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Literal Metaphor

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She has no idea how right she is (They're also making her "hopping mad")…

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.

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 (when a play on words is given literal visualization), 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, Metaphoric Metamorphosis. Contrast Literal-Minded, where someone mistakes a metaphor for its literal meaning.

The following tropes either have Literal Metaphors in their name or are about common Literal Metaphors:

  • Bastard Bastard: The apparent tautology of the title indicates someone born out of wedlock who is also awful.
  • Having a Heart: Talking about a body part in a way that seems like a metaphor, but is actually literal.
  • Kitchen Sink Included: Spoofing the phrase "Everything but the kitchen sink" by including a kitchen sink with a bunch of other random stuff.
  • 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 Bookworm
  • 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 Money Metaphor: A person thinks they're getting money when "bucks", "dough" or some other euphemism is being offered, only to reveal that it isn't.
  • Literally Shattered Lives: A shattered life means one has experienced a horrific, if not traumatic, setback that is life-changing. The trope involves one's body literally shattering into pieces, with "lives" referring to their mortal state.
  • 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.
  • Literal Surveillance Bug: Surveillance bugs are tiny devices used for spying undetected. The tropes is about either devices that are designed to resemble bugs, or actually using living bugs to perform surveillance.
  • Position of Literal Power
  • Pun-Based Creature: Creatures with Punny Names, or based on literal interpretations of wordplay and jokes.
  • Visual Pun: A sight gag involving a play on words, many of which may reference metaphors.

Example Subpages:

Other Examples:

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  • 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.
  • Hey, how 'bout a nice Hawaiian Punch?
  • As was his style, Leslie Nielsen did several in each commercial he appeared in, regardless of the product.
  • 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).
  • One Snickers campaign had characters that actually turned into different (often crabby) people when they got hungry.
  • 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.

  • 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.

    Anime & Manga 
  • Ayakashi Triangle: After Matsuri gets a Literal Split Personality, the two halves argue the other is a fake and eventually physically fight over it. Their grandfather response "Now, now. Don't literally fight with yourself."
  • 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 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.
  • 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 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.
  • 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 deuteragonists' 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.
  • 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).


    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 
  • Archie Comics:
    • The not-too-bright "Big Moose" sometimes has these. For instance, he once wrote Santa Claus for a pair of shoes with suction-cups so he can stay "on the ball", like his teacher is always telling him to do.
    • There's one story in which Archie tells one and all that he's going to mop the floor with Reggie after a school dance, and he's determined to do so, no matter how often his friends beg him not to try. Several guys from another fraternity show up to witness this—and are promptly handed mops and buckets. Archie and Reggie—who were asked to clean the floor with mops following the aforementioned dance—are laughing their heads off and wonder where on Earth these guys got the idea there was going to be a fight.
  • 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.
  • Deadpool: Deadpool getting hired by a demon from hell to prevent Tony Stark from kicking his alcohol addiction is this close to being this, due to the storyline that associated Iron Man with alcoholism being titled "Demon in a Bottle".
  • Defenders (2021): In the second issue, as the non-team is entering Taaia's home, Betty Ross comments that "something stinks". Dr. Strange thinks she's talking about the situation (stuck in the multiverse before the current one with the devourer of worlds hovering over it), but then Betty clarifies that no, something literally smells; there's a baby in the next room, they've soiled themselves and she can smell it.
  • Disney Ducks Comic Universe: 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]
  • Gravity Falls: Lost Legends: According to "Face It", Pacifica's mom Priscilla Northwest is a literal Trophy Wife; her father Preston won Priscilla's hand in marriage in a yacht race.
  • 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 .
  • 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!".
  • In Mélusine, the village pastor is always trying to burn the eponymous witch at the stake. At one point, thinking he finally caught her for good, he tells her, "If you escape me this time, I'll eat my cassock!" Mélusine does escape and, being a helpful girl, turns him into a moth (but sparing his cassock) so he can uphold his vow.
  • 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.
  • In Scooby-Doo Gold Key issue #15 (when the gang started to become ghostbusters for hire), the gang's client is haunted while he's sleeping. Fred says "Let's go over this room with a finetooth comb." Scooby takes out a hair comb.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Sonic the Hedgehog (Archie Comics): 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."
  • 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.
  • 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.

