Literal-Minded

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Be careful. Don't step in a poodle!


A literal minded person just doesn't get figurative speech, instead interpreting instructions, idioms, Understatement, sarcasm, and so forth completely literally.

Some of the ways this trope is played:

Characters who have this as a primary characteristic will occasionally be The Comically Serious. Compare Literal Metaphor and Double Meaning. Compare and contrast Literalist Snarking. See also Made From Real Girl Scouts

Examples of Literal-Minded include:


Anime & Manga[edit | hide | hide all]

  • Nia from Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann.
  • Sumomo/Plum from Chobits can only take questions literally, according to Shinbo, due to her lack of processing power as a "laptop" Persocom.
  • Sōsuke Sagara from Full Metal Panic!. His literal-mindedness provides a lot of humor in quite a few serious situations (as well as not serious situations). One particular Crowning Moment of Funny in the novels comes during the Behemoth arc. Sōsuke defeated Takuma, which is supposed to result in a Tear Jerker moment, where the dying Takuma moans, "I lost, sister. Why'd I lose?..." Sōsuke proceeds to take the question literally, and tactlessly attempts to explain to Takuma why he failed so miserably in an "I-told-you-so, but did you listen?" sort of way. Needless to say, Kaname tells him to shut up, and Tessa tries to repair the dramatic atmosphere.
  • One Astro Boy story has Astro succumb to this when Ochanomizu says he'll find the authorities who sent Astro to be scrapped and "grease their palms". He then uses a rapid-fire sequence of these to make a computer implode.
  • One Azumanga Daioh episode had the main characters planning for an event and running behind schedule. Chiyo comments that she wishes they could turn back the clock. Cue Osaka standing on a chair trying to wind the clock backwards.
  • Tetsuma from Eyeshield 21 always follows directions. Exactly. When his coach warned him not to overeat before a game, he didn't eat for three days. And at one point, The Kid tells Joe "wake me up in about three hours". Exactly three hours later, and despite the fact that Kid is nowhere nearby, Joe leaps out the window of a moving bus just to go find Kid and wake him up.
    • On another occasion, Kid asks Tetsuma to get him up at eight AM. So Tetsuma actually counts down the seconds until 8 AM IN HIS SLEEP.
  • Axis Powers Hetalia:

France: Just shake your ass at them or something.
(later)
Italy: Oh, oh, Japan! Want to see my bum?

  • Used in Gunslinger Girl for their Creepy Child moments, as they've been brainwashed to obey their handlers without question. When one handler first starts instructing a girl, he's annoyed at her inability to hit the target (actually because she's not become used to her cyborg implants) and tells her not to leave the range until she can consistently hit the target. The next day it's pouring down rain and the handler grouches that he hasn't seen any sign of the girl he's supposed to be teaching. He's told to go to the firing range where he finds her cold and shivering, still trying to hit the target as instructed after practicing all night.
  • Sagittarius from Fairy Tail. At one point, Lucy asks him to make a fire, but he replies that he doesn't have pryokinesis. A few minutes later, he figures out what she really wanted and makes a fire by launching his arrows at some machines and making them explode.


Comics[edit | hide]

Sarge: Zero, take this report to the General's office, and step on it!

  • Bart Allen (Impulse/Kid Flash) is pretty literal minded, though it could be justified in his case: not only is he from the future, but he grew up in virtual reality.

Superman: The Pope was very understanding - especially when you wondered if he was Catholic.
Bart: A lot of people I know keep asking!

  • In one Snuffy Smith comic, Snuffy landed a Precision F-Strike when asked to swear to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, then lampshades this trope after being reprimanded:

Snuffy: Consarn it, Judge, you're the one who told me to swear!

  • Werner has lots and lots of examples of this, even whole stories based on being Literal-Minded. However, most of them are impossible to translate to English for demonstration purposes.

Hörni: Say something!
Kalli: Something!
Hörni: You shall not say something, you shall say something!
Kalli: Something!

