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"The profoundly deaf Grot gun-crews utilize crude sign-language to communicate. This tends not to work very well as Grots can only carry so many signs."
Warhammer 40000, Ork Codex

A mute character -- or one who has been rendered speechless by events -- will communicate with hand-held wooden signs on which are scrawled his comments and questions. Flipping the sign will often display additional messages -- often more than the two one would expect from a simple two-sided object.

These signs appear and disappear (like so many other possessions of cartoon characters) as needed.

Usually they are examples of No Fourth Wall, as they frequently bear comments made to the audience, not other characters. Compare Hand Signals for those who communicate with hand gestures.

Examples of Talking with Signs include:

Anime and Manga

  • Used minimally in one of the last Yu Yu Hakusho episodes, so as not to let on to Yusuke and Yomi that they're listening in.
  • Ranma ½:
    • Genma Saotome is unusual in that he uses signs to communicate with other cast members (and not the audience) when in his panda form. In a spectacular Lampshade Hanging of this trope, one of the Ranma OVAs shows Genma floating in a boat built entirely of all the signs he ever displayed during the course of the television series, which he had apparently been carrying on his person all that time.
    • In another episode, a team of pursuers tracked Genma down by following the trail of signs he was leaving behind.
  • Suirou, one of the Juttensen in Grenadier communicates underwater at great length with Rushuna Tendo, educating her in underwater combat through an extensive series of pre-prepared signs.
  • Ichigo Mashimaro, manga chapter 24: the girls communicate almost completely through signs to avoid waking Nobue up from her nap. Chika, not Miu, is the one to almost break the silence, as she nearly cracks under the pressure of having to write a whole lot, not to mention having Miu constantly trying to get her to burst into spontaneous laughter.
  • In an example similar to Ranma 1/2's above, Elizabeth from Gintama can only communicate to other characters using signs, but mostly not to the audience. In one episode, Elizabeth actually used a signboard as a weapon against a space pirate. (Appropriately enough, written on it was a battlecry.)
  • Megumi Yamamoto in Special A prefers to preserve her voice for singing, and thus communicates by holding up a sketchpad with what she wants to say written on it.
  • Suzuho of Macademi Wasshoi also communicates by sketchbook messages, though her Split Personality Suzuka doesn't refrain from talking at all.
  • Ninja Maid Rena in the manga Onihime VS only communicates through writing, using a dry erase board in public and a diary at home. Her customers in her day job as a waitress in a Meido cafe find this adorable.
  • A variation is used by Nodamiki in GA Geijutsuka Art Design Class. She scribbles something akin to a manga panel background on her sketchpad and holds it up behind someone, putting words in their mouth.
  • Kuchinashi from NEEDLESS communicates with sign language. Despite having to carry around her sketchbook with her at all times, she's a pretty effective fighter.
  • Kukuri Tachibana from ~11eyes~ is another who communicates by writing what she wants to say on her sketchbook. She's the passive member of the chosen ones, leaving most of the fighting up to her guardian angel, Abraxas and focusing on healing.
  • Sun Otonashi from Rosario to Vampire writes in a notebook to communicate. She can actually speak just fine, but as a Siren (and an exceptionally powerful one at that), her voice can be lethal if not carefully controlled. Thus, she rarely speaks, and her notebook also functions as a magical Power Limiter; when she closes it during a fight, it means she's getting serious.
  • Tama from Fushigi Yuugi. Yes, the cat.
  • Celty Sturlusson from Durarara uses her cellphone in this manner -- typing whatever she wishes to say and then showing it to someone. The anime has these lines voiced in addition to save every scene she's in from having to focus on her cell phone screen.
  • Assist-droids use this to communicate with people
  • Sonic X featured this in an episode that partially took place underwater so the characters could communicate while breaking the fourth wall. Executive Meddling, however, made sure that in the 4Kids dub, the signs were emptied of their text for no apparent reason other than to remove all the written text in the show.
  • Shion in Shion no Ou was rendered mute due to psychological trauma, so she communicates using a notepad she carries with her.
  • In Kore wa Zombie Desu ka?, Cute Mute Necromancer Eucliwood 'Yuu' Hellscythe communicates entirely through a notepad. She's even seen occasionally using it when there's no-one around, apparently 'talking' to herself...
  • In the Queen's Blade OVA episodes, the Swamp Witch's flaming avatar communicates with wooden signs.
  • The eponymous, mute character of Helen ESP relies on large note pads to communicate.
  • A rather surreal example in Gestalt, a fantasy inspired OVA and manga series. Ohri, the resident Manic Pixie Slave Girl is mute, having had her voice and mystical might stripped away some time before her first appearance. In the OVA, she communicates with the main cast by having an RPG inspired text box pop in front of her, and using her residual ability to vocalize to further emphatize its contents. While the cast acts briefly suprised at first, they manage to understand her.