    Comic Strips 
  • 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.
  • 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.
    • In one case, Calvin and Hobbes' playing cowboys has to resort to this because mom won't let them play with guns.
    "This town just ain't big enough fer the both of us!"
    "Yep, I reckon we'll have to annex part o' the county!"
  • Dilbert: One of Dogbert's stints as a consultant has him declare that the only things that matter are social networks, games, and phones. Since Dilbert's company isn't working on anything like that, he arranges for a literal "dustbin of history" to do curbside pickup of all the employees.
  • The Far Side: "Henry never knew what hit him." The "what" being an alien in a flying saucer that landed in front of him, punched him in the face, then flew off.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • From The Wizard of Id, this one takes the term "hung jury" a little too far...
  • 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 
  • All Mixed Up! has an example of this with fruit flies. There are two kinds — the little insects, and the fruits with small wings. When Olive and Otto meet up with Larry and Phyllis on a case about fruit flies targeting Laralisa, they initially believe the couple is talking about the former, when in reality, they're talking about the latter.
  • Arrow: Rebirth: Cannibalistic Psycho for Hire The Huntsman finds killing Felicity "distasteful", warns that the "delicious" Thea "will be next on the menu", and later "gets a piece" of Laurel.
  • 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.
  • In Breaking out of the Closet, England phones America to ask for his help in getting out of the closet, and when America awkwardly thanks him for trusting him with such a personal matter, the older Nation snaps he's literally in a closet and the door is stuck.
  • DeviantArt contributor Daniel-Remo-Art creates an odd interpretation of "disco's dead" with this Deviation of an undead version of Dazzler. (Warning, slightly NSFW.)
  • 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.
  • 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 My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic fanfic Her Royal Morning Coffee, at one point Dry Roast demands that Princess Luna stop giving him "that Cat Who Ate The Canary look".
    “Mrowr,” purred Luna with a convincing hiccup at the end that left a little illusionary yellow feather floating in front of her mouth and the hint of a smile around her lips that made Dry Roast giggle despite himself.
  • In Infinity Train: Knight of the Orange Lily, Mallow warns Lillie that gifting her brother orange gladiolus lilies, which symbolizes how she hates her brother, would send one of them into a "bad place". Lillie states that she was already in a bad place with her brother running away and leaving her behind. We later learn that Mallow was once a passenger on the Infinity Train, which is set in a wasteland, a bad place.
  • 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.
  • 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?"
  • OSMU: Fanfiction Friction: In Chapter 9, Elon Muskrat has Opal milk a literal cash cow, with the cow made of dollar bills in various origami shapes.
  • Re: My Hostage, Not Yours: When Dib tells Zim that Gaz needs some space to process her feelings over whatever's going on between the two of them, Zim responds by taking her into a holographic chamber displaying deep space, thinking that's what Dib meant.
  • 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.
  • In Skylanders: Return to the Ruins, Cali says her Spiderling sense is tingling. Flynn asks if she means that literally, pointing to an island being attacked by Spiderlings.
  • 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.
  • Total Drama Legacy has two examples:
    • In "Did Somebody Say Pancakes?", Cody Jr., after realizing he still has time left on the clock, eats more pancakes even though he's full, causing him to vomit without even doing the obstacle course. He literally bit off more than he could chew.
    • Lydia's Hairstyle Malfunction in "A Shocking Twist" ends up revealing her identity, surprising both Lydia and everyone around her. She literally had her wig snatched.
  • In The Zero Context Series: Woolgathering, Bahija's offer to act as a bodyguard to her boss is turned down, with Missy her telling that she would like her "to tackle something" that day. Bahija is led to believe that she was asked to do something important, but the next scene at a department store shows that she had been told to actually tackle something, the resulting attempt getting her caught in a leglock.

