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Literalist Snarking

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Shooter: I eat pieces of shit like you for breakfast!
Happy: You eat pieces of shit for breakfast?
Shooter: [beat] No.

This is the technique of putting a sarcastic twist on the more plain meaning of something. Though literal-mindedness is often associated with not understanding sarcasm, in some cases snarking and literal-mindedness can go hand-in-hand.

Often involves a Mathematician's Answer. See also Grammar Nazi, whose more snarky varieties are prone to responding to misspoken statements as if they were what the speaker meant to say. If one acts on the sarcastic twist, it's a Jerkass Genie. If the snarky twist is the intended meaning, it may be a form of Literal Metaphor.



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    Anime and Manga 

    Fan Works 
  • Matt pulls one on Soichiro in the Death Note fic As the World Falls Down:
    Soichiro: How did you get here?
    Matt: Well, you see, when a mommy and daddy love each other very much...
  • Beyond the Borders: Rachel relates that, after she came out as trans, her father said I Have No Son! — which she thought was hilarious even at the time, since the whole point of it was that she wasn't any kind of "son" at all.
  • In chapter 15 of the Sonic fic Into the Void, Knuckles, at odds with Espio during a mission to save someone from a slave mine, offers him a request after threatening to kill him. Espio requests a steak dinner followed by 24 hours of sex with someone from a porno magazine, before cutting a gash into Knuckles with his horn and freeing himself.
    • In a later chapter, Sonic jokingly offers Shadow a chili dog in exchange for explaining what he meant by a suspected insult, to which Shadow asks how he can even eat those. Sonic explains that he just bites, chews, and swallows.
  • Leave for Mendeleiev provides a nonverbal example. After his classmate Mylene is transformed into the akuma Horrificator, Adrien is more interested in exploiting the situation to try and determine Ladybug's Secret Identity. Plagg tries in vain to convince him to become Chat Noir and protect his friends, but Adrien refuses, eventually telling the kwami "Oh, bite me." Plagg does so.

  • Don Lockwood does this to himself in Singin' in the Rain to prove a point:
    Lina: Oh Donny! You couldn't kiss me like that and not mean it just a teensy bit!
    Don Lockwood: Meet the greatest actor in the world! I'd rather kiss a tarantula.
    Lina: You don't mean that.
    Don Lockwood: I don't—hey Joe, get me a tarantula.
  • From The Empire Strikes Back:
    Han Solo: Afraid I was gonna leave without giving you a goodbye kiss?
    Princess Leia: I'd just as soon kiss a Wookiee.
    Han Solo: I can arrange that. You could use a good kiss.

  • Shooter McGavin sets himself up for a pretty good one in Happy Gilmore:
    Shooter: I eat pieces of shit like you for breakfast!
    Happy: You eat pieces of shit for breakfast?
    Shooter: [Beat] No.


