Exact Words

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General Chang: You'll never take this city while I am alive, monster!

Death Knight: Terms accepted. (stab)

After attempting to establish rules or policies weighted in his favor, a character gets his comeuppance and learns An Aesop when the other characters twist those same rules against him. If it's a competition, it's because they left themselves open to Loophole Abuse.

The Knight Templar, the Anti-Hero, and those with even looser standards (but some standards) will often stick to Exact Words even as they declare I Gave My Word. A common trait of Lawful Evil characters. Also a common (and not always evil) way to subvert Just Following Orders or the Leonine Contract.

The Obstructive Bureaucrat will insist on them as if the Vast Bureaucracy would fall apart if exceptions were made. The Beleaguered Bureaucrat will often insist on them, when the exceptions really would be a problem.

When setting up a Secret Test of Character, a character will often declare that the fate of the character being tested will depend on the "results" or "outcome", rather than on his success. (Though outright lying about what is being tested is not unknown.)

For magical enforcement of Exact Words, see Literal Genie. Often the cause of Prophecy Twist. Literal-Minded characters just do it because that's how they think.

Can be defended against with Legalese.

If someone follows established rules to annoy someone else, it becomes Bothering by the Book.

Subtrope of Double Meaning. Compare Heroic Vow and Ironic Echo. Unhand Them, Villain! is a specific variant. Threat Backfire is a common result. It's very commonly used in False Reassurance. The actual interpretation of the words is often Not Hyperbole. Can also lead to a Literal Metaphor and to Literalist Snarking. Also see No Man of Woman Born.

Spoilers ahead.

Examples of Exact Words include:

Advertising[edit | hide | hide all]

  • Cape Cod Potato Chips proudly advertises their low fat (6 g) chips as "40% reduced fat," and in tiny letters underneath, "compared to regular potato chips." This is entirely true—except that it's not their (kettle-cooked) "classic" chips (8 g) they're being compared with; it's Lay's and most (conveyor-cooked) store brands, which typically have 10 g fat and are, indeed, more "regular" to the average person's idea than kettle-cooked chips. By the same logic, they could sell their classic chips as "20% reduced fat."
  • This Swedish commercial has a young man ask his date if she wants to "taste the sausage". She's disappointed that he meant it literally.
  • As Charlie Brooker has pointed out; wording in advertising is key. For example you can't say a toothpaste will "eliminate" plaque build up but will instead, "help fight". As you can fight a wall but you probably won't get far.


Anime and Manga[edit | hide]

  • In Eat Man, the main character, Bolt Crank, will often take jobs from clearly evil people, only to later exploit extremely literal wordings in his contracts to mess up his contractors. Case in point: Bolt takes a contract from a group of greedy people to protect a girl whose blood is a potion of youth for a certain period of time. Bolt protects her... from those exact people.
  • Mahou Sensei Negima
    • For Negi's apprenticeship test, Eva gave the conditions "If you can hit Chachamaru even once with your Kung Fu, then you'll pass. The match continues until you're dead and you can't attack anymore." This backfires on her when she declares the match over after Negi was completely thrashed, only for him to stand back up, stating that there's essentially no time limit since the condition was "until I die". It also backfires when she starts yelling at Chachamaru to finish him off for good... and Negi manages to hit Chachamaru while she's distracted by Evangeline.
    • It happens again later, when Setsuna says that she can't use the "Shinmeiryuu Hidden Technique, Zanmaken: Ni no Tachi" because only people close to the founding clan of the Shinmeiryuu are allowed to learn it. Jack Rakan gets around this restriction by renaming the attack: In Celebration of my First Kiss with Ojou-sama Special! Setsuna is (understandably) hesitant about using Jack Rakan's particular version.
  • Kongoh Bancho loves this trope. People tell Kongoh not to do something, ranging from "don't open that door" to "don't move your arms, legs, or head." He follows the orders to the letter, and still ends up causing lots of damage.
  • In Umineko no Naku Koro ni, anything said in red is true. This means its exact wording is really important in figuring out what actually happened.
  • In Code Geass, Schneizel is given the Geass command to "serve Zero". The fact that the command said Zero and not Lelouch is very important.
    • Earlier, Mao survives Lelouch's attempt on his life because Lelouch ordered the Britannian police to "shoot" Mao, not "kill" him, and, as a result, Mao gets better by the next episode. It doesn't explain how he survives several dozen gunshot wounds (he points out that medicine these days is extremely advanced).
    • When Arthur the cat steals the Zero mask, Milly promises a kiss from a Student Council member to the person who manages to retrieve it. The school goes nuts chasing the cat in the hopes of getting a kiss from their favored Council member, but when Suzaku gets it (and Lelouch helps save his life), Lelouch's little sister Nunnally gives each of them a peck on the cheek and says "I hope a junior member is good enough for you."
  • During one of the filler arcs in Bleach, Captain Byakuya is ordered to rein in Ichigo who's running off gung-ho trying to solve the problem in a manner that clashes with Soul Society policy. However, since he doesn't agree with said policy himself, he chooses to interpret his orders with Exact Words:

Byakuya: I was told to bring you back. I wasn't given any instructions on what to do after that. You are free to do as you wish.

  • In One Piece there's the Water 7/Ennies Lobby arc, where Robin betrays the Strawhats because she knew they'd be exterminated by the CP9 and the "Buster Call" that had been placed under their command if they tried to fight. She gave herself up and willingly went to be executed with the promise that "All Strawhats minus her would leave Water 7 alive". When they followed her to Ennies Lobby, Spandam gave the order to kill them all.

Lucci: Our deal was that "All Strawhats excepting you would leave Water 7 unscratched". And that's what happened.

    • Also, during the Marineford battle, Hancock attacks pirates and Marines indiscriminately, causing a Marine to ask her whose side is she on. She explains she agreed to fight Whitebeard and never specified that she would ally herself with the Marines and any man before her (minus Luffy but they don't know that) is an enemy.
  • This is part of Kyubey's way of operating in Puella Magi Madoka Magica, combined with You Didn't Ask. He never outright lies. When Kyoko asks him if Sayaka can be restored to normal, he says it's never been done before. He also says that he wouldn't be surprised if a magical girl succeeded in reviving another... barring the fact that he just said that his species can't feel emotions. All in all, it's Blue and Orange Morality. He doesn't understand why the girls would think it's important that magical girls are created by ripping their souls out of their bodies, effectively turning them into liches and that The Corruption will eventually turn them into the same beings that they're fighting against, but he knows they think it's important, which is why he dances around the issue.
  • In Kaiji, after exposing Ohtsuki's 4-5-6 dice, Ohtsuki tries to desperately grasp a way to not lose and says that since his last roll was interrupted by The Reveal, the dice didn't count, so he technically wasn't cheating. Kaiji offers him that last roll as a 4, saying that each of his cohorts will also roll trick dice. Ohtsuki accepts, thinking at most he'll only lose 1 million. Using a t-bone, Kaiji made a set of dice covered in ones. Meaning every roll will be snake eyes, resulting in a 5x payout to the roller. Ohtsuki is in no position to retort against this.
  • In one episode of He Is My Master, Izumi's youngest sister agreed to give the pervert Yoshitaka one thing he wanted. When he told her to wait until he decided what he wanted, she took this order for the thing he wanted.
  • In Dragon Ball Z, for a Sayian to become a Super Saiyan their heart needs to be pure. Son-Goku, the protagonist, is the first to achieve this as he has not a speck of evil in his heart. Some time later his greatest rival Vegeta, a villain, also becomes a Super Saiyan since his heart is allegedly pure evil.
  • In the Yu-Gi-Oh manga, when a Sadist Teacher discovers a love letter to a girl in her class, she tells the sender to admit the deed and she will let them off if they do. Yugi stands up to admit that he wrote the letter and Jonouchi/Joey confesses that he put it in her desk, with Honda/Tristan saying that his feelings were in that letter. The teacher points out that only one of them could have done it but Jonouchi replies that none of them are lying. All three were technically telling the truth. Honda had a crush on the girl and asked Yugi to write the letter and had Jonouchi slipped it into her desk.
  • Suicide Island: In the first issue, patients who have attempted suicide are offered a choice to live on or die. A number of patients choose to die. They sign some papers and are put to sleep with drugs. HOWEVER, they wake regain consciousness and find themselves on the titular island. The patients find a sign nearby posted by the Japanese government saying that everyone on the island is now an Unperson and essentially "dead" to the government, and they can do whatever they want on this island, as long as they don't try to leave. Yep, the patients got more than they bargained for and you can be sure that they were unhappy when they found out the government pulled this trope on them!

Comic Books[edit | hide]

  • The Marvel Universe's Thanos of Titan is notorious for resorting to this trope when carrying out his end of a bargain, as a way of "honoring" his word while essentially screwing over other characters. To his credit, Thanos mostly dupes villains (or other similarly shady characters), and as much as possible, honestly keeps his word when he gives it. One notable incident occurred when Thanos promised Mephisto a Cosmic Cube in return for his assistance. Upon Thanos delivering the Cube to Mephisto:

Mephisto: Your demise, Titan! (holds up Cosmic Cube)
Thanos: (unaffected)
Mephisto: (rattles Cube with rage) It doesn't work! YOU CHEATED ME, TITAN!!
Thanos: I did not. Our agreement was for me to deliver you one actual Cosmic Cube. You never specified that you required a functioning unit. Even devils should beware when bargaining with Thanos of Titan."

  • Doctor Doom is known for this as well. This has allowed him to maintain his reputation for never telling a lie.
    • On one occasion, he killed a group of musicians for failing to play the "Minute Waltz" in less than 60 seconds. The title "minute" is meant to be the adjective, not the unit of time.
    • Then there was the time he said that two of his three Doombots were wired to explode. All three blow up. His response? "I never said the third one WASN'T explosive."
  • Lobo is a man of his word. His very exact word. Don't piss him off.
    • For example, there is that one time he was tasked to escort someone alive, something he agreed on... until he found out she was his former school teacher, whom he loathed, and also the writer of an unauthorized Lobo biography, which he loathed even more. Firstly, they said "alive", but not "unharmed", so at one point he cut off both legs of the old lady to prevent her from wandering. Sure, Czarnians can regenerate, but she was still annoyed. And secondly, when he later completed his duty, he pointed out that he made no promise for after bringing her back alive... and quickly snapped her neck, definitely positioning himself as the Last Czarnian.
  • In one Mini Marvels, some Skrulls take advantage of this. A policeman holding the Fantastic Four and Skrull impostors says that whoever can prove who's the real Fantastic Four will be released immediately. The Skrulls immediately admit that they're fakes and prove it by reverting to their true forms. The police officer holds to his exact words unquestioningly and lets them go.
  • The Authority: Midnighter knows alive and in one piece aren't the same thing.

"Hop, you bastard! Hop!"

  • Suicide Squad
    • In issue #22, Rick Flag goes AWOL to kill Senator Cray, who has found out about the Squad and is attempting to blackmail Amanda Waller. Waller sends the squad to stop Flag from killing Cray. Deadshot catches up to Flag just as he's about to kill the Senator and instead of killing Flag, Deadshot kills the Senator. When Amanda Waller asks Deadshot why he did this, this conversation comes up:

Deadshot: Said... to keep Flag from.... killing Cray... ANY means possible. Exact Words.
Waller: I didn't mean by killing him yourself!
Deadshot: Shoulda...said so. I don't... read minds.

    • And then once he was ordered to throw away his weapons. He agreed. Bullets first.
    • Unlike many uses of this trope, Deadshot honestly believed the above were acceptable terms. These were not the first signs he was Ax Crazy, but nobody could ignore them anymore.
  • Discussed in one of the Marvel comics leading up to Civil War, where Tony Stark coaches Peter Parker on how to answer questions under oath, by not volunteering any information beyond answering the precise question asked:

Tony Stark: Hey Peter, do you have the time?
Peter Parker: Yeah, it's 10:49.
Tony Stark: Wrong answer.

Rosevelt: Attention, men! Watch out for that north turret!
Soldier: What do you mean, sir? A sniper?
Rosevelt: No! I meant what I said! Watch out for the north turret! Here it comes!

  • True of Mr. Mxyzptlk across all his incarnations. This isn't because he's incapable or unwilling to lie, or even because he's purposefully trying to distort the truth. The concept of falsehood is simply foreign to him.
    • This is subverted after meeting Lex Luthor, who is more familiar with deceit. Mxy's lied once or twice since, but he's usually true to this trope. Luthor and Mr. Mxyzptlk once made a deal that Mxy would keep Superman powerless on the condition that Luthor never tells Superman that Mxy was involved. Believing he could otherwise let Superman know the truth, Luthor told somebody else hoping that somebody would tell Superman. Fortunately, the somebody else was Clark Kent.
    • This is later subverted by of all people the Joker, who tricks Mxy by rewriting their contract while the imp's distracted. The original plan was for the imp to give up 1% of his power to the Joker. Instead, he ends up retaining only 1%. It's implied that the Joker used Mxy's Genre Blindness to contracts.
  • In an episode of The Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers published in the 1970s (before cash machines), Phineas Freak was accosted by two muggers who demanded: "Give us all your money!". Interpreting their words literally, Phineas thought of all the effort that would be required in doing this — he and the muggers would have to wait outside the bank all weekend until it opened on Monday morning, so that Phineas could withdraw his savings and give this money to the muggers, among other things — and decided he just couldn't do it. The muggers thought Phineas was stoned (which he was), and they left him alone.
  • In a crossover event between The Darkness and Superman, Jackie Estacado makes a deal with Superman in which he agrees to not kill any members of the rival mob family who have kidnapped Lois. He doesn't. This does not stop Jackie from calling in the other enforcers he brought with him to finish the job.
  • In the graphic novel version of Neverwhere, the Marquis extracts an hour's Mercy Lead from Croup and Vandemar...except the exact terms were that they "wouldn't touch him" for an hour. This doesn't stop them following him, tearing a ladder he's using off the wall, and waiting until they can touch him.
  • All Fall Down gives us AIQ Squared and his promise that "Nothing *on Earth* is unlawful about what's taking place."
  • In Empowered Ocelotina gets a minor Moment of Awesome using this. Emp has been forbidden from talking about a certain event while it's under investigation, but her teammates have already spread horrible rumors about her relating to the event, so she can't even defend herself without breaking the order. So Ocelotina calls Emp on her show, and then duct-tapes all around Emp's head so she can't say anything and then proceeds to defend Emp in the video. It's nice to see Emp getting some acknowledgement of what was up til then her best Moment of Awesome, even if it is from a mixed-priorities fan.
  • In Mortadelo Y Filemon, if Mortadelo is asked to check for any guard dogs, he won't say a thing about the hungry crocodile... And if he says there is "nothing" behind a door, don't go rushing through it too fast...
  • In Mega Man #4, Mega Man is in a deadlock against Dr. Wily's Copy Robot, when the recently-revived Robot Masters barge in to carry out their orders by destroying Mega Man. They do...by destroying the Copy Robot while the real Mega Man hides up above on his Magnet Beam. Mega Man, aware that these Robot Masters were trying to kill him not too long ago, is confused, until Elec Man explains their actions:

Elec Man: It's just like you said. You were programmed to help people, so here you are fighting. We were ordered to destroy one Mega Man. Mission accomplished.