    Films — Animation 
  • 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.
  • Chicken Run:
    • Nick and Fetcher steal items for Ginger and the other chicken for payment. When Ginger tosses him a bag, it's filled with birdseed. Fetcher complains that "It's chicken feed!", normally a metaphor for insultingly low pay.
    • 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.
  • Family Guy Presents: Laugh It Up, Fuzzball: 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.
  • 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!
  • 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.
  • Monsters vs. Aliens
    • At their wedding, Derek tells Susan that she's glowing, by which he means she's actually glowing green.
    • 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.
  • 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 smoldering from the torch.
  • Shark Tale: Oscar realizes just what he's gotten himself into when Lenny, the brother of the shark he took credit for killing, tells him that his father is none other than Don Lino.
    Lenny: Gee, if Pop knew that, he'd ice you for sure.
    Oscar: (freezes, then chuckles) Ice... What is he? The Godfather or somethin'?
    Lenny: Yeah.
    Oscar: What'd you mean "Yeah"?
    Lenny: Yeah, he is.
    (Oscar gulps as he sports an Oh, Crap! expression)
    Lenny: Hey, are you alright?
  • 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.
      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.
  • 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.
  • 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!" Gothel uses Rapunzel's Magic Hair to maintain her youth and if she's away from Rapunzel for too long, she starts aging noticeably.
    • Rapunzel interrogates Flynn about what does he want with her hair. He says, "All I want to do with your hair is to get out of it!" as he is tied to a chair with said hair.
  • Tom and Jerry's Giant Adventure: Screwy Squirrel defends the sleazy way he runs his pie stand by saying that his overhead is ginormous. A second later, the ground starts thundering as a Protection Racket running giant whose name is Ginormous arrives.
    Jack: What's that?
    Screwy: My overhead! Matter of fact he's over everyone's head.
  • In Toy Story, Woody asks Buzz to give him a hand, and Buzz throws his detached arm at him. Woody isn't amused.
  • 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.

    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, usually accompanies by the appropriate Visual Pun. Some examples:
    • As a visual gag, when someone is warned about the shit hitting the fan. Cut to a view of the fan.
    • "Pour every light you've got on that runway!". Cut to a dump truck filled with light fixtures.
  • 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.)
  • Towards the beginning of Enter the Dragon, Lee's shaolin master tells him "Remember: the enemy has only images and illusions behind which he hides his true motives. Destroy the image and you will break the enemy.". Later, when Lee tries to fight Han in a Hall of Mirrors, he remembers his master's advice and starts smashing the mirrors so that he can draw Han out.
  • 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!"
  • Glass Onion: Towards the beginning, vapid and scandal-prone supermodel Birdie talks on the phone to her friends, who inquire about the whereabouts of her Beleaguered Assistant, Peg. Birdie explains Peg is busy "putting out a fire." Since Birdie is prone to making accidentally racist remarks and overall having a bad case of Open Mouth, Insert Foot syndrome, leaving Peg to handle the damage control, Claire asks what she said this time, but Birdie says that's not what she meant. Cue Peg running past Birdie with the fire extinguisher.
  • 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.
    Stockbroker #1: I think Alan Swan is beneath us!
    Stockbroker #2: Of course he's beneath us. He's an actor!
    Stockbroker #1: No! I think Alan Swan is beneath us right now!
  • In The Shawshank Redemption, Red says his famous speech about "crawling through a river of shit and coming out clean on the other end" during the moment Andy makes his escape through the sewer pipe and is greeted outside by a heavy rain.
  • At the end of The Silence of the Lambs, Clarice Starling gets a call from the recently-escaped Dr. Hannibal Lecter, who's at an airport in Bimini. He lets her know that he won't be pursuing her, as he thinks she's a Worthy Opponent, and bids farewell as his Arch-Enemy, Dr. Frederick Chilton, gets off a newly-arrived plane:
    Dr. Lecter: I do wish we could chat longer, but...I'm having an old friend for dinner. Bye...
  • 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, 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.
  • The existence of the Documentary Werner Herzog Eats His Shoe is an example of this. Long story short, Werner Herzog told documentary director Errol Morris that he would never finish his debut movie, and if he did he would eat his shoe. When Errol Morris did in fact finish his movie, Werner got the great Berkeley chef Alice Waters to cook his shoe in garlic, herbs and stock for five hours, and he ate it in public — except for the sole, because as he explained, you never eat the bones of the chicken. Director Les Blank filmed it and released it and is now in the criterion collection.
  • 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.
    • While walking through the lot of Maroon Cartoons studio, Eddie Valiant passes by some toon bovines getting ready for a "cattle call".
    • Eddie later 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.

