TV Tropes Tuesday: TV Tropes: Ur Example, Trope Maker, and Trope Codifier

Welcome back!

One might wonder, when it comes to tropes, what the first use of a given trope.  TV Tropes has a few entries to explain that.

Ur Example is the oldest known version of a given trope, though it may have been an unintentional use and gradual developed rather than a usage that was .  The word “Ur” is a German word meaning  original.

The Ur Example is the oldest known example of a given trope. “Ur-” is just a German prefix meaning “proto-, primitive, or original.”


Typically, an Ur Example doubles as the Trope Maker — but not always, and far less often with ancient tropes, which often evolved over a long period of time rather than suddenly bursting forth from someone’s head, fully formed. When they’re distinct, a Trope Maker differs from an Ur Example in that the latter becomes an example of that trope only in retrospect.


For instance, one of the pivotal Trope Makers of the Detective Story is Edgar Allan Poe‘s collection of Dupin stories; before Dupin, there is no story genre of fictional detectives going about the business of solving crimes. Nevertheless, while you may or may not know Poe’s Dupin stories, you’ve probably encountered a certain Danish Prince named Hamlet, who not only sets about to ensnare his uncle King Claudius, but even incorporates into his plans a play-within-a-play he dubs “The Mousetrap.” And half a millennium earlier still, “The Tale of the Three Apples” is a proto-Detective Story from The Book of One Thousand and One Nights — which makes “The Tale of the Three Apples” the Ur Example of the Detective Story, or at least a possible candidate. However, Oedipus Rex, first performed in 429 BCE, depicts Oedipus investigating the cause of the plague that has struck his realm.


Wherever a trope has evolved gradually, determining the Ur Example can be a complicated and contentious business. In many cases a trope has more than one Ur Example, because determining the “earliest use of the trope” depends on subjective choices as to which aspects of the trope are its defining qualities.


Ur Examples are unfortunately highly susceptible to the Seinfeld Is Unfunny trope – not only because they dreamed up conventions that have been around practically forever but because, since at the time they were so new, the creators didn’t really appreciate what they were making and thus didn’t conform to the standards of an aesthetic or gimmick that hadn’t even existed yet. See Unbuilt Trope and Beam Me Up, Scotty! for more on this.

The Trope Maker is the first intentional use of a trope.  It is different from the Ur Example in that it fully formed and defined a given trope.

Phrases like “shiver my timbers” and traditional pirate songs like “Fifteen Men on the Dead Man’s Chest” were made up by Robert Louis Stevenson for his novel Treasure Island, published in 1883 — over 150 years after the end of the Golden Age of Piracy. We might as well tell you right now that 90 percent of all pirate tropes come from the same book: One-legged piratessquawking parrots, drunken mutinies… all that stuff can be traced back to Treasure Island.

A Trope Maker is the first unambiguous example of a particular trope. Though there may have been similar things in the past, these are the works that defined their respective tropes.


See also Trope Codifier, which is the example of a trope that defines all other uses. If a Trope Codifier is very different in outlook than the Trope Maker, then the Trope Maker worked on an Unbuilt Trope.


And, of course, don’t confuse with Ur Example — the earliest example that has the essence of the trope, but may not have the actual connotations and may be missing details. However, it’s the Trope Maker which starts the consistent enough pattern to be called a trope.


To provide a concrete example of all three, the Detective Story‘s Trope Maker is Edgar Allan Poe‘s Dupin stories, and Sherlock Holmes is the Trope Codifier; but the Ur Example may well be “The Tale Of the Three Apples” in 1001 Nights (The Arabian Nights). Related: Trope Namer.

The Trope Codifier is the use of a trope that is the most well-known and helped defined the trope as is it known today.

You have before you three series. The first, Series A, was the first known use of a trope, but it may or may not have been intentional. The second, Series B, was the first intentional use of the trope. The third, Series C, does not claim originality, and may in fact have ripped off series B, but was much more popular than Series A or B and is the template that all later uses of this trope follow.


Series A is the Ur Example.


Series B is the Trope Maker.


Series C is the Trope Codifier.


In other words, if in tracing the history of a trope, one example stands out as the template that many, many other examples follow, that’s the Trope Codifier.


The Trope Maker is frequently also the Trope Codifier, but not always. In particular, when the Trope Maker is a work of outstanding quality, the Trope Codifier may often be a story that shows how lesser authors can do a good imitation. Conversely, a great writer may gather up many old tropes and polish them to a shine, codifying them for later generations. Occasionally somebody rediscovers a Forgotten Trope.


The Trope Codifier may be the first theme park version or Pragmatic Adaptation. If the trope is Older Than They Think, the Codifier is usually mistaken for the Trope Maker. Really old tropes may have been codified every couple of centuries for millennia, as successive codifiers show how to adapt the age-old trope to their times. With the advent of television, a trope related to television may be codified by a new show every decade or two after the associations with previous codifiers have died out.


Important: “Trope Codifier” does not mean Most Triumphant Example. It means “Example that has fingerprints of influence on all later examples of the trope”. The true marker of a Codifier is that it invents some unique spin on the trope that all later examples have some reaction to. Take, for example, Werewolves. There were earlier examples of werewolf stories, but it is with 1941’s The Wolf Man that we first see werewolves as an infection (previously, it was a curse or part of a Deal with the Devil), silver vulnerability (previously, it was vampires or ghosts who were usually associated with weakness to silver), made the werewolf a human cursed to turn into a wolf-man (previously, all kinds of variations were available, from wolf that turns into a man, to man who was permanently turned into a wolf), and tied the wolf to the night of the full moon (previously, they either focused on the three nights around the full moon, or had little to do with the phase of the moon). Almost all later examples of Werewolves bear some of these subtropes, which originated with The Wolf Man, or at least discuss them in order to explain why Our Werewolves Are Different. Thus, we can state with confidence that it is the Trope Codifier.


Examples should be of Trope Codifiers that aren’t Trope Makers themselves.


Related to Older Than They Think. If a Trope Codifier is particularly influential, and the Trope Maker a little twisted you may have an Unbuilt Trope.


Also see Most Triumphant Example.