  • One Archie Comics story was about a new foreign transfer student attending Riverdale High. The concept was that every time a character used a figure of speech, she would confuse it for what it would mean in a literal sense.
  • The Viz character Mr Logic takes everything said literally. For example when he is asked to boil the kettle he points out that the kettle is made out of stainless steel and he cant produce a temperature high enough to boil stainless steel


Fan Works[edit | hide]

  • Inverted in Chapter 8 of Thousand Shinji, Rei is asked by Asuka, "Aren't you hot wearing all that??" To which Rei replied, "Yes. Very. Thank you." It took Asuka couple seconds to figure out what Rei had said, then she became more specific.
  • In Kyon: Big Damn Hero, Kyon starts chatting with Sasaki, who brings up that most of his events were most probably organized by someone else. His PDA, being able to learn and adapt, brings up his event planner immediately. He then tries to avoid meetings with her with lame excuses that Skynet (his PDA) obligingly fills his schedule with as it doesn't understand Kyon is lying.


Films -- Animation[edit | hide]

  • Example in The Lion King, when Timon and Pumbaa take pity on Simba:

Timon: Gee, he looks blue.
Pumbaa: I'd say brownish-gold.

    • Timon himself in The Lion King 1 1/2; he interprets Rafiki's advice to go "beyond what he sees" as looking really really far into the distance.
  • The main character in There Lived Kozyavin who takes the order "go this way" literally and ends up walking quite a distance.
  • In Tinker Bell and the Lost Treasure, when Terrance is telling Silvermist about how Tink lost her temper at him, at first she thinks Tink literally exploded.


Films -- Live Action[edit | hide]

  • Freddy Got Fingered: "You must get inside the animal."
  • Zoolander: "The files are inside the computer..."
  • Inside Spaceballs, Colonel Sandurz and Dark Helmet are ordered to comb the desert, searching for the protagonists. Guess what happens.
    • Of course this is Played for Laughs, but only for the audience... From the non-reaction Sandurz and Helmet give after hearing the troop's report and their giant combs, we can only assume that they really wanted them to comb through the desert like they did!
  • In Temple Grandin we see the autistic Temple's interpretation of idioms (Temple's Aunt: "We wake up with the chickens around here!" Temple: (after imagining her relatives perched on a fence in their PJ's) *laughing* "That's ridiculous!"). This gets her in a bit of trouble when she builds a hugbox and a psychiatrist asks her if she gets a release from it and she says yes (because if there wasn't a release lever she couldn't get out). Unfortunately she doesn't clarify that part and her hugbox gets taken away.
  • In a Swedish movie called In Space, There Are No Emotions, the (autistic) main character, Simon, states during a monologue that he dislikes people who speak in sayings and metaphor.

His Boss: Come on, get to work now, Simon! Time is money!
Simon: ... (yelling, as his boss walks away) No, it's not! Time is time! Money is money!

  • Peter in Finding Neverland. At the very least, he can't (or won't) imagine that a dog is a bear, for instance.
  • The Film of the Book of Ella Enchanted features a scene from her childhood where a Jerkass other girl is shown saying "Bite me" and having her hand bitten by Ella standing up for a young Areida. In later scenes, Ella is ordered to "Freeze!" by a policeman as she jumped over some barrels and does just that. Mid-air. And stays there until the cop issued her a new order. There's also the "Shake, shake shake, shake your booty".
  • This memorable dialogue from Star Trek IV the Voyage Home:

Interrogator: Ok, let's take it from the top.
Pavel Chekov: The top of what?
Interrogator: Name.
Chekov: My name?
Interrogator: [sarcastically] No, my name!
Chekov: I do not know your name.
Interrogator: You play games with me mister, and you're through!
Chekov: I am? May I go now?

  • In What About Bob?, Bill Murray's character literally walks in small steps when presented with Richard Dreyfus' psychiatrist character's published "Baby Steps" approach to life, and seems to think it's helping.
  • Hall Pass: "She's having trouble breathing."
  • In Who Framed Roger Rabbit?, Eddie visits the Ink and Paint Club and orders a Scotch on the rocks, and one of the penguin waiters returns to him with a glass of Scotch...filled with rocks.


