Blunt force trauma to the head=safe, where did this trope come from?

Do you need a character disabled temporarily, but safely awake in the next scene with no lingering effects? Why blunt force head trauma is the answer! Getting hit with the butt of a rifle say will simply cause a temporary nap, the victim will reliably wake bright and alert with nary a bruise to show for it. And you can do it over and over and over, with no cumulative negative effects! :stuck_out_tongue:

Where did this come from? Its probably the thing that bugs me the most when overused, if it happens once and its clear recovery is long I can buy it. I think thing that gets me is any doctor or even lowly EMT knows that head injuries are no joke, hell every little league coach knows that! How did this become such a cliche?

Bugs Bunny.
And the Three Stooges.

Yea, its kind of weird that in TV land every human being is basically equipped with a “go to sleep” button that can quickly and quietly be activated by any other human. Presumably its so useful it for writers to have a way for the hero to disable without killing opponents, and for villans to disable but not kill the hero, that its basically become a part of “TV physics” that audiences just accept.

I liked how TOS of Star Trek sort of played with this by giving Spock the “Vulcan Neck Pinch” which would be a pretty useful thing to have in real life, but is worthless in the Star Trek universe, since everyone else can basically do the same thing with a blow to the head.

Was this used in the Three Stooges? The Three Stooges gleefully gave each other head injuries with no lasting effects, but I don’t think it was used regularly to knock each other out.

Many, many years ago my wife was a security guard in a building in North Dallas, and one day someone got the idea of hiding out when the building closed and then coming out at night. He had a gun, and he came up behind my wife and hit her on the head with it.

The net result was that she bled like crazy, but she wasn’t even remotely dizzy. Eventually he marched her to the bathroom, told her to stay there, and so she did for a good half hour until she made a (successful) run for it.

So the “disabling blow to the head” trope cuts both ways…I suspect it’s way harder to knock someone out with that blow than people realize.

I bet it goes back to Shakespeare or earlier.

ETA: not really answering the OP, but…

What could replace the standard “blunt force trauma to the head” in fiction? There needs to be a way for characters to “take a nap” against their will for storylines to work. Hitting someone in the head in real life is far from harmless, but still it’s less predictably life-threatening than shooting someone or stabbing someone. Also, unlike the last two, knocking someone out is a relatively silent operation, especially since the victim is out cold instantly. No matter how far from the ER realities these concepts are, this is how the general populace thinks it goes, which is good enough a reason for the trope to stick.

Possibly earlier, but I can’t think of a single Shakespeare play where a character gets bopped on the head and comes round at some time later. Shakespeare tended to use enchantment to achieve this (clearly necessary) plot requirement.

Let us not forget the ring of small tweeting birds that accompanies this action too. Where did that trope come from?

Remember that scene where Hamlet hit Ophelia on the head with a coconut and she woke up thinking she was Gertrude? Then they had to hit her on the head with *another *coconut.

“Methinks I see whirling stars and hear the tweeting of birds!” Never gets old.

And don’t forget it’s counterpart: getting stabbed in the abdomen with a knife causes the victim to grab the wound and collapse to his immediate death.

In German, if you’re a little crazy/loco you have birds in your head. That’s quite the stretch, but it’s all I’ve got.

But far more dignified than being stabbed right in the arras.

Or being shot in the shoulder and having no long term problems.

Well, he deserved it, sneaksing around like that.

This must be it. First, it has a base of reality. I see fighters get knocked out by blunt force all the time in the UFC. They awake a few minutes later and within a moment or two seem relatively OK. Second, the trope of needing a character disabled is strong in fiction - as Toxylon points out, what would replace it? There are many fictional tropes that have not much basis for reality (evil twin, amnesia, multiple personality, etc).

So to answer the OP, I don’t know the origin but it must be so old to be lost to history.

Nancy Drew used to get knocked out about once per book, without any ill effects. (Although in The Witch Tree Symbol, it was her friend Bess that got knocked out.)

Chloroform on a small cloth, of course!

Edgar Rice Burroughs, in the Tarzan series, was a particularly grievous offender. Tarzan was constantly learning new languages (in a page or three) and getting knocked out by grazing gunshots to the head. You couldn’t shoot Tarzan - the bullet simply bounced off his head. Then he would wake up in a couple minutes (long enough for the Bad Guys to tie him up in cords even his mighty thews couldn’t break).

The other thing nobody does is vomit after waking up from being knocked out, which is what usually happens. It kind of breaks the flow of action when Our Hero has to take a paragraph off to ralph up lunch, I suppose.


Or he’s hit in the back by a knife thrown from across the room, with the same result.

A cliche that I like is in older movies and TV, especially 1940’s and 50’s:

A guy is shot at very close range with a Colt .45.

He does one sudden twitch, as if he’d been jabbed with a thumbtack, slowly collapses. In my childhood memories he might utter “Ya GOT me” before the collapse.


This wouldn’t be practical in most fictional setups, but in the dear-and-recently-departed tv show Chuck, the main characters would routinely disable opponents using tranquilizer darts.