Double Meaning

Everything About Fiction You Never Wanted to Know.

Sometimes, stating something plainly is not a good option. When that's the case, and simply leaving it unstated won't work either, you must resort to using double meanings.

For a statement to have a double meaning, it must have one obvious meaning and one deliberate meaning, concealed so that only those "in the know" will understand that second meaning.

This is frequently used to pass secret messages along, as it is often more subtle than using an obvious code. Alternatively, a sub-culture may adopt a phrase from the main culture, but assign their own meaning to it, understood only within that sub-culture.

This is the Super-Trope to the following tropes:

Sister tropes include Literal Genie, Literal-Minded, Literal Metaphor, Prophecy Twist, Subtext, and Talking Through Technique.

Examples that fit into one of the subtropes should be placed on the appropriate page; this page is for examples that don't fit elsewhere.

Examples of Double Meaning include:


  • In the post-credits stinger of Captain America: Civil War, the young Peter Parker has to account for his returning home from his 'scholarship field trip' with Tony Stark with a black eye. He tells her that he got beat up by a guy named Steve who was from Brooklyn, 'and his gigantic friend, I mean this guy was huge.' Aunt May thinks he's talking about an experience with schoolyard bullies. Peter's actually getting out of admitting that he was helping Iron Man fight Captain America and Giant-Man.


  • In the Left Behind books, after Carpathia's resurrection, the standard greeting becomes "He is risen," with the response being "he is risen indeed": the "he" refers to Carpathia. The Christians reclaim the greeting (since it was originally the Paschal greeting), placing a slight emphasis on the "he" to indicate that they are referring to Jesus instead of Carpathia. This allows the Christians to interact with the rest of the world without drawing suspicion to themselves, while at the same time not violating their beliefs.
  • Dune. In the greenhouse room Jessica finds a note from Lady Fenring, a fellow Bene Gesserit. The last line of the message is "On that path lies danger", a secret warning code that there was a hidden message nearby. Jessica finds the hidden message as a series of dots on the underside of a nearby leaf.
  • In Helm, in Denesse Sensei's first conversation with Leland, his comments about the tea are simultaneously commentary on the effects of the Helm.
  • In Jason and the Argonauts, Jason tells a camp's general that he is visiting Thessaly to reclaim his rightful throne from Pelias, who had usurped it twenty years before. The general tells Jason, "When your father defended his throne, no man fought harder than I." Of course, the general is secretly Pelias himself, so the second meaning is, in a sense, "truer" than the seemingly straightforward one (he fought hard enough to win, after all).


  • Much Ado About Nothing: Benedick thinks Beatrice is in love with him (she isn't), and when she is sent to bring him in to dinner he thinks she's sending him secret signals; he cites this trope by name.

"Against my will I am sent to bid you come in to dinner." There's a double meaning in that. "I took no more pains for those thanks than you took pains to thank me." That's as much as to say, "Any pains that I take for you is as easy as thanks." If I do not take pity of her, I am a villain. If I do not love her, I am a Jew.

Real Life

  • During the 18th century Jacobite Rebellion in Scotland, noblemen supposedly loyal to the English crown but secretly on the side of the rebels had to tread a very fine line, or risk having their wealth confiscated. Since in those days the word of a nobleman was almost sacred, and breaking it meant great loss of face, a common test of loyalty was to propose a toast to the king. This was in effect swearing loyalty to the crown, and many Scots nobles would have found this difficult or impossible to do. The way they got around was that in his own home, a noble with Jacobite sympathies could join in and even propose loyal toasts to the king by using special cups with the name "Charles Edward Stuart", or a shortened version thereof at the bottom, which would also be supplied to any other rebels around the table, but not the English visitors. So you could raise your cup and say: "To the king!" while looking straight at the name of the Jacobite Pretender.