Literature[edit | hide]

  • The schoolboy protagonist of the novel Vintage Stuff by Tom Sharpe. When told to descend by flying fox and then come straight back to the top of the cliff, he descends on the flying fox and then climbs back up along the cable.
  • The generics in the Thursday Next series have no personality, and hence no grasp of anything other than perfectly formal, literal language. Even just saying "sorry" when not apologising confuses them.
  • The protagonist and title character of the Amelia Bedelia books by Peggy Parish is the patron saint of this trope and the former namer. It's her entire shtick and the entirety of the plot: her employers give her a list of instructions and then leave, and by the time they're back she's dusted the furniture (with dusting powder), dressed the chicken (in a gingham dress), and drawn the curtains (quite a decent likeness)... Fortunately for her continued employment prospects, she's a very good cook.
    • Except for that one time that she made a date cake by cutting dates out of a calendar.
    • And a sponge cake with an actual cut up sponge.
    • On the other hand, her "tea cake" (a cake made with brewed tea mixed into the batter) turned out to be quite a success at her boss lady's luncheon.
  • Some of Isaac Asimov's stories have a robot interpreting insufficiently-precise orders in inconvenient ways as a major part of the plot. For example, in Little Lost Robot, an exasperated researcher tells a potentially-dangerous experimental robot, "Go lose yourself!" The robot immediately hides among a consignment of identical-looking, but harmless, robots that are due to be shipped elsewhere, then starts to go insane from the stress of maintaining the deception.
    • It's worth noting that the robot was going crazy more because his First Law protections were deliberately, but incorrectly, weakened. He was angry at the guy who'd yelled at him and was proving his superiority by staying lost. Later stories have more intelligent robots intentionally becoming Literal-Minded when it served their purposes (in greater serving humanity).
  • Dwarfs from the Discworld, and by extension Dwarf-by-adoption Carrot Ironfoundersson. In one case this proves fatal. Fortunately, the victim deserved it.
    • Though Carrot hadn't yet developed the Obfuscating Stupidity that defines him in later books, it's possible he purposely misinterpreted Vimes's order for the good of the city.
    • Similarly, never tell Cohen the Barbarian that you would "rather die than betray my emperor". He will be all too happy to oblige. Ankh-Morpork citizens are known for a certain amount of this, if not so much as the dwarfish race in general is.
      • The Light Fantastic mentions former Patrician of Ankh-Morpork Olaf Quimby II, who tried to legally enforce accuracy in idioms, like figuring out how bad a poke in the eye with a blunt stick could be, or establishing a standard recipe for the pie to which something "as nice as pie" is compared. He was killed in a duel with a disgruntled poet while testing "The pen is mightier than the sword".
    • And Golems tend to follow all instructions literally. In some cases, it's because they don't think the way living people do. In other cases, it might be because they're rebelling against their owners.
    • Death and the Auditors are frequently prone to this trope, having only a limited grasp of human quirks and psychology.
    • Stanley Howler from Going Postal is highly susceptible to this trope, particularly when following official Post Office procedures. While trapped in a burning building, he took the safety-manual instruction to "Remain calm" literally and hence, wasn't frightened.
    • The GURPS Discworld RPG book explains this from the dwarves point of view, to help players with dwarf PCs. Dwarves find the human tendency to speak in metaphor to be both confusing and annoying. You ask a human how long until the explosion, and instead of a useful answer you get a little meditation about the beauty of flames and the fragility of life.
  • Bubba in The Sookie Stackhouse Mysteries.
  • In John C. Wright's The Golden Transcedence, a character coming to with amnesia is told he consented to forgot what, exactly, he had consented to. He asks how he can know this is true, and the computer answers that in fact, he doesn't know it.
  • In the Mortal Instruments trilogy, Jace once told Clary "If there were such a thing as terminal literalism, you would have died at birth."
  • Shows up several times in The Phantom Tollbooth. When Officer Shrift (who is also the judge and the jailer of Dictionopolis) is asked if he can give Milo a short sentence for causing a mess in the Word Market, Shrift replies "How about 'I am'? That's the shortest sentence I know."
  • Lenny in Of Mice and Men. Poor guy...
  • Torvig Bu-kar-nguv from Star Trek: Titan. His experiments to determine the truth about "gut feelings" in one of the novels consisted of introducing nanites into his crewmates' food, so as to monitor their intestines.
  • Animorphs Ax had this from time to time, mostly because he didn't understand human humor.


