Follow TV Tropes


Weapons-Grade Vocabulary

Go To

Jevee Ceeta: I've been in the military for twenty-five years, Ennesby. There's nothing you can teach me about nasty messages.
Captain Tagon: I see you've just been exposed to Ennesby's weapons-grade vocabulary.
Jevee Ceeta: My stomach is in my throat right now. It's trying to spit acid on the parts of my brain that remember reading his message.

There's talking, insults, fighting words... and then there's Weapons-Grade Vocabulary.

There's a saying that sticks and stones can break your bones, but words will never hurt you. Well, with a weapons-grade vocabulary, words actually can physically hurt people. The words do not have to be spoken aloud but can be read. Hurtful knowledge, like a long-held secret, can apply as long as the recipient is physically hurt by the literal spoken or written words. Words delivering harm via magic, or through sheer volume, do not apply.

If the damage is done by magic, it's Words Can Break My Bones. If it's convincing another character or monster to hurt/kill themselves it's Talking the Monster to Death. Compare with Brown Note which is merely sound or image, not content. If it's a visual metaphor for the words hurting people (usually psychologically), then it's closer to Harsh Word Impact. Works using this trope will often discuss The Power of Language.


    open/close all folders 

    Anime & Manga 
  • Doctor Slump: Arale's boisterous greetings create a Written Sound Effect that can knock people over.
  • Same goes in Doraemon, with one of the gadgets that can harden a Written Sound Effect. In the anime, it creates literal voice blocks.
  • Over Geared: One of players has "Spiteful tongue" skill that mass-decreases enemies stats. Basically, player activates skill and uses bunch of curses. Later on (chapter 106), it was averted by golems deleting their language comprehension.

    Audio Plays 
  • There is a Doctor Who audio drama where Donna defeats a blob monster with nothing but pure indignation.

    Comic Books 
  • There was an issue of The Authority where Apollo and Midnighter were trying to stop the deaths caused by a killer word: anyone who heard it would kill themselves, but not before whispering the word to someone else, repeating the process.
  • Grant Morrison has pretty much built his career on comics involving "words that kill" (Doom Patrol) and "words that are things rather than describe things" (The Invisibles). One letter from the "invisible alphabet" can make some people throw up. (The letter tripleyou.)
  • An issue of the Futurama comic book had a plant-like alien race that, after copying nearby Earthlings, proceed to drone endlessly on and on about inane subjects until their victims quite literally die of boredom. Leela eventually figures out that the plants have to be defeated at their own game, and has Fry babble about his own trivial interests until the aliens themselves wither.
  • Ultimate Vision is a space probe modified successively over billions of years to adapt and assimilate the appearance and language of every alien species she encounters. Naturally the more exotic ones have equally exotic forms of language which she weaponizes. She can speak in neurotransmitters to rewrite your brain back to sanity or curse you out with microwave laser or sing songs with gravity singularities for lyrics.

    Comic Strips 
  • Dilbert: Alice has foul language that actually affects people. She then accidentally did it to her boss at a meeting about it. This, then at meeting. Perhaps she learned it from one of her coworkers. - though her own story is that it came from one of her exes.
  • The What's New? with Phil and Dixie strip in Dragon magazine #72 (April 1983) is about jesters. The middle of the page has a jester killing a monster with bad puns. The next panel shows the danger of collateral damage.

    Fan Works 

    Films — Animation 
  • In South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut, Cartman has a chip placed inside him that shocks him with electricity every time he swears. When he's hit with electricity in the final battle, the V-chip "malfunctions", giving him the ability to shock other people when he uses profanity. Which he immediately uses against Saddam Hussein. (Hilariously, the words "Barbra Streisand" are the cherry-on-top.)
  • Yellow Submarine uses this during "All You Need Is Love", where the words Ringo sings take physical form to help him evade and wear down the Glove.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Monty Python and the Holy Grail: The Knights who say Ni!, use that word to harm others. It is turned around on the knights, later. They are drained of their will by the word "it". Oddly enough, the knight says it at the top of the scene with no harm done, but then hits himself with it for damage during the fade-out.
  • π: Knowing THE number, among other things, is a true name of God, so knowing it has bad effects on body and sanity. Heck, a computer calculating it created slime and ants as a side-effect. Pretty large effect for a mere 216 digit number.

