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"Welcome to Radio Tourettes, you SHITMONKEYS!"—Frankie Boyle, Mock the Week
Like all neurological conditions, Tourette's Syndrome is a complicated and variable disorder that can manifest itself in many different ways. And like most neurological conditions, this is not the case on TV.
In real life, Tourette's Syndrome is characterized by involuntary "tics" that the person feels compelled to perform fairly regularly; depending on the severity, this can range from an easily-suppressed thought to actions so uncontrollable that it makes Monk seem perfectly normal. To be categorized by a psychiatrist as Tourette's (instead of a related disorder), the sufferer must have multiple physical tics or at least one vocal tic. These tics can range from something small like uncontrollable breathing patterns or involuntarily pulling a face to hand movements and gestures to specific words. Around 10% of people with Tourette's also display something called "coprolalia" (derived from Greek, literally meaning shit-talking), which is the involuntary uttering of socially unacceptable things.
In TV land, though, Tourette's Syndrome is coprolalia. In most people's minds, Tourette's is a condition where people fire Cluster F Bombs upon Cluster F Bombs and nothing more. It makes sense that this is how it would be treated -- it gives the writers the chance for a Very Special Episode about accepting others even if they are different... and the chance to Cross The Line Twice with really, really dirty language.
The kind of things people "with Tourette's" say on TV and in movies varies significantly depending on the medium and culture. American TV tends to avoid fuck! f-bombs and really strong profanity, though cable can shit! be a little stronger. "Ass" is more common, as are other penistitscockpussy! naughty parts of the body. Obscene cunt! words for women are usually out so as to avoid being accused of sexism, but milder bitch! words are usually cool.
Ethnic and racial niggerhonkeygookspickiketowelheadfagdykeyourmom! slurs are usually out to avoid being racist (except when a person accidentally blurts out "nigger" in a room full of black people, and Hilarity theoretically Ensues). Slurs like "fag", "ass pirate", and "queer" have traditionally been fair game, but more recently this has been on the down slide to avoid homophobia. Foreign (which seems to just mean "British") swears like "wanker", "bugger", and "tosser" have always been very popular, as they enable a person to use much stronger language, since fewer Americans are familiar with it. Insults like "retard", "moron", and "idiot" are generally not used, due to the offense being by means of the person being insulted and not the word itself.
Very mild swears like "damn", "heck", and "hell" are usually not used, unless to signify how lame the person with Tourette's is. Compound swears generally fall under the rules for the worst swear making up the compound, so "happy tits" would be OK if you could use "tits", and "cunttard" if you could use "cunt" and "retard", and "fagonomics" if you could use "fag" and "economics". The exception to this being compounds that alter the nature of the swear, thus even if you could use "nigger", if you were afraid of upsetting Arabs, you would not use the phrase "sand nigger." Of course, this varies; by the time you read this, what was once shocking may be casual or even lame.
And occasionally, a show might just even feature a person with Tourette's who doesn't swear. (An episode of 20/20 profiled a real-life sufferer who said things like "Help! My underwear's on fire!")
Note that coprolalia does not occur in writing (or typing). Most moderators of major chatrooms are in fact aware of this.
Films -- Live-Action
- Doc the bartender in Boondock Saints is affectionately referred to as "Fuckass" by his regular patrons, the reason being his exclamations of "Fuck! Ass!" that occur fairly frequently. While nobody ever mentions the words Tourette's Syndrome, the two heroes do end up trying to explain the behavior to a little girl who overhears some of the foul language in a Catholic hospital. There is some attempt at realism here, with Doc usually only shouting his signature curse after a difficult bout of stuttering... which he suffers once or twice a sentence. He also has the motor "tics" that an actual Tourette's sufferer might have, acting very much like someone who's never been treated for the illness. As an "Old Irish Publican" hard ass, he's probably not seen the inside of a doctor's office since his last barfight... it fits.
- Not Another Teen Movie has a cheerleader with Tourette's Syndrome. She becomes very popular and even gets a boyfriend.
- In The Invention of Lying, almost EVERYONE in the society has a form of Tourette's where they always speak with complete, unfiltered honesty. Early in the film, the man (played by Ricky Gervais) is waiting for a woman. She says, in effect "I'm just going out with you because I'm bored and my mom keeps bugging me about grandchildren. I'm way out of your league. I'll be down in 15 minutes after I finish masturbating."
- In The Green Mile, one character lapses into swearing fits in the last stages of a brain tumor. In the book, one of the other characters comments that it sounds like Tourette's Syndrome.