Live Action TV[edit | hide]

  • The Price Is Right: How some contestants interpret the explanation of a given game's rules. While examples do exist from the Bob Barker era, these have become somewhat more frequent since Drew Carey took over as host. It remains debated whether these explanations are due to poorly worded instructions or the contestant being unable to interpret figurative language.
    • One frequently cited example occured on the June 1, 2011, episode, where a contestant playing the Race Game – where the objective is to match four price tags with their correct prizes in a 45-second time frame, and correct any mistakes if time allows – was told by Carey to "throw" the tags in front of the prizes she thought they matched. Carey meant, "place them quickly on the podiums, because you have just a short amount of time to play this game," but the contestant literally interpreted the instructions and threw the price tags on the floor in front of the prizes. When confusion reigned, it was ultimately decided that the contestant should be given the benefit of the doubt and was given all four prizes.
  • Small Wonder: Vicki the robot/child. Much of the show's humor comes from her literal interpretation of simple instructions.
  • In the early years, Commander Data on Star Trek: The Next Generation (though he was generally wise enough to question the idiom before actually implementing such an order).
    • Spock from TOS, also, of course.
    • Also, the computer from Next Generation. It was a small running gag for Geordi in particular to have difficulty with the computer, given the casual way he would address it. Then there was that time Geordi accidentally created a super-powered artifical intelligence by asking the computer to create an opponent worthy of Data's skills...
  • Mork of Mork and Mindy did this a lot, especially in the first season.
  • The aliens of 3rd Rock from the Sun were sometimes like this, especially in the earlier episodes:

Mary: Are you seeing anybody?
Sally: I'm looking at you, aren't I?

  • Hymie the robot from Get Smart. It was unwise to tell him "Kill the light".
  • Waldo Faldo from Family Matters was like this at times. For example, when Carl mentioned he knew a celebrity and Eddie said "get out of here!" in surprise, Waldo said "You can stay, Mr. Winslow."
  • Kyle from All the Small Things; it's one of the autism-like symptoms he displays.
  • Teal'c of Stargate SG 1. Take an episode where the team encounters a society who can create energy via heavy water and want it to wage war.

Daniel: Their planet is on fire and we're offering them oil.
Teal'c: We are in fact offering them water, Daniel Jackson.
Daniel: I was speaking metaphorically.
Jack: Well stop it. It's not fair to Teal'c.

  • Ziva from NCIS, on occasion. Once, the team had to come in on a Sunday, and Tony joked that Gibbs was wearing a suit because he was getting married again:

(Tony gets up and heads for the victim's home; Ziva stays)
Gibbs: (angrily) Are you waiting for an invitation, Officer David?
Ziva: (clueless) Oh. So you really are getting married?
Tony: He means you're with me.
Ziva: Oh!

"That's so very humorous. Make fun of the ex-demon! I can just hear you in private. 'I dislike that Anya. She's newly human and strangely literal.'"

The Doctor: It looks like he's dead.
Lucille: Oh my God!
Michael: Just to be clear, it looks like he's dead, or he is dead?
The Doctor: It just looks like he's dead. He's got, like, blue paint on him or something, but he's going to be fine.
GOB: What is wrong with you!?

    • In another instance:

The Doctor: We lost him.

    • When Buster loses his left hand, the doctor said he would be all right.

Lucille: But you said he's going to be all right.
Dr. Wordsmith: Yes. He's lost his left hand, so he's going to be "all right".
Lucille: You son of a bitch! I hate this doctor!
Michael: He's a very literal man.

  • Temperance "Bones" Brennan. Oh Lordy!

Bones: It's not a spaceship.
Booth: Well, if it smells like a duck, walks like a duck, quacks like a duck...
Bones: Then it would be a duck, not a spaceship. Your point escapes me.

    • Zack Addy had shades of this too.

Cam: Well, it's a pickle. The platform's a crime scene, but we need to access it to investigate the crime.
Angela: A "cake and eat it too" situation.
Zack: Is it a cake or a pickle?
Hodgins: It's Schrödinger's Cat.
Zack: That I understand. Cakes and pickles meant nothing to me.

  • Bernard in Yes Minister could be a tad slow to realize something was not intended literally, although not quite as serious as most examples.

Sir Humphrey: I'm taking the director of the bank to lunch, we might manage to cook something up.
Bernard: Why don't you go to a restaurant - oh... I see what you mean.

Penny: I give up, he's impossible.
Sheldon: I can't be impossible, I exist. I believe what you meant to say is, "I give up, he's improbable."

