Strongly Worded Letter

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"My favourite thing in the Sun, ever, is the Sun's letters page, 'Dear Sun', where you tell Britain what you think. Not just any thought though, like 'move arm now' or 'eat breakfast this morning'- preferably a thought that might inspire some hatred and antipathy towards people that are slightly different."

The protagonist has had enough. This is the last straw. That evil empire's in for it now. He's going to... write a strongly worded letter?

An attempt at some brave or heroic action that falls ludicrously short. When played for laughs, it's often applied to timid or nerdy characters who mean well but aren't prepared to do anything useful. When played for drama, it designates a character who ought to be one of the good guys but who places too much faith in "the proper authorities" and will likely hinder the heroes by insisting they do so too.

Often a satire of diplomats. (Of course, if the diplomat has a strong country behind him, this actually isn't so weak.)

Compare Poke the Poodle, the villainous version.

Examples of Strongly Worded Letter include:

Comedy

  • Peter Cook's character Sir Arthur Streeb-Greebling says of World War II: "Absolutely ghastly business. I was completely against it." ("Well, I think we all were.") "Yes, well, I wrote a letter."

Comics

  • One of the habits of the Swedish superhero Kapten Stofil ("Captain Geezer"). Many of his first adventures ends with his civilian alter ego writing one. However, as a superhero he is so good at it that supervillains fear them!. And the superhero group he is a member of, Vänner Av Ordning, has a name that not just is a pun on the Justice League (it means "Friends of Order") - it also reflects the standard signature of a Strongly Worded Letter. The Concerned Citizens might be a good translation.
  • Played straight in the early issue of The Authority to a villain that has just turned Moscow into a charnel house. The U.N. ups the response by blatantly cough not sending in a kill squad.
  • This Punch cartoon from 1935, satirising the League of Nations.
  • In the Super Mario Bros.. story 'Bedtime For Drainhead', Luigi tells the sleep-deprived Mario (Fresh from a 72 hour-long reading marathon of his Dirk Drainhead comics) that Toad has been kidnapped by King Koopa.

Luigi: And you know what we're gonna do, don't you?
Mario: Write a strongly worded letter to the Mushroom Times...in the morning...

Film

  • Team America had the UN inspector, Hans Blix and Kim Jong -il have this exchange;

Hans: I'm sorry, but I must be firm with you. Let me see your whole palace or else!
Kim Jong-il: Or else what?
Hans: Or else, we will be very, very angry with you. And we will write you a letter, telling you how angry we are!

  • A Civil Action had an unintentional subversion: the movie was about a corporation that polluted and caused illnesses, and the climax was the good lawyer writing a letter.
  • James Cameron's Titanic.

Jack: I don't know about you, but I intend to go write a strongly worded letter to the White Star Line about all this.

  • Casino Royale 1967 has Woody Allen in Central America, threatening an angry letter to The Times, as he's stood before a firing squad.
  • Marmee does this in response to Amy's teacher striking her with a ruler in the film version of Little Women.

Jo: A letter? That'll show him!

Literature

  • In Keith Laumer's Retief stories, the diplomats of the Corps Diplomatique Terrestrienne (Terran Diplomatic Corps) often spoke of sending strongly worded messages instead of taking effective action. Of course, these "strongly worded letters" are often delivered by the biggest, most powerful warships in the galaxy.
  • Mr. Tyler, neighbor of Adam Young in Good Omens and Tadfield's resident busybody, who will send a very angry letter to the local newspaper about all these young trouble-makers riding motorcycles, littering his lawn, and driving burning cars, just you wait.

Not for R. P. Tyler the soapbox, the polemic verse, the broadsheet. R. P. Tyler's chosen forum was the letter column of the Tadfield Advertiser. If a neighbour's tree was inconsiderate enough to shed leaves into R. P. Tyler's garden, R. P. Tyler would first carefully sweep them all up, place them in boxes, and leave the boxes outside his neighbour's front door, with a stern note. Then he would write a letter to the Tadfield Advertiser. If he sighted teenagers sitting on the village green, their portable cassette players playing, and they were enjoying themselves, he would take it upon himself to point out to them the error of their ways. And after he had fled their jeering, he would write to the Tadfield Advertiser on the Decline of Morality and the Youth of Today.