Comic Books

  • Man-Thang communicates in this way in Marvel's What The?! parody comics. Signs seen have included "SHUT UP", "JUST SAY NO" and "YOU! YOU'RE THE GUY WHO STOLE MY ORIGIN!"
  • Awesome Andy in She Hulk. The poor guy doesn't have a face, so he communicates with a chalkboard he has hanging from his neck -- even, at one point, after it had been broken in two!
  • The Rumor, for most of The Umbrella Academy: Dallas, communicates on a notepad, mostly with scathing sarcasm. She gets better just in time to use her power to resolve the plot, assassinate JFK, and save the world.


  • In the film Murder By Death the cook is mute and communicates via cards. She is illiterate and the cards are pre-printed. Unfortunately the person she has to communicate with the most is the butler, who is blind.
  • In the film Little Miss Sunshine, the character of Dwayne, played by Paul Dano, has taken an oath of silence until he achieves his goal of becoming a test pilot in the Air Force. He communicates with a notepad for the majority of the film. Of course, he then finds out that he is colorblind and cannot fly jets for the Air Force. Swearing ensues.
  • Silent Bob of The View Askewniverse sometimes communicates this way.
  • In Who Framed Roger Rabbit?, Benny the Cab asks Eddie and Roger to pull a lever that will help them escape the Weasels. When they can't figure out which one, a sign reading "THIS LEVER, STUPID!" pops out of Benny's dashboard to point out the lever in question.
  • Kit Kat from the movie Hudson Hawk. Mute, uses pre-printed cards to dialogue. Actually he carries hundreds of them, and manages to deliver a hilarious One-Liner. Guess who is the actor? David Caruso!


  • A variation: In Feet of Clay, golems have no voice and always carry around a tablet and chalk to write on in order to communicate. In the hardcover edition, the golems' writing looks like Hebrew script.
    • The same applies to the paperback, as well.
  • In The Adventures of Fox Tayle, Fox is being kept in a water-filled glass container with a breathing mask. To communicate, he has to use a small waterproof writing pad and a grease pencil.
  • In Bearing an Hourglass, Fate uses a scroll of messages she brought along to communicate with the new Chronos (whose personal time is running backwards relative to the rest of the world) until she can get him into a situation that has time flowing the same direction for both of them and they can talk normally. Chronos later uses written messages for communication with mortals when he has to reverse the world's time flow.

Live Action TV

  • Aptly-named ECW character Sign Guy Dudley.
  • Buffy the Vampire Slayer "Hush" devoted an episode to this trope. The entire town had its voices removed by the baddies. Almost immediately, some enterprising townfolk started selling whiteboard tablets on the street. The fourth season episode, which was nominated for an Emmy, was in response to accusations that the series relied too heavily on clever dialogue. It is generally acclaimed as one of the scariest of the series.
  • Possibly spoofed by Monty Python's Flying Circus, where such non-talking classics as "The Semaphore Version of Wuthering Heights" and "Julius Caesar on an Aldis Lamp" are presented with subtitles convenient for viewers who can't even interpret the flag signals for "AAAAUUUGGH! AAAAUUUGGH!"
    • Also the dirty old man in a raincoat flashing passing women, who then turns to the camera, opens his coat and shows he's fully clothed with a sign reading "BOO!" hanging around his neck.
  • Basil Fawlty used a drawing of a suitcase, an arrow pointing up, and the number 6 printed on index cards to communicate with Manuel (who responded with a card displaying "OK").
  • There's actually a serious version of this in an episode of Thunderbirds, where Gordon Tracy uses a hand-held illuminated signboard to send messages to the pilots of an airliner that has sunk to the sea bed.
  • In one of their Don't Try This At Home segments, Adam does the standard spiel while Jamie holds a cartoon bomb with a lit fuse. Adam leaves and Jamie holds up a sign reading "NOT a real bomb!"
  • The 'Laryngitis' Daily Show/Colbert Report check-in combines this with The Tape Knew You Would Say That, as Stephen's signs accurately predict everything Jon's going to say and respond to it.
  • One of the neighbors in Married... with Children temporarily loses her voice and starts carrying a bunch of pre-written cards around with her.

 "So you think you can answer anything at all using those cards?"

(on card) YES

"All right then, what were the names of the three ships used by Christopher Columbus?"

