ("fleeced").
  • The cigarette Brand Silk Cut stopped formally doing advertisements in 2002. Their final promotional image was of an opera singer with a ripped seam (referencing their campaign motif of cut or ripped silk), a handy Visual Pun telling the viewers that their campaign is over (because the fat lady sung).
  • A Super Bowl commercial for a rather obscure candy bar called the Take 5 ran off a whole string of these, as an office worker raves about the candy, but nobody has heard of it, yet she offends them all by using cliches about unawareness that are all happening around her, such as a guy "living under a rock" (who lowers the rock over himself), being "born yesterday" (who starts crying from their cradle at the desk), "from another planet" (as his head opens up and an exasperated alien shakes its head). Finally a man, bent in half with his head in his colon tells her to give it a rest already.

    Anime & Manga 
  • Revolutionary Girl Utena: These pop up everywhere in Ohtori Academy, often adding a Mind Screw to even the simplest conversations. Phantom baseball games, transforming statues, moving photographs, and invisible press conferences all appear and disappear in the background without comment by the characters, usually as Foreshadowing or to underscore Dramatic Irony. It's anyone's guess just how much of this is intended to be taken as literal fact, some kind of Imagine Spot, or both.
    • The show's director described the main two character's arc as "Utena is the vehicle through which Anthy escapes from Ohtori." Which is one explanation for why she suddenly turns into a sports-car near the end of Adolescence of Utena.
    • In the show, Nanami thinks she's (literally) laid an egg and asks her brother how he feels about girls who lay eggs. "Do you know why we've been able to live together so happily? It's because you aren't the type of girl who lays eggs."
  • In Rocket Girls, Yukari is offered a job that's "so simple even a monkey could do it"—an astronaut.
  • A variation occurs in an episode of Azumanga Daioh, when Chiyo, overwhelmed at the preparations for the Culture Fest, begs someone to turn back the clock before it's too late. Osaka takes this as literal instruction.
  • In Neon Genesis Evangelion, the last half of the episode is set to a backdrop of Beethoven's "Ode to Joy". When Kaworu enters Heaven's Door to merge with Adam (and destroy humanity), they sing a part with two of these metaphors:
    Freude trinken alle Wesen
    An dem Brüsten der Natur
    Alle Guten, alle Bösen
    Folgen ihrer Rosenspur
    Kusse gab sie uns und Reben
    Einen Freund geprüft im Tod
    Wollust ward dem Wurm gegeben
    Und der Cherub steht vor Gott
  • In Episode 10 of Space Patrol Luluco Nova breaks Luluco's heart and stomps on her feelings both figuratively and literally.
    • The finale has Luluco literally firing her heart right back at Nova to make him feel.
    • Also from the finale: Luluco pulls the trigger on a magic bullet filled with memories of her and Nova (some of which are crossovers with other series by the studio that animated it).
  • In One Piece, the country of Zou is ruled by the Minks. Their leaders are Duke Dogstorm and Master Cat Viper, who are so antagonistic that they can't even be awake at the same time; they literally fight like cats and dogs.
  • In Inaba of the Moon & Inaba of the Earth, Reisen asks her mentor Eirin if she could be a bit nicer and adopt a "whip and candy" approach (the Japanese equivalent of "carrot and stick"). Eirin takes her suggestion...which, naturally, involves whipping Reisen, then pelting her with hard candy.

    Arts 

    Asian Animation 
  • Happy Heroes: In Season 8 episode 2, the King explains that the old grandmaster Xiao Haha swept the nation with his token... which is a broom. He literally swept the nation to clean it up.

    Audio Plays 
  • Big Finish Doctor Who:
    • In "The Whispering Forest", Turlough and Nyssa are wandering through tunnels, and Turlough says the hairs on the back of his neck are sticking up. Nyssa assumes he means the caves are spooky, but he actually means they're filled with static electricity.
    • In "The Destroyer of Delights", Amy tells Nisrin, a slave in "Arabian Nights" Days, that she saw a blue man in a cave, and Nisrin seems remarkably unfazed by this. Later Amy tries to tell the Doctor, who misunderstands who saw what and explains to Amy that Nisrin is of Scandinavian origin and the medieval Norse used "blue men" to describe the people of Africa. He's still explaining this when the actual blue man shows up.

    Comic Books 
  • From Birds of Prey #93:
    Lady Blackhawk: You drive. I call shotgun.
    Gypsy: But Shiva's already in that seat...
    Lady Blackhawk: No. I mean — I call shotgun.
  • Scott Pilgrim:
    • Ramona says that her last ex-boyfriend Gideon has a way of getting inside her head. Scott agrees, prompting Ramona to tell him that she means Gideon has a way of literally invading her subconscious.
    • Todd (another evil ex) is called incorrigible, to which he replies that '[he] doesn't know the meaning of the word.' A caption then pops up telling the reader that Todd really doesn't know what it means.
  • A variant, making it part of the mystery, in a Mickey Mouse comics story that casts Mickey as a professional detective: A man accused of destroying evidence against the local mob boss is in a mentally unstable condition, and some of his ravings include the mention of "the monkey on my back". It turns out this refers to the actual pet monkey of the mob boss, who likes to jump down to the backs of intruders and tear them with his claws.
  • Watchmen: Night Owl comments that in the early years, Rorschach "...was quiet, he was grim, but he still had all the buttons on his overcoat". And in fact, in flashbacks to those early years, Rorschach's trench coat has all its buttons—in the 'present day' storyline, his coat is missing one.
  • Archie Comics' Sonic the Hedgehog: During Sonic's trial after the Mecha Madness storyline, Antoine has Amy Rose on the stand and holding up a badger, demanding to know if she invited said badger to join her Sonic fan club. Sally promptly orders Antoine to "stop badgering the witness."
  • The Wicked + The Divine has the gods/artists that Ananke had more trouble controlling, Baphomet and the Morrigan, described as "underground" and given a more indie vibe... while also generally being located underground, with the Morrigan preferring subway tunnels and abandoned stations. Persephone takes it up a notch by being able to sink herself and her allies directly under the earth, while also having the same indie flavor of the other two.
  • Laff-A-Lympics: Yogi says his team "doesn't know the meaning of the word defeat... Several of them don't even know the meaning of the word cabbage! Boy, are they dumb!".
  • Iznogoud: In "Incognito", Iznogoud is said to be "cold and calculating". He mentally calculates that 5,763,257*312,418=1,800,545,225,426 .
  • In a four-page comic book story from The Smurfs regarding Smurfette's visit to the Smurf Village, when Smurfette tells her fellow Smurfs that she wants them to "bring her the moon," the Smurfs take to fulfilling this request rather literally — one Smurf tries to pole-vault up to the sky and grab the moon, another Smurf tries to scoop up the moon's reflection in the water with a net, a third Smurf tries with an arrow and gets another Smurf Shot in the Ass, a fourth Smurf tries to build a rocket, a fifth Smurf makes a cutout of a moon shape, and so on.
  • Used as a gag in The Life and Times of Scrooge McDuck. One issues starts with Scrooges father and Uncle in Scotland reading a letter from Scrooge and reminiscing about all his adventures around the world when:
    Narrator: At this moment, young Scrooge is on the absolute opposite side of the planet from his Scottish home.
    (panel showing fish underwater)
    Narrator: Well, no, that would be in the Pacific Ocean, south of New Zealand, actually...
    (panel show Scrooge riding a camel in full desert outfit, looking for diamonds in Australia)

    Comic Strips 
  • Calvin and Hobbes: Several of Calvin's Fantasy Sequences involve this, sometimes in an inverted order, as in a frog entering his mouth and being swallowed before his mother comments that he has a frog in his throat. Many other comics have since picked up on this and done it ad nauseam.
  • From The Wizard of Id, this one takes the term "hung jury" a little too far...
  • Garfield:
    • In an early strip, Garfield wakes up, and steps out of bed, not realizing it's at the edge of the table, which he falls off of. Jon frantically asks what happens, and Garfield replies, "I got up on the wrong side of bed."
    • Garfield wants to "put a smile on Jon's face". He draws a smile on it.
  • Beetle Bailey:
    • Pretty much any metaphor after processing through Zero.
    • Many of the other jokes as well:
      Frame One: "How does the Chaplain remain impervious to Miss Buxley?" "He just closes his eyes to that sort of thing."
      Frame Two: The Chaplain crashes into a streetlight.
  • Pearls Before Swine has a strip where somebody says that "if that guy doesn't stop talking, my ears are literally going to fall off." Rat chastises him for misusing the word "literally", at which point his ears literally fall off.
  • Zits: Pierce tells Jeremy that he is sure he flunked that last exam because he couldn't "regurgitate the answers". Jeremy sympathetically asks him if he had a mental block, and Pierce replies that he accidentally swallowed his cheat sheet.

