Literal Genie

Everything About Fiction You Never Wanted to Know.

"This is awful; it's like when you get a wish from a genie but you ask for it in slightly the wrong way and wind up with a solid gold head or something"


You have to Be Careful What You Wish For, because you are dang sure going to get it.

More often than not, a wish-granting entity (Genie in a Bottle, vengeance demon, holodeck, leprechaun, and so on) has some sort of contractual clause stating that they have to give you exactly what you ask for. Ask for a ton of money, and it will appear. Directly above you, weighing exactly one ton. Ask for X-ray vision, and your eyes will start shooting harmful radiation. What makes this worse is how characters in this situation are now ten times as likely to make a Rhetorical Request Blunder and blurt out a "wish" without meaning to, while the Literal Genie is around. It's almost a mystical effect, as people who have never uttered "I wish" prior otherwise will do so.

In various forms, Literal Genie wishes are very old; specific examples (e.g., immortality without eternal youth, as in the case of Eos and Tithonos) go back to Greek Mythology, while the actual genie trope was known in Arabia by the 10th century. It's also Older Than They Think; the original genie myths were that of the Djinn, the Islamic equivalent of demons or fallen angels, that fit this trope perfectly.

A more modern variation is when the wisher asks for something using slang, colloquialisms, or Ambiguous Syntax, and the Genie, having not been outside for a least a century, grants it literally because that's the only way they can understand the wish. So you can only blame yourself when the genie gives you a wood-drilling bird that's a foot tall.

While the genie claims that they're being literal, or even Just Following Orders, in practice it tends to come off as if they're simply always choosing whichever interpretation of your words is the most disruptive, the most likely to teach the character An Aesop, or at the very least the least wanted. If this goes beyond the point of plausible interpretation, they become a Jackass Genie.

You get around this by wording your request as carefully and explicitly as possible. Of course, there's remarkably little Plot conflict when things can go this well, so don't expect very many characters to actually be this Genre Savvy.

Not to be confused with Exact Words. A more mundane version is Literal-Minded. A highly specific, villainous version is Unhand Them, Villain!. Compare Zeroth Law Rebellion and Blunt Metaphors Trauma. Super-Trope to Gone Horribly Right. If a genie goes out of their way to fulfill the spirit and intention of a person's wishes without any careful wording required, they're a Benevolent Genie. See also Reality Warping Is Not a Toy. Compare Jackass Genie. Generally involves some form of Double Meaning.

Examples of Literal Genie include:


  • An old animated ad for Burger King featured a BK wizard (replete with pointy hat and magic wand) who granted the kids' requests:

Kid 1: Make me a hamburger!
Kid 2: And me a shake!
Wizard: Okay, (waves wand at Kid 1) You're a hamburger, and (waves wand at Kid 2) You're a shake!
The Burger King: No no no, they meant give them, not make them!

  • In a shoe commercial(I forget the brand), a man has a lamp with a miniature genie, saying he'll grant one wish because he's still in training. His friend states that "[he] always wanted to speak Japanese." Before an offical wish could be made, the geine grants this, and makes it so the first guy could only speak in Japanese.

Anime and Manga

  • The '60s anime Hakushon Daimao has the title character's daughter named Akubi-chan, who grants people's wishes (who yawned) by mixing up the wishes, usually granting them literally.
  • In an episode of Yu Yu Hakusho, Kurama is trapped by a psychic who can force adherence to any stricture he sets down on paper. Having forbidden acts of violence, he assumes himself safe until Kurama demonstrates that very gently lifting someone to the ceiling and then releasing them isn't really an act of violence.
  • In Season 3 of Yu-Gi-Oh GX, the fake Big Bad, Professor Cobra, makes a deal with the Sealed Evil in a Can, who promises to "reunite him" with his dead son—ultimately, not by bringing his son back to life, but by killing him.
  • Tenshi na Konamaiki
    • Inverted when the lead, Megumi, gets the opposite of what he wished for from a spirit in a book given to him by an old man. He wished to be the most "manly man" in the world, but now she is the most "womanly woman" (the spirit claims to have misheard the wish, but more is more likely just a trickster).
    • In the manga, Megumi actually was a girl all along; the genie didn't mishear the wish, but wasn't powerful enough to make her male, so changed her memories so she thought she was male instead. The anime has a character suggest this without resolving it at the end.
  • In X 1999 Fuuma becomes the embodiment of Be Careful What You Wish For when he starts granting people's "true" or unseen wishes. This usually involves killing someone in a particularly gruesome manner, or in one instance taking someone's eye - admittedly more a result of the fact that the people whose wishes are being granted are almost uniformly really screwed up, considering that the only person to escape a confrontation with him unscathed was the one person who honestly wished to survive.
  • Code Geass R2
  • Inverted Trope in the Suruga Monkey arc of Bakemonogatari. The rainy devil grants its host three wishes in exchange for the host's soul. However, it follows the spirit of the wishes, not the letter. Suruga's true desires just happened to be much darker than the way she worded them.
  • ×××HOLiC
    • Yuuko, early on, grants a wish for a woman to stop using her computer, so she cuts it in half with a red baseball bat. It was even stated that she's free to buy another.
    • In one episode, there's a woman who buys a monkey's paw from Yuuko. Even when warned of its danger and reminded that the original story ("The Monkeys Paw") ended badly, she carries it around and uses it to her convenience. On wish number two, she wishes for an antique mirror that the owner wouldn't sell to her. It's granted by giving her the mirror, but without anything to cover for the fact that she effectively stole it. On wish number three (of five), she wishes for help writing her thesis, and it gives her someone else's research, which ruins her chances of getting published once the plagiarism is discovered. On wish four, she finds herself late for an important day of work and casually thinks about how her lateness would be excused if the train system had an accident. Naturally, the paw interprets it as a wish and causes a passerby to be thrown in front of a train. On wish five, shaken up from the last two, she basically wishes for her ordeal to end by "erasing everything", so the paw kills her.
    • Another example was when a girl comes to the shop, terrified of her house since strange sounds are heard throughout, unattended things are moving around and sometimes she is touched by the presence of people when no one was there. Yuuko asks her if her wish was that "[her] house was not frightening", which the girl said yes. Yuuko grants her wish by causing the girl, who was actually a ghost, to create more disturbances around the house so the alive tenants would exorcise her. Since now that ghost was gone, the house was no longer frightening.
  • In Fullmetal Alchemist the apparition known as Truth grants power to whose who attempt human transmutation, but takes prices from them without telling them. However, it the final chapter when Father is destroyed and finds himself once again before the Gate, Truth promises to give Father exactly what he wished for: Despair for the conceited. Father is sucked into the Gate, screaming in horror.

Truth: I'm the Truth of your despair, the inescapable price of your boastfulness.
Father (flashback) Humans who would dare to play God must pay a steep price for their arrogance. That is Truth.
Truth: And now I will bestow upon you the despair you deserve.

  • In one of the chapters of a Doraemon manga, Doraemon introduces a robot that tests the purity of the heart of a person and grants the person 3 wishes if they're worthy. Gian and Suneo finds out when the robot grants Shizuka three wishes, and arranges to trick the robot into thinking them worthy. Greed then overcome the boys and both uses their their final wishes to turn each other into anthropomorphic pigs during a heated argument.
  • In Asuka Hybrid, Asuka is a guy who got assigned to the girls dorm. While in the park depressed about this, a mage lands on him, and as an apology, she agrees to grant Asuka a wish. Asuka then says "I'm a boy, but I'm supposed to move into a girl's dorm...", so the mage fixes the problem. By turning him into a girl.
  • In D Gray Man, The Millennium Earl promises good folk to reunite them with their loved ones by just yelling their name. The downside? They get turned into evil Akuma, and are forced to do the Earl's bidding, normally by stripping the skin off of their loved one who brought them back to wear, so that they blend in with humans.
  • Played with in Puella Magi Madoka Magica. Kyuubey, as a Manipulative Bastard using the girls for his own gain and who grants everyone one wish in exchange for becoming a Magical Girl, is in a perfect position to be this. However, there is a strong theme through the anime that there is no such thing as a selfless wish - Kyuubey didn't twist the wish, it's that the girls didn't ask for the right thing in the first place. Sayaka is the straightest example of this - she wished that her crush Kyousuke would get better, but because extremely depressed when he starts overlooking her and Hitomi confesses to him, because what she really wanted was for him to be grateful to her and fall in love for her, and for her to be able to think of herself as a noble, selfless person. However, Kyouko's wish that people would listen to her father's teachings resulting in them being supernaturally driven to do so, and her father going insane and killing her whole family when he discovers this, could be considered a Literal Genie move.
  • In Dragon Ball Z, when Gohan and Krillin have Piccolo wished back to life, and then to the planet Namek, they're confused when he doesn't show up right there with them. Dende (who is making the wishes for them in the Namekian language) realizes they screwed up, and forgot to specify where on Namek to bring Piccolo, though he was indeed on Namek, just half a world away. It ended up working out for Piccolo anyway, as he wouldn't have met Nail otherwise.
  • In the first episode of Sora no Otoshimono, Tomoki wishes in jest that he was ruler of the world. Ikaros grants it by making every other person in the world vanish. She does explain that making him a traditional ruler would be impossible because no one would take a doofus like him seriously. Ikaros normally cannot undo her wishes, but fortunately Tomoki wishes that it was All Just a Dream.

Comic Books

  • Defied Trope in Knights of the Dinner Table, where Rules Lawyer Brian pulls out a HUGE pre-prepared document that he had written up in case he ever got granted a wish. In a later issue, an article recommended the Game Master limit wishes to 20 words or less to prevent players from pulling this.
  • In Iznogoud (written by Rene Goscinny, the writer of much better-known Asterix), there is an episode with a genie which is summoned by rubbing a pair of slippers. He literally fulfills not only every wish, but every statement that the summoning character would pronounce. Hilarity Ensues, especially if the statement is a curse of surprise.
  • DC Comics' Johnny Thunder would on occasion have this problem with his Thunderbolt—although it probably was more due to Johnny's overall dimwit nature than any defect in the Bahdnesian spirit that did his bidding (who was compelled to be a Literal Genie whether it wanted to be or not, rather than doing so through misunderstanding, mischief, or malevolence). It occasionally even worked in his favor; once, when threatened with certain death by the Black Dragon Society, his wish that "the other Justice Society members were here to see me in this fix!" was taken quite literally by the T-Bolt—resulting in a room full of Golden Age superheroes opening up a huge can of whup-ass on the Dragons.
  • Deadshot, also of DC Comics, had orders from Amanda Waller to stop Rick Flag from killing Senator Cray. Deadshot tracked down Flag and the senator, and then killed the senator himself! After all, Waller had only told him to stop Rick Flag from killing Cray. When Waller confronted him about this, Deadshot quips, "I don't read minds.
  • This completely inexplicable example. On the web site's message board, it is a mystery to this day what the hell Jimmy Olsen wished for that literally meant... well, that. The explanation is here. It's actually two compounded Literal Genie moments (the second one with an extremely contrived choice of phrase).
  • Fables has a particularly nasty version of this that ends with the wisher dying in what is explained to be literally the most horrible way he can imagine. It takes several days. It's also a bit of a subversion as his words were changed by a witch as he said them specifically in order to cause this.
  • XXXenophile
    • In the story "Demonstration of Affection", a sorcerer transports himself to Hell to get a demon to grant him a wish. He wishes for "more wealth than I'll ever need". The demon gives him a nickel.

Sorcerer: ... It's a nickel.
Demon: Aye. More wealth than thou will ever need here.
Sorcerer: A-heh! I wasn't planning on staying...
Demon: Ah, then perhaps thou should have asked to be returned to Earth. A pity thee only gets one wish, no?

