Jive Turkey

Everything About Fiction You Never Wanted to Know.

I'm so hip, I have trouble seeing over my own pelvis. I'm so cool, you could keep a side of meat in me for a month!

Slang is funny!

The way to capitalize on this funny is to introduce a hip, streetwise character who speaks entirely in an urban dialect that is almost (or entirely) incomprehensible by the suburban honkeys at whom the show is aimed.

Generally, any slang involved will be at least five years out of date (or more), because it takes about that long for it to bubble up (or sink down) to the TV writers. It will also be toned down to remove profanity and vulgarities.

For extra comedy, the character who speaks in slang should be for some reason unable to stop speaking in slang, as if it were a foreign language. He'll insist on speaking only in impenetrable slang even in contexts where even the most streetwise punk would realize he'd get farther if he lightened up a bit.

The lightest form of this will involve a character trying to high-five a "square" (or some other "hip" handshaking alternative), who is so unhip that he has no idea at all how to return the gesture. This at least is Truth in Television.

For extra bonus points:

Generally, by the end of the episode, our hero will have gained a new respect for the slang-speaker, and the last line of the episode will be the hero using some line of slang correctly, demonstrating that he is now hip to their jive, homes.

If hip streetwise folks ever spoke like that, they certainly don't now. Because the speakers are generally of a darker complexion than the regulars, this probably feeds the stereotype that persons of color are inarticulate (and that persons of non-color are tongue-tied and boring), even though street lingo can be quite elaborate. (Indeed, Muhammad Ali is universally recognized as one of the most eloquent athletes of his generation, inspiring a lot of modern-day Trash Talk.) Thankfully, this is now a Discredited Trope. Unfortunately, it proves to be quite the resilient Undead Horse Trope and is still actively used in sitcoms and kid shows.

Compare Totally Radical. Often afflicts a Disco Dan. Not to be confused with Buffy-Speak.

Examples of Jive Turkey include:

Anime and Manga

  • In the last episode of .hack//SIGN, Balmung says "This shindig looks like the bomb-diggity!" to the other characters' shock.
  • Paltenon, of The Five Star Stories often speaks in impenitrable jive, especially when operating the Jagd Mirage. This is not so much because she's black as because she's violently insane.
  • Eureka Seven has Moondoggy. In one episode, he launches a string of slang intended to explain something to Renton, who promptly asks the other character in the room for a translation. It is a Shout-Out to the original Gidget surfer movies. Original Moondoggie too was the boyfriend of the titular character, and spoke that way.
  • Samurai Champloo had one; he rapped into his sword hilt.
  • Full Metal Panic!: In the episode "A Hostage with No Compromises", The student council president must translate from street slang to military terms for Sousuke and then back again; seeing him speak street slang is hilarious, it's so unlike his cultured personality.
    • Especially when he begins a response with "Listen, bitch" in the exact same polite tone he always uses.

Comic Books

  • Marvel's Luke "Sweet Christmas!" Cage. Then again, Cage uses strange expletives like that because he promised his grandmother he wouldn't swear.
  • Solomon, a verbally gifted creature of the simian persuasion from Tom Strong, espouses quite singularly in the vernacular one might expect of a British gentleman late of The Gay Nineties, eh wot? Humorously, a look into the future of 2050 shows that his son Augustus speaks solely in slang from the 1950s, pops.
  • Go-Go Chex from The DCU and especially Ambush Bug: Year None. Let's just say he's one hip swinger, Clyde, and leave it at that.
  • In Marvel Adventures: Spider-Man, an alien named Goom from another dimension talks like this. Justified because he learned English from MTV. As a comment says, "The whole gangsta speak is as ridiculous as Teen Titan's 70's hip speak, the only difference being that the writers make Spidey aware that it's ridiculous."
  • Cheng Bo Sen in Gun Fu speaks entirely in ridiculous hip-hop lingo that was stale by the time it came out in 2003... but the comic is set in 1936. And nobody comments on his bizarre speech pattern.
  • Played for laughs in a few 1970s Avengers stories; after the Falcon grudgingly joins the team on the orders of Henry Gyrich (who wanted to make it more ethnically diverse), he speaks this way on purpose to annoy Gyrich.
  • John Stewart's first appearance in Green Lantern #87.

