Arc Words

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The Doctor: Bad Wolf.
Rose: But, I've heard that before; "bad wolf", I've heard that lots of times.

The Doctor: Everywhere we go: two words. Followin' us. Bad Wolf...
Doctor Who, "Boom Town"

An enigmatic word or phrase that appears, unexplained and without context, here and there throughout an Arc, and (with luck) is finally explained at or near the climax. A way of building up tension and mystery, as well as an indicator that anyone using the words knows more than they're telling. Can also be used as a memetic way of advertising the show. A typical element of a Mind Screw.

Arc Words can also be a way to hint at the Aesop or one of the themes of a show, often in the form of a question the characters must find an answer to. Alternately, they can be used for Foreshadowing. But they are not the same thing as a Running Gag, a Catch Phrase, or even just a phrase that ends up popping up a lot due to being used a lot in the plot.

Note that the Arc Words often do not have attention drawn explicitly to them; eagle-eyed/sharp eared viewers are left to notice for themselves. In the "Bad Wolf" example below, the words appeared as, among other things, a helicopter's callsign, a reference in dialogue to "The Big Bad Wolf", a graffito, and even in other languages (the [inaccurate] German Schlechter Wolf, and the Welsh Blaidd Drwg, the latter tipping off the Doctor about it).

Often shows up on the Internet Movie Database "memorable quotes" page for the show, with the label "repeated line".

The high-browed, academic [1] term used for this is "Leitwort" from the German for "leading" or "guiding word."

When this is a number instead of a phrase, it's Arc Number, and Arc Symbol if it's an image. Compare with Dream Melody. Not to be confused with Arc Reactor Words, which generally have to do with caves and boxes of scraps.

Remember: To be Arc Words, they must be both repeated and unexplained, at least until or just before the Arc's climax. Do not confuse with Running Gag or anything (words or otherwise) that just happens a lot. For example "May the Force be with you" is not arc words.

Not to be confused with God's command to Noah.

Examples of Arc Words include:

Anime and Manga[edit | hide | hide all]

  • Mazinger Z: "When you pilot Mazinger Z, you can become a god or a devil with its power."
  • Serial Experiments Lain -- "Everything is Connected" and "Close the world. Open the next."
    • Or in some cases "Close the world. .txen eht nepO"
    • Also, in one or two of the episodes: "Fulfill the prophecy."
  • Giant Robo: "The Beautiful Night" and "Can happiness be achieved without sacrifice?" from the OVAs.
    • Another arguable example would be "Big Fire." For most of the series, we're led to believe that Big Fire is nothing more the name of the global criminal superorganization which opposes the Experts. Only in the next-to-last episode do we learn that Big Fire is a person, and all those worshipful chants the BF members were fond of shouting ("Hail Big Fire! Alliance or death!" and so forth) were in reference to him, not the eponymous organization over which he reigns.
  • Noir: The Fauxlosophic Narration Badass Creed at the start of each episode ("..Two maidens who govern death..") is promoted to Arc Words later on in the series itself. Also, "If love can kill people, surely hatred can save them."
    • Thus spake the Hermit, the blood of the soldats shall run through the wilderness and mingle with the great sea...
  • Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann: "Yours is the drill that will pierce the Heavens!".
    • "WHO THE HELL DO YOU THINK I AM!?".
    • In the last episode Simon declares that his is the drill that will create the heavens, and in the Distant Finale Simon starts to say the latter but cuts himself off and decides to simply say he's no one.
    • Arguably, the meaning of the second Arc Words is during the Final Speech of the Anti-spiral King, where, upon his defeat, he passes the torch of protecting the universe to Simon, and the Arc Words are the latter's response.
    • It's worth noting that the translation of Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann is "Heaven-Piercing Gurren Lagann", making the name of Gurren-Lagann's final form even more meaningful.
  • "Fooly cooly" from FLCL. Despite being the basis for the show's title and appearing at least once in each episode, "fooly cooly" is never explained. In the final episode, Naota's father tries to goad him into revealing the answer to this: "C'mon, you have to know. The main character always knows stuff like this!"
  • Mai-Otome has Arc Words in the form of a song ("Hoshi ga Kanaderu Monogatari"). Each of the three main characters—Arika, Nina and Mashiro—knows and sings one stanza each, and its real significance is only revealed in the final arc.
  • The Big O: "Cast in the name of God, ye not guilty," a phrase that used to be inscribed on executioners' axes during the Inquisition, absolving them of the sin of murder since they were doing God's work.
    • There are two variations of the second part. The first is "ye not" when Rosewater tries to pilot Big Fau and it just shuts down. The second is "ye guilty" when Alan Gabriel is piloting Big Duo and it kills him.
    • Also, there are the "tomatoes", introduced as a metaphor[2] at the end of the first season and revisited through the second season as part of an Ontological Mystery.
  • Fafner in the Azure: Dead Aggressor -- "Are you there?"
  • "Voodoo Child" are Himiko's personal Arc Words in the GetBackers manga.
  • "Three years ago" in the Haruhi Suzumiya anime (and first novels). Lampshaded by Kyon, "I'm getting a little tired of the 'three years ago'."
    • In the 9th novel "three years ago" becomes "four years ago" since at that point roughly a year has passed since the start of the series.
  • Chaos;Head: "Sono me, dare no me?" ("Those eyes, whose are they?")
  • In Last Exile, a vaguely peanut-like shape starts to appear more and more in various places over the course of the series, in the same vein as some of the images described below. Then comes the last episode...
  • In Hellsing the phrase: "The bird of the Hermes is my name, eating my wings to make me tame." appears together with the series' title as well as on Alucard's coffin. It's taken from the Ripley Scrowle, by alchemist George Ripley. (Whoever that is.)
  • There is much signifigance to the word "Awakening" in Ergo Proxy.
    • Occasionally the phrase "Can you feel the pulse of the awakening?" was used, too.
  • In Madlax, there's one phrase that's used over and over again: Elda Taluta. There are two others that accompany this (Sarks Sark and Arks Ark) but rarely get used. The Big Bad uses these words to drive the "true nature" of humans out, which normally results in brutal murders or mind rape.
  • In Mobile Suit Gundam 00, the Innovators often mention or allude to what they call "the dialogues to come", which according to Revive is a concept beyond human comprehension. However, after Setsuna becomes an Innovator, it's hinted that these "dialogues" may be referring to what he believes is Aeolia Schenberg's plan for human evolution.
    • It's suggested that it means humanity's first contact with aliens, and that humanity would have to surpress it's warlike nature and internal conflicts to prevent an interstellar war.
  • Princess Tutu: "May those who accept their fate find happiness. May those who defy their fate find glory."
  • The Girl Who Leapt Through Time: "Time waits for no one."
  • The "kind king" of Konjiki no Gash Bell that everyone who encounters Gash hopes to become.
  • Monster: "The monster inside me has grown so big!". Also, "People can become whatever they want to be" and "Welcome home" are both phrases that plague Nina's memory. Their significance is eventually explained.
  • Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha As: "A small wish."
  • Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex has one of these for each season so far, both integrated into an iconic Arc Symbol. For the first season, the Laughing Man logo contains the phrase "I thought what I'd do was, I'd pretend I was one of those deaf-mutes" (a quote from J. D. Salinger's The Catcher in The Rye), which eventually leads Togusa and the Major to the truth behind the convoluted Laughing Man case. Similarly, 2nd Gig features a symbol containing kanji that are read idiosyncratically as "Individual Eleven", a phrase that has ties to almost every part of the season's Story Arc.
  • Chobits -- "A person just for me..."
  • Lots of CLAMP works, especially xxxHolic, Cardcaptor Sakura, and Tsubasa Chronicle, involve the idea of "hitsuzen"—an event, meeting, or other twist of fate that was determined by previous actions or decisions, and is thus unavoidable. Usually, a phrase along the lines of "There are no such things as accidents. There is only hitsuzen." is used, with "hitsuzen" sometimes translated as fate or destiny. The idea is that people determine their fates with their decisions and actions.
    • To make sure it was absolutely clear, the English dub uses the term inevitability.
  • X 1999—Before Fuuma awakens as Kamui's twin star, "Kamui, I am your..."
  • One Piece: The "Will of D."
    • Also a rare case of a series where the title itself qualifies as arc words. The words "One Piece" are hardly ever spoken in the show's dialog. When it is mentioned, it's always a major event.
  • Welcome to The NHK has NHK show up often, especially when the protagonist is about to have a nervous breakdown.
  • Higurashi no Naku Koro ni: "I'm sorry... I'm sorry... I'm sorry... I'm sorry..."
    • Also, "USO DA!" ("THAT'S A LIE!")
  • Umineko no Naku Koro ni: "Without love, it cannot be seen." Although it's more obvious in the Visual Novels it's based off of...
  • Chrono Crusade: Mary Magdalene. Used to the point that the name is actually worked into the title logo.
  • Neon Genesis Evangelion has a few, but the most recognizable by far is "I mustn't run away."
    • "Hedgehog's Dilemma" (Two hedgehogs can't get close to each other without pain.)
    • To a lesser degree, "Unfamiliar Ceiling".
    • For a much more ironic taste, "Service."
  • Pluto: The main character has the recurring flashback of a man saying "500 Zeus a body." Seeing as the main character is a robot, other robots can experience his flashback as well.
  • GetBackers: Infinity Fortress, Voodoo Child, Brain Trust,
  • Mahou Sensei Negima: Variations on "Always keep moving forward" tend to crop up in plot-important moments.
    • The manga is an interesting case, in that the actual Arc Words ("a little bit of courage") rarely show up. Rather, after the one time someone compared the need to rush bravely in (rather than hanging back and giving your opponent time to prepare) to the Arc Words, the concept of bravery and aggression, as well as trusting your training, comes up more and more. This makes it more of an Arc Concept than anything.
    • A straighter example would be "I Am Your Opponent", which recurs often, even in mundane fights.
  • Detective Conan has "only one truth prevails" in the translated anime.
  • Fullmetal Alchemist: Mankind cannot gain anything without first giving something in return. This is Alchemy's First Law of Equivalent Exchange.
    • "One is All, All is One"
    • The referral to the alchemists who practised human transmutation as 'sacrifices' is very thinly explained until the relevent plot point.
    • Lust's character arc has the arc words "Where did I come from? Where will I go?"
  • The Japanese version of Yu-Gi-Oh Duel Monsters (dubbed as Yu-Gi-Oh!) has the term "shin no duelist" which means "true duelist". You could make a drinking game out of it once it starts showing up.
  • Kotomi Ichinose's route in Clannad has "Day before yesterday, I saw a rabbit; yesterday, a deer, and today, you." Quoted word-for-word from a short story called The Dandelion Girl.
    • Also, Nagisa's "If you like, shall I take you to the place in town where dreams come true?" Appears in the first episode, later as the first line of her play, and in the Grand Finale of After Story.
  • Walpurgisnacht or Walpurgis Night in Puella Magi Madoka Magica. As revealed in Episode 10, Walpurgisnacht is a powerful witch that Madoka is supposedly fated to defeat as a Magical Girl, leading to her conversion into a witch.
  • GaoGaiGar has its villains occasionally mention two mysterious concepts: "the legacy of Cain" and "the curse left by Abel." Eventually we learn that these refer to two children, Mamorou and Kaidou, who are refugees from planets ruled by leaders named Cain and Abel.
    • GaoGaiGar FINAL has the oft mentioned, never quoted Oath Sworn Through Courage, which serves as a source of strength for the cast as they encounter the enemy.
  • "The Destination of Fate", "Survival Strategy", and "Never amount to anything" in Mawaru Penguindrum.
    • "Survival Strategy": Revealed to be some sort of terrorism plot by the Kiga group/Penguinforce.
    • "Never amount to anything": Initially, it was only used by the Princess of the Crystal in mocking those that she summons, but it's later revealed that this particular phrase has ties to the self-worth of several characters.
  • Pandora Hearts has, "A darkness that swallows everything," which is used to describe several plot related things.
  • Soul Eater has "A sound soul dwells within a sound mind and a sound body".
  • Street Fighter II the Animated Movie: "What do you see beyond your fist?" It's a question Ryu and Ken were asked by their late master, Gouken. During the final battle with Bison, Ken has a moment of clarity and realises the answer: "My fate."