  • Vetinari in Discworld is infamous for this.
    • Terry Pratchett's work is made of this: "Don't let me detain you"; "Throw the book at him"; "I would rather die than betray the emperor", etc.
      • Though the second one was accidental as Sam Vimes remembered too late that Carrot was very literal minded, the book was around several thousand pages and about thirty pounds, and they were on a tower.
    • This example from Going Postal:
      Moist: If you shove a broom up my arse, I could probably sweep the floor too!
      Vetinari: An excellent idea. Drumknott, do we have a broom closet on this floor?
    • Combined with the Narrative Profanity Filter in Mort:
      Thief 1: Oh —— me, a ——ing wizard. I hate ——ing wizards!
      Thief 2: You shouldn't —— them then.
    • From Wyrd Sisters
      Guard: There's a knocking without.
      Fool: Without? Without what?
      Guard: Without the door, idiot!
      Fool: A knocking without a door? This isn't some kind of Zen, is it?
    • In Jingo, Carrot goes to fight some Klatchians (though Angua convinces him not to), and says "My strength is as the strength of ten, because my heart is pure!" Angua responds with "Well, there's eleven of them." (This isn't the only thing that convinces him; sending Angua on board their ship in wolf shape is a better plan anyway.)
      • Jingo also has a moment where the Klatchian leader is informed that the Morporkians think Klatchians will run away after "tasting cold steel". He licks his blade and wonders why they say that, and if that's as cold as steel gets.
    • Glenda has some moments with this in Unseen Academicals, like when Nutt tells her "I am alive" (meaning not an Undead) and she says "A live what?" And when a waiter at the banquet says "Vetinari has ears everywhere" she says she only sees two ears.
    • In The Wee Free Men, when one of the travelling teachers condescendingly compliments Tiffany on knowing a big word like "zoology", she replies that "zoology" is actually quite short compared to, say, "patronizing".
  • Le Pacte des Marchombres presents an unusual example, as the two main characters make fun of a crook by being Literal Snarkers about their own threat.
    Crook: Piss off!
    Ellana: Here's my counter offer. You leave this inn now, without a sound, and promise never to step back in here, and I won't break you into a thousand pieces.
    Jilano: (from a table afar) It's a fool's bargain!
    Ellana: (pretending to get mad) And why's that?
    Jilano: Because even if you hit hard, you'll break twelve bones at best. Let's say twenty because it's you. It's a far cry from the thousand pieces you claim.
    Ellana: It's an expression. You shouldn't take it literally.
    Jilano: Surely, but this good sir could feel cheated.
    Ellana: Fine. (turns back to the crook) Here's my new counter offer. You leave this inn now, without a sound, and promise never to step back in here, and I won't break you into twelve pieces. Maybe twenty because it's me.
    • And then she actually starts breaking his bones, while counting to twelve. She gets to five, then goes back to three because there aren't actually any bones in the nose and ear. The crook, understandably, flees way before she gets to twelve (or twenty because it's her).
  • Harry Potter, when he decides to get his snark on, tends toward this variety of snark.
    Draco Malfoy: You're dead, Potter.
    Harry Potter: Funny, you'd think I'd have stopped walking around...
  • A Song of Ice and Fire: Jaime combines this with some grisly Black Humor when he gets a fancy new necklace with his own hand as the pendant.
    Roose: You have lost a hand.
    Jaime: No. I have it here, hanging about my neck.
  • Sherlock Holmes: Lestrade is complaining that Holmes is making a big deal of some slightly contradictory evidence:
    "I find it hard enough to tackle facts, Holmes, without flying away after theories and fancies."
    "You are right," said Holmes demurely; "you do find it very hard to tackle the facts."
  • In John Moore's Fractured Fairy Tale, Bad Prince Charlie, Charlie is being taken to see a priestess who is reputed to be have the power of prophecy. Charlie is a bit skeptical, but his friend tells him not to underestimate her until he's heard what she has to say.
    "Fine. I'll hear what she has to say and then I'll underestimate her."