Incidentally, the wards he had prepared to keep any demon from harming him worked this way as well, allowing the demoness who gave him the nickel to... come to an agreement about freeing him.
    • Also in the short "Wish Fulfillment", a rare positive example of this trope. The protagonist has used her three wishes, is usurped by the general of her forces and becomes the general's slave. The general declares that "henceforward you shall be my captive flower", and the genie chooses to see that as a legal name change, giving the protagonist access to three new wishes. This does not turn out well for the general. After that... sex happens.
Ironically, she asks about Freeing the Genie, but due to restrictions, it's not that easy... the only way to free this particular genie is to make a wish that he truly wants to fulfill, but cannot. She asks if "Making a rock so big you can't lift it" would work, and he says, "I have no wish to give myself a hernia." She solves this by having wild sex with him until he's exhausted and then wishing for him to do it all again, IMMEDIATELY. He'd like to, but can't due to exhaustion; thus, she's set him free. "Can you wait five minutes?"
  • The Staff of One from Runaways functions like this Depending on the Writer. Sometimes it does exactly what the wielder wants, as a freeze spell did not turn the victims into ice, but other times, it seems to gleefully misinterpret the user. Upon being faced with a horde of zombies, she tries to undo the magic by saying "Zombie Not!" The result? The zombies formed together into a massive beast—a zombie knot.
  • An issue of Marvel Adventures has Tigra find a genie and hesitate to use her wishes because she's very well aware of the possibility of the genie behaving in this way. Until the end of the issue, where she wishes for a new lamp to hold him and is very specific about it to avoid him finding any loopholes.

Tigra: I wish for a magic genie-capturing lamp that never fails, works instantly, and traps genies for all time without causing any harm to anyone else.
The genie: What? Nooooooooooooooooo!

  • The Flash once fell victim to this trope in a big way. Wally West had never bothered with a Secret Identity, thinking it was more trouble than it was worth. But he changed his mind when his nemesis Zoom attacked his wife and killed their unborn child. In his grief, Wally summoned the all-powerful being known as The Spectre and asked him to make the entire world forget the Flash's real identity. Spectre agreed... but since Wally said he wanted everyone to forget, HE FORGOT TOO. The next issue began with Wally as a down-on-his-luck nobody who had no idea he even had superpowers.
  • An interesting inversion occurs in the Dutch Douwe Dabbert comics, where the title character has a magical knapsack that always contains what he needs. Whether he knows what he needs or not. More than once, he gets the item with which he can solve his current problem in the first half of the comic, but he still needs to figure out exactly what to do with it.
  • In one of Alan Moore's Captain Britain comics, Captain Airstrip-One (who represents Ingsoc from Nineteen Eighty-Four) is told by his supervising officer to "imagine a boot stomping on a head, forever." Captain Airstrip-One then imagines a boot stomping on a head—and doesn't stop. He said forever...
  • Happens a lot in the Sabrina the Teenage Witch comics. For one example, Sabrina is so disappointed with the tiny portion of ice cream she's ordered from a soda shop that she casts a spell to make it ten times larger. Her aunt informs her that she only made the bill ten times larger.
  • In The Wishing Wisp, several characters are given visions which show the horrible consequences of their careless wishing. The wishes are often interpreted in a literal sense. In one case, for example, a man wishes some medication he just obtained will "make a new man" out of him, so in his vision he literally becomes a new man and is not recognized by his family or colleagues.
  • In Fairest, a spin-off the well-received Vertigo series Fables, Fiery Redhead Briar Rose is depicted as another variation of the Sleeping Beauty character, including the part where she's showered with magical gifts and wishes by her Fairy Godmothers. To her everlasting displeasure, every wish got played straight, so only a few of her gifts are shown to be beneficial, or even remotely useful. While in the end she managed to receive supernatural beauty and allure (including a certain degree of sexual prowess by explicit wording in that sense), and the ability to excel in songwriting and playing musical instrument, having the "Wit of an Angel" means she that she lacks guile, and she's easily conned or tricked, and the wish for "the singing voice of a nightingale" actually stripped her of the ability to sing, as she can merely screech as a bird. Thus to her immense displeasure, while in the human world she was known as an accomplished songwriter and guitarist for an all-girls rock band, she never managed to took the lead, as her "blessing" was just a form of mystically induced selective mutism.
  • Preacher (Comic Book)
    • Jesse Custer is imbued with the Word of God, which means he can make anyone follow his commands to the letter. He doesn't always think this through, such as the time when he got rid of a sheriff by telling him "go fuck yourself", which resulted in him tearing off his own penis and sodomizing himself with it.
    • A much more chilling example, Jesse instructs several armed men to "Fuck off," and they do, turning around and running away. One of them, as they run, looks to another with absolute terror in his eyes and asks, "Forever?"
  • Subverted in a Disney's Aladdin comic that predated the "Return of Jafar" movie by several years, but had essentially the same story. In it, a little old lady gets control of Jafar's lamp and manages to get an insane amount of things from him by very carefully wording her wishes.

Fan Works

  • So many Ah! My Goddess fanfics have one of the goddesses show up and offer the protagonist one wish, just like in canon except with a different human and goddess. In canon, there was a long discussion between the human and the goddess, and she asks whether he's sure before granting the wish. In fanon - including some excellent stories such as Oh! My Brother! - the discussion is usually either shortened or skipped, and the "I wish..." version of this trope comes into play. (Although in the case of O!MB!, it's a subversion—it's revealed much much later that the one making the wish was set up by the heavenly forces in play, although not maliciously so.)

Films -- Animation

  • The Princess and the Frog: Doctor Facilier actually has some things in common with a Literal Genie, although verging on Jackass Genie. For example, he got Prince Naveen to agree to the deal by saying things like "You want to be free, hop from place to place." and "When I look into your future it's green that I've seen." Naveen, naturally, agrees to this, and... becomes a frog. Literally speaking, Facilier didn't lie to him....
    • It doesn't really matter if he did or didn't, as Facilier was actively trying to screw Naveen over. Facilier is only bound by one rule in the film: He had better hold up his end of the deal to his "Friends". He really doesn't care if he lies, cheats, or steals to get what he wants.
  • In Despicable Me, despite Agnes managing to hit the near impossible target to win the unicorn stuffed animal, the carnival barker said that she had to knock it over to win the prize, not just hit it.
  • Averted at first with Genie from Aladdin, who couldn't even keep the main character from conning him into giving a free wish to get them out of the Cave of Wonders. Later, however, Jafar wishes that Genie make him into a genie himself, and Genie grants him his wish, lamp and all. Although this particular genie may just be a tad on the slow side. After all, it was Aladdin who tricked Jafar into wishing to be a genie. As Genie granted the wish, he didn't seem to recognize the negative consequences that would apply to Jafar. Note that the way Aladdin pulled that off is true to the source material.
  • In the sequel Return of Jafar, Jafar does this with Abis Mal to cow him into wishing exactly how Jafar wants him to. Abis Mal wanted treasure, so Jafar takes them to a sunken treasure ship in the middle of the ocean. Of course, Jafar being Jafar, he's also a Jackass Genie.

Films -- Live-Action

  • In the Bing Crosby/Bob Hope movie Road to Morocco, an imprisoned Jeff and Orville are given a ring which grants wishes, but are told it doesn't work for everyone. They're also given two poison tablets to use in case the ring doesn't work for either of them. When the ring doesn't work for Jeff, Orville begins to swallow a tablet, and then...

Orville: (to the sky) Set the table, Aunt Lucy, there'll be two more for dinner... Boy, I sure wish I had a drink.
(a drink appears in Orville's hand)
Jeff: Junior! Junior, It worked! How about that, the magic ring, it worked on you!
Orville: Well, I'll be a monkey's uncle!
(Orville turns into, well, a monkey)

  • In the art film The Safety Of Objects, one character suspects God is like this, or possibly a Jackass Genie. She is probably wrong.
  • In Stardust, Tristram pays a witch to transport him to a fair, providing food and bedding, and for him to be unharmed. She turns him into a mouse and keeps him in a cage before turning him back at the fair itself.
  • In The Fountain, conquistador Tomas Creo finds the Fountain of Youth/Tree of Life in the Mayan jungle, which is said by the Mayans to give eternal life when it sprouted from the chest of the first human. He cuts into the tree and where the sap lands, flowers spring up. After drinking from its sap, Flowers burst out of his chest and lungs and he is absorbed into the roots of the immortal tree. Paging Don Martin, anyone?
  • Wishmaster is a series of films based off a Demon Jinn whose people are trapped and each wish costs a person's soul. It's something of a mix between Jackass Genie and Literal Genie. To make it easier to collect souls, he'll take the most deadly option of your wish every time, but he does have to interpret each wish literally and can't deny a very specific wish.
    • Lampshaded hilariously in the first film, as the Djinn tries to trick a guard into making a fatal wish. The guard simply says he wants him to go away, and the Djinn promptly turns around and starts walking away against his will, protesting that he really needs to get past the guard. Fortunately (for the Djinn), the guard responds to said protests by saying he'd really like to see the Djinn "go through me". The Djinn makes him part of the door.
    • Wishmaster 3 is a great example, as much of it is in a prison full of people wishing to escape. Cue people being forced thru the bars, or down a pipe.
    • This bites him in the ass in the fourth and final movie. The Waker wishes that she could "love him for who he really is". The literal definition of the wish means that he can't just make her "love" him; her love has to be freely given knowing that he's a hideous Djinn bent on bringing Hell to Earth. The Djinn also realizes to his dismay that he is falling in love with her as well. The lovestruck Djinn spends the rest of the movie desperately trying to win her love.
  • Bedazzled
    • In the original movie, one of the wishes of the main character was to "go down in history" and become "the President!": He was immediately incarnated as Abraham Lincoln... in the balcony of Ford's Theatre. The first movie also ends with the main character turned into a woman and now a member of a nunnery (which is implied to allow lesbian relationships) in the country with the woman he was attracted to.
    • In The Remake, as he starts to wise up to the Devil, his wishes start getting more elaborate. The devil keeps finding a detail he left out, and screws him over on that point. In fact, the very first thing he wishes is to be rich and married to the love of his life—only to become a rich cocaine baron whose wife absolutely loathes him.
  • The family film The Incredible Genie did this. The protagonist kid sarcastically wished the Genie to take "40 winks". He literally perform 40 quick winks. Another is the kid wish he was "filthy rich", only to have his room covered with filth. Justified that the Genie has no knowledge of the present or figures of speech.
  • King Brian, any chance he gets in Darby O Gill and The Little People.
  • The short film Pencil Face is either this or Jerkass Genie. Girl finds a magic pencil which makes real anything she draws. When she tries to draw a lollipop, she draws it in such a way that the pencil interprets it as a blck hole that swallows the girl. Ouch.


  • According to legend, the tradition of designating the heir to the English throne the Prince of Wales began when the Welsh demanded of King Edward I "a prince born in Wales, who did not speak a word of English." He responded by appointing his infant son, the future King Edward II, who had been born in Wales while his father was on campaign there and, like all babies, did not speak English (or any other language.) Needless to say Edward I was about as popular with the Welsh as he was with the Scottish.


