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Mouthing the Profanity

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"And not only that, something happened to my... voice, so whenever I say the word... no... sound comes out!"
Robert De Niro parody, The Late Show (1992) (Australia), "The Psychopaths"

This trope is about situations where a character, possibly as a result of witnessing something that leaves them in a state of utter disbelief, visibly mouths a profanity but doesn't actually make a sound. Hilarity might ensue if another character who knows how to lip read witnesses the character mouthing the swear, then either says it out loud or audibly tells another character about it, especially if that character was one the first was trying to avoid swearing to.

Not to be confused with Sound-Effect Bleep, where the character says the profanity but gets drowned out by background noise. In literature and similar works, Narrative Profanity Filter is likely to be used as an equivalent of this trope.

See also Curse Cut Short and Precision F-Strike.


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    Comic Books 
  • Ultimate X Men: Cyclops wants to leave the X-Men, as Xavier's big plan does not seem to be going anywhere and Beast almost died. Xavier used his mental powers to try to manipulate him into staying.
    Cyclops: Can you read what I'm thinking now, professor?
    Xavier: Language like that betrays a limited vocabulary, Cyclops

    Films - Animated 
  • One of the animators of Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs mentioned that, since his task was animating the background characters in various scenes, he decided to make a little joke: in the scene where the main character flies past the crowd holding onto rocket-powered FLDSMDFR, the animator animated one of the people in the background mouthing "What the fuck?". The director wasn't pleased, but the joke was kept in.
  • In How to Train Your Dragon, during the climax, the main character's father mouths "What the hell?" when he sees his son arrive to rescue him.
  • In NIMONA (2023), Ballister exasperatedly mouths "agh, fuck..." when he gets annoyed by an obnoxious car saleswoman.
  • Animator Bruce W. Smith points out that in the sequence he animated in Teen Titans Go! To the Movies, when the crowd of super heroes is yelling at Robin during The Lion King parody, the Flash is mouthing the word "asshole" at him.

    Films - Live-Action 
  • being Hands: A character representing a GM drops the "o" when pronouncing the title of the manga Goblin Slayer, as the title is profane within the context of the scene.
  • Blade strikes a blow against Deacon Frost that should have killed him. However, Frost has recently performed a ritual that makes him invincible to said attack. After Frost gets back up, Blade mouths "What the fuck?"
  • Immediately after Batman swerves to avoid hitting the Joker in The Dark Knight, The Joker can be seen mouthing the word "fuck".
  • In Gone Girl, when Nick Dunne sells out his lover during a public speech regarding his wife's disappearance, she mouths "asshole" at him from the crowd.
  • At the climax of The Graduate when Ben interrupts Elaine's wedding, Elaine's mother, father, and almost-husband are seen mouthing silent profanities with hostile, angry looks on Carl Smith's, Mr. and Mrs. Robinson's faces.
  • I'm Gonna Git You Sucka. During the First Annual Youth Gang Competition, one of the events is a gang of teenagers stripping a car down to its parts. A referee uses a stopwatch to time the event and when they're finished, he mouths the word "fuck" and then says "It's a record!"
  • The Kentucky Fried Movie segment "A Fistful of Yen". Loo must fight Butkus, Dr. Klahn's The Dragon bodyguard. The second time Loo knocks Butkus down he jumps on him, with sound effects of bones breaking. When Butkus rises yet again, Loo mouths the words "What the fuck!".
  • Our Man Flint. Gila tries to kill Flint by firing a drug-tipped dart at him using the strings of a harp. When she misses and hits Lloyd Cramden instead, she mouths the word "shit" and escapes.
  • Revenge of the Sith: During Anakin's duel with Obi-Wan, Anakin appears to mouth "fuck you" while choking his former master.
  • Sink the Bismarck!: Though two films released in 1967 (Ulysses and I'll Never Forget What's'isname) are the first to feature characters vocalizing the word 'fuck', though they are preceded by 1960's Sink the Bismarck for the first implied use of it in film in which a ship's captain mouths the words "Fucking Bismarck".
  • This happens in the climax of The King's Speech, with King George's advisor Lionel encouraging him to swear to stop his stutter. Since this is live on air and to the entirety of the British Empire, neither of them say the words out loud.
  • The Intern: In an early scene Ben Whitaker is trying to avoid the advances of a woman from his neighborhood. He later shows up to a funeral with another date he met at his new job, and the other woman can be seen mouthing "F-U" at him.
  • Mel Brooks seems to enjoy this trope, as it's done in a few of his movies— specifically Blazing Saddles and The Producers, as Hedley Lamar and Max Bialystock each can be seen mouthing "what the fuck?" in one scene of their respective films.
    • Played for laughs in Silent Movie; after receiving some bad news, Mel clearly mouths, "You son of a bitch!", but the title card says, "You bad boy."
  • The Fugitive. While Kimble is escaping from Deputy Gerard he manages to get on the other side of some bulletproof glass. When Gerard fires repeatedly at him but the glass stops the bullets, Gerard mouths the words "son of a bitch".
  • Live and Let Die. When James Bond's boat jumps over him, Sheriff J.W. Pepper says "What the" and mouths the word "fuck".
  • Noticeable in The Martian, when Mark Watney finds out that the other Ares 3 astronauts haven't been informed that he's not dead. Presumably this was because the director couldn't have it said out loud more than once or twice and kept the PG-13 rating.
  • School of Rock: After Dewey takes her out for drinks Principal Mullins launches into a rant about how the stress and pressures of the job have turned her into a "bitch", which she silently mouths instead of saying out loud.