  • 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.
  • Bruce Coville's Book of... Nightmares II: Gone to Pieces revolves around one. As Larry says in-story, "You can close it off, say you're not in pain, but you're going to fall apart sooner or later, in one way or another." This is what happens to Roy's friend Scott, who tries to hold in the pain from his parents' divorce and say it doesn't bother him, but ends up with his body parts falling off.
  • 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.
  • 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 The Wee Free Men, the boots of both Tiffany and her granny receive some attention. Tiffany's are old hand-me-down boots that are too big for her. As the successor of her grandma as protector of The Chalk, Tiffany has big shoes to fill.
    • 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.
    • "Seamstresses" has long been the Unusual Euphemism of choice for sex workers in Ankh-Morpork. This leads to occasional confusion, and so most brothels now keep a couple of non-euphemistic seamstresses on staff.
  • Doctor Who Expanded Universe:
    • 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...
    • In the short story "Timevault" by Ben Jeapes, the eponymous timevault is described by the Doctor as essentially the space equivalent of a Swiss bank. As such, the aliens who run it are determinedly neutral and never ask questions. Later, the Doctor finds a young member of the race on Punishment Detail, who explains that he asked his senior father what kind of day he'd had. The Lorq really do believe in never asking questions.
  • 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."
  • The Finishing School Series: When Monique De Pelouse left the school between the first and second books, she bequeathed her favourite fancy shoes to Preshea Buse. Preshea also assumed Monique's position in the school hierarchy, literally and metaphorically stepping into Monique's shoes.
  • 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."
  • 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.
    • Combined with Literal-Minded; when the trio is trying to figure out how tabloid reporter Rita Skeeter is getting information when she's not allowed on the Hogwarts grounds, Harry brings up the possibility that she has a bug in the castle, leaving Ron to wonder what insects have to do with it, leading Harry to explain about Hidden Wires, something Hermonine immediately shoots down as electrical devices don't work around Hogwarts. The conversation does inspire a "Eureka!" Moment for Hermonione when she realizes that Rita is an Animagius that can turn into a beetle, allowing her to infiltrat the castle undetected.
  • In Hench, a book by Natalie Zina Walschots about corrupt superheros, data-crunching protagonist Anna discovers that the boyfriend-girlfriend superhero team Supercollider and Quantum Entanglement is mostly supported by Quantum's skill—her powers are stronger, she's overall more competent, and also, she's not a narcissistic monster. However, she's been forced into a passive female type of role while Supercollider takes the lion's share of the credit, both because he emotionally abused her into it and because their superhero org picked the charismatic white guy over the Maori woman. At the end of the book it turns out that Supercollider can't fly like everyone thought. Whenever it looked like he was flying, he actually "took off" by using his super-strength to jump really high, and Quantum levitated him the rest of the way. So she both figuratively and literally carried his ass.