    • Another example:

Leonard: For God's sake, Sheldon, do I have to hold up a "sarcasm" sign every time I open my mouth?
Sheldon: (intrigued) You have a sarcasm sign?
(a few moments later, Leonard actually made the sign)

  • There was a sketch on The Amanda Show about an entire family with this condition. Naturally, they were literally named "The Literals".
  • Some of the angels on Supernatural. While most of the angels encountered - notably (and quite surprisingly) Zachariah, Anna (who had been human) and Gabriel, the Trickster - seems to understand sarcasm and were often sarcastic themselves, others have more difficulty. Particularly Uriel, and especially, especially Castiel:

Dean: Your buddy Lucifer...
Uriel: Lucifer is no friend of ours.
[...]
Dean: Try New Mexico, I've heard [God]'s on a tortilla.
Castiel: He's not on any flatbread.

    • And, in a moment of Ho Yay for many fangirls:

Dean: You know what, blow me, Cas.

Cue a slightly confused expression on Castiel's face.
      • Also from "Mommy Dearest":

Dean: Why's it always gotta be me that makes the call, huh? It's not like Cas lives in my ass, dude's busy!
Bobby: *Gives a disbelieving look*
Castiel: *Shows up behind Dean*
Dean: Cas, get outta my ass!
Castiel: I was never in... your... *Cue awkward looks*

Eddie: Shit your pants, did you? Cry, did you?
Richie: No, quite the opposite, actually.
Eddie: What? You sucked water in through your eyeballs?

  • Frequently, Mr. Rumbold from Are You Being Served.
  • Subverted in an episode of iCarly: Carly, Sam and Freddie knows a dead man had hidden a recipe inside his computer, but fail to find it. Turns out it was literally inside the computer, so the kids had failed to follow the literal logic of the owner.
  • Keeping Up Appearances episode "Iron Age Remains" had this dialogue (though Onslow was only pretending to not understand):

Rose: I'm at the crossroads!
Onslow: You wouldn't be passing an off-license, would you?
Rose: I mean the big crossroads! Do you continue with your life, or do you just give in?
Onslow: Could you go to the off-license first, then struggle with your life?
Rose: (to Daisy) Your Onslow is such a pleb.

  • The dolls in Dollhouse are often like this. For example, Alpha's Handler suggests he watch his step when he gets caught coming onto Echo. Alpha does exactly that: he walks away by staring at his feet.
  • The Terminator is naturally ripe for this joke. In The Sarah Connor Chronicles a terminator is searching the schools for John Connor by posing as an FBI agent carrying out a drugs investigation. The school administrator asks him "Look me in the eye and tell me you've never smoked a little marijuana." The terminator does just that (it is, after all, true!)
  • El Chavo does this when Don Ramon is explaining him how to play bowling (starting at approximately 2:23)
  • K-9 did this once in the Doctor Who episode, "The Pirate Planet";

Doctor: There we are, K-9, we got the first segment to the Key to Time, piece of cake.
K-9: Piece of cake. Radial segment of baked confection, relevance to the Key to Time nil.
Doctor: Like I said, piece of cake.

  • On Leverage Parker often is often this way.

Nate and Sophie: (discussing their current con)The Fiddle Game.
Parker: I don't know how to play the fiddle.

  • At the end of an episode of Grace Under Fire, the titular character laments to Nadine on how her ex-husband is behind on his rent payments. She explains that they agreed on the exact amount to be paid "under the table"...then suddenly says "Oh no. He couldn't be THAT stupid." She then reaches under the table they are sitting at and finds an envelope full of money.

Grace: Maybe next time I should say it's "on the house" just to see what happens.

  • Gary Bell from Alphas tends toward this, as a result of having Autism. He gets the concept of metaphors and sarcasm, but he doesn't always recognize them... or understand them when they're used.

Bill: Who's manning the fort?
Gary: It's not a fort Bill; it's a bad metaphor. Forts have round things and cannons.

  • Seen in Lost in Oz, as Alex tries to explain to the Wicked Witch that she didn't mean to be involved in what was going on.

Alex: I was told that if I freed that little girl I could go home. I don't have any part in this, I'm just stuck in the middle.
Witch: You poor girl...stuck in the middle... *brandishes knife* Allow me to illustrate what that phrase means to me.


Music[edit | hide]

As though it wasn't bad enough, you also eat this shit for lunch, which means we can't spend any time together.
What kind of relationship is that?
The choice is yours. My heart is in your hands.
Please wash your hands, you just had vegemite for lunch.

