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Talking with Signs

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She's fluent in sign language.

"The profoundly deaf Grot gun-crews utilize crude sign-language to communicate. This tends not to work very well as Grots can only carry so many signs."
3rd Edition Ork Codex, Warhammer 40,000

A mute character — or one who has been rendered speechless by events — will communicate with hand-held signs on which are scrawled his comments and questions. Flipping the sign will often display additional messages — often more than the two one would expect from a simple two-sided object — and may overlap with The Tape Knew You Would Say That.

These signs appear and disappear (like so many other possessions of cartoon characters) as needed.

Usually they are examples of No Fourth Wall, as they frequently bear comments made to the audience, not other characters. Compare Hand Signals for those who communicate with hand gestures. Reading Foreign Signs Out Loud may ensue in dubbing. This trope is very useful for a Silent Snarker.


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    Anime & Manga 
  • Azazel from As Miss Beelzebub Likes talks in signs due to his extreme Gentle Giant tendencies and poor social skills. He'll even hold up multiple signs to emulate speech balloons.
  • The Assist-droids in Cat Planet Cuties use this to communicate with people.
  • Doraemon: In "A World Without Sound", Noby and his friends are unable to talk, so they communicate by writing on signs. Even this isn't enough to prevent Big G from sounding awful.
  • Celty Sturlusson from Durarara!! uses her cellphone in this manner — typing whatever she wishes to say and then showing it to someone. The anime has these lines voiced to save every scene she's in from having to focus on her cellphone screen.
  • Makoto Sain from FullMaPla communicates entirely with numbered signs.
  • A variation is used by Nodamiki in GA: Geijutsuka Art Design Class. She scribbles something akin to a manga panel background on her sketchpad and holds it up behind someone, putting words in their mouth.
  • A rather surreal example in Gestalt, a fantasy-inspired OVA and manga series. Ohri, the resident Manic Pixie Slave Girl is mute, having had her voice and mystical might stripped away some time before her first appearance. In the OVA, she communicates with the main cast by having an RPG-inspired text box pop in front of her, and using her residual ability to vocalize to further emphasize its contents. While the cast acts briefly surprised at first, they manage to understand her.
  • Elizabeth from Gintama can only communicate to other characters using signs, but mostly not to the audience. In one episode, Elizabeth actually used a signboard as a weapon against a space pirate. (Appropriately enough, written on it was a battle cry.) It turns out it's actually a member of an entire race of aliens who communicate in this fashion. One episode has Elizabeth replaced by a Russian lookalike who instead types messages on a Bentendo TS to communicate. Despite this and numerous other quirks, Katsura somehow remains unaware that the original was ever gone.
  • Suirou, one of the Juttensen in Grenadier communicates underwater at great length with Rushuna Tendo, educating her in underwater combat through an extensive series of pre-prepared signs. In the manga, he tries to communicate a lengthy monologue but runs out of room on one sign.
  • GTO: 14 Days in Shonan: Onizuka is spying on a bathing Shinomi, who hears him but thinks he's Ayame, the other woman who's a caretaker at White Swan. He can't speak, or he'd reveal his male voice, so he grabs a sketchbook and writes that he has a cold. When she asks about the new guy who's staying there (Onizuka), he does a …But He Sounds Handsome, saying Onizuka "looks just like Sorimachi".
  • The eponymous, mute character of Helen ESP relies on large note pads to communicate.
  • In Is This A Zombie?, Cute Mute Necromancer Eucliwood 'Yuu' Hellscythe communicates entirely through a notepad. She's even seen occasionally using it when there's no-one around, apparently 'talking' to herself.
  • Komi Can't Communicate: The titular protagonist has trouble communicating by talking due to crippling shyness and anxiety, so she resorts to write her responses on her notebook. As a Running Gag, she's a very verbose, prolific and cartoonishly fast writer.
  • Lupin III vs. Detective Conan: The Movie: Jigen pulls out a hand-held sign during the narration introducing him, as well as a scene when Conan is talking on the phone.
  • Suzuho of Magician's Academy also communicates by sketchbook messages, though her Split Personality Suzuka doesn't refrain from talking at all.
  • Midnight Horror School: This is Fonton's way of communicating as well as his main character trait.
  • Played for laughs in Monthly Girls' Nozaki-kun, when Sakura met Nozaki's younger brother Mayu and gave him a sketchbook and marker to communicate because the latter was too lazy to talk. Then subverted when Mayu decides that writing is even more of a hassle than speaking, and begins to talk normally instead.
  • Kuchinashi from NEEDLESS communicates with sign language. Despite having to carry around her sketchbook with her at all times, she's a pretty effective fighter.
  • A variant appears in Oh, Suddenly Egyptian God. The character Otter doesn't verbally speak, but they have a sun disk above their head, which doubles as a speech balloon, filled with either phrases that they would've said out loud or sound effects related to the things they're doing. An example is "どぞ" note  as they're serving Set his meal or handing Anubis a phone.
  • Ninja Maid Rena in the manga Onihime VS only communicates through writing, using a dry erase board in public and a diary at home. Her customers in her day job as a waitress in a Meido cafe find this adorable.
  • In the Queen's Blade OVA episodes, the Swamp Witch's flaming avatar communicates with wooden signs.
  • Ranma ½:
    • Genma Saotome is unusual in that he uses signs to communicate with other cast members (and not the audience) when in his panda form. In a spectacular Lampshade Hanging of this trope, one of the Ranma OVAs shows Genma floating in a boat built entirely of all the signs he ever displayed during the course of the television series, which he had apparently been carrying on his person all that time.
    • In another episode, a team of pursuers tracked Genma down by following the trail of signs he was leaving behind.
    • Deconstructed for laughs in one chapter of the manga, where he chases after Ranma to tell him something... but since he's holding a sign, Ranma can't tell that Genma is trying to talk to him until he catches up.
    • When he tries to give some exposition in panda form, he's shown writing the sign before someone else tells him to quit wasting time and just turn human.
  • Sun Otonashi from Rosario + Vampire writes in a notebook to communicate. She can actually speak just fine, but as a Siren (and an exceptionally powerful one at that), her voice can be lethal if not carefully controlled. Thus, she rarely speaks, and her notebook also functions as a magical Power Limiter; when she closes it during a fight, it means she's getting serious.
  • Core to Senryu Girl, where main character Nanako produces tanzaku cards with her replies in full senryu form (poems sharing the 5-7-5 structure of haiku but not limited to appreciating nature). She is joined by Kino, who sketches her own dialog and reaction faces.
  • Shaman King: One of Tamao's initial quirks is that she can only speak to others by writing on a sketch block, since she's too shy to use her voice in front of other people. She eventually drops this.
  • Shion in Shion no Ou was rendered mute due to psychological trauma, so she communicates using a notepad she carries with her.
  • Shouko from A Silent Voice is deaf. She has enough hearing to speak some Japanese (albeit with a heavy Speech Impediment) however overall uses sign language. When she first transferred to her elementary school, she spoke to the others using a notepad and was horribly bullied for it. Several years later in high school, her main ex-bully Shouya (the protagonist) has decided to atone and befriend her. Learning sign language was one of the things he did to befriend her, though Shouko still writes down when talking to people who don't know JSL.
  • Sonic X featured this in an episode that partially took place underwater so the characters could communicate while breaking the fourth wall. Executive Meddling, however, made sure that in the 4Kids dub, the signs were emptied of their text for no apparent reason other than to remove all the written text in the show.
  • Megumi Yamamoto in Special A prefers to preserve her voice for singing, and thus communicates by holding up a sketchpad with what she wants to say written on it.
  • In Splatoon: Squid Kids Comedy Show, Judd can only say meow, and can’t speak the Inkling language, so he uses referee flags with words written on them to communicate, in contrast to the rest of the series, where he’s the Intelligible Unintelligible and has Telepathy on top of that.
  • Strawberry Marshmallow, manga chapter 24: the girls communicate almost completely through signs to avoid waking Nobue up from her nap. Chika, not Miu, is the one to almost break the silence, as she nearly cracks under the pressure of having to write a whole lot, not to mention having Miu constantly trying to get her to burst into spontaneous laughter.
  • In Yuki Yuna is a Hero, after Itsuki loses the ability to talk, she uses a notepad Fu gave her to talk.
  • Used minimally in one of the last YuYu Hakusho episodes, so as not to let on to Yusuke and Yomi that they're listening in. It gets pretty funny at one point when Rinku shows a sign that reads, "..." (a sign showing silence, in other words), and Chu chides him with another sign that reads, "You don't have to write the dramatic pauses."