  • 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 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 Hazard Squad: Into the Void, the 12th entry in the La Fuerza Series of superhero short stories, it’s revealed that Camilla’s superpower is a specialized low-level variant of Reality Manipulation that subtly alters reality so that the odds are always slightly in her favor. Since superpowers in the La Fuerza series are genetic, this means that she was literally born lucky.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Oddly Enough: Lampshaded in "In Our Own Hands" — the Lyrans inform mankind that if mankind agrees, they'll take total control of the planet, but they're placing that choice in humanity's hands... literally, as the narrator notes, when he finds a strip of alien material attached to his hand with a button for "Yes" and a button for "No", letting the user vote to either let the Lyrans take over Earth or reject their offer at the right time.
  • 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.
  • Rhythm of War: Early on in the story, multiple characters are asked to speculate on the Ghostbloods' ultimate goal for meddling with Roshar, and cannot come up with anything better than "power". According to Mraize, the Ghostbloods are in part interested in power in the literal sense: they're trying to find a way to transport Stormlight out of the Rosharan system so they can sell it on other Shardworlds where raw Investiture is much harder to find.
  • 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.
  • In Siren Queen, becoming a movie star means actually becoming a star—once someone achieves a certain critical mass of artistry and celebrity, they light up and ascend into the sky. (Likewise, should someone turn out to be a One-Hit Wonder, their star falling is completely literal.)
  • 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".
  • 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.
  • 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]
  • 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.
  • 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 unifying theme of the Tales of the Long Bow.
    • Colonel Crane, having sworn to "eat his hat", proceeds to wear a cabbage on his head for the course of several weeks in order that it might qualify as "his hat". He then eats it.
    • Robert Hood literally sets the Thames on fire, by throwing a torch into it and touching off the pollution that was fouling the river.
    • As the capstone of his campaign to smuggle pigs, Captain Pierce starts airdropping them in from a blimp by parachute. In other words, he makes pigs fly.
    • Reverend White acquires a white elephant. Not something useless or burdensome, but a literal albino elephant.
    • Enoch Oates devises a special chemical process by which he can literally make a silk purse out of a sow's ear.
    • Mister Green comes up with a mathematical proof, based on the relativity of motion, that clearly demonstrates that the cow has jumped over the moon.
    • Colonel Blair produces a literal "castle in the air": a flying castle-shaped balloon.
    • And as for the name of the whole collection: to "draw the long bow" was an English metaphor for telling an exaggerated story, but when they come into conflict with the government the League of the Long Bow use literal longbows as their primary weapon.
  • 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.
  • The Underground Railroad in The Underground Railroad is literally an underground series of railways and train stations built to ferry escaped slaves to freedom in the north.
  • 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.
  • There Is No Epic Loot Here, Only Puns: From the chapter, "Delta" When talking about betrayal and weaponry leading to this literally stabbing people In the Back:
    He got a lot of comedy material luring wanna-be dark lords and mad swordsmen to him so he could literally stab them in the back,