- In Deuce Bigalow: Male Gigolo, Deuce is ordered to take a woman with Tourette's Syndrome on a date at one point. He takes her to a baseball game, whereupon everything she shouts seems appropriate (as everyone else in the stands is cursing, too). Incidentally, she was played by a pre-fame Amy Poehler.
- In What About Bob?, the title character talks about his fear of the disorder right before a profane outburst. He then explains, "If I can fake it, I don't have it."
- Better than that is the scene where the psychiatrist's son reveals to Bob that he is afraid of dying. Bob tells him not to be afraid of death; he can be afraid of something else instead--like Tourette's. The boy asks him what Tourette's is, and Bob starts to smile...
- In The Big White, Molly Hunter's character claims to have Tourette's, and swears like a sailor. However, one of her kidnappers notices that she swears less when she's shocked, and while he's making her breakfast (it's that kind of movie) theorizes that she just heard about the condition, and decided to use it as an excuse for some cathartic vocabulary.
- Which is funny, because in the real world, people with Tourette's sometimes have fewer tics (or none at all) when they're surprised, or when they're preoccupied with certain activities. (It can also go the opposite way.)
- The male and female lead in Wish You Were Dead are married by a character (played by Robert "Freddy Krueger" Englund) who has an implied case of this. "We are gathered here to celebrate the joining of these two assholes!"
- In Jumping Jack Flash, Whoopi Goldberg's character is about to be arrested for disorderly conduct for losing her temper and calling a police officer a motherfucker (among other things) when a co-worker of hers tries to pass it off as Tourettes.
- The main characters in Five Hundred Days of Summer, Tom and Summer, play a game in the park where they dare each other to yell "Penis!" in public. When Tom is given dirty looks, this happens:
Tom: Sorry, Tourette's, you know how it is.
Tom: She has it too. PENIS!
- Meroka from Alastair Reynolds' novel Terminal World has this due to her constantly moving between different technology zones, which has extreme effects on the nervous system. Meroka swears constantly, while another character instead has constant Parkinson's-like shakes from years of moving between zones.
- The Confusion, the second volume of Neal Stephenson's The Baroque Cycle, features Jeronimo el Desamparado, a Mexican-born Spanish nobleman afflicted with what is clearly Tourette's-with-extreme-coprolalia (though never so called, the story taking place long before any mental illnesses were given names more technical or specific than "madness").
- Although at one point he compares his situation with that of the fictional St Ettienne de la Tourette.
- In Jonathan Lethem's novel Motherless Brooklyn. the main character Lionel Essrog has a more realistic Tourette's Syndrome: he never swears during his verbal tics.
- Martin Silenus in Hyperion gets this for a while after being brain damage, resulting in a Crowning Moment of Funny.
- Lampshaded in My Godawful Life, a parody of "misery lit" memoirs. After suffering every misfortune and indignity imaginable, the hero finally adopts a young girl with Tourette's Syndrome. When he tells her he thought Tourette's was to do with involuntary tics, not "a fluent outpouring of casual but well-crafted abuse," she replies "It can be. Fuckshaft."
- Spider Robinson's short story Involuntary Man's Laughter in the Callahans Crosstime Saloon collection Callahan's Secret centers around a young man with a severe case of Tourette's. Averts the usual treatment in that his symptoms are primarily physical, and include no dirty words; his vocal tics are described as "grunting and barking".
- Underlined, however, by the fact that Robinson's portrait of Tourette's is, even more than most in entertainment media, exaggerated well past the point of caricature: his character's syndrome is so extreme ("He had a twitch that might have been produced by the greatest comedian in the world going flat-out for a laugh, and his grunts sounded precisely like a gorilla making love") that he cannot be in a room with another person without that other person bursting into literally uncontrollable laughter.
- In Stephen King's The Green Mile, Paul Edgecomb's wife thinks Melinda Moores has this after her brain tumor has progressed to the point where she is swearing constantly. When he takes John Coffey to heal her, they all get a dose of it.
- Diana from Generation A is described as having Tourette's but it really seems more like she just lacks a mental filter to separate thoughts from words. For example, when she confesses her feelings to the man she's in love with, she can't help but add "fuck me, please fuck me" right after.
- One of the earliest examples on TV was on LA Law. "Bitch Whore Slut"...
- Reuben Zeus from Good Guys Bad Guys had realistic Tourette's, thus averting the trope. Typically he would mumble semi-comprehensibly - occasionally a swear word, but usually not.