Comic Books[edit | hide]

  • "Something fell" from Cerebus. It is usually said a moment before a sudden, life-altering event in Cerebus' life. The first time it was said, the falling object was directly responsible; the next few times, something just happened to fall immediately before the big event, and a character remarked on it. In later instances, a character just thinks he heard something fall, but we don't see that anything actually does. One interpretation is that the words themselves have the power to cause important things to happen, but none of the characters seem aware of this.
    • Lampshaded in "Rick's Story," when Rick tells Cerebus "something fell" just to freak him out. It's followed by a major event anyway.
  • Watchmen: "Who watches the Watchmen?", "Pale Horse" and "Krystalnacht" (both band names), "One in five (later 'three') go mad," and "The Comedian is dead"
    • The full phrase "Who Watches the Watchmen" is never shown in its entirety Until the very last page, after the story has ended. It's always either unfinished (as it mainly appears as graffiti) or cut off by the panel border. Probably a subtle suggestion that the minds of the "heroes" are not fully comprehensible.
      • It could also be a suggestion that up until then, the question was unanswered—the vigilantes were mostly ungoverned. Then Ozymandias manipulates them all, showing that he was watching and controlling the "watchmen." The question was only shown when it had been answered.
      • There's also an interview with Alan Moore somewhere where he mentioned a possible double meaning: not who watches to see if the watchmen are criminals, but who watches them to look after them and take care of them. The question within the story is the first meaning, going unasked because someone already is. Afterwards, it's Alan Moore telling the reader that no one takes care of the watchmen, hence their various psychological issues and the slaughter of Manhattan. Heavy.
  • The Invisibles: "Try to remember. It's only a game." And, see below, "Wake up."
    • Also, "Barbelith."
  • Blackest Night: RISE.
  • For Grant Morrison's run on Batman, there was "Zur En Arrh," a piece of graffiti that ends up being a Trigger Phrase for Batman. And it also ends up being his backup personality, the Batman of Zur En Arrh. In the end, it turns out that the phrase is a bastardization of Thomas Wayne's last words, "Zorro in Arkham."
    • Leading to the irony that even Bruce doesn't know what the phrase means, as the last thing he ever said to his father is "what?" implying he didn't clearly hear what he said.
  • In One Hundred Bullets highly trained assassins known as The Minutemen are brainwashed into forgetting their time as killers only to be "awakened" by the use of the cryptic word "Croatoa". This is eventually revealed to be part of a larger conspiracy involving the founding of the United States of America.
  • The phrase "The Crimson Hand" kept cropping up in the post-Donna Doctor Who Magazine comic strip, along with the Arc Image of, well, a crimson hand. Eventually revealed as a ruthless gang Majenta Pryce was a member of, prior to Hotel Historia.
  • In The Sandman, "Wake up" and its variations.
  • In Deadpool, during Chris Priest's run. Occasionally, whenever things would get dramatic, Deadpool would say "None of this is actually happening. Somewhere, there's a guy with a typewriter..."
  • There are tons of these in Planet Hulk:
    • "This is the story of the Green Scar. The Eye of Anger, the Worldbreaker... Harkanon, Haarg, Holku... HULK. And how he finally came home." (repeated at both the beginning and end of the story)
    • Sakaarson and Worldbreaker.
    • "Sakaarson, hear my cry..."
    • "Never stop making them pay."
    • "Fighting for friends."
    • Warbound.
  • Spider-Man: Brand new day indeed.
  • "Why the red skies?" and variations thereof.[3]
  • 52's storyline with The Question had "Who are you?" and "Are you ready?"
  • "No rain but thunder, and the sound of giants."
    • A minor example in BPRD: 1946: "The waters here are warmer."
  • The first issue of Hourman opens with Snapper Carr, Hourman's sidekick, writing down a list of arc words as they come to him. Since Hourman is a time traveler, Snapper has had a tiny vision of the future but only remembers it well enough to record about a dozen key phrases, such as "the century of solitude," "the giant nanites," and "the timepoint." Over the course of the series these terms become part of the storyline and are explained one by one. At the end of the final issue, Hourman and Snapper recite the list again, this time as a pair of friends recalling shared memories.
  • The Punisher MAX series has a reboot of Frank Castle's origins, and in the comic The Tyger, he reminisces on the night where he prepares to make his first kills in his war on crime. He muses that after his identity comes out, they'll blame it on the war, and they'll be right, and they'll be wrong. Most of the comic then divulges a scarring childhood event in which a close friend of his is raped and then commits suicide. As Frank prepares to take revenge himself, he sees the older brother of his friend viciously beat the perpetrator before setting him on fire. A later part of the comic has two all-black pages filled with speech bubbles, detailing the paramedics' arrival on the scene of his family's shooting and the horror of it all, and the doctors talking to him later in the hospital and telling him that none of his family survived. Returning to the present, Frank coldly snipes a group of mobsters and thinks "They'll blame it on Vietnam. And they'll be right, and they'll be wrong."


Fan Works[edit | hide]


Film - Animated[edit | hide]

  • Meet the Robinsons: "Keep moving forward". Notable for being part of a quote from Walt Disney himself.
  • In The Princess and the Frog, "You got what you wanted, but you lost what you had" may count. It first appears during the opening number, but means something more sinister the second time.