    Comic Books 
  • Red Dwarf: Rimmer is forced to do this in one strip of Red Dwarf Smegazine when he is devolved into a silent show 2D projection in "Evolution".
  • One gag in Robin Dubois involves the sheriff Alwill insisting that he and Robin talk with signs, so that they don't make any noise and accidentally wreck a newly-acquired second residence. The Sheriff quickly gets fed up doing this and deliberately destroys the house anyway.
  • Strix from Secret Six is incapable of speech and uses a notepad to talk to her teammates, with phonetic spelling. It's played as equal parts heartwarmingly silly and heart-wrenchingly tragic.
  • Awesome Andy in She-Hulk. The poor guy doesn't have a face, so he communicates with a chalkboard he has hanging from his neck — even, at one point, after it had been broken in two!
  • The Rumor, for most of the Dallas arc of The Umbrella Academy, communicates on a notepad, mostly with scathing sarcasm. She gets better just in time to use her power to resolve the plot, assassinate JFK, and save the world.
  • Man-Thang communicates in this way in Marvel's What The?! parody comics. Signs seen have included "SHUT UP", "JUST SAY NO" and "YOU! YOU'RE THE GUY WHO STOLE MY ORIGIN!"

    Comic Strips 
  • Older Than Television: The first syndicated comic strip, Hogan's Alley from the 1890s, featured Mickey Dugan (The Yellow Kid), who spoke exclusively through messages inexplicably printed on his shirt.
  • Peanuts did some Lampshade Hanging when Linus was about to throw a snowball at Snoopy who just happens to be carrying a sign that is exactly relevant to the situation, "If you throw that snowball at me. I'll have the Humane Society on you so fast it will make your head swim!" To which Linus notes, "Whoever paints those signs for him does a good job!"
    • Many comics feature Schroeder using signs telling the number of days before Beethoven's birthday. In one, Lucy says, "Who cares?!", to which Snoopy shows a sign that says We do!.
  • The cats in the comic strip Sylvia.
  • Zits does a non-speechless version of this. Jeremy comes down for breakfast with a stack of cards, and answers each of his mother's questions ("Orange juice? Eggs?") with the next card. Finally, she insists "I am not that predictable!" and he reveals the card which reads "Wanna bet?"

    Fan Works 
  • In Ashes of the Past, Raikou does this when doing the Johto League Gym challenge. He also uses the signs as a version of Wood Hammer.
  • Since Siren from Intelligence Factor is a Roserade, a species who can't talk, she communicates by writing. She holds up several signs during her battle against Leon's team.
  • Derpy Hooves in Fallout: Equestria, rendered a ghoul with a cut out tongue after an unspecified Raider attack, carries a whiteboard around her neck wherever she goes to communicate. Her first encounter with Littlepip, having been kidnapped and stripped of possessions, leaves her completely unable to explain who she is or that she is the author of the book Littlepip is looking for.
  • In My Little Minecraft: At the End The Miner can't speak vocally, so he's forced to communicate by using signs. A significant part of his interaction with the Mane Six is trying to learn their alphabet and language so he can write to them, though Twilight, at least, has made some effort towards learning his own pictographic language in order to teach him better.
  • Pinkie Pie in multiple My Little Pony fanfictions, including dC/dt≠0 (as part of a mime costume) and I am the Nightmare and so is Luna (when she is rendered mute by poison joke).
  • In New Hope University: Major In Murder, Lucina Sorenson, the Ultimate Conductor, has lost her voice. She mostly communicates by writing on pieces of paper, although she also knows sign language, and uses that to communicate with Katy. During the fifth trial, which takes place inside a computer simulator, she is once again able to speak.
  • Red in The Pokémon Squad is mute, so he has to do this in order to communicate with the rest of the cast. His signs reveal him to be quite the sarcastic fellow.
  • In Super Smash Bros. Ultimate: World of Light, Diddy Kong does this in lieu of talking.
  • Aline Belamie of We Are All Pokémon Trainers is a mute girl who communicates mainly through a writing sign, though she does know sign language.
  • In an omake for the Worm story Silencio, the main character has a special Tinkertech sign with 8 settings. The settings are "Yes. No. Shut up, Tattletale. You're making things worse. The Sign Is Tinker Tech. DAMN IT IMP! I don't speak, it's a mime thing. RUN!!!"