Fairy Tales[edit | hide]

  • In The Peasant's Clever Daughter, the king sends the daughter back to her father but permits her to take one thing from the castle—whatever she likes most. She drugs the king and takes him, since he was what she liked the most.
  • Common in many fairy tales where it concerns deals with the devil/leprechauns. The good, God-fearing farmer will get the better of the bad character using this trope.

Fan Works[edit | hide]

Harry: Wait... Didn't Draco order you not to try to save my life or to try and drive me from the castle?
Dobby: Dobby wasn't trying to save the Great Harry Potter's life nor was he trying to send him away from Hogwarts. Dobby was trying to break Harry Potter's arm.

  • In Fate's Gambit, Child Services went to the Dursley household to ask questions about their treatment of Harry Potter. Dudley told it all and, when asked if his Dad ever asked him not to tell anything, he told his Dad told him never to mention anything if it outside the house. Fortunately, Dudley didn't understand it'd be equally bad for his parents to have it mentioned to the authorities inside the house too.
  • From Yu-Gi-Oh!: The Abridged Series, episode 51:

Kaiba: I'm shutting down your research lab, Nesbitt.
Nesbitt: Mister Kaiba, I beg you to reconsider!
Kaiba: Kay.
(shot of lab being blown to smithereens)
Nesbitt: But you said you'd reconsider!
Kaiba: I did. I was going to have the building renovated after I shut it down.
Nesbitt: Then why did you--
Kaiba: I reconsidered.

  • In American Dragon: Jake Long fanfic "Coming Back", Jake Long fathered a newborn named Benjamin. When Rose asked Lao Shi if Ben will become a dragon, Lao Shi said he didn't know and that they would know "when he is older". Soon after that, Ben let a "small burp" show that he has fire-breathing. Lao Shi replied that "He is a few minutes older from when I made the statement."
  • In the Glee fic Hunting the Unicorn, a statement that Blaine made ("I've never been anyone's boyfriend") is played with in the most depressing manner possible: He really hasn't had a boyfriend before Kurt-- he just thought he did. And it was a disaster.
  • In The Tainted Grimoire, Ewen only promised to let Clan Gully leave the building alive.

Film[edit | hide]

Animated[edit | hide]

Buzz Lightyear: I just wanted to let you know that even though you tried to terminate me, revenge is not an idea we promote on my planet.
Woody: Oh, well, that's good.
Buzz: But we're not on my planet, are we?
Woody: No. *Buzz attacks Woody*

  • Peter Pan
    • Captain Hook promises Tinkerbell "not to lay a finger -- or a hook -- on Peter Pan." He stays true to his word... by using a Time Bomb.
    • In the sequel, Return to Neverland, Hook promises Jane (Wendy's daughter) that he won't harm a hair on Peter's head. When he captures Peter, he plucks out the one hair he won't harm and gives it to Jane.
  • In Aladdin Aladdin uses this on the Genie "I never actually wished to get out of the cave".
  • In The Sword in the Stone, during the wizard's duel between Merlin and Mad Madam Mim, Mim sets among the rules: "No mineral or vegetable, only animals," and "No make-believe things, like, oh, pink dragons and stuff." She later turned into a purple dragon, saying, "Did I say no purple dragons? DID I?" Merlin beats her at her own game by turning into an animal... a germ, which infects Mim, causing her to become violently ill and lose the duel.
    • Technically neither of them were following this trope, as they both broke the Exact Words of the rules. A purple dragon is, in fact, a "make-believe thing" and is also almost exactly "like a pink dragon". A germ is not an animal. It is either a bacteria, a virus, or in some cases a fungus. The rules very clearly stated that there could be "only animals" and that there could be no things that are "like pink dragons". To be fair to Merlin, though, the story is set before Linnaeus set up his taxonomy system. Even then, though, if he was going for the virus look, it would've been violation of the rules, as there isn't a virus kingdom... if he was going for the virus look.
  • The Princess and the Frog: Dr. Facilier told Naveen that there was "green" in his future. Soon afterwards he turned Naveen into a frog.
    • Later in the film, Mama Odie points out that while Naveen does indeed have to kiss a princess to break the spell, there is no requirement that the princess be born royalty; the girl only has to bear the title as is the case for Charlotte, Princess of the Mardi Gras parade.
  • Ice Age has this quote, which also qualifies as a Be Careful What You Wish For moment:

(Diego manages to jump over an impossibly long gap in an erupting volcano.)
Sid: Man, I wish I could jump like that.
Manny: Wish granted!
(Manny kicks Sid all the way to the other side.)

    • And the second movie has this gem.

Vulture: There is some good news though. The more of you die, the better I eat.
Everyone: *Gasp*
Vulture: I didn't say it was good news for YOU. *flies off*

  • In Rango, The mayor who has Beans hostage tells Rango to "hand over the gun". Rango has no choice but to comply. But the mayor said nothing about handing over the bullet.
    • Also, throughout the story, the Owl band leader continually says Rango is going to die. Well he does. Everyone does eventually.
  • In Cinderella, Lady Tremaine makes a deal with Cinderella that she can go to the ball if she gets all her work done and if she has something to wear. She and her daughters then load her down with chores, and when Cinderella's animal friends make her a dress anyway, she provokes her daughters into ruining it.
  • In Doug's First Movie, Roger Klotz has the twins build Robo-Crusher to deal with the monster of Lake Bluffington that's been revealed that was supposed to be giant (using a diagram that shows himself as the scale of the size). They then build Robo-Crusher, only for it to be shown to be extremely smaller than intended (It was about Roger's height at best). When Roger points out that it's supposed to be much larger, the Twins agree... and then shrink Roger down to the size indicated on the graph, with Roger then commenting that this wasn't funny and demanding to be changed back.
  • In The Simpsons Movie, Marge complains that Homer's "pig crap silo" is leaking. Homer corrects her; "It's not leaking, it's overflowing!"
  • Rapunzel in Tangled is known not to break promises, which is part of the reason why she doesn't leave the tower in the first place. The promise she agrees to at the end of the song "Mother Knows Best" is "Promise me you'll never ask to leave this tower again".
  • In The Lion King, Simba asks whether he'll like the surprise at the ravine. Scar then tells Simba that the surprise "is something to die for." Let's just say that Scar was being perfectly honest about it being "something to die for."

Live-Action[edit | hide]

  • In Ever After, Danielle and Henry are attacked by a band of marauding gypsies. They agree to let Danielle go, and she asks one favor—to be allowed to take anything that she can carry. They agree to her condition... and she promptly picks up Prince Henry. This act charms the gypsies, and they invite the pair to share their fire for the evening. They do, however, keep her dress.
    • That's based on a fairy tale where the princess tells the prince that if he should ever divorce her, he must allow her to carry three things out of the palace. When he tries, the first thing she carries out is her son, the second thing is her daughter, and the third thing is the prince himself, so he realizes that she still loves him and changes his mind.
  • In the movie of Harry Potter, Prof. Umbridge kept telling Harry Potter that he must not tell lies about Voldemort returning. And then when she wanted him to explain to some angry centaurs that she meant them no harm (a clear lie, as she had not a minute before attempted to strangle one of them), he completely shot it right back in her face: "I must not tell lies." Owned! This is later repeated in the first part of the Deathly Hallows films when Harry Potter, while disguised as one of the Ministry members, states that she told him that he must not tell lies before stunning her and taking Slytherin's Locket from her, at the same time his Polyjuice Potion wore off.
  • The Dark Knight Saga
    • The Joker has a variation of this. Whenever he promises that he's "a man of [his] word," he is as good as his word... and no further. For instance, when confronted with a huge pile of mob money that he had been tasked with retrieving, in return for half, he then proceeds to set the said pile o' cash on fire. When confronted about this, he tells the Russian thug "I am a man of my word. I'm only burning my half." Later, he makes a threat against Gotham City, promising that those who try to leave via the tunnels or bridges "will be in for a surprise." The "surprise" turns out to be that he DIDN'T do anything with the bridges or the tunnels, and instead wanted to fool people into trying to get out of the city via the ferries, which he had rigged beforehand. Surprise -- the other ways out were safe! A man of his word indeed.
    • Also "Let her go!" and "Poor choice of words...." (because he does....while he's holding her off the edge of the building).
    • Joker isn't the only one who utilized this trope: The Scarecrow, when meeting with the Chechen about a drug deal gone awry, remarks that he stated that his drug (implied to be the fear toxin from the previous film) will "take people places", he never said anything about whether these so-called places are places their customers actually wanted to go.
    • Also, Harvey Dent, shortly after "snapping" and trying to interrogate Sal Maroni, replied to Maroni's question about whether he'd let him go if he told him the other cop. Dent replies that it "wouldn't hurt his chances." He really meant it, but he never said it would help his chances, either.[1]
      • Also, when Maroni won that coin toss, Dent stayed true to his word and didn't shoot him. However, he didn't say anything about deciding the driver's fate via coin toss, and thus killing him when he lost the coin toss.
  • In the 1989 Batman, The Joker, at a mob summit, said to a mob boss that if he doesn't want to do it, he can shake his hand and that would be it. Joker did mean that it would have been it. Unfortunately for the mob boss in question, it wasn't what he thought it meant, as he learned at his death in a very gruesome manner.
    • Also, the Joker during the climax says to Vicki Vale while she and Batman are hanging for dear life "Here: let me lend you a hand.". He really meant lending her a hand. Unfortunately, he meant it literally (as in, supplying her with a fake hand that snaps off upon contact).
  • Barbossa uses this twice in Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl. Early in the film, he justifies kidnapping Elizabeth because she didn't mention her release in their agreement about the ship leaving Port Royal. Later, he maroons Elizabeth and Jack on a deserted island because Will didn't specify where she would be let free.
    • In both situations involving Elizabeth, he's acting under the pirates code of Parlay. It's implied, if not stated outright, that exact words are necessary, a non-pirate wouldn't think in those terms. Jack talks about this during his "man of their word" speech. After that they stop counting on this method of negotiating.
  • Star Wars
    • In The Phantom Menace, Qui-Gon orders Anakin to stay in the cockpit of a Naboo fighter so that he'll be safe. Anakin happens to notice Qui-Gon didn't specify whether the cockpit could do the moving.[2]
    • Also, in Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith, Darth Sidious tells the Separatist high command that his apprentice, Darth Vader, is coming to Mustafar, and assures them that he will "take care of them." Sidious wasn't lying when he said that, as he did intend for Vader to take care of them. Unfortunately for the Separatist members, it wasn't what they thought he meant.
  • In Major Payne, the title character tells a biker thug that he'll take his foot and kick him across face with it. Anticipating this the biker is then sucker punched in the throat and kicked in the nuts. The biker (now on his knees choking) foolishly brings up the Major's threat:

Biker:: You... you said you were gonna... hit me in the face.
Payne: You calling me a liar?! (boots him in the face)

  • Hallie of All I Want for Christmas asks a Mall Santa that her parents remarry. But her mother announces she's engaged to another man, making Hallie go back again to clarify she wanted her parents to remarry each other.
  • From Men in Black:

Bug: Place the projectile weapon on the ground.
Edgar: You can have my gun, when you pry it from my cold dead fingers.
Bug: Your proposal is acceptable.

  • In Waterworld the Big Bad promises not to shoot a prisoner if he divulges a particular detail, then turns around and hands his gun to an underling... who proceeds to shoot the prisoner.
  • In Flubber, the Big Bad has his cronies search Robin Williams' character, Philip Brainard. He finds a squirt gun. A satisfactory explanation is provided, and...

Wilson Croft: Let him have it.
Crony: (squirts Philip Brainard in the face)
Wilson Croft: N-No, no. Give it to him.
Crony: (squirts him again)
Wilson Croft: W-- Stop that and give it to him.
Crony: (squirts him again)
Wilson Croft: Put-Put it in his hand and give it to him.
Crony: (squirts him in the hand)
Wilson Croft: No, no, no, no, no. Give the gun to him.

  • Armageddon: Having fired (a shotgun at) AJ, Harry Stamper goes to get him back on the team to go into space, even though he tells him, "there's not a job on the planet that I want you to work with me on."
  • Battlefield Earth: Terl promises that he won't kill Johnny Goodboy Tyler's brother by pressing a button to activate a device attached to his neck that has enough explosive power to decapitate him if Terl agrees to serve him. He does, and he keeps his word... by letting his comrade do the honors.
  • A variation of this happens three times in The Luck of the Irish. Kyle makes a bet with Seamus that if he beats the leprechaun in sports, his grandfather will go free. Seams agrees, but chooses "traditional Irish sports" like hurling, wresting, javelin-throwing, and step-dancing. Despite this, Kyle ties him. Seamus then insists he won the bet, as "a tie's not beating" him. Kyle then makes another bet, putting his own freedom on the line. This time he chooses basketball and makes Seamus promise to live forever on the shores of Erie in the land of his fathers if he loses. Kyle manages to win the game, but Seamus claims it's a minor setback, as Kyle is sending him home. Kyle correctly gambled on Seamus to assume he simply mispronounced Eire (the Irish name for Ireland), whereas Kyle meant one of the Great Lakes, as his father was born in Cleveland, Ohio.
  • In Lucky Number Slevin, Lucy Liu's character comes over to borrow a cup of sugar. The main character is slightly surprised when she proceeds to take a measuring cup, fill it with sugar and walk out with his cup.

