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Literalist Snarking

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Shooter: Oh, You're On! You're in big trouble though, pal, I eat pieces of shit like you for breakfast!
Happy: (laughing) You eat pieces of shit for breakfast?
Shooter: (beat)!

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. Be warned that this tactic has a tendency to backfire, as the recipient might shoot back with calling you dumb for "not understanding figures of speech" or what-have-you — which, in turn, makes them "guilty" of not understanding what you meant.

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 

    Audio Drama 
  • In the Big Finish Doctor Who story The Innocent, the Doctor's conversation with a young woman on an alien planet is interrupted by the bleeping of her communicator.
    Doctor: What is that noise?
    Rejoice: That'll be my father.
    Doctor: Oh. Does he often make that noise?

    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.
  • The protagonist of With This Ring is fond of trolling people who are sloppy with their words. For example, when Klarion the Witch Boy realises that Paul has no soul and thus no resistance to magic:
    Klarion: You're empty.
    Paul: Mum always told me to go before leaving the ho-

    Films — Live-Action 
  • 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.
  • Pulp Fiction: Mia Wallace's first word upon being revived after an accidental heroin overdose and an adrenaline shot to the heart:
    Lance: You feeling alright? Then say something.
    Mia: ...Something.

  • A man decides to get a guard dog for his wife, and visits a local pet store. The store owner replies, "I have just what you're looking for. Wait right here."
    A little later, the owner returns with a Shih Tzu. "This little fluffball has a black belt in karate," he says.
    "Really?!" asks the customer.
    "Just watch," says the owner. He pulls out a step stool, puts the dog on the floor, and says, "Karate the stool." The Shih Tzu attacks the stool with such a vengeance that nothing is left but metal splinters.
    Rubbing his eyes, the customer says, "I don't believe what I just saw!"
    "Not a problem, I'll show you again," says the store owner, as he rolls out a large wooden chair. "Karate the chair," he instructs the dog, and in seconds it is reduced to sawdust.
    "My God, I'll take him!" says the customer.
    The man arrives home with the dog, but his wife is skeptical.
    "Seriously, this IS our new guard dog. He's the toughest I've seen," he says, as he puts the dog down on the floor. "He even knows karate."
    "Yeah right," she says. "Karate my ass."

  • 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 The 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".
  • Dr. Thorndyke series: In "The Stranger's Latchkey", Jervis is telling a group of acquaintances about his work with the genius detective/doctor/lawyer Dr. Thorndyke when one of them implies that she thinks Thorndyke is all brain and no heart, and asks if he's "at all human". Jervis responds by listing the anatomical features, such as an opposed thumb and an upright bipedal gait, that mark Thorndyke as an example of the species homo sapiens. When she attempts to clarify that she wants to know if Thorndyke is "human in things that matter", Jervis replies that clearly an upright bipedal gait does matter because Thorndyke's legal career would be seriously impeded if he went around on all fours.
  • 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."
  • In "Giantkiller" by Ben Jeapes, a 20 Minutes into the Future story published in Interzone, a door-to-door saleswoman is having trouble getting customers in a posh housing estate; everyone she speaks to over the intercom is polite, superficially reasonable, and utterly impossible to engage with. A vicar who has been having similar difficulty explains that they aren't actually speaking to people at all, just the house AI, and unless they're on the whitelist or can convince the AI it's a matter of the owner's safety, they won't even give them the time of day. At the next house, she asks for the time of day, and the AI gives it because it has no reason not to.
  • At the start of Graham Greene (Author)'s The Comedians, when the main characters are being introduced to each other, the pious American Smith says that he never touches alcohol. The English Con Man Jones replies, "I never touch it either. I drink it," before taking a swig.
  • The Ogden Nash poem "Sic Semper Mr Sherman's Temper or, Kindly Place Your Order in English" is about a man who dislikes modern (1950s) slang, and goes to great lengths to indicate this:
    He thinks the phrase whisky on ice
    Is both descriptive and precise
    So of rocks he keeps a store
    Which he gathered on the stern New England shore
    And when guests ask for bourbon on the rocks they get bourbon on the rocks and they squint at their bourbon on the rocks jitterily
    Because he fulfilled their request literally.
  • The Lost Metal: There is a character whose codename is Codenames are Stupid, or Codenames for short, implying that an exchange like this took place.
    What do you want your codename to be?
    Codenames are stupid.
    Codenames are Stupid it is, then.