    Films — Animation 
  • Kronk's New Groove: When Kronk realizes that his fondue is about to blow, he holds up a sign that says "Uh Oh".
  • Mr. Bobo, Charles Darwin's chimpanzee manservant in The Pirates! In an Adventure with Scientists. At one point he holds up a sign saying "BUT...", and when Darwin hushes him, rolls his eyes and holds up a sign saying "But..."
  • A series of posters for The Secret Life of Pets has each of the main characters wearing a sign with their thoughts written on it; for example, Max's says "I really really really really really really really really missed you!" and Snowball's says "Cute is just my cover."
  • In Shrek, Lord Farquaard's men hold up signs to the crowd to tell them how to react, such as "Applause", "Reverence", "Revered Silence", "Laugh". Just before the final kiss, a sign is hastily written which says "Awww".
  • Tad, the Lost Explorer: Belzoni the parrot is mute so he constantly communicates holding tiny picket signs in his wing.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • In Amélie, When Samantha is dancing in the peep-show booth to loud music, Nino tries to ask her if she can replace him on the till at four o' clock. First he tries bellowing above the music, then pointing to himself and holding up four fingers. Finally he resorts to writing a note and holding it up.
  • In Black Rat, the Black Rat communicates to her targets only through text written on notebook pages.
  • Brahms: The Boy II: As a result of his trauma from the home invasion at the start of the movie, Jude lost the ability to speak, and spends the first half of the movie writing on a notepad to communicate. He ragains his voice eventually, though.
  • In The Demoniacs, the girls are rendered mute after their attack, when the priest asks what their goal is, they convey that they wish to kill their attackers by drawing skull and crossbones in the dirt in front of him.
  • Kit Kat from the movie Hudson Hawk. Mute, uses pre-printed cards to dialogue. Actually he carries hundreds of them and manages to deliver a hilarious One-Liner. Guess who is the actor? David Caruso!
  • In the film Little Miss Sunshine, the character of Dwayne, played by Paul Dano, has taken an oath of silence until he achieves his goal of becoming a test pilot in the Air Force. He communicates with a notepad for the majority of the film. Of course, he then finds out that he is colorblind and cannot fly jets for the Air Force. Swearing ensues.
  • In Love Actually, Mark stops by Juliet's flat to confess his love to her and wish her a merry Christmas; to cover for his appearance (as she has just been married), he shows her a series of pre-made signs while playing a tape of a choir singing "Silent Night".
  • Played for Drama in The Martian since Watney's first contact with Earth after being left behind is video-only, he has to communicate by writing on plastic tub lids and holding them in front of the camera. After a little while, this becomes impractical - especially for receiving messages, since that more or less limits it to yes and no questions - and starts using hexadecimal instead.
  • In Mr. Nanny, Frank Olsen uses pre-written index cards to communicate with his widowed boss Alex Mason, Sr., after being injured during a robbery at Mason's office.
  • In the film Murder by Death, the cook is deaf-mute and communicates via cards. She is illiterate and the cards are pre-printed. Unfortunately, the person she has to communicate with the most is the butler, who is blind.
  • Silent Bob of The View Askewniverse sometimes communicates this way.
  • Who Framed Roger Rabbit: Benny the Cab asks Eddie and Roger to pull a lever that will help them escape the Weasels. When they can't figure out which one, a sign reading "THIS LEVER, STUPID!" pops out of Benny's dashboard to point out the lever in question. During the first scene in the bar, Eddie sees a hung-over Red Car conductor and asks a mute barfly what's wrong with him. He takes a notepad and writes the answer "LAID OFF".
  • In The Witch Files, Crazy Sarah, having lost her voice due to magic, communicates by writing notes on pieces of paper and holding them up.

  • In The Adventures of Fox Tayle, Fox is being kept in a water-filled glass container with a breathing mask. To communicate, he has to use a small waterproof writing pad and a grease pencil.
  • In Bearing an Hourglass, Fate uses a scroll of messages she brought along to communicate with the new Chronos (whose personal time is running backwards relative to the rest of the world) until she can get him into a situation that has time flowing the same direction for both of them and they can talk normally. Chronos later uses written messages for communication with mortals when he has to reverse the world's time flow.
  • Danny, the Champion of the World: Played with in Danny's imagination. As he notes the stone plaque above the school entrance which says "This school was erected in 1902 to commemorate the coronation of his Royal Highness King Edward VII", he thinks how boring it is to read the same words over and over again, and how nice it would be if it said something different every day. He imagines his father writing a different daily message on it with chalk, with facts such as:
    The guppy has funny habits. When he falls in love with another guppy, he bites her on the bottom.
    I'll bet you didn't know that in some big country houses, the butler still has to iron the morning newspaper before putting it on his master's breakfast table.
  • In the Erebus Sequence, Anea is The Speechless, and at first, she communicates by writing in a notebook she carries around. Later, she and her friends devise a sign language which is rather easier to use.
  • A variation: In Feet of Clay, golems have no voice and always carry around a tablet and chalk to write on in order to communicate. The golems' writing looks like Hebrew script. Because they can move much faster than one might expect, golems can communicate this way at more or less normal talking speeds, even with complex messages.
  • In The Phantom Tollbooth, as Milo passes through the Valley of Sound, a region that was rendered silent by the Soundkeeper, some citizens of the Valley communicate with Milo via a blackboard, asking him to confront the Soundkeeper.
  • The Stand has deaf-mute character Nick Andros who carries around a notepad to help him communicate. Unfortunately, he winds up paired for a while with the mentally retarded Tom Cullen, who can't read.
  • Louis, the title character in E. B. White's The Trumpet of the Swan was born mute. He uses a slate and chalk to communicate with human beings and a trumpet his father stole from a music store when he's around other trumpeter swans.