Film - Live Action[edit | hide]

  • "Rosebud." from Citizen Kane is a possible Ur Example.
  • Yellow Submarine: "It's all in the mind."
  • Contact. "If there is no one out there, it's an awful waste of space."
  • The Curious Case of Benjamin Button "You never know what's coming for you" represents one of the film's themes that deal with the unexpected ways life will change.
  • The Matrix: The very title was an arc word throughout the marketing and right up until a third of the way through the film.
  • Every David Lynch film. Ever.
    • Lost Highway: Dick Laurant is dead. We've met before, haven't we?
  • Not as enigmatic as many of the other examples, but the phrase "I want to fuck the whole world over" from Croupier could arguably count, along with the narrator's constant meditations on the differences between croupiers, gamblers and cheats and application of gambling terminology to real life.
  • In the original draft of the screenplay, Dante's constant complaint that "I'm not even supposed to be here today!" in Clerks. was intended to foreshadow the tragic irony of Dante getting shot to death by a criminal at the film's conclusion. As the script was revised, this particular meaning is lost: however, Randall still references Dante's use of the phrase in his rant near the end about how Dante refuses to accept responsibility for his own actions or attempt to make change in his miserable life.
  • The Shining: REDRUM... REDRUM...
  • That Hansel...he's so hot right now...
  • All Mongols fear thunder.
  • Field of Dreams: "If you build it, he will come."
    • Ease his pain.
    • Go the distance.
  • Could, "Rise and rise again, until lambs become lions," from Robin Hood (2010 film) count?
  • Inception: "You're waiting for a train..."
    • "An old man, filled with regret, waiting to die alone."
    • "Take a leap of faith."
  • "Even a man who is pure in heart..." poem in films featuring The Wolf Man.
  • Prince of Persia: "Have I told you about the Ngbaka?"
  • Strictly Ballroom: "A life lived in fear is a life half-lived."
  • The Prestige: "Are you watching closely?" "Every magic trick consists of three acts." "But where's his brother?"
  • Mystery Team: "Someone stole that man's face"; in a weird way, the f word.
  • Dark City: "Do you know how to get to Shell Beach?"
  • "The Greater Good"
    • "Shut it!"
  • Signs: When Colleen was dying, she tells Graham to tell Morgan to have fun and to be silly, for Bo to always listen to her brother because he will take care of her. She tells Graham to "see" and tells Merrill to "swing away".
  • The Ten Commandments: "Moses, Moses" and "So let it be written, so let it be done".
  • The Grey: "Live and die on this day...Live and die on this day."
  • Safe House: "We'll take it from here."
  • Vanilla Sky: "Open your eyes."


Literature[edit | hide]

"Everything is evened up in the end. The rich have their ice in the summer but the poor get theirs in the winter."

  • In Chuck Palahniuk's works, he has his characters use arc words he refers to as "choruses." Most notably, "Birds ate my face" in Invisible Monsters.
    • Fight Club: "I know this because Tyler knows this."
    • Haunted 2005: "Onstage, instead of a spotlight - a movie fragment..."
  • The words "copper" "silver" and "gold" in that order are in every story of Godel Escher Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid until the big reveal that you are actually reading a book written by a guy named Douglas Hofstadter, and every person you've grown to know and love in it is actually a character inhabiting stories written in the pattern of Bach's fugues. You could actually read the chapters, rather than just the dialogues prefacing them. If you can keep up, it gives quite a good overview of modern symbolic logic.
  • "Who is John Galt?" from Atlas Shrugged. He's the unnamed figure in every story that anyone tells to Dagny before she meets him. He also won't shut up.
  • Philip K. Dick's Ubik, especially. Ubik varies from chapter to chapter, finally culminating in Ubik declaring itself as God.
    • Also, "The Empire never ended", from several of his later works.
    • One of the most elaborate and subtle examples in the works of Philip Dick is the Flow My Tears, The Policeman Said. The concept of love (meaning profound attraction and dire, unconditional need for SOMEONE or even ANYONE beside) is never explicitly stated or talked about in the book. Nevertheless, the seemingly unimportant and appendix-like part where the writer tells of the character's life after the events, ends with the sentence "And loved.". Although it relates to the clay vase irrelevant to the plot, the word "loved" connects with the rest of the novel in ways unimaginable. Dick manages to sum up all the (painfully building) moral and emotional tensions throughout the WHOLE NOVEL in this sentence. Just read it.
    • A Scanner Darkly: "If I'd known it was harmless I'd have killed it myself."
  • "In the Country of the Blind, the One-eyed Man is King," from H. G. Wells's short story The Country of the Blind. These Arc Words are a paraphrase of Erasmus; Wells's story gives them an ironic connotation as the protagonist repeatedly fails to prove the superiority of his sightedness in a Lost World inhabited entirely by blind people.
  • The Black Company series had a number of these, especially near the end. They even became the names of two of the novels, Water Sleeps (which in context means "Revenge is coming") and Soldiers Live ("and wonder why", referring to survivor's guilt).
  • Tad Williams' Otherland features a significant and enigmatic character who keeps repeating, "An angel touched me."
  • The purpose behind Thomas Pynchon's The Crying of Lot 49. The words are "Trystero", "WASTE" (apparently an acronym for "We Await Silent Trystero's Empire"), "DEATH" ("Don't Ever Antagonize The Horn"), and a picture of a muted postal horn (trumpet). The best part, though, is that we never find out if it means anything.
  • "Here comes a candle to light you to bed, here comes a chopper to chop off your head!" from 1984, and the associated rhyme.
    • The phrase is referenced in Neil Gaiman's The Graveyard Book. Knowing the reference makes it even more chilling.
    • This phrase is also referenced in Silent Hill: Origins. Except that it is changed to read "Here comes a candle to light you to bed, here comes the butcher to chop off your head!" And there's the three Party slogans: "Big Brother is watching you" (verifying the accuracy of this statement is arguably the point of the narrative), ""War is Peace; Freedom is Slavery; Ignorance is Strength" (which is ultimately explained by Goldstein's book) and "Who controls the past controls the future; who controls the present controls the past" (which is explained in detail by O'Brien in the novel's third act).
    • "We shall meet in the place where there is no darkness."
    • "Oranges and lemons, say the bells of St. Clements."
  • Also from The Graveyard Book, "Sleep, my little babby-oh..." Mrs. Owens only remembers the last part of the song as she's saying goodbye to Bod forever at the end of the story when Bod leaves the graveyard..
  • "Delial" and "House" from House of Leaves.
    • Only Revolutions by the same author has several of these (none of which are ever really explained), with "always sixteen" and "everyone loves the dream but I kill it" (and variants) probably cropping up most frequently.
    • These are made even more obvious by being typeset differently: "House" (in better copies) appears in blue text and a slight offset and "Minotaur" in red (and is frequently, if not always, struck out).
  • A Song of Ice and Fire is crawling with these; every major noble family in Westeros has its words (with House Stark's "Winter is coming" getting the spotlight). There is also valar morghulis "all men must die" and valar dohaeris "all men must serve", the code-phrases-cum-mottos of the Faceless Men.
    • So . . . the Stark words are Arc Words.
    • The phrase "words are wind" is used often throughout A Feast for Crows and A Dance with Dragons.
    • The song "The Bear and the Maiden Fair" is repeated by various characters in A Storm of Swords, and provides a parallel between several relationships in that book. From A Game of Thrones there's "wake the dragon" which is first said as a threat by Viserys but then comes to have a whole new meaning by the end of the book.
    • Another song, "The Rains of Castamere", is employed for Tywin and the Lannister's victories (and once for a Lannister defeat). The song tells the tale of one of Tywin's (as a young man) earliest and greatest military victories.
    • Ygritte oft-repeated phrase "you know nothing, Jon Snow" is relayed to Jon many times as he travels with Ygritte and her wildling brethren under the command of Rattleshirt throughout the second half of A Clash of Kings and first half of A Storm of Swords. The phrase exemplifies the grey morality that is so prevalent throughout the series as it serves to change Jon and the reader's preconception of the nature of Wildlings from the evil savages they are described as by the Westerosi into people not much different than those south of the wall. It also works as a rebuff against Jon Snow's occasional arrogant certainty of his skills as a Night's Watch ranger and proficient outdoorsman.
  • The initials V.F.D. and later J.S., in A Series of Unfortunate Events, as well as various names and phrases that begin with them.
    • Also, "The world is quiet here" and "I didn't realize this was a sad occasion" count as well.
  • Madame Zeroni's lullaby in Holes.
  • In Fingerprints, the name "Erika Keaton", which the heroes are puzzled by until The Reveal in book 6.
  • In Fahrenheit 451, "Consider the lilies of the field; they toil not, neither do they spin..."
  • Snow Crash has, well "Snow Crash," a phrase which gets dropped several times in several different contexts before finally getting elaborated on.
  • In the novel Some Other Place. The Right Place by Donald Harington, the phrase "some other place" appears repeatedly throughout, followed by "the right place", usually on the opposite page.
  • In several of Kurt Vonnegut's works, "So it goes." and "Tralfamadorians".
    • There's virtually one per book. I can't even recall all of them, but they include the Trout's sermon ("You were sick, but now you're well again, and there's work to do") in Timequake, "And so on" in Breakfast of Champions (as well as the title itself and recounting penis lengths of every male character), "chronosynchastic infindibulum" in Sirens of Titan, and the various Bokoninist lines in Cat's Cradle (eg. "Busy, busy, busy"). "So it goes" is from Slaughterhouse-Five.
    • "Blue and ivory feet", also from Slaughterhouse-Five.
  • In Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle's novel Oath of Fealty, "Think of it as evolution in action" is explicitly developed as this.
  • Throughout Larry Niven's entire Known Space oevre, we hear "There Ain't No Justice." It's repeated often enough that it's sometimes abbreviated as the curse word "tanj."
  • In the 32nd instalment of Piers Anthony's Xanth series, Two to the Fifth, the title is brought up numerous times throughout the book, and its meaning is not revealed until the last fifth or so of the book.
    • In the fourth book, Centaur Aisle, the title is a repeated spoken hint to the main character—leaving him to wonder what "centre isle" is supposed to mean. The words make no sense until Arnolde Centaur's magic talent is revealed.
    • Heaven Cent -- "Skeleton Key to Heaven Cent."
  • In Stephen King's The Shining, Danny kept seeing the word "REDRUM" before he realized it was "MURDER" spelled backwards.
  • In Catch-22, the title phrase is used to explain almost anything that uses circular logic, or just doesn't make sense.
    • Also, any time Snowden is mentioned, with more and more context being revealed about him each time..
  • In Garth Nix's Old Kingdom series, the saying "Does the walker choose the path, or the path the walker?" is frequently repeated. The words come from The Book of the Dead, a very dark volume about necromancy that happens to be required reading for every Abhorsen, so it makes sense that a necromancer, an extremely powerful Charter Mage, or some other person of importance would know them.
  • In the Dune series, there are stylized speeches and oft-repeated phrases, such as the Litany Against Fear. However, the phrase "The Golden Path" is an example of Arc Words, signifying Leto's long-term plan. Also Paul's cnstant use of the term "Terrible purpose".
    • "The sleeper must awaken".
  • "The Wheel of Time turns and Ages come and pass. In one Age, called the Third Age by some..."
    • Also "The Wheel weaves as The Wheel wills."
    • The various prophecies told to Mat by the Snakes may also qualify. "To marry the Daughter of the Nine Moons." in particular.
  • Several from Terry Pratchett's Discworld, such as:
    • Mort: "There is no justice. There is just me."
    • The Truth: "The Truth Will Make You Free!" (often with "Free misspelled, such as Fred) and "A lie can run round the world before the truth has got its boots on." This becomes a Crowning Moment of Awesome in the end for our hero William de Worde, as he says to the Big Bad:

"The truth has got its boots on. It's about to start kicking." [4]

    • The Fifth Elephant: "It is the thing, and the whole of the thing."
    • Thud: "Mr. Shine, Him diamond!" "The battle of Koom Valley" is a Running Gag through the whole series, until it's explained in Thud.
    • Small Gods: "The turtle moves!" and "Here and now, we're alive."
    • I Shall Wear Midnight: "The hare runs into the fire." "Poison goes where poison's welcome."
    • An example of Arc Words for the entire series is the phrase "all things strive." Some examples:
  • The Pendragon Adventure: "This is the way it was meant to be."
    • Bobby also starts ending his later journals with "And so we go."
  • The Golden Age by John C. Wright: "Deeds of renown without peer."
  • Bartleby the Scrivener by Herman Melville: "I'd prefer not to."
  • Creatures of Light and Darkness by Roger Zelazny: "Skagganauk Abyss" and variations occur several times throughout the book before its nature and ultimate purpose is revealed.
  • Stephen Marley's Spirit Mirror has Chia, Black Dragon Sorceress, the amnesiac Action Girl heroine, asking herself: "What happened in Egypt?" We never really find out what happened in Egypt until the next book, though. Similarly, the sequel, Mortal Mask, has Chia pondering her long-lost Egyptian lover's enigmatic plea of "Forgive me".
  • The Midnight Mayor by Kate Griffin has "Give me back my hat."
  • In the Halo Expanded Universe, the phrase Oly Oly Oxen Free is a secret code used by SPARTA Ns as an "all-clear" message.
  • Chronicles of Magravandias: "It will happen regardless of what you think or do."
  • The Bell Jar: "I am, I am, I am."
  • Everything Is Illuminated by Jonathan Safran Foer: "I will... I will..."
  • Never Let Me Go has a song (called Never Let Me Go). The refrain "Never let me go, never let me go, oh baby, baby, never let me go" is repeated many times over the course of the story, subtly changing meaning as time progresses.
  • The Stormlight Archive: "Find the most important words a man can say." At the end of the first novel, its insinuated to be the Second Ideal of the Knights Radiant, "I will protect those who cannot protect themselves."
  • A Clockwork Orange is divided to three parts, which all begin to the sentence "What's it gonna be then, eh?" It also appears several other times.
  • In The Dresden Files story Aftermath, Murphy's Survival Mantra crosses over with this trope: "I can't believe he's dead."And through out the series "hells Bells" "Stars and Stones" and "Empty Night" have been used as curses and have been confirmed used as such due to what they imply which will be explained in the Three apocalyptic novels which will close out the series using all three of those curses as their titles.
  • The Subject Steve has a few; Fine fettle, Mothered by fire, Fuckeroo'd...
  • In Blackout, particularly Polly's sections: "How all occasions do inform against me" (from Hamlet).
  • The last parts of the biblical Book of Judges has "In those days Israel had no King. Everyone did as he pleased".
  • In The Full Matilda, the various Housewright Maxims are this. Usually this is used to show how the family serves others instead of themselves.
  • Bridge of Birds has "Jade plate, Six, eight. Fire that burns hot, Night that is not. Fire that burns cold, First silver, then gold."
  • Stephen King's The Dark Half: "The sparrows are flying again."
  • Warriors: "Water can quench fire". Some of the prophecies count as well.
    • Original Series: "Fire alone can save our Clan." It wasn't a prophecy, but "Pack, Pack, Kill, Kill" in A Dangerous Path.
    • The New Prophecy: "Before there is peace, blood will spill blood, and the lake will run red."
    • Power of Three: "There will be three, kin of your kin, who hold the power of the stars in their paws." (First appeared chronologically in Firestar's Quest and continues through to Omen of the Stars)
    • Omen of the Stars: "The end of the stars draws near. Three must become four, to battle the darkness that lasts forever."
  • Dragons/The Last Dragon Chronicles has "Sometimes", generally used as an enigmatic answer when questions are asked. Sometimes.
  • Robert Heinlein had a few:
  • Wicked Lovely: "There are always choices".
  • An Elegy for the Still-living: "Our Situation" and the variants thereof.
  • Lemony Snicket: The Unauthorized Autobiography has several phrases, but the most notable is V.F.D. motto "The world is quiet here."
  • In its original Hebrew, The Bible makes use of this trope, making it Older Than Dirt. Due to the nature of the Hebrew language, which can use the same root word with different suffixes and prefixes to mean any number of different things, this effect is used very flexibly and is often not picked up in translation.
  • Probably the only memorable thing about Ira Levin's execrable sequel to his excellent Rosemary's Baby, Son Of Rosemary. Throughout the book, various characters josh around about how long it takes to solve the riddle "ROAST MULES" with the clue "Any five- or six-year-old might do this every day." The answer is somersaults. Rosemary seemingly awakens from sleep thinking it was All Just a Dream -- that's the entire story, first book and sequel. This is where most people toss the book down in disgust. In the final paragraphs, though, it turns into Or Was It a Dream?? Rosemary's friend Hutch telephones, and at the very end of the conversation he casually tosses off how long it took him to solve "roast mules". This tells Rosemary that everything that happened in her "dream" was real, that her now-nonexistent son has pulled off the ultimate sacrifice to save the world, and that she'd better be damned (yeah) careful about where she and her husband move.
  • Dark Future: Has meta-arc words, "Tick-tock, tick-tock, tick-tock, tick-tock." Jessamyn Bonney is possessed by the Ancient Adversary, a spirit being dedicated to opposing the coming of the Dark Ones and The End of the World as We Know It this will cause, that Big Bad Elder Seth is actively seeking. When the two establish a Psychic Link by accident, Jessamyn manifests in Seth's mind as these words. The form the Ancient Adversary most commonly takes in the spirit world? A giant crocodile. Also represents the ticking away of time until the end of the world.

"Krokodil, what's this about?"
"Using black magic and blacker science...they're trying to take over the sky."

"The sky? That can't be...like the man said...the sky belongs to the stars!"
Elvis and Krokodil Comeback Tour
  • The Go Between: Delenda est belladona – the deadly nightshade (or beautiful woman) must be destroyed.
  • The Illuminatus! Trilogy and Masks of the Illuminati have an odd tendency to latch on to random, irrelevant words, phrases, names, and images that appear early on and turn them into Arc Words, and in fact, accumulate Arc Words over time. In the end, some of them are Justified as being connected, in some round about way, to Illuminati, Discordian, Rosicrucian, or Kabbalistic symbolism, although most turn out to really just be random and irrelevant. Given how mindscrewy and postmodern the novel is, this is only to be expected.

Live Action TV[edit | hide]

  • The Jim Henson teleplay The Cube - "Strawberry jam".
  • The new Doctor Who has had one each series/season.
    • "Bad Wolf" from Series One.
      • Which Russell T. Davies admitted he didn't think that fans would even notice.
      • "Bad Wolf" is also something of a subversion in that the words kept appearing (although less often) after the "arc" was concluded, because the words were across all of time and space, so they wouldn't be expected to only appear where they were actually needed.
      • The phrase also appears in the DVD release of "The Invasion" (with animation replacing the Missing Episodes). From the Doctor's perspective, that's long before the arc...
      • Since Torchwood is set in the same universe as Doctor Who, it's not surprising that "Bad Wolf" has appeared there as well (on the wall behind Jack and Toshiko when they go back in time).
    • "Torchwood" from Series Two.
    • "Mister Saxon" and "Vote Saxon" from Series Three.
    • Also the significance of "You. Are. Not. Alone." that clues the Doctor into realising the true identity of Professor Yana.
    • Series Four has apparently expanded the concept and instead of Arc Words it has a series of foreshadowing words dating all the way back to the first episode of Series One: The Shadow Proclamation, the Medusa Cascade, Rose Tyler continually appearing in the background, the disappearance of planets and bees, Donna being told she has something on her back, and Donna being the focal point of several timelines. Naturally, they all come to a head in the finale.
      • Right before the finale, how bad things truly are is established when the Doctor learns that Rose Tyler has broken through the dimensional barriers. To herald her presence, the words "Bad Wolf" appear everywhere, including on the TARDIS itself.
      • The Ood in "Planet of the Ood" seemingly refer to the Doctor and Donna as the collective Doctor Donna -- of course, they hear, "Doctor, Donna."
    • The 2009 specials had their own arc words in "He will knock four times."
    • The Arc words for Series 5 are "The Pandorica will open." and "Silence will fall." The latter is carrying over into series 6.
      • These two arcwords were often seen together and therefore assumed to refer to the same thing, much like Doctor Donna was assumed to refer to separate things.
    • Series 5 also had the hilarious arc words of "Hello Sweetie," River's graffiti on various historical artifacts to get the Doctor's attention.