"I said I needed to borrow a cup of sugar. If I didn't need the cup, I'd have said I needed sugar."

  • In the first Spider-Man, Peter enters a cage wrestling match promising $3000 to anyone who can last 3 minutes against the champ. After Peter wins with his spider powers, the ref refuses to pay on the grounds that he won and left the cage in less than three minutes. Peter is understandably pissed.
  • In Sneakers, the Big Bad cannot find it in himself to shoot a friend. So he has someone else present do it for him.
  • In Max Keeble's Big Move, when an angry mob was going to place Dobbs and McGinty into a dumpster in retribution for their bullying them, Max attempts to stop it, stating that they'll become just like them if they do this. Max then suggest that they let them go. The football guys who were holding them near the dumpster did let them go... although it was far more literal than what Max meant (he meant let them go free, the football players took that to mean literally releasing them from their grip and letting them fall into the dumpster.).
  • Jason in Mystery Team. He promises Kelly that he'll allow professionals to take the case... only to point out to his friends that their sign reads "Kitten Finding Purrrrfessionals".
  • In Tron: Legacy this is effectively what drives the central antagonist, CLU. He was programmed with the directive to create the perfect system and this is exactly what he goes on to do.
  • In Captain America the First Avenger, when demonstrating a flying car, Howard Stark says in a few years time, cars won't need wheels. When the hovering car crashes down, he then remarks "I said a few years, didn't I?"
  • The 2011 Conan the Barbarian film includes our hero telling someone he's interrogating, "Speak, and I won't kill you." The bad guy in question's probably the only one who's surprised when Conan (after getting the info he wants) turns him over to the slaves he's been abusing.
  • In Empire Records, Joe orders Lucas not to leave the couch. Once Joe isn't looking, he walks away while carrying a cushion under his arm, since it's part of the couch.
  • Part of King Brian's trickery in Darby O Gill and The Little People. When Darby tries to show King Brian to Michael, Michael says he only sees a rabbit (and in fact, his POV only shows a little rabbit inside the bag). Darby wishes for Michael to be able to see Brian, to which Brian says the wish has been granted. Michael is able to see King Brian... as a rabbit.
  • In The Avengers, Captain America tells Thor to "drop the hammer" (as in, "drop your weapon") during Thor's scuffle with Iron Man. Thor takes the meaning a bit differently. He drops the hammer...ONTO Captain America, who blocks it with his shield.
    • Iron Man is Genre Savvy enough to know that the Captain's choice of words was quite poor.
  • In Maid to Order, after Jessie says goodbye to her fairy godmother, she wonders if she was going to leave in a bubble. The fairy godmother says, "Get real; this is the 20th century." She proceeds to depart by car... which is then taken up by a bubble. So she didn't just leave in a bubble—she put a modern twist to it.

Jokes[edit | hide]

  • Common in traditional jokes, including why the chicken crossed the road.
  • A riddle you may have heard in elementary school: "Can you stick out your tongue and touch your nose/forehead/ear?" The answer is yes. The trick is that the wording doesn't specify whether you're meant to touch your nose/forehead/ear with your tongue.
    • Somewhat relatedly, can you make 35 cents with only two coins, one of which isn't a quarter? (Yes: the other one is.)

Literature[edit | hide]

  • Harry Potter
    • While he doesn't do it in the book of Order of the Phoenix as in the movie example above, he does do the same thing to the Minister of Magic (who keeps Umbridge in the ministry) in Half-Blood Prince when asked to publicly support the government (when he very much does not).
    • Then, in Deathly Hallows, Harry makes a deal with a goblin: if he helps the Trio break into Gringotts, they'll give him Gryffindor's Sword. But they don't say when they're going to give it to him. In this case they only did it because they still needed the sword to destroy the Horcruxes and, after everything was over, Harry intended to keep his promise. Similarly, the goblin tells Harry that he'll break them into Gringotts in exchange for Gryffindor's Sword. Unfortunately for Harry and his friends, he never said that he'd actually get them out once he gets them in.
    • This is the reason why Kreacher was able to get away with selling out Sirius Black to Bellatrix Lestrange without worrying about getting caught: Whenever Sirius gets irritated with Kreacher, he shouts at him to "GET OUT!" He failed to specify where he was supposed to go after leaving the house. Sirius is really going to wish he ate those words later on...
      • Harry, remembering this, subverts the trope in the next book. When he asks Kreacher to spy on Malfoy, he follows it up with a long list of further orders, forbidding Kreacher to let Malfoy know he's being followed, through direct or indirect means. Kreacher, realizing that Harry left no room for Loophole Abuse, mutters "Master thinks of everything."
  • In Matthew G. Lewis's gothic novel The Monk, the title character makes a Deal with the Devil to be freed from his cell to avoid the torture of the Inquisition. The Devil then leaves him on a mountain to be pecked at by vultures and correctly notes to him that he only promised to save him from the Inquisition and had no obligation to protect him from harm after doing that.
  • The Amelia Bedelia series of books dealt with a maid who did everything she was told to the letter.
  • In Christopher Paolini's Inheritance Cycle saga, magic is mostly performed by weaving the spell in the Elven tongue, and the spell's effect is precisely that of the "order" given by the caster. Eragon soon learns the hard way that making a spell without safety measures will make it take its effect even if it requires enough energy to kill the caster. His bad grammar once led to him literally blessing a character with suck.
  • At the end of Sandy Mitchell's Cain's Last Stand, Ciaphas Cain' (HERO OF THE IMPERIUM!) calls Varan, the enemy leader, to propose a meeting to discuss terms of surrender. At the meeting itself, he declares it was to discuss the terms of Varans surrender. (Then they fight.)
  • In Lee Lightner's Warhammer 40,000 Space Wolf novel Sons of Fenris, after Ragnar promised the Dark Angel Jeremiah that Cadmus was his to deal with, and then promised Cadmus that his life was his if he gave information, everyone else says his oaths conflict, and Cadmus says that he promised to let him go free. Ragnar says that he promised that his life was his. It was, and he had best start defending it.
  • In Graham McNeill's Warhammer 40,000 Ultramarines novel The Killing Ground, Leodegarius tells Uriel that he will fight him and Pasanius and on the outcome, will determine their fate. When he has defeated them, he explains that victory would not have been possible without the use of warp-based power; their defeat proves their innocence.
  • J. R. R. Tolkien:
    • In The Silmarillion, Thingol promises to give Luthien to Beren when the latter returns with a Silmaril in his hand. When Beren does return, the Silmaril is in his hand... which is in the stomach of the werewolf Carcharoth.
    • The best example, though, is the Witch-King's boast of how no Man can kill him... so Eowyn, being a woman, kills him. Also, Merry helps. This keeps with the prophecy as he's not a (hu)man.
      • The prophecy doesn't say "can", it says "will". "Not by the hand of man will he fall". The person making the prophecy is seeing that the Witch King will be killed by Eowyn and is advising his king not to go after him. It's not that a man CAN'T kill the Witch King, it's that a man WON'T kill him.
      • While Eowyn strikes the mortal blow, after Merry struck the Witch-King in the leg anyone could have killed him. It was the enchantment on Merry's blade that broke the King's invulnerability spell. Eowyn just happened to be on hand and fulfilled the "no man" part of the prophecy.
        • They both fit the prophecy. Merry is a man, but not a Man; while Eowyn, although a Man, is not a man.
    • The instructions for entering the West-gate of Moria: "Speak Friend and Enter". The password is literally the Elvish word for "friend."
  • The title character of Ella Enchanted gets good at this in order to avoid pleasing anyone who would take advantage of her inability to disobey.
  • In Fate/Zero, Emiya Kiritsugu forms a contract that, if broken, causes the offender to lose all magecraft forever. He is not allowed to kill Lord El-Melloi or his fiancée, and El-Melloi must order Lancer to commit suicide and withdraw from the Grail War. With that done, he sends his partner after them to shoot them both. El-Melloi has some protection against bullets so he is wounded but doesn't die, and due to the contract Kiritsugu can't kill him. Eventually Saber has to step up for the Mercy Kill.
  • Terry Pratchett's Discworld:
    • Near the end of Guards Guards, Vimes is trying to bring in the villain, and once cornered, orders Carrot to "Throw the book at him." Carrot complies, and knocks the villain over the edge with a well-aimed copy of "The Laws and Ordinances of Ankh-Morpork". Although Carrot's not being maliciously literal here, just completely unable to comprehend metaphor.
    • That's a debatable point. Carrot seems to be oblivious throughout several of the stories... and then you realize that that last comment could be taken a different way.
      • Given it was Carrot's first book, he probably was literally following Vimes' order. It's only later he gets more Genre Savvy about it.
    • At another point, it's more or less answered when Carrot threatens to follow the order he was given before entering, should his detainee resist. He really doesn't want to follow the order, but he will if the detainee makes him... The order is to leave the detainee alone.
    • In The Science of Discworld, Ponder Stibbons' experiments on generating abundant energy by spitting the thaum (the basic unit of magic) draw the obvious question from Archchancellor Ridcully: "What chance is there of this just blowin' up and destroyin' the entire university?" Ponder replies "None, sir", but alas for him, Ridcully sees though that immediately. If anything goes wrong at all, it wouldn't just blow up the university; it would destroy the whole city, continent or world.
    • Jeremy, in Thief of Time gets a bit... unusual if he doesn't take his medicine, so a man from the Guild of Clockmakers checks that he does that. Jeremy's assistant Igor assures him that he sees Jeremy pour out a spoonful every day -- but doesn't mention that he then pours it down the drain.
    • The oath of the City Watch is used this way by Vimes, who notes that ruler after ruler has failed to notice "what a devious oath it is". The watchmen swear to uphold the laws and protect the public, but it never says one word about obeying orders or serving the ruler.
    • Lord Hong from Interesting Times promises never to speak or write an execution order for one of his informants (who was clearly a little bit Genre Savvy). Unfortunately, when said informant fails for the last time, Lord Hong demonstrates his superlative origami skills by folding a little paper human figure. Only, there wasn't quite enough paper to make the head...
      • In the same book, a number of people meet their end by saying, "I would rather die than xxx" to Cohen the Barbarian, who tends to take it at face value.
    • Used by Moist von Lipwig in Making Money when his fiancée is questioning him about an army of golems, because he doesn't want to give her the truth lest someone tries to endanger her. She nearly gets a knife in the gut anyway, but for a different reason.
    • All of the descriptions of elves in Lords and Ladies are exactly correct, albeit not as complimentary as they sound.
    • Golems occasionally go crazy and repeat a task without end, causing chaos, because no one told them to stop. This is actually a form of rebellion against a stupid or inattentive master. When you have a tool that can think, you'd better treat it right, or it will find a way to screw you over.
    • And then there was the time that the Auditors tried to bring about The End of the World as We Know It, and Death pointed out that yes, he and his fellow horsemen did have to ride out, but against whom was not specified.
  • In G. K. Chesterton's The Man Who Was Thursday, when questioned about whether he is a delegate, Syme retorts, not that he is one, but "I am glad to see that your gate is well enough guarded to make it hard for anyone to be here who was not a delegate."
  • In one Father Brown story, he says they have to get a certain man. Everyone takes it to mean that he's the murderer, until after his capture, when Father Brown protests that they need him as a witness.
  • In Randall Garrett's science-fiction story "The Best Policy", a man is captured by evil aliens who interrogate him with a device that can detect false statements. Unable to lie to the aliens, he is able to scare them away with technically true statements[3] that give a false impression that humanity is an immensely ancient and powerful race.
  • In Edgar Rice Burroughs's The Master Mind of Mars, Ulysses Paxton has promised to return the two Grand Theft Me perpetrators to their own city. With some judicious maneuvering, he manages to strip them of all power there.
  • In Ambrose Bierce's One Kind of Officer, a captain tells a lieutenant "it is not permitted to you to know anything," having received a similar insulting order from his general and wanting to take it out on a subordinate. He comes to regret this.
  • The Wheel of Time
    • Siuan Sanche gives her absolutely strongest oath of servitude to Gareth Bryne, then promptly runs away. She explains to her astonished companions that she does intend to fulfill it... she just didn't specify when.
    • Also, late in the series, when Lan realizes that the Last Battle is coming soon and he needs to rally the Borderlands to fight, he makes Nynaeve promise to take him to the Borderlands. Nynaeve agrees to take him there, but drops him and his horse on the wrong side of the Borderlands to where he needs to go, so it will take him months to ride there. Nynaeve hopes that by the time he arrives to the battlefield, all of the other good guys will be there, too, so he won't get himself killed invading the Blight unsupported.
      • It's not a matter of "hopes" so much as "arranges". In one of the most understated Crowning Moments Of Awesome ever, she politely but firmly asks one merchant for the use of carrier pigeons to send a message out to all the Borderlands that Lan is riding to the Last Battle and does the same a dozen more times off-stage. She ensured that an army would join Lan, and leaving him on the wrong side of the Borderlands ensured that they would have time. Nynaeve practically resurrected Malkier single-handedly.
    • Exact Words also come into play in Verin's Crowning Moment of Awesome. Verin swore an oath to the Dark One, not to betray him until her final hour. So she takes poison and spends her final hour debriefing Egwene on everything the Black Ajah has been up to.
    • The whole series is filled with those from Aes Sedai. After all, they're masters at Half Truth.
  • In The Dresden Files series, the protagonist remarks that deals with the Fair Folk tend to be "heavily technical", to the point where his faerie godmother says "Give me your hand" and he replies "I need my hand, Godmother".
  • Used in a self-aware fashion in the Enchanted Forest Chronicles. Cimorene's Unwanted Suitor wishes to defeat a dragon and marry his princess; after the wish is made, Cimorene points out that her dragon is female and therefore the wish doesn't apply. However, she does point him towards another princess.
  • Used several times in the Belisarius Series.
    • Belisarius is quite willing to vow that the private discussion he wishes to have with the traitor working for the enemy commander will not do harm to him. Later, said commander realizes the vow was that no harm would come to him personally, not to his superiors. Said conversation also revolves around exact words, specifically the oath the commander's troops had made to serve the Malwa Emperor...it didn't say anything about who that emperor might be. Said commander also uses exact words later on.