At your command
Before you here I stand,
My heart is in my hand.
Ewww.

So I see this guy Marty trying to carry this big ol' sofa up the stairs all by himself, and I say "Hey, y'want me t'help you with that?"
And Marty, he just rolls his eyes and goes "Noooo, I want you to cut off my arms and legs with a chainsaw!"
So I did.

I was at the farmer's market with my so-called "girlfriend."
She hands me her cell phone, says it's my dad.
Maaaan, this ain't my dad. This is a cell phone!
I threw it on the GROOOOOOOOOOOUND!!!

  • Knorkator's Wie weit ist es bis zum Horizont (how far is it to the horizon): Turns out the solution to this problem is the Pythagorean theorem, which results in an average distance of 4650m for a person whose eye level is 1,70m above the ground.
  • They Might Be Giants, "Hey Mr. DJ, I Thought You Said We Had a Deal":

I could never sleep my way to the top
'Cause my alarm clock always wakes me right up


New Media[edit | hide]


Newspaper Comics[edit | hide]

  • In a FoxTrot strip, the dad sits in front of the family computer for a moment, then slowly pushes it away from himself until it falls off the desk. Because someone mentioned it "needed backing up."


Puppet Shows[edit | hide]

  • The Swedish Chef on The Muppet Show was often this way, such as when he made chocolate mousse by rubbing chocolate on a moose, and his "chicken in a basket" involves him bouncing a chicken and then throwing it through a basketball net.
    • In addition, Gonzo. Once, when asked by Joel Grey if he wanted to go for a spin, he began, of course, spinning.
    • Statler can be like this. When Waldorf decided it was time for a tea break, Statler knocked the tea cup off the edge of the theater box, breaking it.


Radio[edit | hide]

  • Denis Norden did a piece on My Word about "Literalism", a condition he suffered from, and which could lead to embarassment, for example upon seeing a sign reading "Urinal out of order. Please use floor below."


Theater[edit | hide]

  • Grumio from The Taming of the Shrew
  • Sheridan's THE CRITIC. The Lieutenant responds to Tilburina's impassioned "I see...) (in her mind's eye) speech with "The Spanish fleet thou can'st not see/Because... it is not yet in sight!"


Video Games[edit | hide]

  • In Ace Attorney 3, this results in Pearl Fey pouring a roast's gravy on a picture, as they were ordered to "gravely roast" (i.e., in hell) the person it depicted - and she was too young to understand.
    • This is a Woolseyism - in the original Japanese, the order is something along the lines of "Give Misty Fey magnificent burial rites" - in kanji. Pearl can't read kanji very well, because she's only eight, so she reads "magnificent" as "curry" (they're pronounced the same) and covers the picture in it.
  • Eternal Sonata: Polka, judging by the first two cutscenes with her in it. Good job, Solfege.
  • Kingdom Hearts II: Auron (in the Underworld of the Colosseum), final plot-mandated interaction.
  • In Lego Island, when Mama Brikolini is asked what it was that brought her to the island, she replies "The boat, silly."
  • Tales of Vesperia: Estellise.
  • Arc Rise Fantasia: Ryfia.
  • Played for Laughs in RuneScape with Farli, a dwarf who seems to have little to no understanding of sarcasm, leading questions and the like.
  • Die Anstalt: When told that he is an eagle by a motivational tape, Kroko really attempts to fly. The help guide even lampshades this: "The patient's infra-logical-predicative thinking hinders him to decipher metaphors."


Web Comics[edit | hide]

  • An early 1/0 strip has Manny ask Tailsteak to create a running gag for the comic. The gag, however, turns out to be literal - it's a character that looks like the word "gag" and runs around. Tailsteak usually doesn't take everything literally, mind you, but he acts this way just to be a smartass.
  • Dr. Wright in Captain SNES is quite Literal-Minded, much to the chagrin of the other characters who must deal with him.

Mega Man: Are you dense?!?
Dr. Wright: What does my mass-to-volume ratio have to do with anything?
Mega Man: WHAT ARE YOU? CAPTAIN LITERAL?!?
Dr. Wright: No, I'm Doctor -
Mega Man: DON'T ANSWER THAT!!

Gil: Well, when I was a kid, we heard some of the older guys talking, but we were kind of... um... unclear on the concept, and, well...
DuPree: That is so just like you... soooo pathetic.