- On the 7th season of the UK version of Big Brother, the producers cast a guy who had Tourette's Syndrome; naturally, his tic was that he muttered "wanker". He also flicked his neck, but not many people noticed that.
- He also whistled and tapped his chest with his fist. Somewhat hilariously, he was obviously cast because his disorder made him "mad" and "wacky" and generally "well good telly". Instead, he turned out to be a thoughtful, sensitive, and genuinely witty guy who at one point, every single girl in the house had a crush on, and was the favorite to win from day 2. Bookies were offering the lamest odds on him to win because it was practically a foregone conclusion that somebody that interesting wouldn't be voted out. Everyone in the house loved him, and so did everyone watching.
- In Ally McBeal, John dated a blond woman with Tourette's Syndrome, who paired up oddly with him, as he flinched every time he thought he was being insulted.
- The Daily Show presented the disorder slightly more realistically by claiming that Rudy Giuliani had "9/11 Tourette's Syndrome", which caused him to mention that fateful date seemingly at random and often inappropriately.
- Glenn Beck has Nazi Tourette's!
- One of Seventh Heaven's many Very Special Episodes deals with a boy with Tourette's whose verbal symptom is echolalia (repeating what others say). His parents, of course, have never heard of the condition until a parishoner tells them about it and assume he's "doing it on purpose." The father reluctantly admitted that he thought it was hereditary, though, since he had a cousin who did the same thing.
- An episode of Dexter used coprolalia as a punchline. Deb, up all night and wired on coffee, jabbers away almost incoherently, complete with cussing that would make a sailor blush. The problem with the joke is that Deb uses loads of foul language already, and not due in any way to Tourette's Syndrome. It could, of course, simply be teasing from a friend.
Batista: How much coffee have you had?
Deb: A metric...fuckton?
Batista: Well, stop. It's giving you Tourette's.
- Oddly enough, on Angel, Big Bad Angelus seems to know what Tourette's Syndrome actually is. When a demon in a bar mutters an insult in his general direction, he draws Angelus's attention. Angelus decides to take out some aggression. The demon asks if he knows what it is, claiming he has it ("DIRTY BITCH!"), in an effort to divert his attention away. Angelus says he does:
"Yeah, a condition that causes uncontrollable tics and outbursts."
"[...]like yanking out throats."
- The Fast Show has an example in the Bob Fleming's Country Matters segment, where one of the recurring guests (don't ask his name, that's a complicated matter) has a tic for saying "arse".
- Most notably is that he always ends up saying "arse" in situation where it fits into the context. For example, on one occasion, he was singing "All Around My Hat":
Annd alllll around my ARSE! I will wear the green willow...
- Averted in a TV movie titled Front of the Class, a true story about a man with TS, Brad Cohen. His tics include barking and other vocalizations. It's a good thing he doesn't have coprolalia, since he's an elementary school teacher.
- Used in Mental, in addition to compulsive germ-phobia.
- Shameless has Marty the pyromaniac, the brother of the next door neighbour to the main family, at one point Debbie tries to retrain him to say cake and biscuits instead in preparation for a job interview, he also has a range of other tics.
- One season finale of Curb Your Enthusiasm has Larry at the fancy pants opening of a friend's restaurant when the chef lets out a string of Tourette's-generated profanity. Everything stops... and then Larry saves the day by offering his own string of profanity. Soon enough, everyone is swearing at everyone.
- "Fuck you, you carwash cunt! I had a dental appointment!"
- A recurring character on Snuff Box walks around, occasionally saying "Fuck!" with a characteristic cane-wave. He eventually meets a group of similiar individuals, and a Mysterious Ticking Noise-esque song starts.
Son of a two-balled bitch!
- One of Dewey's friends in the "special" class in Malcolm in the Middle has Tourette's. He once tried to use it to deliberately throw a school election, only to have everyone vote for him because they thought his constant (bleeped-out) swearing was cool. His Tourette's, incidentally, seems to be brought on by nervousness, as well as lack of sleep and staring into a strobe light for long periods of time. (The last two he did on purpose).
- On Being Human, George's attempts to suppress the werewolf in him result in temporary Tourettes Shitcock Syndrome.
- A teenager in a 'very special' episode of Quincy M.E. had this. It was played more correctly, with plenty of non-swear words and lots of tics.
- In an episode of TV Funhouse, Chicky's New Years resolution is to start spending more time with his brother, who suffers from Tourette's. "Cock-A-Doodle-Mother-Fucking-Doo!"