  • Animorphs: In #30, overlapping with Narrative Profanity Filter. Marco tries mouthing something to Rachel; she misunderstands and mouths something profane back.
    I saw Rachel giving me the fish eye from across the room. I mouthed that one word: alive.
    Evidently Rachel doesn't read lips. She misunderstood what I'd said and responded by mouthing two words I won't repeat.

    Live Action TV 
  • Combat!: In "Far From the Brave", while Littlejohn shows Kirby how a grenade works, he has a brief (and unscripted) struggle getting the safety pin back into place, and you can see him mouthing, "Son of a bitch."
  • In a segment on Last Week Tonight with John Oliver parodying the hypocrisy of Mother's Day coupled with very little rights and benefits given to mothers in the US, one mother is seen mouthing (or screaming, made inaudible by the voice-over) an Atomic F-Bomb in frustration at one point.
  • This is a recurring gag on Miranda (2009), who will especially mouth "sex", "breasts", and "moist". This is then played with when Miranda's mum (it all runs in the family) does something similar, but mouths the innocent words around the profanity instead, notably in such an embarrassing way as: "I'd say she was company, but [whispered] she looks like [shouted] a HOOKER!"
  • The Benny Hill Show: At the end of several sketches a post-punchline shot will show Benny's character giving a disgusted take to the camera and mouthing "Oh, poo!"
  • Saturday Night Live
    • One sketch has Joe Pesci playing his "Goodfellas" character buying a pinkie ring. He goes to the mirror to try it on and begins miming a conversation which ends as an angry argument full of F words. Today, censors would pixelate his mouth and no one would get the joke.
    • Another skit, titled "Who Wants To Be Groped By An Eleven-Thousandaire?" had a studio audience deciding which of three contestants—two women and a very confused man—would be sent to the thousand-aire's car for the so-called groping. When the man received 98% of the vote, his portrayer, Chris Kattan, promptly looked directly into the camera and mouthed, "What the FUCK?"
    • In Seann William Scott's opening monologue, he made reference to his scene in American Pie where his character drank a beer laced with semen by saying he came from a long line of actors, and proceeds to show a clip of one of his "ancestors" in a silent movie. The guy drinks a beer only to find that his friend jizzed in it, causing him to clearly mouth "MOTHERFUCKER!" A caption then appears reading "Darn you!"
  • In the fifth season premiere of The Wire, the Baltimore Sun does a story about a fishy real estate deal that ties together drug dealer Fatface Rick and city council president Nerese Campbell. When Nerese reads the story in her car the next morning, we don't hear it, but she clearly says, "Fuck!"
  • At the end of the infamous 1976 interview between host Bill Grundy and the Sex Pistols, Grundy, having drunkenly provoked his hosts into saying swear words on live TV, apparently could be seen mumbling, "oh shit".
  • One Rowan Atkinson sketch has him miming a date without speaking a word. On discovering the Shockingly Expensive Bill, however, it's not hard to guess what that word is.