The Doctor: You defaced the oldest cliff face in the universe!
River Song:' You weren't answering your phone!

    • The episode The Doctor's Wife gives us a new set of arc words: "The only water in the forest is the river."
      • This one gets explained only three episodes later: "The only water in the forest is the river. They don't have a word for 'Pond.'"
    • Don't forget Series 5's references to "A good man". It's first mentioned in conjunction with the "murder"for which River was jailed and eventually comes to a head in the episode "A Good Man Goes to War", with one of The Doctor's more epic comebacks "Good men don't need rules. Today is not the day to find out why I have so many"
    • And with Let's Kill Hitler, we get more of the arc phrase: "Silence will fall when the question is asked. The first question. The oldest question in the universe. Hidden in plain sight."
    • The second half of Series 6 has "Tick-Tock goes the clock."
    • "Fish fingers and custard" is a minor example, acting as a Trust Password between Amy and the Doctor.
    • The question itself becomes the Series 7 Arc Words, as well as the greatest Title Drop in history: "Doctor who?"
  • The latter part of Torchwood's first season has multiple people saying that something's coming, from "the darkness."
  • "Save The Cheerleader, Save The World" from Season One of Heroes.
    • The second half of Season One: "Are you on the list?"
    • It's later parodied in a commercial about some tax program: "Save the Taxpayers, Save the World!" It's lampshaded.
    • Also "Be the one we need."
  • "From beneath you, it devours" from Season Seven of Buffy the Vampire Slayer.
    • Or, as one pair of characters translated it, "It eats you starting with your bottom."
    • In season 5: "Death is your gift."
    • In seasons 4 & 5: "You think you know. What's to come, what you are. You haven't even begun."
    • "Ascension" from seasons 1 to 3 -- referring to the Master rising to the surface, Angelus summoning Acathla, and the Mayor completing his transformation.
  • On Angel, "The Father Will Kill the Son" was an important part of the Holtz/Sahjahn arc. Characters find out what they think it means, try to stop it from happening, leading to events that later (sort of) cause it to happen...
  • "Fire, walk with me" from Twin Peaks (it was even the name of The Movie that was made after its cancellation).
    • Found under the fingernails of various murder victims were what we might call Arc Letters.
    • Another example is the phrase "j'ai une âme solitaire", meaning "I have a lonely soul" in French.
  • Before you know just what Dharma is in Lost, the Dharma logo certainly serves as a creepy Arc Symbol.
    • Lostpedia has a whole list of commonly used phrases on the show, some of which may be arc words.
    • And the famous Arc Numbers—4 8 15 16 23 42.
    • "What lies in the shadow of the statue?" appears to be the straightest use of this trope in the series thus far.
    • Some characters get their own Arc Words -- "fix" for Jack, "special" for Locke, "coward" for Desmond...
      • The word "special" actually comes up a lot with regard to various characters. Also "Don't tell me what I can't do!"
    • "Live together, die alone" shows up fairly often too.
    • And then in season 5 we get a whole "dead is dead," "whatever happened happened," and "what's done is done." All variants on an arc theme.
    • "I'll see you in another life, brother!" is a phrase constantly used by Desmond as a farewell, to the point that other characters start using it when addressing Desmond at later points. This comes full circle when we discover in the sixth season that Desmond in the "Sideways World" is awakening the castaways and reminding them of their past lives, so they can move on to the afterlife. See them in another life indeed.
  • The logos and name of the Blue Sun Corporation from Firefly may have been intended as Arc Words, but the series got canceled before anything came of them. River's repeated "two by two, hands of blue" is definitely an example, though.
  • Battlestar Galactica:
    • "All Along The Watchtower" is a set of Arc Words: because it foreshadows the identities of the final five Cylons.
      • Lyrics from the song were later integrated into the series finale as a sort of reveal. For example, Starbuck says the phrase "There must be some kind of way out of here" before inputting the coordinates to the new Earth and their new home.
    • The Mandala from the Temple of Five pops up in seasons two and three, and it's starting to look like it might be hinting at a deeper connection between Starbuck and the Final Five.
    • "The shape of things to come" may or may not be, as it is not yet established exactly why the half-cylons are so important, barring medicinal use.
      • Eventually revealed: Hera, Athena's daughter, was Mitochondrial Eve. In other words, the mother of all modern-day humanity.
    • "All this has happened before, and will happen again" is another possible example, having been spoken repeatedly without proper explanation so far.
      • Season 4 has a bit of that: Some Cylon Centurions are briefly allowed to "rebel" against some of their humanoid cylon masters, in response to what they see is being done to the raider. This echoes the original cylons' uprising against humanity.
      • Sort of explained in that a main tenet of their religion is the idea of a cyclical time line, the same story being told over and over again throughout eternity.
      • "Sometimes a Great Notion" reveals more: Earth was nuked to a barren wasteland 2000 years before The Colonies were at the start of the series.
      • And the finale has Head!Six and Head!Baltar saying a slightly different version: "All of this has happened before... but does all of it have to happen again?" Possibly in reaction to modern-day humanity progressing the same way their ancestors did.
      • The Plan has "Love outlasts Death": spoken by the Cylon Hybrids before destroying the Colonies, and written on the suicide note of the Simon who killed himself rather than harm his human family. Also, Sam's Shut UP, Hannibal paraphrase of the concept turns out to be the Epiphany Therapy that separates the Caprican Cavil from the one on Galactica.
    • "Nothing but the rain", on the other hand, is not Arc Words, just an inside joke between Adama and Starbuck.
  • Millennium season two: "This is who we are."
  • The 1967 series "Coronet Blue" depicted an amnesiac who couldn't remember anything about himself or his past except for the cryptic phrase "Coronet Blue". The series was cancelled before he could find out who he was, where he came from or what "Coronet Blue" meant.
  • The Prisoner had a creepy set of Arc Words: every time someone would say goodbye to anyone in the Village, they would form a circle over their right eye with a thumb and forefinger, tip it forward in a salute, and say "Be seeing you."
    • More Arc Words: POP, which either stood for Protect Other People, or the song "Pop Goes the Weasel," and the penny farthing bicycle that was the Village's logo. What's more, none of these were ever explained.
  • The Pretender contained a nursery rhyme sung by Young Jarod at the very beginning of the show, which continued to appear throughout the remainder of the show, and was even sung by characters other than Jarod. Its significance was never explained.
  • Threshold has a fractal triskelion pattern that appears throughout the series. Though it is explained in the first episode as a representation of a triple helix, and the characters consider its mere presence to be evidence of an infectee, its true nature is never explained.
  • Babylon 5 had a question associated with each of the two most prominent races of First Ones in the show: "Who are you?" commonly asked by the Vorlons, and "What do you want?" from the Shadows. (When Sheridan asks Kosh "What do you want?" in an early episode, not realizing its significance, the Vorlon angrily tells him, "Never ask that question!") During his Near-Death Experience he meets Lorien (the First One) who has his own questions: "Why are you here?" and "Do you have anything Worth Living For?". In "Into the Fire," the younger races throwing off the yoke of the First Ones is emphasized when Sheridan turns their questions around on them: "Who are you?" he asks the Vorlons; "What do you want?" he puts to the Shadows; they are unable to answer. And in the final episode, Sheridan meets Lorien once again, who rhetorically asks him, "Who are you? What do you want? Why are you here? Where are you going?"
    • Which are, altogether, a slight recasting of the key questions from Alfred Bester's (no, the writer) The Stars My Destination: "Who are you?" "Where are you from?" "Where do you live?" and "Where are you going?"
    • Babylon 5 also referenced the arc words from The Prisoner; when the more sinister members of the Psi Corps say goodbye they do the same salute, complete with "be seeing you".
    • "After a fashion."
    • "There's a hole in your mind"
    • "Crysalis" in Season 1.
    • "And so it begins."
    • "Hello old friend"
  • The Sarah Connor Chronicles gets one in late season two: Will You Join Us?
  • Carnivale: "Every prophet in his/her house."
  • The Dollhouse series loves the word "broken" when applied to the dolls. Among other lines it appears in, Echo insists that she is not broken. Whether or not she's right remains to be seen.
    • That whole "Did I fall asleep" conversation seems to apply.
    • "I want to be my best", anyone?
  • Fringe has "The Pattern" and "ZFT" which (in German, "Zerstörung durch Fortschritte der Technologie") stands for "Destruction Through the Advancement of Technology."
    • They seemed to have moved onto "First People," after the ominous phrase cropped up as an Easter Egg late in Season 2's opening credits.
  • "Someone's at the door" from American Gothic.
  • Jeeves and Wooster gets a couple, used to blackmail Spode, although they're more like Episode Words: "Eulalie" in the first couple episodes of season 2, and "Celia" in the series finale.
  • Taken has a couple, reinforcing that ideas will get passed down form generation to generation. The Clark family has one phrase about Love, the Crawfords have one that revolves around fear, and the aliens have one that's just plain threatening.

