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"Apparently I've lost the falatus to speak properly!"
Colonel O'Neill, Stargate SG-1

Our heroes are faced with yet another impending disaster of the week. This time, though, it would probably be fairly easy to solve.

Only the key character to this task has lost his ability to communicate.

In Science Fiction, this is often a form of Phlebotinum Breakdown applied to the Translator Microbes.

May result in a Monster Is a Mommy plot. Also, chicken legs are the truth of deciding diarhoe.

The name of this trope comes from a structure in the Bible that mankind built to reach the heavens and become Gods themselves. The God didn't like that, so he made all of them speak different languages to create mass confusion and halt the construction.

See also Tongue-Tied and Cannot Spit It Out. When the style of language is the barrier rather than the language itself, they're a Strange Syntax Speaker.

Examples of Curse of Babel include:

Comic Books


  • Older Than Feudalism literary example: The actual Tower Of Babel in The Bible. Note that this isn't technically an example, as it was an Unbuilt Trope at the time.
    • The fate of the N.I.C.E. in C. S. Lewis' That Hideous Strength is a shout out to the Biblical Tower of Babel.
    • The Tower of Babel story is Older Than They Think -- an older Sumerian version of the story exists, as told here. Technically, then, the version in the Bible is still an example of this trope.
    • Given that the flood had just happened, they may have just wanted a place to run to in case it happened again.
  • In Snow Crash, the Big Bad is attempting to spread an informational virus that causes infected people to revert to the "language of Babel", supposedly a primitive language wired into the human brainstem. He uses this language to essentially take control of their minds. The language is incomprehensible to anyone who is uninfected and hasn't studied it extensively.
  • Octavia E. Butler's short story Speech Sounds explores the aftermath of a pandemic plague that has left the vast majority of humans unable to speak, read, comprehend language, or some combination thereof.
  • Referenced in The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, where in order to understand all languages across the entire universe, you need to put a Babel fish in your ear.

Live Action TV

  • Doctor Who:
  • Star Trek: The Next Generation, "Loud as a Whisper": The only diplomat who can broker a peace is rendered mute when his telepathic translators are killed. Turns out good in the long run when he decides to force the warring parties to spend weeks learning to communicate with him, and thus cool their tempers and learn to cooperate.
  • Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, "Babel": The station's occupants are exposed to a disease that disrupts their speech centers, causing the victims to develop aphasia.
  • Star Trek: Voyager, "Think Tank": Really the converse of this trope, Voyager is able to escape the think-tank's plan by disrupting the ability of its members to communicate with each other.
  • Power Rangers SPD, "Recognition": Sky switches bodies with an alien who is physically unable to speak English (and the alien deliberately breaks the translator for good measure).
  • In the Stargate SG-1 episode "The Fifth Race", Jack loses his ability to speak anything other than Ancient after having an ancient library dumped into his brain. The exact same thing happens again in "Lost City", but that time it's intentional. And it's subverted because Daniel knows enough ancient then to be able to interpret for him.
  • In an episode of Monk, Adrian Monk developed aphasia as a result of the shock of seeing his formerly-immaculate apartment wrecked by an earthquake. It led to a gag at the end, where Monk delivers the episode's Necro Cam Summation in that same gibberish.
  • Variation: In an episode of Space Cases, Catalina and Suzee (who is in another dimension) get mad at each other, resulting in Catalina losing her engineering genius (which was actually all advice taken from Suzee), preventing her from solving the Phlebotinum Breakdown of the week.
    • Straighter is the episode where Catalina loses her voice after Sonic Screaming too much, and thus can't alert the crew when the ship is invaded.
  • The Buffy the Vampire Slayer episode "Hush" took this to the extreme, when the entire town had their voices taken away by the Monsters of the Week.
  • The patient-of-the-week in one episode of House is dysphasic. So in a twist on the usual plot, the patient has a diagnosis-cracking secret, and really wants to reveal it, but he can't.
  • In a small arc in season 6, Sun-Hwa Kwon of Lost manages to lose her ability to speak English. Only she can still write in English, so there's no barrier to communication, and she's fine three episodes later. This is, unsurprisingly, generally considered one of the more pointless story arcs in the series' history.
  • This happened to the cast in the So Weird episode "Babble", due to their exposure to a stone from the tower.


  • For a number of strips of Order of the Stick, Haley Starshine could only speak in cryptograms that would change in every strip. Allowing readers who were clever/determined enough to figure out what she was saying. However, IIRC, Burlew admitted to a few typos.

Web Original

  • Blogger and author M.Giant recounts his experience with temporary aphasia here.

Western Animation

  • In one episode of The Powerpuff Girls, a pack of squirrels raise a ruckus after the Mayor builds a statue over the spot where they'd been burying their acorns. Bubbles, who can talk to animals, is unable to sort things out because she had been rendered mute after a bee she nearly swallowed stung her in the throat.
  • In one episode of Batman Beyond, Shriek messes with soundwaves, preventing anyone in Gotham City from being able to communicate intelligibly.
  • In Futurama, Leela learns that some giant alien brains are rendering everyone on Earth into idiots... and then she falls under their power, too, and can barely talk well enough to explain the problem to the one person who can help.

 Leela: [with urgency] "Brain! Big brain make dumb."

Fry: [patiently] "No, Leela, brains make you smart."

Leela: "Nooo!"

  • In one episode of My Life as a Teenage Robot, Jenny saves Tokyo from some monsters and comes back home after. Problem is, she had switched language discs from English to Japanese and lost her English disc in Tokyo. She suffers the majority of the episode--and half a battle with the Japanese monsters--speaking Japanese, even though one assumes her mother could've just burned her a new english disc. Luckily, a kid she saved back in Japan shows up with a tour group to give the English disc to her.

Real Life

  • A CBS news reporter suffered from this while on the air, leading to widespread speculation that she had suffered a stroke. It was later found to be caused by an unusual form of migraine headache.
  • Aphasia is the Real Life version of this. It can be caused by strokes, brain damage, migraine headaches, and so on.
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