    Fan Works 
  • In Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality:
    "Yes," Hermione said, her voice might have been a little acerbic, "that was what I said to Professor Flitwick while I was apologizing to him, that I knew things had gotten out of hand, and he yelled: Really, Miss Granger? Do you think? in a squeak so loud that my ears caught on fire. I mean my ears actually caught on fire. Professor Flitwick had to put them out again."
    Harry had put his hand to his forehead. "Excuse me," Harry said. His face was perfectly straight. "Sometimes I still have a little trouble getting used to that sort of thing."
  • In The Legend of Zelda fanfic Tangled In Time, Fyrus recalls his mother calling him "a little prince" when he was younger. After being crowned King of the Gerudo, he realizes that she was dropping hints about his heritage.
  • Rosario Vampire: Brightest Darkness Act VI: In chapter 35, while explaining why they don't want Talon to free them from their servitude, Jovian and Jacqueline say that they'll die without him. Talon assumes that they're just being dramatic, until they explain that part of their summoning spell includes a curse that will eventually kill them unless they have a master to serve.
  • Deviant Art contributor Daniel-Remo-Art creates an odd interpretation of Deader Than Disco with this Deviation of an undead version of Dazzler. (Warning, slightly NSFW.)
  • In Laughing As I Pray, Thor attacks the X-Men under the false assumption they're out to destroy Midgard after hearing a bigot accuse the mutants from poisoning children's minds and ruining lives. It's justified by the Asgardians being not inclined to distort the facts, which means that when someone claims there is a monster destroying a town and eating children, there REALLY is a kid-eating monster to slay.
  • Over the course of the first several chapters of The Dragon King's Temple, Toph and Zuko repeatedly ask to be allowed to "see sunlight". SGC refuses the request, thinking that it's just a metaphor for feeling confined (similar to "wanting some fresh air" in English). It isn't: As a firebender, Zuko will literally die if cut off from Sun for long enough.
  • Jim in Becoming the Mask never questioned Gunmar's plan to bring on Eternal Night, thinking it was a metaphor for trolls conquering human territory on the surface. He doesn't take it well when he finds out Gumnar really means it.
  • Red Witch's Misfitverse: After being introduced, the mutant Unicorn (no relation to any canon version from the comics), weapons master of Factor Three (the heads of the European branch of the Hellfire Club) is noted as having a "terrible power". It's eventually revealed as Unicorn is dying, and turns out to be literally terrible because it's completely useless in battle: Unicorn can change the color of flowers. Deadpool, who's the one who shot and fatally wounded him, is surprised by how useless it is; Unicorn's last words, responding to him, are "I know... Isn't it... a terrible power?"