(one card after another) NINA - PINTA - SANTA MARIA

  • The Vicar of Dibley. In one episode all of the characters gather in the Horton house, where Alice's newborn baby just fell asleep- so when the vicar arrives to this meeting, Hugo holds a board up, telling her to keep it down, so as not to wake the baby up. Once she goes inside the room, she finds an average conversation has been going on between the villagers about whether or not they liked a certain episode of Eastenders, etc. only written on boards. Jim Trott even cares to write "no no no no no" before each sentence, as his speech impediment would force him to, if he was actually speaking.
  • Happened twice on Father Ted. Once where an even more loathsome priest than Jack moved in and started blaring jungle music 24/7, meaning the characters had to talk in signs, with Mrs. Doyle offering a cup of tea, followed by a large stack of digns saying "Go on, go on, go on". Another where the house was bugged had Ted communicate to Dougal that they needed to talk in signs, with Dougals first sign being simply "What?"
  • Wataru Kurenai, the eponymous Kamen Rider Kiva, initially communicates with a notebook full of pre-written responses because he's a Hikikomori who thinks he's allergic to the world. At one point Cool Big Sis Megumi asks something like "You can't have a response for everything in there!" When Wataru starts actually looking for a response, she takes it away from him.
  • In an episode of MTV's old dating show Singled Out, co-host Jenny McCarthy lost her voice once and did all of her talking on cards.
  • On Lost, Sun is forced to do this during the episodes where she's forgotten all of her English (well, how to verbally speak it, anyway).
  • In the 1980s British sitcom Agony Jane Lucas's mother used signs to tell Jane that she'd lost her voice. However as they were on the telephone at the time this was unsuccessful.
  • One episode of Phil of the Future pays homage to Wile E Coyote in a sequence where Pim sets up a bucket to dump water on her substitute teacher. However, when she goes to pull the rope which will overturn the bucket, the rope is gone. The teacher then pulls on a rope near her that Pim had failed to notice until now. Realizing that she's about to get drenched, Pim silently holds up a small sign reading, "Yikes!"
  • On a 1950's Garry Moore Show, Buster Keaton and another actor recreated an old silent movie routine, manually holding up dialogue placards to represent the on-screen title cards of the original film. The awkwardness and absurdity of the substitution (with its accompanying fumbles and mix-ups) added a new layer of funny to the original gags.
  • In an episode of The Drew Carey Show some land owners are trying to flush out Drew so they can take his home and hire Mimi to do so. One of her tactics is blaring loud music across the neighborhood. Drew and his friends, counter by putting earplugs on and talking with signs. At one point Oswald responds to Drew's question with a "What?". Drew responds back but writing the words on his sign too little to read that Oswald had to lean in before Drew bops him in the head with the sign.
  • On The Big Bang Theory, when Sheldon misinterprets a sarcastic remark yet again, Leonard jokes that he has to hold up a sarcasm sign for him. Later in the episode, Leonard does just that.

Newspaper Comics

  • The cats in the comic strip Sylvia.
  • The first syndicated comic strip, Hogan's Alley, featured Mickey Dugan (The Yellow Kid), who spoke exclusively through messages inexplicably printed on his shirt. As it dates back to the 1890s, it makes this trope Older Than Radio.
  • Peanuts did some Lampshade Hanging when Linus was about to throw a snowball at Snoopy who just happens to be carrying a sign that is exactly relevant to the situation, "If you throw that snowball at me. I'll have the Humane Society on you so fast it will make your head swim!" To which Linus notes, "Whoever paints those signs for him does a good job!"
  • Zits does a non-speechless version of this. Jeremy comes down for breakfast with a stack of cards, and answers each of his mother's questions ("Orange juice? Eggs?") with the next card. Finally she insists "I am not that predictable!" and he reveals the card which reads "Wanna bet?"

Stand-Up Comedy

Tabletop Games

Video Games

  • The Sorrow holds up a variety of helpful signs for Naked Snake in Metal Gear Solid 3, including a realtime countdown at one point. He can't speak because he is dead.
  • Chibi-Robo is normally spoken for by his partner Telly, but when faced with a yes/no situation (usually a player choice), he can pop up one of two signs: a green exclamation mark for "yes" and a red no-sign for "no".
  • Defied in Fallout: New Vegas. You can suggest this to the mute Christine as an alternative to her hand signals, but it turns out she can't read or write due to brain damage after she was nearly lobotomized in The Big Empty.

