Ice Cream Koan

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If you have ice cream, I will give it to you.
If you have no ice cream, I will take it away.
This is an ice cream koan.

Any sufficiently advanced riddle is indistinguishable from gibberish.

Something that looks like a Koan, walks like a koan, quacks like a koan, but lacks... substance. It sounds meaningful at first, but after you think a moment, instead of getting some rush of insight, you realize that it is nothing more than nonsense, or just a joke dressed up in profundity's hand-me-downs.

Usually done for comedy value, but all too often a result of genuine pretensions on the part of the writers. Of course, some would argue that all koans are Ice Cream Koans, but then again others would argue that all Ice Cream Koans are genuine Koans. It's most likely a difference in intent (and/or pretension) that distinguishes the two.

If done savvily enough, is indeed a form of Truth in Television -- the point of a Zen koan (literally "Public Case", a story), is to show that contradiction is actually a delusion, and help the student let go of the mental habit of arranging things into dichotomies (because both extremes, despite their apparent contradiction, are actually one thing).

Taken to the extreme (and stretched out), this becomes a full-fledged Word Salad Philosophy. If used as part of The Summation, can venture into Fauxlosophic Narration.

The Trope Namer is the Hacker's Jargon File.

Compare Mistaken for Profound, Seemingly-Profound Fool, When Is Purple?. Compare and contrast Shaggy Frog Story. Related to True Art Is Incomprehensible. Has nothing to do with actual ice cream, a Sailor Moon character or the absolute angel.

Examples of Ice Cream Koan include:

Advertising[edit | hide | hide all]

  • "Chocolate Coated Truth Tastes Better" from the wrapper of a chocolate candy.


Anime[edit | hide]

  • Gen from Aquarion does these a lot.
  • In Gintama episode 1: "Having no money is like having a sinus infection. You just have to ignore it and not pick at it, and it’ll go away."
    • Gintama is chock-full of these, most of them produced by Gintoki.
  • A message in a hot springs resort in Slayers says:

Even in a hurry
Rest your hand calmly
Do not let it slip away
...The slippery mushroom.

    • Zelgadis reads it with a blank on his face.
  • In The Slash: Bloody to Fair, Ronnie responds to Ennis's questions about his apparent omniscience (caused by being, well, literally omniscient) with a rambling existential monologue that seems profound and mysterious at first glance, but was really just to confuse her into dropping the subject.


Comic Books[edit | hide]

"God, with a sword, can make a man a king. But a king, with a sword, can only make a man a knight. A knight, with a sword, can make a man a corpse. So... I kind of forgot where I was going there."

  • The comic "The Warrior" (as reviewed by Noah "Spoony" Antwiler) is practically MADE of these...
  • In one story, Reggie Mantle of Archie Comics fancies himself a martial arts expert and walks around town alternating bogus "moves" with pseudo-profound sayings along the lines of "As the grasshopper drinks of the morning dew, so is adversity pondered in the dungeons of Caliban," and "As broccoli on the dinner plate of life, so is the flower of transgression."
  • In Archie Comics during the '60s and '70s, the writers were faced with the problem of portraying hippies in a way that did not take a stand on any of the day's important issues—they did not support hippies but did not want to alienate readers who did. Hippies were thus depicted as carrying signs with slogans that really meant nothing, such as "Stamp Out Togetherness".
  • Spider-Man Mangaverse has a ton of these in the climatic 'ninja' fight-scene. Most are, upon further reflection, ridiculous.


Film[edit | hide]

  • The increasingly trite sayings given by The Sphinx in Mystery Men. For example: "When you can balance a tack hammer on your head, you will head off your foes with a balanced attack." Mr. Furious later points out to the others that the Sphinx's koans are just rearranging the words in a given question asked him. Nobody else seems to see his point.
    • Lampshaded when Sphinx tries to get Furious to calm down:

Sphinx: If you do not master your rage...
Furious: [cutting him off] Your rage will become your master?
Sphinx: ...
Furious: That's what you were going to say, right?
Sphinx: ...Not necessarily.

    • Though some were effective. When he was with the Blue Rajah, he tells him "Learn to hide your strikes from your opponent, and you will more easily strike his hide", and his aim actually improves.
      • Another effective one is the one he says when everyone begins to doubt their powers: "If you give doubt to your powers, you give power to your doubts!"
    • This is an actual thing—it's called chiasmus. Sometimes it's useful; sometimes it's just a plain-language form of Altum Videtur.
  • Spice World includes this transparently nonsensical saying:

"When the rabbit of chaos is pursued by the ferret of disorder through the fields of anarchy, it is time to hang your pants on the line of darkness. Whether they are clean or not."