    Films — Animation 
  • In Tangled, when Mother Gothel is outside Rapunzel's tower, waiting for her to let down her hair, she impatiently shouts, "Rapunzel, I'm not getting any younger down here!" If you don't know the context behind this line, Mother Gothel needs to be close to Rapunzel's Magic Hair to maintain her youth and if she's away from Rapunzel for too long, she starts aging noticeably.
  • In Chicken Run, Rocky and Ginger are trying to escape from the chicken-pie-making machine. When they get pushed into one chamber, Rocky exclaims, "Whew! It's like an oven in here..." A second later, gas flames shoot up on all sides and the door starts to close.
  • In Blue Harvest, Chris!Luke's fellow pilot Dack tells him "I feel like I can take on the whole Empire today!" Chris!Luke shouts to everyone in the hangar "Hey guys, Dack says he's got this one!" In The Empire Strikes Back the same conversation happened with Dack's statement being taken for the metaphor you'd expect. In Blue Harvest, we see Dack fly solo against a star destroyer and get nonchalantly one-shotted.
  • Shrek:
    • At the end of the Shrek 2 DVD version, Shrek and Fiona judge a sing-off with Simon Cowell. Donkey and Dragon decide to sing "Disco Inferno" ("burn, baby, burn!").
      Simon: You're on fire, Donkey!
      Donkey:Burn baby burn...
      Shrek: No, you're really on fire!
      Donkey:Burn baby burn, oh, yeah![sees that his tail's on fire] AAAAAAAH!!!!!!
    • In Shrek Forever After, after a demonstration of the Pied Piper's abilities, Rumplestiltskin ominously states that it's time to pay the piper. He then yells at his witches that he literally has to pay the Piper and to go get his checkbook.
  • At the end of Atlantis: The Lost Empire, while Whitmore is going over the gang's cover story:
    Whitmore: What happened to Helga?
    Cookie: Weeeeeell, we lost her after a flamin' zeppelin come down on her—[Mrs. Packard whacks him on the head with her umbrella] Uh, missin'.
    Whitmore: And Rourke?
    Dr. Sweet: Nervous breakdown. You could say he went all to pieces.
    Cookie: In fact, you could say he was trans-a-morgified, and then busted into a zillion[Packard threatens him with her umbrella again] Uh, he's missin', too.
  • Zootopia:
    • On Judy's first day in the police headquarters, Chief Bogo says he needs to address the elephant in the room... then looks at an elephant officer. "Francine? Happy birthday."
    • Tundratown crime-lord Mr. Big tries to "ice" Judy and Nick... in this case, it literally involves dropping them into a tank of ice water.
  • Hercules had one when Hades' coup on Mt. Olympus was foiled by Hercules.
    Hades: Thanks a ton, Wonderboy! But at least I've got one swell consolation prize! A friend of yours, who's dying to see me!
  • The Simpsons Movie: When Homer tries to operate a wrecking ball he accidentally knocks himself over and gets tossed between a rock and a hard place - meaning an actual giant rock and a saloon-style bar called A Hard Place.
  • Monsters vs. Aliens
    • The President defiantly fires at a huge alien robot that's Immune to Bullets, shouting "Eat lead, alien robot!" Then there's a gulping noise from offscreen.
    President: Evidently, they eat lead. Huh.
    • At their wedding, Derek tells Susan that she's glowing, by which he means she's actually glowing green.
  • Isle of Dogs has Chief (a dog) calling Spots (another dog and his brother) a "son of a bitch" when the latter wants to leave his post as Atari's guard dog to lead his pack in peace.
  • In Rango, when they're exploring the tunnels, Rango has the idea of putting the torches out so they can see where daylight is coming from, snuffing his own one with his hat. Beans jokes that if he keeps having smart ideas, his head will catch fire, and it immediately does, because his hat was still smouldering from the torch.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • In Aguirre, the Wrath of God, the expedition is descending the Andes, having already had some difficulties. One character says optimistically, "It can only go up from here!" Another looks at the slope they're on and corrects him literally, "No, down." Actually, the second character is also metaphorically right: things got worse drastically.
  • Airplane!: The series is fond of this trope in general.
    • As a visual gag, when someone is warned about the shit hitting the fan. Cut to a view of the fan.
  • Apollo 13: In both Real Life and the film, the carbon dioxide levels aboard the Lunar Module rose faster than anticipated, because the LM's air filters weren't designed to support all three crew members at once. (The LM was only designed to support the two crew who would land on the moon, while the third would have stayed in orbit in the Command Module.) The Command Module's filters were up to the task (after all, it was the crew's main living space), but the CM was deactivated and its air filters were not compatible with the LM's ports- because the CM's units were square and the LM's were round. Flight Director Gene Kranz promptly Facepalms and lampshades it (they manage it).
    Kranz: Well, I suggest you gentlemen invent a way to put a square peg in a round hole. Rapidly.
  • In Being There, Chance the gardener's comments about plants are mistaken for profound metaphorical statements about the economy.
    Chance: As long as the roots are not severed, all is well. And all will be well in the garden.... In the garden, growth has its seasons. First comes spring and summer, but then we have fall and winter. And then we get spring and summer again....
    Benjamin Rand: I think what our insightful young friend is saying is that we welcome the inevitable seasons of nature, but we're upset by the seasons of our economy....
    The President: Well, Mr. Gardner, I must admit that is one of the most refreshing and optimistic statements I've heard in a very, very long time. I admire your good, solid sense. That's precisely what we lack on Capitol Hill.
  • Occurs in Bugsy Malone. One of Fat Sams workers says he can't stop Dandy Dan's gang because "he's all tied up" (he's actually tied up). Fat Sam replies "I don't care how busy you are."
  • The Cobbler revolves around a magical shoe-stitching machine that lets the main character turn into his customers by trying on their shoes, i.e. literally letting him walk a mile in their shoes.
  • In one scene of DodgeBall: A True Underdog Story, we learn that the film's villain, sleazy fitness mogul White Goodman, has a painting of himself riding a wild bull hanging in his office. He helpfully states that it's a metaphor for how he runs his business ("Taking the bull by the horns,"). Then he adds that, even though it's a metaphor, the scene in the painting actually happened to him. (It probably didn't.)
  • In The Gay Divorcee, the title of "Let's K-nock K-nees" appears to be a sexual innuendo, as the song is filled with them. In the ensuing dance number, Egbert, the singer, and the chorus members repeatedly tap their knees against their partners'.
  • Get Smart: One of the characters uses this as a Public Secret Message to tell Max where the villain planted the warhead they intend to use in the finale. Max, at that moment, is in a holding cell with only a radio to pass the time. So the other character (it's hard to tell whether it's another CONTROL agent or one the sympathetic enemy minions he met) puts in a request on the radio station.
    "We have a caller requesting this song with a dedication. They asked us to say to their friend Max: 'Get yourself over to Los Angeles, because things are going to be hot real soon! Nuclear hot!' Phew... If I was Max, I'd get over to Los Angeles, I think!"
  • The campy 1992 movie Highway To Hell has a scene where the old proverb "The road to Hell is paved with good intentions" very literally; in the scene, the souls of good-intentioned sinners are ground into pavement by a team of workers who look like Andy Warhol, from the Good Intentions Paving Company. "I was only sleeping with my husband's boss to advance his career", one of them says sadly.
  • H.M. Pulham, Esq.: Kay and Harry are going boating. She admits that she thought a man was going to sweep her away, only for him to dump her. Then she remembers Harry's breakup with his girlfriend Marvin and says "I guess we're both in the same boat." Harry looks down at the actual boat that they're actually in, chuckles, and says "Yes, well, we're in the same boat."
  • In Hocus Pocus, the witches sing "I Put a Spell on You" to a crowd of party-goers. It puts them into a trance.
  • In Holmes & Watson, Klinger has a His Name Is... moment were he is about to tell Holmes the details of the conspiracy, but instead announces that he has a knife in his back. Holmes thinks this metaphorical, i.e. he his partners have betrayed him or 'stabbed him in the back'. But then Klinger keels over with a literal knife in his back.
  • In Hook, Tootles, a former Lost Boy and now elderly man, complains that he has “lost his marbles.” It turns out he actually had a bag of marbles, which were his “happy thought,” but he left them in Neverland. Once they are returned to him he is able to fly (with the help of pixie dust).
  • As Harpo Marx proves in Horse Feathers, you can indeed burn a candle at both ends.
  • Topper Harley says he has his father's eyes in Hot Shots!. He carries them in a glasses case.
  • In allegorical film Hypocrites the character of the Naked Truth is portrayed by a nude woman.
  • In Time, with its premise of using the time of your life as currency, regularly features phrases such as "spending time", "out of time", and "give me a minute" used in a literal sense.
  • Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade: Indy and Henry Sr. argue over traveling to Berlin to get the Grail diary or going to Iskenderun to save Marcus, they're at a literal crossroads, with the road sign shaped like a cross.
  • At the beginning of It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World when Jimmy Durante's character dies, his leg spasms - and kicks a bucket.
  • Towards the beginning of The Jerk, Navin Johnson literally learns the difference between shit and Shinola from his adoptive father.
    Mr. Johnson: [points at pile of manure] You see that, son? That's shit. [takes out bottle of Shinola] And this is Shinola.
    Navin: [pointing] Shit... Shinola...
    Mr. Johnson: Son, you're gonna be alright.
  • A double example occurs in the 1973 film of Jesus Christ Superstar: After Pilate has Jesus whipped, he holds him in his arms, getting Jesus' blood on his hands. After sentencing him to death, he washes his hands of Jesus' blood.
  • Lady Bird: Discussed when Kyle, who comes from a rich family, visits Lady Bird's middle-class family and notes how she told him that she "lives on the wrong side of the tracks," and he actually did cross railroad tracks on the way to their house. Lady Bird's family are visibly pained by his Innocently Insensitive statements.
  • In Liar Liar, Fletcher tells his ex-wife that he's too busy at the office to be with his son. His exact words are "The boss is really riding me"; he's actually having sex with his boss, who is literally grinding on top of him as he says it.
  • In Little Shop of Horrors, Mr. Mushnick sarcastically asks Audrey why she's late for work (he knows her boyfriend is abusive, but she's reluctant to admit it):
    Mushnick: Let me guess, you were all tied up.
    Audrey: No, just handcuffed a little.
  • Marvel Cinematic Universe:
  • Mrs. Doubtfire: Daniel (as Mrs. Doubtfire) tells Miranda that the (fictional) Mr. Doubtfire was killed by the drink. Miranda assumes this means he was an alcoholic and drank himself to death, but Daniel clarifies that he was hit by a Guinness truck.
  • Happens in My Favorite Year. Alan Swan is drunk, and hanging off a building by a fire hose.
    "I think Alan Swan is beneath us!"
    "Of course he's beneath us. He's an actor!"
    "No! I think Alan Swan is beneath us right now!"
  • In Singin' in the Rain, Don Lockwood has escaped his adoring fans by jumping into Kathy Sheldon's car. After suggestive dialog, Don must tearfully depart. He inadvertently closes the car door on his (already-ruined) suit.
    Don: Farewell, Ethyl Barrymore. I must tear myself from your side. Exaggerated rip, followed by exasperated expression.
    Kathy: Uncontrollable laughter
  • Early in Trainspotting, the heroin-addicted protagonist goes to a friend in hopes of scoring one last hit before he goes clean, but finds that said friend only has opium anal suppositories. Disappointed, but realizing that they're the closest thing to heroin that he's going to get, he takes the suppositories, inserts them into his anus, and remarks "For all the good they've done me, I might as well have stuck 'em up my arse!"
  • In Village of the Damned (1960), the protagonist focuses on the words "brick wall" to hide how he plans to kill the psychic children. We see their attempts to break through his Psychic Static as a literal brick wall, which slowly falls to pieces as they force their way in. By the time they finish breaking through, there isn't enough time left to stop the explosives from going off.
  • Who Framed Roger Rabbit:
    • R.K. Maroon claims that Dumbo "works for peanuts". Meaning Maroon literally pays Dumbo with peanuts, seeing as he's an elephant.
    • Eddie Valiant takes pictures of Jessica Rabbit and Marvin Acme literally "playing patty-cake".
    • Dolores catches Eddie with his pants down (he had just gotten out of the shower and was getting dressed) when Jessica Rabbit tries to seduce/sweet-talk him into helping Roger.
    • Near the end of the movie, Roger tells Judge Doom and his goons that the real meaning of justice "would probably hit you like a ton of bricks!" Then one of the weasels drops an actual ton of bricks on Roger's head.
  • In Witness for the Prosecution, Leonard recounts his first meeting with Christine by saying "the roof fell in on me." Meaning, Love at First Sight, right? Well, the flashback does show them being pretty into each other from the get-go... and then he knocks over a makeshift support in her half-ruined apartment, causing the roof to actually fall on him.