John Stewart: I refuse to wear any mask! This black man lets it all hang out! I've got nothing to hide!

  • A lot of Vaughn Bode's characters talk like this.

Cheech Wizard: ...You got to harmonize yer complex. Be all.
A random lizard: But, is I down an out?! Not on yer life!...Dis is one little lizard dat got spunk an heart...Things can't get any worse.

  • Anytime Jack Chick tried to relate to a black audience, it turned out like this. It's like the man learned all he knew about black people from watching Good Times.

Fan Works

Sirius: Moony, I am getting the distinct impression that you are not hip to my jive. Are you or are you not hip to my jive?
Remus: Something is wrong with your brain.

  • Devin from Total Drama School speaks almost entirely in jive.


  • '70s/'80s TV examples may be influenced by "Blaxploitation" films, which were often terrible in this respect. How the black actors managed to say that stuff with a straight face and not strangle the screenwriter is shocking sometimes.
  • Tropic Thunder: Alpa Chino calls Kirk Lazarus out for this during the "filming".
  • Airplane!: A gag repeated in both movies: two passengers speak only in jive, and can only be understood via an elderly white lady who is "fluent in jive". The comedic effect of having English subtitles is sometimes lost when TV showings omit the subtitles; the subtitling reveals their conversation to be perfectly sensible.
    • This one is made even funnier in the German dub. Seeing an elderly woman converse with two afro-americans in a very thick Bavarian accent is hilarious.
    • It's also Barbara Billingsley, a.k.a. June Cleaver from the most white-bread and square show ever, Leave It to Beaver, speaking jive.
  • Pootie Tang: The title character takes this trope to its incomprehensible extreme.
  • Black Mama White Mama, being a 70's exploitation film, indulges in this. The word "Jive" comes up several times, but never Turkey unfortunately...
  • Played with in Goldmember, where Austin Powers and his father Nigel Powers have a conversation nearly entirely in Cockney rhyming slang. Subtitles keep up for a while, but are eventually reduced to "?????????????????...tea kettle!" Bonus points for Michael Caine being Cockney in real life.
  • In Transformers (2007), Jazz does this entirely during his introduction and occasionally through the film, though it's mostly due to his learning English via the internet, and also as he's always been the Autobot most into absorbing "hip culture."
    • Then there's the twins in Revenge of the Fallen, who crank this Up to Eleven, and subsequently got bashed for it.
    • Sam's mother in Transformers 1 spoke of giving her dog jewelery by painfully claiming that she was "giving him some bling"; though in all probability, the audience was supposed to be laughing at her and not with her.
  • Basher Tarr in Ocean's 11 delivers several lines in an impenetrable mix of Cockney rhyming slang and technical jargon. Examples include:

Basher: That poxy demo crew haven't used a coaxial feed to batten the main line, have they? Instead they've gone and nosed up the backup grid, nosed it right up!
Reuben: [to Livingston] Do you understand any of this?
Basher: So unless we intend to do this job in Reno, we're in barney.
[everyone pauses]
Basher: Barney Rubble.
[they look bewildered]
Basher: Trouble!

    • For the record, you'd have a lot of trouble finding anyone English who actually talks like that. Unless they're being played by Dick Van Dyke.
  • In The Limey, Terence Stamp's character occasionally speaks a bit of Cockney slang, forcing him to repeat himself and explain the word.
    • At one point, after a particularly grievous monologue:

Head DEA Agent: There's one thing I don't understand. The thing I don't understand is every motherfuckin' word you're saying.