Chosen One: What is this Evil Council everyone speaks of?
Mu Shu Fasa: The answer you seek lies in the stars above.
Chosen One: I don't understand.
Mu Shu Fasa: Of course you don't, I'm speaking in riddles. That's kind of the point. Like, a clue that will later make you go "Oh that's what he meant! Stars Above!"

    • and let's not forget this gem spoken by Master Tang as he warns a student not to fight Master Pain:

Master Tang: NO! he will beat you like a small dog. Let your anger be, as a monkey in a pinata, hiding with the candy, hoping the kids don't break through with the stick.

Brother Silence: He who stumbles around in darkness with a stick is blind. But he who... sticks out in darkness... is... fluorescent!
Beat
DM: ...Lose 50 experience.

    • Also:

Brother Silence: Only in hiding one's identity, may one truly be known.

  • In Mafia!, the mafia don offers these words of wisdom at the end of his toast at his son's wedding:

A wise man once told me, "A man is like a piece of cheese." [Long pause. Takes a sip of wine. Sits down.]

  • In In the Loop Simon Foster tells the world's media "To walk the path of peace, we must be prepared to climb the mountain of conflict."
    • Linton Barwick is also fond of coming out with soundbites that sound deep and meaningful but hold little substance. As is his chief asskisser, Chad, who's own feeble attempts at currying favour with his boss by doing this sound even worse. This eventually provokes a fed-up British character to inform him that he sounds like "a crap Jesus."
      • "In the land of truth, my friend, the man with one fact, is the King."
  • Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome. Pig Killer combines Ice Cream Koan and Shout Out when he sagely tells Ironbar "Remember, no matter where you go...there you are." it's a distraction while Master sets up an ambush
  • The Martian ambassador's speech in Mars Attacks! ends with one of these. "...For dark is the suede that mows like a harvest."
  • Raising Arizona: Well, there's what's right, and there's what's right, and never the twain shall meet.
  • In Stranger Than Fiction, the guy from human resources loves these. The lead comments quietly that he thinks he's "an idiot".

"A tree doesn't... think it's a tree? It is a tree!"


Literature[edit | hide]

In the Second Scroll of Wen the Eternally Surprised a story is written concerning one day when the apprentice Clodpool, in a rebellious mood, approached Wen and spake thusly:
"Master, what is the difference between a humanistic, monastic system of belief in which wisdom is sought by means of an apparently nonsensical system of questions and answers, and a lot of mystic gibberish made up on the spur of the moment?"
Wen considered this for some time, and at last said: "A fish!"
And Clodpool went away, satisfied.