    Live Action TV 
  • Mystery Science Theater 3000:
    • In the "Squirm" episode, when the title of the movie appears, Mike says "Well, I don't know why, but OK." Then he, Crow and Tom all squirm in their seats.
    • In the "Cry Wilderness" episode, when the title of the movie appears on screen Crow riffs "Well, if you insist." Then he, Tom, and Jonah all shout "WILDERNESS!" together.
  • The show Sherlock has a rather terrifying example. Sherlock has to prove a painting is a fake so Moriarty won't kill his hostage. Sherlock shouts, "Okay, I'll prove it. Just give me time." Moriarty's answer? Making his hostage, a CHILD, count down to his own fiery death. "Ten, nine, eight...."
  • Star Trek: Deep Space Nine has plenty of this, with the kings of the trope being Garak and Odo who can snark anything.
    • When a Klingon throws a rabidly insulting curse towards Odo in the Klingon language that's never translated in the episode ("Your mother has a smooth forehead"). It's clearly an insult about Odo's origins in what's probably a "son of a bitch" kind of way (except more insulting), and equally clearly meant to be rhetorical and a winning moment for the Klingon who says it, especially since the Klingon is clearly not expecting anyone around to be able to understand his language. Garak blandly responds with "Actually, I'm not sure Constable Odo has a mother", which completely takes the wind out of the Klingon's sails.
    • Bashir has his moments, too. Including bonus points for being able to pull this trope once on Garak.
      Garak: Doctor, has anyone ever told you that you're an infuriating pest?
      Bashir: Chief O'Brien. All the time. And I don't pay any attention to him, either.
    • Ziyal, of all people, as is clear when she gets fed up with Quark complaining about his business suffering under the Dominion.
      Quark: The Jem'Hadar don't eat, don't drink, and they don't have sex. And if that wasn't bad enough, the Founders don't eat, don't drink, and they don't have sex either. Which, between you and me, makes my financial future less than promising.
      Ziyal: It might not be so bad. For all we know, the Vorta could be gluttonous, alcoholic sex-maniacs.
  • From the first episode of The Cosby Show:
    (There's a knock on Cliff and Claire's bedroom door)
    Cliff: Who is it?
    (Vanessa and Rudy walk in)
    Cliff: No. No, no, when I say, 'Who is it?' it doesn't mean for you to come in. When I say 'Who is it?' you say who it is.
    (Both girls walk back out, close the door, and knock again)
    Cliff: Who is it?
    Vanessa: Who it is!
  • Charlie from Mr & Mrs Murder is fond of these (being played by Shaun Micallef).
    Peter: Apparently, he's a real pussy cat.
    Charlie: An actual pussy cat. That's amazing.
  • In The Nanny, Niles will occasionally use this as a way to mess with C.C..
    • In "Personal Business", when Maxwell goes to tell Fran she can't have her boyfriend in her room, Niles tells C.C. that he is "Upstairs with Miss Fine. Discussing the possibility of having sex in her room".
    • In "Take Back Your Mink", he tells her that "Miss Fine" is pregnant and "Mr. Sheffield" is the father, neglecting to mention that those are the names of Grace's hamsters.
    • In "The Bank Robber":
      C.C.: (reading a magazine) Oh, Maxwell, look! They're making Lost in Space into a movie. Oh, I loved that as a child. Oh, I'm dating myself.
      Niles: Dating yourself? That's pathetic. Even you can do better than you.
  • Blake's 7. In "The Harvest of Kairos", Servalan captures the Liberator, but its Master Computer is still a problem.
    Servalan: So tell me, Zen, how does one operate this craft?
    Zen: One manipulates the controls, and the craft functions accordingly.
    Servalan: Yes, and I've heard of your impudence. Now perhaps you will tell me how to manipulate the controls.
  • The Monkees used this as a common gag. Paraphrased from one episode:
    Secret Agent: This plan depends on utter secrecy.
    The Monkees: (repeatedly whisper 'secrecy' among themselves.)
    Secret Agent: What are you doing?
    Mickey: Uttering 'secrecy'!

    Tabletop Games 
  • Warhammer 40,000: Captain Cortez of the 4th Company of the Crimson Fists, the single toughest Space Marine in the Imperium, who only has two bones in his entire body that haven't broken at least once, tends to react to minor things like getting entire limbs lopped off somewhat differently than normal people.
    I haven't lost an arm, brother. It's over there.

    Video Games 
  • Leon S. Kennedy, from Resident Evil, sometimes likes to respond to villains' dramatic statements by pretending to take them literally.
    Salazar: So maybe you do have nine lives. But it doesn't matter now, Mr. Kennedy! I've sent my right hand to dispose of you.
  • One of the clash quotes from Injustice: Gods Among Us:
    Harley Quinn: You fight like my grandma!
    Nightwing: You fought your grandma?
  • In The Curse of Monkey Island, you can have Guybrush do this to Wally/Bloodnose. When he warns you "One more peep out of you, and I'll do ya in!", one of the dialogue options is a deadpan "Peep". Guybrush can follow it up by responding to Wally's threat of "One more word, and I'll let you have it!" with "Word".
  • Sten of Dragon Age: Origins uses this constantly, either to avoid talking about uncomfortable subjects or to dryly insult his teammates. An example:
    Warden: What were you doing in that cage?
    Sten: Sitting, as you observed.
    Warden: That's not what I meant.
    Sten: It's what you asked.
  • In Persona 3, after Takaya gives a Motive Rant about "shining a light upon this darkened world", Junpei yells back:
    Junpei: You're so full of shit! I'm not dying so you can have a friggin' night-light!
  • Meta example: The first line in Hatred is "My name is not important." Fans decided to run with this choice of wording and make "Not Important" the protagonist's actual name.