  • Parodied in Semi Pro when Will Arnett's character goes nuts during a poker game when he is called a "jive turkey.
  • Seen in Better Off Dead, when Lane's father is trying to use slang, but gets the prepositions all wrong, resulting in gems like "Mellow off", "Bringing me over", and "Right off!". Made worse, perhaps in that he's reading these phrases from a book about how to talk to teenagers.
  • There's actually a film called Jive Turkey. As you might imagine, it's full of this trope.
  • Black Dynamite is a parody of Blaxplotiation films and is, predictably, full of this.
  • Jax in Mortal Kombat: Annhilation. "You gon' fight Shao Kahn in his crib?" Ugh... It's especially ear-wrenching to hear because his video game counterpart doesn't come across that way at all.


  • Subverted by the character of Yo-less in Terry Pratchett's Johnny Maxwell Trilogy, a black character who makes a particular point of not speaking in a stereotypical manner and acquired his nickname through never having used the word "yo".
  • Discworld series
    • Parodied in Soul Music when the wizards, under the influence of Music With Rocks In, start using 1950s slang. Ridcully is as immune to slang as he is to quantum physics lingo, and comments that the Dean's cool new trousers are "better than a thick robe in this hot weather."
    • Reaper Man, the Dean gets some sort of military-Rambo complex and cannot stop saying "yo" at every possible opportunity. Until Ridcully threatens him with a lengthy and dire punishment unless he stops saying it. The Bursar, always a step behind everyone else, finally manages a "Yo-yo."
  • Spook in the first book of the Mistborn series speaks solely in "Eastern street slang." It's all but incomprehensible, even to people in-story.
  • Forgotten Realms: Planescape slang. Looks dangerously brain-entangling when used in non-Planescape story. E.g. when in Finder's Bane characters travel to Sigil, every basher around immediately hear these berks are Clueless.
  • The three members of Able Team (a Heroes-R-Us action series from the 1980's) would speak jive (or sometimes bad Spanish) when they wanted to exchange information without English-speaking foreigners being able to understand them.
  • Peter Wheatstraw in Invisible Man. "Is you got the dog?"
  • Most of the cannibalistic(!) African-American characters in Lucifer's Hammer talk like this.

Live-Action TV

  • Starsky and Hutch: Quintessentially, the character of Huggy Bear.
  • Knight Rider, Gemini Man and MacGyver all ran into such characters.
  • A mild version occasionally features in Scrubs, where J.D. is sometimes confused by Turk's slang, and sometimes attempts to talk to him in his own idea of black slang. There's nothing excessive about Turk's use of slang, but J.D. is so clueless the trope happens anyway. Subverted in the episode "Her Story", when Elliot and her friend Molly ("the two whitest chicks in America") corrected Turk's inaccurate "translation" of rap lyrics.
    • Scrubs seems to get on well with this one. When Carla's brother Marco is first introduced, he (apparently) speaks only Spanish. Later in the episode, he and Carla are conversing in Spanish in front of Turk, who responds by speaking in his own 'secret language', involving adding 'izzle' to the end of everything... Carla hasn't a clue what he's talking about.
  • Subverted in (original) V with Elias Taylor talking in jive and his respectable brother, Benjamin, who talks in perfectly erudite English, tells to stop using such bad grammar in a "poor man's Richard Pryor act."
  • In the QI episode "Cockneys", Stephen announces that "any flamencos you give in Pyong score Barney, and I'll also give you two Sundays..." before Alan Davies, a Essex native, asks him "What the fuck are you talking about?"

Stephen: If you woman...
Bill Bailey: "Woman"?
Stephen: "Woman who does" -- "buzz."
Phill Jupitus: "Woman who does"? Oh, we're doing middle-class Cockney rhyming slang!
Stephen: It was all I could think of!

  • Parodied in Monty Python's Flying Circus with the RAF Banter sketch, where none of the pilots or officers can understand a word of what the others are saying. Made all the funnier by the characters seeming to be aware of the problem but helpless to do anything about it:

Squiffy: No, I'm just not understanding banter at all well today. Give us it slower!
Squadron Leader: Banter's not the same if you say it slower, Squiffy.

