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Verbal Weakness

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Knight of Ni: Don't say that word!
King Arthur: What word?
Knight of Ni: I cannot tell you. Suffice to say, 'tis one of the words the Knights of Ni cannot hear!!
King Arthur: How can we not say the word, if you don't tell us what it is?
Knight of Ni: [cringing] You said it again!!!

A character's Weaksauce Weakness turns out to be a specific spoken word or short phrase. Differs from Words Can Break My Bones by being a character-specific weakness - the words being uttered have no inherent power and can be heard by anyone else with no ill (or severely reduced) effect.

Why a character is weakened by the phrase is rarely explained outside a Handwave, but it is nevertheless found most often in antagonists as the search for a weakness makes for a compelling story and can take the protagonist around the world in search for the one place where a seemingly forgotten word was carved into rock or the like. Sometimes played for laughs when the word or phrase is really common and used every day by others.

Another fun thing to note is how it's often the word itself, not the meaning of the word, that's the weakness. And uttering a translated version of the Verbal Weakness will usually be as effective as saying a word to someone would usually connotate.

Before adding an example, be mindful of the following:

  • If the words used have the same effect on a multitude of different beings, it's an example of Words Can Break My Bones.
  • If it's not a spoken word, but a sound, then it's a Brown Note.
  • If the Verbal Weakness is a person's name, it might be a case of the I Know Your True Name Sub-Trope, and thus should be added there instead.
  • If the Verbal Weakness isn't inherent to the character, and has been bestowed upon them by some means, it is likely a case of a Trigger Phrase.
  • If it is a longer speech regarding the wonders of good that turns a villain away from evil, that's Talking the Monster to Death.
  • Finally, ensure the words themselves are the inherent weakness - if they bring up memories of something the character fears they are not part of this trope.

Super-Trope to I Know Your True Name, and Sub-Trope of Weaksauce Weakness and Achilles' Heel. If it is the volume of the spoken word that causes the damage, that's Super-Scream. Related to Logic Bomb where computers and robots cannot grasp the concept of paradoxes. Works using this trope will often discuss The Power of Language.


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    Anime and Manga 
  • Lesser demons in Blue Exorcist can be killed by Arias by having the Aria reciting a "Fatal Verse", a segment from the Bible and other holy scriptures. The segment varies from demon type to demon type. For slightly stronger demons, aside from getting longer the exact segment can vary a bit from demon to demon, requiring (perfectly) reciting a much larger block of text to be sure of getting the important part. Presumably there are hypothetical fatal verses for even the strongest demons, but they may incorporate entire holy texts which humanity has forgotten or is yet to record, and may also be too long for a mortal Aria to recite.
  • Janemba from Dragon Ball Z: Fusion Reborn is a reality warping demon who breaks apart and shatters by having insults shouted at him - while we can all agree that shouting insults is not a nice thing, none of us break apart physically by it.
  • Auto Magetta from Dragon Ball Super is an almost completely invulnerable Mechanical Lifeform who is near unstoppable when motivated enough, even with Goku, Vegeta, and the like at the levels of power they're at. He has never been shown to have sustained physical damage of any kind. The only way he's ever been stopped is through exploitation of his low self-esteem and sensitive nature: If he hears anyone insulting him, no matter how mild, he becomes distracted and, eventually, unable to attack or even move as he's paralyzed in sadness. His friend Botamo eventually devises a Mundane Solution to this via plugging his ears while riding on Magetta's shoulders, which apparently is enough to give Super Saiyan Blue Vegeta major problems.
  • Rex King of Ultimate Muscle is an evil, mighty dinosaur man with a natural weakness to cold. He can't take frigid air, ice, or even... bad jokes? Punchlines that bomb are said to be "cold" in Japan, so Rex is nearly frozen to death by Mantaro Kinniku's awful sense of humor. (In the English dub, this is changed to mean-spirited insults, also called "cold" in that context).

    Comic Books 
  • Gaston Lagaffe: Gaston turns out to be allergic to the word "effort", being entirely anathema to him.
  • Superman: The only way to get rid of the Reality Warping Mr. Mxyzptlk (for a while, at least) is to trick him into saying his name backwards. Hilariously this is actually something he set up himself: to him, it's just a game and when Superman pointed out a game against someone with absolute Story-Breaker Power wasn't a "real" game, Mr. Mxyzptlk applied this weakness to himself to give the Man of Steel a "fair" chance.

    Film — Live-Action 

  • On the Discworld, werewolves, being related to dogs, react distastefully to the words 'bath' and 'vet'.
    • Amesbury, a chef in Making Money, is allergic to the word “garlic”. He makes very clear that he’s not allergic to garlic itself, just the word (if he hears it, he throws whatever’s in his hand, freezes, and swears in Quirmian) hence why he ended up cooking by himself for a dog, as restaurant kitchens inevitably have someone saying “garlic.”
  • In the Robert Sheckley short story "Ghost V", the protagonists unknowingly inhale hallucinogenic gas and are attacked by a no-longer imaginary monster from their shared childhood which can only be defeated by uttering a nonsensical "magic word".
  • In The Lord of the Rings Orcs are depicted as hating the name "Elbereth" to the extent that they are unable to utter it aloud and at least recoil momentarily in instinctive fear when someone else utters it. The name "Eärendil" is also used to repel creatures of the Shadow.