  • "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!
  • 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.
  • "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.
  • 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.
  • The Rolling Stones' "Doo Doo Doo Doo (Heartbreaker)" opens with a literal heartbreaker, the police shooting a boy in the chest by mistake.
  • "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."
  • Amongst the CB slang in "Convoy" by C.W. McCall is "bear in the air" for a police chopper. The British parody "Convoy GB" by Laurie Lingo and the Dipsticks, on the other hand, has this:
    Suddenly there was this commotion,
    There was a circus and a fair,
    With an animal acrobatic act,
    Ooh, look - a bear in the air!


  • 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 
  • In one episode of Johnny and the Sprites, Johnny says "Take it to the bridge!" during a song. So he and the sprites go to Grotto's Grove's actual bridge.
  • 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 (2015) 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.

  • 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 
  • 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...
  • 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.
  • 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 
  • 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.
    • Hot-blooded ninja Bang describes the giant nail he carries on his back as 'the symbol of my people, and the spirit of my master!'. In the third game, it's revealed that this is more accurate than he realised - Lord Tenjo literally put his soul into the artefact, and Bang has kept it with him without knowing the truth for years.
  • Bomb Rush Cyberfunk: Tryce describes the Franks as a group with "mixed roots". As in, they're Mix-and-Match Men whose parts originate from different people, with their favored donors being famous athletes.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • In Devil May Cry 3: Dante's Awakening, Vergil's attempt at unsealing Temen-ni-gru fails and he assumes that he needs more of a Sparda descendant's blood, specifically his brother Dante's. Upon realizing this plan, Dante mentions that his brother literally "wants a piece of [him]" to summarize things up.
    Vergil: Why not? After all we share the same blood... I'll just use more of yours to undo daddy's little spell.
    Dante: So, you want a piece of me, literally. Okay bro, come and get it. If you can.
  • Devil May Cry 5:
    • In her Weapon Report, Nico makes a metaphor wordplay out of the Overture and its electric functions:
      Nico: Still, if they knew about the electric generator I jammed inside that puppy, they'd be shocked—maybe literally!
    • A double meaning of the word "sucker" is mentioned in Nico's Report for the Empusa demons that literally suck blood.
      Nico: Seems you'll be running into a lot of these ugly suckers-and I mean "suckers" literally! The good folks of Red Grave have had their blood sucked dry by these lil' worker ants.
    • The Pyrobats resemble the ordinary bats of the human world in terms of shape and size, but because they are from the Demon World, they have otherworldly abilities and body parts upon closer inspection. Nico's Report on them begins by mentioning the closest metaphor she can think of and identifying them as its literal examples.
      Nico: Ever heard the phrase "like a bat outta Hell?" Well, this is it.
  • EarthBound (1994) 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.
  • Elden Ring: Malenia's katana is known as the Hand of Malenia... because it literally is; she has the sword built into her prosthetic arm.
  • Enter the Gungeon states outright that words have power in the Gungeon so puns, idioms and metaphors can eventually become literal and be weaponized. The entry that mentions this is for the Barrel weapon, which shoots high velocity fish, as in "Shooting fish in a barrel".
  • 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.
  • 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).
  • 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.
  • Going Under: Tappi uses "put fires out" as a metaphor, in the conversation that gives her first Level 3 task. She literally says its a metaphor. But Jackie and the task interpret it literally, to put 5 fires out, with water.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • In Kitty Powers' Love Life, when a villager tries to make amends with their partner regarding their secret lover, the minigame involves them literally crossing thin ice.
  • 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. The computers are so stupid they go flying off the track within the first few seconds of the race.
  • Monkey Island: 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.
  • Mother Chef: The Musical! turns the concept of a "Food Baby" into a literal baby, created when Mother Chef eats food.
  • 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.
  • Nord and Bert Couldn't Make Head or Tail of It is a game loaded with wordplay-based puzzles, including at least two whole sections devoted to literal versions of idioms and metaphors. While fixing up an old farm in "Buy the Farm" you have to "TEACH AN OLD DOG NEW TRICKS", "SOW YOUR WILD OATS", and "PUT THE CART BEFORE THE HORSE". Later, while having lunch at the Teapot Cafe in "Eat Your Words", a cranky waitress makes you "SWALLOW YOUR PRIDE" and "EAT CROW", so you get back at her by doing things like "CALL WAITRESS OUT ON THE CARPET" and "READ WAITRESS THE RIOT ACT".
  • No Straight Roads: The 2nd highest top artists are 1010, a boy band made out of robots, with duplicates of them being produced by a drone every time one of them is destroyed. They are a literal manufactured boy band.
  • 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 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.
  • Skullgirls: Sekhmet's 'Signature Attack' move creates a large hieroglyph that spells her name.
  • 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.
  • In Super Surprise Party, it rains literal cats and dogs from the sky- along with gumdrops.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Undertale occasionally features this as humorous Narrative Filigree:
    "Aaron is sweating bullets. Literally."
  • 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.

    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.
  • The last words King Yemma has for Cell in HFIL are "Enjoy the barbecue in Hell." before dumping Cell into the titular location. Cell arrives at a cul-de-sac... while a barbecue party is ongoing.
  • Due to the growing overseas popularity of hololive, and the creation of branches in China and Indonesia, fans asked the group's owner Cover Corp to consider launching an American division as well (with Generation 4's Kiryu Coco likewise advocating for the idea). When the official response from Cover was (paraphrased) "Hololive English is a myth", fans interpreted them saying "It's never gonna happen". Some time later, Cover officially announced hololiveEN, revealing that "Myth" was its overarching theme — the group's members included the Grim Reaper's apprentice, a phoenix, an Atlantean, a girl possessed by Lovecraftian creatures, and a time traveler.
  • 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.
  • 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?