Web Original[edit | hide]

  • Egoraptor's short Mr. Literal is about this type of character.
  • Linkara has an... interesting definition of "alcohol abuse". Cue thirty seconds of insulting a beer bottle.
  • Tobuscus has an entire series on YouTube about adding lyrics to trailers. The lyrics themselves are just about what's happening in the trailer.
  • The Angry Video Game Nerd in the Bible Games 3 episode, when he decides to "give his heart to Jesus". You can guess what happens.


Western Animation[edit | hide]

  • The Grim Adventures of Billy and Mandy: In "The Secret Snake Club", Irwin says that the reason he joins the macramé club is to "meet the chicks". Billy, being the goofball that he is, imagines himself dancing with baby chicks. In the same Imagine Spot, the chicks leave while Billy continues to dance.
  • Rugrats, since they're babies and haven't yet learned how to use metaphors and similes.
  • The William Clone in Season 4 of Code Lyoko.
  • Ron Stoppable of Kim Possible suffered from this occasionally.
    • Hego of Team Go also:

Electronique: I twist the power of Team Go to bring Go City to its knees.
Hego: But... um, cities don't have knees.

    • Also, Warmonga:

Drakken: Warmonga! Show her the door !
Warmonga: If you guide your vision to the left of our after-reactor corner, you can see our primary entrance.
Drakken: No, Warmonga, I meant: Make her exit through the door.
(Warmonga catches Shego and throws her, blowing a hole in the door)
Drakken: Yes, well... I didn't mean literally through the actual door, but...

  • Happens more often than not to Starfire of Teen Titans.
  • Bobby's World. Granted, he's like 3 years old.
  • The title character of Life with Loopy. When told to go make a new friend, she "makes" a Robot Buddy out of old electronics.
  • Brian's human girlfriend Jillian from Family Guy is like this.
    • At a Renaissance Fair, a woman hits on Peter by asking if he wants to "take a gander under [my] frock"; confused, he gets a goose and shoves it under her dress.
    • See also the page quotation, wherein he takes "you're all DEAD" literally.
    • In an early episode, he promises Lois he'll set up an extravagant party for Stewie's first birthday, including (among other things) a "big-ass pinata". Later on, we find out that he did manage to get one, but...well, to quote Brian, "I sure hope candy comes out of that."
    • Peter in general tends to think with a literal mind and acts on it.
  • There's that one episode of Animaniacs, when Yakko is the king. He suggests a polka-dot new flag (among other things, since this was the episode's Running Gag). Then someone is sure to ask: "Polka-dot?" and cue to the person dancing Polka with Yakko's sister Dot.

Yakko: No, no, no, fingerprints!
Dot: [looks at Prince]
Prince: [grins]
Dot: [frowns] I don't think so. [tosses Prince aside]

  • The Simpsons: Homer is usually prone to this. Then he subverts it by imagining what a Think Tank might be... namely a group of executive people having a discussion.

Homer: (to the baffled Marge and Lisa) What? Can't I get one right at least?!

  • Duck in Little Bear does tasks too literally when she following Hen's steps in preparing a strawberry shortcake such as icing the cake and separating the eggs.
  • Pops from Regular Show seems to be an inverted case.

Mordecai: Pops, you said you had a british taxi!
Pops: British taxi? I thought you said brownish taxi.
Mordecai: But that taxi's yellow.
Pops: Yellow? My taxi is no coward; I guarantee you that!

  • Fenton Craskshell (Gizmo Duck) in DuckTales (1987) is literal minded. Scrooge wants Fenton to liquidate his assets except that he puts all of Scrooge's money in the lake.
  • Fred the squirrel from The Penguins of Madagascar.

Skipper: We need you to take a look at this squirrel artefact.
Fred: (looks at the artifact, then goes away) Okay then. Later, guys.
Skipper Fred!
King Julien The key! What about... the key?
Fred What about it?
Kowalski Well, we were hoping, you can tell us something about it.
Fred Oh, tell you something about it? You said just look at it.

  • The Tex Avery cartoon "Symphony in Slang" was about a recently deceased man at the Pearly Gates, explaining his life story with incomprehensible slang terms. The angels interpret the whole thing literally, turning it into a Hurricane of Puns Visual Puns.
  • In the South Park episode "Crippled Summer", Nathan and Mimsy try to sabotage Jimmy's team in an athletic competition, but because Mimsy is Literal Minded, their plans backfire. For instance: they make a fake map for a scavenger hunt that leads to a hostile Indian reservation, and Nathan tells Mimsy to "switch the map, switch the map". So he switches the maps twice, leaving them with their own fake map.
  • DeeDee in the Dexter's Laboratory episode "G.I.R.L. Squad" takes the "lick" part of "lick crime" too literally.
  • Inverted in the SpongeBob SquarePants episode "Dying For Pie". Squidward does whatever Spongebob wants for the day because he thinks Spongebob is going to die from eating an exploding pie. When this fails to happen, Squidward angrily tells him "You were supposed to explode!" Spongebob then proceeds to metaphorically "explode":

Spongebob: Gary! You are gonna finish your dessert, and you are gonna like it!

  • Applejack slips into this for a couple of jokes in My Little Pony Friendship Is Magic. In "Sweet and Elite", she thought a garden party was about actual gardening.
    • Pinkie Pie does this a lot. Consider this exchange from "The Last Round-Up":

Rainbow Dash: We gotta get her to spill the beans.
Pinkie: What?! She has beans?! Ugh! I told her I was snacky!

  • Mr. Herriman in Foster's Home for Imaginary Friends. In "The Big Cheese", he's told to enter "a random number" as the password to the house's new security system, and literally punches in a random security code for the new security system. The result: he can't remember the password and everyone, imaginary friends included, is locked out of the house.
  • An episode of Danger Mouse has Penfold deliberately invoking this after DM addresses the situation at hand:

DM: We must act quickly.
Penfold: (rapid-fire, gesturing) Tobeornotbethatisthequestionwhether'tisnoblertosuffertheslingsandarrowsof
outrageousfortune...

    • The episode "All Fall Down" has DM instructing Mac the Spoon (the serpentine brother the episode's villain Mac The Fork) to "Spill the beans." He does... via a voice-activated bean silo.


Real Life[edit | hide]

  • If speaking on a very general level, people with Asperger's and autism. Although they can be taught what metaphors and idioms mean as one would learn a foreign language, understanding metaphors and idioms doesn't come naturally to them. Many people with Asperger's have been fascinated/obsessed with learning the meanings of different idioms at some point in their lives.
    • Schizophrenics have been noted in making errors with the meanings of metaphors and irony - typically that they do tend to take things literally.
    • But deadpan humour and Understatement are quite natural to most of them. Though, it is usually not considered to be humour to them, but rather a statement of fact.
  • Many religious fundamentalists are very Literal-Minded towards holy texts. Exceptions do exist, though they tend to be more quiet than the literalistic.
  • Young children, particularly preschoolers, are extremely literal minded. They lack both the life experience and the reasoning skills to understand figurative speech. It's one of the reasons why you have to be careful how you word things in order not to confuse or terrify your child. Example: When Aunt Maude passes away, you shouldn't tell your 4-year-old she's just "sleeping." You end up with a child who is terrified to go to bed, for fear it could happen to them. Also part of the reason why Disney is able to get so many innuendos in their movies without compromising the minds of young children. Parents get the figurative speech, the kids don't.
  • Work To Rule. In totalitarian societies like the old Soviet Union, literal interpretation of laws may be one of very few ways people can express discontent with them, since following poorly chosen laws and thus becoming an inefficient worker will make the case that the laws have to be changed; this can also be seen on a smaller scale with workers in private firms.
    • In communist/totalitarian economies, minimizing one's workload is often the only functional incentive, and Work-to-rule can be a way of achieving it. PJ O'Rourke's humorous example involving a Soviet shoe factory: "If they tell you to make 5,000 shoes, you make 5,000 left-footed baby shoes. If they tell you to produce 2,000 pounds of shoes, you make one giant concrete overshoe."
  • A computer will do exactly what you told it to do, whether you want it to or not.
  • This can happen to confused foreigners with limited understanding of a language, thus lacking knowledge of proverbs, slang and such. For example, one may respond to "tell me about it" by literally explaining the subject at hand.
  • For fun, go ask Troy Baker for a Shout-Out next time you see him at a convention.
  • Certain jokes in the likes of "How did you find your steak? I looked under a chip, and there it was!".
  • She's a cowgirl. She rides a cow.