    Literature 
  • In the book Anansi Boys, Tiger is trapped in a cave with the thoroughly annoying Grahame Coats. Tiger warns him to not be irritating or he will bite Coats's head off.
    Grahame Coats: You keep using the phrase "bite my head off." Now when you say "bite my head off," I take it I can assume that it is actually some kind of metaphorical statement, implying that you'll shout at me, perhaps rather angrily?
    Tiger: Bite your head off. Then crunch it. Then swallow it.
  • In the final story in Angels of Music Irene Adler calls Olympia "a real doll", Kate Reed chides her for using Americanisms; Irene replies she wasn't.
  • Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency had a Language Equals Thought gag running into this, which doubles as a Brick Joke to a moment when Dirk's secretary rips a handful of pages out of a dictionary in order to make it fit in a desk drawer:
    The word "impossible" is not in my dictionary. In fact, everything between "herring" and "marmalade" appears to be missing.
  • Discworld:
    • The Truth, about the Discworld's first newspaper, begins with someone yelling "Stop the presses!"... because the cart carrying the printing press in question has come loose and is careening down the street.
    • The Colour of Magic has the world's first tourist attempting to convince a bunch of brawling heroes to pose for a picture. He barely speaks their language and none of them have ever seen a camera before. His guide tells them that the box the man is carrying has a little imp inside who will draw them really quickly, in an obvious attempt to keep them from getting confused or asking too many questions. The guide is as surprised as the reader when the imp turns out to be real.
    • In Guards! Guards!, Nobby Nobbs tries to kicked a downed troll "in the stones", and nearly breaks his foot when it turns out those parts are made of rock, as well.
      "Have trolls got stones?"
      "Stands to reason."
    • In Moving Pictures, characters affected by the magic of Holy Wood really do have stars in their eyes.
    • A variant in Feet of Clay, where the literal interpretation leads to the metaphorical one: Early in the book Chalky the Troll examines some clay and says it's crank (a coarse clay) with a lot of grog (pre-fired clay) in it. It's also been sort of heated, but not baked properly, leaving it crumbly. When the insane Golem King appears, he's cranky, groggy, half-baked and cracking up.
    • One of the possible results of dark-light photography, as seen in The Truth, is that the resulting photo will show a metaphor as if it were literal. For instance, someone whose father looms high in their life is pictured with their father standing behind them and looking down over their shoulder.
    • In Going Postal, Moist's reaction to seeing the once-proud Post Office is "Oh, shit!" Mr Pump reproves him for his language, but he explains it was a statement of fact: the place is filled with pigeon droppings. Then he finds out they're actually piles of dead letters covered in pigeon droppings. Near the end of the book, Reacher Gilt is forced to go on the run, but not before mailing his pet cockatoo Alphonse to Moist, which as Adora points out is Gilt literally giving Moist the bird on his way out.
    • It's a minor Running Gag that Corporal Nobbs has the body of a twenty-year-old, though "nobody's quite sure where he keeps it."
    • Igors are experts at organ transplants and don't believe in letting useful body parts go to waste. If an Igor says he has his grandfather's hands, he isn't being metaphorical.
  • The Dresden Files. Inverted in Death Masks: Dresden tells Molly she's sounding all grown up, and Molly snarks that "The breast fairy came to visit and everything." Quoth Dresden, to the reader, "Some might find it significant that it took me a second to realize she wasn't being literal about the faerie. Sometimes I hate my life."
  • In Heinlein Glory Road they're on a quest, when Star says that after a few hazards involving blood kites, their way is easy because they come to a nice brick road. "A yellow brick road?", Oscar asks. "Yes. That's the clay they have. Does it matter?" Star replies.
    • Later, a host greets them for breakfast with a dagger slammed into a leftover joint of meat (to show his disdain for his guests). Star stalks out, saying she's not going to be given cold shoulder.
  • Just before the Sun impales him with light, the narrator of The Great Divorce is reminded of the errors that could arise from assuming his vision of Heaven encompasses the entire unending super-nature of God and says "God forbid." The narrator's guide says, "He has forbidden it. That's what I'm telling ye."
  • In Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, Tom Riddle tells Wormtail he will get to "perform a task most [his] followers would give their right hand to perform" — little does Wormtail know that to perform the task you literally have to sacrifice your right hand as a flesh offering for Dark Magic.
  • In Jago, one of the first signs that Anthony Jago's arrival in the village is warping reality is a small girl, whose grandfather says "Jesus H. Christ on a bicycle!" when he's upset, meeting Jesus Christ in the flesh... and riding a bicycle.
  • In The Legacy of the Glorious, the part where the Spanish-American War begins is called "The Boiler Explodes", which is what literally happens to be what starts the war, as an American ship's boiler's explosion makes the Americans believe the Spanish are attacking them.
  • In the Rivers of London novel Lies Sleeping, a character tells Peter (a very proud Londoner) "London sucks". While she means it the way it sounds, she also means that London sucks everything out of the rest of the country.
  • Many in Neverwhere, mostly involving stations on the London Underground. There's a bridge with a knight at Knightsbridge, a creature called the Gap you have to beware of, black friars at Blackfriar's, an earl and his court at Earl's Court...and more.
  • In Paper Towns, Margo leaves a clue by highlighting a line from Walt Whitman's "Song of Myself": "Unscrew the locks from the doors! Unscrew the doors themselves from their jambs!" The gang considers various metaphorical meanings, but the actual clue meant that there was another clue hidden inside one of Q's door hinges.
  • In the Past Doctor Adventures novel Dying in the Sun, Golden Age Hollywood is secretly invaded by Emotion Eater aliens made out of starlight, who give the humans they possess a powerful Glamour. The movie director facilitating their takeover really can make you a star.
  • The Phantom Tollbooth is loaded with these types of jokes. It starts with Milo literally going beyond Expectations on his way to the Land of Wisdom, and includes moments like him and his companions jumping to Conclusions (a small Deserted Island off the coast) and having to swim back to the mainland.
  • A Song of Ice and Fire: Telling Tyrion his answer to the riddle of the sellsword and the three powerful men, Varys says political power is a "shadow on the wall . . . yet shadows can kill." Later in the same volume, both Ser Cortnay Penrose and self-styled King Renly Baratheon are literally killed by a shadow.
  • From Skulduggery Pleasant:
    • Skulduggery states in the first book that his skull was stolen several years ago by goblins - or, as Valkyrie puts it, he lost his head.
    • In the fifth book, Skulduggery gets an artificial, magic face to cover his skull. Unfortunately, it starts malfunctioning, and at one point his face starts drifting across the skin on his head, leading to Valkyrie saying "You've got eyes on the back of your head, and I don't mean that as a compliment."
    • When the title character's subconscious becomes a physical, evil being the main characters have to fight.
      Valkyrie: But if you can confront your inner demons—
      Skulduggery: I did confront my inner demon. I punched him in the face and he exploded.
    • In Dying of the Light, Clarabelle makes up a story about a mage who fought a warlock after losing all his limbs - making him a master of "unarmed combat".
  • Done in the narration in Star Carrier: Earth Strike during a Xenofiction moment.
    "Emphatic Blossom at Dawn, like all of the Turusch, was of three minds.
    "Literally." [book goes into an infodump about Turusch Bizarre Alien Psychology]
  • Summer in Orcus: In the fantasy land of Orcus, "house hunting" is the profession of tracking and trapping wild houses, and breaking them in to be sold on the domestic market.
  • The young adult novel This Place Has No Atmosphere. The expression that a place "has no atmosphere" generally means that the place in question is especially dull and boring. However, the novel is set on the Moon, which literally has no atmosphere.
  • In The Invisible Library dragons have innate Elemental Powers. In the second book, The Masked City, when Irene says the wrong thing to a dragon king, the temperature in the room really does drop a couple of degrees. And when he gets really angry, the atmosphere does indeed start to thicken.
  • In The Unexplored Summon://Blood-Sign, a bored Aoi complains that Kyousuke isn't interested in her, and the fish aren't biting. That's not repetition- she's actually fishing in her spare time.
  • In the Doctor Who New Adventures novel Set Piece, the Doctor explains to Ace that he had to pull a Memory Gambit to stop the Big Bad discovering his plan, but not only has he forgotten the plan, he's also forgotten what the mnemonic trigger that would restore it was. He tells her "I've completely lost my marbles", and she remembers that earlier, he gave her a bag of marbles...
  • At one point during the Star Trek: The Lost Era novel The Buried Age, Picard recalls an incident aboard the Stargazer where an unfortunate interaction between their warp engines and a singularity created a temporal anomaly that literally blew the ship into the middle of the next week.
  • In Card Force Infection, being around Yuu makes Naota sick. It's not that his presence is upsetting, but there's a curse that makes Naota physically ill around Yuu, because they're magically forbidden from being near him.