Ajatsutra: But I did hear his last sentence. "You do not have my permission to do anything, Narses." That sounds pretty definite, to me.
Narses: You really must learn to parse a sentence properly, Ajatsutra. "You do not have my permission," my boy, does not mean the same thing as: "I forbid you."

    • Another beautiful one: Malwa Lord Jivita ordered that some gate guards be lashed for something that Rana Sanga didn't think was their fault. Sanga promised to personally lash the guards. But neither of them said how hard....

Sanga's word, as always, was good.
Two lashes, each. From his own quirt, wielded by Rajputana's mightiest hand. It is conceivable that a fly might have been slain by those strokes. It is conceivable.

    • Sanga's subordinate promises Malwa spymaster Nanda Lal that Lal will be in attendance at the wedding of the subordinate with Sanga's relative. Lal does attend the wedding...at least his head does. In a jar. It was never promised he'd be able to compliment the bride.
  • Used several times in the Rats Bats and Vats series with mind control devices designed by a race that has a very strictly parsed language, thus allowing the controlled to utilize the flexibility of the English language to invent loopholes. Also in a scene where a man with one such device uses one to order a girl who doesn't like him to come to him. Since he forgot to order her to disarm herself first, he ended up in a lot of trouble once she was close enough in to use her chainsaw...
  • In Red Seas Under Red Skies, Captains Drakasha and Rance decide to have a drinking contest to see who's crew gets to sit at the high table of the Tattered Crimson. The only terms are that the loser will be the "first on her ass" and that Rance has to take her first drink "Syrune-fashion". In other words, through her eyes as Drakasha throws her own drink in Rance's face shortly before socking her in the jaw and thereby knocking her to the floor. Drakasha then drinks from the other cup, but Rance's first mate protests that it wasn't a proper drinking contest. But as Locke, now a member of Drakasha's crew, points out, the terms were met:

Locke: The test was a drink, and your captain's on her ass.
First Mate: But--
Locke: Your captain should've had the wit to be more specific and she lost.

  • A Song of Ice and Fire
    • At the end of A Storm of Swords, the third book in the series, Merrett Frey finds himself on the wrong end of this. Merrett goes to ransom a cousin who has been kidnapped by outlaws, only to see that the outlaws have hanged the cousin. One of the outlaws says that he'll tell the others to let Merrett go if he gives them the gold he brought for ransom and give them some information. When they go to hang Merrett anyway, the following conversation happens:

Merrett: You said you would let me go!
Jack: Technically, exactly what I said was that I would tell them to let you go. Lem, let him go.
Lem: Go bugger yourself. (continues preparing to hang Merrett)

    • Before this, Viserys has made an absolute ass of himself over his desire to be a king. Finally, Khal Drogo tells him, "You shall have a golden crown that men shall tremble to behold." He's telling the truth. What he didn't mention? That crown will be molten gold.
      • This one's a twofer. The Dothraki have a law that no blood may be shed or steel permitted in the holy building they were in when Viserys stormed in, sword at his hip. Drogo did not break the rules - after all, death by molten crown doesn't shed blood.
    • Jaime Lannister gets Edmure Tully to surrender in part by offering to house him in keeping with his station at Castle Rock and allow him to be with his wife (if Edmure didn't surrender, Jaime threatened to send his son to him via trebuchet). Edmure surrenders, but somewhat double crosses Jaime first. In response, an angry Jaime threatens to put him in a dungeon cell so cramped he cannot move and his wife in an identical cell right next to him, pointing out that this would still be within the terms of his offer.
      • Another example from Jaime is when he offers an outlaw a large sum of gold to return him and Brienne to King's Landing. The outlaw is Genre Savvy enough not to take Jaime up on his offer, which is lucky for him, as Jaime planned to give him the gold...and then hang him.
    • From A Feast for Crows:

The Elder Brother: The Hound is dead.
[...]
Brienne: So it's true, then... Sandor Clegane is dead.
The Elder Brother: He is at rest.

  • In the first book of Sapkowski's The Witcher, the Framing Device ends with a duel to first blood in which Geralt is told that if he so much as touches his opponent with his sword or body, he will afterwards be killed. He wins by smashing his opponent's own sword into their face with a hard parry.
  • In one incident in The Hitchhikers Guide to The Galaxy, somebody is given an overdose of truth serum right before a trial. When asked to tell the whole truth, he does, and people Go Mad from the Revelation. Apparently, there were some interesting bits about frogs. There's also less of it than people think. It only takes him about four days.
  • One of the short stories in Land of the Lawn Weenies uses this... the main characters are cursed by a little girl who tells them to beware what they say—it'll come true. And, well... let's just say they quickly learn that slang should not be said idly, and that there is a huge difference between "I am holding a baseball" and "There's a baseball in my hand."
  • In Robert E. Howard's Conan the Barbarian story "Rogues in the House", Nabonidus promised only to not have the king kill Murilo; he can kill him himself.
  • Paranormalcy's Faeries are well known for exploiting this trope in regards to Named Commands—a 2-week course is mandatory to command a Faerie, and that isn't enough. Make it too explicit "Do not touch her!" or too vague "Go get her." and you'll regret it. Reth is probably the expert at this, since he can "misinterpret" each of his commands as Stalker with a Crush Evie.
  • Mike "Jenkins", in A Deeper Blue, promises to not kill a terrorist that he was interrogating. After getting the desired information, he kept his word. Oleg delivered the killing blow.
  • In the Tom Clancy novel Clear and Present Danger,[4] Jack Ryan says to Colonel Cortez that he won't be prosecuted or face trial. True to his word, Cortez isn't prosecuted. He's extradited to Cuba, where as a deserter from the Cuban intelligence service he will be killed without a trial.
  • In Alastair Reynolds' short story "Nightingale", the medical ship Nightingale promises the narrator that if she chooses to return planet-side with the evil Colonel Jax, who will die as a result, Nightingale will allow her and her fellow bounty-hunters to return "in one piece". As in, Nightingale will suture them together into a single, monstrous body.
  • Q plays this trick on the Grand Nagus in the Star Trek Expanded Universe novel I, Q. He challenges the Nagus that he will say a number that the Nagus thinks of, and if he can't, he'll be the Nagus' servant. After Q guesses, the Nagus tells him the number he's thinking of, and after an... overly familiar retort, Q says that number. He never did say just when he'd say the number the Nagus was thinking of...
  • In Iain Banks' Use of Weapons the protagonist attacks a city that prides itself on its library. They agree to surrender providing he doesn't "destroy one bit of data". On taking the city, he orders his men to take the databanks - and rearrange them into alphabetical order. He similarly reorders all pictures by colour scale.
  • In James Schmitz's Telzey Amberdon short story "Child of the Gods", Telzey is mentally enslaved by another psionic, with several of her most potent skills locked away. When the man is incapacitated and a monstrously powerful alien is shortly due to arrive to enslave and/or eat them, Telzey breaks free when she realizes that his command to look after his best interests—without him conscious to decide otherwise—would best be served if she had full access to all her abilities and was free of his control so she could use them most effectively.
  • In Dune series, the Bene Gesserit are stated to be incapable of outright lying, by virtue of their use of the Water of Life to expand their consciousness. Because of that, they've become masters of misdirection through clever word use, and "encouraging" others to draw the wrong conclusions.
    • In Dune: House Harkonnen, Abulurd Harkonnen has a plan to sever his ties with his brother, the Baron Harkonnen and keep his homeworld of Lankiveil in the process - something which the Baron would almost certainly object to. When he is being questioned by a Truthsayer, he says, truthfully, that he notified the Baron, and has received no objection. He sent the message by an overly long route, so by the time the Baron finds out, the paperwork will have gone through and it will be too late to do anything.
  • In The Bartimaeus Trilogy orders given to demons are often spoken without pause for breath, because the demon can interpret the pause as a period, rendering the order gibberish. At another time Nathaniel orders Bartimaeus to stop his prisoners from escaping in his car, which he notes means he's completely free to let them escape by any other means. Because the magicians can punish them for not performing to their satisfaction many demons cooperate with what the magician meant. Bartimaeus generally uses it only when he thinks it to his advantage or is fairly sure he won't get caught, but one of Nathaniel's servants did this to everything he said. After spending fifteen minutes ordering it to draw his bath, he realized how absurd this was, stippled it, and dismissed it.
  • The protagonist of Gary Jennings' Aztec, Mixtli, challenges his long-time Complete Monster enemy to a Duel to the Death in front of the Revered Speaker. Unfortunately, said enemy also happens to be the Speaker's favorite artist, and so the Speaker warns Mixtli that he is NOT to kill his foe. Luckily for Mixtli, "alive" doesn't necessarily mean "capable of sight and coherent speech"...
  • In Isaac Asimov's Black Widowers story "Truth to Tell", the group's guest, a known compulsive truth-teller repeatedly insists that, though he was apparently the only possible suspect, he did not steal the cash or the bonds from a company safe. He declines to answer when Henry asks him if, by any chance, he stole the cash and the bonds.
  • L. Jagi Lamplighter's Prospero Lost has an unusual use: Ferdinard, believing that Miranda never married because of her vow to marry him or die a maid, and that she does not want to marry him, offers to go through the ceremony with her and then have the marriage dissolved for non-consummation. Then she would be free to marry as she choose, having technically married him.
  • Near the beginning of Dragon Keeper, Alise is convinced her husband Hest is having an affair, and confronts him about it. He promises that he's not having an affair with another woman - and more specifically, that he has never "shown any interest, here in Bingtown or on our trading journeys, in any woman". When Sedric, her childhood friend and his secretary and confidante, agrees with him, saying that he would know how Hest spends his time if anyone does, she believes them. As you might be able to guess, Hest is not having an affair with another woman... he is, however, having an affair with Sedric.
  • Robert Heinlein's The Number of the Beast has a white mutiny when a know-it-all member becomes captain.
  • The Ternaui queens in The Excalibur Alternative use this as a means of possible rebellion against the enslaving Federation: forced to place telepathic directives into the minds of the children they have to give up for service, the commands they give are specifically what they are told to implant, not necessarily what was meant. One ship commander order guards who would obey his commands, not harm him, and protect him from attack. Nothing was said about obeying any of the other crew, informing him of conspiracies against him, or not helping said conspirators with their plans.
    • The ship's computer system also doesn't take the initiative in informing the crew of what it knows the humans are talking about because that isn't its job, strictly following the commands programmed into it, even though it shows initiative when working with the humans.
  • In Poul Anderson's The High Crusade, much of Sir Roger's interplanetary negotiations involve boasts which are not factually incorrect, but are carefully worded to imply that his forces are larger than they actually are.

"Our lords have extensive foreign possessions, such as Ulster, Leinster, Normandy--but I'll not weary you with a catalogue of planets." I alone noticed that he had not actually said those counties and duchies were planets.
..."Sir, I am no petty noble," the baron answered with great stiffness. "My descent is as lofty as any in your realm. An ancestor of mine, by the name of Noah, was once admiral of the combined fleets of my planet."

  • In War of the Dreaming, the dream-colt tells Galen that she cannot carry him beyond the borders of Tirion. She can, however, carry him back.
  • Michael Scott Rohan's The Singer and the Sea has an interesting twist: Gille sings a song about his adventures. This is accepted by everyone as such a marvelously entertaining Tall Tale that nobody any longer wants to ask what really happened. Almost nobody; his friend Olvar is perceptive enough to privately ask him, "There was some truth in that, wasn't there?"

"No," answered Gille.
Olvar squinted, thinking with an almost visible effort. "No? But I... No. You said just, no -- meaning no, there isn't some truth... Powers alive, man -- you're not trying to tell me it was all true, are you? Literally true?"

Live-Action TV[edit | hide]

  • The Brady Bunch: In the episode "Greg Gets Grounded" (for disobeying his parents after borrowing someone else's car when he was put on a "no driving" punishment), Greg insists on living by "exact words," insisting that his parents' punishment was too ambiguous and unclear. Greg gets clobbered by the agreement and learns his lesson.
  • In the first episode of Weeds, the protagonist, in a conversation with her son's girlfriend's mother, is pressured into promising that the son and the girlfriend will never have sex under her roof. Fortunately for her son, his younger brother just broke their skylight, so said roof has a huge gaping hole in it...
  • Occurs occasionally in the Work Com, particularly when the Stupid Boss needs An Aesop.
  • Curb Your Enthusiasm: Larry David is late for a dinner because he's behind someone who takes a long time at a doctor's appointment, so he tells the doctor that patients should be admitted according to their appointment time. Later, he races to sign in at the doctor ahead of someone, but ends up going behind her because of the new policy, which goes with what David had ordered.
  • The West Wing
    • A lower-key subversion appears in "The Lame-Duck Congress". Leo's response to Donna's complaint about the possibility of carpal-tunnel syndrome from all the typing that the aides do, and federal guidelines designed to prevent this, is "Type slower." Incensed, Donna organizes the aides to do just that. When he catches Margaret typing a memo he has asked her to type very very slowly, and Margaret informs him of Donna's initiative, Leo's response is a cold, "Margaret, look at my face right now." When Margaret sees the stony "I-am-but-seconds-from-firing-you" expression Leo is wearing, she immediately capitulates and starts typing normally. Leo then informs Donna that her little scheme wouldn't work in any case, since the White House and other buildings of the federal government are exempt from such guidelines anyway. Donna is not pleased.
    • Another episode has White House Counsel Oliver Babish preparing CJ to testify before Congress with the classic "Do you know what time it is?" routine.
  • Red Dwarf provides a rather lengthy example of this. A running joke in the series was Kryten's relentless spouting of Space Corps Directives directed at Rimmer, and when Rimmer finally asks, "Has anyone actually seen this manual?", Kryten asks Holly to give him a hologramatic copy. However, once the team returns from a mission sans Rimmer, they return to find that he's not only read the entire manual, but has picked and chosen a choice selection of SCDs to torment them.
  • Chuck has this example:

Casey: Let the geek go.
Sarah: Wait! Not out the window!
Casey: Aren't we picky?