  • How I Met Your Mother introduced a concept called "Revertigo" where, when people who knew each other in the past are reunited, they start talking and acting the way they did when they knew each other. Cue Lily and her high school friend Michelle suddenly speaking in Jive Turkey whenever they're in a room together.
  • On the US version of The Office, Darryl is fond of pranking Michael by making up ridiculous "black man phrases" to teach him.
  • The local beat cops Hoppy and Smitty on Sanford and Son. Hoppy, the whitest of white guys, would try to speak jive and get it wrong, or would deliver a line of copspeak with a gratuitous big word or two for good measure causing Fred and everyone else to give him a blank look and then turn to Smitty for a translation.

Hoppy: "All right, let's crack!"
Smitty: "You mean 'split'."
Hoppy :" Uh, right, split!"

  • Parodied in an episode of Community. The main characters are playing a video game designed by a [dead] old racist. One level has Jive Turkeys as enemies.


  • One of the reasons white patrons adored Cab Calloway's band at the Cotton Club was Calloway's extravagant "hepcat" persona, complete with the most outrageous slang imaginable. Some of the words he invented (and later published in the "Hepster's Dictionary") have passed into general use.
  • The Bee Gees have a song called "Jive Talkin'", where the narrator complains about another persons Jive Turkey speech another person's unrelenting lies and general assholishness. In other words, the song is a massive aversion—the Gibbs rewrote the song from the ground up when they found out that "jive" originally meant lying.
  • Played straight TO THE MAX in Frank Zappa's Thing-Fish concept album/musical soundtrack

Professional Wrestling

  • The WWE tag-team Cryme Tyme is another extreme example of this trope (exaggerated for comedic effect), and a vignette with Degeneration X managed to hit two out of three bonus points, with Shawn Michaels speaking fluent hip-hop slang (even admonishing Triple H to "let me handle this, I speak Jive", an obvious Shout-Out to Airplane!), and Triple H playing the dorky white guy who spouts a slang word and gets laughed at.
    • WWE offers another (somewhat subversive) example in Theodore R. Long, general manager of Smackdown, who, despite talking like a complete jive turkey, dresses in business suits and is a well-respected authority figure.



  • In Applause, Margo suddenly starts spouting slang from the forties in the song "Who's That Girl?"
  • Most of what passes for "humor" in the 1858 play "Our American Cousin" is based around a family of stodgy Brits trying to make sense of the then-contemporary rural New England slang used by the eponymous cousin. Which means that a joke of this sort was perhaps the last thing Abraham Lincoln heard before he was assassinated during a performance of the play some years later.
  • Speedy Valenti in Wonderful Town.

Video Games

  • Dimitri, from the second and third Sly Cooper games, is a literal lounge lizard from Paris, France who spouts a mishmash of slang ranging from beatnik to disco to gangsta. The creators of the series like to claim he learned English from hip-hop videos.
    • during the final chapter of the third game, Bentley tries to use slang to give Dimitri a mission objective (which is arguably more consistent and closer to actual slang than most of what Dimitri says). Dimitri appreciates the effort, but tells Bentley that he can never match Dimitri's style, and to hit him with some of his "turtle talk".
  • Waylon in Advance Wars: Days of Ruin. Unusual for this trope, his slang is stuck in the 1950s, Daddy-O.
    • Jake in Advance Wars: Dual Strike is even WORSE. His horrific hip-hop slang grows tiresome before the tutorial levels are even over.
  • 70s super spy Harry Tipper from Time Splitters. The player meets him via time travel.
  • Disco Kid from Punch-Out!! Wii. Time for this turkey to jive!
  • The Forsaken in Warcraft speak Gutterspeak, which is supposed to be Common with so much slang that it is incomprehensible to the entire Alliance. The language was added to World of Warcraft when the developers decided against having any cross-faction communication.
  • Ellen in I Have No Mouth, and I Must Scream.
  • Ricochet, a contact in City of Heroes : Going Rogue uses exclusively Praetorian slang, to the point where the Player Character and most other Praetorians have no idea what she's saying.
  • Funky Student from Persona 4 gives the player character riddles while speaking entirely in jive.
  • Benny, your would-be killer in Fallout: New Vegas, spends the entire game talking in 50s swinger lingo. His justification for this is the fact that he was originally part of an Ax Crazy Raider gang, living by the gun, until Mr. House and his security robot force subjugated it and he began to find a new direction in life, which happened to be more compatible with the current environment he was living in (a partially restored casino town.)
    • Not just him. This is the hat of The Chairmen, the gang led by Benny that runs The Tops casino. Similarly, The King and Pacer are Elvis Impersonators, though they're the only ones of their gang that actually talk with the accent.
  • In Night Trap, the sole black member of SCAT. Yeah....