    Music 
  • "At your command, before you here I stand, my heart is in my hand — yeucch!" from Tom Lehrer's "The Masochism Tango", on An Evening Wasted with Tom Lehrer.
  • Variation in Gorillaz's We Are the Dury:
    Murdoc: It can be very distracting when you've got six or seven decomposing zombies stuck up your chimney flue.
    2D: We've got a chimney flue?
    Murdoc: I'm speaking metaphorically, D. I'm using the analogy of the chimney flue to describe the, um, passageways of our flowing creativity. The zombies, in this case, are used as a metaphor for blockages to the airways, figuratively speaking.
    2D: Really?
    Murdoc: No. There really are about six undead carcasses stuck up the studio chimney.
    2D: Oh. Well, that'd explain the smell.
  • "Weird Al" Yankovic's "Albuquerque" does this in two places. Once, where a guy sarcastically says, "Noooo, I want you to cut off my arms and legs with chainsaws!", and another time, when another guy says "I haven't had a bite in days."
  • The Lonely Island song "Punch You In The Jeans" says in the chorus that "this is not a metaphor". The song is literally about violence against clothing.
  • "Knee Reconstruction" by Greg Champion, a parody of "Eve of Destruction":
    You may want to play football 'till your dying day,
    But if your knee has had the gong, there is no running away!
  • The Rolling Stones' "Doo Doo Doo Doo (Heartbreaker)" opens with a literal heartbreaker, the police shooting a boy in the chest by mistake.

    Pinballs 

    Podcasts 
  • An early episode of The Hidden Almanac ends with a sponsor message from the city library: "Have you gotten lost in a book lately?" Later episodes make it clear that the question is neither rhetorical nor metaphorical, with accounts of people being lost in books and having to eat their shoes to survive until help came.
  • Welcome to Night Vale:
    • A recurring bit of weirdness when comments are made by a group. When Cecil says "The City Council said...", he probably doesn't mean that they released a statement, or used a spokesman, but that the whole Council spoke as one in hive-minded unison.
    • Also, metaphor in general. There's a really, really good chance that its meant 100% literally. (e.g. "Home is where the heart is. You'll never guess where we hid it, though.")
    • "And now, a word from our sponsors. That word... is carp."
    • At one point when Cecil says he will take a look at the traffic, he proceeds to do so... without particularly describing it to the listeners, but mutters a few observations to himself.
    • After StrexCorp takes over Night Vale, Tamika leads an attack (among other things) of the Book Club. They club people with books.
    • When Cecil was anxious to learn more about Carlos from the representative of the University of What It Is, he told her: "Tell me everything." She answered that would take an awfully long time, and would probably include lots of things Cecil already knows. Cecil then narrowed down his question to information about Carlos.
    • During the mayoral election, Marcus Vansted throws his hat in the ring by having a large boxing ring constructed and throwing one of his hats into it.

    Puppet Shows 
  • The Muppets seem to love jokes like this:
    • The Muppet Movie features jokes about "starting off with a bang", "drinks on the house", and a "fork in the road".
      Fozzie: [as he and Kermit pass a literal fork in the road] Ker-MIT!
      Kermit: I don't believe it.
    • The Muppets series:
      • In the episode "Swine Song", Kermit remarks that he's got butterflies in his stomach... because he eats a lot of butterflies when he's stressed.
      • In "A Tale of Two Piggies", Big Mean Carl is revealed to have a sister who's in real estate.
        Rizzo: She got my brother a great place! There was a bidding war and she just ate the other buyer alive.
        Gonzo: Oh, she sounds like a great negotiator.
        Rizzo: No, no, I’m saying she ate him. While he was still alive. And then my brother got the place.
      • In the same episode, the day after Miss Piggy's Wardrobe Malfunction on the red carpet, Yolanda warns Kermit that Sam the Eagle, who's in charge of Standards and Practices, is waiting in Kermit's office to talk to him, and he has steam coming out of his ears. Cut to a very angry Sam with what appears to be actual steam coming out of his ears. Turns out he was just sitting in front of Kermit's humidifier.

    Radio 
  • Whenever a metaphor is used in Hamish and Dougal there's a good chance that either someone will take it literally or it was meant literally. (Rarely both at once, for maximum miscommunication.)
  • In one John Finnemore's Souvenir Programme sketch, John plays a diplomat dealing with a very tough team of negotiators. The one in the middle is "slightly to the right of Genghis Khan", the one next to him is "far to the right of Genghis Khan", and the one on other side is, of course, Genghis Khan.

    Tabletop Games 
  • Nobilis:
    • One of the bits of flavor text:
      Humans do not understand the nature of crime on Nigerian campuses. They do not understand why it seems so hard to fight. I did not understand, until I became Noble; until I could see it. The gangs are not packs of rogues. They are not criminals. They are a hydra. Cut off one head and two more grow. This is not a metaphor. This is not a verbal device. They are a hydra. I have seen it rage with my own two eyes.
    • Being a game about Anthropomorphic Personifications in an animistic world, this comes up constantly. The corebook also discusses an infectious laugh (it spreads to anyone who hears it, and makes them keep laughing until they pass out from lack of oxygen), and one of the supplements contains this little gem:
      The stone was as heavy as my sins. That's not a metaphor, not exactly. That's how heavy my mistress had made it.
  • A meta example would be Aye Dark Overlord. This game is a Blame Game. Literally, as the gameplay consist of blaming someone else for failing a mission the Dark Overlord send your team (you and all the other players) on...
  • In the Paranoia adventure Orcbusters (a parody of Dungeons & Dragons), there is a wandering monster table - it's the table where the monsters sit around playing poker with each other when it's not their turn to wander...
  • La Capitan from Sentinels of the Multiverse, a Pirate Girl using Time Travel to plunder riches from history, delivers this gem of an order in the Flavor Text of one of her cards:
    "I want their heads yesterday! Actually yesterday!"

    Video Games 
  • In Grim Fandango, Glottis complains that being fired is like they reached into his chest, tore out his heart, and tossed it into the woods, while doing exactly that to himself. This is rather too serious for Manny to bother questioning the odd choice of metaphor or why he's bothering to act it out literally at the same time.
  • Evil Genius has a brainwashing device for restoring a minion's smarts. How does it restore smarts, you ask? It sucks the patient's brain out through their ear, washes it with a special chemical concoction, then sticks it back in again.
  • Command & Conquer: Renegade had a cutscene where Havoc is escaping from a Nod compound with Sydney Mobius, who is driving the truck. They start arguing, and Havoc then calmly says "cow". She blows up, assuming he called her a cow. A little more urgently, he points forward, "No, cow!" They end up almost hitting an actual cow crossing the road.
    Havoc: Cow.
    Sydney: ... PIG!
    Havoc: No, cow. [points]
    Cow: MOO!
  • Cuphead combines this with Visual Pun. The opening narration describes The Devil's casino as "on the wrong side of the tracks". The boss blocking the entrance to the casino in the game proper is The Soul Train, and you have to cross over its train tracks afterwards, making the opening's description literal.
  • Fallout:
    • The "bloody mess" trait/perk from the series leaves a literal bloody mess of organs whenever you kill an enemy if you have it.
    • The Treeminders of Fallout 3 constantly mistake Harold's requests for a Mercy Kill for some sort of riddle.
    • The Lady Killer perk is a Zig-Zagging Trope. It is both taken as a metaphor (as several female characters can be seduced with it) and literally (as it gives bonus damage against female targets).
  • Borderlands 2:
    • After completing a quest given to you by Patricia Tannis, she states that she has "a pile of blood money with your name on it" with her. She soon assures you that wasn't a metaphor.
    • Inverted later, when Sir Hammerlock promises to pay you "a pretty penny" if you do a favor for him. He immediately clarifies that he's not talking about just giving you a literal penny, seemingly under the assumption that you're unfamiliar with the expression.
  • In Stubbs the Zombie in Rebel Without a Pulse, Police Chief Masters threatens to dance on Stubbs' grave. When you finally confront him, Chief Masters prepares to take this literally by challenging Stubbs to a dance contest that takes the form of a "Simon Says" Mini-Game.
  • After clearing the Mysterious Island War quest in Kingdom of Loathing, either the Orcish Frat House or the Hippy Camp (or possibly both) will be bombed back to the Stone Age... as in, the monsters will be replaced by more powerful cave-man versions of the enemies normally found there.
  • The Mario Kart 7 mod CTGP-7 takes Jumping Off the Slippery Slope Literally - at ridiculously high ccs, everyone goes so fast they go flying off the track the moment they press A. [[Artificial Stupidity The computers are so stupid they go flying off the track within the first few seconds of the race.
  • In Tekken 6's Scenario Campaign mode, on Christie's stage. Her universal dialogue with whoever the player's character is, involves her asking for the whereabouts of Eddy, with the player's character telling her they honestly don't know. Christie believes they're lying, calls them a Mishima devil, and tells them not to play dumb with her. Possibly using the term devil in a number of ways: being an afro latina character and accusing the player of taking advantage of her as a minority (i.e. white devil), or maybe just accusing the player of being deceptive and evil. Either way, her irrationality to find Eddy automatically assumes the player to be working for the Mishimas, which leads to the metaphor she uses. However, you can actually play as Devil Jin, who is a literal devil transformed version of one of the Mishima characters.
  • The recipe for a Hideous Hangover Cure in The Curse of Monkey Island includes "Hair of the Dog that bit you". Literally. You need to take some hair from a dog that bit you.
  • Shows up in Far Cry 3:
    Willis: You have ten seconds to tell me who you are before I remotely detonate the C4 under the table and this whole place explodes like a pop bottle.
    Jason: JESUS!!!
    Willis: I doubt it. Five seconds.
  • Team Fortress 2:
    • The Spy's main attack is "backstabbing" his "teammates" by literally stabbing them in the back with a knife while disguised as someone on their team.
    • In the TF2 comic "A Cold Day in Hell", the Soldier, the Scout and the Pyro kill three Siberian bears, before the Heavy Weapons guy came along and told them those bears were babies. Heavy calls anyone or anything weaker than him a baby, but this time it's literally. He then proceeds to take on the much larger literal Mama Bear.
  • The Pokémon Farfetch'd is a duck carrying a leek, a literal version of a Japanese figure of speech used to indicate something absurdly convenient.
  • People unfamiliar with Portal may hear the song "Still Alive" and not realize that the lines "Even though you broke my heart and killed me/and tore me to pieces/and threw every piece into a fire" are not a metaphor.
  • Persona:
    • Throughout the series, Personas were described as metaphorical "masks", as a tie to Jungian psychology. Persona 2 had the masks the main cast used as children become catalysts for their Ultimate Personas, while in Persona 5, the party's Personas literally transform into personalized masks when not in use.
    • Persona 4, a game whose theme is reaching out for the truth, has the party wear glasses in the Shadow world so they can literally see through the fog blocking what's really in their path.
  • The boss of Mummy's Tummy in Ni no Kuni has an attack called Baby Shower... which has it spawn a ton of baby versions of itself, which rain down from the sky.
  • Undertale occasionally features this as humorous Narrative Filigree:
    "Aaron is sweating bullets. Literally."
    Crawl: "WOSHUA CLEANS UP LOCAL CRIME, LITERALLY FINDS CRIMINALS AND DOUSES THEM IN SOAP, CRIME DOESN'T GO DOWN BUT IT SMELLS AMAZING"
  • In West of Loathing, you'll occasionally be given a chance to say some form of "Metaphor" Is My Middle Name. If you check your character sheet afterward, you'll find that the word in question is, in fact, now your middle name.
  • BlazBlue: Mai's 'supertaste' ability is so potent she can literally taste the love that Noel puts into her cooking. This is coincidentally the best way to enjoy Noel Vermillion's cooking.
  • EarthBound has a pair of inventors in Twoson. One is unpopular with the town but useful to the player, while the other is popular with the town but useless to the player. Their names are Apple Kid and Orange Kid, meaning that you're literally comparing apples and oranges.