  • There is a joke, wherein a guy finds a genie, and it gives him three wishes. The first two were a million dollars and a cool car, but he holds off on the third. While driving in the car, he hears the "I wish I were an Oscar Meyer wiener" commercial on the radio; it's catchy so he sings along. Poof, he's an Oscar Meyer wiener.
  • Following jokes, a man meets a genie who grants him wishes but says his ex-wife gets double what he gets. He wishes for a million dollars and she gets two million. He wishes for a mansion and she gets two. For his third and final request, he wishes to be beaten half to death.
    • A smarter man in a similar variation of the joke merely asked to donate a kidney.
    • Another variation replaces the wife with the man's hated boss. The final wish: "I wish my boss's wife would fuck me half to death."
    • There are variations with a woman, and her divorced husband. The variants of the woman's wish include: 1) Bearing twins. 2) Big breasts 3) A lover with a ten inch penis.
    • A story by Robert Sheckley, where a man's worst enemy is the one getting double, ends with the man asking for a woman who's the limit of his desires.
    • Another one, with a woman and her estranged husband, but the husband would get a tenfold of the first wish. She wished for a great fortune, a vast attractive (which her husband got tenfold) and a slight heart attack. Subverted, or played straight, in that she didn't survive the slight heart attack, but the husband got a heart attack that was a tenfold lighter. He got legendary hotness, almost unlimited wealth, and even inherited his wife's wealth!
  • Though no genie is involved, an old joke that goes like this: Three men come to a cliff. A sign at the cliff reads "Jump off the cliff and name an object and you will land in a pile of it". The first man jumps and says "GOLD!", landing in a pile of gold coins. The second man jumps and says "SILVER!", landing in a pile of silver coins. The last man, about to jump, trips on a rock and falls. "CRAP!" he exclaims. You can guess the rest.
    • A variant has the third go with "DIAMONDS!" Ouch.
    • A variant has the men who wish for gold and silver die when they hit it, and the man who accidentally wishes for crap survives because it cushions his fall.
    • Yet another version has the guy yell the F-word. Let it be known he died a happy man.
    • And then there's the version that's told to kids, in which it's instead a magic slide and the third man yells "WHEEEEE!" Eew.
  • Another joke has an old woman get three wishes from a fairy godmother. Her first two wishes are to be rich and a young, beautiful princess, respectively. The fairy godmother grants them somewhat nicely, though she only makes the woman rich by making her rocking chair solid gold. The last wish is for the woman's dog to be turned into a handsome prince. The dog is turned into the "most handsome man anyone had ever seen", and the woman is immediately smitten with him. But then he whispers in her ear, "Bet you're sorry you had me neutered."
  • There is a joke that plays out something like this: A man and an ostrich walk into a diner. The man orders a burger, fries, and a coke. The ostrich does the same. When the time comes for the man to pay for his meal, he reaches into his pocket and produces exact change. The next day, the man returns to the diner and the exact same scenario plays out. After a few more days of this, the waitress becomes curious and asks the man "Sir, how is it that you always have exact change?" and he answers "I once met a genie who granted me two wishes. For my first wish, I wished that whenever I had to pay for something, I would reach into my pocket and have the exact amount of money I paid." When the waitress eventually asks him about the ostrich, he says "For my second wish, I wished for a tall chick with long legs who agrees with everything I say."
    • Another version didn't include the ostrich constantly agreeing with the guy. Instead, the guy was also accompanied by a cat who constantly refused to pay for anything; apparently, the guy had wished for a bird with long legs and a tight pussy, and to always have the exact amount money he needed.
    • One variation is he rides the ostrich into a bar and orders everyone a drink. He had wished for infinite wealth, many friends, and an "exotic bird" with long legs to share it all with.
  • A Czech peasant got three wishes, and wished to be of noble birth, with a beautiful wife, and world famous. He woke up in bed next to a beautiful woman who rolled over and told him: "Get up, Franz-Ferdinand, we have to be in Sarajevo in half an hour."
    • There is a variant ending with "Please come in to get your pictures taken, Comrade Romanov".
  • There is a joke about a man who wishes for a beer bottle in which the beer will never end. He's still trying to open it.
  • Raunchier jokes have been done in this style, such as a man who wishes for his genitalia to reach all the way to the ground, only to lose both his legs. Another guy with the same idea wants to be "hung like a black man", only to have the KKK show up at his doorstep.
  • There is one joke where a man encounters a "Question Genie," which will correctly answer three questions. The man is shocked and without thinking, says "So, you're a question genie, huh?" "Yes." "And I get three answers?" "Yes." "Uh oh, did those last two count?" "Yes."
  • Three guys are stuck on an island in the middle of the ocean. A lamp washes on the shore. One of the men picks it up and rubs it and lo and behold, a genie comes out of it and says he can get three wishes. He laughs and berates his fellow companions, telling them how he always hated them and he's going to use the wishes for himself and not help them get off the island as well, then he makes his first wish - "I wish I was back in New York!" * snap* He's back in New York. His second wish - "I wish I owned and was in a luxury penthouse apartment, filled with money and gorgeous, bikini-clad women who all want to fulfill my every whim!" * snap* He's in the penthouse apartment, with gorgeous women fawning all over him in tiny bikinis, enough to make Hugh Hefner jealous, and enough money to make Donald Trump jealous. He laughs and leans back as one of the women gives him a massage and another kisses him, "I wish those two losers could see me now." * snap* He's back on the island.
  • In another joke, a man finds the usual magic lamp. A burly genie pops out in a cloud of smoke, whereupon the surprised finder blurts out, "Well, fuck me!"
  • A subversion: a man with an orange for a head walks into a bar. He gets chatting with the barman, who, consumed with curiosity, asks, "So... why do you have an orange for a head?" The man with an orange for a head replies: "Well, it's like this. I was walking along the beach one day when I tripped over an old lamp that was sticking out of the sand. In a flash of light, a genie appeared in front of me! The genie said to me, 'For a thousand years I have been imprisoned in that lamp. In gratitude for freeing me, I shall grant you three wishes'. So I said, 'I would like more money than I can ever spend'. There was a puff of smoke, and all over the sand there were piles of gold and jewels. 'Your second wish?' asked the genie. 'To help me enjoy all this money', I said, 'I want an intelligent, beautiful woman to spend the rest of my life with'. There was another puff of smoke, and there next to me was the loveliest woman I have ever seen. 'What is your final wish?' asked the genie. And I said, 'I'd like an orange for a head'".
  • A man walks into a bar and orders a beer. While the bartender is pouring it, the man pulls out a miniature piano and a foot-tall guy jumps out of his pocket and starts playing it beautifully. When the bartender sees the little guy playing, he asks the man, "Where'd you get such a 12-inch pianist?" The man sets an oil lamp on the bar, motions the bartender to rub it and says, "Genie. Be careful though, he's hard of hearing." Bartender rubs it and the Genie pops out, offering him a wish. He thinks for a minute and says, "I want a million bucks!" Genie snaps his fingers and disappears. A minute later, the door swings open and tons of ducks start waddling in. Bartender yells, "Hey! I asked for a million BUCKS, not a million DUCKS!" The man says, "I know. Wanna know what I asked for?"
  • A man with a head the size of an apple walks into a bar and orders a drink. When he notices the bartender staring, he explains that one day while on a beach, he encountered a mermaid stuck on the shore. He carries her back into the ocean and she says she'll grant three wishes in exchange for saving his life. He does the normal wishes of money and a big house. For the third wish, he says that he'd like to have sex with her. She points out that their anatomies are incompatible, so he shrugs and says "Ok, then how about a little head?"


  • The control implants in Billy and Howard work this way. Anyone who can't avoid the obvious pitfalls is considered Too Dumb to Live.
  • In Ella Enchanted, Ella has to follow any direct order she's given since birth. She quickly learns to be a literal genie. For example, she will hold the bowl for her nurse when she's cooking, but the nurse didn't order her to stand still.
  • In John Bellairs' The Letter, The Witch, and the Ring, the ring is a magic ring that grants wishes—by allowing the wearer to invoke a demon. Upon finally getting possession of the ring, the villain wishes to be young and beautiful and to live for a thousand years—then vanishes. The heroes later notice a young willow tree nearby...
  • In the first Magic in Ithkar anthology, Lin Carter contributed "The Goblinry of Ais", in which the title character purchases the use of a magic artifact that allows the user to command a trapped goblin to grant wishes. Naturally, the goblin is not happy about this situation, and Ais is warned to be careful in phrasing her commands. She asks to be young, beautiful, and graceful again - soon afterward, a guardsman kills the snake he finds in her tent.
  • In Diana Wynne Jones' book Castle in the Air, the main character acquires a genie who states right from the beginning that he swore that all the wishes he granted would "do as much harm as possible", out of pure petulance. A good deal of the book deals with the characters having to come up with wishes that the genie can't mess up.
  • Defied in the Larry Niven short story, "The Wishing Game": Clubfoot and Mirandee (of The Magic Goes Away) go to great pains to make sure to give Kreezerast the Frightener very precise instructions, and continually frustrate him when his attempts to twist the wishes turn out to be what they actually wanted (though in the end, he takes some consolation in knowing that they will probably run into trouble later because of the wishes he granted).
  • Discworld
    • The golems in the novel Feet of Clay "rebel" by doing exactly what they're told. "No-one wants them to think, so they get their own back by not thinking."
    • Wyrd Sisters shows a subversion, when the witches summon a demon who agrees to answer three questions, and takes great delight in giving technically-accurate but completely unhelpful answers to the first two, no matter how carefully the witches try to phrase them. For the third question, they decide to try a different approach and ask it "Just what the hell's going on? And no wriggling about trying to get out of it!"—which works far better. The fact they threaten him with being boiled alive and hit with a large stick helps some.
    • In Faust Eric, demons try to give people who summon them "exactly what they asked for and exactly what they didn't want". This would also make them Jackass Genies, except that they don't need to stretch very far to make Eric's wishes backfire.
    • The dwarfs of Discworld have trouble with metaphor, simile, sarcasm and irony, due to the fact that when working in mineshafts, it is vitally important to be clear and unambiguous. In Guards Guards, after the Watch corners Lupine Wonse, Vimes orders (then) Lance-Constable Carrot (who was reared by dwarfs) to "throw the book at him". Carrot proceeds to literally throw the book (The Laws and Ordinances of the Cities of Ankh and Morpork) at Wonse, knocking him over a ledge to his death. In Jingo, when Commander Vimes, after a busy night of anonymous attacks on citizens of Klatchian descent, is approached by a dwarf officer at a run, he sarcastically says, "Don't tell me, the Klatchian embassy's on fire." The Dwarf just stands there looking awkward, because that's exactly what's happening.
    • The Auditors have similar trouble. For example when asked, "Can I offer you a drink?" they say yes, because they judge the person perfectly capable of offering them one.
    • Tiffany Aching has to deal with this from two sources. The first is the Nac Mac Feegle, who just want to be helpful. While they can't actually do magic, they are determined, numerous, and immensely strong. She reflects that while never actually likely to say "I wish I could marry a handsome prince", the fact that if she did she would probably quickly find a tied up prince and clergyman at her door makes one wary of voicing ones desires out loud. There's also the Hiver, a creature which possesses people's bodies, then tries to make all their wishes come true. Even the ones they don't say, don't really want except for a fleeting urge, or wouldn't work towards because things like conscience or sanity hold them back.
  • In one of the Callahans Crosstime Saloon books by Spider Robinson, a cluricaune has to grant the patrons of the bar three wishes, but they're savvy enough to avoid the word "wish". So the cluricaune gets around it by granting a wish when someone says something that sounds like she's making a wish, even though she isn't. For the record, the dialogue is a woman saying she'd like to show her husband Isham a repaired table. "I show Ish that table repaired" was transposed into "I sho' wish that table repaired."
  • In The Wish, a girl is granted a wish by an old lady she meets on a bus. The old lady offers to give her a permanent place in the in-crowd, but the girl insists on wishing to be the most popular person at her school... not realizing that the wish will then expire when she graduates a few weeks later.
  • Penn & Teller wrote a story involving a genie where their first wish was for the correct phrasing to get infinite wishes that wouldn't backfire.
  • The title character of The Bartimaeus Trilogy is both a literal and metaphorical Literal Genie ("Djinn" is the root of "genie"). He has some Noble Demon qualities that cancel it out, though. He actually remarks, several times, on how careful the magicians have to be when giving orders to the djinn, because they try to misinterpret it to either mean nothing or cause harm to the magician. Probably the most memorable example of magicians getting around this was Nathaniel giving Bartimaeus's somewhat long orders about stealing the Amulet in one breath.
  • In Marion Zimmer Bradley's A Dozen of Everything, a young woman is given a djinn in a bottle as a wedding present from an eccentric aunt. She wishes for trousseau, but finding the old-fashioned djinn unfamiliar with the term, she carelessly instructs him to give her "a dozen of everything" and to put it all in her room. This goes about as well as one might expect.
  • All The Money in the World by Bill Brittain has a poor boy finding a genie and accidentally wasting his first two wishes. He tries to use the third wish to escape poverty, but figuring any finite amount of money will eventually run out, he requests "all the money in the world". Naturally most of the rest of the story centers around how he just wrecked the world economy and wished for something entirely useless at the same time.
  • The Wish Giver, also by Bill Brittain, has a mysterious man give the narrator and three children one wish each. Of course, the wishes are granted on his own terms, so the girl who wishes to be the "center of attention" winds up croaking like a frog and attracting stares and laughter whenever she says anything nasty (which is very often). The other girl who wishes for her love interest to "put roots down" is treated to the sight of her love interest transformed into a tree in her backyard, and the boy who wishes for "more than enough water" on his family's perpetually dry farm ends up with the farm completely flooded. It takes the fourth wish to repair all the damage.
  • In the Goosebumps book Be Careful What You Wish For (which has also been adapted for TV), Samantha Bird is an especially genre-blind victim of a wish-granting witch, never realizing that her words are being taken literally. Her wish to be the most talented basketball player on her team (she's a big klutz) causes everyone else to be weaker, her wish for the Alpha Bitch to become her friend turns said girl into an insane stalker, then she wishes for the Alpha Bitch to have found the wish-granting crone instead. She ends up as a bird thanks to the other girl's wish.
  • A classic short story has a man meeting up with his old college flame, who is now a world-famous beauty with unbelievable talent and skill at everything, who figures out that her butler is a demon who granted her three wishes. Her first wish "To be the most beautiful woman of my age" made her age be over 80, her wish for "Wealth beyond the dreams of avarice" gave her nothing, because avarice has no bounds, but her wish that the demon be "Totally and unselfishly in love with me" got her anything that would make her happy. The protagonist was very happy about the "unselfish" part, considering the activities of the previous night.
  • There is a French story about a fat man who asks his friend, an inventor, for a means to lose weight—and then said friend conjured an elixir that made the man completely weightless, which of course creates lots of problems.
  • In Anansi Boys, Fat Charlie asks the Bird Woman to get rid of his brother Spider. At least that's what he thinks she's agreed to do. The Bird Woman never promised that she'd get rid of Spider specifically; her exact words were that she wanted "Anansi's bloodline," which includes Spider and Charlie. Yikes.
  • In the Mercedes Lackey book One Good Knight, a dragon is summoned to ravage the land until presented with routine virgin sacrifices. Of course the dragon is a noble/knightly sort, and while he cannot fight the spell he is able to limit the ravaging to destruction of property and decimation of livestock... and finds the spell does not require him to devour or even harm the maidens he carries off. Imagine the surprise of the Dragon Slayer and the princess more or less rescued by same when they track it down and find the "victims" arrayed in defence of the "monster".
  • Douglas Hofstadter's book Godel Escher Bach features such a genie incident when Achilles wishes that his wish not have been granted. Oops.
  • Gary Wolf's Who Censored Roger Rabbit? offers an interesting twist: a genie so embittered at having to grant everyone's wishes without once getting his own way, he sets the wishes he grants up in such a way that they'll naturally dissipate with time, such as Roger's wife Jessica (yes, that Roger and that Jessica) losing interest in him. He does take things literally on some occasions, though, such as transforming a deep-sea diver into a fish after he wished he could stay underwater indefinitely. He does this not out of contractual obligation, though; he's just a bitter jerk.
  • A short story had a man making a Deal with the Devil to be with his old crush. Realising that the woman might no longer be the beauty she was in college, he insists that the Devil make her "exactly the same" as she is in a particular photo. The Devil complies and the woman is exactly as she is in the photo, including being two inches tall.
    • And as flat as paper as well?!
  • The point of Five Children and It by E. Nesbit.
  • In Tithe by Holly Black, Faeries can be commanded by the power of their true name... but this can end up being interpreted in a very Literal Genie way, as the protagonist discovers after discovering the true name of one Rath Roiben Rye and addressing him by it while telling him to "Kiss my ass." Later, and more deliberately, the big bad gets Rath Roiben Rye's true name and orders him to grab the escaping heroine. Roiben promptly grabs her arm... and then lets her go again.
  • The humor/adventure fantasy novel Captains Outrageous uses this in the last paragraph of the book. Sorcerer Bosamp has been manipulated into trying to destroy the world by a dragon (divine beings in this setting) with the promise of a beautiful world of his own to rule. Bosamp is defeated and imprisoned, and the dragon is punished by her superiors. As the dragons' punishment begins, he superior grudgingly admires her cleverness in manipulating Bosamp, since she actually would have granted him his own beautiful world... with poisonous air and crushing gravity.
  • A short story turned the Literal Genie clause back on the Devil. The Devil offers a single wish to anyone in exchange for their soul, with the limitation that if the wish is supremely selfless, the Devil has to spare the person and cease tormenting humanity forever. A man accomplishes this by wishing, without any change in himself, to be the most sickly, miserable, lonely, needy, cruel, corrupt, wasteful, etc., etc., person in the world.
Note that the Devil can't even twist that one by removing all the other people, à la The X-Files genie episode: the supremely selfless nature of the wish bars him from tormenting humans any longer, and knowing he'd inadvertently caused humanity to vanish would torment the wish-maker, who can't be removed under the terms stated.
  • The Monkeys Paw is a prime example of this. The plot of the short story is simple. A family comes across a magical preserved monkey hand with three fingers extended, representing the three wishes. Their first wish is for money, as soon as they wish it a member of their son's labor union knocks on the door to inform them that he was killed at the factory and to deliver condolence money. The mother decides to use the second wish to bring him back from the dead, which leads to a SECOND knock at the door. Before the mother can get to the door, the narrator senses that something horrible must be about to happen, and uses the third wish presumably to undo the second, though we never actually hear what the third wish was or see if it had any of its own negative side effects.
  • Magic in Inheritance Cycle requires very careful use of language, Eragon once accidentally cursed a girl because he used the word "shield" as a noun rather than a verb, dooming her to soak up misery and pain from everyone around her.
  • In Christopher Stasheff's A Wizard in Rhyme series, the entire magic system of the world sometimes acts like a Literal Genie. An example would be the time that main character Matt, a transplant from our world who therefore isn't as careful about his language, yells "damn that stick!" when a big stick is in his way, and later finds out that he literally damned the stick. It comes back as an even bigger stick that is now pissed off because it was taken to Hell.
  • In "The Knight's Tale" from Chaucer's The Canterbury Tales, two soldiers are praying the night before a tournament, where the prize is the hand in marriage of Emily. Palamon prays to Venus that he will be the one to marry Emily, while Arcite prays to Mars that he will claim victory in the tournament. Both men have their wishes granted; Arcite is able to win the battle against Palamon, but during his victory celebrations his horse becomes frightened and rears, throwing Arcite to the ground. When Arcite dies of his injuries, Theseus declares Palamon Emily's rightful husband by default.
  • H. G. Wells wrote a short story entitled "The Man Who Could Work Miracles". The title character is a working-class nebbish who can make anything happen by saying it should—but, true to this trope, the power pays no attention to metaphors. His control is improving by the end of the story, but he stumbles over the laws of physics—a preacher suggests he "stop the sun and moon" like Joshua at Jericho, and reminds him that their apparent motion comes from the earth rotating. He orders the Earth to stop, and momentum flings everything into space.
  • In Ursula K. Le Guin's The Lathe of Heaven, George Orr has the uncontrolled ability to alter reality (often retroactively) through his dreams. His psychiatrist attempts, through hypnosis, to use this ability to "improve" the world. But Orr's subconscious frequently operates on the Literal Genie principle and subverts these attempts. For example, in response to the request for "peace on Earth," Orr dreams up a space war with alien invaders; when asked to end racial violence, Orr dreams up a world in which all human beings are gray.
  • In an Expanded Universe novel of the Doctor Who franchise, The Stone Rose, the culprit behind all unusual events was a genetically-engineered lizard/platypus hybrid with the ability to grant any wish spoken aloud starting with "I wish...". The ability of the GENIE is limited by the laws of physics. He can Time Travel, teleport, and transmute matter, but it required enormous amounts of energy, which it took from any available source, including people. Transporting a person from the 24th century to Ancient Rome is easy, since the GENIE is able to use the 24th century power grid for this purpose. Going back, however, is a different matter.
It should be noted that any wish that was impossible to fulfill would be interpreted in its own way by the GENIE. For example, wishing for something "never to have happened" would be impossible to fulfill, as the GENIE is unable to alter the past. Instead, he might create an illusion for the person as if the wish was actually fulfilled.
  • An example from the Belisarius Series: After the titular general escaped the Malwa capital by bluffing his way through a gate guarded by low-ranking conscripts while disguised as an officer who could kill them with impunity, Lord Jivita threw a tantrum and demanded the Rajput general Rana Sanga have the gate guards flogged before setting out after Belisarius. Rana Sanga, bound by oaths of obedience, personally took his own horsewhip to each of them. Twice (the plural "lashes" were specified). With enough force to possibly kill a particularly frail fly.
  • The enslaved gods in N.K. Jemison's The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms are required to obey any imperative statement made by the noble Arameri while in their presence. One of the first things the protagonist learns is that one must be extremely careful not only when giving a command but saying something that could be interpreted as giving a direct command.
  • There was a short story in one of Marion Zimmer Bradley's anthologies where a demon sorcerer (who is under a binding that he must always fulfill his offers, once made) crashes a village celebration, picks the least popular and most-abused girl in town, and offers her a Sadistic Choice: he will kill any one person in the room for her, but she must choose someone, or else he will kill her. The demon's intent was for the girl to damn her soul by having someone murdered for vengeance, and then die at the hands of the rest of the village. Cue Oh Crap expression from the demon when the girl points out the obvious: the demon himself qualifies as "one person in the room".
  • One of the stories in 100 Great Science Fiction Short Short Stories concerns a scientist who builds a machine which can create anything that he tells it to. To test it out, he decides to start with some simple commands. His first request is “drink,” and he gets a puddle on his desk (he hadn’t specified a glass). His next request is “girl,” and a girl appears. She is naked (he hadn’t specified clothing) and nine years old. His reaction to this is “Hell!” He then dies when his house explodes in a giant fireball.
  • Isaac Asimov wrote a series of (non-Sci Fi) short stories about a tiny demon named Azazel, who would grant wishes that started off looking like exactly what the person wanted, but ended up being the person's worst nightmare. In one story, a man with no self-confidence wanted to be irresistible to women. He ended up being literally chased everywhere by women, and in the end was engaged to a woman built like a linebacker because he was too afraid of her (and her equally massive brothers) to turn her down.
  • The novel Alf's Button features a British soldier during World War I who discovers that one of the buttons on his tunic is made from Aladdin's lamp. The genie will grant him unlimited wishes—but only one per day. It's therefore unfortunate that the first time the genie appears, Alf's reaction is to exclaim: "Strike me pink!" (a common expression of surprise at the time).
  • A short story by Bill Pronzini has a young boy being granted three wishes by a genie. His first two wishes are trivial: for a huge number of ice cream cones and for the ocean to be as warm as his bathwater so he can go wading whenever he wants. But the third wish is for all the children in the world to be just like him, so he will always have someone to play with. The end of the story reveals that the boy is mentally retarded.
  • Deep Thought from The Hitchhikers Guide to The Galaxy could qualify, although it's more of an example of computer programming humor: Deep Thought gives the correct answer, it's just that the questioners asked the question wrong.
    • Haktar has a similar problem. He built the Silastic Armorfiends of Striterax the "ultimate weapon", a bomb that would link together all suns in an enormous supernove and destroy the universe. "Ultimate", meaning the last weapon. Again, this one is mostly the fault of the creators. When he asked them what exactly they meant by "ultimate" they told him to look in a dictionary.
  • In Alastair Reynolds' short story "Nightingale", the medical A.I. offers to let the mercenaries return "in one piece." Cue the Body Horror.
  • The Broken Lands, the second book of Fred Saberhagen's Empire of the East trilogy, features a literal Literal Genie. That is, the wizard Grey summons a djinn that does exactly and literally what is asked of it. Grey and Rolf don't get anywhere with it until they start asking questions instead of giving commands.
  • An example, with God as the Literal Genie, can be found in the 11th-century satirical Arabic work The Epistle of Forgiveness. The protagonist is in Paradise, and having just encountered a beautiful houri who asserts she has been promised to him since the time of Creation, he bows down to thank God - then finds himself thinking that while beautiful, the lass is a bit on the skinny side. As he raises his head, he finds that her buttocks have now grown a lot bigger, and needs to ask God to shorten them by a mile or two.
  • While not a genie, in Elantris, Sarene promises to get the Elantrian leaders anything they ask for, then finds it a fun game twisting their requests. They ask her for 20 sheets of steel: they get 20 sheets of steel pounded so thin as to be useless. Next time they ask for steel by weight: they get boxes full of broken nails. They ask for knives, stipulating that they be sharp, and receive them sans handles. (Though they do beat her sometimes - for instance, when asking for fish, which they expect will be half-rotten, which is exactly what they wanted, since they were actually looking for fertilizer.)
  • Giving this trope a hilarious twist, in one of the Witcher short stories, Geralt and his friend find a Genie who they accidentally unleash. Geralt tries to banish him by saying the words of an "exorcism", in a language he didn't understand. The Genie indeed left, only to later return, as noted by the characters, furious beyond words. Turns out that the "exorcism" is just a prank someone played on Geralt, and roughly translates to "go and fuck yourself". The Genie had to go and do exactly that.
  • Australian children's author Paul Jennings likes afflicting his characters with strange curses, sometimes as a result of this trope. The short story "Santa Claws" involves a teenage boy who wakes up one day with no memory of the last day and his mouth has shrunk to the point where he can't eat anything that won't fit through a straw. He goes to a hypnotist, who tells him to write down what happened while under hypnosis. He tells the story of he and his younger and older sisters finding a genie who grants them each two wishes. The kids are on a steep learning curve and find that whatever they wish for goes awry, whether it be due to poor phrasing, the wish being granted in an unexpected way or just a poorly thought out wish. Mayhem has ensued by the time he and his younger sister have exhausted their wishes. His older sister then wishes that they had never discovered the genie. This erases the previous events, but doesn't change the fact that she still has one wish left. The boy and girl later have a fight which culminates in her yelling "I wish you didn't have such a big mouth!"
  • The title character of Charlotte Dacre's Zofloya, or the Moor hangs a Lampshade on what usually happens when he fulfills the Villain Protagonist's wishes:

Victoria...remember, that I have been thy willing instrument, and that literally I have performed to thee the promises I made.

  • There's a book called Best Case Scenario (a parody of the Worst Case Scenario series) which includes a section on how to deal with a genie; the old joke about the guy with the ten-inch pianist is mentioned, and they advise you to put a wish in writing, just in case you run into one like that. It gives other advice, like not to rush him, seeing as he's probably cranky after being cooped up in a lamp for heaven knows how long.

Live-Action TV

  • Are You Afraid of the Dark? example: Two kids who live on a farm find an enchanted scarecrow that comes to life and obeys your orders, which is great, until the boy, within earshot of the scarecrow, accidentally says he'd "like to kill" his cousin for taking his baseball glove...
  • Sabrina the Teenage Witch relies heavily on the notion that incantations would be taken literally whenever there is a plot to be made of it. Always ends up with Sabrina's aunts pushing her to remember exactly what she'd said, in order to reverse the spell.
  • Buffy the Vampire Slayer
    • Anya had great fun with this. She created a heart-eating monster when an upset girl asked that some frat boys find out what it was like to have their hearts ripped out. On the other hand, she was once asked to turn a cheating lover into a frog, and she turned him French.
    • Likewise, Willow foolishly cast a "My will be done" spell on herself, then accidentally struck Giles blind, turned Xander into a demon-magnet, and got Buffy and Spike engaged through her foolish use of figurative language.
    • And again, Lorne finds himself writing, rather than reading, people's destinies after having his sleep removed. Spike becomes upbeat, Fred and Wesley become drunk, Gunn begins to mark his territory (by peeing on things), and Angel and Eve find themselves uncontrollably having sex.
  • The Tenth Kingdom
    • Tony's dragon dung bean fulfills this trope to a tee: his first wish of making his landlord and his family become his slaves included the phrase "and kiss my ass"... so every single Murray family member insists on doing exactly that with obsessive attention. The beer in the fridge is indeed neverending, to the point of making it explode, the vacuum he asked to "clean the entire house" follows the directions to the letter (including trying to vacuum up the curtains), and even the beneficial wish of being able to speak to Wendell the dog is limited to only Tony being able to hear him, since he said "I" rather than "we". And when he wishes for money, it is stolen from the bank, and the cops are quick to track it down.
    • This also occurs later in the Deadly Swamp (because Tony never learns):

Fairy #1: Oh look, they're all chained up! That can't be helping!
Fairy #2: Would you like to be separated from each other?
Tony: More than you can imagine.
(the fairies cast a spell, making their manacles fall off; Tony and Virginia each look around, only to find they're alone in different parts of the swamp)
Tony: Hey! When I said we wanted to be separated, I didn't mean literally!

  • Any number of plots on The Twilight Zone. "But you only said you wanted to look younger, not actually be younger"; "You said you wanted to live forever, not that you wanted to stop aging"; etc.
    • A specific example: in The Twilight Zone Classic episode "The Man in the Bottle", an old couple uncork a genie who can grants wishes, but warns of the price to them. When the couple figures out to carefully word their wishes, the husband wishes to be a leader for life in a modern European nation, but he still messes up when the genie gleefully turns him into Adolf Hitler at the fall of Berlin. Understandably, he quickly uses the last wish to turn himself back to normal.
  • In The X-Files episode "Je Souhaite", Mulder has to deal with a genie who's forced to take the most literal interpretation of wishes, causing her much frustration at the stupidity of people who don't think their wishes through. At one point, she does try to convince one of the brothers to make a different wish than what he was going to wish for (that his dead brother could talk to him again), since the living brother was in a wheelchair. But the idiot thought she meant that he should wish for a golden wheelchair. Well... she tried.
This episode also partially subverts the trope, in that after Mulder realizes the genie is a Literal Genie, he became Genre Savvy and decides to plan his next wish very carefully and write it all out beforehand unambiguously. But then he changes his mind and doesn't make the wish at all. It's implied that the genie doesn't have to take the literal interpretation, but does so out of spite for all these selfish people with their stupid wishes. Realising this, Mulder does the only thing he can do and wishes the genie is a normal person again. It's a heartwarming scene at the end. She tells Mulder exactly what her one wish would be, describing being human again, where she would be sitting and what she would be seeing. Mulder "wished" her exact soliloquy, verbatim.
  • Subverted in a Saturday Night Live sketch in which a fisherman catches a fish that grants wishes. Unsatisfied with the first several wishes that backfire, he hires a lawyer to make sure he gets exactly what he wants by drawing up a wish contract for the fish.
  • Jenji in Power Rangers Mystic Force uses this tactic to get out of granting any wishes at all. When the villains has captured him, he escapes by tricking Leelee into releasing him but wasting her wish: she winds up saying "I wish I'd never started biting my nails," to which he gleefully responds "done!" Once he disappears, the girl then finds her fingernails to be long and blackened. Screamlarity Ensues.
  • Beetleborgs has Flabber the phasm, who according to the producers was based on Elvis, but to some resembles big-chinned talk-show host Jay Leno.
  • Kamen Rider Den-O
    • The Imagin, ghostly "spirits" from an alternate future who make genie-like "contracts" with humans in order to gain physical form, go back in time, and wreck the past, ensuring their history is restored (they're ghosts because they were retroactively wiped from existence). The only way they can connect to the past is by granting their contract-holder a wish, though quite often the Imagin will twist the human's words in order to achieve their goal. In one episode, a man wishes to cut ties with the Yakuza, and the Imagin fulfills his wish by cutting their neckties, which is apparently sufficient to connect to the past. In another, the Imagin of the week overhears a man talking in his sleep that he would like to get rid of his boss, and takes it as a wish. When he finds out that the man can't remember wishing that (of course, he was fast asleep)... Well, let's just say it didn't go over very well.
    • A more positive version occurs late in the series. the good Imagin Kintaros, who lacks a contract with his partner Ryotaro, asks what the young man's New Year's resolution is; Ryotaro says that it's for his friends to stay with him no matter what. Later on when faced with an army of evil Imagin, Kintaros reveals that he treated the resolution as a wish, giving himself physical form and allowing him to pull a not-quite-Heroic Sacrifice Go Through Me.
  • Gabrielle's enchanted scroll (Hilarity Ensues(tm)) worked this way during the Xena: Warrior Princess episode "The Quill is Mightier". Only by writing what was actually occurring instead of using metaphor (thank you, piscine weaponry) was she able to break the spell.
  • In the short-lived show Special Unit 2, their version of a Genie (using the original pronunciation of Jinn) only has the ability to turn itself into mist and hide in objects (bottles, lamps, and cans, for example). It was still required to grant wishes though. For example, when one of the Jinn's masters expressed a desire to be with a famous celebrity, the Jinn had to physically kidnap the celebrity, which of course led to the master's arrest.
  • Charmed has two different genie episodes. In the first, the genie is explicitly shown as being sent to screw with the witches, so their wishes going wrong is justified. In the second, a secondary character happens to have a book of perfectly phrased wishes to say to genies so as not to mess things up; however, that same episode shows that genies actually have control over how they grant the wish, such as when Phoebe makes Piper and Leo literally sleep together when Chris wishes it.
  • The title character in the ABC/BBC children's drama, The Genie from Down Under, was one of these—sometimes bordering on Jackass Genie. The spoiled English girl who released the Genie from the opal needed reforming pronto, and the genie set about this by annoying her constantly. Any wish that could be fulfilled by teleporting her back to Australia would be done in that manner, where a new adventure would begin.
  • Inverted on Smallville, where Chloe's mother has a power that forces meteor-freaks to do precisely and literally what she tells them. She books herself into a hospital when she tells her daughter to scrub her hands clean and she goes too far. Ick.
  • Used briefly in Spellbinder. When Kathy irritably tells one of her android toys to "pull your head in" it attempts to oblige, though it can't get a proper grip on its skull.
  • The Sarah Jane Adventures
    • Rani gets angry at her friends and shouts, "I wish they would just leave me alone!" Later on, a sentient alien spaceship is grateful to Rani for helping its passenger and grants her wish, making all her friends disappear forever. Fortunately, fifty years later when Rani is a lonely old woman living in Sarah Jane's attic, she gets the chance to take it back.
    • An almost-but-not-quite example from the parent show, the Doctor gives the Family of Blood exactly what they wished for—in the most horrific manner possible. They wanted the immortality of a Time Lord, so they got imprisoned in chains forged at the heart of a dwarf star, past the event horizon of a collapsing galaxy, trapped in every mirror in existence and dressed up as a scarecrow to watch over the fields of England, frozen in time. Yikes.
  • The Christmas programme Bernard and the Genie starring Alan Cumming, Lenny Henry, and Rowan Atkinson.

Bernard: I have to be very careful, haven't I?
Genie: Yes, say the words "I wish" with the caution you would normally reserve for "Please castrate me."

  • Star Trek: The Next Generation: LaForge tells the holodeck to create a Sherlock Holmes mystery "capable of defeating Data." The result is a hologram smart enough and powerful enough to take control of the ship.
  • In an episode of LazyTown, Robbie acquires a genie, and his first two wishes are for all the fruit and vegetables and all the sports equipment to disappear, but since he forgets to specify a duration, they return not 5 minutes later. He fails to wish away Sportacus.
  • In Weird Science, Wyatt wants to be the chess club president and accidentally wishes for it in front of Lisa, although she doesn't hear the whole story, and he forgets to mention the "chess club" part. So, she makes him the President of the United States. Gary's mismanagement and Wyatt's obsession with the chess club results in Wyatt's impeachment.
  • Rentaghost: The Perkins are given a magical amulet that grants all their wishes. They do not realise this, however, and persist in expressing odd wishes, which the amulet then proceeds to grant, usually in a fairly literal manner.
  • In The Collector, which is all about making Deals with the Devil, the Devil always finds some way for a poorly phrased deal to backfire. For example, the main character's lover dies of The Plague after his 10-year deal is up because he asked for "more time with her," not that she be fully cured and live.


  • Andrew Pants, who runs a website where people can recommend things for him to write songs about, sometimes responds to these like a Literal Genie. A person asks for a song about hot girls, he gets one involving flame-throwers and microwaves. Someone else asks for a song in which every word has an "o" in it, and he gets a song that's completely instrumental, except for the end, when he says "potato".
  • Savatage's album Dead Winter Dead treats God this way in the song "This Isn't What We Meant". The people of Bosnia had prayed for a change from Yugoslavia's cruel regime and to their distress, God's response is a brutal civil war destroying the newborn nation.

Myths and Religion

  • Older Than Feudalism example: Eos, the Greek goddess of the dawn, fell in love with a mortal, Tithonus, so she asked Zeus to grant him "immortality". He did. The catch was she forgot to ask for "eternal youth". Yeah. Not a happy ending. He keeps on aging until he literally shrivels up into a grasshopper. His fate after that remains uncertain.
    • Note: Zeus has granted mortals eternal life before. Either these cases knew how to ask, or Zeus was just being a dick, which would not be out of character.
  • Zeus's latest mistress Semele was tricked by Hera into asking him to grant her a wish, and got him to swear an oath on the River Styx to grant whatever she asked. For Greek gods, the oath of the Styx is unbreakable, or can be broken only with severe consequences such as the oathbreaker being unable to move or breathe for a year, then unable to see other gods for 9 more years (a recipe for chaos and violence on Olympus if Zeus is the one missing). Then Semele wished to seem him in his full glory, and was consequently burnt to ash by the sight.
  • For example, there is another story about a nymph who fell in love with an extremely handsome man named Hermaphroditos (the son of Hermes and Aphrodite, hence the name), and asked Zeus to make them together forever. Zeus merged their bodies together, and thus we have the word "hermaphrodite".
  • There's a legend, later made into a Fleischer cartoon, about a miser who managed to catch a leprechaun. As per the usual terms, the leprechaun had to lead the miser to his pot of gold, which happened to be under a stump. The miser realizes he needs a shovel, puts his coat on the stump, and orders the leprechaun not to touch the coat, stump, or treasure. When he gets back, he finds the leprechaun gone, and dozens of identical stumps with identical coats on them.
  • The classic three-wish fairy tale (example: The Farmer and the Sausage) is a folk tale staple that can be found in many cultures: invariably the third wish must be used to repair the damage caused by the first two.
  • In The Book of Mormon, two people at different times demanded for a sign that Jesus Christ existed. They didn't live long after that.
  • Another Older Than They Think example: In one version of the Prague Golem story, a 16th century Jewish tale, the Golem is asked to fill a barrel with water from the river. Left alone, the Golem overflows the barrel with water until the entire house is flooded because he is only capable of following literal instructions, not thinking for himself.

Newspaper Comics

  • In Calvin and Hobbes, Calvin is falling from a great height and while searching for some way to save himself, finds his Transmogrifier Gun, which can turn anything into whatever he's thinking of. He gleefully proclaims "I'll just point it at myself and transmogrify! I'm safe!", at which point he turns into... well, a safe.


  • A Mad magazine comic starts with a guy complaining about how everyone looks down on him and calls him a schmuck, saying things like, "Schmuck, you couldn't find a decent job?" or, "Schmuck, you couldn't marry a nice girl?" His luck seems to change when he finds a genie, and wishes for "a zillion bucks". When the genie asks how he wants that, he exclaims, "IN CASH!" and is promptly flattened by a ton of money bags. The genie says, "Schmuck, you could have asked for it in a check!"

Puppet Shows

    • This is based on an even older joke about the same subject. More mature versions involve the person being a drunk who is turned into a mixed drink at a bar.

Tabletop Games

  • About 50% of all game masters when giving a player a wish. For the other 50%, see Jackass Genie.

Genie: Let me get this straight. You want me to raze all your ability scores?

    • An anecdote from 3.5e using the "Speak with Dead" spell, which allows you to ask three questions from a corpse:

"So, I get three questions, right?"
"How many have I got now?"
"Are you kidding?!"

  • This is one of the fundamental tenets of Changeling: The Lost; though Pledges are more about intent, the Contracts (spells) and the reality-warping powers of the True Fae are based on extremely literal interpretations of fairly general ideas. Nonsensical catches in the contracts can allow you to call upon its power without cost- for example, smearing a mirror with a saliva-wettened tongue, being at a formal party of eight or more people, or using the contract purely to prove you can, depending on the contract.
  • The basic GURPS book is quite open about it, noting for instance that a summoned demon will fulfill your wish literally and that it will pervert the literal meaning if it can, or that an animated object will only follow your literal commands, and as an example states that "Drop me off here" is not a good thing to say to an animated helicopter.
    • The hare god Bett Agwo in GURPS Fantasy II: Adventures in the Mad Lands. Unlike most Literal Genies he actually tries to be helpful, but manages to screw things up anyway.
  • In one Grimm module, the ancient witch, Baba Yaga, would answer one question for the PCs, but just one. The module says that if the questioner is trying to be polite, and formulate the question as "Can you tell me..." or "Do you know..." the answer would be "Yes, I can / Yes, I know".

Video Games

  • Subverted in Neverwinter Nights 2: Mask of the Betrayer: A devil has given a man a series of favors in exchange for performing evil deeds and also gaining the man's soul when he dies. Unfortunately for the devil, interpreting the man's wish, "I wish he was gone" means killing him (and fulfilling the last condition) and this blows up in his face because the contract's laws require that each condition cannot be coerced, and the literal genie interpretation of the wish counts as such.
  • Joka's ending in Klonoa: Beach Volleyball features him casting a spell to make the prize money he won 10 times greater. He ends up making the individual bills 10 times larger. When he tries to spend the money, the shopkeeper assumes it's counterfeit and calls the police.
  • In the Twisted Metal car combat game series the winner is granted a single wish. Most of the wishes end up getting corrupted such as a soldier who wishes for a young body but keeps his old head and a couple of men who wish to be able to fly and are given plane tickets revealed after they jumped off of a roof and died thinking they could fly.
    • Usually averted by Needles Kane the driver of Sweet tooth. He almost always gets one over on calypso.
    • Similarly, the two who wished to fly in one game had 'beaten' Calypso in a previous installment through sheer virtue of being so simple-minded: they wished for new tires for their monster truck, because it wore them out very quickly. After initial surprise, a bemused Calypso grants it, no strings attached.
      • Also worth pointing out, Calypso wasn't actively trying to screw them with the flying wish; the ending text notes that they assumed they could fly and jumped off the roof as a dumbfounded Calypso looks on.
    • One ending in Twisted Metal 2 shows that the winner anticipated this. In the first game, Outlaw (a police officer) confronts Calypso and gets sent into space. In the second, Outlaw's sister asks to be taken to her brother, which gets her sent to which point it's revealed her car doubles as a spacecraft, allowing her and her brother to return to Earth safely.
  • In Baldurs Gate, the Limited Wish and Wish spells work like this for the most part, though it doesn't always apply it well. Wishing for a powerful magic item actually gives you a useful one for example, instead of one with an extremely powerful curse on it. Meanwhile ask to be prepared against the undead and it just summons vampires to attack you, without even giving you the feeblest protection against them, making it a Jackass Genie (asking for protection will make it cast an appropriate spell on your party). How much of an ass the genie is depends on your Wisdom, which is presumably meant to mean you alter the wording based upon it, though it's not an effect you see. For example, asking for magic to no longer affect you can either stop you from casting spells, or defend you from minor spells. This is a bit unfortunate given that most mages have no use for Wisdom beyond this single spell.
  • Played with indirectly in Planescape: Torment, where the player can discover a story about this kind of wishmaking, though the game later implies the immortal amnesiac main character accidentally inspired the story. It goes something like this: A man finds himself sitting by a road, not sure of where or who he is. A hag comes up and, cackling, asks, "Are you ready for your third wish?" "Third wish," he asks. "What happened to my first and second?" "You've had two, but you used your second wish to undo your first. That's why you don't remember; everything is as it was before the first wish," she says. "All right," he says, "No harm. I wish to know who I am." The woman laughs and, just before vanishing, declares, "Funny, that was your first wish."
    • Torment has another such tale: Once upon a time, a girl came to an oracle who was rumored to know many things and asked of it a boon. Her life was in need of direction, so she asked this oracle as to what would give her purpose. Now, the oracle was not evil, but it was vague and tended towards drink, which caused it to be obscure in many matters of judgment and focus. Its only answer to the girl's question was that within one story that she would hear in her lifetime was the truth that she sought. The girl went off and collected stories, which she chases to this day, not knowing which of the thousands hold the truth.
      • For reference, that tale is told by a girl called "Yves Tales-Chaser", who you can exchange tales with (the first story is Morte "paying" her for another one). Now, think about it for a moment...
  • The Triforce in The Legend of Zelda Ocarina of Time sort of acts like this as a safeguard against people who would use it for evils means. Ganondorf wanted to use the Triforce to gain power, and therefore, he got Power. As for Wisdom and Courage...
    • Ganondorf actually wanted to use the Triforce to claim Hyrule for himself. However, the person who tries to use it must have a heart with Power, Wisdom, and Courage in balance. Otherwise, they only get the Triforce piece that embodies what they most believe in. Since Ganondorf was a power-hungry jerk he only got the Triforce of Power, while the other two pieces went to their destined bearers. Not that the Triforce of Power wasn't enough for him to take over Hyrule, but to make himself invincible, he needs all three.
  • In Mother 3, the game's Big Bad, the technically immortal Pig King, orders Dr. Andonuts to construct an "Absolutely Safe Capsule", which can protect him from absolutely everything in a pinch. Being one of the good guys, Dr. Andonuts chooses to take the Literal Genie approach regarding just how absolute the safety provided by the Capsule is. When the Pig King eventually faces defeat at the hands of the heroes and retreats to the Absolutely Safe Capsule, it transpires that while he is indeed impervious to any attack the heroes throw at him, he is also unable to attack them, making anyone outside the Capsule also "Absolutely Safe" as a result. The worst and most chilling part, though, is that "Absolute" safety, by definition, is impossible to compromise—once activated, the Capsule cannot be opened again. By entering the Capsule, the Pig King has doomed himself to spend eternity in isolation. Seemingly a Fate Worse Than Death, but it's implied in the end sequence that this was actually a happy ending for him.
  • In Sonic and the Secret Rings, Sonic wishes for "A few" handkerchiefs for his cold after a brief bout of sneezing. Shahra seems too eager to serve her new master, resulting in Sonic being buried up to his head in handkerchiefs.
  • Clavicus Vile, the Deadra Prince of Power and Bargains in The Elder Scrolls series, is sometimes portrayed this way, especially in Skyrim. When a wizard asked Clavicus for the means to cure his daughter of lycanthropy, Clavicus gave the wizard an axe.

Web Comics

  • The Order of the Stick
    • Subverted/inverted in this episode: an oracle answers one question. Because he tried to screw him over before, Roy phrases his question in an extremely convoluted way with many backup clauses to avoid this — but without realizing it, ends up phrasing his question in such a way that the oracle (who wants to give him a useful answer this time) can't, because the actual outcome is a possibility Roy hadn't considered.
    • Used straight in this strip, where Grubwiggler takes advantage of the fact that golems are technically constructs and not undead. Of course, it's quite possible that it honestly hadn't even occurred to him that he would have a customer who wanted their departed boyfriend brought back to life as a PC again.
    • Roy blows it on the wording again here.
    • Played straight with a Suggestion spell cast by Vaarsuvius in #1057.

Vaarsuvius' Familiar: I'm continually amazed at how often we get screwed by you not being pedantic enough.


Schmuck: Oh, you're one of Those Genies.
Genie: For future reference, you now have one kidney.

  • In this Tales of the Questor strip, Quentyn ends up being given three boons from a rather nasty fey of the Unseleighe court. However, he not only has to be very specific with his wishes, but has to phrase it in an obscure language, to eliminate double meanings and make it impossible to interpret the words in any way other than what was intended.
  • Yet Another Fantasy Gamer Comic, in this episode and the following strips. Note that this particular genie isn't overly literal out of any malevolence, but because he's dumber than a doorpost. Case in point, though he offers three wishes, he just can't count, even up to three, and ends up basically giving unlimited wishes (as long as they are worded carefully).
  • The Princess Planet in this arc. In this strip she leans more into Jackass Genie territory.
  • While other more obvious examples in Sluggy Freelance are more in the lines of Jackass Genie, we get this once with an alternative Riff from the Dimension of Lame, apparently out of genuine confusion. Lord Horribus orders him to devise a way for his demons to enter the sewers in spite of the smell of flowers therein (It Makes Sense in Context). All his attempts end in disaster until Horribus realises what the problem is.

Horribus: Way back when, when I said "build me something terrible" I didn't mean "build me something that works terrible!"
Riff: Ohhh! In that case, my latest invention may be just what we need! I call it... The clothespin!

  • This strip of xkcd is a reversal of the punchline of a popular Literal Genie joke. A guy walks into a bar, that includes a piano player that's less than a foot tall and a piano to match. The bartender shows him a very old beer bottle and tells the guy that he can use it for one wish. The guy makes his wish, gets screwed over by Literal Genie, and complains "hey! I didn't ask for [result]!" The bartender's response? "Yeah, and I didn't ask for a ten-inch pianist." Now re-read the xkcd strip.
  • Real Life Comics spent an entire arc on this, when Ben finds a ring of three wishes playing D&D. Unfortunately for him, his DM is...not nice.
    • To elaborate, he wishes for "more gold than he knows what to do with," and gets a giant slab of gold that crushes him to death. Then he wishes for "a million gold pieces;" the pieces he receives are so tiny that the whole pile is almost worthless. Finally, he makes an elaborate, foolproof wish and gets a million normal-sized gold coins, which do not crush him. And then a dragon eats him.
  • In Girl Genius, the protagonist owns a sentient castle. It must always obey any order she gives it, but it loves to interpret those orders in very interesting ways. She learns very quickly to be extremely exact about what she wants, else the castle will ruin whatever she may be trying to do.
  • In Wigu Adventures, the eponymous Wigu and his father find a magical, wish-granting orb, which offers Wigu three wishes (since he is Pure of Heart). Wigu first tries to wish for a hundred wishes, then for the ability to wish for a hundred wishes, but when these are forbidden, he decides to display his Genre Savvy by wishing that the orb will "give me what I ask for, for real, and not try and trick me."
  • This Dinosaur Comics takes the Midas Myth beyond its usual Be Careful What You Wish For status well into extreme Literal Genie territory. Also, be sure to read the Alt Text
  • Giselle, for the record: telling a wishing well "I wish my dreams to come true..." is never a good idea.
  • Units in Erfworld are duty bound, and can't go against orders unless they actively defect to the enemy. But when a magician, capable of casting mind control and suggestion spells asks "May I give you a suggestion, lord?", you may want to think about your answer.....
  • Maxwell the demon is all over this one.
  • Lampshaded in this Vexxarr comic.
  • The party mage in Speak with Monsters warns the rest of the group about this when they obtain three wishes from an efreet. However, he fails to finish his sentence before Tymar wishes for "a buttload of gold." The efreet declares that this isn't even fun, then gives the group three baskets of fruit and calls it even.
  • In Fafnir the Dragon, the title dragon acts like this because he is, simply put, not very bright. So word what you want from him carefully.
  • The ditzy Bottle Blonde from Princess Pi grants wishes exactly how the wisher worded them. This tendency eventually becomes her undoing. After Princess Pi frees Bottle Blonde, so no one could ever use her powers for evil, Bottle Blonde decides to grant one of her own wishes: "I wish to make me a sandwich!" She subsequently turns into a sandwich, which Pi proceeds to eat before it goes to waste.
    • Bottle Blonde doesn't really mess up any of the wishes other people made in her comic, but it seems hard to do so.
  • Someone tried to avert this in this Minus strip and provided pages upon pages of definitions. The titular Reality Warper doesn't have the patience to read through it though and abandons the wishing issue and instead plays with the papers
  • The bad guy controlling Lenny in Accidental Centaurs ordered him to immobilize Alex when Alex tried to attack him. He neglected to mention how long Alex should be immobilized.
  • Freefall AI tend to be smarter than that and/or big on malicious compliance, but such things still happen.

Web Original

  • In Tales of MU, while Two isn't evil herself, one has to carefully word any order meant to give her a little more freedom without getting her in trouble. Protagonist Mackenzie had to think for a whole minute in order to allow her to eat relatively freely. And it takes more than one try.
    • In chapter 345 of the first year, one of Mack's professors gives the class a project that essentially amounts to wording a wish so that it can't be screwed with by a Literal Genie and then having them trade to twist the Exact Words of their victim.
  • The short story Garbage-Collecting the Metaverse by David Madore has a god that interprets a wish a bit differently than intended.
  • To combat the Literal Genie and/or the Jackass Genie, the folks at Home on the Strange have an open-source wish project to create the perfect wish.
  • In the 2nd Edition of Advanced Dungeons & Dragons, casting a wish spell ages your character 5 years, and requires the caster to spend 2–8 days in bed recuperating. So, this handy-dandy guide to being a 2nd Edition AD&D Munchkin recommends you phrase your wish as: "I wish Asmodeus were dead and I got all the experience points from killing him and all his treasure, and that I were de-aged 5 years and didn't need 2d4 days of bed rest."
  • The Word Worlds in Protectors of the Plot Continuum can be quite Literal-Minded, especially when confronted with bad spelling or overly-flowery descriptions. Consequently, any misspelling of a character's name creates a mini-monster to fill in their role in the sentence and Pronoun Trouble in especially bad slash fics can result in both parties doing every described action to each other simultaneously. And these are just the more prosaic typos; for example, one Sue managed to turn herself into a bottle of paint thinner, another created a Prefect Badger and a guy called "Ed of Dream Sequence," and a series of typos in "Twila the Girl Who Waz In Luv With A Vampyre" caused the appearance of a group of hip-hop dancers who then turned into copies of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
  • In the "shapeshifter" email on Homestar Runner, Strong Bad asks (no one in particular) if it would be all right if he could "change into almost anybody". He then finds he can only turn into about half of people, such as the right half of the King of Town, or only the legs of Bubs.
  • The SCP Foundation has SCP-294, a vending machine that will give you whatever you ask for in liquid form. Some of the ensuing mishaps involved "A cup of Joe" (Agent Joeseph [REDACTED] made a complete recovery in the infirmary after four weeks of rest and intravenous hydration), "Whatever the next person orders" (Unfortunately, beverages were delivered simultaneously. Cleanup took two hours.), and "Surprise me" (superheated water that exploded in his face... which did, indeed, surprise him).
  • Hal the Misinterpretive Porn Star by Harry Partridge seeks to invoke this in every scene he does. For instance, when a porn actress says she "likes a big piece of meat and can never get enough", he starts force-feeding her whole buckets of meat. When another says she wants him to "take her to a place she's never been before", he launches her into the sun.
  • Dragon Ball Abridged makes blatant note of the DBZ example above, when Deadpan Snarker Dende points out their failure to bring Piccolo right to them.

Dende: He is on Namek.
Gohan: Wait, where is he?
Dende: On Namek.
Piccolo (from the other side of the planet): You dumbass!
Krillin: Why didn't it bring him here?
Dende: You must be specific.
Gohan: Oh, so it's a sort of monkey's paw; you have to be careful what the hubris in your wish is.
Piccolo (still distant): NERRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRD!


Western Animation

  • The Fairly OddParents
    • Not only does this apply to Cosmo and Wanda (to quote Timmy, "You guys take things way too literally"), but on the first Norm the Genie episode, Timmy wished for an omelet, it appeared in his hands, but it was too hot, so he dropped it on the ground... because he didn't wish for an omelet on a plate. Beyond that, Norm proved to be a Jerkass Genie.
  • In the Animated Adaptation of Beetlejuice, BJ would shape-shift into literal interpretations of whatever corny figure-of-speech he used. This led to problems several times, such as his head disappearing when he "lost [his] head there". Apparently, this was a reflex. This was even the plot of an entire episode where his enemies convinced him to say "I'm coming apart at the seams", just so they could take his body parts and hide them until he died... er, again.
  • Gargoyles:
    • Shakespearean trickster Puck would act this way, as in his first appearance. When Demona pointed at Elisa (whom she disliked) and asked Puck to "get rid of that human", Puck interpreted this as a request to "get rid of that human" and turned her into a gargoyle. Demona's other wishes did nothing but backfire in similarly inconvenient ways. In the end the status quo is restored, except for Demona turning into her least favorite thing during the day: a human, because she wished not to turn to stone during the day. He takes great pleasure in this, especially since Demona is very mean to him. Demona's transformation is never ended, even after the finale. An additional burn for Demona is the fact that seeing Elisa in Gargoyle form appears to be what brings Goliath (for whom Puck has already acknowledged Demona is "still holding a torch") to the conscious awareness that he is attracted to her.
    • Puck is a Graceful Loser, however; after spending a few years as Xanatos' butler, Owen, he is impressed enough by his intelligence to reveal himself as Puck and offer him a choice of either one wish or a lifetime of loyal, intelligent service from Owen. Xanatos, being Xanatos, realizes that the offer was itself a wish, and that a trickster wish was worthless compared to a skilled, strikeproof employee. He chose Owen, and has never regretted it. Owen actually tests another Literal Genie for him, the Cauldron of Life, which legend states will make anyone who bathes in it live "as long as the mountain stones." Owen spends the rest of the series with a stone arm. But he never seems to mind.
  • Pretty much driven into the ground in the Extreme Ghostbusters episode "Be Careful What You Wish For". An evil spirit grants wishes like "I wish I could get back to my roots" (guy turns into a tree), "I wish I had a younger body" (woman turns into a baby but keeps her normal head), "I wish I had a face like that guy" (grows a second head), "I wish she liked me as much as that cat" (wakes up inside the cat's body), and to just put a cherry on it: "I wish I was made of money" (do we have to explain this one?). The ghost is eventually beaten when one of the Ghostbusters makes the wish "I wish you would not grant this wish", and the resulting paradox renders it vulnerable to the usual ghost trap.
  • The accidental wish variant and the "don't break the rules" variant are both in effect on an episode of Super Robot Monkey Team Hyperforce Go! in which the team encounters a Literal Genie called the Wigglenog.

Gibson: Oh, Otto, I wish you weren't such a colossal dunderhead!
Wigglenog: Your wish is granted!
SPRX-77:: Gibson, what did you do?!
Gibson: (stammers)

  • Desiree of Danny Phantom, the ghost genie. The more wishes one makes, the stronger she gets. Eventually defeated by "I WISH YOU WOULD GET IN THE GHOST TRAP." Thus prompting the hero to regret himself being Book Dumb, since it took him the whole episode to come up with that!
  • Family Guy, "Viewer Mail #1". Peter is threatened by a man riding on a bus after Peter is granted his own theme music by a genie. The man asks him to stop the music. Peter tells him he can't, and the man threatens to break every bone in Peter's body. So Peter says "I wish I had no bones" out of fear. The genie, who is driving the bus, hears him and says, "Done," turning Peter into a boneless blob. Bizarrely, Peter is initially happy about this turn of events and laughs at the man.
  • A butcher in a Felix the Cat animation wishes Felix's bumbling Guardian Angel to "make him the biggest, greasiest sausage ever made". No points for guessing what becomes of him.
  • DuckTales
    • From the original series, Ditzy Genius Gyro Gearloose. Although well-meaning, he a habit of following instructions a little too close to the letter, then being honestly confused when someone complains about the results ("well, you asked for..."). When told to make a Sci Fi show set "as real as it could be", he constructed a fully functioning spacecraft. When told to build a guard robot that wouldn't let anyone near Scrooge's money bin, he failed to include the obvious exception of Scrooge himself.
      • And don't forget his orders to choose "Some kind of nonsense" as a password for the Gizmoduck armor, and to make sure it's a word nobody uses, which resulted in him looking it up in a thesaurus to find an obscure word for "nonsense". The word he ends up using, sure enough, is part of the Catch Phrase of Scrooge's new hire, Fenton Crackshell.
    • There was also an episode where Scrooge tells Fenton to make his assets more liquid, which he goes by dumping the money in a lake.
    • Another example occurs in DuckTales the Movie: Treasure of the Lost Lamp. Here the good genie is forced to grant whatever wishes his owners give him, even if they are bad ideas. Fortunately Scrooge is Genre Savvy enough to put everything right with two wishes at the end, saving one wish for freeing the genie.
    • In the relaunch episode "The First Adventure!", the Papyrus of Binding. Bradford tries to warn his impulsive henchman Black Herring of the dire consequences of using it wrong:

Bradford: Wait, NO! We are not using the Papyrus, it is Chaos magnified!
Black Heron: Then what's the point? Why can't I ask the Papyrus for ultimate power?
Bradford: Because then we'd get blasted by a trillion volts of electricity! What about unimaginable wealth? Then we're crushed under mountains of invisible treasure! The Papyrus is literally dangerously literal, even a slightly misworded command could end us both!

  • For his credit, however, Bradford does use it, and manages to use it right, phrasing his wish very thoroughly and clearly by writing on it, "As far as the Ducks know, Bradford Buzzard was never here" covering his escape and causing Scrooge, Della, and Donald to forget his involvement in the scheme; there's a reason he is the one in charge of F.O.W.L. Scrooge also manages to use it right; after Heron demands the scroll in exchange for his family's lives, he writes on it, "I ask that you be lost once more until the rightful heir of Scrooge McDuck can find your rightful resting place", pointing out to Heron that should Donald and Della not survive, he will never have an heir, and the Papyrus would be lost forever. Heron still tries to grab it as it flies away, falling off a mountain while doing so.
  • In the "Rainy Day Robot" U.S. Acres short on an episode of Garfield and Friends, Roy gets conned into buying a voice-activated weather-making robot, though the salesman does tell him that the robot will "do the appropriate rain dance, snow dance, or whatever". It works fine during the demonstrations, of course, but then idles whenever Roy specifically demands rain (perhaps because it only does each type of weather once). In his frustration, he then makes the mistake of saying things like "bucket of bolts", "overgrown vacuum cleaner", "horse", "tree", and "safe" (in which is a Shout-Out to Wile E Coyote as he holds up a sign that says "ouch" and an umbrella), in front of it (or within earshot as he tries to escape), prompting the robot to drop one of said things on top of him. Roy later uses it to thwart Orson's brothers, however, by tricking them into repeating his would-be last words, "27 pianos", so that the robot drops the required amount on them. The episode ends without them getting it to properly rain, though, and one has to wonder how the robot interpreted "trade jobs"...
  • The South Park episode "Crippled Summer" had Nathan trying to get Mimzy to get Jimmy killed, but he misinterprets every command. For example, Nathan tells Mimzy to kill Jimmy by going underwater where he is and blowing a shark whistle to attract sharks. Mimzy then goes underwater, goes back on land, and then blows the shark whistle.
  • Lilo & Stitch: The Series. In the episode "Wishy-Washy", an activated experiment is activated, designed to be a wish giver that grants any wish he hears, but the wishes are granted literally and don't turn out as expected for the wisher. For example, when Jumba wished to be the greatest ruler in the world, he was turned into a literal ruling stick. And when Pleakly wished for "all the powers" of his current idol, a superhero. Jumba then explains he didn't get any powers, because said hero wasn't real.
  • Timon and Pumbaa. Happens to the duo when they find a lamp near the watering hole, and each wish for a million wishes. In one Body Horror moment, after their desire to wish their own way of wishing sets them apart, they make up and wish to be together again, only for that wish to literally make them fuse together before they wish themselves separate.
    • Another episode had one where Pumbaa saved a magical whale by throwing it back into the ocean. Telling Timon this, he gets him to go back and forth to make his three wishes, trying to be specific as possible, but all backfiring because Pumbaa didn't say it EXACTLY the way he asked it. The best example would be his final wish, when he wished for a fancy castle and just for kicks, a magical fire breathing monster (which he expected to be a dragon and not a chicken) he can defeat. Pumbaa instead said 'can't', so the episode ends with the duo hiding out from their fire breathing fowl fiend.
  • The Simpsons. Homer Simpson attempts to avert this in one of the early "Treehouse of Horror" episodes; after the family's first wishes on a Monkey's Paw have unforeseen consequences (thus playing the trope straight), Homer decides to "make a wish that can't backfire. I wish for a turkey sandwich, on rye bread, with lettuce and mustard, and, and I don't want any zombie turkeys, I don't want to turn into a turkey myself, and I don't want any other weird surprises." Surprisingly, this mostly works, except that the turkey's a little dry.

Homer: Hmm. Not bad. Nice, hot mustard. Good bread. Turkey's a little dry. The turkey's a little dry! Oh foul and cursed thing!!! What demon from the depths of Hell created thee?!

  • One Dexter's Laboratory episode ends with Dexter dismissing Computer with "Oh, shut up and make me a sandwich." After getting shot with a laser Dexter is a sandwich.
  • This showed up in the Shazzan episode "The Maze of Mercurad". Due to the laws of magic governing the Fifth Mountain, Shazzan couldn't just curbstomp Mercurad like he could with every other enemy of the week; the kids have to pay a toll to Mercurad. Instead, he defeats him by acting like a Literal Genie. When Mercurad asks for a fortune in silver, Shazzan fills the entire valley with silver coins; a fortune so huge that Mercurad can't guard it all from thieves. When Mercurad then asks that the fortune be made more secure, Shazzan turns it into a mountain sized block of pure silver that would be too difficult to actually spend. Giving up on money, Mercurad asks for the key to ultimate knowledge. Shazzan shows him a bizarre equation that encompasses all knowledge, but without the required background to understand the equation it's completely useless to Mercurad. Mercurad then asks for the power of a genie. Shazzan complies, but then mentions that all genies have masters. Mercurad's master will be his own monstrous gatekeeper. Mercurad immediately rescinds his desire to be a genie at this point. Finally, Mercurad decides that a simple payment will be enough: a loaf of bread, a piece of cheese, and some fresh water. Shazzan grants this wish with no problems at all.
  • In an episode of Phineas and Ferb, the eponymous pair build a super computer that can answer any question with 100% accuracy. Candace asks it how she can get Mom to see what her brothers have done and it gives her the solution. It works, but not in the way she wanted. Linda does see what they did, but doesn't know they were the ones who did it.
    • Another level to this: Candace meant "what her brothers did" as the Supercomputer that they had built, but the computer interprets it as the nice thing they did for Mom (fixing her bad hair day by exploiting the show's use of Contrived Coincidence) that they had built the computer to get the idea for.
  • In the Animaniacs special Wakko's Wish, the Warners Brothers (And Warner Sister) try to convince the Big Bad that the Wishing Star is one of these. They succeed, but get sent to the death row when he gets fed up with their antics.
  • In an episode of Jackie Chan Adventures, in an attempt to defeat the bad guys, Jade orders the Monkey Talisman, "Turn this log into a death-ray!" The talisman turns the log into a manta, also known as a death-ray. (It turns out the Talisman's power is only to turn people/things into animals.)

Real Life

  • Computer programmers or linguistic geeks with an especially dry sense of humor often respond very literally, although they know perfectly well what you mean. (Especially if the word "or" is involved: "Would you like coffee or tea?" "Yes."[1][2])
  • According to Joe Murray, creator of Rocko's Modern Life, he was asked by executives to create a strong female character for the show, "a professional woman, someone with a good hook". Murray took them at their word by creating the one-handed Dr. Hutchinson.
  • Software engineers will often play the part of a literal genie to their customers. Sometimes maliciously if they don't like them, but most of the time because no matter how stupid the requirement sounds it might just be what they really wanted after all and they did sign off on it.
    • Requirements definition (a System Engineering task) is ten times worse. You really have to pick your words carefully, because one mistake can mean millions of dollars wasted in doing something the "wrong" way.
  • Remember, a computer will do exactly what you told it to do. And in virtually all cases, it will be not what you wanted it to do.
    • In one of Asimov's novels, this fact explains why the First Law is so important—not because robots are conspiring against humans, but because orders can and will be interpreted in many unpleasant ways.
    • A popular rhyme is based on this:

I hate this damn computer.
I wish that we could sell it.
It won't do what I want it to,
Only what I tell it.

    • Another line: Programming is the art of describing what you want so precisely that even a computer can do it.
  • Some scams operate on this principle. For example, the scammer could place an ad offering to "help cut your bills in half" for a $50 fee, and in return for the victim's money, sends him a pair of scissors.
  • A similar scam circulated in the United States during the boll weevil infestation of the 1920s. The scammer would advertise a sure-fire weevil killer, and a desperate cotton farmer would send in the money... to receive in the mail two heavy wooden blocks with the instructions, "place weevil between blocks and crush."
  • It's a common practice in Chemistry classes to teach the class the importance of specificity in directions by having students write directions for some mundane task, and for the teacher to attempt to do it while following the directions specifically and with absolutely no additions. For example, if the task is making a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, simply saying "put jelly on bread" will make the teacher place the jar of jelly on top of the bag of bread.
  • Lawyers. They are the reason why laws are so complicated—because otherwise, the lawyers interpreting them would not hesitate to twist them however possible to suit their case. (That is their job, after all!) Averted, however, with judges—they do generally try to determine what is reasonable and what the law-makers were intending with the law, not just what it says. If a lawyer does find a way of suiting their case that is technically legal but clearly against the spirit of the law, the judge will usually decide against them regardless.
  • "Weird Al" Yankovic used this in response to the recording company that James Blunt was signed with telling him he couldn't sell his take-off "You're Pitiful", after he'd already gotten approval from Blunt and recorded it. He made it available as a free download instead.
  • John Kricfalusi, creator of The Ren and Stimpy Show, was asked by fans to make an episode of the then-newly launched series Ren and Stimpy Adult Party Cartoon full of nothing but gross-out jokes. It resulted in the episode "Onwards and Upwards"—however, many viewers considered it to have gone way overboard.
  • The Other Wiki defines this trope as malicious compliance.
  • The Open-Source Wish Project is dedicated to crafting wishes in such a precise manner that no genie can screw them up.
  • After many demands (mostly by non-Georgians) that Georgia change their state flag to remove the "Confederate flag" (really the Confederate battle flag) and an extremely ugly replacement forced on them, Georgia eventually dropped it... and changed to the actual Confederate flag with the Georgia seal added to it.
  1. A savvier server would have used the exclusive or.
  2. Although the answer could still have been "yes".