    • Lu-Tze's way, the Way of Mrs. Cosmopolite, is entirely composed of mundane, common-sense sayings such as "There is no time like the present". One could argue the normally irreverent Lu-Tze treats these as deeply profound to make a point.
      • This was a Brick Joke from references to other followers of The Way of Mrs. Cosmopolite. It is shown in Thief of Time the reason for that is because 1) Wisdom seems more wise if it's from far away, and 2) the common-sense sayings are coincidentally slightly different from but functionally synonymous to phrases from the Books of Wen the Eternally Surprised (though some vary into Malaproper, such as "there is no time but/like the present").
    • The passwords for the secret society in Guards! Guards! are meaningless phrases that the society thought sounded wise, like "The significant owl hoots in the night" and "Yet verily the rose is within the thorn."
      • This is then repeatedly lampshaded when several secret societies meet in the same street (or the same building at different times) and are so similar that a newcomer only realizes halfway through the password exchange that he's at the wrong door.
    • Also the scene in Mort where Princess Keli consults Cutwell and they decide to try the Discworld equivalent of I Ching. They get no information at all from "at evening the mollusc is silent among the almond blossom," and Cutwell concludes it probably lost something in translation.
    • The great Agatean philosopher Ly Tin Weedle is quoted in Interesting Times as saying "An ass may do the work of an ox in a time of no horses" and ""When many expect a mighty stallion they will find hooves on an ant". The Discworld Companion says that once you get the hang of it you can make these up at a rate of ten a minute.
    • The Ephebian philosopher Didactylos (Small Gods) generally prefers aphorisms such as "You can't trust any bugger further you can throw him, and there's nothing you can do about it, so let's have a drink", but is also responsible for "It's a wise crow that knows which way the camel points".
  • Hark ye unto the wise words of Ford Prefect: "Life is like a grapefruit. It's sort of orangy-yellow and dimpled on the outside, wet and squidgy in the middle. It's got pips inside, too. Oh, and some people have a half a one for breakfast."
    • And don't forget that "Time is an illusion. Lunchtime doubly so."
      • Once you get a job and have lunch breaks, you realize how true that statement is.
    • "What is the answer to the ultimate question of life, the universe and everything?" "Forty-two." This is very significant as, like a koan, the answer of "Forty-Two" isn't really an answer, it just means that you're not asking the right question. You need to reach a higher level of enlightenment to truly understand it.
  • In Discordianism, the "postmodern religion" often referenced by The Illuminatus! Trilogy, the answer to every "deep" question is always "Five tons of flax."
    • The Discordians got this from a real Zen koan, where one of several accepted answers to "What is the Buddha?" is "Three pounds of flax".
    • A large amount of Discordian wisdom looks like an Ice Cream Koan. So do a lot of Discordian jokes. And if you're trying to figure out if a particular Discordian koan is a joke or wisdom, you're doing it wrong.
      • Even if you're doing it right, you're doing it wrong.
      • In fact, Discordians deliberately use Ice Cream Koans to gum up their own and other people's brains. These are referred to in the Principia Discordia as "Mondos".
      • What is the difference between an Iced Cream Koan, a Zen Koan, and a joke? If you need to ask, no answer will satisfy you (fnord).
  • In The Game of Sunken Places by M.T. Anderson, the alien Speculant habitually speaks this way, which one of the boy protagonists treats as a contest: "When the Time of Naming arrives, then shall the unnamed and unnameable be called by its True Name." "I'll bet it has a name, and you just can't remember it, you sly devil." "The Unnameable has no name. Truth cannot be concealed behind Fiction. The Casket of Deliverance has found the Pearl of Wisdom lacking, and the Bone of No Sight shall, in the latter-" "Okay," said Gregory. "You win." The Speculant waited. "Really," said Gregory. "Ten nothing. Your game."
  • The phrases of the Zensunni sect from Dune are said to intended to be Ice Cream Koans, similar to Zen as mentioned above. The difference is that they are intended to get the listener to recognize nonsense and obfuscation, regardless of how logically-constructed and reasonable it may appear.
  • In The Dresden Files novel "Dead Beat", wacky Medical Examiner Butters gets stuck riding in a car Dresden's magic frizzled into repeating obnoxiously, "The door is ajar." When Dresden apologizes, Butters claims it was actually quite peaceful, Zen almost.

Butters: "Time is a River. Life is a Journey. The Door is a Jar."

  • "Let things have been as they have been, nonetheless they've been somehow; so far it has never been that things would be nohow." - Josef Švejk from Jaroslav Hašek's The Fateful Adventures of the Good Soldier Švejk During the World War mentions a man he knew, who said this before court.
  • Quite a few accidental ones pop up in Maradonia and The Seven Bridges by Gloria Tesch. Multiple attempts at profundity fall flat throughout the book.

Maya: Queen Aquamarisha, dreams are the touch stones of our character. [emphasis from the original]

  • An ominous line from Mid-Flinx could be considered a subversion. When Teal informs Aimee that "You do not wear the cristif, the cristif wears you", Aimee assumes the native woman is just invoking some superstitious Ice Cream Koan about the flower in her hair. In truth, Teal means that the flower is literally wearing Aimee, as it's an invasive parasite that's covertly driven its tendrils into Aimee's body and is consuming her from within.
  • In the Orson Scott Card novel Children of the Mind, Peter and Wang-Mu travel to the planet Divine Wind, settled by the Japanese. As Peter explains to Wang-Mu, there are two kinds of philosophers: analytical and gnomic. The former require one to be highly-educated, while the latter just require you to speak in Ice Cream Koans and have a traveling companion try to interpret that given the context. Wang-Mu tries to pretend to be a gnomic philosopher, but quickly drops it, as she is far too logical for this.
  • In the words of Bilbo: "I don't know half of you half as well as I should like, and I like less than half of you half as well as you deserve." Which makes half as much sense as half a hole in the ground.
    • Not intended as a koan: Bilbo was just bad at making speeches.
    • It actually makes perfect sense. He would like to know half of them better, and he thinks highly of less than half of them, because they deserve to be liked even more than he likes them.
    • Also lampshaded when the narration mentions the hobbits standing around trying to work out if they had been insulted.


Live Action TV[edit | hide]

Partner: Well, anyway, we solved the case. I guess that's what really matters.
Frank: Well.. did we solve the case? Or.. did the case solve us?