  • Bored of the Rings:
    Goddam looked mournful. "I know how it is," he said. "I was in the war. Pinned down in a deadly hail of Jap fire..."
    Spam gagged, and his arm went limp.
  • The Deplorable Word in The Chronicles of Narnia is one of the most dangerous weapons in existence—the instant it is spoken, all life in a world, except that of the speaker, is instantly and irreversibly annihilated. It's not known whether or not this was limited to Charn (Jadis's homeworld), except that it doesn't work on Earth, which doesn't have the kind of magic the Word needs; thankfully, no one in the series ever tries it again.
    • Big Good Aslan uses an inverted example—his singing creates Narnia.
  • Terry Pratchett's Discworld:
    • Lord Vetinari, a product of the Assassins' Guild School where every graduate is expected to demonstrate lethal proficiency in at least one weapon, uses language to deadly effect.
      "Do not let me detain you."
      "No great rush!"
    • Also, witch Petulia Gristle has the secret of pig-boring. She can slaughter a pig humanely by talking to it in such a low, monotone, voice about such tediously trivial things that it loses the will to live. She weaponises this skill in The Shepherd's Crown by applying it to Elves.
  • The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy:
    • Vogon poetry, which makes the listeners seriously ill or worse. It is advised to take some other option than that.
    • There's the recalcitrant witness who was given too much truth serum and ended up telling the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. They had to evacuate the courtroom and seal him up inside. When Arthur and company find him later, he's no longer a danger — apparently, there's less truth in the universe than most people would believe — but he ultimately dies of laughter after realizing he's talking to the Arthur Dent, who is apparently the victim of the universe's funniest practical joke.
  • One of Alan Dean Foster's short stories about Mountain Man Mad Amos Malone has Malone engaging in a war of insults with a native medicine man named Tongue Kills. Malone quickly finds that his opponent's name is apt: Tongue Kills's heated words make his foe literally get hot, and eventually get burned as if in a real fire.
  • Orthogonal: There is a myth that the poem, if written on a being's body then pressed against that of another, would in a short time be deadly. They are very different from humans, so they form writing with their bodies, then dye their skin and press paper on it. Basically, it's a weapons-grade poem.
  • The late Alderman Foodbotham, one-time Lord Mayor of Bradford in the Peter Simple newspaper columns, has many legends told of him. One such relates how he delivered a speech that literally annihilated his opponent — "at least to the extent that he disappeared from view and all that was ever seen of him again was a single trouser button picked up months later on Cleckheaton Moor."
  • A Wizard in Rhyme: In the Medieval European Fantasy Alternate Universe, poetry is magic that can cause the things it describes to become real — one real-world character who arrives in the setting is branded as a "wizard" for accidentally rhyming. The quality, applicability, and cultural impact of the verse determine how much power it can bring to bear.
  • Since Xanth runs on puns, curse words function as actual curses, most often of the concussive or pyrotechnic type. Part of the reason the Adult Conspiracy (To Keep Interesting Things From Children) exists is that children knowing these words actually makes them dangerous.
  • Mark Of The Fool: Alex goes with class, into hell. They discuss list of demons they may meet, and goal is triplets that have ability to laugh that directly harms people.

    Live-Action TV 

  • Alan Moore's song "Me and Dorothy Parker", in which the singer and Dorothy Parker become an Outlaw Couple. The singer only uses his shotgun to wound their victims, but Parker's epigrams kill them. It's even weirder than it sounds.

    Puppet Shows 
  • On The Muppet Show, guest star Avery Schreiber plays a gladiator who engages in a duel with Sweetums. The weapon of choice: insults.