    Web Animation 
  • In the Camp Camp episode "Cult Camp", the brainwashed campers are prepping for a "killer" party featuring poisoned flavor-aid à la The Peoples Temple, which has all been organized by the secret Cult Leader Daniel.
    Quatermaster: [Takes a swig] Hmm, was better in Jonestown.
  • In X-Ray & Vav, Flynt Coal is doing a Private Eye Monologue when we get this gem:
    It's a dog-eat-dog world out there. Looking at these streets I can't help but wonder... why are all these dogs eating other dogs? Don't they know that's cannibalism?
  • If the Emperor Had a Text-to-Speech Device:
    • Kitten accuses Magnus of inviting some daemons over for a party. Immediately afterward the camera shows 4 daemons who came for a literal party, with hats, a grill and everything.
    • In the spinoff focusing on Vulkan and Corvus Corax, the Attilans have only one astropath, and "she's an ass". They aren't trying to say she has an unpleasant personality — Astropath Starass is a donkey.

    Web Comics 
  • In an early episode of Questionable Content, Marten describes his job as being "the office bitch". This is his official job title.
  • One patron in Unshelved runs into a problem like this when his girlfriend wants to close the book on their relationship.
  • In Finders Keepers, Death sends Cailyn Asher a knife after Card asks for her (Death's) help. When Cailyn, Card, and Lady Scarring examine the knife later, Scarring calls it "the cutting edge." Cailyn of course asks what it is the cutting edge of, only to be told that the knife is the Cutting Edge, and it literally cuts theory from reality.
  • One strip from Exterminatus Now:
    Eastwood: Oh, I assure you I'm pissing myself with fear.
    Virus: Well, I wouldn't go that far.
    Rogue: I would. Just noticed. Watch your step there.
    Virus: Oohh, right, NOT a metaphor.
  • Dan and Mab's Furry Adventures can be literal at times:
    Dan: [with ears on fire] Whoah... Hey Lexsi... my ears are burning!
    Alexsi: [not looking] I'm sure they are, Dan...
  • Everyday Heroes:
    • Jane confesses to her neighbor Joan that she used to be a villain. When Joan expresses doubt, Jane assures her it's true; "Been there, done that, got the T-shirt!" And to prove it, she shows Joan the T-shirt. (Also a Shout Out to Narbonic.)
    • Also, it's not polite to say "don't get all bent out of shape" to a man with a spinal injury.
  • The Order of the Stick: A fairly common gag.
    • The author himself gets one when the "Comic is running late."
    • Celia's ex-boyfriend is caught "slipping the wood" to some dryad hussy. At least it was a potted wood.
    • When leaving Azure City, Roy states that they are on "the road to Adventure". And indeed, it's the name of Gate 6 (between Gate 5, the Road to Morocco, and Gate 7, the Road to Perdition).
    • "The Test of the Heart" is another blatant case. "The truths that are in your heart will be laid bare for all to know." Through a cardiac exam.
    • Sabine makes one in "Every Couple Has Their Quirks":
      Sabine: It's hard, but sometimes, I need to make a sacrifice in order to maintain our love.
      Roy: Like dressing up for him?
      Sabine: No, I meant a literal sacrifice. I have a desecrated altar waiting for your corpse in the next room.
    • "Their Concierge Service is Heavenly":
      Roy: Huh... I always thought the "revolving door afterlife" was just a metaphor...
    • And "Final Review":
      Bureaucratic Deva: Mr. Greenhilt, we do things "by the book" around here — and it just so happens that the book in question is 100 feet tall and alight with holy fire —
    • In "Something Blue", Tarquin mention that some of his previous wives got cold feet before the marriage. The flashback reveals that it is quite literal.
    • A delayed action one: In "Make It Three, Just to Be Safe", Haley asks Elan if he needs "200-foot-tall flaming letters" to see Tarquin is evil. In "Yes, Apparently", he's given some.
    • Sabine gets one turned on her in "We Recommend Tsukiko":
      Nale: Oh really? Why don't you chase after him, then?
      Sabine: Nale, you know I love you. I didn't—
      Nale: No, I mean literally. Go chase after him. He's escaping.
    • "Where Her Loyalties Lie": Saying "Go to Hell" to an Infernal being just doesn't have the same weight...
      Sabine: Go to Hell, imp.
      Qarr: Was just headed there now. I'll give your love to the Directors.
    • "The Soul of Discretion":
      Veldrina: Oh, don't mind the tiger. Little Whiskers wouldn't hurt a fly.
      Wrecan: On the plus side, that was more Giant Monstrous Fly experience points for the rest of us.
    • Those Don't Take Over Until The Graveyard Shift:
      Niu, decked in anti-undead armaments: So, wait, when you said that the prison would be guarded by a skeleton crew during the speech, you didn't literally mean a—
      Thanh: Niu, please.
      Niu: What? Look at the world we live in, it was a reasonable assumption.
  • xkcd:
    • One comic features a scene where the political website PolitiFact is an actual person which goes around annoying people by rating their sentences as True or False. At one point, PolitiFact shouts their harshest rating, "PANTS ON FIRE," but not as a rating of truth; someone hit them with a smoke bomb and presumably ignited their pants.
    • In one instance, Black Hat instantly believes one of Megan's alternative scientific theories without even hearing the explanation, because he's "been looking for a weird hill to die on," then adds, "and all the real ones are too far from my house."
  • Sluggy Freelance:
    • Parodied:
      Riff: How did your blind date go?
      Torg: She got eaten by the alien.
      Riff: All right! Way to go man! ...Oh, you meant that literally.
      Torg: How the hell did you think I meant it?
      Riff: Not sure, didn't really think about it too much, but it sounded dirty!
    • What is either Bun-bun himself or Gwynn's internal representation of Bun-bun mocks her current problems (possessed by a demon, imprisoned in a sort of fantasy world within her mind) by playing the world's smallest violin. Then he drops it down his ear.
    • Elsewhere, the invention of the Chick Magnet. So yes, it pulls baby chickens to you.
    • In "Freelance Bums — Broke", Torg and Riff think they've accidentally ended up working for a criminal boss when Mr. Middleman orders them to give someone a "dirt nap" and fit someone else with "cement shoes". The dirt nap turns out to be for a vampire (who rejuvenates by sleeping in a grave in his native soil), and the cement shoes are for working out her calves.
    • In the Years of Yarncraft game, Torg was once handed his ass by the Forest Yetis of Black Rook Caverns. First literally, and then figuratively too in all likehood.
    • In "Wayang Kulit", Bun-bun and Torg are driving in a car together. Torg tries to open up about his problems and it interferes with his driving. Bun-bun says "Eyes on the road!" and clarifies it's a threat about what he'll do to Torg's eyes if he doesn't shut up.
    • In "Anima: Culmination":
    Torg: What do you think?
    Riff: It stinks.
    Torg: Really?
    Riff: No, your art is OK, I'm just saying it stinks in here!
  • A page of the webcomic Real Life Fiction, aptly titled "Too Literal", hasa cold medicine that "may cause drow-siness". And indeed, imbibing it immediately turns the protagonist into a "drow" — the D&D name for a dark elf.
  • Sinfest:
  • From Hark! A Vagrant: Cry "Havoc!" and let slip the dogs of war!
  • Skin Horse:
  • Penny Arcade: Gabe expresses concerns that a mutual friend might be dating a "fake geek girl". Tycho berates him for gatekeeping nerdhood, but his tone changes (to annoyance) when the girl turns out to be literally fake, a mannequin made out of twigs.