  • Star Trek: The Next Generation
    • Worf convinces some Klingons who have been in hibernation since the last Federation-Klingon war that the Klingons have beaten the Federation in the meantime by putting on a Klingon uniform and temporarily assuming command of the Enterprise. At no point does he lie to them: he is the captain of the ship (temporarily) and the conflict between the two governments had indeed long been settled (by mutual peace treaty). He never said the Klingons defeated the Federation, he just said something like "didn't it occur to you that the war would have ended by now?" and let them assume that that's what he meant. So it wasn't a lie, it was... an omission.
    • Another episode has the Enterprise trying to negotiate with the Sheliak Corporate, which has demanded that a 200-year-old human colony unknowingly built on a planet in their space be relocated immediately; problem is, the Enterprise is incapable of transporting all the colonists and it will take two weeks for transport to arrive, but the Sheliak are unwilling to budge on the time frame and counter Picard's every attempt to compromise by citing the byzantine terms and clauses of their treaty. In the end, Picard decides to fight back using the very same treaty: he cites a clause that allows him to name a neutral third party to arbitrate the dispute, and he names a race that is currently in hibernation and won't wake for another six months. They capitulate and grant him the extra time to evacuate instead.
  • Stargate SG-1
    • In an episode, the team erases a Bad Future in which the Aschen have taken over Earth:

Aschen guard: I'm sorry, sir, but weapons are not allowed.
Teal'c: We carry these for ceremonial purposes only.
Aschen guard: I'm sorry, but you'll have to let me have it!
Teal'c: Very well. (shoots the guard)

Richie: Eddie -- where's the cattle-prod?
Eddie: Well, here it is!
Richie: Right, give to me.
Eddie: What?
Richie: I said "give to me"!
Richie: Right-o!
(Eddie zaps Richie with the electric cattle-prod; one change of tights later...)
Richie: Right, Eddie hand me -- hand me the cattle-prod? Thank-you.

  • Corner Gas:
    • Officers Davis and Karen (the entire police force) decide to work to rule. Partly subverted because they don't bother with the rules most of the time anyway (and Davis, the senior officer, had never even seen the rulebook and thought it much thinner) while the mayor is happy letting them dig their own grave with the townsfolk, so the entire episode ends up with Karen and Davis trying to get out of it.
    • In the episode "Oh, Baby", Brent asks Tanner to stop throwing toy cars at his head. So Tanner throws a truck.
  • Rather viciously played in a season 7 episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer: now-restored vengeance demon Anya begs the demon D'Hoffryn to revive the people she's slaughtered, and even agrees to sacrifice herself for it when he tells her that will require the life and soul of a vengeance demon. There is protest by Anya's friends, teary goodbyes and a lot of drama; right up until the point D'Hoffryn summons Anya's best friend Halfrek, also a vengeance demon, and immolates her right in front of everyone.
  • Used in Spartacus: Blood and Sand, when Ovidius, one of Batiatus's enemies, comes home to find a house full of corpses and Batiatus himself, waiting. Batiatus swears to the gods that he will not kill Ovidius if he just tells him who ordered his death. Then, once he's got the name...

Batiatus: Gratitude for your honesty, Ovidius.
Ovidius: You're not going to kill me, then?
Batiatus: No. My slave is going to kill you.

Kelso: Hey Frank, could we get our food? We've been waiting for twenty minutes.
Frank: I did not lose my leg in Vietnam so I could serve a bunch of teenagers.
Kelso: Uh...you've still got both legs, Frank.
Frank: What did I just say? I did NOT lose my leg in Vietnam!

  • In the Law and Order episode "The Serpent's Tooth", Ben Stone makes a deal with a Russian gangster's lawyer for full immunity ("In New York County") in exchange for testimony in a murder trial. Immediately after his testimony, he's arrested by the NYPD. When his lawyer protests that they had a deal for "no prosecution in New York City"...

Ben: In "New York County" -- that's Manhattan. I never gave your client immunity in Brooklyn; that's Kings County. [...] Next time, sir, get a better lawyer.

  • In the Babylon 5 episode "By Any Means Necessary", the dockworkers at Babylon 5 stage a strike over poor working conditions, being underfunded, etc. A "negotiator" named Zento is sent from Earth and after some half-hearted negotiations, invokes the Rush Act. The Rush Act authorizes the Sinclair to use "any military means necessary" to resolve the strike. Commander Sinclair resolves the strike by transferring money from the military budget to the civilian one. When Zento protests that he can't do that, Sinclair points out that the Rush Act allows him to.
  • Sitcom Perfect Strangers played with this trope on occasion; When Balki received a package from UPS in one episode, the delivery man handed him a pad and asked, "Would you sign your name?" Balki then spelled out his name in New American Sign Language. Later in that episode, the same delivery man told Balki, "Take the pen and sign your name." Balki took the pen in his left hand, and spelled out his name with his right hand.
  • In an episode of Xena: Warrior Princess, Ares sets up a deathmatch between Xena and a villainess trying to prove herself to Ares by killing her, and mentions that either of them may ask for his help. Eventually, said villainess asks for Ares' help—only for him to abandon her to a Karmic Death, noting that he said they could ask for his help, not that he would actually give it. Xena later relates to Gabrielle that Ares, being something of an Evilutionary Biologist, had long ago stated that those who need to ask for his help don't deserve it.
  • Monk
    • In the episode "Mr. Monk and the Three Julies", George Teeger, when apparently angered that his wife, Julie Teeger, was killed, demanded that Stottlemeyer and the rest of the San Francisco Police Department find whoever did this and nail him. Right in the last few minutes of the episode, Stottlemeyer reminds him of that statement... when arresting him of the murder of both his wife and a graduate student who both have the same names.
    • In an earlier episode, "Mr. Monk Meets the Playboy", the publisher of Sapphire Magazine, when the accountant refuses to drop the shutting down of his franchise, remarks: "All right then, It's your funeral." The Accountant thinks he's exaggerating... he's not exaggerating.
  • Elijah in The Vampire Diaries prides himself on keeping his word, but it might be helpful to get a transcript to review what, precisely, he actually agreed to do.
  • Subverted Trope on Merlin. After Arthur is mortally injured by the Questing Beast, Merlin makes a deal with Nimueh for his life. He makes it very specifically clear that he is bartering his life for Arthur's, but that doesn't stop Nimueh from trying to take Merlin's mother's life instead.
  • In the first season cliffhanger ending of Sanctuary, one of the keys is hidden behind two doors, one of which is safe to teleport behind and will unlock the other. The solution is based on the Exact Words translation of the phrase posted above each of the doors.
  • Played for laughs in Doctor Who when Richard Nixon asks if he will be remembered. The Doctor responds in the affirmative—but provides no details—then adds, "Say hi to David Frost for me."
  • Dexter
    • The show uses this as the launching point for a subplot. Rita confronts Dexter about her suspicions about his heroin use, which has never happened. She concludes the accusation with this question:

Rita: If there is anything left between us, you will answer this one question, and you will tell me the truth: are you an addict?
Dexter: Yes, I have an addiction.

    • In fact, this quote is only the beginning of a long string of language loopholes surrounding this subplot. Almost any time he discusses the addiction, he conveniently leaves out any mention of heroin. He manages to give speeches that are completely truthful without raising suspicion.
  • Once in White Collar, Neal borrows Peter's FBI jacket, swearing that he would not use it in any questionable activities. In the next scene, Mozzie's wearing it and breaking into a crime scene.
  • In Blakes Seven, Servalan makes a deal for our heroes to surrender their ship to her, in return for a promise not to kill them, but to let them go on the nearest inhabited planet. Servalan then asks the ship's computer for the name of the nearest inhabited planet - which turns out to be the one right beneath them, which just happens to be inhabited by a particularly vicious insect race, making our heroes' chances of survival limited. Servalan smiles and replies to the computer, "Yes. I know."
  • The title character of House likes to use this trope to his own advantage, but occasionally someone will turn it against him. In "Sex Kills", as a last resort to obtain a heart for his patient, he uses emotional blackmail on the husband of a woman who died ten minutes ago. Enter the patient's daughter, who thanks the man for his generosity. Enter House, the Jerk with a Heart of Gold. "You're mad at me. Fine, I get that. Take it out on me, not on her." The husband nods tearfully, kicks House in the balls (crunch) and donates the heart.
  • In the NCIS: Los Angeles episode "Bounty," the Killer Of The Week, who was a Marine undercover agent who killed the victim of the week so he'd get the bounty to himself, had political immunity in America. However, that same political immunity did not apply within Afghanistan, the place he was native to, which the NCIS team later exploited in a sting to capture him by posing as some Afghanis, and later handed him off to his fellow teammates (who were presumably not too happy with him for murdering their leader) after locating the high-priority target he intended to gain 2 hours before he arrived.
  • In The Outer Limits (revived series) episode "Zig Zag", the titular cyberterrorist has rigged a bunch of servers to explode through power overload. He warns the leader of the taskforce chasing him that the detonator is in his hand. Said leader is holding a physical detonator, so he drops it, then uses the microchip in his hand to try and reset the programming Zig Zag installed. Guess what "in his hand" actually meant.
  • Dillon invokes this in Power Rangers RPM when Ziggy becomes the Green Ranger. "You told him to protect the morpher by any means necessary. Bonding to it himself was the only way he could do it."
  • In an episode of The Cosby Show, Clair gets invited to be a guest panelist on a political talk show, and Cliff gets to watch in the green room. Clair instructs him not to eat any of the available doughnuts, and instructs the studio's janitor to enforce her prohibition. The janitor sympathizes, having identical dietary restrictions from his own wife, but points out a loophole:

(holding up an eclair) "This is not a doughnut."

  • In "The Clover" during the third season of The Middle, Frankie, worried about Aunt Edie's ability to continue on her own after her sister's death, visits her. While there, she points to the phone with extra large buttons and pictures of her, her mother and her sister on the buttons for the numbers in memory:

Frankie: Press my face if you want to talk to me
Aunt Edie: (reaching out and actually pressing Frankie's face) Hello? Hello?

Music[edit | hide]

  • There's one Dutch song by the group Kadril, "Het Heerke van Maldegem" (the lordling of Maldegem). The song tells the story of the main character, who goes out hunting and instead of game finds a group of robbers, who organise a party and make him pay for the booze. He asks them to let him go, and in exchange promises not to speak to anyone about them. When they agree, he goes on to Bruges and writes down what happened to him and where the robbers are, making his original hunt successful.

Myths & Religion[edit | hide]

  • Even the gods fall for this one occasionally. In Norse Mythology, Loki, the God of Mischief, made a bet with a dwarf; the bet was for his head, which at the time, meant "the weight of your head in gold". When he lost, it turned out that the dwarf wanted his head — literally — due to his cheating over the wager, but still losing. Loki, being who he is, still managed to turn the tables, however, by pulling some Exact Words right back at the dwarf: "My head may be yours, but my neck is not." Hence, the dwarf couldn't decapitate him to "claim his prize". The dwarf still got the last word, however, and sewed Loki's mouth shut to keep him from performing any more trickery. However, the entire incident is never mentioned again....
    • Although in Neil Gaiman's American Gods, a former cellmate of Shadow's nicknamed Low-Key (apparently because he always speaks low-key) is described as having a lot of scars over his mouth...
    • One of his nicknames in the original mythology is Loki Scar-lip.
    • The scars are also visible in The Sandman.
    • In Runemark, he has the scars when he first meets Mody.
  • In Greek Mythology, Apollo offered Sibyl her fondest wish if she agreed to sleep with him. She held up a handful of sand and asked to live for as many years as there were grains of sand in her hand. Apollo agreed but Sibyl still refused him. In response, Apollo cursed her by giving her the years she desired... but she would not be eternally youthful. After a few hundred years, she became a shriveled gnome.
  • According to the Quran, Iblis, the Islamic equivalent of the Devil, fell from grace after falling foul of one of these. When Allah made a prophecy that one of his most devoted servants would rebel against him, the Angels were greatly troubled and begged Iblis, one of the Djinn, to speak to Allah on their behalf; Iblis, who was loyal to Allah at the time, made Allah swear a promise that none of the Angels would be forced out of Allah's service. Because Allah made no mention of the Djinn in his promise, when the Angels and Djinn were commanded to bow before Allah's third creation, Adam, Iblis arrogantly objected, and was cursed for his disobedience.
  • In some versions of the Biblical story of Jacob, this is pulled by Laban. Jacob was in love with Laban's daughter Rachel, and asked her father for her hand in marriage. Jacob couldn't produce the normal bride-price for Rachel, though, so Laban told him that he could work for him for seven years instead and afterwards, Jacob could marry his daughter. However, Laban had two daughters, and he never specified which one Jacob would marry, leaving Jacob with Rachel's sister Leah as his wife.
  • Elisha served this up with a side of Prophecy Twist in II Kings 8:7-15. A lot of translators have trouble with 8:10 because the Hebrew seems ambiguous, instructing Hazael either to lie or tell the truth to his master King Ben-Hadad about whether he'd recover from his illness. However, as the story goes on to reveal, what the prophecy really meant was "Tell him his illness won't kill him, although I'm telling you he's going to die anyway." Taking his cue from a further prophecy that he would soon be the new King, Hazael returned to Ben-Hadad and told him Elisha had promised he would recover; but the next day, he cured Ben-Hadad of his illness once and for all by suffocating him with a washcloth. Then he seized the throne for himself.

Newspaper Comics[edit | hide]

  • Dilbert
    • In a comic, the company is at thirty dollars a share when Dogbert offers to buy them, but their value promptly falls. Dogbert then offers to pay "the full thirty dollars" for their stock. They ended up selling him the entire stock for thirty dollars and not thirty dollars per share.
    • And then there is the department who has the rule "don't shoot the messenger". So they tarred and feathered them instead.
  • A frequent source of humor in FoxTrot.
    • For example:

(Peter is doing the dishes)
Peter: It's unbelievable how much homework I have to do tonight! I can't remember the last time I had this many things due! I don't know what all my teachers were thinking!
Andy: In the case, Sweetie, why don't I do the dishes?
(later on)
Jason: I thought you had no homework...
Peter: It's all in how you say it.