    Tabletop Games 
  • The Toon expansion Toon Tales (in the Way-Out West section) includes an optional rule for Punslingers, whose puns actually do damage.
  • The Munchkin card "Cutting Remark".
  • Dungeons & Dragons:
    • Dragon Magazine #291 gives us the feat "Scathing Wit" which insults your opponent. If you win an intimidate check against him, he suffers penalties.
    • In the Book of Vile Darkness is a quiver that creates arrows for you every time you lie.
    • The unusual example of hurting yourself by speaking: the supplement Book of Vile Darkness also contains "dark speech" — a language so vile, it is almost impossible to actually communicate with it; with proper preparation you can tie it into magical effects but trying to just straight utter the words would make your mouth bleed.
    • This trope played straight: The 3rd edition supplement Tome of Magic contains rulesets for "truespeak" magics. Truenamers use the "Language of the universe" to reshape reality in ever-increasingly powerful ways.
    • In the Fourth and Fifth Editions of D&D, bards have an at-will "spell" called vicious mockery, which inflicts damage and status effects. Some bard players will use insult generators every time they use this attack.
    • Multiple editions had the wizard spells power word: stun, power word: blind, and power word: kill. Each is a single word that, if your target's current hit points are lower than a given number, causes them to automatically be stunned, blinded, or killed, respectively.
    • 2nd and 3.0/3.5 Edition Clerics has holy word, blasphemy (or unholy word, depending on the edition), word of chaos, and dictum. Each is effectively the same spell but targeted a different alignment — holy word affects Evil character, blasphemy affects Good characters, etc. The spells gave varying debuffs based on the relative level of the target vs. that of the cleric who cast it.
  • Pathfinder has the "Blistering Invective" spell, with which your rants can actually set people on fire!
  • There are charms in Exalted that let you harm or control others through written or spoken words.
  • New World of Darkness:
    • Vampire: The Requiem features the Spina bloodline, a line of courtly and refined duelists and knights. One power of their bloodline Discipline, Courtoise, allows them to insult their target so badly they take damage.
    • Demon: The Descent has an "Exploit" supernatural ability called "Play On Words" that allows a character to weaponize puns, as long as the target is speaking something that is a homophone or slight mispronunciation. For example, someone saying "I will shed tears" would cut apart a small building instead of crying.

    Video Games 
  • Cuphead gives us Hilda Berg, an anthropomorphized blimp whose laughs are literal projectiles shaped like the word "HA!". The Delicious Last Course DLC also has the Howling Aces' pups, who shout the letters B, O and W towards you.
  • In Mario & Luigi: Superstar Saga, Peach's actually Birdo's voice is stolen and replaced with Cackletta's explosive vocabulary. The characters keep having to scurry out of harm's way whenever she speaks. Then she attempts a full paragraph and blows out every window in the palace.
  • In the NES Felix the Cat video game, Felix's car power-up uses its horn honks (symbolized by the word "BO") as its attack. And during the Gulpo boss fight, he sometimes shouts the word BLOB! at you, which can hurt if it connects.
  • In The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, The Thu'um is the language of dragons, which gives them small scale Reality Warping powers. Essentially, they "make real" whatever they speak in this language. For example, when a Dragon is "breathing" fire, they're technically commanding fire to come into existence, and battles between dragons are essentially very loud debates.
  • In Undertale, after Mettaton's news report, he says that not only is everything you can report on a bomb, but even his WORDS are bombs! They also use a very Super Mario Bros. 2-esque "BOM" when they explode.
    • One of the bosses, Flowey also attacks you by literally throwing words at you. Subverted when you ask for help and they turn into healing items.
  • There is a Megaphone weapon in Parodius, where the attack is nonsense phrases such as "SHAVING IS BORING" coming out of your spaceship.
  • The Megaphone from Parodius lives on as Tita Nium's DLC weapon in Otomedius Excellent
  • There's several sound-based attacks in the Pokémon series, varying in type between Make Me Wanna Shout, Brown Note, and this trope. An example of this type is 'Snarl', a dark-type attack that seemingly involves the Pokémon ranting and shouting at the target for a while, inflicting damage and lowering their attack-power.
  • Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3 made Phoenix Wright playable, along with the possibility of knocking out universe-shattering entities with cross-examination!
  • Mediators in Final Fantasy Tactics usually talk the monster to death or manipulate their stats with speech skills, but they can also equip dictionaries which they read from; reading from them (somehow) hurts enemies. The in-game animation shows them simply opening the book to inflict pain, so it could be a case of literally weapons-grade words.
  • In The Secret of Monkey Island (and other games in the series), "insult swordfighting" involves providing snappy comebacks to your opponent's insults in order to win duels.
    Pirate: You fight like a dairy farmer!
    Guybrush: How appropriate, you fight like a cow!
  • Escape from Monkey Island features insult arm-wrestling, and reveals that the paradigm has also been applied to loads of other competitive games and activities, such as darts.
  • In EarthBound Beginnings, enemies can "attack" with Threatening Words and Swear Words, both of which decrease someone's Fight stat. Your party can get some words of their own to "attack" with, but they do nothing.
  • Kliff Undersn's taunt in Guilty Gear creates physical letters, which bounce across the screen and inflict some damage. Knockouts with this in tournament play have become a particularly humiliating form of Cherry Tapping.
  • The magic system in Treasure of the Rudra is set up so that you can actually create spells with words ("FIRE" becomes a fireball, "HEAL" becomes a healing spell, etc.). However, if you create a spell with a word that isn't in the game's magic dictionary, you'll instead attack your enemy with the word you created.
  • In OFF, all of the Queen's attacks are just phrases berating the Batter. They hurt quite a bit.
  • In the original Galaxy Fraulein Yuna adventure game, Yuna could insult her opponent to cause damage as an alternative to physical attacks; enemies could generally attack her the same way. In the second game, this was changed from directly damaging HP to a significant debuff, which would gradually taper off but could turn the tide of a fight while it lasted.
  • In Lollipop Chainsaw, the boss of the junkyard is a goth with this as one of his attacks; the letters actually home in on Juliet and deal damage on impact.
  • In SpongeBob SquarePants: Battle for Bikini Bottom, The SpongeBot SteelPants boss literally sends the words "KAH-RAH-TAE!" at SpongeBob after three of its lights are destroyed.
  • One of Scott's moves in Scott Pilgrim vs. The World: The Game is to have Knives create a giant "LOVE" that hits all enemies on screen, a reference to a Harsh Word Impact scene in one of the books.
  • One of the heroes in Dragon Soul is the Electroyeti, whose creative swearing attacks his enemies as bursts of electricity. In quest cutscenes, he uses a lot of grawlixes. His victory pose has his hand in the air with the middle finger a little bit higher, but subtly enough not to be too offensive.
  • Jasper, the annoying and quite evil critic found in Gloria van Gouten's mind in Psychonauts, fires bolts of energy at you (from a pair of giant pens on his hovering theatre box, no less) that, upon impact, turn into cruel, critical words like "Awful!" It's a bit of Fridge Brilliance: since Jasper is the Anthropomorphic Personification of Gloria's destructive self-criticism, it makes sense that his words would be able to cause physical harm to her mindscape.
  • In Planescape: Torment, there's a statue in an art gallery that's actually a mage who was turned to stone just before he could utter the worst curse in the entire Planes. If you should use an item to unpetrify him, he'll use the curse on you, causing you to die horribly (you get better, as you always do) and massively upgrading Morte's Litany of Curses.
  • For Oh...Sir!! The Insult Simulator and its sequel Oh... Sir! The Hollywood Roast, this is the method of dueling. Both combatants are in a disagreement, and settle their argument with a selection of nonsense that players have to string into a semi-coherent insult. It's possible to hurt one's opponent deeper by hitting closer to home: Nigel Hogg, for example, is sensitive about the topic of weight and appearance ("[Your face] [is fat] [and] [your mother] [is dull and ugly]!"), while John Shufflebottom doesn't like his fashion sense being mocked ("[Your hat] [looks like] [a dead parrot] [and] [your suit] [smells of] [your cousin's car], [you numpty!]")
  • Star Control: The Eternal Ones' full name is this to Daktaklakpak, as their names are a full summary of what an Eternal One is, starting with name, genetic make-up, and so on. There is no computing system that can calculate its full name, which doesn't stop the Daktaklakpak from trying (and self-destructing in the process).
  • In Enter the Gungeon exists a gun in the shape of a letter "r". Upon pulling the trigger, it shoots the letters B-U-L-L-E-T-! in a burst and utters this word out loud. It also synergizes with a large number of other items, which changes the properties of the letters it shoots out as well as the words themselves.

    Visual Novels 
  • In Ace Attorney, particularly clever counterpoints apparently have the ability to hit opposing attorneys like a gale-force wind, throwing them back, making them flinch, shattering their glasses, and, in one particularly devastating case, tearing all the hair off a person's head, leaving him mostly bald. Witnesses who've had their contradictions pointed out tend to react as though they'd been physically struck.

    Web Comics 

    Web Videos 

    Western Animation 
  • OK K.O.! Let's Be Heroes: In "Presenting Joe Cuppa", the eponymous washed-up comedian helps defeat Shannon by telling puns so bad, they manifest as a giant boxing glove that emerges from Joe's coffee-cup head and punches Shannon.