  • In Meat Shield, Leonid the pseudo-lich once did a bit of soul-searching. Since at the time he was a disembodied head that had been stuffed inside his Soul Jar, this didn't take very long. (For that matter, the fact that this particular phylactery is indeed a jar may fall into Literal Metaphor too.)
  • Gunnerkrigg Court has Coyote and Renard referring to Annie as "fire-headed girl" and telling her "there's a fire in you... fire that belonged to your mother!" — repeatedly. She takes all these mentions as cringe-worthy attempts at being poetic in regards to how much she is like her mother, Surma. It's not the case. This wasn't about her temper or anything, at least not directly. They said what they meant, as straightforward as possible. By her basic nature she is a fire creature, part-human part-fire-elemental, which means her mother's fire/soul was literally passed to her, resulting in Surma's death as Antimony matured.
  • Kevin & Kell:
  • In Brawl in the Family, Kingsonnn Dededoo is here to clean your clock.
  • In Faux Pas, waiting all morning to say "A little birdie told me."
  • In Girl Genius,
    • When he was young, Gilgamesh Wulfenbach built a clank for "picking up girls".
      Gil: Well, when I was a kid, we heard some of the older guys talking, but we were kind of... um... unclear on the concept, and, well...
      Zoing: Itworkz! itworkz!
      Bang: That is so just like you... soooo pathetic.
    • When something is pounding on the gates of Mechanicsburg, a soldier reports that "It's a ram". Agatha is still surprised when she sees the ovine monstrosity butting the gate and realises "AAH! It's a ram!"
  • Freefall:
  • Rusty and Co.:
  • Anti-Heroes: In "Ineffective Roadblock", Kaalinor proudly states "If you're trying to get inside this tower, you'll have to go through me first!" Brave of him, true, but since he's a ghost and his opponent a lich, Finx has absolutely no trouble just walking through Kaal's incorporeal body.
  • In Wilde Life, Barbara tells Oscar not to be late with the rent, as "I'm a real witch." He naturally assumes she means witch in the spelled with a B sense, but she's being entirely literal. The fact that her full name is Barbara Yaga is a bit of a hint.
  • In Plume, when clotheslined, Dom runs into an actual clothes line rather than the wrestling move.
  • Blade Bunny: Bunny proudly states to her latest employer that she isn't tripped up easily. Then a bystander points out that her bootlaces are untied (again). Bunny trips and faceplants.
    Bunny: That doesn't count. I was being metaphorical.
    Lady Kyoto: I am beginning to believe this plan was an horrible mistake.
  • In the Axe Cop story "The Songster", there's a two-part song sung by the Songster called "Tortured Past". In the first part, it's a Start of Darkness story for the Torture Master, detailing his numerous very minor Freudian Excuses, with the refrain "that's how a monster is made." In the second part, it turns out that the Songster is literally creating a monster out of the Torture Master's past. That's how a monster is made, apparently.
  • The Hero of Three Faces: In one strip, two characters are imprisoned in a gray-walled chamber with no apparent exits. One character remarks that there's a silver lining, the other says "Finally, some good news", and the first clarifies that there isn't any good news, he was just making an observation about the composition of the walls.
  • In Puck, Phoebe tries to tell Puck she's pregnant and says "You have a bun in the oven". Puck opens the oven and finds a cheese-onion bun.
    Phoebe: I was simply not expecting that.
  • In Sam & Fuzzy, Mr. Sin has Mr. X 'dealt with' and 'sent to a nice farm with lots of fields to run around in'.
    [Gilligan Cut to Mr. X in a field surrounded by fuzzy puppies]
    Mr. X: I sure wish there was something else to eat here other than dog treats.
  • Kind of a lot of these in Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal
    • Subverted: His "ass is on fire," which refers to some pain in his backside — the flaming donkey standing next to him is quite coincidental.
    • "Don't do it! It's suicide!" But he refused to listen and hanged himself anyway.
    • "I was always sorry you had nothing but a piece of granite for a father." That's not a gravestone they're looking at, it's her father, who's somehow an anthropomorphic stone.
    • 2010-11-14: "You know what none of you 'genius' economists account for in your equations?! The fact that you're fucking over the poor!" He may have meant it less literally, but the economists stop worrying over it when they find a literal equation in their theory that accounts for just that.
    • "Lies": A man complains about women "lying through makeup," which some men say to mean women are misrepresenting their appearance. However, he's referring to a woman who had literally written a falsehood on her face with makeup.
    • "Guys! This is a gamechanger!" But nobody appreciated the invention that transforms all games into checkers. (Alt Text: "C'mon, I can't do induction jokes for an entire week.")
    • "Sports Journalism", now only using the expression "physics-defying" when it's literally applicable.
    • "So you're a dog person?"
    • "A watched pot never boils," which leads the kid to conclude her gaze can exert enormous pressure on things — and weirdly, she's right.
    • "What if programmer's Bibles were actually Bibles written by programmers?"
    • "The only thing I'm high on is life." Oh, he really is getting high,note  but toads and mushrooms are life forms.
    • "Progress": "Get off your high horse," and she's really riding a giant, really high horse... okay, you'd really need to read that one in context to see how it can be at least a little funny.
    • A woman explains to another how a guy's just a human peacock. None of it is metaphorical.
    • Inverted in "Virus". "Do you think viruses are truly alive?"note  "Nah. They're just barely getting by." This, with its metaphorical interpretation of "alive", turns out to be the truth.
  • In this Light Roast Comics strip, "pull yourself up by your bootstraps" is meant literally.
    • And in this one, when Dad asks his son if he wants to toss the old "pigskin" around, he means it literally.
    • "This Town":
    This town ain't big enough fer the both of us. In order to guarantee we can both guarantee our desired goods 'n services without encounterin' one another, I estimate we need to triple the number of businesses.

    Web Original 
  • TV Tropes: Sometimes a trope is played in a way that its title is taken literally.
    • Lethal Chef: When someone's cooking results in death.
      • Typhoid Mary was a cook who carried Typhoid, but showed no symptoms of it. She's said to have spread typhoid to several households, and is known to have killed at least 3 people.
      • Wait Wait... Don't Tell Me! discussed a recipe from a British chef once called for "henbane". What he meant was fat hen, a pleasant herb. Henbane is poisonous.
    • Lethal Eatery: Health inspections exist for a reason. Poorly-cooked food, or making uncooked food like nachos right after handling something that SHOULD be cooked can lead to food poisoning, which can be deadly.
    • Oh, Crap!: Bring My Brown Pants (it's even lampshaded in the description).
      Bill Cosby: ... first you say it, then you do it
    • Backseat Driver: The driver's seat is in the back (see page image for a cartoon example). It also happened in real life (such as the Woods Spider).
    • Mama Bear: When this trope meets Bears Are Bad News.
    • Papa Wolf: When the father is indeed a wolf.
  • One scenario in What If? involves glasses literally half empty. As in, glasses with one half containing only vacuum like space.
  • 17776 has a lampshaded one:
    Thuy: And then... [Washington's football team] just fell off a cliff.
    Roger: That's really fun to say. Because you know, we're always figuratively saying, "oh, they fell off a cliff." Like, their offense stalled out or something. No, they fell off a cliff for real.

