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Activation Phrase

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Updated May 24, 2023 at 05:17PM EDT by Zach.

Added May 24, 2023 at 01:44PM EDT by Adam.

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Activation Phrase is a catchphrase used online most often to joke about bizarre sentences that usually feature niche internet slang. The term comes from the idea of a "trigger phrase," a concept in which a government spy organization will brainwash a person who, upon hearing the trigger phrase, will perform "programmed" actions that they will later have no memory of (also known as a sleeper agent).


The term "activation phrase" comes from the concept of sleeper agents, which are a trope of spy and thriller fiction. Typically, a spy or sleeper agent will act normally until they hear their activation phrase, causing them to begin acting on their government's orders. On July 2nd, 2009, TV Tropes[1] created a page for "Manchurian Agent," named after the 1959 novel The Manchurian Candidate about the concept. In The Manchurian Candidate, the communist sleeper cell, Sergeant Raymond Shaw, is a brainwashed sleeper cell and his "trigger" is seeing the queen of diamonds while playing solitaire.[2]

Online, the trope is more commonly referred to as an "activation phrase," and is generally used by people joking that a bizarre string of words they'd come across online. For example, on October 27th, 2011, Twitter user @StevenMarsh[3] joked that the phrase "The pancetta-gruyere muffins are simply unfair" was their "activation phrase" (shown below).

Turhan's Bey Company @turhansbeycmpny Oct 27, 2011 The pancetta-gruyere muffins are simply unfair. #allthebaked goods 1 Steven Marsh @stevenmarsh 27 @turhansbeycmpny Wait... was that my sleeper-agent activation phrase? Am I supposed to kidnap Amy Winehouse now? 9:55 PM Oct 27, 2011 : ...


Over the following years, the term became increasingly popularized and was particularly used to respond to tweets that featured slang overload. For example, on December 19th, 2018, Twitter user bonerman_inc[4] joked that their activation phrase was "Baby Dab Avatar PS4 $0.99," gaining 20 retweets and over 270 likes in over four years (shown below, left). On April 9th, 2023, Twitter user @BrndnStrssng[5] joked that his activation phrase was “Taika Waititi’s Akira,” gaining over 180 retweets and 2,800 likes in one month (shown below, right).

♫do ya have to, do yahave to let it ligma♫ @bonerman_inc the words 'Baby Dab Avatar PS4 $0.99 ' switches off all my active brain functions and converts me into a man who can only hoot, holler and convulse for a short period before returning to 150% focus like some kind of violent CIA sleeper activation phrase 2:50 AM Dec 19, 2018 • Brandon Streussnig @BrndnStrssng "Taika Waititi's Akira" is my activation phrase to summon the Lament Configuration Justin Kroll @krolljvar. Apr 8 Since everyone is wondering where his STAR WARS film is, if I were a betting man my guess is Taika's next movie is his AKIRA movie at WB, which he put on shelf to do L&T. He never left the film and word is script should be into studio soon. Show this thread 10:47 AM. Apr 9, 2023 :

The term has also inspired jokes on TikTok over the years. For example, on August 2nd, 2023, TikToker @thakisback posted a video of a man singing the names of SpongeBob characters with a caption about the CIA attempting to activate someone's activation phrase, gaining over 38,000 likes in nearly one year (shown below, left). On March 30th, 2023, user @corydamrow joked that they had activated their cat by using a popular TikTok sound that said "Kill John Lennon," gaining over 1.8 million likes in one year (shown below, right).

@thakisback #funny #meme #fyp #sleeperagent ♬ original sound – Josh Pastva

@codydamrow Why was she suddenly on a MISSION #fyp #foryou #catsoftiktok #sleeperagent ♬ kill john lennon. – 😴😴

Various Examples

@apileofkyle69 #sleeperagent #fyp #killjohnlennon #spies #gayspiderman ♬ kill john lennon. – 😴😴

@weirdo_1979 One of the greatest trollers out there. #fyp #orthodoxrabbibillclinton #gameawards2023 #sleeperagent #activate ♬ original sound – Weirdo_

WRITERS GUILD ON STRIKE "my third son kaydon boebert" is my activation phrase. i have to go amelia elizalde @ameliaelizalde RE The Recount @therecount. May 23 Rep. Lauren Boebert (R-CO): "I left a prescription at a pharmacy once. I went to get birth control ... The price was very, very high ... And I said, 'It's cheaper to have a kid.' And I left it there, and now I have my third son." THE RECOUNT 0:19 10:26 PM - May 23, 2023 MRS. BOEBERT ... MRS. Mc merritt k @merrittk "Target Gender Euphoria Flame Candle Blue - Pride" is my sleeper agent activation phrase I will now attempt to 9/11 the New York Stock Exchange Categories Deals Share your pic What's New Pickup & Delivery Snup all slut 'Gender Euphoria' Flame Candle Blue - Pride What can we help you find? Gender Euphoria + FRESH RAIN + FIND JOY IN THE TRUE YOU > • bЯyan @murderxbryan "Privileged as f--- asshattery" was the secret activation phrase that's going to make me vote Shannon in Ohio 4 @Shannon Freshour. Jul 6, 2023 Threatening to not vote is some elitist, privileged as f--- asshattery.. Let's clear some nonsense up right now- VOTING IS YOUR RESPONSIBLITY AS AN ADULTHOOD. it's not a hobby to do only when you feel inspired or the mood strikes.. Again, GROW THE F--- UP.. Show this thread 2:48 PM Jul 7, 2023 . ...

Search Interest

External References

[1] TV Tropes – Manchurian Agent

[2] Wikipedia – The Manchurian Candidate

[3] Twitter – StevenMarsh

[4] Twitter – bonerman_inc

[5] Twitter – BrndnStrssng

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