Crawford: All your memories play at once. All your memories and all your fears.
Clark: I love you. Every day and twice on Sundays.
Alien/Half Alien: Look at me. IMMINENT Mind Rape

  • Warehouse 13: Knock Knock.
  • Kamen Rider Den-O had "The past should give us hope."
  • Kamen Rider Decade has "Destroy everything. Connect everything" and "Decade, the Destroyer of Worlds".
  • Vintergatan had "...And remember, anything can happen in space." Plain enough on paper, but it always sounded like foreshadowing.
  • Star Trek: Deep Space Nine season 2 keeps mentioning "The Dominion" until in the season finale "The Jem'Hadar" they're finally revealed as an Evil Empire (kind of an anti-Federation) of fanatical religious zealots who clone and genetically enhance/imprint with loyalty their diplomats and soldiers and see all the regular Star Trek powers (federation, Romulan Empire, Klingon Empire etc) as threats that must be absorbed or destroyed. Their "Gods" are really just shapeshifting aliens and most of the regular empires recognize this.
  • Bored to Death: "I believe I can help people."
  • John May lives. It's even used as a password... on Anna's ship. You'd think checking to see if that phrase was in any of the files in the ship's computer would have been the first thing they tried when they were looking for the Fifth Column...
  • In Stargate SG-1, a saying that pops up a lot of the times Ascension is discussed goes, "If you immediately know the candlelight is fire, the meal was cooked a long time ago." None of the Ascended Ancients ever elaborates on what that means, and by the end of the series none of the main cast get it either. It turns into something of a Running Gag.
  • The Wire: Several, but most memorably, "All in the game".
  • True Blood: Various supernatural creatures narmfully ask Sookie "What are you?" Turns out she is a fairy.
  • Gossip Girl: "Three words, eight letters. Say it and I'm yours."
  • "What's next?" from The West Wing, a phrase that may have originated with President Bartlet himself.
  • Dexter: "Tonight's the night."
  • Dark Oracle: "What just happened here?" Everyone asks it at some point.
  • Chuck: "Don't freak out."
    • "Chuck vs. The Beefcake" had "Everyone talks".
  • Game of Thrones inherits "Winter is coming" and all the other Arc Words mentioned for A Song of Ice and Fire listed under the Literature tab above.
  • Darmok and Jalad at Tenagra.
  • The River: "There's magic out there." And there is.
  • Person of Interest has two:
    • Various permutations of Reese's comment to Jessica in "Mission Creep": "In the end, we're all alone and no one is coming to save you."...
    • ...and of its counterpoint: "You have to trust somebody."


Music[edit | hide]

  • The Mega Man rock opera from the self-titled CD by The Protomen has two: "Hope rides alone" and "we are the dead". Both get darker meanings by the end.
    • And in the prequel, The Father of Death, the arc words are "Don't turn your back on the City."
    • Emily... A crowd has gathered here...
  • American Idiot, by Green Day, has 'Jesus of Suburbia', 'St Jimmy' (or just 'Jimmy') and 'Whatsername', the three (possibly two) main characters of the story who are name-dropped through most of the album.
  • Danger Days:The True Lives of the Fabulous Killjoys, by My Chemical Romance, had the phrase "the lights go out" repeated contuniously through the album, as well as "summertime" and "kill the party". It has not been connfirmed as to what these phrases mean.
  • The Who: "See Me . . . Feel Me . . . Touch Me . . . Heal Me . . ."
  • Nine Inch Nails: "Nothing can stop me now / Broken (machine)."
  • "Dragonforce" : Steel, Fire, Flames, Soul/Spirit/Heart, and the phrase So Far Away
  • Dream Theater's Metropolis Pt. 2: Scenes from a Memory has "open your eyes". Initially, it's a reassurance from the Hypnotherapist that Nicholas can end his regression therapy at any time. He later repeats it to end the session. Nicholas never learns, but the audience does, that these were Edward's last words to Victoria before killing her, and also what the Hypnotherapist says before killing Nicholas, thus completing the circle.
  • On Metallica's "Black Album", the word "you" and its variants appear a lot.
  • The Paper Chase's Now You Are One Of Us features "It's out there, and it's going to get you" numerous times (it's even the last line of the last song).
  • Christian Hard Rock band Resurrection Band's final album has two sets of arc words. "It is my right, I am free" and "I'm satisfied, here I'm alive". fitting because its a Concept Album
  • Vocaloid producer Mothy loves to link some of the songs in his "Evillious Chronicles" with the mysterious mini song, "Lu, Li, La". It's almost always sung by characters played by Rin and Len, except one instance where it was sung by Hatsune Miku and another time by Megurine Luka. It appears to link the "Clockwork Lullaby" series but appears in other songs, furthering the confusion. It actually has yet to be explained, but most likely will be at the end.
    • Additionally, there is "If we could be reborn..." (exclusive to the Story of Evil) and "Utopia".
      • And "A lonely man on the brink of death built a small theater in the forest". Mothy really likes this trope!
  • Frank Zappa; Joe's Garage: "The white zone is for loading and unloading only, if you gotta load or unload, go to the white zone."
  • On The Wall, by Pink Floyd, a number of arc words are repeated through and through. Among the many are "oh, baby", in a melancholic voice, "mother/mom", and one of the most famous, "bricks/brick in the wall".
  • Variations of "What did I do to deserve...?" appear on all albums of Coheed and Cambria.
    • The phrases "One last kiss" and "Believer" surface in multiple songs in Good Apollo Vol. 1.
  • Sound Horizon's Märchen wrings more meaning out of "イド" (which is pronounced "ido" and can mean well or the Freudian id, among other things) than should be possible - so much meaning, in fact, that a character can waltz in and deliver two entirely non-sequitur lines, and somehow tie the entire backstory together[5] simply because he is an impulsive sailor named Idolfried.
  • A slip of paper bearing the words "to whom it may concern" appeared in several Iamamiwhoami videos, and on the album art for each of their singles relating to the "bounty" arc. Their song "u-1" contains the phrase in Spanish, "A quien le corresponda," in its lyrics.


Professional Wrestling[edit | hide]

  • The run-up to Chris Jericho's return to WWE in 2007 had the commentators and the wrestlers on-screen puzzling over mysterious interruptions to WWE's programs that prominently featured the phrases SAVE_US.222, SAVE_US.X29, and 8.2.11/SAVIOR_SELF. Most of the puzzlement happened on-screen; the fans largely figured it out fairly quickly (though there were a few alternate theories that stuck around until The Reveal, chief among them a new Hart Foundation stable led by Bret Hart's nephew Teddy), which reportedly drove the WWE's creative team nuts.


Radio[edit | hide]

Zagreus sits inside your head, Zagreus lives among the dead, Zagreus sees you in your bed and eats you when you're sleeping.


Tabletop Games[edit | hide]


Theater[edit | hide]

Gogo: Let's go.
Didi: We can't.
Gogo: Why not?
Didi: We're waiting for Godot.

    • Or:

Gogo: Let's go.
Didi: Yes, let's go.
They do not move.

  • Wicked:
    • Replete with them. "I'm/We're/You're unlimited" stands out. "You deserve each other" is also used quite frequently. Also, "a celebration throughout Oz / That's all to do with (me/you)".
    • The words "wicked" and "good" themselves.
  • Julius Caesar: "Beware the Ides of March..." ( guess what happens to Caesar on that very same day...)


Video Games[edit | hide]