    Live-Action TV 
  • In the 1980s British sitcom Agony Jane Lucas's mother used signs to tell Jane that she'd lost her voice. However, as they were on the telephone at the time, this was unsuccessful.
  • At Last the 1948 Show: In the sketch "Burglar Hides in the Library", the librarian (Eric Idle) and library patrons keep impatiently shushing the police sergeant (Graham Chapman) who has chased a burglar (Tim Brooke-Taylor) into the library. In deference to the rules of silence, he proceeds to hold up signs reading "'Allo 'Allo 'Allo" and "'Orl right, Wilkins, we know yer 'iding in 'ere", then "blows his whistle" to summon two constables (John Cleese and Marty Feldman) by holding up a tiny sign reading "Peep! Peep!". Cleese then helps Chapman disarm the burglar by holding up a sign reading "Look out. There's someone behind you".
  • The Big Bang Theory: When Sheldon misinterprets a sarcastic remark yet again, Leonard jokes that he has to hold up a sarcasm sign for him. Later in the episode, Leonard does just that.
  • The Brittas Empire: The beginning of the episode "Sex, Lies, and Red Tape", has Gordon Brittas go on a sponsored silence to raise funds for a trampoline. As a result, to continue running the centre, he communicates with the staff through writing out what he wanted to say on a notepad. This becomes problematic when he has to take the telephone at one point.
  • Buffy the Vampire Slayer: "Hush" devoted an episode to this trope. The entire town had its voices removed by the baddies. Almost immediately, some enterprising townfolk started selling whiteboard tablets on the street. The fourth season episode, which was nominated for an Emmy, was in response to accusations that the series relied too heavily on clever dialogue. It is generally acclaimed as one of the scariest of the series.
  • Charmed (1998): In the episode "Sense and Sense Ability", the sisters are assailed by a monkey that robs Piper of her sight, Phoebe of her hearing, and Paige of her voice. To communicate, Page writes her messages on a paper notepad, for Phoebe to relay to Piper. Later, Paige encounters issues with interrogating a captured Kazi Demon, who, as a lesser demon, is illiterate.
    Phoebe: Hey, do you ever think that maybe your Kazi buddy here can't read?
    Kazi Demon: I tried to tell her that.
    Phoebe: He did?
    [Paige writes "Demons lie" on her notepad]
    Phoebe: Yeah, but not about literacy. Kazi warriors are base-level demons.
  • In one episode of the Czech sitcom Comeback, one character vows to stay silent for three days to make up for a broken promise. At first, he uses a paper sign with "NO" on one side and "Beer" on the other and manages to communicate just fine with it. Later, he upgrades to a set of grocery store signs, which he even manages to utilize in his job as a highly opinionated music store clerk.
  • The 'Laryngitis' Daily Show/Colbert Report check-in combines this with The Tape Knew You Would Say That, as Stephen's signs accurately predict everything Jon's going to say and respond to it.
  • Deep Space Nine: Averted in the episode "Babel" where a bioweapon has given everyone aphasia. At one point Chief O'Brien tries this trope using a PADD, only to find the sentence he's typing is gibberish as well.
  • The Drew Carey Show: In one episode, some landowners are trying to flush out Drew so they can take his home, and hire Mimi to do so. One of her tactics is blaring loud music across the neighborhood. Drew and his friends counter by putting earplugs on and talking with signs. At one point, Oswald responds to Drew's question with a "What?" Drew responds back, but writes the words on his sign so small that Oswald has to lean in; Drew then bops him in the head with the sign.
  • Father Brown: In "The Tree of Truth", Bunty claims to have laryngitis and communicates with Mrs McCarthy by a series of pre-prepared signs, having already predicted everything Mrs McCarthy is going to say.
  • Happened twice on Father Ted. Once when an even more loathsome priest than Jack moved in and started blaring jungle music 24/7, meaning the characters had to talk in signs, with Mrs. Doyle offering a cup of tea -followed by a large stack of signs saying "Go on, go on, go on". Another where the house was bugged had Ted communicate to Dougal that they needed to talk in signs, with Dougal's first sign being simply "What?"
  • Fawlty Towers:
    • The incompetent manager, Basil Fawlty, shows off an attempt to communicate with the Spanish worker Manuel, holding up a series of cards showing a suitcase, an up arrow, and the number seven to instruct Manuel to take a guest's case up to room 7. Manuel then produces a card saying "OK" right back at Basil.
    • In another episode, Basil tries to tell an irritable deaf guest to turn on her hearing aid. He finally writes "turn it on" on a piece of paper, which she can't read without her glasses, which are propped up on her forehead. Basil tries to point this out by writing another note, before realisation dawns.
  • Frasier: During one first season episode, he and Roz do this to communicate while on the air after she put Lilith (Frasier's ex-wife) on the air as a caller. The signs were:
    Frasier: You're Fired
    Roz: I'm Union.note 
  • On a 1950s Garry Moore Show, Buster Keaton and another actor recreated an old silent movie routine, manually holding up dialogue placards to represent the on-screen title cards of the original film. The awkwardness and absurdity of the substitution (with its accompanying fumbles and mix-ups) added a new layer of funny to the original gags.
  • Get Smart: In the episode "A Tale of Two Tails", Max and the Chief (and Larabee) are forced to communicate using the "CONTROL Secret Word File" (cards with individual words printed on them) while in the (broken) Cone of Silence. They're not any more successful than the Cone, as the Chief loses patience trying to find the right words and eventually gives Max the assignment he wants just to put an end to it.
  • The Good Place: In his eponymous episode, Derek glitches by repeating the name "Jason", and he holds up a Coyote sign saying, "HELP! I CAN'T STOP SAYING JASON!"