Web Comics

  • Dragobo, of the RPG World webcomic (As well as many more animal sidekicks).
  • Nate from Bob and George.
  • Evil Overlords United has a character named Zworgue, who uses a sign stolen from Framed!.
  • Played with in Friendly Hostility, when Genre Savvy Derringer's throat is injured and he is forced to communicate through the use of signs. At one point he pulls out the wrong sign (one that describes a certain set of...interests...), realizes his mistake, and quickly pulls out another advising everyone who saw to disregard the previous message.
  • Rudolph (yes, the reindeer) in Sluggy Freelance. Also Zoë's mother, who as she put it, "wasn't talking to her", but had made enormous signs so she could rant and/or nag her daughter like she usually would.
  • In Holy Bibble when God strikes Laban dumb, this is how he chooses to communicate for the rest of the arc. Including signs that make death threats at Jacob.
  • Apple from The Infamous..
  • Evil Inc. has a sentient piece of paper who can only communicate this way by producing writing on himself.
  • The Sorrow in The Last Days of Foxhound often uses this to communicate to the living if they can't speak to spirits.
  • Evil Diva: Gabriel carries around a notepad for this.
  • Squid Row: The homeless guy uses signs.
  • In Looking for Group, after possessing the Crown of Legara, Richard takes a liking to communicating via conjured signs, despite the fact that others can clearly hear him when he speaks normally. When Aelloon swats the signs away in frustration, Richard simply conjures a new one saying "Tough crowd".

Web Original

  • The Nostalgia Critic in his review of The Good Son (in-universe, it's said he screamed at the awfulness of the movie until losing his voice; in reality, Doug had a throat infection). He even described his situation as turning into a "human Wile E. Coyote".
    • In a later review of James and the Giant Peach, the Critic responds to the explanation of James' parents' death[1] with a card saying "What?". After the clip is repeated, he writes another sign saying "WHAT???".
  • The Poopsmith from Homestar Runner has started this in recent years, as a way around his vow of silence.
  • Ninja Style Dancer in Atop the Fourth Wall uses written signs to communicate. During the Ewoks #1 review he held up a series of signs in the wrong order in one scene, so Linkara edited the footage to put the right text on top of the signs with an added "Ninjas put their words in the wrong order to confuse their foes."
  • Stuart Ashen used this trope for emphasis in a review. "If you seriously think that the Toshiba Camileo H10 is a serious camcorder then I'm afraid you're... (cut to a closeup of his face) Wrong wrong wrong wrong wrong wrong wrong (holds up a sign saying WRONG)".
  • In a web 2.0 ad for an Italian car insurance company [1], the spokesman is... a Cute Mute Sexy Secretary, who, Breaking the Fourth Wall, is fully aware of her nature as a silent flash banner and the user just staring at her. As such, she keeps pestering the potential customer with a combination of cutish, feminine expressions and a ludicrously huge amounts of preprinted signs. However, if enough time has elapsed without the user clicking the banner and reaching the website, the girl in question will show increasing amounts of boredom, preventing her from even trying to reach you, until she simply storms off the monitor in a hurry, leaving her couch empty and her cardboard signs hanging at the sides. You're then been given the double choice to make up for that by getting to the site she was eagerly promoting, or adopting her. If you choose to adopt the girl, a pop-up banner shows up with the same girl cheerily showing a grateful sign to you... and the cycle starts anew.
  • Nash's Stick Boy in What the Fuck Is Wrong With You talks through both this and Voice Grunting.
  • Shuck the Diamond Dog had his throat nearly ripped out in his backstory, so he uses signs to communicate.