  • One of the kids in "Tighten Up" by The Black Keys mouths "motherfucker" after the other kid steals away the attention of the girl he was trying to woo (since there was music playing over, he might have actually said it too).
  • Gorillaz: At the end of the music video for Rock It, Noodle can be seen mouthing "fuck you."

    Professional Wrestling 
  • WWE SmackDown:
    • While determining who should be the number one contender to Kurt Angle's WWE Championship the night after 2003's SummerSlam, Big Show interferes and boasts to "Mr. Here Comes the Pain" and "This is My Yard" with "I'm 7-foot-2, I'm 500 pounds!" to which the American Badass mouths "...of crap" not long after.
    • During a match featuring Team Xtreme (Matt Hardy, Jeff Hardy and Lita) as Lita is making her way up the ramp to escape some carnage suddenly The Undertaker (who Team Xtreme were feuding with at the time) comes out of the back. Lita can clearly be seen saying an unheard "Fuck!"
  • WWE Raw: After retaining his WWE Heavyweight Championship the night after 2004's SummerSlam, Randy Orton ends up being given an impromptu celebration by his fellow Evolution teammates which included Batista hoisting him onto his shoulders. As Triple H congratulates him and gives him a thumbs-up, he soon sends it downwards, to which Orton mouths out "FUCK!" and Triple H himself mouths out "Now!" to Batista who drops him as his teammates then mercilessly beat him.
  • After Seth Rollins hit Roman Reigns with the infamous chair shot that broke up The Shield, Dean Ambrose watches Reigns crumple to the ground and can visibly be seen mouthing "What the fuck?" before Rollins attacks him as well.


    Web Video 

    Western Animation 
  • Family Guy:
    • In one episode, Stewie mouths "fuck you" to Brian. Brian was able to read his lips and threatens to tell Lois on him. Stewie then tries to tell Brian he was really saying "vacuum".
    • In a crossover episode of Family Guy and The Cleveland Show, Peter tries to avoid Cleveland, and is eventually caught in his car. The car is closed, with the windows up, so whether Peter says or mouths the word 'fuck', it's not audible.
  • The 1939 Warner Bros. cartoon "The Hardships of Miles Standish" featured a scene in which a cockeyed Indian plunks a fellow Indian with his bow and arrow. The hurt Indian turns angrily and (from what is known) lips the words "Goddamn son of a bitch!" There was some speculation that the Indian actually vocally said it but it was excised by the Hays Office. Similarly at the end of "Rhapsody Rabbit" after a mouse beats him into playing the finale on the Hungarian Rhapsody, Bugs Bunny angrily plays the last few notes and mouths "son of a bitch!".
    • The narrator of "The Eager Beaver" tells us that "to protect their home, beavers dam the river." Cut to a group of beavers angrily swearing at the river silently as "blank" and "blankety" cover the screen above them.
  • In the Moral Orel episode "Satan", Coach Stopframe lets out a silent "what the fuck" after seeing the satanic ritual in the temple.
  • The cat in Tex Avery's M-G-M cartoon "The Early Worm Gets The Bird" gets plonked on the head and starts mouthing off profanities which are muted and the scene has a "Censored" caption over the screen.
  • At the end of the Popeye cartoon "Shape Ahoy," after Popeye and Bluto spend the bulk of the cartoon fighting over Olive, they discover her on a raft sailing off while being serenaded by a cartoon Frank Sinatra. Popeye and Bluto are about to utter something NSFW when a pair of hands come up and slap "censored" labels over their mouths.

    Real Life 
  • In 1971, Canadian Prime Minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau (father of future Prime Minister Justin Trudeau) was accused of mouthing "Fuck off" to his opposition in the House of Commons. Trudeau later told reporters that he said "Fuddle duddle".
  • According to this article, Chicago Mayor Richard Daley mouthed "fuck you" during the speech of his political colleague Abraham Ribicoff, specifically at the Democratic National Convention of 1968.


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Not That Kind of Dam

In one Looney Tunes cartoon, a narrator talking about the habits of beavers has to reword one comment when a trio of beavers misconstrues the meaning.

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