  • Stargate SG-1 had a koan-speaking monk who spoke mostly in koans that made sense with respect to the situation, except "If you immediately know the candlelight is fire, then the meal was cooked a long time ago."

"Oma": You control the barrier between your consciousness and what you seek. You merely need to open your mind. The truth is, all knowledge, everything that is and was and will be, is everywhere ? out there, and in all of us.
Daniel: If you immediately know the candlelight is fire, then the meal was cooked a long time ago.
"Oma": Yes.
Daniel: No. You're trying to understand it, aren't you?
"Oma": It means what you want it to mean.
Daniel: No it doesn't. And you're not Oma.
("Oma" morphs into Replicarter)
Replicarter: No, I'm not, but it doesn't matter. Thanks to you, I found what I was looking for.

    • A perfect example from earlier in the episode (around the time when Daniel begins to cotton on):

"Oma": If you are seeking an absolute truth, you will not find it. Only truth that applies to you.
Daniel: ...That is so extremely unhelpful.

      • O'Neill's reply to the 'candlelight' koan sums it up pretty well: "Though a candle burns in my house, there's nobody home"
      • Arguably, this isn't truly an Ice Cream Koan and is rather just one for which no official meaning has ever been given. It could mean that true understanding must be gained over time and can not be simply given (as Daniel was seeking from the Ancients). One must utilise flame (such as by cooking a meal) before one can truly understand it (and thereby know that candlelight is fire). Using must always predate understanding. Therefore, if you try to force understanding to occur now, you must implicitly force use to occur in the past (in order for you to immediately know the candlelight is fire, the meal must have been cooked a long time ago). That said, it may just be gibberish.
    • There was another episode in which the Harsesis child, Shifu, appears, after having spent several years under Oma's care. He also spoke only in koans.

Shifu: If the instrument is broken, then the music will be sour.
Daniel: The music does not play the musician.
Shifu: Normally, there is truth in that.
Daniel: That's good, because I have no idea what I was talking about.

  • Home Improvement: Tim Taylor was always accidentally inventing these, taking Wilson's wisdom and misquoting it later on in the show as mangled but humorous gibberish. An example: when his faulty memory turns a quote from Mark Twain about several randomly assorted people being put together amounting to "the sum of their fears" when it sounds more to him like the Village People playing poker, into the following advice for his son: "You know Mark Twain? Scared to death of the Village People."
  • Used all the time by protagonist Tendou Souji in Kamen Rider Kabuto, leads to many theories about his grandmother in fandom.
  • G'Kar from Babylon 5 did a few when his his followers failed to grasp his point, just to shut them up:

Follower: What is truth? And what is God?
G'Kar: [long explanation]
Follower: Ah... yes... but, what is truth? And what is God?
G'Kar: [sighs] Truth is... [throws up his hands in exasperation] a river.
Follower: Ah, yes! And what is God?
G'Kar: God is... the mouth of the river.

  • The Mighty Boosh is fond of playing with these. "We all dream... but do we really dream?" and from the radio, "if you look at a pebble, you will see your own face!" is Howard's scornful example of Rudy Monchego's "simple rustic wisdom"
  • A Running Gag on F Troop. Chief Wild Eagle has an old Indian saying for every occasion, though they come across as sheer gibberish. Lampshaded on occasion when he admits he doesn't know what a saying is supposed to mean.
  • An example used by Soupy Sales on his old TV show: "A wet bird does not fly at night."
  • In the Doctor Who episode "The Fires of Pompeii", the Doctor and a soothsayer trade these.

Lucius: A name is but a cloud upon a summer wind!
Doctor: But the wind is felt most keenly in the dark.
Lucius: But what is the dark other than an omen of the sun?

    • It went on like that. So when it turns out he does have the ability to see the future and knows exactly who the Doctor is, it's quite the Oh Crap moment.
    • Notably, the last expression, with which the Doctor "wins" the exchange, is "I concede that every sun must set, yet the son of the father must also rise," which, in addition to being meaningless, also relies on a pun (son/sun) that doesn't work in Latin, the language they were supposedly speaking at the time. It would explain why soothsayer gave up at that point, actually; from his perspective it was random gibberish.
  • One of the skits on Retro Game Master (or the Japanese original anyway) is to have a monk read aloud from a video game strategy guide, which makes the writing sound like prophetic wisdom.
  • Lampshaded on "The Office" - Michael's Last Dundies:

Deangelo: Maybe I just need to look into my heart. Deangelo, where is Michael Scott?
Michael: I am here, in a good way. I've been here the whole time.
Oscar: The analytical part of me wants to examine it. But I know it has no content.


Music[edit | hide]

  • Tom Lehrer: "Life is like a sewer: What you get out of it depends on what you put into it."
    • That makes literal sense, which is more than many Ice Cream Koans can say, but why would anyone take stuff out of a sewer? Except maybe if they worked in sanitation.
      • It's actually even more straight-forward than that. What you 'get out' of sewerage is exactly what you 'put in to' it - quick, painless riddance of bodily waste. Basically, if you use it for its real purpose, it's very useful. If you happen to flush an alligator down there... well...
      • A thief who hid their ill-gotten gain in a sewer would take stuff out of a sewer (and that's almost, but not quite a Metaphorgotten).
      • Back in the Victorian era, in London, there were people who earned a living by scavenging (marginally) valuable objects from the sewers. They were called toshers.
        • That explains a lot about Tosh.0.
  • System of a Down's "Aerials" is also composed of these. "Life is a waterfall/ We drink from the river/ then we turn around and put up our walls"
    • Word of God has said that this song doesn't really mean anything, but that was just a joke. The song has been confirmed to be about how a mentally handicapped child looks at the world by both Shavo and Daron.
  • Brazilian rock band Engenheiros do Hawaii puts no less than 57 of those in each song as a matter of principle.
  • Flight of the Conchords revels in intentionally invoking this trope, particularly in Cello Tape. "Life is like a retractable pencil/If you push on it too hard it's gonna break/People are like paper dolls/Paper dolls and people, they have a similar shape."


Newspapers[edit | hide]

  • The British newspaper columnist Miles Kington would sometimes write a column filled with "Albanian proverbs", which "tend to be poetic and evocative. You sit and think about them for a while, and savour them. Then you realise that they're either meaningless or wrong." They included:
    • Is there anything that an elephant would consider as being big?
    • Does a bridge go over a river? Or does the river go under the bridge? (Yes)
    • Whoever said that it takes two to tango had forgotten about the musicians in the band.
  • The comic strip Dilbert occasionally gave us gems from the Elbonians.

Elbonian A: "The holy scrolls said a dog will fall from the sky. ... Actually, they say 'never shave your duck,' but it's not literal. You have to interpret it."
Elbonian B: "You mean I CAN shave my duck?!"

    • A wise Elbonian once said, "in a race between a turtle and a rock, don't varnish your clams."
  • The Far Side parodied this once with the classic "if a tree falls in a forest" koan:

"If a tree falls in a forest, and it hits a mime, does anybody care?"


Radio[edit | hide]

Two penguins are sitting on an iceberg, when turns to the other and says, "You look like you're wearing a tuxedo." The first penguin says, "What makes you think I'm not?"

"And so, as the hunter of time blasts the moose of eternity, and the dairy counter worker of fate sighs and grabs her mop, I notice it's the end of the show"; and
"And so, as the loose-bowelled pigeon of time swoops low over the unsuspecting tourist of destiny, and the flatulent skunk of fate wanders into the air-conditioning system of eternity, I notice it's the end of the show"

The nearest approach the Guide makes to this matter is on page seven-thousand-and-twenty-three, which includes the words “expect the unexpected.” This advice has annoyed many Hitch-Hikers in that it is ‘A’ - glib, and ‘B’ - a contradiction in terms.


Tabletop RPG[edit | hide]

  • Dungeons & Dragons module Mad Monkey vs. Dragon Claw has the character Mad Monkey with a whole page of sayings of a type called "fortune cookie philosophy". One example is "The goose may fly, the fox may stalk, but only the pig hunts for truffles with his nose."
  • This is the M.O. of the Over the Edge character Koanhead. Of course, when he unloads an Ice Cream Koan, it comes true.


Video Games[edit | hide]

  • In Metal Gear Solid 2, a Running Gag is that Otacon can't understand proverbs. While the proverbs are legit, his rambling explanations of the meanings vary from wildly incorrect to technically correct but with the wrongest possible justification. This is a subversion of Mei Ling's conversations with Snake in the first game, where she would often quote Chinese proverbs and explain them. In fact, if you save your game enough times and hear enough of Otacon's proverbs, Mei Ling actually shows up to deliver a proverb properly and scolds Otacon for it.

Snake: What do pre-ripped jeans have to do with the natural order of things?

Herman: Exactly. Now, what has this experience taught you?
Guybrush: That philosophy isn't worth my time.

Herman: I'm very impressed! It takes most people years to reach this point. You have learned all that you can from me. Go forth into the world with confidence.

  • Xaero from Quake III Arena spoke almost entirely in Ice Cream Koans.
  • The Like Likes in The Legend of Zelda are supposedly named for the fictitious proverb "Shield Eaters and World Leaders have many likes alike."
    • ...Which actually makes sense, when you think about it (shields, after all, are very useful to World Leaders). It still counts as this trope though, as it isn't actually a koan.
    • Or it could just mean that they both are annoying, take your stuff for their own benefit, and are something to avoid rather than fight.
  • Doc Louis is a master of these on a good day.

Doc Louis: "Y'see, a comeback is like a yo-yo. You goin' down, but you're comin' right back up! And then you may end up walkin' the dog."

  • Cernd from Baldur's Gate II verges perilously close to this trope sometimes... and sometimes he dives right in.
  • The creators of Creatures hid this gem on the CD:

"Seagulls cannot lick their own necks. This rarely seems to impede them."

  • The NES game Bad Street Brawler pushed one on you between each stage. The most (in)famous is the one before the first stage:

Never trouble trouble till trouble troubles you!

    • This is actually a subversion. It basically means not to mess with something dangerous unless it decides to mess with you first. Seanbaby pointed out that this doesn't jibe with the point of the game, since putting on a yellow diaper and kicking midgets is just blatantly troubling trouble.
    • It's appeared on fortune cookies, too. Whether it's a case of Ascended Meme or Older Than They Think isn't clear yet.
  • In Grand Theft Auto IV, the spoof Anime Princess Robot Bubblegum Show Within a Show has Master Hentai spouting a string of these to his pupil in a deliberately meandering and nonsensical manner.
  • The Stoic Club in EarthBound, where people stare at a rock and make strange philosophical conversation. To be fair, they're under the influence of some pretty weird cake.
  • In Chrono Trigger, the inhabitants of Zeal seem to like these. For instance, "Am I a butterfly dreaming I am a man, or am I a bowling ball dreaming I am a plate of sashimi?"
    • This one is a parody of a famous parable in the writings of Chinese philosopher Zhuangzi, in which Zhuangzi wakes from a dream of being a butterfly unsure if he is a butterfly dreaming he is a man or a man dreaming he is a butterfly.
  • In Dissidia Final Fantasy, the trade accessories needed to craft each character's Level 100 weapon each come with a line or two relevant to that character. Several try to be profound and somewhat succeed,[1] while others are just nonsensical to the point they're almost meaningless.

"One must make their soul like the wind to continue dreaming. Dreams will come true..."


Web Comics[edit | hide]

  • Subverted in the Furmentation page http://xodin.comicgenesis.com/d/20030813.html.
  • Order of the Stick got one of these. Roy's father returns from the grave to tell him, "When goat turns red strikes true." After a misinterpretation or two, we find out that it actually meant that when Nale (who has a goatee) turns his back on the group, Haley (who has red hair) would roll a natural twenty and be able to shoot him from an otherwise unrealistic distance. It was... different.
  • This is the entire schtick of Cho from No Need for Bushido. To wit [dead link].

Cho: I'm reminded of a wise saying I once heard about nomadic palm trees...
Cho: The loaf of bread that tries to twist its fate is not a loaf at all, but is, in fact, a pretzel.
Cho: ...and the greatest of these it the ostrich. (actually, we only got the end of that one, but considering the look on the inn hostess' face, we can assume it was a doozy)

  • Ozy and Millie occasionally makes Zen jokes using Ice Cream Koans, like showing a Zen map ("Go one place and not another") or a Zen board game ("It's your turn to move by not moving").
    • X-ing by not X-ing is a Running Gag in the comic. It's taken to even higher levels of absurdity when Llewellyn runs for president on the Zen Party ticket, and declares that he's running by not running. Ozy asks him why he's running, and he says he's running because he's not not running, and thus that he's not not running by not not not running.
    • This strip shows Ozy using an Ice Cream Koan to win a game. Maybe.
  • In Arthur, King of Time and Space's space arc, Arthur tells a crewman that in life, "when one door closes, another opens." The crewman later repeats the saying as "Life is an airlock."
  • From Schlock Mercenary:

"If a coffee machine passes a baseball bat in the forest, and the only one to see it is a mime, what does he tell the police?"


Web Original[edit | hide]

  • Several such sayings, in which reference to the phrase "ice cream koan" was coined, originated at MIT in the 1970s and found their way into the Jargon File. One example; "Tom Knight (senior research scientist and computer science god) came upon a student trying to fix a broken computer by turning it on and off repeatedly. Knight said, 'You cannot fix a broken machine by powercycling it with no understanding of what is wrong.' Knight turned the machine off, then turned it on again. It worked. Then the student was enlightened." It helps if you wait five or more seconds. (It also plays on the absurdity that understanding alone is enough to make the exact same behavior work.)
  • There are numerous of these in Dave Chisholm's not-quite-yet finished Let's Go to Utah. You can find it on his DeviantArt page.
  • The Uncyclopedia offers this one:

"Zen makes no sense. Sense, however, does make Zen."