    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.
      Quark: (face brightening) I never thought of that! I wonder what their favorite food is.
  • 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'!
  • Mimpi Metropolitan: In episode 35, Akbar rejects Mami Bibir's suggestion of giving Juna a leading role in Ada Azab Dalam Cerita because Juna is a no-name. Mami Bibir proceeds to snark that Akbar is wrong as Juna actually has two names.
  • My World… and Welcome to It: When Ruth Jensen snidely describes her husband Phil as being pig-headed in "The War Between Men and Women," he angrily shouts "Oink! Oink! Oink!" at her.

  • Eminem:
    • Eminem's verse in "Bitch Please II" has him respond to his critics over his use of homophobic language:
      So when you see me dressin' up like a nerd on TV,
      or heard the CD usin' the "f-g" word so freely
      it's just me bein' me; here, want me to tone it down?
      (in deep voice) "Suck my fuckin' dick, you f——t!" You happy now?
    • He uses a similar joke to this in "Baby":
      "How low can you go?" (in very deep voice) Lower than Chuck D, ho!
      Hear the bassiness in my voice?
      Rocky's back, where my Adrian's?

    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 

    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 
  • Bugs Bunny falls on the receiving end of this trope in the Looney Tunes cartoon "Knighty Knight Bugs", where he plays a jester in King Arthur's court. He uses an insulting word but fails to consider that his occuppation includes this very word in the title and that it could influence the king:
    Bugs: Only a fool would go after the Singing Sword! Yuk-yuk-yuk, yuk-yuk-yuk!
    Arthur: A good idea...Fool!
  • Ed, Edd n Eddy: In "Home-Cooked Eds", Eddy struggles to get the Kanker Sisters' trailer off his front law, and asks Ed to "give me a hand". Ed can't resist making the obvious joke as he shoves Edd's hand in Eddy's face.
  • From the Futurama episode "The Deep South", when the Planet Express gang goes fishing.
    Leela: I'm afraid you're both out of your league, boys, 'cause you're looking at a woman who owns her own harpoon!
    Bender: Harpoon, my ass! (laughs)
    Leela: Okay. (stabs Bender in the butt with her harpoon)
  • My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic:
    • In addition to Pinkie Pie's Literal-Minded-ness, she can also be like this from time to time.
      Gilda: I'll be watching a hawk.
      Pinkie: Why? Can't you watch me like a griffon?
    • Pinkie Pie's older sister Maud Pie shows some signs of this, as seen in "Rock Solid Friendship":
      Rarity: Congratulations on your rock-torate. What are you doing now?
      Maud: Talking to you.
  • The Penguins of Madagascar: In "Sting Operation", Skipper has Kowalski analyze an unknown object (which turns out to be a wasp's nest) hanging from the zoo's clock tower. When Kowalski tells him "It could be anything," Skipper sarcastically asks if it could be the state of Alaska.
  • Phineas and Ferb: In "Nerdy Dancin'", fellow mad scientist "Rodney" Von Roddenstein tells Dr. Doofenshmirtz to Talk to the Hand. Doof responds by directing his taunts towards Rodney's hand.
    Rodney: See this? It's my hand. You can talk to it.
    Doofenshmirtz: Alright. Hey, hand! (sing-song) My evil dancing's better than yours, it's like you're stuck in a canoe, but you got no oars. See you on the dance floor!
    Rodney: No one talks to my hand that way!

    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.
  • William of Malmesbury, an English monk and historian, recorded an anecdote involving King Charles the Bald and a philosopher and theologian named John Scotus Eriugena. As the two were having dinner, the king, in an attempt at humour, asked Eriugena: "What separates a Scot from a sot (drunkard)?" Eriugena replied: "Only a table".
  • On Reddit such jokes are known as "The Ol' Reddit Switcheroo", and will often be replied 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.'
  • Awsten Knight from Waterparks's response to guilt-tripping fans:
  • Dad jokes tend to run on this. A common variant would be "I'm hungry/cold/tired/etc.", and the response is "Hi, Hungry/Cold/Tired/Etc. I'm Dad."
  • Children in school will commonly request to use the bathroom by asking, "Can I go to the bathroom?" Often, the teacher will respond with, "I dunno. Can you?"


Video Example(s):


"Pieces of shit for breakfast"

Shooter McGavin tries to intimidate/insult Happy Gilmore when challenged at golf, but it doesn't work (if anything, it works against him).

How well does it match the trope?

4.89 (19 votes)

Example of:

Main / ThreatBackfire

Media sources: