False Reassurance

Everything About Fiction You Never Wanted to Know.

"A violent death is the last thing that'll happen to you."

Sometimes you tell the truth and no one believes you. Other times you tell the truth sarcastically. False Reassurance is when you twist the truth into something that sounds reassuring, but is vague enough that it could mean anything. Veiled threats or veiled insults are the most common examples. And of course, the ever popular, "Sorry, Alice can't come to the phone right now; she's all tied up at the moment." A staple of the Lawful Evil villain.

It can also be used by good characters who have a secret to keep but can't or won't tell Blatant Lies. For example, Clark Kent telling Lois Lane, "Don't worry. Clark Kent won't be seen outside this tropical resort," implying that Superman, on the other hand, is going to go investigate the mysterious temple.

The key trope to many a Deal with the Devil. Subtrope to Double Meaning. Compare Half Truth, Exact Words, Stealth Insult, and You Said You Would Let Them Go. See also New Era Speech. Contrast Suspiciously Specific Denial and Empty Promise.

Examples of False Reassurance include:

Anime and Manga

  • In the Fullmetal Alchemist manga, Psycho for Hire Kimbley was under orders to kill Winry's parents because they treated patients on the enemy side, but they were killed by Scar shortly before Kimbley and co. could get there. When he meets Winry years later, he puts on a charming front, informing her that his squad found their bodies after arriving "a moment too late".
    • Another instance with Pride/Selim Bradley where he says to Mrs. Bradley that he wants to learn alchemy to help out his father. This is probably literally true, although he meant a different Father than his listener thought he did.
  • Xelloss from Slayers does this very well. Notable instances include his assurances that "I absolutely will not use the Claire Bible manuscript for evil purposes", "Lord Hellmaster didn't tell me his plan", and (novel only) "His heart isn't beating". All technically true, and yet entirely misleading: he planned to destroy, not use, the Claire Bible manuscript; Hellmaster didn't tell him the plan, but he quickly figured it out on his own; and the "he" in question is perfectly fine, as it is really a disguised Mazoku who only even has a heart when it wants to.
  • Used for good in an episode of the 1980s Astro Boy series. In order to avoid putting more stress on a young blind girl, Astro impersonates the destroyed robot True and states "I'm fine! I need to go rescue more people now!" This is all technically true—since robots can't normally lie—but it's not coming from the person she thinks it is.
    • So Astro became a false True?
      • Even better, True spent most of the episode reprogrammed so that he could only lie, rather than only being able to tell the truth.
  • In Hellsing's English dub, Rip van Winkle tells the captain who turned over his ship to Millennium in exchange for vampirism: "Don't worry, you definitely deserve everything that's coming to you."
  • This is basically how Schneizel el Britannia rolls.
  • Although the intent is fairly benevolent, Nozomu gives one to Kiri in an early episode of Sayonara, Zetsubou-sensei. He tells her, "If you ever feel like you want to die, let me know first." She seems to interpret this to mean "don't feel depressed, I'm here for you", but immediately after, we see Nozomu's actual meaning- because he likes Kiri, he adds her to his list of potential partners for a Suicide Pact.

Comic Books

  • In Doom Patrol, the Candlemaker promises Dorothy that it will revive Josh (who had just been killed by The Chief, if in exchange she will let it enter the physical world. Dorothy agrees and the Candlemaker does bring Josh back to life as promised, but it kills him immediately afterwards.
  • In The Ballad of Halo Jones, she enlists in an army that assures new recruits that most soldiers never see combat. Later, when she's jumping with a parachute from a plane into the battlefield, she's told that if she's lucky, she will be one of the few whose parachute works.
  • In All Fall Down, AIQ Squared promises his creator, IQ Squared, that "Nothing *on Earth* is unlawful about what's taking place."
  • In one of the later issues of The Boys, an argument between the main characters ends when one of them genially informs the others that there's no hard feelings and no real disagreement because "I killed the last bloke I disagreed with." Everyone laughs it off—except what the character in question doesn't reveal is that he actually did kill that person the previous night.


  • Captain Hook does this in both the Peter Pan movies by Disney. In the first, he promises Tinker Bell, "I give my word not to lay a finger -- or a hook -- on Peter Pan," so he tries to assassinate him with a bomb, which he explains when Smee asks why he doesn't just slit his throat. In the second, he promises Jane he won't harm a hair on Peter's head, meaning that when he plucks one hair from his head when he captures him, he can harm the rest of him.
  • In Sneakers, the hero, Martin, is captured by the villain, who is revealed to be his once-upon-a-time best friend Cosmo:

Cosmo: I cannot kill my friend. (turns to shotgun-carrying minion) Kill my friend.

Maid Marian: Oh Robin, promise me you won't go!
Robin: Very well. I promise you won't go.
Maid Marian: Oh Robin... wait... [puzzled frown]
Achoo: Ey Robin, but you just sai--
Robin: Cool it...

  • "I never drink... wine", from the 1931 film version of Dracula. Dracula doesn't point out to the poor sap offering him a glass of wine what he does drink.
  • On a related note, Claudia from Interview With the Vampire, presenting Lestat with two victims, says "I promise I'll take care of the bodies!" Yes, theirs and Lestat's, once she cuts his throat--they're dead, and dead blood weakens him to the point of helplessness.
  • The Wishmaster films, being the classic "Monkey's Paw" style stories, do this continuously.
  • Captain Barbossa does this repeatedly in the first Pirates of the Caribbean film. He promises Elizabeth that he will leave Port Royal if she turns over the medallion. She does, and he promptly leaves with her on board the Pearl because she never bargained to be returned to shore. Later on, he promised that he would release Elizabeth if Will took her place as his prisoner. He then makes Elizabeth walk the plank because Will never specified when or where she would be released. Just about any time a pirate agrees to adhere by "The Code", it's a false reassurance since it only applies among pirates, and it's more "guidelines" than actual rules.
  • Star Wars: Emperor Palpatine pulls one of these in Revenge of the Sith: "I am sending you my apprentice, Darth Vader. He will... take care of you."
  • In the 1960s version of That Darn Cat, Patti promises she won't go to the police. So she goes to the FBI instead.
  • In Sex & Death 101, Roderick (who has a list that accurately predicts every person he'll ever have sex with) is in a club with his friend Trixie when they spot Bambi Kidd and Thumper Wint, a celebrity Lipstick Lesbian power-couple. He takes a quick look at his list and finds that they're both on it.

Trixie: "Don't tell me one of em's on that fucking list. That list of fucking--"
Roderick: "No, one of them is not on the list".

  • The Penguin does this in Batman Returns when he uses a swarm of bats to force the Ice Princess off the edge of a building, resulting in her death:

Catwoman: "You said you were just going to scare the Ice Princess."
The Penguin: "She looked pretty scared to me!"

    • Almost the exact phrasing was used in one of the RoboCop movies, as well.
  • In Stardust, a witch promises Tristan that she'll deliver him to Wall "in the exact same condition you're in now," and that she'll give him food and lodging along the way. When he accepts, she turns him into a mouse, putting him into a cage with cheese (food and lodging), and turns him back when she gets to the town.
  • False Reassurance in Restraining Bolt form: In Demolition Man, Raymond Cocteau has Simon Phoenix programmed as a killing machine... but also unable to kill Cocteau. What he forgot to do was do the same to all the old cryo-cons Phoenix freed...

Simon Phoenix: "Will someone kill him, please? He's pissing me off."

  • X Men Origins Wolverine. Wolverine nearly throttles Colonel Stryker when he thinks he's lying. Styker swears that he's telling the truth "on the life of my son!" Of course, as we saw in X2: X-Men United, Stryker doesn't value his son's life very highly.
    • He does value the son pretty highly, actually. It's just a man/weapon relationship as opposed to father/son.
  • Used in Nanny McPhee, when the nanny knows that the children are faking illness to get out of getting up early, but plays along anyway. The father tells her that when caring for them to give them lots of sweets and whatever they wanted. She assures him that she'll give them "precisely what they need". She then goes and has the cook serve them soup with potato peelings and a turkey neck and gives them a disgusting medicine. Needless to say, they get better very quickly.
  • In The Godfather, during a meeting between the bosses of the Five Families, Don Vito Corleone swears upon the souls of his grandchildren that "I will not be the one to break the peace that we have made here today." When Vito dies and Michael takes over, all bets are off.
  • In Conspiracy, about the Wannsee Conference of Nazi Germany in 1942, one of the participants believes that the 'Final Solution to the Jewish Problem' that is being discussed will not involve their complete annihilation because Hitler has personally denied this to him. When it looks like the discussion is progressing in this fashion, he brings this up again in outrage—and the response from Reinhardt Heydrich, the chairman of the meeting, is to simply reply "and he will continue to do so." The participant comes to the dawning realization that Hitler was playing a False Reassurance in order to provide himself plausible deniability.
  • In Blade II, Blade kills a whole building full of vampires trying to find Whistler. He tells the one survivor, "Tell me where he is and I'll consider you a loose end." The survivor tells him and Blade lets him go. At the very end of the movie, Blade tracks him to a porno theater and says, "You didn't think I forgot about you?" before killing him. (After all, what do you do to loose ends?)
  • In Quigley Down Under, sharpshooter Quigley informs the Big Bad that he doesn't have much use for pistols. Turns out that's not quite the same thing as saying he's not good with a pistol...
  • In Ghost Rider Johnny makes a Deal with the Devil so his father doesn't die of cancer. That doesn't stop him from dying right after in an accident.
  • In Once Upon a Time in the West

Morton: Tell me, was it necessary that you kill all of them? I only told you to scare them.
Frank: People scare better when they're dying.


  • Used often in the Discworld novels:
    • In Going Postal, Reacher Gilt asks his butler (an Igor) "Do you think I'm insane, Igor?" Igor, like the rest of his clan, lives by a code that requires them to be honest to their masters and never directly disparage them, so after some thought he replies "I wouldn't find mythelf able to thay that, marthter."
    • An alternate interpretation is that Igor, like all of his clan, lisps. Therefore he couldn't say that anyone was insane.
    • A troll retrophrenologist tells a client, "This won't hurt a bit." Phrenology, As You Know, is the "science" of measuring bumps on a person's head and determining their personality traits. Retrophrenology works backwards, applying bumps to alter the patient's personality. It is known this doesn't work, but it provides employment and keeps money in circulation, so it all works out in the end. And for those who don't get the joke: no, it will not hurt "a bit". It will hurt a lot.
    • In Interesting Times, The Mole has failed his last mission, and so Lord Hong, mindful of his prior promise not to speak or write any order for the man's execution, folds an origami man without a head.
    • In Hogfather, when the Psychopathic Manchild finds that one of his flunkies is getting antsy about all the violent death, he tells him not to worry: "I'm on your side. A violent death is the last thing that'll happen to you." In fact Teatime was fond of using these, to the extent that one of his henchmen noticed, and tendered his resignation holding a crowbar. It didn't help.
    • In Thief of Time, the head of the Ankh-Morpork Watchmaker's Guild visits Jeremy Clockson to make sure Clockson is taking his medicine. Jeremy's assistant Igor assures him that he sees his master measure a dose of the stuff every morning. What Igor doesn't tell him is that Jeremy then pours it down the sink, because he finds he works better without it.
    • Sgt. Jackrum of Monstrous Regiment often spouted the catchphrase, "Upon my oath, I am not a dishonest man," before doing something unabashedly shady or, well, dishonest. This is no mere case of Hypocritical Humor, however, as Jackrum is actually a dishonest woman. Main character Polly Perks eventually figures this out.
    • Includes such variations as "Upon my oath I am not a violent man" while threatening people with a fatal skewering and "Upon my oath I am not a shouty man!" Bellowed, naturally. Most people coming face to face with Sgt. Jackrum who hear about his legendary pacifism decide not to test him.
    • Subverted in the narration of Lords and Ladies:

Elves are wonderful. They provoke wonder.
Elves are marvellous. They cause marvels.
Elves are fantastic. They create fantasies.
Elves are glamorous. They project glamour.
Elves are enchanting. They weave enchantment.
Elves are terrific. They beget terror.
The thing about words is that meanings can twist just like a snake, and if you want to find snakes look for them behind words that have changed their meaning.
No one ever said elves are nice.

    • Everyone knows that witches never lie. In Wyrd Sisters, Granny Weatherwax and Nanny Ogg use that belief to pull one over on basically the whole country, without ever telling an untruth. When Magrat calls them out on it, Granny responds, "We're bound to be truthful, but there's no call to be honest."
    • Rincewind sows discord among the Agathean soldiers in Interesting Times through Suspiciously Specific Denial, such as saying that the Silver Horde is not supported by a very specific number of bloodthirsty foreign ghosts. He is truthful, but not very many believe him. Lord Hong later accidentally validate Rincewind's claims by claiming that the intrusion of foreign ghosts have angered their own Agathean ghosts, who will be fighting on their side. The soldiers are less than enthusiastic about having ghosts on both sides, particularly since their own might be people they didn't part with on friendly terms... (It all has the result of many men deserting the army.)
  • The Cask of Amontillado has several; the most blatant:

Fortunato: I shall not die of a cough!
Montresor: True...

  • In one of the Black Widower mysteries by Isaac Asimov, a man renowned for never telling a lie denies an allegation of theft by repeatedly claiming he did not take the cash or the securities from the safe. This lasts until Henry, the Black Widowers' waiter, asked him if he took the cash and the securities from the safe.
  • In The Princess Bride, Prince Humperdinck obtains Westley's surrender only by swearing to Buttercup that he will not hurt him. The Prince immediately turns aside to explain that he will be a man of his word and let someone else torture Westley while he watches. In a mild subversion, the Prince ultimately does break his word after all; it's the prince who turns The Machine all the way up to 50 and mostly kills Westley.
  • In the Robert A. Heinlein novel Glory Road, it is mentioned that Star never lies. However, it is also mentioned that she an expert in telling the truth in a way that you are led to believe something else.
    • In another Heinlein novel, Between Planets, the main character is told by one of the villains that his friend died of heart failure. He later realizes that all forms of death involve one's heart failing at some point.
  • Many, conceivably most, of his lines across various depictions of the radiant angel Morningstar. Even his appearance might count.
  • The Aes Sedai order in Robert Jordan's The Wheel of Time series swear a mystical oath that they will "never speak a word that is not true". Unfortunately, most of them become—by necessity—masters of obfuscated speech and false reassurances. Ultimately, the oath that is meant to reassure the populace of the Aes Sedai's good intentions merely makes them distrustful of even the most straightforward statement. Everyone suspects that when an Aes Sedai speaks plainly, it means she's already figured out how to get around it.
    • People can also get False Reassurance from Aes Sedai as it is revealed that they can say something they believe to be true which is actually a load of bollocks. Thus people can occasionally say "I know such and such is true as that Aes Sedai said it" (if they aren't dismissive right of the bat) when the Aes Sedai may just be mistaken or an idiot (or both).
      • In yet another way to get False Reassurance from an Aes Sedai: Aes Sedai who have sold their souls to the Big Bad have their previous oaths removed, so they can lie with impunity.
      • Finally, the Black Ajah swear new oaths, so there's another form of False Reassurance, because the literal wording of the oath is that they'll never reveal their secrets until the hour of their death, so if you're good with poison...
  • In the first novel of Redwall, Matthias negotiates a hostage crisis with Big Bad Cluny by saying that he (Matthias) will come down from the tower if Cluny releases the hostage. Cluny does, and Matthias does so; but, as he points out, he didn't say that he wouldn't first cut the rope holding the Abbey's huge bell in place and crush Cluny underneath it with enough force to split the bell in two.
  • The High Crusade has a late medieval English monk swear in Mohammed's name that his liege is telling the truth.
  • Inversion: In E. R. Eddison's The Worm Ouroboros, Lord Gro at one point says "Oaths bind not an ill man. Were I minded to do you ill, then lightestly would I swear any oath you might require, then lightestly in the next moment be forsworn." Then he proceeds to not betray the protagonist he says that to, and remain true until the end of the book, when he switches sides ineffectually in the last battle for no reason and gets pointlessly slaughtered.
  • John Dickson Carr does this in his mystery novel The Nine Wrong Answers in the form of footnotes that can be misleading at best, and a razor thin edge from outright lies at worst.
  • In Simon Spurrier's Warhammer 40,000 Night Lords novel Lord of the Night, Sahaal recounts the story of his primarch to a loyal servant of the Emperor, concluding that "He is dead. He was betrayed by one who should have loved him." She is moved to tears. He had, after all, left out that the "one who should have loved him" was the Emperor.
  • Subverted in Frank Herbert's Dune. Baron Harkonnen promised Dr. Yueh that if Yueh betrayed the Atreides he would stop torturing Yueh's wife Wanna and allow Yueh to join her. After Yueh does so, the Baron has Yueh killed, as he had done earlier with Wanna, thus carrying out his promise to the letter. It turns out Yueh knew about the Baron's plan and made preparations to let Paul and Jessica escape and have Duke Leto kill the Baron.
  • In Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Harry reluctantly comes up with a plan to get Griphook the Goblin to assist them in finding one of the Horcruxes. As Griphook will accept payment only in the form of the Sword of Godric Gryffindor (which they still rather need), he promises he will be given the sword, without specifying exactly when he would give it to him. The Goblin, however, isn't stupid, and this plan backfires spectacularly for Harry.
    • But not for Neville, who pulls it out of the Sorting Hat right when he needs it most. Only a true Gryffindor, indeed.
  • An entire literary device. The omniscient narrator (author) tells us some information about the future which is true but which misleads the reader's expectations. John Irving likes this one and T. C. Boyle gives a (non-reassuring) example. 'I never wrote to her again'. This implies they never see each other again, but instead he simply visits (though as the ending implies they will get married and have kids, we assume he will never even send her a postcard or an e-mail).
  • In the Andrew Vachss Burke book Terminal, a case is recounted where an AIDS-positive Nigerian who wants to have sex with a virgin teen is assured that he will not die of his disease - because Burke and co. shoot him dead before he can get what he wants.
    • Technically, nobody ever dies of AIDS. Instead, they die of other diseases and complications that get past their deficient immune system.
  • In David Weber's WarGod series, Lady Leeana asks her mother for permission to go riding. Mother wants to make sure that Leeana is planning on taking her guards along, and Leeana assures her mother that she knows that she won't be able to go riding unless her bodyguard goes riding too. She's planning to run away from home, and she knows that unless she gets rid of her bodyguard by sending him out riding on a long errand, he'll try to stop her.
  • In Erast Fandorin novel The State Councellor Big Bad gives to Fandorin a Hannibal Lecture and then offers a choice: fight him, join him or just keep silent. Fandorin choose to keep silent. Where is the catch? Fandorin holds information that could save Big Bad's life.
  • The Dresden Files:

Harry: Hands off the Fist of God.

    • Changes: The Red King pulls this on Harry. When Harry points out that said vampire promised that Maggie wouldn't be harmed, he replies that he only promised to do so until Harry's duel with Arianna was over. Now that it's over, he's free to harm her all he wants.
  • When he asks to have a private word with Narses during a meeting on neutral ground, Belisarius Series swears to the Malwa commander Damodara that nothing they will discuss will involve harm to Damodara. Damodara is, however, Genre Savvy enough to comment to Narses afterward that he realized that Belisarius made a Suspiciously Specific Denial in promising no harm would come to Damodara but didn't mention anything about the Malwa Empire in general.
  • In Mike Lee's Warhammer Fantasy Battle Time Of Legends novel Nagash The Sorcerer, Nagash does a particularly devious one on Queen Neferem, promising never to hurt her son again. He's telling the truth, because he already killed him and absorbed his soul.
  • In Deception Point, the aquaphobic protagonist is already nervous at the thought of going onto a boat and gets even more nervous when she learns it's smack dab in the middle of hammerhead shark infested waters. To calm her, her love interest asks the helicopter pilot when was the last time they saved someone from a hammerhead attack, to which the pilot answers "Decades." However, he then immediately mentions an "idiot skin diver" last month, prompting the protagonist to say "You said you hadn't saved anyone in decades!" "Yeah, saved anyone. Usually we're too late. Those bastards kill in a hurry".
  • Alistair MacLean's Breakheart Pass has a moment when the young lady irritably tells a villain that the alleged murderer (actually a federal agent) he's searching for isn't hiding under her bed. He isn't — he's hiding under the covers of her bed, which she deliberately rumpled in a way that hides the fact there's a tall man beneath them ... especially since she's in the bed, too, in order to block much of the view of those covers. Once the villain has apologetically left, the agent expresses great admiration for her truthfulness.