    Web Videos 
  • Atop the Fourth Wall: "Welcome to Atop the Fourth Wall, where bad comics burn." This is usually a figure of speech referring to the comic being critically roasted, but on three occasions thus far he has literally set the comics on fire once he's finished reviewing them. It is important to note that he only used this AFTER setting a comic on fire....
  • In TomSka's video "Tell Me Something I Don't Know", Dan jokingly responds with an odd fact when Tom says "Tell Me Something I don't know" ... only for it to be revealed that Tom was serious, and he already knew that fact, so he still demands to be told something he doesn't know.
  • JesuOtaku often says metaphorical-sounding things in his anime reviews immediately before showing clips of those exact things happening — for instance, that one villain crushes the heroes' lives like marbles, or that another abandons the goals for which his sister sacrificed everything and screws her.
  • Transolar Galactica's first episode revolves around Captain Trigger ordering his helmsman to steer to "the second star to the right, straight on 'til morning."
    Captain Trigger: Let me tell you something: whether my orders are technical, dangerous or goddamned beautifully metaphorical, you better flogging well do 'em. So when I tell you, Ensign Yasaki, to take the second star to the right and drive straight on till morning, you better flogging well do it. You got that?
  • The Nostalgia Critic:
    • Top 11 Best Avatar: The Last Airbender episodes. After Dante Basco as Zuko punches down the Critic out of the video player and into the YouTube comments section below, the Nostalgia Critic retaliates by calling out a "Flame War". That is, he grabs negative comments and throw them at the firebender. And when low on ammunition, he yells "Joss Whedon is overrated!" to make more appears.
    • In his review of The Master of Disguise, the Critic repeatedly begs for someone to kill him in increasingly over-the-top ways to express how much he hates the movie, only to be disturbed when Rachel always happens to have just the tools on hand (and that she is willing to use them).
    • In his tribute to Siskel & Ebert, the Nostalgia Critic mentions that, for a time, Gene Siskel was "phoning it in". Thing was, Mr. Siskel was in the hospital and literally on the phone to do his part, making this an example of dedication rather than apathy.

    Real Life 
  • Linguistically, a once-metaphorical term which has become literal is a "dead metaphor" (not to be confused with a stale metaphor); for instance, "electric current".
  • Most people take the name of the restaurant "Hooters" to be a euphemism for breasts, whereas they assert, probably for legal reasons, that they are talking about owls and everyone just misunderstands.
  • Lampshaded by Grace Hopper with the "first actual case of [computer] bug being found"; the log entry from September 9, 1947 described a dead moth caught in the Harvard Mark II's circuitry, causing a short. The term "bug" was already being used to describe problems with telegraphs and other electrical equipment back in the 19th century.
  • In 2014, Hell froze over.. Well, Hell, Michigan, anyway. Mind you, it is Michigan, so this happens on a regular basis.
  • In an attempt to ruin the American millionaire Timothy Dexter (who is known for being, frankly, insane), at some point in the 1780s or '90s, a few of his business rivals somehow convinced him to spend most of his capital to send a ship-load of coal to Newcastle-upon-Tyne. Newcastle is the major producer of coal in England, and "sending coals to Newcastle" is an idiom in the vein of "selling ice to a penguin" to suggest giving something to someone who already has too much of it. Coincidentally, when the coal arrived, the city was in the middle of a particularly hard frost and a coal miner's strike. Between the weather and the coal shortage, Dexter managed to make a killing.
  • The practice of "controlled burning", containing wildfires by setting smaller fires to use up the fuel and oxygen around the big fire, is a literal example of fighting fire with fire.
  • Inverted with certain metaphors that used to be literal:
    • Phrases such as "worth his/her salt" and "worth its weight in gold" stem from times when salt and gold were used as money.
    • The original "pig in a poke" was a suckling pig sold in a burlap bag. Unscrupulous merchants would substitute a dog or cat instead, so this is also where we got the phrase "let the cat out of the bag".
    • Being branded a coward, or being branded anything, came from the old tradition where soldiers caught fleeing from battle were punished by literally being branded a coward, with an actual red-hot brand being applied to the face.
    • The phrase "getting your goat" comes from the tradition of keeping goats as companions for racing horses, which for some reason helps keep the horses more even-tempered. Unscrupulous race horse owners would try to steal the goats of rival horse-owners to upset their horses and make them too agitated to win races.
    • There are at least two origins for the phrase "giving the cold shoulder" that are quite literal: it either involves turning your back on someone you don't want to talk to ("coldly" showing them your "shoulder"), or serving cold mutton shoulder to unwanted guests.
    • Following a period of unrest in the early 18th century, British parliament enacted the Riot Act of 1715, a law that allowed authorities to order any group of twelve or more people to disperse. A passage of the law had to be specifically read aloud when invoked, hence the origin of the phrase "read someone the Riot Act".
  • And then there are metaphors that still have literal meanings relevant today, but are probably not going to be encountered by the layperson. For example an uphill battle is indeed still unideal and a dumpster fire can get very bad quickly if somebody doesn't take charge of the situation.
  • George Eastman's house has an elephant in a room.
  • During the 18th century Age of Liberty in Sweden, a series of events led to a name stamp (with the king's signature) in the hands of the parliament legally filling in for the king when he didn't want to co-operate. The only thing hindering it being called a literal rubber stamp monarchy is that it isn't entirely certain the stamp was actually made of rubber.
  • The makers of the infamously bad adaptations of the Left Behind series of books were actually sued by original series authors because of the film's poor quality. And the original authors won. That's right, we have a literally criminally bad movie.
  • When playing a normal game of baseball, it is impossible to steal first base since you can't advance to first from home without either hitting the ball or drawing a walk, and it is illegal to run the bases backwards "for the purpose of confusing the defense or making a travesty of the game" (thanks to Germany Schaefer, who was infamous for trying to do just that in the 1910s). The saying "You can't steal first (base)" is used as criticism for a player who is good at baserunning and base-stealing but has trouble getting on base in the first place (i.e., can't hit or draw walks). However, there was that one time (June 26, 2001) that Pittsburgh Pirates manager Lloyd McClendon, having been ejected from the game for arguing with the umpire, was so furious he physically ripped first base out of the dirt and walked off the field with it and causing a game delay while a replacement base was installed. The saying was in existence long before experimental rule changes introduced into the Atlantic League in 2019 allow a batter to take off for first on any pitch not caught in flight by the catcher (essentially treating any pitch as eligible like an uncaught third strike), with outfielder Tony Thomas being the first to do it successfully on an 0-1 pitch though it officially counted as reaching on a fielder's choice and not a stolen base.
  • Steven Gerrard's now infamous "This does not fucking slip now!" Rousing Speech after a win over fellow title contenders Manchester City, sending Liverpool top of the 2013/14 Premier League table. Two weeks later, he literally slipped in a match against Chelsea to ultimately gift City the league title.
  • It's a common insult to claim someone is so unpopular that they couldn't get elected dogcatcher, which is virtually never an elected position, save for Duxbury, Vermont, home to the only elected dogcatcher in the US. It's never been contested, so there has yet to be a documented case of someone losing an election for dogcatcher.
  • There actually is a Guinness World Record for "World's Smallest Violin". The violin in question is only an inch and a half long. And it can indeed be used to play a sad song.
  • After memes mixed the world's smallest violin with "Press F to Pay Respects", we get "Pressing F on the World's Smallest Keyboard". So, of course, someone made the world's smallest keyboard, with a pressable F button.
  • The saying "You can't fight city hall" refers to having to accept bureaucratic decisions that go against you. A quip in response to the saying, attributed to Al Capone, is "...but you can damn sure blow it up!".

 
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Gumball: The Shell

Penny, who used to be a sentient peanut, takes the phrase "come out of your shell" literally.

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