- Nurse Jackie has Dr. Cooper ("Coop" to his friends), who suffers from a physical tic when he is stressed or nervous, fairly realistic. However, this tic is grabbing women's breasts. Some people think he's making it up, but he honestly can't help it.
- Discussed in the second episode of Episodes, with Beverly arguing pretty much exactly the same points as this article re: Tourette's not simply being blurting out curse words, only to arrive at the following after a Very Long Day:
Beverly: Open the motherfucking bloody bastard pain in the arse dickcheese stinking dirty shitty wanking fucking bloody fucking bastard fucking stupid cunt of a fucking gate!
Sean (Apologetically): ...Tourette's.
- Averted in Boston Legal. The vocal tics are non-verbal.
- Also used in Touched By an Angel, with a pre-teen boy who has verbal and non-verbal tics. A Jerkass older boy starts bullying him, and the kid's dad pushes him away roughly. Then the boy falls on his back, hits his head and dies. The father is sent to jail afterwards and the poor little lonely boy is hated by almost everyone, at least until Monica and Co. step in.
- Discussed in an episode of QI. In that episode, one of the panelists had actually seen a series of people with Tourette's. Many had vocal tics, but only one of those people actually had a tic involving foul language (and that one involved a very specific phrase).
- Goldust had this problem for a while, before he was cured by being electrocuted by being thrown into a fusebox.
- Actually, the fusebox wasn't the cure for his problem, but the cause. Once the joke started getting old, though, they cut back on how much Goldust actually did it. In his current run with WWE, he's made callbacks to it, but with WWE shooting for TV-PG, these callbacks are rare and usually nowhere near as dirty as his Attitude Era shenanigans.
"Why are you such a dic-dic-dic-dic...dictator!"
- And when it wasn't dirty puns, it was something that usually wasn't beneficial to other wrestlers. After Torrie Wilson posed for Playboy, Andrew "Test" Martin could be seen enjoying, while at the same time trying to hide it from girlfriend Stacy Keibler with a phony jacket.
"Fake cover! Fake cover!"
- Even highbrow stations like NPR aren't exempt; A Prairie Home Companion once had a segment with swearing Tourette's.
- Larry the Cable Guy joked that his deaf cousin also has Tourette's, which means that he randomly flips people off when signing.
- Daniel Tosh has wondered whether or not there is a "polite Tourette's", which causes those with it to blurt out compliments instead of obscenities.
- In Sam and Max: Season 2, Jimmy Two-Teeth is revealed to have a son, Timmy Two-Teeth, who has "terminal Tourette's syndrome", with the result that about half of Timmy's dialog is bleeped out.
- In the game Baroque, a certain character says Goddamn or Goddamnit in just about every sentence, usually at the end. Amusingly enough, those are the only profanities in the English game. It's never said it's Tourettes, or even mentioned at all, but...
- Actually lines up a bit better with actual Tourette's than many examples, as he has a specific word or words, and says it seemingly as a Verbal Tic, without much regard for whether it makes sense in context or his actual emotional state.
- Tropico. Tourette's is one of the character flaws you can choose your dictator to have. In the latest installment it complicates foreign policy (sizeable relationship score penalties with both superpowers), makes holding election speeches a kind of a political Russian roulette (a big popularity drop with a random faction)... and grants you an annual $1000 in Pay-per-View royalties (the presidential addresses have become a huge hit with the Yanquis!).
- In Kira Kira, Tonoya gets the group to cuss at every opportunity as a part of their band's "training".
- Left 4 Dead 2 has Nick with the most swearing, but most of them had to be forced by the player via key binds. His swears range from tits, ass clown, ass hole, holy shit, god damn it, son of a bitch, kiss my ass, bitch, ass hat, and bullshit. Most people playing as Nick would make him swear every chance they could get, making him sound like he had Tourettes. However, a patch disabled binding phrases so now Nick swears a lot less on player impulse.
- Partially averted in Lost Souls MUD, in that the implementation of Tourette's syndrome does manifest physical tics, but 100% of cases also display coprolalia rather than 10%.
- Scarface the World Is Yours. Taunting can be done anytime, anywhere, thus faking the condition. In other words, having Tony scream violent swears at the bank teller, Mexican Wrestler or nobody at all.
- Ben (and Roxy) from Loserz - but just when they're meeting a member of the other sex. See this strip.
- In the Xkcd, comic "Clark Gable", the occurrence of "damn" in Gone with the Wind is attributed to Tourette's.
