The Scottish Trope

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"Comedians are notoriously superstitious, more so even than actors, who fear the word Macbeth so much that they will attempt to stab anyone who dares speak or print it. This is why Shakespeare is dead now, and why I remain in hiding."
John Hodgman, The Areas of My Expertise

Certain words are just not spoken. Beyond Speak of the Devil, past the Brown Note, you never, ever say the true name of The Scottish Trope! Just saying its true name once is enough to break your fine china, cause Dramatic Thunder, make all the nearby dogs howl, cause milk to sour, and trigger a mild itching sensation.

The title of a certain play by Shakespeare, for example. The Scottish Play, so called because thespians believe that just saying the word "Macbeth" in anything but in-character rehearsals is bad luck and will ruin the play or even Curse the troupe/theater. The explanations behind this vary, but if you dare say it inside a theater cast and crew will inevitably slap your mouth shut and give you days if not years of dirty looks if something bad does happen (try it, it's fun!).

It's a rather basic and common superstition. Ever heard of a "Spell"? That is, the notion that if a particular set of words is spelled out, magical things happen? It's exactly this.

Compare These Are Things Man Was Not Meant to Know and The Disease That Shall Not Be Named.

Examples of The Scottish Trope include:

Anime and Manga[edit | hide | hide all]

  • Fanon often attributes this to Happosai in Ranma ½. Possibly because Soun and Genma refer to him obliquely in his very first appearance, mentioning some similar Japanese superstitions in the process, while an anime-only episode has Soun make the joke "talk behind his back, master comes back"- and Happosai does promptly appear. Saying Happosai's name does not summon him from nowhere, though, and nor do Soun and Genma try to discourage others from saying it in fear of him. In fact, they only get fearful of him when he gets unusually happy (or angry, but that's to be expected).
  • Literary genius Kaitou from Yu Yu Hakusho has the power of Taboo: within his Territory, he can set any word or sound as the Taboo, and if you say it, you lose your soul (for example, when the taboo word is "hot", Kuwabara loses his soul from merely saying "each other"). This applies to him, as well. Kurama defeats him by getting him to gradually make every letter of the alphabet as the Taboo, and then scaring him... but since Kaitou expected that and controlled himself, he made him laugh instead.
  • In Slayers, no Mazoku ever speaks the name of the Lord of Nightmares, always referring to it as "that being". In the light novels, the only time that dissonantly serene Xelloss ever shows visible anger is when Lina speaks the name in his presence.
  • In Naruto, Ginkaku and Kinkaku have a ninja tool that causes people's souls to get absorbed if they say the word they said most in life. Unlike the Yu Yu Hakusho example above, remaining silent for too long also results in one getting absorbed. Ginkaku ends up having his own tool turned against him.

Fan Fiction[edit | hide]


Comic Books[edit | hide]

  • In the classic Superman comics, Mr. Mxyzptlk returns to his home dimension by pronouncing his name backwards. When you're in his dimension, you return by pronouncing yours backwards.
  • An Archie Comics story had Reggie find out Jellybean's (Jughead's baby sister) real name, but Jughead points out that it's apparently bad luck to say it. Reggie does indeed have several runs of bad luck, including being abducted by a runaway elephant, but he never actually gets to utter Jellybean's real name. After Jug reveals the name in question, which is Forsythia, to Archie and Betty, and they repeat it aloud, they get abducted up by runaway elephants.
  • In Transmetropolitan, a police dog (who is intelligent) was castrated by Spider Jerusalem and goes into breakdown when Spider's name is mentioned in his presence.
  • Thor recently introduced the Disir, who are something like zombified Valkyries. Name them and you will die instantly. And then they will eat your soul.
  • The Defenders once battled an alien evil entity that could control anyone who learned its name.

Films -- Animated[edit | hide]

  • In An American Tail, mice are afraid to say "cats" out loud, lest the cats actually come to get them.
  • On Pinocchio, all the fish swim away whenever Pinocchio mentions Monstro the Whale.
  • In Looney Tunes: Back in Action, Daffy tries to save Bugs by assuming the persona of Duck Dodgers, but whenever he says his name his jet pack blows up. Eventually he gets the hang of it.

Aha, it's You-Know-Who to the rescue! It helps if you don't say the name.


Films -- Live-Action[edit | hide]

  • The "Zed" word in Shaun of the Dead And the same word in many other works relating to the dead that walk.
  • This isn't that bad relative to the other examples, but saying "Blücher",[1] as in Frau Blücher,[1] in Young Frankenstein anywhere in the castle caused horses to whinny ominously.
  • The evil M (voiced by David Bowie) in Arthur And The Invisibles.
  • Saying the name of The Land of Faraway's Big Bad, Kato (thunder and lightning) ... well...
  • In the movie Candyman, saying the name Candyman five times in front of mirror will cause him to appear.
  • The titular "Ghost with the Most" of Beetlejuice.
  • Monty Python and the Holy Grail: "I am a Knight who says, 'Ni!'" And if you want to pass, you must go and fetch me a shrubbery! But don't say that word! I cannot say the word! Suffice to say, the word is something a Knight who says "Ni!" cannot hear!"

But what kind of word is it?
AHHH! I implore you, do not say the word again!
Well how the hell are we supposed to figure out what it is we can't say in front of you if you won't tell us what it is! It's very silly to not reveal it so we can stop saying it!
AHHHH!!

  • Stoning scene in Monty Python's Life of Brian: anyone saying 'Jehovah' must be pelted with rocks.
  • In The Producers the taboo of saying good luck is explained to Bloom. Hilarity Ensues as Bialystock spends the entire song telling the entire cast good luck as they enter the theater as they're secretly trying to make the play fail.
  • At the beginning of Cecil B. Demented, Honey Whitlock gets pissed off when someone tells her "Good luck."
  • In The Phantom Tollbooth, the mountains light up with thunder and lightning every time the main character says that he's going to "the Castle in the Air."
  • In the A Nightmare on Elm Street series, Freddy gains more control over dreams and power by feeding off of the fear of his targets and the general populace. The only way the town manages to completely de-power Freddy is to give medicine to their kids to keep them from dreaming and to make absolutely no mention of his name at all until he is forgotten

Literature[edit | hide]

  • "Eight" in some places in the Discworld. The number eight is a powerful magic and saying it can attract trouble, so they work around it with "twice four" and other descriptions. This applies exclusively to the first handful of novels, however, and hasn't been brought up again since. (Except that in some editions of Going Postal, the chapter between Chapters 7 and 9 is "Chapter 7+1" or "Chapter 7A". It was also brought up in the Science of Discworld 2, to demonstrate that magic didn't work where they were.)
    • Saying the name of Lady Luck is bad luck indeed; she doesn't like being intentionally invoked. She herself said speaking her name would force her to leave.
    • Also note that whilst saying "8" is taboo, saying "ate" is perfectly fine. Apparently horrors from beyond the abyss can tell the difference between homophones. Or maybe "ate" is pronounced in a rural accent, as "et."
    • Also "The Fair Folk." "The Shining Ones." "The Gentry." "The Lords And Ladies." Those names were originally used in place of "Elf" because saying Elf would draw their attention, but as the Elves drew near even saying "The Gentry" or "The Lords and Ladies" would do the job.
    • Note that Rincewind while lamenting about his chew toy status notes that his room at Unseen University was room 7a.
    • In Making Money the chef can't stand to hear the name of a certain onion-like vegetable.. He can eat the actual allium in question, and is fine with the words far lick, tar leak, but any mention of the word itself will make him freeze, throw his knife straight ahead of him, then speak in fluent Quirmian for roughly 8 seconds before going back to normal.
  • In Harry Potter, saying Voldemort. Most adults who had to live through his reign will call him "He Who Must Not Be Named" or "You-know-who", while his followers call him "The Dark Lord". Some adults and most students will just say his name because it's easier that way.
    • In Deathly Hallows it really DOES bring misfortune, in a very immediate and lethal form. When the Death Eaters take over the Ministry of Magic, they set up a spell that lets them know if anyone anywhere says "Voldemort", and they will teleport there to arrest everyone in case they were plotting against the Death Eaters. Part of the reason this works is because Voldemort has wised up to the fact that only his enemies use his name.
  • In an interview with Pottercast, Rowling called her Harry Potter Encyclopedia "the Scottish Book" (which may instead take the form of the website Pottermore); it's a double joke as she is Scottish.
  • "Rumpelstiltskin". This is paid tribute to in Shrek The Third.
  • The Thursday Next villain Acheron Hades can hear his name spoken (but not written down) anywhere within at least half a mile, though he isn't summoned by it. However, speaking it will get his attention, and you do not want him paying attention to you.
  • The Big Bad of Garth Nix's Old Kingdom trilogy Orannis, the Ninth Bright Shiner. The protagonists are warned not to speak its name when it is close to breaking free, and instead call it "the Destroyer" or similar.
  • The evil M in Arthur And The Minimoys and its sequel.
  • In The Wheel of Time, one should not say speak the real name of The Dark One. (It's Shai'tan). Doing so will bring his attention to you. The only time it is ever stated outside of battle caused a horde of trollocs to over run the city the heroes were in, and steal an incredibly valuable magical artifact.
  • One of the worst Librarians in the Alcatraz and the Evil Librarians series is known as "She Who Must Not Be Named". Not because her name is cursed or anything, don't be silly - it's just that nobody can pronounce it.
  • Entire passages in House of Leaves concerning the Minotaur are struck out, perhaps to avoid a grisly fate. They were restored by Johnny Truant when he annotated the manuscript. But still other passages were burned off the page with some sort of acid. Given that Truant is an Unreliable Narrator, it's entirely possible he destroyed other parts of the book to keep them from seeing the light of day. He would have good reason.
  • The "Triple Thee" in the Apprentice Adept series: Saying "thee" to someone three times in a row is a pledge of deepest love and devotion and it carries the power of an magic oath, so saying it casually is A Bad Thing. (Like most oaths and promises in the Adept series, the consequences of breaking an oath are never even hinted at. Probably terminal loss of honor)
  • The short story Taboo, by Enrique Anderson Imbert, the entire text of which is:

His guardian angel whispered to Fabian, behind his shoulder:
"Careful, Fabian! It is decreed that you will die the minute you pronounce the word doyen."
"Doyen?" asks Fabian, intrigued.
And he dies.

  • Robert W. Chambers' The King in Yellow, a major inspiration for H.P. Lovecraft that was eventually absorbed into his mythos, was all about this. There's a reason the King's name, which is probably Hastur, is rarely used, and a reason that the play about him has never been produced. The word "Hastur" is used freely in Chambers' short stories - in one it's the name of a quite human servant! The idea that it shouldn't be spoken out loud is later Memetic Mutation caused by August Derleth's creative interpretations. Even the protagonist of Lovecraft's Whisper in Darkness didn't see a need to avoid mentioning the word. Incidentally, the word's exact meaning is left deliberately unclear in most contexts, and may just as well refer to a place as to an entity.
  • In Raymond E. Feist's novels, the god of evil's name cannot be said because saying a god's name gives that god their power. Spoiler ahead: it's Nalar. One character even has it as a name, only backwards.
  • Aragorn spends a great deal of time in The Fellowship of the Ring telling the hobbits not to use Sauron's name because something vague and bad might happen.
    • Furthermore, he tells Frodo not to speak of wraiths, and Merry and Pippin know that "the Ring is no laughing-matter."
    • People of Gondor generally do not name either Sauron or Mordor, and Sauron himself forbids his servants from using his own name.
  • In the Chronicles of Narnia: The Magician's Nephew, the witch Jadis speaks the Deplorable Word, a magical incantation "which, if spoken with the proper ceremonies, would destroy all living things except the one who spoke it." Unlike conventional examples of this trope, this word actually was used to kill everyone on her planet. Scholars had been aware of the Deplorable Word for centuries, but Jadis was the only person on her world ever evil enough to actually use it.
    • And that's saying something, considering how ruthlessly ambitious, corrupt, and prone to wholesale slaughter the royal family of Charn was.
  • In Astrid Lindgren's "Mio, My son" the evil of the villain, the literally stone-hearted Sir Kato, is so strong that saying his name aloud causes the sky to darken, birds to stop singing and plants to wither and die. As a result, the entire land around his castle has ended up barren and covered in constant darkness. At one point, a seamstress who creates capes out of moonlight has to stop the protagonist from mentioning Kato, since that would ruin both her garden and the clothes she is working on.
  • In the Dresden Files book Turn Coat, the skinwalker gets more powerful from feeding off fear, so mentioning it makes it more powerful. Harry being Harry, he compensates by renaming it "Shagnasty."
    • Near the end of the book Summer Knight, Harry yells "I don't believe in faeries!" as a battle cry during the war between the faerie courts of Summer and Winter figuring, "What the hell."
    • Saying Mab's name three times apparently summons her, at least once Harry becomes the Winter Knight; in Changes, Harry accidently says it twice and needs to be warned that doing so again would be a bad idea.
  • Heroes participating in the South Seas Treasure Game from Dream Park were barred from speaking the name of the enemy New Guinea tribe, as using an enemy's name or magic without permission would invite retribution by supernatural forces. Subverted in that the players could name the Fore tribe as much as they liked, so long as they did so when the Game was on hold for time-outs or overnight.
  • In Margaret Atwood's Cat's Eye, a character acting in the play has to refer to it as "The Tartans."
  • In Diane Duane's Young Wizards series, specifically mentioned in "High Wizardry", saying the Lone Power's full name in the Speech is said to get Its attention. Nita, who is using the name to track Dairine, tells Kit that It was already paying attention anyway, so it wasn't going to make much of a difference; in fact, it might even help Dairine.
  • In the Gaunt's Ghosts novel Blood Pact, Ayatani Zweil doesn't want to hear of his terminal condition and insists that it be called "The Concern". Problem is, it's not his... but Dorden's.
  • Light Thickens, by Ngaio Marsh, is about a production of The Scottish Play. Some actors are skeptical, some superstitious, all notice some strange events occurring during rehearsal. And then once it's in production, that isn't a prop head coming out impaled on the claymore ....


Live-Action TV[edit | hide]

"Argh! Hot potato, off his drawers, pluck to make amends! Ngh!"
"Good Lord, you mean you have to do that every time I say 'Macbeth'?"
"ARGH! Hot potato, off his drawers, pluck to make amends! Owwww!"
"So you want me to say 'The Scottish Play'."
"Yes!"
"Rather than 'Macbeth'."
"ARGH! Hot potato, orchestra stalls, Puck will make amends! Owwww!"

  • In a modern-day BBC adaptation of the Scottish Play, the title character was a famous chef who flew into a rage if anyone ever mentioned Gordon Ramsay in his presence. In an amusing piece of Lampshade Hanging, his staff got around this by calling Ramsay "The Scottish Chef".
  • An episode of the The X-Files had girls saying "Bloody Mary" thirteen times in front of a mirror for her to appear. This is actually a real Urban Legend, although somewhat dated nowadays even among schoolkids.
  • Supernatural did the same thing.
  • You Can't Do That on Television had water dumped on people who said "water" or slime when they said "I don't know". This was played with several times:
    • One tried to avoid it by saying, "Insufficient data." Following the sliming, the director said that the slime dispenser was now computer-controlled.
    • Another tried to avoid a drenching by saying, "Agua." Again after having water dumped, the director said that the water guy was Mexican.
    • A few times, someone got drenched after saying, "Oh." Another would then go on to explain it's being mistaken for the French "Eau"... before getting drenched themselves.
    • Say "wet"... and run for cover!
    • The characters at one point discovered that saying "We don't know" got everyone slimed.
    • One episode referred to a Soviet version of the show where one gets covered in red slime whenever one said "freedom".
    • Another episode featured a heat wave where the kids tried to invoke the water drop, only to learn that all the water had evaporated.
  • Similarly, Nickelodeon's Kids Choice Awards 2006 had slime drop down whenever someone said "April Fools." (This is because it aired on April 1 in America.)
  • Some fans of Quantum Leap believe that the episode "The Boogieman" is cursed (with discussions of VCRs shorting out while recording it, etc.) and will refer to it as "The Halloween Episode" instead.
  • On Action, lightning and thunder accompanied every mention of the name of Peter Dragon's publicist, Connie Hunt (and occasionally showed up when she was just standing around).
  • Referenced in an Are You Afraid of the Dark? story, where a woman (who turns out to be a ghost) warns a boy not to say Macbeth. After he does so she makes him turn around three times and leave the room. She goes on to say that there is a ghost haunting the theatre (other than her) and if he says that word the ghost will come out. The boy yells Macbeth anyway and the ghost comes out to haunt his performance.
  • An episode of News Radio referenced You Can't Do That on Television with a heavy dose of dihydrogen monoxide and slime.
  • In the final season of Oz, the prisoners put on a performance of Macbeth. During rehearsals every prisoner who's given the title role gets murdered. Eventually Vern Schillinger takes on the part, because he wants to prove he's got "bigger balls than everyone else", only for him to get murdered on performance night when the prisoner playing MacDuff 'accidentally' has his prop knife switched for a real one.
  • J. Michael Straczynski got in trouble with Michael York on the set of the Babylon 5 episode in which York was guest starring, by mentioning The Scottish Play by name.
  • In The West Wing episode "Election Night," even though it's a fairly safe bet that President Bartlet is going to win re-election (in fact it ends up being a landslide), Toby and Josh are scandalized when Sam suggests out loud that they already know the outcome.

Sam: You wrote a concession?
Toby: Of course I wrote a concession. What possible reason would I have for not writing a concession? You wanna tempt the wrath of the whatever from high atop the thing?
Sam: ...No.
Toby: Then go outside, turn around three times and spit! What the hell's the matter with you?

    • Being angry about premature celebrations was a Running Gag with Toby. On the night their first supreme court justice was confirmed he refused to let the staff drink (or even decorate) until the 51st 'yea' vote was recorded.
    • There was also the time Ed & Larry tried to give Josh some news about a recession. Josh said that the R-word was forbidden in the White House, and they ended up calling it a "bagel." (The news was good; they expected that the bagel would be mild.)
  • Any time someone mentioned the word "audit" in the tax day episode of Roseanne a cliché Scare Chord would play and the cast would look around nervously.
  • The second season of Slings and Arrows had an opening title sequence built around this trope.
  • Monty Python's Flying Circus:
    • "Did you say "mattress" to Mr. Lambert? Great, someone fetch the tea chest. *Ahem* "And did those feet, in ancient times..."
    • Mind you, saying the word "ma-", er, "dog kennels" to Mr. Lambert (who works in a bed store) causes very immediate bad things to happen.
    • "She's gorn orf because Mansfield said "tin" to her."
  • Mystery Science Theater 3000
    • In one episode, Tom tricks Mike into saying "Lost in Space", which he and Crow use as carte blanche to dress up as the robot and Dr. Smith and goof around. At the end of the episode, Tom tries to trick him into saying "Gilligan's Island", but Mike has gotten wise to the whole thing.
    • Another episode started with Tom and Crow asking Joel, "What was that word that Mr. Moose tried to get Captain Kangaroo to say all the time?" Joel answered, "Oh yeah, I remember, it was 'ping-pong balls'." Joel then gets pelted with a shower of ping-pong balls. This was an homage to a Running Gag from Captain Kangaroo.
  • An episode of Midsomer Murders starts with a performance of said play. Apparently, the idea of not mentioning the name off-stage hadn't gotten through to everyone on the set yet. Someone promptly is murdered on stage (and stays dead).


Mythology and Religion[edit | hide]

  • Greek Mythology: It's fine to refer to a certain trio of ladies as the "Kindly Ones" (Greek Eumenides), or the "Venerable Ones" (Semnai). But call them the "Furies" (Erinyes) and you're on your own, you rude, rude person.
  • Older Than Dirt: In Kemetic (a.k.a. Ancient Egyptian) religion, written words were considered a form of magic in themselves. Thus the true name of personification of the opposite principle to Ma'et was never to be written down. Even writing the thing's alias (isfet) is/was considered risky.
  • Due to strict reverence for the name of the Judeo-Christian God, the actual name itself has been lost to the mists of time. The name is written down in The Bible, but since the Hebrew writing doesn't indicate vowels, all we have are four consonants (often transliterated in English as YHWH). This is rendered by some English speakers as "Yahweh" (or sometimes "Jehovah", based on the Latin transliteration IHVH), but when read aloud in Hebrew it is rendered as "Adonai", meaning "Lord," or "Hashem," "the Name." Though the consequences of speaking God's true name are not stated in the Bible, "taking the Lord's name in vain" (i.e. frivolous use of the name and/or swearing of false oaths by it) is forbidden in the Ten Commandments, and some legends hold that Moses killed the Egyptian overseer by speaking the true name of God, suggesting that hearing the name of God has a similar effect as being exposed to (or perhaps may even bring about) His full, unveiled presence.
  • Similarly, traditional Jewish kabbalists avoid uttering the names of demons or even angels, for fear that they'll turn up, angry at being summoned by a mortal.
  • The ancient Greeks did not generally speak Hades' name, for fear of attracting his attention. He was often called by euphemisms (e.g., the "Host of Many"), or by complimentary nicknames such as "the rich one" (Plouton, which the Latins spelled Pluto).
  • If you stand in front of a mirror in the dark and say "Bloody Mary, Bloody Mary, Bloody Mary!" she'll appear and scratch your face off. No, she won't. Who is "she", you ask? Mary Worth, and no, not that one.
    • Kingdom of Loathing has it that if you drink a hundred of these in front of a mirror, you'll die. Of alcohol poisoning.
      • There is however the Guy Mad of Bees who does appear if his name is spoken before a mirror five times.
    • Also referenced in Xkcd.


Tabletop Games[edit | hide]

  • Dungeons & Dragons (Fiendish Codex 2): saying Pazuzu's name 3 times will cause him to appear and offer the character a wish. Making said wishes is not recommended. On the other hand, it worked out really well for Pun-Pun.
    • Hastur works on similar principles, except instead of wishes, you get death. As something of a joke, dying player characters will state as their dying words, "Hastur Hastur Hastur". Invoked in The Binder of Shame, where El Disgusto's character is about to be killed by another PC for thieving, so he screams "You'll pay for this! You'll all pay for this! Hastur! Hastur! Hastur! Hastur! Hastur!" Also mentioned in The Canonical List of Famous Last Words: "What a useless scroll. It just says 'Hastur Hastur Hastur' over and over ..."
    • Mentioning Orcus's name is not a good idea, either. In fact, most august malign outsiders and deities in D&D or D&D-esque games seem to have pretty good hearing. Speaking of Orcus (dammit! I've doomed us all!), there's also the Last Word that he used to know while an undead demon lord that could kill most anything that heard it, even gods.
    • In the now-defunct Planescape setting of Dungeons & Dragons, the city of Sigil was ruled by a mysterious (and very dangerous) entity known only as the Lady of Pain—but 'naming the Lady' (ie, worshipping the Lady of Pain as a deity) is expressly forbidden; anyone who 'names the Lady' or uses any kind of planar transport magic (other than that controlled by the Lady) is branded a dead person. Most people tend not to use her full title just to be on the safe side. The Lady is such a powerful figure that when a Neverwinter Nights module was based on Sigil and Planescape, the module's players went out of their way to avoid mentioning the Lady, even in casual OOC conversation. It is dutifully transcribed into the Planescape: Torment videogame, too: worshipping the Lady once will get the immortal Nameless One mazed; if he does it again, he dies permanently (one of the few ways this can happen during gameplay).
  • Magic: The Gathering: While it's not universally considered bad luck to do it, you'd better not speak Yawgmoth's true name when you have so many euphemisms. It would be bad. Some fans, particularly Phyrexian symphathisers, have taken up this custom.
  • In Demon: The Fallen, demons can feel it if you say their name. Strong ones can get a sense of what you're saying, making it a useful messaging service. Very strong ones can get a compass bearing or more...
  • In Warhammer 40,000 it's probably not a good idea for anyone to say the names of the chaos gods but for the Eldar in particular, whose souls are said to be as bright as those of a thousand humans and who have a strong divine link to Slaanesh, saying his/her name will at the least reveal their exact location to their ancient enemy, and will probably have results more along the line of Slaanesh itself tearing loose their souls and drinking them. In consequence, s/he is referred to by the Eldar as "She Who Thirsts" or "The Bright God".
  • While probably just a fiction even within the setting, the Unknown Armies cabal known as Mak Attax never speak the name of the fast food restaurant they all work for. You may call it Mickey-Ds, Maccas, the Golden Arches, Mc Do, Placcy-Ds, Mc Dicks, Makku, or most commonly The Scotsman (how appropriate!) but never, ever call it by the name on the sign. Like the name of God, it has power, and you don't want to invoke it. Also a possible example of Writing Around Trademarks.
    • Likewise, the Arthaus Ravenloft supplements refrain from naming Lord Soth, former darklord of Sithicus, by claiming that the domain's elven inhabitants fear that invoking their old ruler's name will call him back from wherever he vanished to.


Theater[edit | hide]

  • The trope non-namer for this one is a certain play by Shakespeare about regicide and Scottish royal succession, which is allegedly cursed such that even mentioning its name in a theater, or quoting dialogue from it if not actually rehearsing or performing it, can bring ruin, let alone trying to actually stage it. A number of historically documented productions of The Scottish Play have been notoriously unlucky. There are legitimate reasons The Scottish Play has more than its fair share of accidents—much of the play's action taking place at night and outdoors, which increases the chance of somebody tripping over something; there's more sword fighting than the average, which always brings the chance of an accident; and most importantly it's a very cheap play to run (a guaranteed crowd pleaser with no performance rights to buy, does not require too many actors, and needs few props and little scenery) and is therefore often put on when the theater group is in hard times, which is also the time when people are more likely to skip the usual safety measures (the tendency to put on The Scottish Play when facing bankruptcy means that it usually ends up being last play that a company puts on, further cementing the play's cursed status as a company ender). Still, it doesn't hurt to be superstitious.
    • As a play on this trope, "Mmmbeth" is a one act comedy version of the Scottish Play. Early on the weird sisters establish that they should just say 'Mmmbeth' for safety's sake. The play ends abruptly when one of the witches says the actual name, in the context of "Hey, we can actually say the name now!"
    • For those Shakespearian and Medieval/Renaissance history buffs among us the opening spell chanted out by the Weird Sisters at the beginning would have been considered a curse in period. Supposedly that's where the curse on the Scottish Play comes from,.
    • This history of bad luck began with its first performance on 7 August 1606 at the Globe Theatre, when the boy-actor playing Lady Macbeth died of a sudden fever in the middle of the play. More recent years have seen the postponement of Olivier's first production at the Old Vic due to the death of Lilian Baylis on the opening night (1937), three deaths in the company during the first production with Gielgud (1942) and, on an eventful tour in 1954—an attempted suicide, an accident in which the company manager broke both legs, the electrocution of an electrician, and the death of a visitor from a blow by a stage spear after a member of the crew uttered the fateful word to him in conversation.
  • There's a similar taboo in theater regarding the phrase "good luck". Saying "good luck" to an actor supposedly curses their performance, causing dropped lines or unfortunate accidents. Instead, actors tell each other to "break a leg", under the assumption that if wishing someone good luck brings them harm, wishing someone harm will certainly bring good luck.
  • According to the theater version of Peter Pan, saying "I don't believe in fairies" will cause a fairy to drop dead.
  • The writer of Shoggoth on the Roof is referred to as "He Who [For Legal Reasons] Must Not Be Named". This is partly because the play borrows the music (if not the words) for its songs from Fiddler on the Roof and thus can't be performed, at least in the United States.
  • The magician act of Penn & Teller had a tradition where they would shout "Good luck, Macbeth!" before every show they performed in defiance of this trope. They eventually realized this was becoming their own little superstition and began opening it without any announcement.


Videogames[edit | hide]

  • Alluded to in Drakengard. A message written in the blood of a deceased soldier of The Evil Army mentions several ways of speaking of or depicting the Watchers that are not to be done.
  • In RuneScape, speaking the name of the evil God Zaros gives him power.
  • In Sam and Max 203: Night of the Raving Dead, this happens as a Shout-Out to Young Frankenstein, every time one mentions the name "Superball" (*thunderclap* *NEIIIGH*). Sam can exploit this fact by simply saying the name "Superball" on its own.
  • Fanon theory suggests that Orre and all events, places and people therein is never mentioned is either because of Canon Discontinuity or this trope (said region is the Knight of Cerebus for the entire franchise, and it existed before Ghetsis was even a concept).
  • Baldur's Gate II features class-specific quest chains; if you play as a bard, you can acquire the deed to a playhouse and supervise the production of a play called "The Sorcerer's Bane". But there's a rumor saying that the sorcerer it's supposed to be about really existed and he cursed the play for mocking him, resulting in ill fortune befalling anybody who says the name of the play out loud. The actor who plays the sorcerer insists that it be referred to only as "The Turmish Play".


Webcomics[edit | hide]

  • Pv P: The Office Panda attacks when someone mentions it.
  • In Order of the Stick, Roy had a code word that would activate a Mark of Justice curse on Belkar if spoken aloud. Belkar managed to trigger the curse by himself anyway, so Roy mentioned the word to satisfy readers' curiosity "Squiddleydoodlefluff" and then the matter was dropped.
  • Goblins: Temps Fate once encounters a dragon whose name is censored by The Powers That Be, lest he be swallowed by a black Plot Hole from which space, time and bad writing cannot escape.


Web Originals[edit | hide]


Western Animation[edit | hide]

  • Dexter's Laboratory
    • In his debut episode, saying "Mandark" would cause a slideshow of animals being scared and bad things happening.
    • Speaking of Mandark, his Ensemble Darkhorse sister Lalavava had the exact same thing happen in her only episode.
    • One episode has everyone in earshot panic whenever Deedee mentions "El Chupacabra".
  • Beetlejuice
    • In one episode, saying "Camelot" would cause the titular character to get stampeded by camels. In another episode, the title character pretends to be an Indiana Jones parody named Grimdiana Bones. Saying that name (or even writing it out) causes him to be flattened by a giant boulder.
    • In yet another episode, the villain kidnaps Lydia and takes her to his "Mountain Retreat". Every time he says "Mountain Retreat", the mountain grows legs and walks away from him, prompting the villain at one point to comment, "It takes me longer to get home every day."
  • The Fairly OddParents
    • In the "Big Problem", saying Vicky's *parrot dies* name would do this in one of the show's trademark Overused Running Gags.
    • Later, in part 1 of the Wishology movie, when someone says "Timmy Turner", it alerts the Eliminators to his presence. However, this is just because they have excellent hearing.
  • In Freakazoid!!, Candle Jack kidnaps you if you say his na It's because they never say Sir.
  • Saying "Lord Moldybutt" in The Grim Adventures of Billy and Mandy makes stuff break. In consequence, people call him "he-who-should-never-ever-be-named". This is used to comedic effect such as when Billy kept saying Moldybutt non-stop and everything around started breaking and falling apart.
    • Even better, Moldybutt himself isn't immune to the hazards of saying his own name.
    • Even better, this aired before the character he is a parody of actually jinxed his own name.

Mandy: Billy, don't sit on that toadstool. You'll get a moldy butt.

  • Also parodied in South Park, "Hell on Earth 2006": To bring Biggie Smalls back from the dead, people stand in front of a mirror and say his name three times. As Biggie wanted to make it to Satan's Halloween party, he gets PISSED whenever one of the boys says his name three times, and starts shooting them. This situation is resolved when Butters does it in front of a hand mirror in front of Satan's party. This was tied to the Movie Candyman that was inspired a little by the Urban Legend of Bloody Mary.
  • In the Boondocks, after saying the word "kumite", a martial arts-related noise is heard.
  • The actual Scottish Trope was played with in an episode of The Simpsons when the family meets Sir Ian McKellen in England; any time anyone mentioned "Macbeth", some horrible injury was visited upon McKellen.
    • Saying good luck is bad luck too, resulting in the expression "break a leg" being used instead.
    • When Homer is on a game show and says he's happy he's past the lightning round, he gets shocked. When he decides to talk about an ice cream round, he gets hit by more lightning.
  • In The Mighty B!, Bessie's middle name (Kajolica) causes bad things to happen if you say it. The problem is that the name is so weird and funny that no one could stop.
  • The Powerpuff Girls has, as one of their Rogues Gallery of villains, a being so evil and fearsome, he's referred to simply as "Him". This being is skinny, red, and talks in a lisp commonly associated with metrosexuals.
    • Some clips shown after The Professor's Big No upon receiving the Parent Teacher Conference notice include a horse whinnying and a golf ball missing the hole.
  • An episode of American Dad had an appearance by Karl Rove. A wolf would howl in the distance every time his name was mentioned.
  • The British Christmas Special Robbie The Reindeer: Hooves of Fire had a Running Gag of Blitzen stopping anyone from saying the name of Robbie's father, Rudolph, since he hated him so much (the real reason was to avoid paying for the rights).
  • In Drawn Together, saying Ling-Ling's name three times is a declaration of battle. But only if he tells you to say his name three times.
  • Dr. Facilier of The Princess and the Frog cast Instant Runes when using his magic, which were based on real Vodou symbols, known as Vévé. However, the animators took care not to use actual Vévé, only their design style. They most likely did this to avoid offending Vodou practitioners, but it's more fun to think that they didn't want to incur any bad juju.
  • In The Marvelous Misadventures of Flapjack, saying 'west' causes weird things to happen.
  • In a scene near the end of Mighty Max, Virgil would cringe every time Max said "Stonehenge." He had good reason, as Stonehenge was the place where Virgil was destined to die.
  • In the Futurama episode "War is the H-Word," Bender can't say "ass" because it'll set off a bomb inside him (the word was chosen because it's his number one most-said word), and later he apparently can't say "antiquing" because the bomb was "stuck in there with glue or something, I don't know!" and they just had to change the word to something he never says.
  • Recess features this for one episode, whenever anyone mentions the deadly-good dodgeball player El Diablo.
    • *Whip cracks*
  • The Adventures of Jimmy Neutron uses the actual Scottish Trope in "Out Darned Spotlight". Whenever someone said Macbeth something bad would happen, like lead actor Nick falling his skateboard and breaking his leg the day of the recital of Macbeth in Space!
  • In The Smurfs episode "The Kaplowey Scroll", the word "kaplowey" (which made things disappear when said) proved to be dangerous when Grouchy used it on Jokey after being the butt of one of his pranks, and after that every Smurf feared to say anything ever again.
  • When General Foods introduced Crispy Critters in its line of Post Cereals back in 1963, its spokescharacter, Linus the Lionhearted, would get stampeded by the cereal's animal shapes whenever he said "Cripsy Critters." Similarly in 1966, Kellogg's introduced Froot Loops, and Toucan Sam (voiced then by Mel Blanc) insisted that it be verbally called out in pig latin ("Oot-fray Oops-lay"). Not doing so gave him conniptions, and one of his nephews would yank Sam's chain by deliberately saying "Froot Loops."
  • Inspector Gadget: "This message will self-destruct."
  • The Emperors New School plays with this trope as well with the "Condor Patch" (dramatic music backdrop) in Chipmunky Business. Kuzco gets a bit of fun saying it repeatedly.

Kuzco: (heard the music) What the hay?
Krunk: That music? Yeah, it happens everytime you say... Condor Patch. (dramatic music)

  • In Darkwing Duck, an eerie music piece starts playing every time somebody says 'The Library of Forbidden Spells'. It’s discussed by Darkwing and Morgana's father.


Sports[edit | hide]

  • This trope is common in a wide variety of sports. Taboo topics can include:
    • Hockey: Saying "shutout" in ice hockey when a goaltender has yet to surrender a goal
    • Baseball: talking about a perfect game/no hitter in progress, especially to the pitcher. In the latter innings of a perfect game, the other players will refuse to speak or even sit anywhere near the pitcher for fear of letting anything slip.
    • Bowling: Talking about a perfect game in progress, or, back when one could find bowling alleys without automatic scorekeeping machines, even writing down the 30-60-90-120-etc. scores in each frame until the game is over or the bowler throws a non-strike (quite a few of the automatic machines will do this too).
    • All of the above is likely due to confirmation bias, but to many fans this is Serious Business in the utmost.
  • If you happen to be in Winnipeg, the team in Phoenix, formerly the Winnipeg Jets, will not be mentioned by name.
    • and if you live in Atlanta, the team in Winnipeg will not be mentioned by name...at least by the people in Atlanta who actually cared about the Thrashers.


Meta[edit | hide]

  • Perhaps this sums it up in a somewhat disturbing and/or scary manner.[2]


Other[edit | hide]

  • Frequently, objects that conjure up negative associations are subject to this trope; one of the most frequent is the place (and the specific appliance used) where people eliminate waste. The most frequently used words for them are often evocative of other tasks to be done in about the same area - haircare (toilet), cleaning (bathroom, washroom, lavatory) or a central point for water flow in general (water closet and its translations/abbreviations). Moreover, the euphemism treadmill eventually results in those words becoming similarly taboo, which results in new phrasing for the purpose of preserving this trope.
  • To get around the Great Firewall of China, some websites that reference Tiananmen Square/ the June Fourth Incident will refer to the event as "you know when, you know where." In the context of a given site, it's pretty obvious what they are talking about. Also a case of Getting Crap Past the Radar.


Real Life[edit | hide]

  • In the 15th century, syphilis was such a terrifying disease that physicians would represent it with the Greek letter Σ (Sigma).
  • In the Star Wars fandom, you do not mention SuperShadow.
  • The name of God is not written in The Bible, and even the substitute for it, the sequence "YHWH" with no definite pronunciation, was historically avoided by Christians.



... Macbeth!

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