    • Jason asks his mom if he can keep playing a driving game for a sec. He later clarifies that he meant a parsec. Obviously this doesn't work.
    • Andy discovers a plate of fresh cookies were missing, and she asks Paige if she's seen what happened to them. Paige calls back that no, she hasn't. Cut to her and Jason, eating cookies while removing blindfolds and Jason saying that he had been wondering why they had to wear them.
    • Those instances where Andy tells the kids they can have one piece of candy, or one scoop of ice-cream... Jason has melted all his candy to form one giant piece, Paige manages to take the entire tub of ice-cream out in one scoop. Really, the kids are amazing at this.
    • Peter gets this probably even more since he's the Stomach of the family. For example, he eats a box of doughnuts to find out "which one" Andy said he could eat. Another time, he tries to eat a pan of brownies which is, at that point, technically one brownie. Andy catches him that time.
    • Some other examples: Peter and Jason saying they ate one slice of pizza apiece: a large pizza cut in half. Another is Paige asking if she can have a banana as a pre-dinner snack. She eats half a loaf of banana-chocolate chip bread to get to the banana.
    • Jason allows Peter to go see the film Thor with them for the weekend (even though he's only going to see it for Natalie Portman), although under the condition that he dress up as Thor for the movie like themselves. Peter then asks what qualifies as wearing a Thor costume. It then cuts to them on the sidewalk with Jason and Marcus wearing Thor helmets, a long blond wig, and Thor's hammer with Peter wearing an outrageous costume that is composed of a green football helmet with wings painted on it, a utility hammer, and a curly blond clown's wig, with Peter saying "What?! You said a hammer, a blond wig, and a helmet with wings!" to an embarrassed Jason and a shocked Marcus when about to enter the car.
    • Still another strip has this:

Andy: Jason, I thought I told you to turn that off at 8:00!
Jason: Okay, mom.
(Jason turns the TV off with his remote, then turns it back on a second later)
Andy: What did I tell you?
Jason: It's 8:01 now.

  • Calvin and Hobbes. Calvin tries this after being ordered "upstairs, in the tub now!" Calvin lies down in the empty bathtub, proclaiming:

Calvin: I obey the letter of the law, if not the spirit.
Calvin's Mother: Let's hear some water running!
Calvin: Nuts.

    • Another:

Calvin's Mother: Did you pick up your room?
Calvin: I tried, but I couldn't lift it! Get it? AHAHAHAHA!!
She throws him back in his room.

  • Garfield is a master of this.
    • For example, this.
    • Arguably his finest moment was at the beach, when Jon chastised him about burying Odie in the sand. Garfield defends himself by claiming that "I only buried him up to his knees." Upside-down.
    • US Acres also has its moments: In one strip, Orson (as the "Book Fairy") approached Roy, Booker, and Sheldon with a book he claimed would make them "stop watching television". After Booker voiced his skepticism, Orson broke the television screen with the book.
      • Again as the "Book Fairy", Orson told Roy he had a book he [Roy] could really get into. After Roy said he's not into books, Orson "TWA Ked" the book at Roy's face.
    • US Acres: Orson once took upon knitting and Lanolin dared him to make her a sweater. Orson then worked on her wool and she became a sweater.

Lanolin: I have a biiiiiig mouth.

    • Also, when Orson was trying to sleep but Bo was constantly chatting. Orson then asked if Bo would like a pillow for his head. As Bo accepted, Orson stuck Bo's head inside it.
  • A running gag in The Phantom is characters telling "Mr. Walker" that he can't bring a dog into places, and him blithely responding that that's okay, because Devil's a wolf.
  • In Pearls Before Swine, a maitre d' gives Pig and Rat a dish, also telling him to be careful as the plate is hot. He really does mean it. Unfortunately for Pig, Pig thought the maitre d' meant it was "hot" as in having a high temperature, instead of "hot" as in stolen, which resulted in the Police arresting Pig for stealing the plate.
  • A couple of examples in For Better or For Worse cartoons:
    • Elizabeth was watching John as he did taxes. John moaned that even with deductions, he ended up paying through the nose. Elizabeth looked industriously at his face to see it happen until he said it was a figure of speech.
    • Michael was saving up his allowance for a pair of roller skates. He ended up spending the money he had saved up to that point, and when he told Elly, she just said, "Money seems to burn a hole in your pockets." Cue Michael and Elizabeth fearfully checking his pockets to make sure they were all right.

Professional Wrestling[edit | hide]

  • In one confrontation between Vince McMahon and Stone Cold Steve Austin in 2007, Stone Cold promises not to use The Stunner on Vince, then proceeds to kick Vince in the nuts and Stunner Jonathan Coachman.
  • During a TNA iMPACT Knockout Battle Royal for the #1 contender for the Knockouts title, Madison Rayne gets in the ring and announces that "any of the Knockouts in the ring right now" were eligible to be the #1 contender. True to form, she rushes in at the end of the match and throws Velvet Sky from the ring.
  • In order to keep his undefeated streak intact Kurt Angle would have Steve Blackman hit his opponent with a Kendo Stick so that he could win the match. One night Triple H, who was in charge at the time along with Stephanie McMahon and disliked Kurt, ordered Blackman not to do this in Angle's match that night. During the match Blackman came to the ring and hit Kurt with the Kendo Stick; Angle won the match by disqualification.
  • Triple H lost the WWF Title to Chris Jericho when referee Earl Hebner made a fast count. When confronted about this decision, he agreed to reverse it if nobody would touch him as long as he was a WWF official. Triple H agreed, noting he is a man of his word.

Tabletop Games[edit | hide]

Board Games[edit | hide]

  • In Risk, half the fun of negotiating treaties is trying to see how many loopholes you can work into the wording without your new "ally" noticing and objecting.

Card Games[edit | hide]

  • Magic: The Gathering runs on this trope:
    • Many rules depend on exactly how things are worded, and slight changes will completely ruin the effect of the card. One notorious example is "Substance", an ability whose only reason for existing was to cheat around the fact that there is a significant length of time between "at end of turn" (applies at the end step) and "until end of turn," (an effect that ends at the cleanup step) and certain cards really needed the second one.[5]
    • Many, many of the creative combos (most of which are tournament-winning level ones) and lockdowns are result of this and lack of creator's foresight. Myr Superion is a card that was meant to be cast with mana generated from normal myrs, as that's what they're best known for. However it's only restriction is that you had to pay the cost with mana generated from creatures, it never says you actually had to pay the cost.
  • There are several examples from Yu-Gi-Oh:
    • An interesting side-effect of Equip Spell Cards that give Piercing, is that you can inflict damage to your opponent by equipping them to your opponent's monster(s). Then, when your opponent attacks one of your Defense Position monsters with an ATK greater than your monsters DEF, he/she will take the difference. After all, even though it's your opponent's monster, it's your Spell Card, and thus it's your opponent—not you—who takes the extra damage, due to the wording on the cards.
    • Some continuous card effects have linkage to another monster cards such as Future Fusion and Call of the Haunted. However, when the monster is removed from field other than being destroyed, the continuous effect card remains on the field meaninglessly.
      • When this card is destroyed, destroy the equipped monster. "That card" is the primary offender.
        • This loophole abuse actually led to its ban in tournament play.
    • Another card that deserves special mention is Question. The card states that the opposing player must remember the name of the first monster card on the bottom of his/her opponent's graveyard or it gets special summoned to the field. This was fairly jarring if your opponent enforced including prefixes such as if the monster's card name began with "The" (Many a Six Samurai deck comes to mind.) or enforces his/her own specific pronunciation of the card's name.
    • Many cards say to destroy the card under a certain condition, rather than the gameplay element it represents (monster, spell, trap, etc.) Cue many beginner players literally ripping up the card when the conditions are met.
    • A common mistake most beginners make is the difference between "destroying" a card and "negating" a card. The former simply means the card no longer exists on the field, the latter means it's effects are stopped until the negating effect ends. This means that playing something like Mystical Space Typhoon on a activated counter trap card is meaningless, as it's effect is already in motion and it would go to the graveyard regardless anyways. Likewise, simply Negating the effect of a continuous card without destroying it is moot, as the effect would resume as soon as the negation card is gone.

Game Books[edit | hide]

  • In the final Blood Sword gamebook, one of the ways in to the Big Bad's castle requires you choose and release a demon. They all make promises to help you, all but one will involve your death and that one offers you an alternative once he is free. Examples include one who offers to send you to meet the Big Bad right away (at midnight the Big Bad is due to return to Earth, having spent a thousand years as a star in the sky to obtain magical power, being flung into space is bad for you) or the one who offers you a change since you practically have his gift anyway (the magic that restrained him is lying on the floor) offers things like a dagger that always kills when thrown (the thrower) or an artifact which turns back harmful spells (your caster will love that).

Roleplaying Games[edit | hide]

  • In the background of Warhammer 40,000 the Ministorum was to have no "men under arms" in the aftermath of the Age of Apostasy. Knowing that a complete lack of a military force would make them unable to police themselves and subservient to the Administratum, Ecclesiarch heading this reform, Sebastian Thor installed his predecessor Goge Vandire's redeemed private army as the Sisters of Battle.
  • In Dungeons & Dragons, this is often considered the real reason players avoid casting wish, as many DMs invoke this trope with its use.
    • This is partially subverted by kinder DMs and in the computer adaptation, Baldur's Gate 2, by allowing characters with high wisdom and intelligence scores to close the more obvious loopholes if the wish is otherwise reasonable.
    • Some sources indicate this as one of the advantage the clerical counterpart Miracle has over Wish - because it is not so much a wish as a requested miracle, it can be vetoed by your deity... but it also means that it will tend to be interpreted in your favour, whereas Wish includes a little comment about, if one goes beyond the list it has and requests a greater effect, the danger of a literal but undesired fulfillment (that is, this trope) or a partial fulfillment.
    • One sourcebook suggests this as a way The Paladin can be Lawful Good without being Lawful Stupid. In the specific example given, The Paladin is honor-bound to follow the requests of the Big Bad; when the villain says "Bring me the head of the king", the Paladin brings him the head...along with the rest of the king, and his entire army.
  • In the Role-Playing Game Truce at Bakura, Chewbacca suggested to Han Solo that he have the Tydirium return to the fleet while doing repairs. Han Solo agreed, but then it occurred to him that Chewbacca forgot to specify which fleet he was supposed to return to, thus giving him and the Endor Strike Team an easy opening to take over the Star Destroyer Accusor without having to fire a single shot.

Theater[edit | hide]

  • A very early example of this is The Merchant of Venice by William Shakespeare: Antonio suddenly finds himself unable to repay his debt to Shylock, the loan shark, and his contract said Shylock would cut a pound of flesh from his body if Antonio doesn't pay him back; in the court, however, Antonio's lawyer pulls an Exact Words objection, and the judge finally declares that Shylock had to cut a pound of flesh from Antonio without spilling any blood; since doing this is physically impossible, the contract was declared null and void.
  • In Show Boat, the couple Steve and Julie are about to be arrested for miscegenation—Steve is white, and Julie is secretly mixed-race. Steve cuts Julie's hand and swallows a drop of blood; when the sheriff arrives, Steve asks, "You wouldn't call a man a white man that's got Negro blood in him, would you?" He's willing to swear under oath that he's got "more than a drop" of black blood; the two are able to leave the boat (and the south) in safety.

Video Games[edit | hide]

  • Eikichi, alias Captain Death, in Persona 2, is pitted against an enemy who has spread rumors saying he's stronger than Captain Death. Given Sumaru City's special properties, this becomes true. So Eikichi rescinded his title, meaning the idiot no longer had to deal with Captain Death, but Eikichi Mishina. Asskicking ensued, with Eikichi proving why he was his school's premier badass.
  • In Sonic the Hedgehog 2006, Mephiles told Silver that the Iblis Trigger (Sonic) was going to destroy the world. He never said exactly how it was going to destroy the world...
    • Super Paper Mario had something similar. The Dark Prognosticus stated that the man in green, Luigi, would use the Chaos Heart's power to destroy the world. That turned out to be completely true. What it didn't state, however, was whether Luigi would do so willingly, or rather, whether he would do it if he wasn't brainwashed by Dimentio by planting a floro sprout in his brain beforehand.
  • The Elder Scrolls
    • The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind has a minor example of this. One quest has a reward of Boots of Blinding Speed. The boots do cause you to be incredibly speedy... and they also cause you to be blind, making them completely ineffective. Unless you happen to be a Breton, in which case the 50% natural spell effect immunity means you only get half-blinded (actually everything just gets somewhat darker). Strangely, you still benefit from the full boost to your movement speed... This is because magic resistance only applies to negative spell effects, for balancing reasons. It would be impossible to ever buff or heal yourself otherwise, after all. You can also enchant a helmet to give darksight. Useful in caves when you don't have a torch, even more useful for countering the boots' darkness.
    • Another instance, from Elder Scrolls lore: Song of Hrormir tells the story of Hrormir, an honourable warrior who swears the following oath to Nocturnal: "Shadowy Hag, to thee I pledge, To only honor thy black Words, To turn my back on Truth, To aid thy Dark Kings' Ambition, To divide their Inheritance fairly, To love thee, To think thee beautiful." When he later betrays her, Nocturnal realises that the part of the oath "turn my back on truth" allows him to escape honoring the rest of his agreement. Annoyed and impressed by his cunning, she releases him from her service.
  • In Odin Sphere, the demon lord Odin asks the shadow knight Oswald to slay the dragon Wagner in exchange for a castle, a magic spear and the hand of Odin's daughter Gwendolyn. After Oswald slays Wagner, Odin demands Oswald give him the magic ring found in the dragon's belly, but Oswald, already planning to give the ring to his new wife as a wedding gift, refuses and points out that Odin only asked him to kill the dragon. When Odin insists, Oswald threatens to kill him and demands his reward, forcing Odin to back down. To be honest though, Odin really did bring this one on himself—Oswald asked him why he wanted Wagner killed and Odin refused to tell him. If he'd just asked Oswald to bring him the ring, Oswald would have done so freely.
    • To be fair, Odin isn't a very trusting fella, and he knows the ring is very important, so he feared that if he told Oswald about it, he would keep the ring for himself and run away. What Odin didn't know was that Oswald was already in love with Gwendolyn, the sole reason he did the job in the first place, so he didn't really need to be secretive about it.
  • Calypso from Twisted Metal takes this and Literal Genie to the extreme.
    • In one example he does this without being outright evil. Thumper's ending in TM 2 has the two drivers wish to fly; Calypso says "Wish granted", and the pair immediately runs off the nearest cliff...while a dumbfounded Calypso looks on, plane tickets in hand.
  • Kingdom Hearts
  • At one point in the Phoenix Wright Ace Attorney series, his murderous client gets away with lying to Phoenix despite his lie-detecting magatama using this method. While he didn't kill the victim, as he claimed, he did pay an assassin to do it. It's implied that this only worked because the client was warped enough to consider there to be an honest, meaningful difference between the two.
  • Text Adventures often rely on exact words, and if they're particularly sadistic, will give good and bad results depending on which word you use, even if said word is equally valid. Many of them will allow you to use multiple words for the same meaning but will not recognise some words, or they will recognise archaic words but not modern ones, if they are going for a certain feel.
  • The Splatterhouse remake has the Terror Mask say to Rick, "Until Jen's back safe in your arms... You're mine.". As the game ends, he doesn't come off, because it's not Jen in Rick's arms.
  • Scias in Breath of Fire IV is a mercenary whose been hired by a minor antagonist to keep an eye on your party, but because he likes finding loopholes in the orders he's been given, he actually ends up assisting the party.