  • All Night Laundry: On their second meeting, Josephine says that she was "just killing time" waiting for Bina. Bina, who already had her share of time travel shenanigans, warily asks if she meant it literally.
    Bina: Err... were you... you know, being serious just now? [...] About killing time?
    Josephine: Ah! No, not now of course. I don't think the dead get to affect the living that directly. [...] While I was alive, of course, that's another story.
  • 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 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.
  • 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 Brawl in the Family, Kingsonnn Dededoo is here to clean your clock.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • In Faux Pas, waiting all morning to say "A little birdie told me."
  • In Finder's Keepers (2008), 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.
  • Freefall:
  • 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 realizes, "AAH! It's a RAM!"
  • 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.
  • From Hark! A Vagrant: Cry "Havoc!" and let slip the dogs of war!
  • 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.
  • Kevin & Kell:
  • 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.
  • In MeatShield, 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.)
  • 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 —
    • "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.
    • 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.
    • "Passive Voice": Even D&D spell names can be used for this gag. When Durkon cast a hold person spell on Tarquin, the latter just throws off the effect and responds "OK." as he's grabbing the dwarf by the beard for a Human Hammer-Throw.
    • "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.
    • Elan gets easily tripped by them, as seen in "Changed Circumstances":
      Sunny: See, she'd bonk him on the head right there is she could. Bonk bonk.
      Elan: Huh. So is this what they mean when they say someone's making a "bonkers argument"?
      Haley: Normally, no. In this case, yes, but for other reasons.
  • 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 Plume, when clotheslined, Dom runs into an actual clothes line rather than the wrestling move.
  • Questionable Content:
    • In an early comic, Marten describes his job as being "the office bitch". This is his official job title.
    • When dealing with a depressed robot trying to spill his problems to anyone who is willing to listen, Faye says, "I'm not touchin' that with a 10-foot pole." Bubbles' response? "Agreed. I will go fetch our 12-foot pole."
  • 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.
  • A page of the webcomic Real Life Fiction, aptly titled "Too Literal", has a 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.
  • Rusty and Co.:
    • At the beginning of a Level 6 strip, Y.T. warns Mimic: "Don't crossss me." At the end of the strip, Mimic does exactly that (using Y.T.'s stretched body to cross a chasm); the lamia ain't happy about it.
      Y.T.: Whu'd I jusst sssay, hah?
    • During the Gnomish Baseball game, when Dirk says that Robespierre won a face-off in the third inning, he means it quite literally, as we see the barbarian holding the ripped-off face of one of their troll opponents.
    • Level 10: After Stabs says she got a lead on where to find the Black Market, she warns Tarta that she doesn't think she'll fit in. The dwarf woman is offended, until she realizes Stabs is talking about a halfling-sized secret passage, that she indeed doesn't fit in.
    • Upon finding said Black Market...
      Anti-Madeline: Guys, this is Hortzak. He's a dynamite guy.
      Mimic: Er, how d'ya know him?
      Anti-Madeline: I just told you, I get my dynamite from him.
  • 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; usually Surreal Humor because you really wouldn't expect those things to be said literally.
    • 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.
    • "Your grandfather would be rolling in his grave!" — an expression of enthusiasm for an automatic coffin tumbler.
    • "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.
    • "Silver Lining": "They say every cloud has a silver lining. That's because of all the mercury pollution. Your generation will probably need to do something."
    • Somebody's date "threw up a lot of red flags." Like, vomited literal flags. Turns out it was an intentional Visual Pun.
    • "Reptile Brain": "It wasn't me, it was my reptile brain." This would be at least somewhat metaphorical, even though the other character responds there's no good evidence for the theory that we have such a brain region. But of course it's not metaphorical if you have a reptile brain you keep in a jar that you think talks to you.
    • "I think women should form into a single political monolith and take control of the government." This results in an Attack of the 50-Foot Whatever.
    • "The Lord": "I never found God in a temple. For me, it's those long rambles in the woods that show me where the Lord is." Because He's hiding in the forest because He doesn't want to meet people because they keep asking for stuff.
  • Sinfest:
  • Skin Horse:
  • 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!
  • One patron in Unshelved runs into a problem like this when his girlfriend wants to close the book on their relationship.
  • 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.
  • 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."

    Web Original 
  • 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.
  • One scenario in What If? involves glasses literally half empty. As in, glasses with one half containing only vacuum like space.

  • 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.
    • You Cannot Grasp the True Form: The "Myths & Religion" section of Doorstopper mentions The Codex Gigas a book 3 feet long, 20 inches wide, more than 8 inches thick (yes, the book is as THICK as a regular sheet of paper is wide) and weighs 166 pounds (that's 92cm × 50cm × 22cm, weighing 74.8 kg). This trope is namechecked in a note that says even lifting it would be difficult.
  • On Vine, DeStorm Power gives us this gem:
    Klarity: Where's my money?
    DeStorm: I'm broke
    [Klarity smacks his teeth angrily]
    [DeStorm suddenly collapses into broken pile with audible cracking sounds]
    Klarity: [horrified] NIGGA?!
    [DeStorm looks up smug while G-Eazy's I Mean It plays]