- Non-obscene version: in Scandal Sheet!, Foster is offered a job as a writer by the owner of a porn studio after his friend Max sets him up as a joke. The owner asks Foster if Max has Tourette's - "The whole time I was talking to him on the phone, he kept making this barking, snorting sound, like a hyena."
- Inverted in Questionable Content when Sven says that he has "compliment-Tourette's".
- Lord Tourettes from the Dick Figures series. His eyes go red when he is in a tic. Interestingly, he only swears when he has his hat on. Otherwise he just twitches and continues to speak normally, albeit loudly.
- Machinima: In The Leet World, Ahmad's stint on HAX leaves him with brain damage, which manifests as some sort of Tourette Syndrome-Cloudcuckoolander hybrid, with the Terrorist spouting random verbal outbursts such as "Hamwallets!" "Crotchbutter!" and "Random Outburst!"
- South Park had an entire episode dedicated to Cartman pretending he had Tourette Syndrome so he could swear to his heart's content without getting into trouble. However, it also subverted the practice; the characters who actually had Tourette Syndrome were portrayed more realistically. Only two of six people were cursing, and unlike Cartman, it was usually the same word. The episode also had Cartman get a condition similar to Tourette's Syndrome; because he kept saying everything he thought, he subsequently developed a Truth Tic, and lost his ability to filter what he said, and at the end had to see a therapist because he couldn't stop shouting embarrassing secrets about himself.
- On The Simpsons, Bart once attempted to get out of class by claiming he had Tourette's Syndrome; he then shouted, "Shove it, witch!" and began barking. In later broadcasts, after a series of complaints, the scene was changed so that he claimed to have rabies and the outbursts were removed.
- Peter Griffin pretended to have Tourette's at least once to excuse away his potty mouth.
- No swearing, since it was a kid's show, but Warpath's bizarre mannerisms in the Transformers Generation 1 cartoon (as well as some of the comics and the War for Cybertron game) are pretty consistent with the condition.
Warpath: BANG-BANG!, you're KABLAM!
- Appropriately enough, he turns into a tank.
- Subverted in one skit in Robot Chicken: A little girl gets diagnosed with Tourette's when she starts using racial slurs and various other profanities...when she's actually using them to describe everyday objects in order to demonstrate the power of homonyms. (for example, "Bitch" is actually the term for a female dog, while "ass" is a synonym for "donkey".)
- The Tourette's Guy is a shining example of this. Of course, the website claims that, while The Tourettes Guy has Tourette's Syndrome, it's far from his only problem.
- Rest in peace. Shit.
- And indeed, there is proof that "shit" is the word that Danny will say when he first meets up with God. If he hasn't already.
- Just a friendly reminder... Tourette's Guy + Left 4 Dead's Tank = major lulz...
- Apparently he wasn't really dead, he was just in prison.
- Rest in peace. Shit.
- Comedian Joel Kopischke's novelty Christmas song, "A Merry Tourette's Christmas".
- Agustín "Super Taldo" Arenas, who became an icon in Chilean pop culture and very well-known among teens and young adults thanks to this "canned" interview from The Seventies that was uploaded to YT a few years ago and reached massive Memetic Mutation levels among Latin American viweers. He became famous for his "poems" and his extensive use of the curse phrase "Pico Conchetumadre" (very roughly translated as "screw you motherfucker"). Nowadays he got better and manages the merchandise related to the memetic video.
- Kanye West has diagnosed himself with "Little Baby Tourette Syndrome". Everyone else thinks he's an asshole.
- There are, incidentally, other conditions (such as Alzheimer's) that can result in this, usually due to executive function damage. Which can lead to interesting situations when combined with a profanity vocabulary built up over a long lifetime.
- Team USA Goalkeeper Tim Howard has Tourette's, leading to this hilarious line from a commentator:
Commentator: "Goalkeeper Tim Howard suffers from Tourette's Syndrome. Here's an interesting quote from him: *Beat* [totally innocuous statement]"
- True Life covered real life people with Tourette's, only one of which fit the stereotype of a cussing maniac. And even she only cursed when she had been trying to hold in the tics. The other kid shook his head from side to side and had (unrelated) anger management problems, which might seem like the stereotype.
- Tourette's Hero is a superhero who helps children (with and without the condition) understand what Tourette's is. Jess of TH was interviewed for Planet Word where she demonstrated a number of tics - shouting biscuit! and thumping her chest, as well as swearing - and amused Stephen Fry by explaining how her dad tells her off for swearing when she does it deliberately (from 1.18).