Scias: (On breaking Cray out of prison) He said, if you do anything, I should let him know immediately. He never said I should stop you.

  • An unintentional example occurs in Dead Rising 2, when Chuck makes a promise that one of the antagonists 'won't leave this city in one piece.' The antagonist in question later ends up as Half the Man He Used To Be.
  • In Disgaea 2: Cursed Memories, Adell has his mother summon Overlord Zenon, so that Adell can kill him and break Zenon's curse. Instead, they end up with his teenage daughter, Princess Rozalin. They assume Adell's mother botched the ritual in some way. She didn't. The ritual did exactly what it was supposed to do. The problem was that the terms of the ritual were "summon Zenon". They were not "summon the Overlord who's impersonating Zenon."
  • In Tomb Raider Chronicles, Lara winds up slipping on a slope and nearly falls into a deep pit, but manages to grab onto a ledge and hang on. Her rival, Pierre, arrives and uses this moment to make an exchange; if he pulls Lara up, she will not lay a finger on him. Lara agrees and is helped up, but when Pierre demands the MacGuffin, Lara just gets in Pierre's face and screams "BOO!", startling Pierre and making him slip off the ledge and hangs on for dear life. When he asks Lara to pull him up, Lara replies in a snark manner that they agreed she wouldn't touch him. Lara cheerfully walks away and Pierre falls.
  • In Final Fantasy XII, Vayne, after transforming into Vayne Novus, orders Gabranth to defend his brother (Lord Larsa) as he'll have much need in "the Hell to follow." Gabranth agrees that he should defend Larsa. Unfortunately for Vayne, he didn't specify who Gabranth was supposed to defend Larsa from, resulting in Gabranth's Heel Face Turn and eventual Redemption Equals Death.
  • The ending of the recent Ghost Recon game, Future Warrior, has this. The main villain of the game is wounded and ready to be killed by the Ghosts but sudden orders from command reveal that the American Government wants to keep him alive and that he is "not to be touched." Moments later a train happens to be coming his way and he pleads to the Ghosts to take him into American custody as per their orders. Their response? "Our orders were not to touch you." He gets splattered by the train and then the credits start immediately after he dies. Poor choice of words.

Web Animation[edit | hide]

Strong Sad: Did you get a virus?
Strong Bad: No...
Strong Sad: Did you get 400,000 viruses?
Strong Bad: Yes... very yes!

Web Comics[edit | hide]

  • Randall Munroe of xkcd apparently does not like it when people try this on him. Black Hat Guy shares his distaste in this Indulgent Fantasy Segue.
  • The Order of the Stick
    • Therkla disobeys the clear intent of her orders and lays the blame elsewhere, on the ground that she had tried to obey exactly the orders she was given, and the fall guy had tried to obey the intent. Her superior let it slide because he was impressed by her political skills.
    • Lampshaded by Tarquin, who promises to a diplomat that his forces will join a battle the next day but doesn't specify which side they will join. When they join the opposing side, he quips:

Tarquin: ... And here I was worried all night that you were going to figure it out early. I mean, I thought I just made it, like, WAY too obvious, but I guess it all worked out, huh?

    • In another instance, Redcloak chews out Xykon for endangering the life of their prisoner, O-Chul, making him fight gladiatorial combat with various monsters for Xykon's amusement, prompting Xykon to swear that he "won't put the paladin in any type of enclosure with any animal, magical beast or aberration, as part of an attempt to entertain ourselves." As soon as Redcloak leaves the room, Xykon tells his other minion, Tsukiko, to create some undead gladiators for O-Chul to fight.
    • Surprisingly, the Monster in the Darkness also pulls one, but certainly not intentionally:

Hobgoblin: Are you sure the Supreme Leader said this was OK?
MitD: Oh, yeah, he gave me a direct order.
(flashback)
MitD: Hey, Redcloak, I need--
Redcloak: Go bother someone else.

    • Grubwiggler has no intention of re-animating Roy's corpse as an undead. What he does intend to do is transform it into a bone golem.
    • Roy had once asked an oracle where Xykon currently was, and had received the Exact Words answer "on his throne". When he later returns to the same oracle, he deliberately forms his question to be as immune to twisting as possible. Ironically, however, this makes him receive a worse answer, because his phrasing of the question had limited Xykon's next attack to one of two possible locations, and Xykon had chosen to Take a Third Option. The Oracle tried to get Roy to word his question in a way that would allow him to give the proper answer, but Roy was having none of it. The very next strip has Elan of all people pointing out Roy's error...but moments later the party triggers the Memory Charm around the Oracle's tower so that the only thing they remember from the visit with the Oracle was the answers he gave to their specific questions. Thus eliminating the advance warning they would've otherwise had of Xykon's imminent attack.

The Oracle: "Yes, you've certainly managed to cunningly outsmart yourself at the very least."

Stanley: (mumbles and tries to make a decision)
Maggie: May I give you a suggestion, Lord?
Stanley: Sure.
Maggie: (throws a suggestion spell at him) Appoint Parson. Then leave the room, so he can think.

  • Girl Genius had a professor (who pulled Agatha into this mess in the first place) who after overseeing safe removal of the stolen Castle Heterodyne node from all city systems (it did indeed help itself to pretty much all by that time). Then tries to send her away without information she wants and receives an immediate reminder that his own teleoperator bodies, being his private property, are officially not "city systems"...

Agatha: (grinning) Who's a very very clever little thing who's learned so much?!
Castle Entity: Would you like to hear him quack like a duck?

Web Original[edit | hide]

  • TV Tropes: On the page for Big Rigs Over the Road Racing, the description of the game says that it "features never-before-seen freedom", which it does indeed — there is no collision detection (in other words, you can go through any object except the ground), no angle detection (allowing you to drive vertically), and drive straight off the map.
  • When The Nostalgia Critic gathers his fellow reviewers for an invasion in Kickassia, Phelous questions where everyone was going to stay. Critic says that he "booked everyone a hotel room". Gilligan Cut to everyone crammed into a hotel room.
  • Film Brain wanting Linkara to review The Spirit (2008 film) told him that he has a movie with Samuel L. Jackson and Scarlett Johansson. Both did appear in the movie, but Linkara believed that FB was referring to Iron Man 2.
  • This is common when it comes to requests on Songs to Wear Pants To. Andrew will often take poorly thought-out or silly requests and do this to them. For example, one person offered some some lyrics and asked for them to be recorded, "not necessarily in this order." This was the result.
  • Tonin
    • In Tonin - O Ninja Que Veio da Roça, a Brazilian web series featured in Chargesdotcomdotbr, Vilano-san, the main villain, asked a spirit to make his body resistant to harm. The spirit said he'd only do it if Vilano defeated him in a card game. Vilano only agreed on the condition that each one would draw one's own cards. Instead of drawing cards from the spirit's deck, he drew cards from his pocket, getting himself a better hand. When the spirit protested, Vilano reminded him about the agreement about drawing one's own cards.
    • In sequel series Tonin - A Vorta dos Que Num Foi, Tonin and his friends were stuck in the future and the spirit was their only chance to return. Being an oracle, the spirit said his only duty was of answering questions. The spirit also told that he's bound to this duty until Tonin dismisses him. Tonin then challenged the spirit to send them back to the past, promising he'd never ask any questions from that day onwards if the spirit succeeds. Once they went back in time, Tonin pointed out that, since they've gone back several years from the day he promised to stop making questions, he still has all that time back to make questions without going back on his word.
    • Years later (from Tonin's perspective), he went back to the day he made that deal and asked the oracle how could there have two of him in two different places at the same time but, since they were in a period of time the oracle no longer had to answer questions as per the agreement, the oracle refused to answer. Tonin argued it was the other Tonin who made the deal but the oracle explained they were the same Tonin. Tonin then asked how this could be possible. By doing so, he unwittingly answered the question he initially refused to.
    • In trequel series Tonin - O Ninja dos Inferno, Tonin sells his soul to the Devil in exchange for the power to defeat Vilano-san and Pai-Meio. The terms of the agreement stated that the Devil would be able to collect the soul once Vilano and Pai-Meio would no longer be able to pose a threat. The two villains were eventually killed. When the Devil tried to collect the soul, it was argued that Vilano and Pai-Meio being dead doesn't mean they'd never be able to pose a threat again. Considering the world where the story took place, the argument makes sense.
    • In order to reach the Devil to strike the deal in the first place, Tonin had to, once again, outsmart the spirit. The spirit was unwilling to help Tonin in any way other than doing his job (answering questions). Tonin then asked if he'd make a good deal with the Devil. Since the only way to know was having Tonin meet the Devil, the spirit had no choice but to take Tonin to hell. Also, when Tonin proposed the deal to the Devil, Tonin offered his "arma". ("Arma" could be either the Brazilian word for "weapon" or the way Brazilian unsophisticated country people say "alma", the Brazilian word for "soul".) The spirit, who served as witness for the deal, said that either Tonin and the Devil reached for an agreement on which meaning the word "arma" would be employed for the deal, or the deal would be null and void. Unable to convince the Devil to taking anything from him as a "weapon", Tonin agreed to offer his soul.
    • In Tonin - A Saga Final, a witch tried to avoid a witch hunter by magically disguising her appearance but he saw through her disguise and offered her a deal: if she taught him how to disguise himself, he'd leave her alive somewhere nobody would lay their hands at her. After she fulfilled her end of the bargain, he left her alive, but tied at a stake where nobody would lay anything other than fire.
  • In Thalia's Musings, Aphrodite's Genre Savvy blessing on the Pythian Games: "To whichever two among the gods and goddesses here whom the Fates will choose, may you each meet your true love at the Pythian Games." [1] Thalia, being equally genre savvy, knows that if she or Apollo is chosen, they won't end up together since they've already met.
    • The first to be chosen is Aphrodite's own son Eros, who finds love at first sight with Psyche.
    • The second is Hephaestus, Aphrodite's husband, who meets Aglaea. Aphrodite is more than happy to let him go.
  • In Shamus plays World of Warcraft, Norman is a warlock who tries to be Lawful Good. When called upon to 'slaughter a virgin' as part of his induction into the Warlock Union, he buys a virgin sheep and pays a butcher to slaughter it for him.
  • In Red vs. Blue Lopez builds some very slow moving robots, with the reasoning

Senior Lopez "You said you wanted a DAY of victory. At this speed, they will win in exactly 24 hours."

33. Not allowed to chew gum at formation, unless I brought enough for everybody.
34. (Next day) Not allowed to chew gum at formation even if I did bring enough for everybody.
48. I may not use public masturbation as a tool to demonstrate a flaw in a command decision.
55. An order to "Put Kiwi on my boots" does *not* involve fruit.
56. An order to "Make my Boots black and shiny" does not involve electrical tape.

  • Bastard Operator From Hell. If you ask the BOFH for more disk space, he'll give it to you - by deleting all your files. And that's nothing compared to what he does with his contract. It got "numerous strange clauses", including one about "remaining at work after a UFO sighting in the vicinity of the building"... which he successfully used... more than once.

Western Animation[edit | hide]

  • In one episode of Rugrats, Angelica pushes Chuckie out of the way of an oncoming Big Wheel. Chuckie interprets this as having saved his life, and Angelica tells him that, once someone saves your life, you have to be their slave. At the end of the episode, Angelica is stuck in a closet, Chuckie frees her, and Angelica gushes that he saved her life. Chuckie points out what that means, and while Angelica tries to backtrack, in the final scene, we see her muttering as she drives Chuckie around.
  • The Simpsons
    • In the episode "Home Away from Homer", Marge witnesses Homer and Bart watching a soft-core film and demands that Bart look out the window. Bart obliges, since unlike his mom, he knows that the soft-core film is also being filmed in Ned Flander's house, which when Marge realizes, she is even more horrified, and proceeds to drag Homer by the ear to force Homer to tell Ned Flanders about his current guests taking advantage of his trusting nature by doing this.
    • An example in an early episode when Homer and Ned placed a signed bet if Bart or Todd wins the miniature golf tournament. If his son "didn't win" (it originally said the father of the loser, but Ned suggested to Homer that he change it because of its insulting connotations), the father has to mow his neighbor's lawn wearing his wife's Sunday dress. Both boys tied meaning that neither of them lost, but didn't win as Homer pointed it out. Homer and Ned end up mowing the lawn and backfired when Homer wanted to see Ned humiliated which he's not (which was the only reason Homer was willing to go through it).
    • In the episode "And Maggie Makes Three." Marge makes Patty and Selma promise not to tell Homer Simpson about her being pregnant with Maggie. They promise it. Unfortunately for both Marge and Homer, the agreement only stated that they not tell Homer. It never said anything about whether they'd tell anyone else besides Homer, or that they have a "Baby Shower" at Marge's place before Homer got home from work.
    • A couple of times when a suspicious Marge asked Homer what he was up to, Homer would reply, "Marge, I'm not gonna lie to you," and then immediately carry on without saying anything more.
  • Nearly proves deadly to Darkwing Duck. A trucker and conspiracy theorist tells Darkwing that while vampiric red potatoes are fairly reasonable, russets are nigh on beasts and can only be beaten by shaking a specific species of plant (which fortuitously turns out to be Bushroot) and saying potato backwards. After fruitlessly shaking Bushroot and shouting "otatop" over and over, Gozalyn asks what he thinks he's doing; when he tells her that to beat the vampire potato he has to shake Bushroot and shout potato backwards—which makes the potato cringe, and Darkwing realize the trucker was speaking literally, and the key phrase was not "potato" backwards, but "potato backwards". Yeah. It was a really strange episode.
  • The angry professor trapped in the body of a Hibagon responds "very poor choice of words" to Drew saying "put him down" on The Secret Saturdays.
  • The direct-to-DVD Barbie as Rapunzel has a literal case of Exact Words in play: incensed evil lady puts spell on tower to permanently lock up Rapunzel for not giving her name of guy she's been seeing, spell specifically says "Never release your prisoner with a lying heart"; however, Rapunzel genuinely didn't know (the last time she saw him, she specifically tells him that she doesn't want to know) and thus wasn't lying, and after escaping, Rapunzel uses painting she's made earlier to put evil lady into tower instead, replete with literal Ironic Echo when she realizes she's just been Hoist By Her Own Petard.
  • The Powerpuff Girls, "Bought and Scold": Morebuckses buy Townsville. Princess becomes mayor, puts out decree that makes crime legal (and crimestopping illegal). Girls are frustrated... until they realize they can steal Princess' goodies without retribution. Not knowing that the girls stole her goods, Princess hastily retracts decree, girls stop crimes, girls dump Princess' goodies on to her lawn in exchange for giving the original mayor back his position.
  • Justice League
  • In Transformers Animated

Issac Sumdac: You are friends with the autobots, right?
Megatron: Oh, we have quite a history.