Western Animation

  • Looney Tunes and Tiny Toons:
    • Both Wile E. Coyote and The Road Runner have communicated with signs.
    • Calamity Coyote, Wile E.'s Tiny Toons counterpart, never spoke. In one episode, all the characters are on a group phone line, and he's desperately waving a sign at the receiver (which would be repeated by Wile E. himself in Looney Tunes Back in Action).
    • An interesting take on this was used in the game Tiny Toon Adventures: Buster Busts Loose. While many of the characters almost always move their mouths when they speak, when Calamity Coyote had to speak in the scene before Stage 5, his sprite merely held up a blank sign, but what he needs to say is displayed on the normal dialogue box. He also holds up a sign saying "Help me!" in Bab's bonus game instead of yelling it like the other characters, and pulls out another sign saying "Thank you!" when you rescue him instead of saying it like the other characters.
    • In the Roadrunner game, after you defeat the final boss, Wile E. Coyote is seen dropping a really long distance back to earth. He holds up a sign reading "How about ending this game before I hit?" Based on the cartoon "Gee Whiz-z-z" where the same thing happens. As he's falling in the end of the cartoon, he holds up a sign saying, "How about ending this cartoon before I hit?" When the cartoon obliges, he quickly shows a "Thank you." sign as the iris out finishes.
    • Chuck Jones, in his later years, created lithographs of the Looney Tunes characters he helped create. One such litho featured the Coyote running off a cliff in pursuit of the Roadrunner, who held up a sign that bore a quotation of Santayana that Chuck Jones once stated was a perfect description of Wile E.: "A fanatic is one who redoubles his efforts while forgetting his aim."
    • In "Hair-Raising Hare", Bugs Bunny is terrified by a monster (who was later named Gossamer). Unable to speak, he displays to the audience a sign bearing a tiny "yipe!". Still frightened, he stares at the sign in apparent confusion, then flips it to reveal a much larger and more emphatic "YIPE!!!!"
    • In "Hare Remover", Elmer Fudd starts flipping out after accidentally ingesting a "Jekyll and Hyde potion" intended for Bugs...who responds by holding up a series of rebus signs for the audience featuring Visual Puns such as a screw and ball, a cracked pot, a dripping faucet, and a belfry with bats flying around it.
      • At the end of the cartoon, Bugs pretends to be a bear attacking Elmer, while the real bear held up the same signs from before.
    • The screw/ball sign turns up in a few other Looney Tunes shorts, notably "Duck Amuck".
    • Marvin Martian sometimes had a Martian dog named "K9" with him, who could only communicate by passing him written notes on cards.
  • Duncan Bubble from Detention prefers to communicate by spelling out messages with his yo-yo.
  • The Simpsons:
    • One episode had Homer being forced get his jaws wired, and spent a good part of the episode doing this by writing on a chalkboard he carries around. He even wrote "D'oh!" when Marge tells him that Ned Flanders stopped by.
    • There's another episode of the Simpsons written by and guest starring Ricky Gervais, in which the Simpsons and another family go on a Wife-Swap type show. When Gervais's character serenades Marge on the guitar, one camera guy filming them puts up a sign that reads, "What an asshole," to another, who promptly responds with glare and a sign reading, "Don't waste signs."
  • Meap from the Phineas and Ferb episode "The Chronicles of Meap" communicated with Candace by pulling out a series of photographs to tell a story. Lampshaded when Candace wonders where he is getting all the photos from before Meap tells her (via gestures) to stay focussed.
  • In Tom and Jerry it didn't happen nearly as often as one might think, given that the two characters are mute most of the time. There are a couple instances of it though, one most memorable example is after Jerry stabs a box with several pins and saws it in half, with Tom inside. He looks inside the box and his eyes widen, and he quickly writes up a sign and displays it to the audience asking "Is There a Doctor In the House??".
  • Played for laughs in an episode of the Saturday Morning Cartoon The Mask In the episode "Split Personality," the titular MacGuffin is broken in half, and when Stanley puts on the half he finds literally one side of him becomes The Mask, while the other remains boring old Stanley. When Stanley later encounters his boss, he deliberately stands in profile, so that only his "normal" half is visible. And while Stanley talks to Charlie, The Mask holds up signs such as "Underwear too TIGHT, Charles?" and "Make my day: FIRE ME!" Charlie is less than amused.
  • In the House of Mouse episode where Pete is put in charge of the club and puts villains on the staff, Ariel loses her voice (again) and has to hold up a sign to say so. See her do it at 1:14 here.
  • In the rare Robot Chicken skits where he actually appears, the titular character and the scientist speak like this, other than the Theme Song 's "It's Alive!!!" which isn't necessarily the mad scientist's own voice.
  • Given the nature of the trope as a traditional animation gag, it's not surprising to find it's used in Animaniacs as well. Mr. Skullhead, from the 'Good Idea, Bad Idea' skits, is largely mute, so he resorts to this to express himself to the audience (the fourth wall already being fairly thin on the show). He's more of The Voiceless since there are a couple occasions where he makes some kind of noise (such as whistling or brief snippets of off-key singing).
  • In an episode of The Flintstones, Fred has finally gotten Pebbles to go to sleep. But a cat and dog outside are fighting, the dog on the ground, the cat on a branch up a tree. Fred runs out and yells at them to shut up. The dog pulls out a sign that reads "Woof!" while the cat pulls out a sign that reads "Meow!" and the two start waving the signs at each other.

Real Life

  • Deaf people, when communicating with a hearing person who does not know actual sign language, often resort to this. This was also the case before the development of standardized sign language, called "conversation books".
  • If you get a throat infection bad enough to render you as The Speechless or at least The Unintelligible, it can temporarily force you to resort to this.
  • A smilie can often be the only thing that shows whether a message is meant to be teasing or insulting.
  1. eaten by a wild rhinoceros