    Web Animation 
  • Strong Bad from Homestar Runner shows signs of this, such as in the second episode of Strong Bad Email, where a typo from a sender's email results in him trying to kill "Homsar":
    Strong Bad: Keep sending me your questions, and I will keep making fun of your punctuation and spelling. I mean, answer them.

    Web Original 
  • I am not ashamed, an Answers in Genesis-powered website, encouraged Christians around the world to "stand unashamedly and uncompromisingly on The Bible." (See Mixed Metaphor.) In response, a group of internet atheists decided to comply with this call a little more literally than the creators of the original campaign had intended.
  • In Dragon Ball Z Abridged, Nail tells Freeza to call "1-800-EAT-A-D*CK". Lord Guru responds thusly...
  • SF Debris' review of a Star Trek: Enterprise episode where T'Pol says Archer lost a Klingon prisoner and Archer responds that he didn't lose him, he was taken, prompts him to comment thusly:
    Well, obviously you didn't literally lose him. Even I don't think you're so incompetent that you'll misplace a seven foot tall alien warrior who smells like a wet dog. "Hey, anyone seen the important Klingon prisoner? What about my keys? Anyone seen those?" What a moron!

    Western Animation 

    Real Life 
  • Voltaire's response when someone told him that coffee was "a slow poison": "I think it must be slow, for I have been drinking it for sixty-five years and am not dead yet."
  • The Monkees were told their song "Randy Scouse Git" was not acceptable in the UK because of its title, and would have to be released with an alternate title. So, they called it "Alternate Title."
  • When the founders of Megabots Inc. unveiled the Megabot Mk-II (and challenged Suidobashi Heavy Industries to a duel), they did so in a manner that played up Eagleland stereotypes, such as boasting about the robot being born in the fires of American innovation while a lab technician got singed by a gout of flame. Suidobashi Heavy Industries' agreed in their response video that the robot was "Super American".
  • G. K. Chesterton's response to one of Holbrook Jackson's platitudes.
    Jackson: The future will look upon man as we look upon the ichthyosaurus—as an extinct monster.
    Chesterton: The "future" won't look upon anything. No eyes.
  • On Reddit such jokes are known as "The Ol' Reddit Switcheroo", and will often be relied to with a link to the previous iteration of the joke, creating a long chain across the website's history. This started as a way to show how old and tired the joke was.
  • In the years prior to World War II, a German publisher was interested in The Hobbit but had to comply with the Nazi party's policy of banning any works written by those with Jewish ancestry. So he wrote a letter to Tolkien asking if he was "Aryan". Tolkien wrote a response (which he never actually ended up sending) saying that no, he had no Indo-Iranian ancestry. The word "Aryan" originally referred to an ancient Middle Eastern people, who bore no resemblance to the Nazi ideal that they called "Aryan".
  • African-American comedian Dick Gregory described something that happened to him in Mississippi before the 1963 March on Washington:
    We tried to integrate a restaurant, and they said, 'We don't serve colored folk here,' and I said, 'Well, I don't eat colored folk nowhere. Bring me some pork chops.'


Video Example(s):


Harpoon my ass

Leela is all to happy, to fulfil Bender's snarky request, for insulting her harpoon.

How well does it match the trope?

5 (12 votes)

Example of:

Main / LiteralistSnarking

Media sources:

Main / LiteralistSnarking