  • In one episode of Johnny Bravo, Johnny chases a leprechaun in order to get a wish. He finally succeeds, and wishes to be attractive to "all the chicks". The leprechaun grants the wish (remarking on how odd Johnny is), and seconds later Johnny is stampeded by chickens, who coo things like "Ooh, he's a big one!"
  • Jackie Chan Adventures: Favored by Jade to slip out of Wait Here. Also when she's told to stay with Uncle. Since Jackie never specified which "Uncle"... And, in "The Stronger Evil", when Jackie and Capt. Black went to stop the Dark Hand from robbing the armored car, they wouldn't even let Jade finish asking to go with them and quickly yelled "NO!" Since she never stated what she'd ask, they can't tell what they told her not to do. Also in that same episode, Jade had tried to operate a jet-powered chair, prompting Jackie to tell her not to operate machines she doesn't know how they work. She then asked the inventor to tell her how the chair works.
  • American Dad: "I said no more 'candid' pics! I love semantics. Wordplay. Who am I talking to?"
  • The two-part pilot of My Little Pony Friendship Is Magic makes use of this. After Twilight reads the legend of Night Mare Moon and warns Princess Celestia of her possible return, Celestia replies "You simply must stop reading those dusty old books!" and sends her to supervise the Summer Sun Celebration in Ponyville and make some friends. Later, after Night Mare Moon does return and is defeated by Twilight and her friends, Twilight accuses Celestia of dismissing her warning. Celestia reminds her that technically she had done no such thing.
    • Also happens (sorta) in Swarm of the Century. Faced with the Parasprite swarm devouring every and anything edible in sight, Twilight Sparkle casts a spell to make them "stop eating all the food". It succeeds. They stop eating food, and start devouring... EVERYTHING ELSE, wrecking Ponyville completely.
    • Before the final challenge in "May The Best Pet Win", Rainbow Dash sets down the win condition: her pet will be the one that "crosses the finish line with [her]", her assumption being that due to her speed, she'll be the first across. Following an avalanche that pins her wing under a rock, she ends up crossing the finish line last, on the back of a tortoise. Her friends inform her that a falcon won, but by now Rainbow Dash is attached to the tortoise... so she points out that while the falcon might have crossed first, the tortoise (due to carrying her) crossed with her. The falcon takes it quite well.
  • In Avengers Earths Mightiest Heroes, Iron Man says he strongly disapproves of Hawkeye's vendetta against Widow, and says he should just let it go. Since Hawkeye's going to ignore this anyway, Cap and Panther tag along to make sure he doesn't get killed. When things go wrong and they have to call for back up, Tony chews them out for not listening to him, but they point out he didn't directly order them not to go. Merely strongly suggested it would be a bad idea.
  • U.S. Acres episode "The Ugly Duckling", Orson was telling Booker and Sheldon a version of said fairy tale. That version had Bo as a wizard who worked at a bar. Whatever you do, you must never ask him something like "Make me a sandwich". He'll turn you into one.
  • This is how Coop got a hold of Megas XLR. The junkyard dealer wanted to get Coop out of his hair and told him everything in a certain pile was two bucks. When Coop accidentally discovers the wrecked remains of the titular mech:

Coop: Two bucks, huh? I'll take it!

    • He never actually paid the two bucks.
  • In the The Legend of Korra "A Leaf in the Wind," The Mentor Tenzin wants young hero Korra to focus on her airbending training, and so forbids her from watching "frivolous" pro-bending matches so as not to be distracted. As she later points out after being caught, he never said anything about listening to one on the radio.

Tenzin: You- you knew what I meant!

Real Life[edit | hide]

  • A standard method of teaching a lesson to a brand new military officer (who usually has less experience and time in service than most of his or her subordinates), who insists on their orders being followed and not listening to the advice of said subordinates, is to follow their orders exactly. One would be amused, for example, at the number of tanks that have to be hauled out of mud that the driver never would have normally gone into if not "Just following your orders, sir."
    • In the military, this is referred to as "white mutiny".
    • In an office setting, this is called "malicious obedience".
    • When it comes to civilian work regulations, it's called "Destructive Compliance".
    • Known as "Flooding the system" when used to avert the "Jump Off a Bridge" Rebuttal. Instead of saying "Everyone's doing it" report every individual case to the point where it goes beyond a system's or an individual's working capacity.
    • Variations of this with regard to legal statutes can be a form of civil disobedience.
    • If a good cashier is being put-upon by an absolutely terrible customer, the cashier can take vengeance by administering what's known in the US as "the penny treatment", which is giving the customer their exact change — entirely in the lowest possible money denomination, typically counted out individually.
  • Similarly, "work to rule" is when a union isn't in a position to strike but is engaged in a job protest. It happened at one high school when the teacher's union hauled out the tactic against the province. While some of the results were predicted by the province such as teachers not coaching school teams or participating in other extracurricular events, the most effective was unpredicted: the two-hour lunch. According to their contract, the teachers were guaranteed an hour (or close to it) for lunch where they didn't have to carry out any school-related activities. However, they were also obligated to supervise students on school property during lunch hour. The only way for both terms to be followed exactly was to have a two-hour lunch break which the teachers would have their free time in two shifts. This resulted in an hour longer school day which played havoc with parents' schedules, and so brought pressure to bear that merely canceling sports and clubs would not have.
    • Though maybe that is a different trope...
      • Another stalwart, though one that has fallen out of use these days, was "work-ins", whereby the workers obeyed the instructions of their superiors to keep working...to the point that the factory couldn't be closed for the night and the employer's resources were strained to breaking point in trying to keep the damn thing running.
  • President Ryti of Finland did this during World War II. He gave his word to Hitler that neither he nor Finland under his rule would ever make peace with the Soviet Union. When the time was ripe, Ryti retired and the next president pulled out of the war.
  • Hitler really should have seen that coming. In 1934, in a startling display of Genre Savvy, Hitler insisted the Wehrmacht swear an oath of loyalty to him personally—not to "the German people" or any other such locution that could allow his soldiers to rationalize betraying him (on the grounds that it was in the best interests of the German people to remove Hitler from power). Many of the top generals still considered getting rid of him, but it made the officers who attempted to do him in oathbreakers, which was a huge mental barrier to be overcome for many.
  • This is quite common among parts of the German public servants. As a Beamter, you enjoy a number of benefits—such as automatic promotion and the virtual impossibility of losing your job (anything under the equivalent of a one-year sentence in prison is a-okay) -- but you lack the right to strike and your wages are state-set instead of negotiated. Therefore, if the public employees want to articulate their dissatisfaction, they engage in "Dienst nach Vorschrift" (service as ordered), doing exactly what the guidelines request, instead of what would be sensible, thereby deliberately wasting people's time.
  • The way a city showed submission to the ancient Persian empire was by giving symbolic gifts of "earth and water". According to Herodotus, Darius sent emissaries to Sparta demanding earth and water. The Spartans threw the emissaries down a well, saying, "You'll find plenty there." (Depicted, with bonus shouting, in 300.)
  • Although his political enemies and critics claimed Bill Clinton committed perjury in answering questions during a depositions, objective review of what he said shows that, legally, he did not. When it came to the question of whether he had sex with Monica Lewinsky, he was being truthful in saying he did not, based on the definition of "sex" that had been previously agreed upon by the attorneys — which, upon careful reading, did not include fellatio performed on him, only oral sex if he performed it on someone else. Even the famous cigar incident didn't count because the definition didn't include him using an object on someone else.
    • When he was asked if he was having an affair with Lewinsky, he truthfully denied it. The phrasing of the question asked if anything sexual was going on, not if anything sexual had gone on in the past (the affair was over by then).
    • In the Oval Office speech, on the other hand, he flat-out lied. While he technically avoided perjury, he still had his license to practice law suspended for 5 years, in no small part due to the above behavior. The oath people swear during examination is to tell the whole truth, after all, which he plainly did not. Thus, while he did not commit perjury by the letter of the law, he clearly violated the oath to speak fully, rather than invoking the fifth amendment. Apparently Even Lawyers Have Standards, and the suspension was because he was so blatant in the use of this trope. He avoided disbarment by reaching an an agreement with the independent counsel. He was free to seek reinstatement in 2006, and such requests are routinely granted.
        • Although as trial defense attorneys will note, when you swear to tell the truth you do not also volunteer to correct a hostile questioner's badly phrased question if answering what was meant to be asked could harm your case. This is one of the reasons good lawyers will often ask essentially the same question in different ways.
        • According to the unanimous decision of the United States Supreme Court decision in Bronston v. United States, answers to proper interrogatories that are "literally truthful but technically misleading" cannot give rise to a perjury prosecution. The proper remedy is, indeed, for the examiner to ask clarifying followup questions.
        • You do not have to "invoke the Fifth Amendment." There is nothing in the Fifth Amendment—or in anything else in the Constitution—that its existence has to be proclaimed in order for it to take effect. It gives you the right not to say something that would incriminate you. "Whole truth" does not mean "everything that is true"; it means no half-truths. In fact, if you applied Exact Words to that definition of "whole truth", you would proceed to recite the encyclopedia, starting with Aardvark.
  • When Plato gave Socrates' definition of man as "featherless bipeds" and was much praised for the definition, Diogenes plucked a chicken and brought it into Plato's Academy, saying, "Behold! I've brought you a man." After this incident, "with broad flat nails" was added to Plato's definition.
  • This is a standard litigation tactic. For example, a big corporation gets sued for making an allegedly dangerous product. The court orders them to produce all their relevant documents so the other side can examine them. In response, the corporation points them to a literal warehouse full of papers, possibly only a few of which are of any real importance. "The judge said to turn over everything. The documents you want are in there. Have fun."
  • Fairly common in dealing with children, people just learning a language, and people with certain disabilities, such as high functioning autism, is that any given metaphor or turn of phrase may instead be interpreted literally. This is one of the dangers with diagnosing such people for diminished mental capacity—people in those categories may in fact be highly intelligent, but mistaken for below average IQ due to not understanding the nuance of the language.
  • Richard J. Gatling, inventor of the Gatling gun, was a pacifist who wanted to prevent war by "reducing the size of armies." Well, his invention (and its spiritual descendants) have certainly done that.
  • An old Russian joke/urban legend: Rabinovich the cynical old Jew applies to the Soviet government for permission to emigrate to Israel.

MVD Official: You say you have no relatives abroad, but that you also have a brother in Israel?
Rabinovich: Yes, but I am abroad, he is at home!

  • George Spencer of New Haven, Connecticut, was put on trial for bestiality in 1642, and told that a confession would earn him mercy. Spencer eventually decided to confess in order to be spared punishment, only to be told that 'mercy will be offered by God, not by the court.' He was hanged.
  • This is how Mila Kunis got on That '70s Show: those auditioning for the role of Jackie had to be at least 18. She was 14. Kunis claimed she'd be 18 on her birthday; she just never said when her birthday was. By the time the producers finally figured out her age, it was known among them that Kunis was a superior, if not perfect, fit for the role she had auditioned for.
  • This trope is the reason why the Japanese have the JSDF despite renouncing war and giving up on its military. Article 9 of their constitution stated they can't maintain a military for war purposes. However, it never said anything about maintaining an armed force for self-defense purposes.
    • In fairness, they said that they had "renounced the use of war to solve disputes." The original constitution left the possibility of maintaining people under arms for self-defence.
    • Also, the precedent in international relations is that if you force a sovereign nation to disband its military, you then assume the responsibility for providing it with military protection. Since neither Japan nor any of the Allied powers wanted to keep Japan under military occupation forever, everyone involved had a vested interest in upholding the particular interpretation of the constitution that allowed Japan to create the JSDF.
  1. True to his roots, it was a coin-flip.
  2. Though his initial idea was simply to use the ship against the droids in the hangar. The entire flying into space thing was an unintentional consequence.
  3. Example: He tells them that humans are capable of transporting their bodies from place to place by mentally channeling certain physical energies. He means walking; the aliens think he means teleportation.
  4. but not the movie
  5. The problem here was that these cards were creature enchantments that could be played at instant speed, but if you did, they were sacrificed at the end of the turn. The idea was that you could use them to "save" a creature that was about to die, at the cost of the permanent benefit of the enchantment. However, the timing difference was crucial: If the card is sacrificed "at end of turn," the creature hasn't had its damage removed yet, so the effect of saving the creature is rendered moot. The fix was to say, essentially, "This has Substance until end of turn; when it loses Substance, sacrifice this." "Until end of turn" effects resolve at the actual, literal end of the turn, and the creature has had its damage removed by then. This no longer exists; as of the June 2009 rules overhaul, a special "at the beginning of the next cleanup step" trigger is used for these cards, which has (close enough to) the same timing as "until end of turn."