  • Gotham: Martin, the adorable Cute Mute kid, communicates by scribbling words and pictures on a notepad he wears around his neck. Possibly justified in that he's an orphan stuck in a group home, and thus presumably never had anyone to teach him sign language.
  • How I Met Your Mother: One episode had Barney be jinxed and, by the heavily enforced rules of their small group of friends, not be allowed to speak until someone says his name. This leads him to speak in signs (written on a notebook) for almost the entire episode. At one point, instead of screaming, he just pantomimes it and holds up a sign saying "AAAAAAAH!"
  • Wataru Kurenai, the eponymous Kamen Rider Kiva, initially communicates with a notebook full of pre-written responses because he's a Hikikomori who thinks he's allergic to the world. At one point Cool Big Sis Megumi asks something like "You can't have a response for everything in there!" When Wataru starts actually looking for a response, she takes it away from him.
  • The Leftovers: Due to their vow of silence, some members of the Guilty Remnant cult do this to communicate.
  • Lost: Sun is forced to do this during the episodes where she's forgotten all of her English (well, how to verbally speak it, anyway).
  • Married... with Children: One of the neighbors temporarily loses her voice and starts carrying a bunch of pre-written cards around with her.
    "So you think you can answer anything at all using those cards?"
    (on card) YES
    "All right then, what were the names of the three ships used by Christopher Columbus?"
    (one card after another) NINA - PINTA - SANTA MARIA
  • Spoofed by Monty Python's Flying Circus, where such non-talking classics as "The Semaphore Version of Wuthering Heights" and "Julius Caesar on an Aldis Lamp" are presented with subtitles convenient for viewers who can't even interpret the flag signals for "AAAAUUUGGH! AAAAUUUGGH!"
    • Also the dirty old man in a raincoat flashing passing women, who then turns to the camera, opens his coat and shows he's fully clothed with a sign reading "BOO!" hanging around his neck.
    • The "Conquistador Coffee Campaign" sketch has the boss raise a "joke" sign repeatedly, and the employee he's calling on the carpet raises another sign that says "No, a sales campaign."
  • In one of Mythbusters Don't Try This at Home segments, Adam does the standard spiel while Jamie holds a cartoon bomb with a lit fuse. Adam leaves and Jamie holds up a sign reading "NOT a real bomb!"
    • Done more literally in "Walk in a straight line blindfolded", which has Adam blindfolded in the intro and Jamie uses signs to talk to the audience without Adam noticing.
      Adam: You ever work on something, and it's not going the way you want it to, and you feel like you're just...going around in circles?
      Jamie: I know exactly what you mean. [holds up a sign]
      Sign: Every day I have to work with him.
  • The Outer Limits (1995): A variation in "The Beholder". Kyra, an alien who lives on a different plane of existence, is initially only able to communicate with Patrick Tarloff by writing in the air. He later gains the ability to hear her when she exposes him to a device that she salvaged from her ship.
  • The Patty Duke Show: In "Patty the Chatterbox", Patty has made a bet/agreement not to speak for 72 hours. This has created a headache for her boyfriend Richard, who's coming to see her hash out the situation. Before he arrives, Patty prepares a series of "answer cards". During their exchange, she holds up cards that exactly answer every one of his remarks, including the answer "because you're predictable"! Later on, she tries this with him again but fails because her younger brother Ross had inadvertently mixed up the cards beforehand.
  • Phil of the Future: One episode pays homage to Wile E Coyote in a sequence where Pim sets up a bucket to dump water on her substitute teacher. However, when she goes to pull the rope which will overturn the bucket, the rope is gone. The teacher then pulls on a rope near her that Pim had failed to notice until now. Realizing that she's about to get drenched, Pim silently holds up a small sign reading, "Yikes!"
  • Red Dwarf: At the end of Captain Hollister's Humiliation Conga in "Pete" the PTSD renders him speechless, which he explains to the Dwarfers via note cards. And then sentences himself to three months in "the Hole" so he can catch a break from their antics.
  • The first time Sarah Michelle Gellar hosted Saturday Night Live, at the end of the episode after she thanked the show's cast and musical guest, she held up a hand-written sign reading, "I love you, Aly! Willow Rocks!"
  • In Shine a Light, Wally and Les decide to talk only with letters in "Red Letter Day", purely out of boredom.
  • In an episode of MTV's old dating show Singled Out, co-host Jenny McCarthy lost her voice once and did all of her talking on cards.
  • Taxi: On one episode, Latka loses a bet with Tony and can't talk for a week. In one scene, he communicates with the cabbies using signs.
  • Thunderbirds: There's actually a serious version of this in one episode, where Gordon Tracy uses a hand-held illuminated signboard to send messages to the pilots of an airliner that has sunk to the sea bed.
  • The Twilight Zone (1959): In "Cavender is Coming", there is a variation. Harmon Cavender writes "Guardian Angel" in the air to prove to Agnes Grep that he is telling the truth about his identity.
  • The Vicar of Dibley: In one episode, all of the characters gather in the Horton house, where Alice's newborn baby just fell asleep- so when the vicar arrives at this meeting, Hugo holds a board up, telling her to keep it down, so as not to wake the baby up. Once she goes inside the room, she finds an average conversation has been going on between the villagers about whether or not they liked a certain episode of EastEnders, etc. only written on boards. Jim Trott even cares to write "no no no no no" before each sentence, as his speech impediment would force him to, if he was actually speaking.
  • What Not to Wear: One episode had co-host Stacey doing this for a short while. Allegedly she lost her voice because she was just that horrified at the state of that episode's guest's wardrobe.