Live-Action TV

  • On Heroes, DL asks Niki about her intentions. Unbeknownst to him, Niki's psychotic alter ego Jessica is in control and has murder in mind. Niki answers: "I promise you, I won't do anything I wouldn't want to."
  • In the Doctor Who episode "Boom Town", Margaret Blaine assures the citizens of Cardiff that the new nuclear power plant will cause no harm as long as she's walking the Earth. This is technically true, since she is an alien in disguise and plans to leave the planet before the meltdown occurs.
    • In the serial The Three Doctors, the Third Doctor says to Omega, "We will not leave here before you do." Omega assumes this means they will stay there with him. It doesn't.
    • From "Flesh and Stone"-

Father Octavian: Do you trust this man?
River Song: I absolutely trust him.
Father Octavian: He's not some kind of madman, is he?
River Song: ...I absolutely trust him.

    • Played with, in that Octavian is savvy enough to pick on her hedging and is not impressed; he chews her out and promises that if she's wrong she'll regret it.
  • In the first episode of The Sarah Jane Adventures, this is combined with All-Natural Snake Oil. "Contains Bane. It's organic!" Technically true, but "organic" doesn't necessarily mean "something you'd want to ingest"—when's the last time you tried eating live scorpions, for example?
      • In chemistry, "organic" means nothing more nor less than "contains carbon molecules." Hydrogen cyanide (HCN)? Totally organic.
  • The Twilight Zone: -- "To Serve Man... it's a cookbook!"
  • A soul-eating Velvet in Neverwhere gives a Shout-Out to Dracula as she declines a normal meal: "I do not eat... curry."
  • In an episode of Father Ted the title character complains that when his friend said he would "take care" of the rabbits that had overrun the parochial house he assumed he meant it in "a Julie Andrews way, not an Al Pacino way."
  • An episode of The Sarah Connor Chronicles has Cromartie reassure a terrified thief that Sarah won't kill him for betraying the heroes to Cromartie, as she had threatened when she spared his life. The audience is fully aware that this is because Cromartie will kill the thief himself as soon as he knows where the heroes are living.
  • The Pilot of Lois and Clark. When Lex Luthor tells you "Your final payment is in the helicopter. I assure you there won't be any loose ends." you should probably take a cab.
  • Francis Urquhart of House of Cards (British series) makes this into an art form. When he tells loose cannon subordinate Roger, "By Sunday you won't have to worry about anything ever again. That's a promise", he actually means he's going to lace Roger's coke with bleach while Roger's staying with him over the weekend.
  • In one episode of Legend of the Seeker, Darken Rahl says a merchant with information on the Seeker's whereabouts will be rewarded so that, "He will never want for anything in this world." Three guesses what happens when he gives up the information, and the first two don't count.
    • Rahl seems to like this one. In an earlier episode, he "reassures" a dying queen (after he slices her arm open from wrist to elbow) that her daughter will spend all her time surrounded by priceless jewels... because he's going to have her work as a slave in some diamond mines.
  • Battlestar Galactica: Number Six to a baby - "There, there. It's okay. You're not going to have to cry much longer."
  • On Lost, Jack asks Ben if he knew that Locke committed suicide. Ben says he didn't know that. Because Locke didn't commit suicide, Ben killed him.
    • Played with later. Jack calls Ben out, saying that he had said Locke hadn't come to him. Ben says that that is true--he had come to Locke. The thing is, even though that was the correct course of events, what Ben had actually said was that he hadn't seen Locke since they were on the Island. Jack, of course, accepts this.
  • Castle: "The Double Down" features a double-whammy as Beckett and Castle question a suspect:

Suspect: You guys have any suspects at all, yet?
Castle: [Looking right at him] We're looking at someone right now.