Web Comics

  • Played with in Megatokyo with Largo and the l33t d00d. A subtitled example is here.
  • Zillion in Starslip always speaks in "Deepslang", which makes him nigh incomprehensible to other.
  • The robot Sweetdaddy Jupiter Velvet and, to a lesser extent, his creator Tigerlilly Jones of Skin Horse actually talk Jive, the former so impenetrably that the police need a translator.
  • Molly, whose vocabulary choices are always wildly eclectic, delves into Jive-speak here.
  • Frigg, from Guilded Age, throws around Image Board slang, mutated memes, and creative profanity in a fantasy setting with an otherwise solid fourth wall. She's like a /b/tard trying to play a paladin.
  • Fiona's conscience talks like this. Only because she was ordered to by the director of Fiona's dream, though. She drops it in Part 2.
  • Homestuck: Jade's penpal, Jake English, speaks in a really odd mix of modern and archaic slang peppered with esoteric profanity and F-bombs. Partially justified in that he's a teenage version of her grandfather.

Web Original

  • Chaka sometimes does this in the Whateley Universe, mostly to bug rich-white-kid Phase.

(Phase knocks at Chaka and Fey's room)
Chaka: (whips door open) Hey, ‘sup dawg?
Fey: (looks up from her book) What is it with you when Ayla comes over? You were being perfectly normal just two seconds ago.

Western Animation

  • In Sealab 2021, Hesh is sometimes used this way for laughs.

Hesh: OH, DAYUM! NO HE DIDN'T! I know my man ain't gonna just climb up all on top of shorty's grill and put down a flag that says "BACKFIRE, Biziatch!"

    • When Quinn is re-purposed into a Shaft-esque spinoff

Quinn: "Chump! Don't make me pull out the pump! You Jive Turkey."