    Music Videos 


    Pro Wrestling 
  • Aptly-named ECW character Sign Guy Dudley.

    Tabletop Games 
  • Magic: The Gathering: The Unhinged card Erase (not the Urza's Legacy One) has a wizard (whose head is being erased by a giant eraser) holding up a sign that says "Not the face!"
  • In Planescape, Dabus are a species of enigmatic humanoids that act as the caretakers of Sigil, the city of doors. Rather than talking out loud, they communicate by flashing a series of symbols above their heads that translate into whatever they're trying to say. For example, if they wanted to say "I understand," they might show pictures of an eye and a man standing under a bridge.
  • Warhammer 40,000 even has an example of this one: in the 3rd edition Ork codex, it refers to Gretchin deafened by artillery duty being forced to communicate using "a sort of sign language," which "tends not to work very well, as a Gretchin can only carry so many signs."

  • In the Flying Karamazov Brothers' production of Comedy Of Errors, at one point Antipholus of Ephesus announces his plans to visit a courtesan he knows when Adriana won't let him in his own house. As he speaks, William Shakespeare walks on stage holding a large sign bearing the word "PLOT".

    Video Games 
  • Kukuri Tachibana from 11eyes is another who communicates by writing what she wants to say on her sketchbook. She's the passive member of the chosen ones, leaving most of the fighting up to her guardian angel, Abraxas and focusing on healing.
  • ANNO: Mutationem: In the DLC, Noni is unable to speak due to her avatar's appearance, she instead writes her messages on the ground to communicate with Ayane.
  • Apollo Justice: Ace Attorney: Downplayed where young artist Vera Misham is perfectly capable of speech, but is so shy and withdrawn that she conveys her emotions via drawing on her notepad.
  • Chibi-Robo! is normally spoken for by his partner Telly, but when faced with a yes/no situation (usually a player choice), he can pop up one of two signs: a green exclamation mark for "yes" and a red no-sign for "no".
  • Defied in Fallout: New Vegas. You can suggest this to the mute Christine as an alternative to her hand signals, but it turns out she can't read or write due to brain damage after she was nearly lobotomized in The Big Empty.
  • In Jazztronauts, the Singer only ever communicates using an electronic tablet.
  • Katawa Shoujo: Shizune was born deaf and never learned to speak (it is possible to learn to speak if you are deaf, but it requires a teacher with special training and a lot of time). She usually has her friend Misha translate her sign language however when Misha's not around she will write on paper instead.
  • Kirby's Dream Land: At the end of the game, when Kirby drops down to the cheering citizens of Dream Land, he bids farewell to the player with a sign reading "bye-bye".
  • The Legend of Zelda: As Link is a Heroic Mime in the series proper, perhaps this is the only way he could truly talk. He holds up a sign saying "PLEASE LOOK UP THE MANUAL FOR DETAILS" in the opening scroll.
  • Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater: The Sorrow holds up a variety of helpful signs for Naked Snake, including a realtime countdown at one point. He can't speak because he is dead.
  • Strong Bad's Cool Game for Attractive People: Parodied in all sorts of ways. The Poopsmith can apparently summon Strong Mad from another room with a sign (despite not being in a place Strong Mad would be able to easily see), he holds up signs when playing a part in a movie (and causes Strong Bad to "hush" him at one point), and when video games merge with the main characters' reality, one of his signs becomes what at first appears to be an unintelligible mess.
  • Taz-Mania (Sega): Taz holds up a sign saying, "Ouch." if he gets squished by a hammer in the first act of the factory, or when an elevator falls on him in the second act of the mines. He holds up another sign saying, "Uh-oh..." before facing off against Weed-ola and the statue of his ancestor in the respective jungle and Taztec Ruins levels.

    Web Animation 
  • History Matters does this quite a bit, since the only audio is the narrator speaking. Which is amusing when some of the arguments between historical figures devolves into fits of Volleying Insults with Your Mom or No, You.
  • HTF +: When Flippy plays Luna Game he starts to scream, Flaky hears him from the other room and holds up a sign "Should I ask?" in HTF+LG 1.
  • The Poopsmith from Homestar Runner has started this in later entries, as a way around his vow of silence.
  • In RWBY Chibi, Neo 'talks' in this manner. Because her Semblance lets her change her appearance on a whim, it's reasonable to assume that she changes the sign's writing to whatever she needs to say. (although once, she did use the sign to strike Mercury in the face, but there's an excuse)
    Roman: You thought you could just move off into a spinoff comedy series and leave me behind? GUESS AGAIN! I will have my REVENGE! This time, things are gonna be different!
    Neo: (holds up a sign saying "THEY WON'T")
  • Jakko and Sekoila of Zany To The Max. When they first went to Acme Looniversity, they only spoke Finnish, holding up signs to translate. They spoke more English as the school year went on, and in Zany to the Max, they speak both languages fluently.

    Web Comics 
  • Bob and George: Nate.
  • Cursed Princess Club: Princess Renee's curse makes it where she constantly spits out frogs whenever she opens her mouth. To compensate, her kingdom's doctor's stitched a zipper into her mouth, and she communicates by writing on paper signs.
  • Dominic Deegan:
    • Bort, a mongrelfolk that Dominic and Luna meet in the Wildlands, mostly communicates by painting signs, possibly because his jaw structure doesn't allow him to speak. In the Elemecca he's somehow able to speak, and is as surprised by it as Dominic.
    • In the sequel The Legacy of Dominic Deegan: Snout often communicates this way with his friends due to being deaf. They often communicate back in the same manner.
  • El Goonish Shive: Grace holds up a sign that says "End." at the end of the "Squirrel Diplomacy" storyline.
  • In Erfworld, Stanley orders Parson to "Shut up until you're ordered to speak!" He tries to exploit the obvious loophole with the written message "Hey, Bogroll, order me to speak!"; however, Bogroll can't read. When we next see Parson, he's conversing with Sizemore, who presumably did read and follow such a request.
  • Evil Diva: Gabriel carries around a notepad for this.
  • Evil, Inc. has a sentient piece of paper who can only communicate this way by producing writing on himself.
  • Evil Overlords United has a character named Zworgue, who uses a sign stolen from Framed!.
  • Friendly Hostility: Played with when Derringer's throat is injured and he is forced to communicate through the use of signs. At one point he pulls out the wrong sign (one that describes a certain set of...interests...), realizes his mistake, and quickly pulls out another advising everyone who saw to disregard the previous message.
  • Holy Bibble: When God strikes Laban dumb, this is how he chooses to communicate for the rest of the arc. Including signs that make death threats at Jacob.
  • Ignition Zero: Hugh looks like a scary monster but is very nice. They communicate through writing and write in a cutesy format where they dot their "i"'s with hearts.
  • Apple from The Infamous.
  • The Last Days of Foxhound: The Sorrow often uses this to communicate to the living if they can't speak to spirits.
  • Latchkey Kingdom: Cute Mute Rose communicates with a chalkboard around her neck, being incapable of making vocal sounds.
  • In Looking for Group, after possessing the Crown of Legara, Richard takes a liking to communicating via conjured signs, despite the fact that others can clearly hear him when he speaks normally. When Aelloon swats the signs away in frustration, Richard simply conjures a new one saying "Tough crowd".
  • Milk And Mocha: Mocha is mute, and sometimes communicates with their significant other, Milk, by texting or using an iPad-style tablet.
  • Dragobo, of the RPG World webcomic (As well as many more animal sidekicks).
  • Scandinavia and the World: Finland, on the rare occasion he feels the need to say something that can't be communicated with a Death Glare, will hold up a sign.
  • Rudolph (yes, the reindeer) in Sluggy Freelance. Also Zoë's mother, who as she put it, "wasn't talking to her", but had made enormous signs so she could rant and/or nag her daughter like she usually would.
  • Squid Row: The homeless guy uses cardboard signs.
  • Supernormal Step: Cute Mute Melissa carries a whiteboard and marker around to talk to people, and has mentioned a 'big speech' board for dramatic moments.
  • Zoophobia: Vespa, one of the demon triplets, is mute and uses signs to communicate. Also seems to be slightly saner than her sisters.