    Live-Action TV 

  • Many demons or members of The Fair Folk are said to be repelled by Christian prayers, as well as other holy sounds like church bells.
  • Empousae, female demons from Greek Mythology that are known to seduce and eat men, can be physically be hurt and driven away by swearing and insults that are directed at them.
  • Rakshasa, a type of demon from Hindu Mythology, will, according to some accounts, be banished if someone says the word "Uncle" in their presence.

    Tabletop Games 
  • Dungeons & Dragons, Dragon magazine #10. This was parodied in the introduction to the article "Random Monsters". When a party of PCs meets some Clickclick monsters, one of them shouts out "November" and the Clickclicks fall over dead.

    Video Games 
  • Laharl from Disgaea is weakened by pure-sounding words of encouragement: such as "A beautiful heart!" and "Let's all be friends." By far the worst of them all is "Eternal Love!" which will completely cripple him (and by cripple, we mean cut his stats in half).
  • Dragons in The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim are all stunned and weakened by the Thu'um JOOR ZAH FRUL, which is known as "Dragonrend". Since Dragons have no concept of transience (much like we have a difficult time truly grasping the concept of infinity), the three words that make the shout (which, when translated, form 'Mortal', 'Finite' and 'Temporary' respectively) are like Kryptonite to them when used in a Thu'um. Utterly confused by the words they hear, dragons promptly faceplant into the ground. This is the only Thu'um that fits this trope as any non-dragon race can hear the words just fine - the same cannot be said about all other offensive-minded Thu'ums and dragons are not immune to those either. Note that the words themselves explicitly are not sufficient to cause anything to happen to dragons, for about the same reason just saying 'Infinity' does not do anything to humans.
  • Oh...Sir!! The Insult Simulator and its sequel Oh... Sir!! The Hollywood Roast are games about Volleying Insults. Players take turns constructing insults from noun and verb phrases, with more coherent insults doing more damage. Each character in the game has a topic they're sensitive about which serves as their weak point. For example, John Shufflebottom from the first game is sensitive towards insults about his fashion sense("[Your hat] [is dull and ugly] [and] [your father] [smells of] [a cheap suit]!"), while Nosferateen is sensitive about the topic of emotions and his relationships ("[Your therapist] [snorted nose candy with] [squinting Dicaprio] [and] [devoted a journal entry to] [your dog]!").
  • Star Control: The Ur-Quan (both subspecies) are susceptible to a certain phrase that they refer to as The Words: "Hold! What you are doing is wrong! Why do you do this thing?" Most of the time, any pleas or begging from their victims will be ignored, but if they hear The Words, they are compelled to stop fighting and fully explain the reasons behind their actions... which can take a while, making it useful in buying time. The first time The Words were spoken to them, it was by former friends they were attacking; the exclamation guilt-tripped them into explaining themselves, and thanks to Genetic Memory, it works just as well on modern Ur-Quan as it did their ancestors.

  • Goblins-spin-off Tempts Fate once featured a dragon who was unable to pronounce its own name, because it was a word taken from the Tongue of the Gods and anyone who heard it spoken would be sucked into a black hole, so it was censored by "the Powers That Be". Unfortunately, it couldn't pronounce words that contain its name as a syllable either:
    Dragon: Well, now that you are here, I'm going to des[[Censored]] you!
    Tempts Fate: Um, why was part of the word "Destroy" censored? ...Is your name "Troy"?
    Dragon: NOOOO!
    [dragon is sucked into a black hole]

    Western Animation 
  • Dora the Explorer: Swiper's primary weakness is the phrase "Swiper, no swiping!" repeated thrice. Downplayed in that it doesn't actually harm him, but hearing it three times in a row forces him to surrender and flee before he can swipe something from Dora.
  • In Family Guy, the episode "Welcome Back Carter" has Peter defeat Babs's ex-boyfriend Roginald with a single word.
    Carter: Get away from my wife, you rascal!
    Roginald: Such language in the presence of a lady! If it's a row you want, I will cleave you in twixt!
    Peter: Hang on Carter, I think I know how to take this guy down. (to Roginald) Penis.
    Roginald: Aaaaaaaah! [faints]
  • This is how the Cake-inator meets her demise in the 2021 Strawberry Shortcake episode "Robot Strawberry!?" After she dies, Made of Explodium ensues. This doubles as Accidental Murder as Strawberry Shortcake was just trying to reason with her instead of kill her.
    Strawberry Shortcake: "Our treats don't have to be made perfectly, Cake-inator. They just need a little love. That's the Strawberry Shortcake touch!"
    Cake-inator: "Strawberry Shortcake touch does not compute." (Glitches out violently for a few seconds, dies, and explodes.)