  • BioShock (series): Everything you're asked to do to continue the game is prefaced with "Would You Kindly". While at first it seems like Atlas is just being polite, he later reveals that not only is he not who he claims to be, "Would You Kindly" is in fact a genetically coded key phrase that compels you to unquestioningly obey the "suggestion." This is a particularly cunning reveal since up until this point, chances are good you have (dun dun duuunnnn!) followed Atlas' advice without wondering where all this might be coming from.
  • Metal Gear Solid: "Who are the Patriots?"/"La-Li-Lu-Le-Lo". The first time you hear it, it just sounds silly, then you find out why people say that. Its origin is comparatively mundane, as they're just used for the challenge-response ally confirmation procedure.
  • Chzo Mythos: "it hurts", the final entry, in its entirety, in a diary belonging to one of the game's murder victims. It's never explicitly mentioned precisely how, but it's implied that John Defoe was born twisted or deformed, and was locked up and eventually beaten to death by his own father.
    • The tie-in story, The Expedition, explains that these words are the only/last thing that is going through the mind of Chzo and his servants's victims.
  • Dirge of Cerberus: Final Fantasy VII: "I'm so sorry."
  • Final Fantasy VIII's are more subtle, as "Fithos Lusec Wecos Vinosec," which can be heard in various musical pieces from the opening FMV to the absolute final battle, are a fake-Latin anagram of the game's two intertwining themes: "Love" and the "Succession of Witches".
  • "This is my story." from Final Fantasy X. Frequently by Auron to Tidus and Yuna as "This is your story."
    • Referenced by Auron in Kingdom Hearts II, only referring to himself this time around, when defying Hades's control.
  • Final Fantasy XI: An ancient song, prophecy, and/or history, the "Memoria de la S^tona" is critical to the first three story arcs, most of the various Home Nation story arcs, and is likely a part of the as-yet unfinished storyline to "Wings of the Goddess". The first verse is the spoken-word intro to the first cutscene in the game. After completing the first storyline, the "true" meaning of the first verse is revealed: upon beginning the second, it is immediately and forcefully reinterpreted. Throughout the Chains of Promathia storyline, many major NPCs are in possession of one verse, which they have usually misinterpreted In Bahamut's case, so badly that he wishes to destroy all sentient life on the planet; in Tenzen's, he merely wishes to kill the player.
  • While not recurring, the very first spoken lines in Final Fantasy XIII ("The thirteen days after we awoke were the beginning of the end") definitely qualify for the "meaning unveiled slowly as the story progresses" part. That includes questions like who is the speaker, in which sense did she awake, why did she awake, whom does she mean with "we", why is it "thirteen" days, what end is she referring to, why is it the beginning, etc..
  • "What can change the nature of a man?" from Planescape: Torment. Also an Armor-Piercing Question.
    • Also "torment" itself, along with the symbol that represents it that looks like an oddly bent shuriken.
  • The original Baldur's Gate had Gorion's spirit appearing to you in dreams at the end of every chapter and always telling you "You will learn..." before you wake up and discover a new entry in your special ability list. Presumably, he meant learning about your Bhaal heritage by that.
    • That wasn't Gorion's spirit talking, it was your Bhaal heritage. The learning presumably referred to learning to obey your "nature" in said heritage, which you never acquiesce to -- whether you got the good or the evil dreams.
  • According to the Word of God, the title 358/2 Days won't make sense to players until the game's end.
    • The concept trailer "Another Side, Another Story [deep dive]" from Kingdom Hearts Final Mix is entirely composed of Arc Words. The thing is filled with quotes and random concepts that are subtly included in Kingdom Hearts II (non-existent ones and "You are the source of all Heartless," anyone?), excepting the final quote ("We'll go together"), that itself being a line from early in the first game, changed to a different line in the English version before the translators had a chance to cotton on to its Arc Words status. It can make chills run up and down the savvy fan's spine.
  • Urban Chaos: Riot Response has one. While not a sentence, or a phrase the Company, Shift It appears everywhere! If you look for it. The reason it's so important is that Shift it are actually the Burners. The CEO is the leader of the gang, and forceably brainwashed all of his employes into the animals that are the burners.
  • Killer7 has the phrases "Don't gain the world and lose your soul," "How soon is now," and "666" scrawled in various places.
    • "How Soon is Now" is the name of a song. While it's been covered many times, the original version was by a band called the Smiths. (As it happens, all the courier memos are also named after songs by the Smiths.) While the other two may qualify as Arc Words, this one's probably more of a Shout-Out.
    • Suda 51's next game, No More Heroes, repeatedly had various female characters, especially Sylvia, instruct Travis to "Head for the Garden of Madness!"
    • There's also the advent of the disappearance of smiles that runs throughout the game, before and after missions (with cheerful phrases such as "The day he stops smiling is the day we remember his smile".)
    • "In the name of Harman..."
  • The World Ends With You: "To right the countless wrongs of our day, we shine this light of true redemption, that this place may become as paradise. What a wonderful world such would be..."
  • Limbo of the Lost has two: "Forget reality, surrender to your darkest dreams" and "Join us, join us now!" The latter is repeated by a disembodied voice throughout the game who is trying to be creepy but ending up annoying.
  • Any variation on "seven years ago" in Apollo Justice: Ace Attorney.
    • Lampshaded in game: "Seven years"... That phrase sure likes to pop up, doesn't it...
    • Likewise, DL-6 or "fifteen years ago" in the original, or any mention of Edgeworth in Justice for All.
    • SL-9 takes this role in the first game's DS bonus case, Rise from the Ashes.
    • "The only time a lawyer can cry is when it's all over" from the third game.
  • Adventure Quest's arc numbers, 755, appeared more so on the forum and on various websites by the game's staff, rather than in game, and several arc phrases were never seen in game.
  • Max Payne features a number of instances of the phrase "the flesh of fallen angels." Those are just utterances from addled junkies and it doesn't really mean anything, just that Valkyr users are off their rocks. Something with more sense is Vlad's "[insert name here], dearest of all my friends." which he says to a lot of people, not just Max, and it usually means that he intends to kill them later.
  • The Command & Conquer: Tiberium series has the "Ascension" that Kane promises his followers. In the end... he wasn't lying.
  • In Dead Space, you'll hear "Make us whole again," first from a transmission from Nicole. As the game goes on, it gets creepier, as transmissions come from broken computers saying it over and over, then you'll hear it from Doctor Kyne and from Nicole herself. It's all from the Marker.
    • "Make us whole again" and the four steps ("Step 1: Into the dark machine. Step 2: The screws go tight, all around. Step 3: Cross my heart and hope to die. Stick a needle in my eye. Step 4: She'll be waiting.") take turns following you around in Dead Space 2, although the first one is the only one that goes through the entire thing. The second starts in the latter half and keeps up with you until you find out what it means.
  • Saints Row has "The Pyramid", and to a lesser extent, the Ultor Corporation.
    • The Ultor Corporation is also a shout out to the first Red Faction game.
    • In the sequel it turns from a shout out to a full blown origin story.
  • Persona 3: Arguably, "Memento Mori" as well and its translations, "remember that you are mortal," "remember that you will die," and "remember your death." It's only ever really seen in the opening video, but this is the video that plays every time you power on the system. The main character dies.
  • Persona 4: "I am a Shadow... the true self" and "You're not me!"
  • Tales of the Abyss REPLICA!!!!!.
  • The Fallout series as a whole has "War. War never changes."
  • In Anachronox, the words "Eddie knows" is grafittied all over the area, and a lot of NPCs talk about this "Eddie". However, once you meet Eddie (fairly early in the game) and gets his aid, he's removed from the plot.
  • Although it is only said twice, "No king rules forever" serve as Arc Words for the entirety of World of Warcraft: Wrath of the Lich king. The two times it is said happen to be when fighting the games two most powerful/main villains, Yogg-Saron and Arthas. Yogg is referring to Arthas and it is the last thing Arthas's father's ghost says to his son before he dies. This quote not only summarizes the fall of the Lich King but many of the other events that occurred during the expansion and things that will happen shortly after such as: 2 kings (Yirmon and Anub'Arak) die, Malygos, the dragon aspect of magic/leader of the Blue Dragonflight, was killed, the Alliance found a new leader in King Varian, Bolvar Fordragon (the guy who was ruling Stormwind while Varian was doing stuff) was presumed to be dead after the Wrathgate fiasco but is found alive (sort of, maybe) but has to become the next Lich King in order to prevent the Scourge from going crazy[er] and killing EVERYTHING. In addition, the quote can be viewed as Foreshadowing of things to come in the pre-Cataclysm event and the expansion itself: The Gnomes and Darkspear Trolls taking back their respective homelands after being in exile for years, Warchief Thrall being replaced by Garrosh Hellscream, as well as many other changes in leadership on Azeroth.
  • From Mega Man ZX: the "Game of Destiny."
  • Half Life has "Unforeseen consequences" show up when nobody expected it.
    • "Free Man" and many variations of it also appears very often. The protagonist's name is Freeman, and he is known in Half-Life 2 as "The One Free Man", since he was never subjugated by The Combine. Irony kicks in when you realize that he's not at all free.
    • The Half-Life Modification Afraid of Monsters has two words: FORGIVE ME. The main character is a drug addict, who is on an overdose throughout the whole game. Does he survive his sins? No and yes, depending on the ending.
  • Though you're given much more information about it, and it is much more direct than in most cases, "fourteen years ago" arguably counts in Xenosaga. It's eventually revealed that it was when Shion summoned the Gnosis.
  • You know your main mission throughout STALKER is to "Kill Strelok." Unfortunately, those words are the only thing that you know, due to a case of Easy Amnesia.
  • "The Wheel Of Fate Is Turning" is just a cool throwaway phrase to start your Blaz Blue fights with, right? Not quite. It's actually hinting at the Groundhog Day Loop that's been put in place, and the events that continue to cause the loop to endlessly repeat.
    • The "Rebel 1: Action!" that follows it also has meaning.
  • Dreamfall: "Find her. Save her." It actually refers to April Ryan, the heroine of the original game, The Longest Journey, who Zoe does eventually meet. Why she needed to be found, however, remains unclear.
  • Remember the Citadel and Resist written in blood on walls in System Shock 2.
  • "Nothing is true, everything is permitted." Al-Mualim and Altair discuss it in the first Assassin's Creed, but what it means is better explained to the player in the sequel after Ezio meets Niccolo Machiavelli.
  • Sands of Destruction: "Acta est fabula."
  • The Earthbound/Mother trilogy: "No Crying Until The End."
  • Masks pop up quite a lot, in conversation and on various characters, in Neverwinter Nights 2 Mask of the Betrayer.
  • Portal: The cake is a lie...
  • In conversations with the Qunari over the course of Dragon Age 2 the 'certainty' of the Qun is contrasted with the chaos of free will, foreshadowing the primary conflict of the second chapter.
  • Bayonetta: "The Left Eye, our treasured Left Eye, will never fall into the hands of another!"
    • "May Jubileus, the Creator, grace you!"
  • Sonic the Hedgehog 2006 has "Don't cry, no matter what happens" and "Smile!"
    • Shadow the Hedgehog has the phrase "This is who I am!" or some variation of it so consistently that it is featured in every single ending, several cutscenes, and the game's theme song.
  • In Wing Commander IV: The Price Of Freedom, the arc words are conspicuous only because they're also a Title Drop: "The price is freedom is eternal vigilance." The phrase becomes key to understanding the motivations of several characters, and in true science fiction fashion, invites the player to decide if those actions are justified.
  • Deadly Premonition: "At times we must purge things from this world because they should not exist, even if it means losing someone that you love."
  • Cave Story has a number of examples of this trope. The frequently recurring character Cthullu often says lines such as "You're a soldier from the surface, aren't you? Hasn't the war ended yet?" or "Where's your blonde pal? Oh well. Better keep running around til the batteries run out." As you slowly discover the backstory and eventually discover that the game takes place on a floating island and you are a robot programmed to come, with Curly, to kill the Mimiga to prevent their enslavement, when you lost your memory battling the Doctor. The war is talked about, something on the surface, but is never elaborated on.
    • Another example is the red flowers. They are mentioned often in the opening sections of the game but the player never really understands the significance until they see the power firsthand during the battle with rabid Toroko.
  • In Chapter 1 of Tales of Monkey Island:

Guybrush: Listen. See this ring? It means that Elaine and I are married. Hitched. Cohabitating. Eternally betrothed. Till death do us part. Got it!?
LeChuck: Till death do you part, eh? We'll have to do something about that.