  • In PG Wodehouse's Jeeves and Wooster novel "Thank You, Jeeves", Bertie Wooster is giving serious contemplation of threatening to write one of these to the Times when the local busybody policeman yet again bangs on the door of Bertie's rented cottage in the middle of the night. Only it turns out it's not the policeman this time, and so the whole matter is dropped.
    • In the Blandings Castle series, the Duke of Dunstable is "a great writer of letters to the Times", and the Government "could not move a step without hearing from him". Given the Duke's character, such letters could not fail to be strongly worded.
  • La Résistance in the Discworld novel, Interesting Times did this to rebel against the emperor. As the China stand-in, they have to have revolutionary elements, but as the feudal China stand-in, they're just too deferential to go through with it, instead shouting slogans like "we humbly suggest reasonable change within a respectable time frame if that's not too much to ask!"
    • "Gently Push Over The Forces Of Oppression!" Rincewind gets so frustrated with it that he suggests "Slightly Bad Things Please Happen To Our Enemies!"
  • Also from Discworld, Monstrous Regiment has Nuggan, a god who is described by a diplomat as the divine counterpart of the kind of person who constantly sends StronglyWordedLetters to the editor signing off as "Disgusted of Ankh-Morpork". (See "Disgusted of Tunbridge Wells" in Real Life, below.) This was supposed to convince Sam Vimes that Nuggan is not actually insane.
    • The rest of the novel is actually quite Anvilicious about what life would be like if likes of "Disgusted of Tunbridge Wells" weren't writing Strongly Worded Letters but actually running the country, ie completely and utterly FUBAR.
  • Used very seriously in the Adventure of the Second Stain, where Sherlock Holmes is tasked by the British PM to recovering such a letter from a foreign spy. Everyone is quite aware of the fact that the letter could very well trigger a war. Considering the time the story was written (1904), such a letter in real life might have plausibly kicked off WWI.
  • Zhuge Liang actually killed someone this way in Romance of the Three Kingdoms. We're given a description of what it says in the letter, too.
  • In Rebel Stand, the cast is looking over new developments in the war. Since the book is written by Aaron Allston, they snark constantly.

Wedge: "I don't like this notion of dovin basal mines that pursue you."
Han: "Me, either. I'm going to draft a strongly worded letter to the Yuuzhan Vong high commander and insist he stop using them."

  • In Storm From The Shadows, the Manticorans send several letters of varying strongly-worded-ness. Mind you, the first such letter is delivered by a division of destroyers which are destroyed by a squadron of Solarian League Navy warships after a misunderstanding several days later.
    • The second such letter, much more strongly worded and in response to the spoilered out incident, is delivered personally by a Vice Admiral in command of a squadron of battlecruisers. Rather than accept this letter, the Solarian Admiral moves his squadron to engage the smaller Manticoran unit. After the Admiral's ship is destroyed long before his ships can get close enough to fire at the Manticoran warships, the new commander of the Solarian squadron chooses to accept the letter.
    • The third letter is being delivered by only one destroyer, but after what happened after the delivery of the first letter, and given that the destroyer finds a ridiculously large fleet of Solarian Super Dreadnoughts they decide to turn around and go home to report what they've found before announcing themselves.

Live Action TV

  • In an early Mad TV sketch, "Annie Ho" (a gangsta film as written and directed by Woody Allen), a neurotic gangsta on the way to a drive-by shooting asks his colleagues, "Do we really have to kill this guy? Can't we just send him a nasty note?"
  • Frasier has done this a few times. One time he got his way by accident, but since he was still deluded that this trope was the proper way, he still didn't consider it a victory.
  • From Drake and Josh: "I sent him a very angry letter, with, like, five frownie faces."
  • In an episode of Scrubs, Turk and J.D. believe a nurse has got their patient's file confused with someone else's. J.D. insists on taking the lead in confronting her, and Turk asks if he's going to write one of his strongly worded letters. J.D. replies that he's not, because he doesn't have his thesaurus. It's not clear if Turk realises what a lame response the letter would be, or thinks it's going too far.
  • This was a standard response by Sir Humphrey of Yes Minister fame to diplomatic niggles, on one occasion saying it had not yet been sent because they had not secured an agreement from the people they were sending it to on how strongly worded it would be.
  • Used in Red Dwarf when Rimmer, after having his anger sucked out by a polymorph that feeds on human emotions, suggests that they defeat the creature by hitting it "hard and fast" with a "major leaflet campaign...And if that's not enough, then I'm sorry, it's time for the t-shirts"
  • In the last series of A Bit of Fry and Laurie, a very drawn-out version of their typical "vox pops" scenes had a woman played by Laurie threatening to write "a very stiff letter... on cardboard."
    • Another sketch involved Laurie's character attempting to convince a psychiatrist played by Fry that he was mad. To Laurie's annoyance, the psychiatrist refuses to believe that he's anything other than eccentric, and he announces that he'll be writing a very stiff letter to the Daily Mail about this. That gets the psychiatrist's attention.
  • In the "Summer" episode of The Vicar of Dibley, David Horton writes one of these to the water company that is actually not very strong at all. Subverted by Geraldine's letter, an excerpt of which is "Dear Mr. Useless Babboon's Bottom, It might interest you to know that down our way, you're about as popular as Judas Iscariot at a disciple reunion." It is also implied that she uses the word "dickhead" (or "dick-head, as she's unsure if there's a hyphen.
  • In one episode of Mama's Family when Vint finds out that he's been laid off, Iola decides to write a "scathing letter" to his company.

Iola: "And believe you me, they are not getting the floral stationery!"

  • A Double Subversion occurs on The Golden Girls when Rose sends a letter to Gorbachev about nuclear disarmament. She actually receives a response from him, saying he would like to hold a press conference with her, but just before the conference starts Rose finds out that Gorbachev thought a little girl wrote the letter.
  • A common additional punchline to jokes about Too Soon or Dude, Not Funny current events told by Jay Leno was for Leno to mime writing a letter while muttering "Dear Mr. Leno, I just saw your recent show and..."
  • Part of the regular Self-Deprecation on the The Basil Brush Show.

Basil: Our veiwers have very active imaginations! And colourful language to match. According to the letters we get.

  • A recurring character in the last season of The Chaser's War on Everything was an angry letter who would watch the show, waiting for something offensive to happen so he could write a Strongly Worded Letter to The ABC. He was never disappointed.
  • One episode of The Suite Life of Zack and Cody has Cody suggesting writing a one of these to the city council in order to prevent a park from being bulldozed.
  • In one episode of Black Books, they are building very noisily next door to Bernard's shop and will continue doing so for two weeks, leading to this exchange:

Bernard: I'll tell you what I'll do, I'll write a letter to the council.
Fran: Wh-what are you gonna say?
Bernard: I'll say: "Dear Council, please don't build beside us for the next two weeks."
Manny: Yeah, but what if that doesn't work?
Fran: Yeah, yeah, what are you gonna do if that doesn't work?
Bernard: You wanna know what I'll do?
Manny: Yeah!
Bernard: I will... drink heavily and shout at you!
Manny: Yeah, but I won't be able to hear you, will I? Because I'll be living in Drillsville!
Bernard: Well, then I'll write you a letter as well!

New Media

  • A common Fark Com cliche is that the United Nations is an entity whose strongest action is the Strongly Worded Letter. Not that it isn't a lot of folks' opinion of the UN...

Radio

  • Characters on The Goon Show would often threaten to write an angry letter to The Times when being robbed, kidnapped, having their country invaded, being hit by a batter pudding, etc.
    • This being The Goon Show, this is often treated as actually being a credible threat. On one occasion, when Neddie Seagoon tried to write a letter to the papers complaining about his hands being tied behind his back, Grytpype-Thynne attempts to throw them off the scent by substituting a "Dear sir, today I heard the first cuckoo" letter.
  • The Mark Steel Solution had a recurring character, Mr. Cul-de-sac, who was constantly writing absurd letters of complaint to anyone and everyone. He would always end by reading one he'd started, that went "Why, oh why, oh why, oh why, oh why, oh why..." before admitting that "That's as far as I've got with that one, but it's coming along, don't you think!?"

Tabletop Games

Video Games

  • In Anachronox, the rulers of Planet Democratus respond this way to an alien invasion.
  • in Psychonauts, the gun-toting rebels of Lungfishopolis plan to fight against their tyrannical monster overlord by distributing pamphlets. Not precisely a letter, but equally unimpressive.
  • This is Sam's reaction to discovering that his office is located a few doors down from the gateway to hell.

Our condo association is going to be receiving a letter about this.

  • In Dragon Age Origins, a blood mage who assisted in taking over the Circle of Magi tries to justify her actions by saying Andraste, the prophet of the game's main religion, changed the world through violent rebellion against the Tevinter Imperium. "She didn't write them a strongly-worded letter," the mage says.

Webcomics

President Mancala: I'll send you the full report. This kind of opportunistic militarism cannot be tolerated. The United Nations of Sol and allied planetary Governments will not stand idly by while sovereign galactic powers are overthrown, crushed, or assimilated by the Fleetmind.
Ambassador Breya: What's our plan, Mister President? Do I need to deliver a declaration of war, and then withdraw the embassy?
President Mancala: Don't be ridiculous. Your job is to lodge a protest, using the strongest possible diplomatic language.
Ambassador Breya: Ah. And how is that different from "standing idly by?"
President Mancala: If we were standing idly by, we would not be lodging a protest.
Ambassador Breya: Wow. We are fearsome.

    • And just to rub it in:

Note: The League of Galactics is a millennia-old body of diplomats and other ne'er-do-wells representing almost two hundred thousand different governments throughout the Milky Way Galaxy. It has a rich and varied history, liberally garnished with back-patting tales of heroic diplomacy -- studies conducted, sanctions administered, statements released, and reprimands served.
It has about as much effect on key galactic events as central Asian rainfall has on the mean high tide in the Gulf of Mexico. Brandishing a reprimand from the League of Galactics is only marginally worse than threatening to cut off one's access to the Ron Popeil Shopping Channel.

Western Animation

Mayor Quimby: We are all upset by Mr. Burns' plan to block out our sun. It is time for decisive action! I have here a polite but firm letter to Mr. Burns' underlings who, with some cajoling, will pass it along to him or at least give him the gist of it.

    • From a later episode, featuring Homer's college nerd friends:

Benjamin: That Dean is going to get an indignant e-mail.
Doug: You should do it with bold red letters.
Gary: My computer has 512 shades of red.

  • So did the Resistance in Baron Underbite's country in the Venture Brothers. Their primary means of rebellion was sneaking hairs into his water. In a subversion, it actually really pissed him off.
  • At one point, Hank of King of the Hill is charged a ludicrous amount for a haircut by the US Army, and gets fed up to the point that he stands and declares that he is going to write to his Congressman. Naturally, he doesn't even know how to turn on the computer, and writes his letter out by hand. Subverted, when it's revealed that the Congressman obviously never even read Hank's letter.
    • It is actually a bit of a Running Gag with Hank, who will usually threaten someone with a letter of dis-satisfactory.
  • In the SpongeBob SquarePants episode "Squidville", Squidward is chased by a mob of angry squids. When they corner him, the mob gives Squidward a well-thought-out grievance letter.
  • On |Hercules, when school rivals pull a prank on Prometeus Academy, student body president Adonis plans to retaliate with a strongly worded letter, "with lots of verbs, action words!"
  • In one episode of Buzz Lightyear of Star Command, Zurg attacks the planet of Tangea and kidnaps their king. The Tangean response? To immediately form a committee to evaluate the situation. The "committee" is later seen preparing a letter to send to Zurg and one of them asks if "displeasure" is too harsh a word.

Buzz: Your people really are capable of defending themselves in ways "my crude mind can't hope to grasp".

Real Life

  • Amnesty International got started this way. The key was that they wrote thousands of letters, so a government holding someone would stop and think "Wow, this guy's got friends" and let him out. They still do this, and sometimes it works.
  • Very much Truth in Television in England, the local stereotype being a middle-aged, middle-class, Middle England busybody writing to the editor of the Daily Telegraph, often signing off with something along the lines of "Disgusted, of Tunbridge Wells".
    • Anthropologist Kate Fox describes English complaints as falling into three mostly ineffectual categories: griping to someone who's in the same boat as you; shouting abusively at someone who isn't really responsible; or going home and writing a Strongly Worded Letter to whoever's in charge.
    • American comedian Rich Hall in Live at the Apollo once said of British people that when they are annoyed, their response is typically a tut followed by: "...I'm gonna write a letter."
    • Even more so for Daily Mail readers (although their online forum has replaced the letters page). The difference being that said letters really will be strongly worded. Sometimes to the extent of being frighteningly racist and borderline fascist.
    • Just as much, if not more so for some left wingers *cough*"Grauniad"*cough* who believe it perfectly acceptable to greet dissent, whether gentle or unjustifiably harsh, with vitriolic accusations that right wingers are being boorish, racist, and vitriolic. No, not hypocritical at all.
    • A particularly notable example comes around exactly every two years. The Royal Mail alternates its Christmas stamp designs between secular and religious and has done so for decades. Nevertheless, every time the new designs are released in a secular year the exact same letters are printed about the 'War on Christmas' with only the names of the authors being different.
    • Parodied in Private Eye, which often responds to a topical political issue by printing fake versions of the Telegraph (right-wing) and Guardian (left-wing) letters pages in parallel, with the same stereotypical right- and left-wing writers complaining in parallel about the same thing but for opposite reasons.
  • The BBC has even made this a TV show, Points of View.
  • In Finland, the stereotypical signoff is "kysynpä vaan " and/or "joukko huolestuneita äitejä" -- "just asking" and "a group of concerned mothers" respectively.
  • The United States Congress has a tendency to send these, to the point that it's widely mocked in political circles.
  • The Declaration of Independence. This should need no explanation.
    • Although they did kinda back it up with an army.
    • This is a shoot-off of the old English tradition of writing Strongly Worded Letters, based off of a similar letter called The Declaration of Right by the House of Commons in 1689. Later that year adopted by Parliament as the Bill of Rights of 1689, and helped pave the way for a Constitutional Monarchy. When written by the right people, Strongly Worded Letters do work.
      • A Declaration of Independence is a Strongly Worded Letter with a navy.
  • The United Nations seems to be quite fond of sending angry letters. If you are funding terrorists, violating human rights, invading other nations, etc, then you can expect your very own Strongly Worded Letter from the UN. Also frequently a point of criticism is that the UN rarely takes any action beyond sending these letters.
    • Of course, what most critics either don't know or fail to mention is that this is partly because the UN isn't allowed to do anything more than send strongly-worded letters in most cases. Real action from the UN typically requires an initiative from the Security Council, and getting anything through the Security Council means that all five of the permanent members (the US, UK, France, China, and Russia) have to agree on every word (or can at least be persuaded to abstain). Naturally, this means that if anything gets through the Council, it is either not very controversial in the first place (i.e. another Strongly Worded Letter) or very watered-down. In some cases, the offense is so particularly bad that the Security Council does authorize severe action. That's when you know that some crackpot dictator has really pissed the wrong people off, like Saddam Hussein when he invaded Kuwait in 1990. Even the Security Council members themselves just ignore it if the decision is against them, like when the US invaded Iraq in 2003.
    • And, of course, the UN has no army whatsoever to actually enforce anything on its own, as well as a budget roughly as large as that of the New York City Fire Department, so it's no surprise that unless some of its members are willing to supply the necessary forces or enforce sanctions, they really can't do much of anything.
  • The Zaporozhian Cossacks' letter to the Ottoman Sultan, the writing of which has been eternalized in Ilya Repin's famous painting. To say it was strongly worded is to say nothing.
  • Self-congratulatory Internet campaigns, especially the ones "bravely" taking stance no one is going to contest.

One thing I’m fairly sure of about the kind of people who do that sort of thing for a living, is that they really don’t give a shit about a bunch of American movie stars taking pouty selfies of themselves holding up signs with hash tag give our girls back. The disapproval of fat, soft, Americans on Facebook really doesn’t move them. They care about getting paid or getting killed, that’s about it.