    Web Original 

    Web Videos 
  • The Angry Video Game Nerd: In the The Bugs Bunny Crazy Castle episode, the Nerd holds up a sign that says "YIKES!" when Bugs Bunny (who is really a disguised Woody Woodpecker) gives him Bugs Bunny in Crazy Castle 4. At the very end of the video, when the explosion from Bugs' bomb sends the two of them to Hell, the Nerd holds up a sign that says "FUCK!" as the screen irises out on him.
  • Atop the Fourth Wall: Ninja Style Dancer uses written signs to communicate. During the Ewoks #1 review, he held up a series of signs in the wrong order in one scene, so Linkara edited the footage to put the right text on top of the signs with an added: "Ninjas put their words in the wrong order to confuse their foes."
  • Noob: Précieux has no microphone and uses the text chat to speak. That gets illustrated first by him using a whiteboard, then by having a white (and later red-colored) rectangle with text in it appear onscreen whenever he "talks".
  • The Nostalgia Critic:
    • Used in his review of The Good Son (in-universe, it's said he screamed at the awfulness of the movie until losing his voice; in reality, Doug had a throat infection). He even described his situation as turning into a "human Wile E. Coyote".
    • In a later review of James and the Giant Peach, the Critic responds to the explanation of James' parents' deathnote  with a card saying "What?". After the clip is repeated, he writes another sign saying "WHAT???".
  • Stuart Ashen used this trope for emphasis in a review. "If you seriously think that the Toshiba Camileo H10 is a serious camcorder then I'm afraid you're... (cut to a closeup of his face) Wrong wrong wrong wrong wrong wrong wrong (holds up a sign saying WRONG)".
  • What the Fuck Is Wrong with You?: Nash's Stick Boy talks through both this and Voice Grunting.