    • And in Chapter 5:

Guybrush: I've told you a million times, LeChuck, I'm already married to--
LeChuck: "Till DEATH do you part," Threepwood! And that part has already been taken care of!

  • Gathered through three chapters of Rule of Rose: Everlasting / True Love / I Am Yours.
  • Ghost Trick: "And it's almost Dawn."
  • Knights of the Old Republic 2 has many characters using the word 'echo' to describe events or feelings without entirely knowing why, except for Kreia, who uses the word repeatedly while knowing exactly what she's talking about. The significance is gradually explained throughout the game.
  • At the beginning of Mortal Kombat 9, just before being killed by Shao Kahn during Armageddon, Raiden sends a message to his past self: "He must win". One of the main driving forces of the story focuses around the heroes trying to prevent Armageddon, slowly figuring out what exactly the prophecy means. And it's not until after countless mistakes, as well as the forces of Outworld having conquered Earthrealm and slaughtered most of the heroes, that Raiden, finding a technicality in the rules, suddenly realizes who "he" refers to: Shao Kahn himself.
    • Also, expect to hear "family and clan" when there's anything concerning Scorpion or/and Sub-Zero.
  • "Scope" in The Reconstruction. Fitting, since it's the game's Central Theme.
  • Alice: Madness Returns has "What have you done?". Oddly enough the answer seems to be nothing.
  • The first game of Digital Devil Saga has the following sentence: "I am Colonel Beck." That sentence explains what's wrong with the world they're living in.
  • Driver San Francisco has the seemingly innocent phrase "eyes on the city" that Tanner keeps hearing people say to him, sometimes more directly than others. It's the name of the news program that Tanner keeps hearing from the TV in his hospital room while in a coma.


Visual Novels[edit | hide]

  • Higurashi no Naku Koro ni has "I'm sorry" and "USO DA!" ("THAT'S A LIE!"), both quite common phrases in themselves, but both clear indicators that things are about to get worse.
    • Umineko no Naku Koro ni: "Without love, it cannot be seen." or "Without love, the truth cannot be seen." Also appears in different variations in both anime and game openings.
  • G Senjou no Maou has "Oh come, lovely child! Oh come thou with me! For many a game will I play there with thee!", from The Erl King by Goethe.
  • In Shikkoku no Sharnoth several phrases and questions are repeated, including the most common 'Have you given up yet?' and 'And thus I deny tomorrow.'
  • Ever 17: "This story is not an end yet. Because only you are in the infinity loop."
  • Fate/stay night: "I ask of you: Are you my master?"


Web Animation[edit | hide]

  • Broken Saints has a great many, most notably "What would you give to know the truth?" "This was not meant for me!" the LEAR/SPEC/SILO anagram, and anything printed on the Vagrant's board.
  • Several Strong Bad Emails in a row in Homestar Runner featured the words "DNA evidence," which later turned out to lead to a cartoon of the same name, where the seemingly out-of-context utterances were explained. (The last email to feature these words only did this in an Easter Egg, which involved Homestar wearily saying these words after a long silence, as if he was obliged to continue the gag.)
  • Ever wonder why we're here?
    • It's one of life's great mysteries, isn't it?
    • "Memory is the key," from Reconstruction onwards.


Web Comics[edit | hide]

  • Parodied in the Stick Figure Comic Stickman and Cube: For about nine strips, every comic contains the word "potato salad" somewhere. When the characters call the author on it, he admits that the words were foreshadowing something: they were foreshadowing their own exposition, and meant absolutely nothing.
  • "Nothing Dead Here" in the "Kesandru's Well" arc of Sluggy Freelance.
    • And "Nosce Te Ipsum" (Latin for "Know Thyself") throughout all the Oasis storylines.
    • Every storyline has its own, and there are several that span multiple storylines.
  • Irregular Webcomic: The cat and rat who've started chasing each other through all the time-travel settings might count as an arc image. As it turns out, it was setting up a Brick Joke referencing a classic Guide Dang It moment from a Sierra adventure game.
    • Shortly before several simultaneous disasters caused the universe to end and restart, multiple characters proclaimed "I've got a bad feeling about this."
    • In 2010, the phrase "Greatness is often linked with insanity" keeps popping up.
  • Darken: The Worm Lord is Rising!
  • The robots in Gunnerkrigg Court seem to respond to every mention of a woman by the name of Jeanne with "She died and we did nothing." This was cleared up much later when it was revealed that she was used as a sacrifice in order to "fortify the Annan Waters." Diego (the robots' creator)'s final words on his deathbed were along those lines:

"She was...all alone. Waiting...when she died. And I did nothing."

    • Ironically it wasn't even her who they killed. It was the forest-dweller (the "traitor") who she'd fallen madly in love with. She simply remained there, slowly turning into a murderous ghost.
      • Yeah, but that makes it all rather worse. The narration implies that the magic rooted her to the spot and she stood there, unable to move. Diego went about his life in the castle for days as she starved to death.
  • Homestuck has a lot of words and phrases that repeat regularly, most of which are simply Running Gags, but any time the word "ascend" or some variation on it appears, you know what's going on is both important and probably awesome. "Mobius Double Reacharound" and "Make her pay" also qualify as minor examples.
    • "He is already here."
    • "Put the bunny back in the box!"
    • "The Ultimate Riddle" shows up quite a bit as well.
    • Throughout the fifth act, the word "scratch" has been showing up quite a bit.
    • "Luck doesn't actually matter." is another minor example, as it is central to Vriska and Terezi's arc in Act 5 Act 2.
    • "Years in the future....but not many."
  • "Beware the night of the five lights." in Ls Empire. The authors flat out state so in the Alt Text.
  • This is all happening for a reason, along with slightly different phrasings in the Nuzlocke comic strip.


Web Original[edit | hide]

  • Ilivais X: "Why do you fight? Why do you exist?" More prevalent but not as unanswered is "Where are we going?"
  • Marvel/DC has "Plan Q blows."
  • Atop the Fourth Wall had this for its major villains: "He's coming for you!" for Mechakara, "All he sees, he conquers" for Lord Vyce, and "A piece of the world is missing" for The Entity/Missing No.
  • You ever wonder why we're here?
    • "Reconstruction" had "Memory is the key", which was lampshaded a season later by Caboose.

Caboose: I thought we were done with that part.

  • Marble Hornets has "The Ark", the importance of which still remains unknown.

From the start, this was a game for us. Not anymore. I'm coming for you. And you will lead me... to the ark.

The good doctor is not so lucky as to be dead, just dealing with some old habits.


Western Animation[edit | hide]

  • In Xavier: Renegade Angel, "Taste The Pain" seems to be this, or it could just be a strange sort of Running Gag. It seems to be spoken at least Once Per Episode
    • The phrase is usually "Take that! Taste the pain!"
  • One episode of Home Movies reveals that Brendan ends each of his movies with the same line -- "It's time to pay the price." He doesn't even realize this until Paula points it out.
  • Numerous in Twelve Ounce Mouse, including "aspirind," "Meat Wars," and "CJ Muff."
  • "Acme" stands in for "Rosebud" in the Tiny Toon Adventures episode that parodies Citizen Kane. Subverted when it turns out Montana Max actually said "acne".
  • In the Jerry Reed episode of The New Scooby Doo Movies, the word "FEBAG" is seen written on walls in a haunted house several times, causing Shaggy and Scooby to freak out when they see or hear it. At the end, Velma plays the notes F-E-B-A-G on a xylophone and reveals a cache of stolen money.


Real Life[edit | hide]

Notes

  1. Read "proper"
  2. As Gordon Rosewater puts it, "These tomatoes are reproduced synthetically, with only the memories of the sweet flavor from the original. If we keep repeating the process, this fruit will eventually become the real thing."
  3. used particularly in the titles running concurrent to the actual maxiseries, codifying the Red Skies Crossover.
  4. Worthy of notice is that the Big Bad is William's father, and the aforementioned saying was a favourite of his. William never got along very well with his father, and hearing the saying spoken by one of his accomplices clues him into the fact that lord de Worde was involved.
  5. Well, probably
  6. The exact numbers are hard to pin down due to such information being private, and an increase in said 1% using undisclosed off-shore accounts for tax evasion.