  • Raocow would sometimes say seemingly political or controversial sounding phrases in his Lets Play's that might just actually be meaningful and insightful. But if you think of it for a while, you will realize that it's just a plain Non Sequitur.
  • At random points in a few episodes of Wreckless Media Radio, co-host Bryan Corpolongo lists these. Usually during a discussion of fortune cookie fortunes or motivational speakers. They are frequently bizarre.
  • From Ask a Ninja:

Question: If a ninja kills a man in the forest and there's no one else there, does he make a sound?
Answer: If a ninja does anything, anywhere, he doesn't make a sound. HE'S A NINJA!

  • Zombo.com.

Zombocom is a portal without a door. There is no opening or closing at Zombocom. There is only the passing of seasons. It is another ring in the tree. It is not only the birds but all of life that moves from winter to spring.

  • Bennett the Sage makes several of these during Suburban Knights by switching words around. Example: "To answer the phone, the phone must answer you."
  • Lampshaded in the Hardly Working episode "Airplane:

Amir: You Americans are all the same. You sacrifice so much for your freedom, but was it... how you say... sacrificed for you?
Dan: That sounded poetic, but made no sense!

  • The semi-satirical writing style of controversial video game blogger Tim Rogers frequently involves throwing a lot (a lot) of clever-sounding statements and metaphors at the wall and seeing what sticks. Needless to say, for every legitimate gem of insight he produces, there are often several of these.


Western Animation[edit | hide]

Luminara Unduli: The crystal is the heart of the blade. The heart is the crystal of the Jedi. The Jedi is the crystal of the Force. The Force is the blade of the heart. All are intertwined: the crystal, the blade, the Jedi. You are one.

Huu: Pants are an illusion, and so is death.

Zuko-as-Iroh: Zuko, you have to look within yourself to save yourself from your other self. Only then will your true self reveal itself.

Zuko: Ugh, even when I'm talking for him I can't figure out what he means.

    • Also:

Zuko: Ugh, what would Uncle say?... Sometimes clouds have two sides, a dark and light, and a silver lining in between. It's like a silver sandwich! So when life seems hard, just take a bite out of the silver sandwich.
Sokka: Maybe we haven't failed after all!
Zuko: That's the spirit. I can't believe that worked. I didn't know what I was saying.
Sokka: No, what you said didn't make sense at all.

  • Subverted in The Secret Show. In the episode "The Trousers of Doom", the saying "Is not the cheesecake still a cheesecake after it has been consumed by the ox?" sounds like an Ice Cream Koan, but actually has a meaning—one which ends up saving the day. Trapped in the eponymous Trousers of Doom by Doctor Doctor with no possible escape, the heroes trick Doctor Doctor into sucking the entire universe into the trousers. There's no real difference for anyone concerned between the entire universe being inside a pair of trousers or outside them -- it's the universe either way.
  • In The Simpsons episode "Dead Putting Society" Lisa tries an old koan on him: "What is the sound of one hand clapping?" Bart stares at his hand and then slaps his fingers against his palm. "No, Bart, it's an ancient riddle with no answer," Lisa tells him. "Listen closely, Sis," Bart says, doing it again.
    • Amusingly, this is actually an acceptable response.
  • In Futurama, Fry tries to make a point to Leela, "It's just like the story of the grasshopper and the octopus. All year long, the grasshopper kept burying acorns for winter, while the octopus mooched off his girlfriend and watched TV. But then the winter came, and the grasshopper died, and the octopus ate all his acorns and also he got a racecar. Is any of this getting through to you?"
    • Well, he could be meaning to say that sometimes you have to rely on your friends as opposed to being on your own, but knowing Fry....
  • In Bill Plympton's "The Tune", The Wise One (sometimes know as Gus) speaks entirely in phrases like "Seek not the path to enlightenment, but rather the enlightenment of the path".
    • This actually makes a lot of sense- it can be easily understood as gaining enlightenment through experience.
  • Plucky Duck from Tiny Toon Adventures gave this speech to two alien kids who were trying to defend their planet in the episode "A Quack in the Quarks":

"Never Say Never! Nobody can beat you except you. Let the force be… your umbrella. If you believe you can do it, you can do it! And I know you have what it takes to beat these goons. Now get in there, and get tough. Remember, a stitch in time saves… a lot of embarrassment. You can lead a horse to water you know… but a pencil must be lead."

Dad: Life is too short to worry about eating and making kites from animals. Better to use your time for the schoolwork- only at the school, of course- and maybe someday you will grow up to be the President of the Future! Or you could be snatched up by a gigantic terrible bird and torn limb-from-the-limb on a lonely mountaintop. Do you understand what I'm saying, son?

  • The Tick (animation): Many quotes by The Tick and The Evil Midnight Bomber What Bombs At Midnight (yeah, baby!).

TEMBWBAM: AN OBJECT AT REST, CANNOT BE STOPPED!

Jonny: All day is not needed, when only a moment will suffice.
Jessie: You've been hanging around Hadji too long.

  • In Adventure Time, we have the Royal Tart Toter who bursts in at the last second in the episode "The Other Tarts" and says...

Royal Tart Toter: This cosmic dance of bursting decadence and withheld permissions twists all our arms collectively, but if sweetness can win, and it can, then I'll be here tommorrow, to high-five you... yesterday, my friend... Peace.
Finn: Yeesh.

    • It actually makes sense when you think about it. "This cosmic dance of bursting decadence" refers refers to the Royal Tart Toter bursting in. "Withheld permissions twists all our arms collectively" refers to how he is insane, deaf-blind, and senses others through their movement, and everyone tries to avoid him by being still. "But if sweetness can win, and it can" refers to his determination to succeed in toting the tarts for everyone. "Then I'll be here tommorrow, to high-five you yesterday" refers to how he can no longer perceive the passing of time, but recognizes that the others can, and hopes to be able to connect with them.


Real Life[edit | hide]

  • There is, in fact, an actual Ice Cream Koan:

A koan:
If you have ice cream, I will give it to you.
If you have no ice cream, I will take it away from you.
This is an ice cream koan.

    • This seems to be based on Matthew 25:29, although there isn't a pun at the end of that passage, and the Biblical passage refers to the squandering of resources and responsibilities, not to the enforcement of a dichotomy between haves and have-nots.
    • Ironically enough, the original Ice Cream Koan actually makes sense. The contradiction that appears to be there is an illusion.[2]
    • The first time I read the Ice Cream Koan was Jack Kerouac. It's in The Dharma Bums
    • An alternate one exists at Everything2.
    • Irregular Webcomic does this as well.
  • There was a message in a fortune cookie that said "Half of zero is better than nothing." You can kind of see what they meant, but wow, that's not just nonsense, that's just wrong. 0.5 * 0 = 0, so half of zero isn't better than nothing, it is nothing.
  • "It will be in the last place you look." Of course it will, you'll stop looking after you find it.
    • The original sentence is "You'll find it in the last place you'd think to look." Most simply shorten it to the above. The first sentence is said by someone trying to be smart. The latter is said by someone trying to be obvious.
  • Any "Confucius says" joke.
  • On an episode of her Reality Show Newlyweds during its 2003 run, Jessica Simpson had this to say about Chicken of the Sea canned tuna: "Is this chicken what I have, or is this fish?" This is then followed by a long pause while all present try to wrap logic around this statement.
  • A young Maurice LaMarche doing standup poking fun at then-president Ronald Reagan: "If you've enjoyed meeting me half as much as I enjoyed meeting you, then... I enjoyed it twice as much as you did!"
  • Charles Manson does these quite often, with quotes like "I'm the pope. I'm ten times the pope. I'm sixty times the pope. But I'm the pope in the hills and in the mountains." and "Do you feel blame? Are you mad? Uh, do you feel like wolf kabob Roth vantage? Gefrannis booj pooch boo jujube; bear-ramage. Jigiji geeji geeja geeble google. Do you begep flagaggle vaggle veditch-waggle bagga?"
  • An old joke:

What is man? To what can he be likened? A man is like a butcher. He is born, he grows old, and then he dies. And so does a butcher.

  • There's a card game titled "Wise and Otherwise" with weird proverbs from around the world. Hundreds of them. The game is played by chopping a proverb in half, letting everyone make up a new ending, and then seeing who can guess what the real proverb says.
  • Steelers coach Chuck Noll was known for giving these types of speeches.
  1. "Someday they will understand... It is not love, but the will to love that counts."
  2. "It" in the second sentence refers not to "ice cream" but to "no ice cream". One can take "no ice cream", or the state of not having ice cream, away by giving ice cream. Hence, the Ice Cream Koan.