    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....
  • 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.
  • Steven He: At the end of "How Asian Parents Flex 2", the two parents start telling their kids to do increasingly impossible things...and then Steven's dad won the argument by tell his son to cook minute rice in 58 seconds.
  • The Nostalgia Critic:
    • Probably the most famous example is the recurring character known as "the Elephant in the Room", a cartoon elephant who shows up expecting the Critic to address the viewers' thoughts, usually on a touchy subject. He first appears in his review of The NeverEnding Story II: The Next Chapter, coercing the Critic into addressing the suicide of the film's lead actor Jonathan Brandis.
    • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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?
  • VG Myths: "Can You Beat Bowser's Fury Without Jumping?":
    If someone were smart and not bad at video games, they would've seen this coming, and left three easy shines laying around, but I unfortunately am neither of those things and have to do it while under literal fire.

    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.
  • 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 un-ideal 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.
  • In politics, 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 — and probably the world, as countries other than the US are much more conservative about their list of elected positions. It's never been contested, so there has yet to be a documented case of someone losing an election for dogcatcher.
  • In October 2022, an article in The Economist compared the short length of embattled British Prime Minister Liz Truss' premiershipnote  to the shelf-life of a head of lettuce. British tabloid The Daily Star seized on the metaphor and began a livestream of an actual head of lettuce next to a framed picture of Truss, asking readers which of them would last longer. Six days into the stream, with the lettuce still fresh, Truss announced her resignation.
  • 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!".
  • The idiom "The bigger they are, the harder they fall" is literally true: as force is equal to mass x acceleration, the more massive something is, the more force it will hit the ground with.
  • People in the United States who dislike President Trump refer to him as "not my President", as a way to reject him. People who live outside of the US point out that he really is not their president.
  • There are reports of a journalist working at the British newspaper Daily Mirror in the 1970s whose colleagues described as being unable to organise a piss-up in a brewery. She responded by announcing that she would holding a party at the Fuller's Brewery in London next week to celebrate her birthday. She then put the wrong date on the noticeboard and everyone turned up a day early.
  • Conservative pundit Tucker Carlson was critical of the large advance Hillary Rodham Clinton received for her 2003 memoir Living History, and said he would "eat his shoes" if it sold over a million copies. It sold a million copies its first month, and Clinton surprised him on live TV with a cake shaped like a wingtip.
  • Robert Metcalfe, an engineer helped develop the early web and co-invented Ethernet, wrote a column in 1995 predicting that the Internet would suffer a "catastrophic collapse". It didn't, and in 1998, he ate his words at an internet conference—literally, by bringing a copy of his column, blending it and eating it.
  • In Super Bowl XLV, Green Bay Packers safety Nick Collins ran an interception back for a touchdown, putting the Packers up 14-0, in the same play where the Pittsburgh Steelers lost an offensive lineman to injury. Combining this with a bit of Russian Reversal, one highlight reel described the play as "adding injury to insult".
  • In one of the funniest moments in the Magic: The Gathering Pro-scene, Eric Taylor swore that if Kai Budde won the Pro-tour that he was competing in, he would eat his hat. And when Kai Budde won the tournament, Eric proved to everyone he was a man of his word.
  • In May 2023, the Kremlin was hit by a pair of explosive drones, and Russia immediately accused Ukraine of trying to assassinate Vladimir Putin. Russia was in turn accused of doing it themselves to stoke fear or justify further drone strikes. The specific target within the Kremlin was the flag on top of the senate building. A false flag involving an actual flag.
  • United States Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes served in the Union Army during the American Civil War, and was wounded in action several times. In the aftermath of Antietam, a friend found him wandering around the battlefield in a daze and asked what was wrong. Holmes mumbled, "shot in the neck", which surprised the friend (since this was, in those days, Army slang for being drunk). Then he looked closer...

Alternative Title(s): Not A Metaphor


"It's no proverb!"

Iroh gets between a fight between Zuko and a pirate captain to chastise him for fighting while his own ship has set sail. Zuko thinks he is just reciting a proverb... he isn't.

How well does it match the trope?

5 (15 votes)

Example of:

Main / LiteralMetaphor

Media sources: