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WikEd fancyquotes.pngQuotesBug-silk.pngHeadscratchersIcons-mini-icon extension.gifPlaying WithUseful NotesMagnifier.pngAnalysisPhoto link.pngImage LinksHaiku-wide-icon.pngHaikuLaconic
Up Shut 1324.jpg
"Stop, thief! No welcome wagon, 'hello stranger' with that good coffee flavor for you! Offer expires while you wait; operators are standing by."

This Trope deftly describes when wily characters can't understand unusual dialog delivered brazenly by an alien or outsider. The twist? While words are apprehensible, the text's syntax—significant rules regulating grammar generation - remain reclusive. Perhaps paired words will always alliterate, or orators must mangle texts to fit fifteen-syllable sentences. Regrettably, results sound strange, appearing as garbled gibberish to the central characters, but basic sentence syntax conforms coherently to the strange speaker.

Critical concept: attending audience can clearly surmise sense after attaining strange syntax's prime principles. Axiom acclimation therefore turns into intriguing core component of overture.

Can come as a radical result of other Trope titled, fittingly, Future Slang, since Strange Syntax Speaker shows principal precepts are aggressively changed, contrasted against adversary trope's trend of only exchanging expressions. Frequently, fictional and alien words will be broached to trouble the turgid fiction further. Sometimes, said words will be begrudgingly obscure, of course clouding the talking attempts anon.

When wacky rules run obscenely obtuse, strange speaker can commonly appear as cloud cuckoo lander, laughed at and/or otherwise made misunderstood. Regular recurring scenario sets protagonists pursuing education, enlightenment of obscure syntax system for finding important information.

Compare, contrast against alternatives Con Lang (covering artificial argots overall) or singsong Starfish Language; look also at vanilla Verbal Tic trope. Intermittently, Iambic Pentameter presents itself in many media as a common case.

Zestful? Zero Wingrish would compare concepts.

Examples of Strange Syntax Speaker include:

Comic Books

  • In League of Extraordinary Gentlemen Black Dossier, the character Galley Wag is from a dark-matter dimension and speaks in a bizarre slang like "Bread and Tits!" and "Huff yer oyver in all you'm tick senned such a plumious sparktackle?" While the statements make sense in context, the human Mina can understand Galley Wag and provide translation.
  • Amatsu-Mikaboshi in The Incredible Hercules speaks purely in haiku. It's oddly unnerving once you notice it and very poetically intimidating.
  • Often employed in Grant Morrison's Doom Patrol—the Scissormen speak in nonsense phrases, the Men from N.O.W.H.E.R.E. speak in sentences that are expansions of that acronym, and so on.
    • The Scissormen's speech is made even better by the fact that they speak in gibberish and anagrams simultaneously.
  • Blindfold, from the X-Men, speaks rather oddly, usually by putting too many polite phrases in her speech, and when referring to locations when using her psychic powers.
    • It doesn't help that half the time she's talking to her invisible friend Cipher
  • The 2011 Teen Titans revamp featured Thrice, a team of three metahuman brothers with powers that involve merging into one body and splitting apart. The combined form always uses first person and first person plural pronouns, possessives, etc., referring to "I/We", "me/us", and so on.

Fan Works

  • Nobody Dies: Arael's speech can be... interesting to try to decipher:

"We are (not simply [more than {we are the mechanism of life eternal} monsters] monsters) what we must be."
"I have done (created [brought the {saved us all} next age] wonders) the impossible."



  • In Star Wars, Yoda usually speaks with a Object-Subject-Verb word order. His strange syntax is a defining characteristic, and often parodied.
    • He was much less rigid with this in the original trilogy, and could sometimes even turn an eloquent phrase here and there ("Once you start down the dark path, forever will it dominate your destiny!"). In the prequels it's Flanderized and he almost never speaks in any other order, regardless if horribly butchered the resulting language becomes ("Not if anything to say about it I have!").
    • It's been speculated that Yoda's speech is essentially that of a Galactic Basic speaker from 8–900 years ago, when Yoda was young.
      • Fridge Brilliance: His years of isolation have caused him to occasionally forget the "correct" way to speak. The above sentence isn't "an eloquent phrase"; it's just plain mangled rambling.
      • It is in no way mangled, or "incorrect". It is perfectly understandable and grammatical. The syntax simply doesn't follow the usual standard. Poets mess around with the word order much worse, often creating ridiculously ambiguous sentence structures for the sake of a good rhyme. At least Yoda is more or less consistent, and never difficult to understand.
  • Played for comic effect in Airplane!! with Jive.
  • V for Vendetta: V's vernacular vigilantly vexes viewers via very variant vocabulary.

Evey: ...are you like, a crazy person?
V: I am sure they will say so.

  • The Junkions from Transformers: The Movie speak entirely in commercial jingles and other pop-culture soundbites. A visitor's ability to understand them depends entirely on their ability to "talk TV".

Wreck-Gar: "Yes, friends, act now! Destroy Unicron! Kill the Grand Poobah! Eliminate even the toughest stains!"

    • This appears to be a Shout-Out to "Weird Al" Yankovic's song "Dare To Be Stupid", which also uses commercial slogans for its lyrics and is the Leitmotif for the Junkions.
    • Also from the movie, Wheelie speaks entirely in rhyme.

Wheelie: "Friend find, look behind! You go wrong way, you fool I say."
Grimlock: "Me Grimlock fool?"
Wheelie: "Picture you got, now fool you not!"

  • In A Clockwork Orange, the gang's "Nadsat" slang often involves unusual word order, conjugation and word choice in addition to the mostly Russian-based slang words. The film's version is less pronounced than the book's, since the viewer only has about 90 minutes to become accustomed to it.


  • Jeanne from Charles Baxter's Shadow Play invents her own language, with words like "corilineal", "zarklike", "descorbitant", "housarara". And it's just a small part of her Cloudcuckoolander madness.
  • Newspeak, from George Orwell's 1984, uses strange syntax in an effort to simplify the language and reduce the number of words. However, most of the novel is written in standard English, or "Oldspeak."
  • The teens from A Clockwork Orange speak Nadsat, which is includes Cockney rhyming slang, Anglicized Russian and German words, and a generally unsual syntax, such as Dim's assertion, "Bedways is rightways now..."
  • Arguably, Finnegans Wake, though Your Mileage May Vary.

"Behove this sound of Irish sense. Really? Here English might be seen. Royally? One sovereign punned to petery pence. Regally? The silence speaks the scene. Fake!"

  • The Book of Dave by Will Self has a futuristic language called Mokni, a phoneticized form of Cockney mixed with bastardized London cabbie slang.
  • The Chur, from Katherine Kerr's Snare, typically speak at a frequency so low humans can't hear it, but can speak human languages if they strain. When doing so they use then-now-next strange grammar, including giving verbs a suffix indicating time ("they say-then", "we go-soon"), and presenting alternatives when asking a question or when uncertain ("We know-not if you lie not lie", "You understand not-understand?").
    • Interestingly, the last two examples are very similar to how a native Mandarin speaker would speak English, since that is almost exactly the way it is said in Mandarin ("we not know" rather than "we know-not").
  • Mr Jingle in The Pickwick Papers - strangely incoherent speech - talks like a telegram - rum fellow - very.
  • From Terry Pratchett, both Foul Ole Ron in the Discworld novels and Mrs Tachyon in Johnny and the Bomb speak in nonsense phrases, a favorite being "Millenium hand and shrimp". Whether their mutterings actually have a coherent underlying syntax is undetermined, though Gaspode (Ron's talking dog) clearly understands him. 'Millenium hand and shrimp' itself apparently came from a Chinese food menu and the lyrics to "Particle Man" in a random word selector.
    • In Sourcery, the captain of the ship that carries Rincewind and Conina to Al-Khali talks like a less-educated version of Yoda.
    • Carrot's... let's call it "idiosyncratic" approach to punctuation (basically a grammatical equivalent of Spray and Pray) makes his writing a bit of this.
  • Manny in The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress speaks (and narrates the entire novel) without using articles or other "nulls" (what he considers meaningless words), as well as Russian and Australian slang.
    • Justified in that the PRC now has an empire which includes both Australia and much of the Asian part of the USSR, and has shipped a lot of 'undesirables' off to the moon.
      • Also by the fact that Russian lacks articles.
  • Most aliens in Retief speak in odd ways.
    • The representativeness of the Groaci. To begin all sentences with either abstract nouns or verbs in the infinitive.
  • A peripheral alien character in the Star Trek: Titan series of books started out speaking in mangled syntax (which makes no sense; as a Starfleet officer, he would have a universal translator). He's since stopped doing that.
  • Herald Alberich from Mercedes Lackey's Heralds of Valdemar series routinely speaks Valdemaran with Karsite word order. He was born and raised in Karse and only ended up in Valdemar after being kidnapped/rescued by a Companion, who eventually psychically fed Valdemarian vocabulary into his head... and only vocabulary, leading Alberich to use Valdemarian words with Karsite grammar.
  • In Kurt Vonnegut's Deadeye Dick, Haitian Creole is said to only have a present tense, leading to some very odd grammar. Of course, it's implied that the Haitians simply don't bother trying to teach the American proper grammar.

"He is dead?" he said in Creole. "He is dead," I agreed. "What does he do?" he said. "He paints," I said. "I like him," he said.

  • The cockroaches from Gregor The Overlander tend to mix up verb and subject placement as well as using repetition of certain sentence elements, such as "Do it, I can, do it," or "be small Human, be?"
  • In Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn, Binabik is using progressive aspect even when he is meaning to express habitual or stative verbs.
  • The first book from the Eisenhorn trilogy gave us the alien Saruthi, who did this when they spoke English Gothic. Ironically, that was probably the least strange thing about them
  • In The Wheel of Time, everone raised in Illian uses "do be" instead of conjugating "is."
  • Spook from Mistborn speaks really oddly in the first book. In one scene the whole crew gets in on it, much to Breeze's annoyance.
  • Jaqen H'ghar of A Song of Ice and Fire has an odd type of Third Person Person in which he never uses "I", but instead will use "A Man". So like instead of saying "I'm called Jaqen H'ghar" he would say "A man calls himself Jaqen H'ghar". This may be because he belongs to a cult of shapeshifting assassins whose members give up their personal identities, although it seems more like an individual Verbal Tic (and he talks normally in other identities).
  • The Trofts from The Cobra Trilogy. [The noun, they place it first].

Live Action TV

  • In the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode "Darmok," Captain Picard is stranded with an alien who speaks a language composed entirely of figurative language. The Universal Translator gets their literal meaning just fine, but without knowing the stories they're alluding to, it's impossible to decipher what they're actually talking about.
  • Arguably, River Tam from Firefly. It's uncertain whether she's speaking from some consistent internal syntax, or her dialogue is a result of her traumatic background. It generally sounds like she automatically says whatever pops into her head before her thoughts are finished. Simon says something to that effect in one episode.
  • The Twilight Zone (1985) episode "Wordplay" is based on this trope. A man has an unusual experience: The people around him are suddenly using words incorrectly, e.g., saying "dinosaur" when they mean "lunch". More and more words get replaced, until other people's speech becomes complete gibberish to him. He ends up having to re-learn the meaning of words out of a children's book.
  • In House M.D., House once had a patient who replaced every word with a word somehow related to but separate from what he meant. The connections were fuzzy enough that they got him to correctly say yes and no, and finally figured out that when he said "bear" he meant "bipolar", as in "polar bear".
    • The man had a very convenient form of aphasia, which makes this a Curse of Babel plot.
  • In "Bargaining," the first episode of Season 6 of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, the Buffybot's punning still isn't working properly. When she finally stakes the vamp, she exclaims, "That'll put marzipan in your pie plate, bingo!" Perhaps it was stuck on dadaist humor.
  • The 456 from Children of Earth seem to have shades of this in the beginning. They speak in a way that is intelligible but reinforces their creepiness. The civil servant who deals with them is suitably freaked.

The 456: Speak.
Frobisher: I am speaking!
The 456: We would speak.
The 456: Soon.
Frobisher: I'm sorry?
The 456: Return...soon.

  • In an episode of Titus, Christopher knows Erin is hiding something because, when she's lying, words not flow from her mouth good.

Erin Fitzpatrick: Hey! Car drive not work me, everything think that solves you?
Christopher Titus: (pause) Something from me hiding you are?

  • In Doctor Who, the alien Chantho begins every sentence with Chan, and ends it with Tho. Apparently, to not do this is rudeness the equivalent of swearing in her language. (Compare Japanese use of Keigo words such as desu or -masu.)
  • Michael Harris in Newhart speaks in alliteration.
  • O'Niell from Stargate SG 1 does this the second time he has the ancient's knowledge downloaded into his brain.

Daniel: Sphere. Planet. Label. Name.
Jack: Following. You. Still. Not.



  • Eric Idle's Rutland Weekend Television had the host of a short chat show and his guest talking like this.

Host: Ham sandwich bucket and water plastic duralegs rubber mac fisheries underwear?

  • The 2015 song "Idioglossary" by Ponyphonic is about a pair of siblings who essentially construct their own dialect of English, with its own strange constructions and rules.


  • Dogg's Hamlet, Cahoot's Macbeth by Tom Stoppard features a language consisting of the same words as English, but with different meanings (so that, for instance, "useless" means afternoon, and "afternoon" means something dreadfully insulting). Stoppard got the idea from an essay by the philosopher Wittgenstein, who pointed out that in such a circumstance, two people might interact without ever realising that they're speaking two different languages, and illustrated with a hypothetical conversation that gets reprised in the first act of the play.
  • In How I Became Stupid, Asa can only speak in poetry—this is stated to be the result of nhis being used to test an experimental babyfood containing high levels of phosphorous. It also made him nearlt eight feet tall, and causes him to glow faintly in the dark.

Video Games

  • The Sid Meier's Alpha Centauri Expansion Pack Alien Crossfire gives us Progenitors, who toe the line between this and Aliens Speaking English due to Translation Convention. Alien-to-alien speech is rendered as normal, fluent language. However, alien-to-human communication is impossible until you research a tech which allows in-universe translation, which renders Progenitor speech with a syntax roughly equal to "Subject: Statement".
  • The Rikti in City of Heroes speak like this as well. They are a race of telepaths and it is only late in the game during certain missions that one gets the new Mark III translator and can not only suddenly speak English properly, but can now understand it just as well. He finds our childish vulgarities rather quaint.
    • Star Control's Daktaklakpak provide a similar challenge — their language is so mathematical and formulaic that initially the tech teams don't even think they're sentient. Once you obtain a translator their speech remains formulaic and stilted: "Statement: Daktaklakpak are superior to Humans. Interrogation: What are Humans doing in our space?"
  • The Orz from Star Control 2 have thought processes so alien that the best translators cannot fully process their language. Translations end up using a combination of best guesses and mixed metaphors for the unknown words.

"They are *camping* in this *playground* and would definitely like to *play* with *friendlies!*"

    • More relevantly, their lines use very idiosyncratic grammar.
  • The player character in Knights of the Old Republic can speak almost every alien language, so you get subtitles even for what the Jawas on Tatooine are saying. Nevertheless, even subtitled, their syntax is rather strange.
  • G-man from Half-Life places emphasis on unusual syllables and pauses for breath in all the wrong places, though his diction is perfect and his vowels are never mispronounced. All of this is used to suggest that he's some sort of Eldritch Abomination making a less-than-perfect imitation of humanity.
    • The Vortigaunts on the other hand, pronounce words fairly clearly but use strange word orderingand exhibit a few quirks such as placing "the" in front of someone's name. When speaking in their own language, both participants speak simultaneously, so they also step on the ends of each other's sentences in English every now and then.
  • A minor alien species in Mass Effect, the elcor, exhibit a form of this. They all speak in a deep monotone, and preface their sentences with the tone it would be in, e.g. "genuine enthusiasm," followed by a sentence with no noticeable enthusiasm.
    • They talk like that with non-elcor because they express emotion through pheromones, subsonics, and extremely subtle body language that most other species can't detect.
      • It's implied that the rendering of the emotional prefix statement is due to the Translator Microbes, as when a certain elcor is asked by his asari colleague if he had hacked his translator unit in order to 'speak' exactly how he wants, he replies, in an utter monotone, with: "With a sincerity such that scepticism would be deeply insulting:"
      • This is similar to how HK-47 and the HK-50 models talk in the Knights of the Old Republic games. However, unlike the Elcor, they are perfectly capable of modulating their speech synthesizers to add inflection, making prefixes like "Annoyed statement: I would greatly prefer blasting them, master, but you are the master," mostly unnecessary but funny.
    • Another example would by the hanar, who cannot speak as humans do at all; their translators/synthesizers render their bioluminescent language into spoken words. Either for this reason or some quirk of culture, all their translated speech is exceedingly polite, avoids reference to personal pronouns like "I" and they will rarely use their names unless introducing themselves, preferring "it" or "this one", i.e. "This one hopes that we will converse again soon." They have two names, in fact; a Face Name (for public use) and a Soul Name (for family and very close friends).
    • Though really combination of Terse Talker and Motor Mouth, Mordin Solus verges into Strange Syntax Speaker due to combination of elided speech and Techno Babble.
  • The Dangling Participle in King's Quest VI.
  • Thorn of Final Fantasy IX uses inverted sentences, like Yoda (and usually says the same thing Zorn says, except Zorn doesn't invert them.)
  • The Emps from Ultima VII; passive voice seems to be what is always used by them.

"Your wish is to meet wisps? An idea how you can be helped by Trellek is had by me. Wisps are contacted by Trellek's whistling. A whistle for you can be made by him, perhaps. Talking with him again should be your next action."

    • Also, the gargoyles. At one point in U7, it is mentioned that they speak in "Gargish syntax" to preserve their cultural ties.

"To be named Horffe. To be the Captain of the guard. To serve and protect the people of Serpent's Hold."

  • Nya! Of Super Mario RPG, both this and a regular Verbal Tic, Bowyer uses. Nya!
  • Similarly, Fawful of the Mario & Luigi series has this practically programmed into the speech center of his brain...


  • Fnarf of The Bard's Tale had a tendency to speak with alliteration.

The Bard: I've had just about enough of these atrocious alliterative announcements... Now I'm doing it!

  • The Chiss bartender Baldarek on Nar Shaddaa in Star Wars: Jedi Outcast has problems speaking Basic and constantly confuses singular and plural nouns.

Baldarek: (Kyle Katarn holding a lightsaber to his face) Please! Noble Jedis! Not in the faces!

  • The people of Xian (a Fantasy Counterpart Culture version of China) in Golden Sun use some strange sentence structures (though not nearly as strange as some fanfic writers portray it), presumably to show that they normally speak a different language from the heroes. This is present even in the Japanese versions, as references to it are made in the 4koma Gag Battle doujinshi.
    • Curiously, Xian's successor-nations in Dark Dawn are filled with people who speak normally.
  • The Great Mizuti from the first Baten Kaitos not only speaks in the third person, insisting on being called "the Great Mizuti," rarely conjugates "to be" (i.e. "the Great Mizuti be invincible!") and will occasionally string together two related words after the end of a sentence.

Web Comics

  • Terror Island applies alliteration when flaunting flashbacks.
  • In Neurotically Yours, the character Piltz-E the squirrel speaks in this manner.
  • In Schlock Mercenary the space station manager Mister Aliss speaks in a very odd dialect characterized by using a lot of unnecessary "verbings", poor understanding of metaphors, and painfully arranged grammar (example: "You suspect? What is of the suspectings?"). From that Tagon identifies him as someone more used to speaking Galstandard Peroxide, the preferred language of aquatic sophonts (correct), specifically a part of a class of diplomats raised underwater among the Celeschul native species (wrong).
    • Later we see the same accent when other species used to Galstandard Peroxide speak Galstandard West.
  • "Starslip": after a conversation with Mr. Jinx about how laughably simple human languages are, a fellow Cirbozoid speaks with total disregard for word order.
  • Lacey from A Path to Greater Good. Later subverted when he no longer has to impress people and speaks normally instead.
  • Irregular Webcomic gives a simple reason for Yoda's speech pattern.

Web Original

Western Animation


Wreck-Gar: "You are in danger of being cancelled or losing your time slot!"
Ultra Magnus: "What'd he say?!"
Rodimus Prime: "We're gonna get killed."


Eddy: Hey, where's Double D?
Ed: Do not adjust your set! (runs after Edd)


Give grace that the examples ended the trope's strange self-demonstrating direction...