    Western Animation 
  • The Adventures of Jimmy Neutron, Boy Genius: In the first episode, Carl pretends to act like a mime, and holds up a sign that reads YEAH! when the plot is resolved. When Sheen tells him to stop and hits him, Carl flips the sign around where it says OUCH!!.
  • Adventure Time: In the episode "Shh!", Finn and Jake make a bet to see who can last the longest communicating in only this way, using only pre-made signs as opposed to being able to write them on the fly to fit the situation.
  • The Angry Beavers: At the end of "Stump Looks for His Roots", Stump and his family hold up signs with sounds of laughter on them after seeing an Embarrassing Slide of Dagget picking his nose.
  • Animaniacs: Given the nature of the trope as a traditional animation gag, it's not surprising to find it's being used as well. Mr. Skullhead, from the 'Good Idea, Bad Idea' skits, is largely mute, so he resorts to this to express himself to the audience (the fourth wall already being fairly thin on the show). He's more of The Voiceless since there are a couple occasions where he makes some kind of noise (such as whistling or brief snippets of off-key singing).
  • Arthur: In "I Wanna Hold Your Hand", Binky is worried that George saw him holding his mother's hand that he warns him not to say anything. George has no idea what Binky is even talking about, but eventually Binky's frequent death glares cause him to stop talking entirely and start communicating this way. This is despite the fact that at this point in the series, Binky is essentially a bully In Name Only who nobody can even remember anymore having actually hit anyone. At the end of the episode, everything is resolved; Binky's fellow Tough Customers find out that he sometimes holds his mother's hand, but they couldn't care less. George, however, is still talking using signs, so Binky tells him that he can talk now and George holds up a sign reading "Really?" "Yes, really," Binky replies, and George says "phew" in relief.
  • Batman Beyond: In "Babel", after Shriek messes with soundwaves, preventing anyone in Gotham City from being able to communicate intelligibly, Terry and Bruce relay messages to pass information.
  • Detention: Duncan Bubble prefers to communicate by spelling out messages with his yo-yo.
  • Ed, Edd n Eddy: At the end of "Stop, Look, and Ed", after an attempt to convince the other kids to break the rules ends badly for the boys, the boys get locked up in a cage. Eddy, Edd, and Ed try to wave down help with signs reading (respectively) "HELP", "PLEASE ASSIST", and "KETCHUP".
  • The Flintstones: In "The Blessed Event", the episode where Pebbles was born, upon hearing that it would be any day, Fred gives Wilma peace and quiet. However, Dino and their cat were making a racket while fighting, with Dino having the cat on a branch up a tree. When Fred yells at them to be quiet, the two pull out signs, Dino holding a sign that reads "Bow Wow!" while the cat has one that reads "Meow!", as the two resume their quarrel in pantomime.
  • House of Mouse:
    • In "Mickey and Minnie's Big Vacation", Timothy scares away the Pink Elephants by holding a sign reading "BOO!".
    • In "Pete's House of Villains", several guests complain about the villains-on-staff stealing their stuff, including a mute Ariel, who holds up a sign reading "Somebody stole my voice again."
  • Kaeloo: In Episode 132, the non-anthropomorphic sheep, who can't talk, resort to using signboards with pictures on them to communicate with the main cast.
  • Looney Tunes:
    • Both Wile E. Coyote and the Road Runner have communicated with signs. On at least two occasions, the Roadrunner holds up a sign that reads "Roadrunners can't read".
    • Tiny Toon Adventures:
      • Calamity Coyote, Wile E.'s Spiritual Successor, never spoke. In the short "Born to Be Riled" from the episode "The Buster Bunny Bunch", Plucky, Shirley, Fifi, Dizzy, and Calamity are on a group phone line, complaining about Babs' accurate but unflattering impressions of them, and Calamity's desperately waving a sign at the receiver (which would be repeated by Wile E. himself in Looney Tunes: Back in Action).
      • In "Night of the Living Pets", the third and final short of "Toons from the Crypt", moments after Elmyra answers the door for her deceased pets, who have risen from the grave as zombies wanting revenge for her inadvertently killing them, only at the end of the short, to endure more torture from her, she pulls out a sign that reads HELP! before barricading the door trying to protect herself from the wrath of said pets.
      • An interesting take on this was used in the SNES game, Buster Busts Loose. While many of the characters almost always move their mouths when they speak, when Calamity Coyote had to speak in the scene before Stage 5, his sprite merely held up a blank sign, but what he needs to say is displayed on the normal dialogue box. He also holds up a sign saying "Help me!" in Babs' bonus game instead of yelling it like the other characters and pulls out another sign saying "Thank you!" when you rescue him instead of saying it like the other characters.
    • In Road Runner's Death Valley Rally, after you defeat the final boss, Wile E. Coyote is seen dropping a really long distance back to Earth. He holds up a sign reading "How about ending this game before I hit?" This was taken from the cartoon "Gee Whiz-z-z" where the same thing happens. As he's falling at the end of the cartoon, he holds up a sign saying, "How about ending this cartoon before I hit?" When the cartoon obliges, he quickly shows a "Thank you." sign as the iris out finishes. The game, however, does not honour his request and he is shown hitting the ground hard enough to get buried up to his head, starting off his Humiliation Conga ending.
    • Chuck Jones, in his later years, created lithographs of the Looney Tunes characters he helped create. One such litho featured the Coyote running off a cliff in pursuit of the Roadrunner, who held up a sign that bore a quotation of Santayana that Chuck Jones once stated was a perfect description of Wile E.: "A fanatic is one who redoubles his efforts while forgetting his aim."
    • In "Hair-Raising Hare", Bugs Bunny is terrified by a monster (who was later named Gossamer). Unable to speak, he displays to the audience a sign bearing a tiny "yipe!". Still frightened, he stares at the sign in apparent confusion, then flips it to reveal a much larger and more emphatic "YIPE!!!!"
    • In "Hare Remover", Elmer Fudd starts flipping out after accidentally ingesting a "Jekyll and Hyde potion" intended for Bugs... who responds by holding up a series of rebus signs for the audience featuring Visual Puns such as a screw and ball, a cracked pot, a dripping faucet, and a belfry with bats flying around it.
      • At the end of the cartoon, Bugs pretends to be a bear attacking Elmer, while the real bear held up the same signs from before.
    • The screw/ball sign turns up in a few other Looney Tunes shorts, notably "Duck Amuck", where after the sadistic animator removes his voice Daffy Duck holds up a sign saying "Sound, please!".
    • Marvin the Martian sometimes had a Martian dog named "K9" with him, who could only communicate by passing him written notes on cards.
    • In "Scaredy Cat", Porky and Sylvester move into a new house infested with murderous mice, and said mice plan to make them their next victims after recently decapitating the previous homeowners' cat, and likely the owners themselves. After Porky goes into the kitchen to prove that Sylvester is just seeing things when the latter fails time and again to tell him what's going on, he is next seen Bound and Gagged by the mice and taken away to receive the same treatment as the recently-executed cat, holding a sign that reads "You were right, Sylvester."
  • The Mask: Played for laughs in the episode "Split Personality". The eponymous MacGuffin is broken in half, and when Stanley puts on the half he finds literally one side of him becomes The Mask, while the other remains boring old Stanley. When Stanley later encounters his boss, he deliberately stands in profile, so that only his "normal" half is visible. And while Stanley talks to Charlie, The Mask holds up signs such as "Underwear too TIGHT, Charles?" and "Make my day: FIRE ME!" Charlie is less than amused.
  • Pendemonium: Dotty the Erasinator does this throughout "Star Words" when she goes on strike.
    "It's in your hand, dummy!"
  • Phineas and Ferb: Meap from the episode "The Chronicles of Meap" communicated with Candace by pulling out a series of photographs to tell a story. Lampshaded when Candace wonders where he is getting all the photos from before Meap tells her (via gestures) to stay focused.
  • The Pink Panther: If he wasn't using a visible Imagine Spot, the titular character was communicating this way.
  • Robot Chicken: In the rare skits where he actually appears, the eponymous character and the scientist speak like this, other than the Theme Song's "It's Alive!!!" which isn't necessarily the mad scientist's own voice.
  • The Simpsons:
    • One episode had Homer being forced to get his jaws wired, and spent a good part of the episode doing this by writing on a chalkboard he carries around. He even wrote "D'oh!" when Marge tells him that Ned Flanders stopped by.
    • There's another episode of The Simpsons written by and guest-starring Ricky Gervais, in which the Simpsons and another family go on a Wife-Swap type show. When Gervais's character serenades Marge on the guitar, one camera guy filming them puts up a sign that reads, "What a jerk", to another, who promptly responds with glare and a sign reading, "Don't waste signs."
  • Steven Universe: In "Monster Reunion", Centipeetle frowns at Steven when he gives up on Talking with Signs in favor of pictograms. She's grumpy because — from her perspective — her writing is perfectly legible, but Steven is acting like he can't read it.
  • Tom and Jerry: It didn't happen nearly as often as one might think, given that the two characters are mute most of the time. There are a couple instances of it though, one most memorable example is after Jerry stabs a box with several pins and saws it in half, with Tom inside. He looks inside the box and his eyes widen, and he quickly writes up a sign and displays it to the audience asking "Is There a Doctor in the House?".
  • We Bare Bears: Because Baby Ice Bear can't talk, he holds up a hand-written sign with his name.

    Real Life 
  • Deaf people, when communicating with a hearing person who does not know actual sign language, often resort to this. This was also the case before the development of standardized sign language, called "conversation books".
  • If you get a throat infection bad enough to render you as The Speechless or at least The Unintelligible, it can temporarily force you to resort to this. Same goes with being at the brink of crying.
  • Written messages come in handy in very loud places (such as super busy restaurants and bars). There, overpowering the background noise is doomed to be futile, especially if your chat companion doesn't sit close enough.
  • In terms of writing medium, text messaging on phones can be this. Even if the other person doesn't have one, you can still hold up what you've typed on yours for them to read.
  • With the advent of online translation services, using one's cellphone as a sign is an increasingly popular way to get by in foreign countries where one doesn't speak the local language. Google Translate even offers an offline mode specifically for this purpose.
  • Once on a morning show on Chicago's WGN, audio to the studio was cut off, so the hosts had to use signs to communicate with the audience.


Video Example(s):


Brian the Grammar Shark?

Brian and Stewie try to communicate underwater with markers and whiteboards, but Stewie uses the wrong homophones and Brian has to correct him. Stewie then fails to warn Brian of impending danger when he doesn't write a self-interruption correctly.

How well does it match the trope?

5 (19 votes)

Example of:

Main / GrammarNazi

Media sources: