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Word-Salad Horror

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"For the first time we have risen, and I see we are being consumed. I see circles that are not circles. Billions of dead souls inside containment. Unravellers have eaten country's moral fabric, turning hearts into filth. I'm from a kingdom level above human. What does that yield? A hokey smile that damns an entire nation. There is no hope."
[Fictional] transcript of Ronald Reagan, SCP-1981

The pillow... The pillow is describing the topic. Hurry!!


This is what happens when bizarre phrases, Non Sequiturs, and random successions of words are used and arranged either to be frightening on their own or to imply that something sinister is going on behind the scenes. The Word Salad might result from some supernatural alteration of local reality, a Nightmare Sequence, a drug-induced hallucination, an Eldritch Abomination oblivious to the fact that this is not how those Puny Earthlings actually talk, and many other myriad causes.

Sub-Trope of Surreal Horror.

The opposite of Word-Salad Humor. Compare and contrast Cryptic Conversation, with which this trope frequently overlaps.


Examples!! The examples are chickens!!

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    Anime and Manga 
  • In Satoshi Kon's Paprika, a mad dream is used by terrorists to inflict people with temporary insanity. The victims break down into long winded, bizarre speeches that don't make any sense at all. It's actually kind of amusing, right before said victims start throwing themselves off of buildings.
    Dr. Shima: Yes sir! True satisfaction! That's what discipline brings! Even the five court ladies dancing to frog flutes and drums had it, and so did the whirl with the recycled paper! Computer graphics playing in my head, and I like it! I don't support technical parfaits and the snobby little petty burgeois that sit there uneaten, and my position on that is common knowledge to everyone in Oceania! Now the time has come to return home to the great blue sky! Where confetti falls like stardust and everything shaken around the shrine gates with the mailbox and the refrigerator leading the hip-hop festival! Anyone who's concerned about expiration dates step aside now! No one gets in the way of my glory train! They need to really analyze all the livers of the triangle goose party!
    • It gets worse when people start actually seeing the nonsensical things that are being described.
    Comic Books 
  • Grant Morrison's Doom Patrol was full of this, either people ranting crazy things, or monstrosities themselves spewing crazy words.
  • Also from Grant Morrison is Professor Pyg, a villain introduced during his run on Batman. He's a somewhat more realistic depiction of insanity than most of Batman's foes in that most of what he says is complete gibberish.
    Professor Pyg: On Mondays it's Tiamat this and Tiamat that. Tohu va Bohu and boo-hoo-hoo. On Tuesdays the Gorgon Queen comes to visit, a thousand writhing snakes for hair. That's what it's like to grow upside down in a world where a hug is a crucifixion...

    Fan Works 
  • Daily Equestria Life with Monster Girl: In chapter 8, one of the mages in the expedition is in the middle of a technical explanation about the magical traces left by Cerea's summoning when she and everypony else starts babbling nonsense words. This is soon revealed to be the effect of a neurocypher, a monster which projects a magical aura that scrambles the thoughts of all nearby sapients, allowing it to safely approach and devour its victims alive while they are too brain-scrambled to defend themselves.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • The Fog (1980). While Stevie Wayne is playing station promos on a tape recorder, supernatural things start to happen and the tape recorder plays a bizarre message.
    "Something that one lives with like an albatross round the neck. No, more like a millstone. A plumbing stone, by God. Damn them all."
The albatross reference is to Coleridge's The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, appropriately enough for a horror story related to seafaring (note the poem's page image). And, of course, the millstone is something that is also associated with being around one's neck in relation a great sin, As the Good Book Says...
  • Played with at the end of The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari. We, the audience, know exactly what Francis' deranged shouting means, but to everyone else, it comes across as this.
  • 1408:
    • In the original short story, Mike's recordings becomes this ("My brother was actually eaten by wolves one winter on the Connecticut Turnpike") though it sometimes makes sense in context.note 
    • The room's "conversation" with Mike Enslin is made of random sentences and series of numbers that add up to 13.
      "Five. This is five. Ignore the sirens. Even if you leave this room, you can never leave this room. Eight. This is eight. We have killed your friends. Every friend is now dead. Six. This is six."
  • The Lighthouse - many of Thomas Wake's rants are barely coherent, but filled with mythological and literary allusions foreshadowing both main characters' ultimate doom.
  • Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me, much like the TV show that spawned it, has its share of this, again with the elements linked to the Black Lodge.
    You stole the corn that I had canned over the store!

  • Subverted in Blindsight, when the alien artifact Rorschach speaks to the protagonists, it seems like it's using perfect English, following all of the grammatical rules. However, after a series of testing, the ship's linguist discovers that Rorschach is actually speaking nonsense, and is just procedurally generating responses telling them to stay away, like an organic Cleverbot.
  • In I Sit Behind The Eyes, Emily begins to suspect that something is trying to possess her when she starts blurting out seemingly random words mid-sentence whenever she is thinking too deeply. The words she yells out form unsettling sentences when put together, such as "LET ME OUT!". The truth is actually more complicated and disturbing.
  • Naked Lunch. So, so much.
    I was standing outside myself trying to stop those hangings with ghost fingers... I am a ghost wanting what every ghost wants—a body — after the Long Time moving through odorless alleys of space where no life is, only the colorless no smell of death...Nobody can breathe and smell it through pink convolutions of gristle laced with crystal snot, time shit and black blood filters of flesh.
  • In Arthur C. Clarke's short story "Playback", the protagonist is a disembodied intelligence recorded by Sufficiently Advanced Aliens when his ship blew up. The aliens offer to reconstruct a body for him, but the protagonist's attempt to describe what he looks like dissolves into incoherent babble as the imperfect recording breaks down.
  • In The Man Who Was Thursday, Sunday begins sending inexplicable messages that terrify the members of the council:
    “Fly at once. The truth about your trouser-stretchers is known.—A FRIEND.”
  • Dream, vision, hallucination, revelation and/or brainwashing sequences in Illuminatus! and its spinoffs tend to be either this or Word-Salad Humor, although they are frequently both simultaneously, combining imagery from everything from The Bible and Classical Mythology to Masonic lore, Occultism and the Kabbalah to H. P. Lovecraft, pornography and Krazy Kat with Arc Words chosen seemingly at random and very clever yet completely nonsensical wordplay.
  • In The Southern Reach Trilogy, expedition members sent by the eponymous agency into Area X discover a subterranean structure containing a spiral staircase, along the walls of which is written a pseudo-biblical text going on and on and on. A sample:
    Where lies the strangling fruit that came from the hand of the sinner I shall bring forth the seeds of the dead to share with the worms that gather in the darkness and surround the world with the power of their lives while from the dim-lit halls of other places forms that never were and never could be writhe for the impatience of the few who never saw what could have been. [...]
  • And speaking of The Bible, the Book of Revelation reads like this more often than not.
  • The Shining : As Jack digs into the Overlook Hotel's history, he finds several disturbing artifacts in the attic, including a poem scribbled on the back of an old menu: "Medoc/ Are you here?/ I've been sleepwalking again my dear/ The plants are moving under the rug."
  • The title character in Eden Green gradually loses her rationality to an alien needle parasite. The narrative is increasingly interrupted by incoherent visions, nightmares, paranoid fantasies, and babbling.
  • Subverted in the Sherlock Holmes story "The Gloria Scott", where the grammatically-sensible message "The supply of game for London is going steadily up. Head-keeper Hudson, we believe, has been now told to receive all orders for fly-paper and for preservation of your hen-pheasant's life." which, as Holmes puts it, "struck Justice of the Peace Trevor dead with horror when he read it". The solution is actually mundane- Read every third word and it becomes "The game is up. Hudson has told all. Fly for your life." Hudson was blackmailing both the sender and recipient of the message, but Holmes believes the sender managed to get rid of him and escape.
  • Mayfear features a nightmare sequence in which the prose gradually degenerates into word salad.
    “I’ve a guy I’m meant to align abomination. I’ll make a few hesitation over the biology.”

    Live-Action TV 
  • Any scene in Twin Peaks that takes place in the Black Lodge turns into this. While there's usually some meaning behind what's being said, it's done in a very obfuscating manner.
    The Man from Another Place: I've got good news! That gum you like is going to come back in style.
    • The Return also features this with the Woodsmen, strange beings that look like homeless men covered in soot and speak exclusively in this.
      "This is the water, and this is the well
      Drink full and descend
      The horse is the white of the eyes, and dark within"
  • Doctor Who: Dalek Caan seems to speak like this, but it's ultimately subverted; all of his cryptic riddles are perfectly accurate, if obtuse, either describing what he saw while traveling through the time lock around the Last Great Time War, or what is about to happen.
  • On one episode of Misfits one Reality Warper character's LSD-induced hallucination, imagined while flipping channels between an animal cruelty documentary, golf tournament, and action movie, becomes real. The result? A giant rabbit in a suit that kills people with golf clubs.
  • An episode of Code Lyoko: Evolution features this happening to Odd due to XANA's interference and the only way to fix it is to slip away to Lyoko; the horror is downplayed since the characters know what is going and can fix it, but it's still uncomfortable for all involved and puts everyone on edge. Later subverted for laughs when Yumi runs into Ulrich and William outside the principal's office and remarks on the school's decision to give the kids orange juice to make them healthier and combat stress; the boys think XANA has scrambled her brain while she wants to know what the heck they're talking about.

  • More than a few Tom Waits song lyrics combine this with Harsh Vocals to make nonsense and dream imagery seem deeply threatening. For instance, from "Everything You Can Think":
    Everything you can think of is true
    And fishes make wishes on you
    We're fighting out way up Dreamland's spine
    Red flamingos, expensive wine
  • Radiohead uses lots of it, and frontman Thom Yorke has been known to conjure streams-of-consciousness that fall under this trope. Dead Children Playing, a book released by Stanley Donwood (an artist that has prominently worked with the band), has even more of it to even creepier effect, considering how it's juxtaposed against equally nonsensical-scary artwork.
  • A common lyrical technique of The Mars Volta, to the point where it's arguably the dominant tendency of their lyrics. Sample excerpt: "I've caught mono bobbing for barbed wire / These nasty sores of ataxia will feel the sting of the opiate copulation." It's not entirely clear what that means, but it's creepy, to say the least (particularly in the context of the song itself).
  • A lot of songs by Mili are like this, like the eerily beautiful Utopiosphere.
    Tick tock, time doesn't stop
    Prepare your doubts, eat them up
    Quaff down the pus of thoughts
    Red sand flows out, sweet mouth...
  • A vast majority of Acid Bath's songs feature this, usually juxtaposing images of beauty and youth with Uncanny Valley vocal effects and lyrics
    Mary lou left marks on you
    She just screams at the walls
    The kite string pops
    I'm swallowed whole by the sky
    We smoke the bones of baby dolls
    Techno-liquid screaming meat
    Heaven's cold beneath my feet
    Cyber love the anti-man we make love... because we can
  • Celtic Frost does this often in their songs. It gets cranked Up to Eleven on Monotheist, which features such songs as "A Dying God Coming Into Human Flesh"

    Video Games 
  • Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty features this as part of its memorable ending, with the Colonel suddenly spouting off bizarre nonsense over the codec to Raiden. This is the first indication that it's a fake AI Colonel.
    Colonel: I hear it's amazing when the famous purple stuffed worm in flap-jaw space with the tuning fork does a raw blink on Hari Kiri Rock. I need scissors! 61!
  • In Darkest Dungeon, the Irrational affliction causes characters to speak in incoherent gibberish.
    Leper: (Refusing to move) Now approach winter and stone-setting, silvered and rotten.
    Arbalest: (Damaging self) I was right! Bells in my veins!
    Vestal: (Passing turn) It was a beautiful hymn, sung by the pigs of St. Martha’s.
  • Max Payne:
    • When Max is tripping on Valkyr in the first game (the prologue to part 3), he receives a "prank call" (in his dream), wherein the caller just spouts creepy nonsense at him, until Max puts the phone back down. For extra creepiness, just a bit later, Max receives another call, wherein the caller tries to explain to him that he has been drugged. Max proceeds to call it nonsense in exactly the same words as before and put the phone down.
      "...the bartender is shiny stuff and dreams are made of stooped necromancers. He sings like a banana wrist having strayed too close to the constellations on their shaved skulls. The rain of frogs ended and the rain of blood comes down. Doing the flips and then I'll be gone! The whole city was an image, riding the bar. He yearns to get a taste of those tentacles..."
    • The Twin Peaks-esque Show Within a Show "Address Unknown", whose episodes are scattered throughout games one and two, is all about this.
  • The "Taken" enemies in Alan Wake spout this constantly. The words usually seem to have something to do with the possessed individual's former life, but they do not appear to comprehend the sense behind their words. It's described in Alan's manuscript as being merely "the nerve twitches of a dead thing". It also very often crosses over into Word-Salad Humor territory.
    Lumberjack: CHAINSAWS ARE NOISY!
  • Weaponized in-universe in Control by The Hiss. Possessed people keep repeating parts of the lengthy and intensely creepy Hiss incantation over and over in order to boost the Hiss' "resonance," and both the protagonist and the incantation itself explicitly compares it to an Ear Worm you can't get out of your head. Given that Alan Wake wrote the Hiss into existence in order to give his protagonist a Starter Villain to practice and hone her skills on before she could come to free him from the Dark Place, it makes sense that they are very similar to the Taken in this respect. Write What You Know, after all. The word salad nature of the Hiss incantation is also justified in that Wake wrote it as a form of Dadaist "anti-art" via cutting up several sentences and words, putting them in a shoebox, pulling out the words at random, and then haphazardly forming them together into sentences so as to represent "an alien force imitating human intelligence".
    The Hiss: You are a worm through time. The thunder song distorts you. Happiness comes. White pearls, but yellow and red in the eye. Through a mirror, inverted is made right. Leave your insides by the door. Push the fingers through the surface into the wet. You’ve always been the new you. You want this to be true...
  • Early on in Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs, Mandus answers a mysterious ringing phone, and gets the cryptic message "Precious eagle cactus fruit... help us." before the other person hangs up. That said, the phrase does have an actual meaning (though most players are unlikely to know that) - it's a poetic name by which Aztecs referred to hearts ripped out of sacrifices' chests.
  • Around the middle of Observer, Dan Lazarski ends up having occasional hallucinations and after-effects from observing some of the people in the apartment complex. In one of these, Dan can talk to an unseen person on a door intercom, but all of Dan's responses range from nonsensical phrases - like "I smell like Daffodils on a Corpse" or "Don't make me get the Enchanted Membrane", to random strings of characters.
  • While not by any means a horror game, the JRPG Xenogears has quite a few uniquely unsettling moments, though that is likely par for the course for a game that is essentially an extended Creation allegory; a famous example from the game's opening scene involves a spaceship's command displays slowly being overwritten with the repeated message "You shall be as gods" shortly before the ship self-destructs.
  • The Marathon series has Pfhor-engineered bio-android suicide bombers called Sumulacrums, which are designed to look human but have a tendency to shout pure jibberish while trying to blend in. Thus, if you ever see a "human" running up to you shouting "Frog blast the vent core!", back up and shoot it before it gets too close.
  • The Gilded from the Skyrim mod Clockwork by Anistar, have lines that are nothing but word salad meant to evoke their madness. It can definitely come off rather unsettling when exploring the large labyrinth that is the Dwemer city of Nurndural to hear monotonous robotic voices saying things like, "Love can last forever" or, "I don't like these colours one bit," when they turn aggressive. Possibly narm inducing when you realise the majority, if not all of their lines, are song lyrics taken out of context.
  • Babysitter Bloodbath: Before breaking in to murder her, homicidal maniac Neokalus Burr calls Sarah to deliver the following message to her in his deep, raspy, hard to understand voice:
    Neokalus Burr: Don't lie, don't lie. The game is up. The demons drag my legs to hell, while you sit in your ivory tower. Don't you judge me, I see all...
  • Several emails are found in Panchaea towards the end of Deus Ex: Human Revolution. These emails, ostensibly from an automated system, are often underlined with phrases like "I see it, Mommy...." and the automated passwords are similarly eerie, such as "lstforver". It all leads to the reveal that the Hyron AI controlling the site is Powered by a Forsaken Child.
  • In Star Control II, the translator computer is seriously taxed when trying to decipher the Orz's Starfish Language, and has to put in 'best-fits' for words and concepts too alien for the English language. The resulting mess looks (and sounds) absurd, but giving it a tiny bit more thought will bring chill up your spine.
    Orz: Orz are not *many bubbles* like *campers*. Orz are just Orz. I am Orz. I am one with many *fingers*. My *fingers* reach through into *heavy space* and you *see* *Orz bubbles* but it is really *fingers*.

    Visual Novels 
  • In Doki Doki Literature Club!, one of Yuri's poems is nothing but short sentence fragments, all of which are rather morbid observations about the human condition. Once things go off the rails and Monika takes over the game, random garbled characters begin to replace normal text, and some text turns from a sans-serif font to a serif font with thick black strokes that cover up the normal text. After Yuri kills herself, both happen at once.
  • Tsukihime has several pages of this while Shiki is bedridden in Hisui's route.
  • Fate/stay night: Pretty much guaranteed whenever Angra Mainyu shows up.
    Rabbit's corpse. One eye missing. Rotten, soft, and fresh. Forced into my mouth. Rabbit's corpse smears my esophagus. A clear sensation of eating life. Life is life, even if is rotten. Its real. I can't taste this with cooked food. It feels good. There's no taste. But I'm forced to eat it as long as it is in front of me. A popular place. A big line. A place that will eat rabbits. There is only one clerk. The line consists of rabbits. Lines and lines. They rot as soon as they get in the line. Infested with maggots. Which is rotten? Which is infested with maggots? Which is alive? Which is doing the eating—
  • Danganronpa 2: Goodbye Despair:
    • The ending features the entire world around you collapsing as the program begins to corrupt. The screen is constantly glitching, particularly when people who were supposedly dead appear onscreen. The speech before and throughout this part often glitches and contorts into weird, unreadable strings of letters, numbers and punctuation.
    • If you were to visit the houses of people who died during the ending, word salads filled with numbers and punctuation appear once again, but this time it's their last thoughts jumbled up. Notably, nothing appears for Komaeda, which could point to many theories.


    Web Original 
  • SCP Foundation has several:
    • SCP-1981 a.k.a. "RONALD REAGAN CUT UP WHILE TALKING" is a Betamax video tape showing Ronald Reagan's "Evil Empire" speech, only the speech and concurrent events are different with each viewing. Each iteration has in common Reagan talking about various events that happened after the real life speech, surreal sidetracks into disturbing, nonsensical subjects, ominous references to possible future events, Reagan being mutilated by invisible forces while casually continuing the speech, and a black-robed figure who replaces a random member of Reagan's cabinet each time. note  Since Reagan was still alive when the tape was discovered, somebody at the Foundation had the bright idea to show it to him. It caused him to suffer horrible nightmares for years even though the Foundation almost definitely wiped his memory of the event, and it's implied that the reason he developed Alzheimer's is because it was the only way he could actually forget what he saw.
    • SCP-058 is some creature resembling a cow heart with limbs that constantly spouts off completely incomprehensible phrases even while going around killing humans.
      SCP-058: I had dreams of the queen wonders that lived inside the hearts of love and silent treatments of all the elderly that I knew were once whole.
    • SCP-1782 is a rather anomalous room whose randomly manifested entities and disembodied voices say some very bizarre phrases, most prominent of which is "There's a hole in the wall in the bottom of the floor." This is because the cause of the anomaly is the still-living aborted fetus of a Reality Warper, and it's trying to help the Foundation discover its location, which is indeed in a small hole in the wall.
    • SCP-2030: The Netflix description for the anomalous TV program "Laugh is Fun":
      "Have you ever like laugh you come laugh and have all the fun and laugh! Starring all your favorite laugh so ever and always make go to your life!"
    • SCP-2432 is an anomalous hotel room which causes anyone who sleeps in it to leave glowingly positive Word Salad Horror online reviews. Despite being creepy and nonsensical, the reviews manage to persuade people to visit the hotel.
      "My husband and my husband and I have walked drooling path to get here. Bed in Room 710 was soft and cosy and appreciated the decor would recommend the bed and specifically the bed and specifically the bed. "
  • Slimebeast's One More Time, in which the phenomenon of "evolving text" causes the narrator's lipids to eat dirty soap, and the more he tries to marinate the engine block, the worse his tranquilizers become.
  • Happens all the time on Welcome to Night Vale, particularly when Cecil reads advertisements, notices, or whatever else he is handed by others in the studio. A Running Gag is for Cecil to announce "a word from our sponsors," and then read an "advertisement" consisting of an extremely surreal Word-Salad Horror passage, followed by the name and slogan of a real-world company such as or Home Depot. For bonus creepy points, sometimes the real slogan is followed by a nightmarish variation on the same phrase.
    As their slogan famously says, "A thousand ways in, no way out. Subway. Eat fresh. Eat so terribly, terribly fresh. Terribly, awesomely, gruesomely, terrifyingly fresh."
  • The Slender Man Mythos features this frequently, particularly when dealing with totheark. For instance, his name comes from the phrase "lead me to the ark" from his videos in the Marble Hornets series. No indication is given as to what "ark" is being referenced, nor why he wishes to be taken there.
  • The creepypasta My Dead Girlfriend Keeps Messaging Me On Facebook: The messages the main character receives from his dead girlfriend's Facebook account almost entirely consist of past messages she's sent to him rearranged in seemingly random order, but still feel like someone or something trying to communicate:
    No chance of passing
    No chance of passing
    How many?
    Garage side door
    • Eventually, the seemingly random sentences (pulled from the aforementioned girlfriend’s post history) coalesce into something far more terrifying:
    I rang [Name] and they said you left at 5
    I’m starting to panic
    please stop
    Answer your phone
    I don’t know what’s happening
    • The original poster eventually makes a comment similarly pasted together from other comments on the thread - It's his last comment, and the account was never used again: "I should be scared. I've occasionally opened a heart"

    Real Life 
  • The infamous Max Headroom broadcast signal intrusion of 1987 saw the interruption of a Doctor Who broadcast ("Horror of Fang Rock" specifically) with a video of a person in a Max Headroom mask, whose identity is unknown to this day, rambling about completely nonsensical subjects interrupted by him(?) alternately laughing and screaming. There are some identifiable themes present (the intruder makes a point of mocking Chicago sportscaster Chuck Swirsky and WGN), but they're quickly subsumed by chaos.
    Catch the wave... (throws a Coke can at the camera) Your love is fading... (hums the theme to Clutch Cargo)
  • The term "word salad" was coined to describe the rambling incoherent writings and speech of schizophrenics, which can be very disturbing to read or listen to.
  • Psychopaths have a version of this which is interesting in its own way. Psychopaths are comparable to neurotypical people in terms of logic and language skills, but their "mirroring" is less. They have little to no subconscious empathy, to the point that they can't rely on instinctively recognizing other people as other beings whose emotions matter (compare to how a small toddler has to be taught that other people aren't just objects - they have to consciously rise above that level). They do have an adult's rational intellect, of course, meaning they can form a logical framework of ethics and act accordingly on a case-by-case basis (hence why psychopathy and sociopathy are not eligible disorders for an insanity plea in the U.S. court system), but they don't possess much of the emotional reactions that a neurotypical person would. Thus, when psychologists interview these people under heavy scrutiny, and ask them emotionally/morally provocative questions, they can respond with what sounds like word salad. Directly compared to the world salad of schizophrenics, this has been termed "semantic aphasia": caught out beyond the reaches of their framework, some just try to fake their way through a rambling response - poorly, like a student trying to bluff their teacher into thinking they did the reading by repeating what everyone else was talking about.
  • One fairly common sign of autism-spectrum and other communicative disorders is echolalia - a form of verbal stimming (self-stimulatory, repetitive behaviour) or tic where people can repeat sounds, words or phrases they've heard, either immediately after hearing it or a long time after, for either the sound or mouthfeel rather than semantic value. While the intent is simply to control their sensory environment, it can easily be put under this trope by people who don't understand why it's being done, especially if the repeated sound, word, or phrase happens to be emotionally charged or loaded.
  • Becoming suddenly incoherent after suffering from an accident, an injury, etc. can be a symptom of brain trauma or a stroke.
  • Many people who talk in their sleep will sometimes say nonsensical phrases that may come off as either this or Word-Salad Humor, due to dreams often being nonsensical.


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