  • Foxxy Love on Drawn Together; as stated by her voice actress, she's "10% bullshit, 90% jive."
  • Parodied in the Futurama episode "Time Keeps on Slippin?", where the future Harlem Globetrotters speak and act in a way that's half Jive Turkey and half Mad Scientist. They also hold a news conference to announce that Prof. Farnsworth is a "Jive Sucker". Additionally it has a parody of a Salt and Pepper pair of cops with a robot who frequently talks like this after the end of a sentence. Awwww, yeah.
  • The title character of American Dragon: Jake Long raised some controversy with his excessive use of street slang. Executive producer Eddie Guzelian admits that the bravado of Jake's character was shaped by Dante Basco's ad-libbing and their own writing, which was supposed to parody the "wannabe MTV gangsta" crowd. Naturally, it was toned down in season 2.
  • Tex Avery's cartoon "Symphony in Slang" features the angels at the Pearly Gates unable to understand a new arrival who only speaks in 1940s - 1950s slang. St. Peter calls in Noah Webster for assistance. The entire cartoon features humorously imagined literal interpretations of his expressions. "I got a job slinging hash, but couldn't cut the mustard, so they gave me the gate." Turns out he's in Heaven because he "died laughing".
  • Danny Phantom: Adults misusing slang made up a good 25% of the humor. What's really funny is how bad the writers got the slang when they weren't playing it for laughs. Technus, particularly, is both "far out" and "funky fresh. Mr. Lancer is the biggest Jive Turkey in the series, but Vlad also had a moment: "She just needs to, as the young folk say, 'chill in.'"
  • Transformers
    • Most incarnations of Jazz are like this to a certain degree. His Animated incarnation is explicitly supposed to sound like an beatnik.
    • Soundwave's Cybertron incarnation talks like an old school DJ.
    • Blaster is right up there in the 80's movie. Although his lingo does appear to be an amalgam of DJ and military speak.
  • Toyed with in X-Men: Evolution with the reimagining of the character Forge, who had been trapped in an alternate dimension for 30 years. After confusing Nightcrawler with his '70s slang, Kurt hilariously (and cringe-inducingly) misuses "modern" slang expressing concern at the datedness of Forge's speech patterns. Almost definitely self-conscious, as Nightcrawler never used fake slang again and the slang was the punchline.
  • Aang from Avatar: The Last Airbender uses pseudo '40s/'50s-type slang in the second episode of season 3 when visiting the Fire Nation; the vernacular has changed considerably in the past century, so no one knows what he is talking about. It only ever comes up again once. "Stay Flaming!"
    • "Flamey-O, my good Hotman!"
  • The Skeletunes from Ruby Gloom. On the various occasions when Ruby and company encounter the lead singer, they're left utterly perplexed. "Hey, what's happenin', babies?" "...?" "Come on, don't leave a guy hangin' like that, I said what's up!" "????" "*sigh* HOW ARE YOU?" Ruby becomes one of these in Hair(less) the Musical after soaking up enough of his lingo to replicate it... somewhat.
  • In Rocky and Bullwinkle, the moonmen become fluent in Jive after getting a stage career in Las Vegas, and are completely incomprehensible to the main characters while speaking in it. In order to even find the moonmen, they see a newspaper headline mentioning the moonmen, which they also cannot understand. They ask the guy reading the paper what it means, and he speaks gibberish as well. Eventually, they buy another copy of the newspaper and get the US Government to decode it in an incredibly large machine, which finally reveals where the moonmen were.
  • The Simpsons: Homer uses the phrase "Quit jahvin me, turkey!".
    • "You gotsta sass it!"
  • My Dad the Rock Star: Quincy, Black Best Friend of the male lead is a subversion since he tries to use street slang and appear hip hop but comes off as a clear poser. To further the subversion, his family is latter shown to be a straight-laced, white collar family.
  • Mr. Herriman of Foster's Home for Imaginary Friends does this on one occasion. Herriman is recorded doing a rather embarrassing ditty for Mrs. Foster, which Bloo uploads onto the house's web site, which becomes and overnight internet sensation. Herriman eventually finds out about this, and after Hilarity Ensues, the episode ends with Herriman attempting a Rap version of his limerick.
  • On the episode of Recess where TJ's use of the word "whomps" (which the adults believe to be some newfangled obscenity rather than an Unusual Euphemism) eventually lands him in court, Miss Grotke brings in a noted "slangologist" to defend him. This person talks exclusively in what is apparently supposed to be roughly '60s-'70s slang, and needless to say doesn't help TJ's case at all.
  • Daria: Val, the adult writer of a teen magazine, takes this to the logical extreme as she not only speaks like a teenager (which is unsettling enough in a 30+ year old) but dresses like one. It borders on Uncanny Valley, and plays out as a deconstruction; she comes off as unsettlingly shallow and self-absorbed to anyone who spends much time in her presence, even compared to the teens she's trying to imitate.

Real Life

  • Most jargons are at least vaguely understandable by others, but Cockney rhyming slang is generally considered completely impenetrable, as the already bizarre terminology is made more incomprehensible by thick accents.
  • Polari: not exactly jive, but a mixture of pig latin, Rom and backslang very popular amongst the theatrical and gay communities in the 1950s. The comic characters Julian and Sandy, from Round the Horne, were the best known practititoners of it in the popular media.
  • Also, "Pikey" "It ain't English an' it ain't Irish. Iss jus' .... Pikey"
  • Dean Andrews, the man best known for being hired as Lee Harvey Oswald's lawyer before Oswald was murdered. He was widely known for his ridiculous "hepcat" phrases and permanent sunglasses, and John Candy's performance as him in JFK follows suit.