    • And:

Suspect: You're not accusing me of killing my wife again, are you?
Beckett: I can assure you we are 100% certain you did not kill Ashley. (He actually arranged to do a Strangers On A Train-style murder-swap with someone else -- and they know it)

  • White Collar: Neal borrows an FBI jacket from Peter, after promising that he won't pretend to be an FBI agent. Cut to Mozzie wearing the jacket and impersonating an agent instead.
  • The Vampire Diaries, "A Few Good Men". Damon is gloating to one person while sounding innocent to everyone else:

Damon: I had a drink with her once. She was a great girl. I ever tell you that? 'Cause she was... delicious. Mmm.

  • Your more devious characters on Dollhouse are prone to this.

Adelle, in Episode 6: This one will probably... struggle.

  • Jack uses this when Nina panics about a terrorist killing her then himself when she is forced to cooperate.

"We'll make sure he doesn't turn the gun on himself."

    • Of course, this is in no way intended to reassure her.
  • Justified, "Bulletville": Similar to the Sneakers example above.

Bo: Who'm I kidding. I can't hurt my own son. Johnny, hurt my son.

  • When testing the new Ferrari against the F430 it replaced, Jeremy promised James that he would not drive his (James') Ferrari F430 quickly. He never said anything about The Stig, however.
  • In an episode of the 60's Batman, the Joker has captured Batman and Robin and asked them if they could swim. He put them in a smokestack and told them he would let them go if they could stay afloat for an hour. He then starts to fill the stack with poison gas instead of water. Robin calls him out on this, but Batman points out the Joker never said anything about using water.

Robin:But you can't float in gas!

    • Which would have been much better if he filled the room up to their ankles in water, they would be standing on the bottom, not floating.
  • In Sons of Anarchy, a guy being questioned by Bobby, Tig, and Opie turns out to have screwed up the business deal he was supposed to set up for the Sons, thereby outliving his usefulness to the club. However, Bobby says he won't kill him if he tells the truth about his role in the murder of one of the Sons' wives. After the guy tells him the truth, Opie and Tig kill him.
  • On an episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation, Captain Picard suddenly realizes that Lwaxana Troi has an ulterior motive in inviting him to dinner and, seeking an escape, invites Data to join them for dessert and conversation. Lwaxana protests, but Picard assures her she'll be fascinated by Data's small talk.

Picard: Commander Data's after-dinner conversations are legendary aboard the Enterprise. (Cut to Lwaxana looking like she wants someone to kill her as Data rambles on in a lecture concerning orbital mechanics...complete with computer graphics.)

Myth, Legend and Religion

  • In many versions of Arthurian legend, Guinevere and several knights are kidnapped by Maleagant, who is in love with the queen. Thinking she is loyal to her husband, however, he cannot bring himself to touch her, and instead sets her up in the best room in his castle, leaving the wounded knights in the chamber just outside hers. Lancelot, of course, comes to save his Damsel in Distress, but doesn't waste the opportunity to climb in her bedroom window and sleep with her while Arthur isn't around. Only problem is, he hurts his hand and leaves blood on the sheets. Maleagant sees this and is angry at Guinevere for pretending to be faithful to her husband. Her response? She swears up and down she didn't sleep with any of the knights "outside her door".
  • In another Arthurian story, King Mark, suspecting his wife Isolde is unfaithful, has her Bound and Gagged, and dragged back to the palace. When they need to ford a river, a wandering hermit helps her across. Afterwards she swears that she has been in the arms of no man except her husband and, obviously, the hermit. The hermit was her lover, Sir Tristram, in disguise.
    • Another version exists that follows the same story, except that as they're crossing the river, the hermit (Tristram) stumbles and falls down between Isolde's legs. Thus, she can ever swear that Mark and the hermit are the only men to ever have lain between her thighs.
    • And in Arthur, King of Time and Space, the story is retold exactly in the baseline arc, and then we switch to the space arc, where Isolde simply says she's been in the arms of no man except her husband. It doesn't occur to Mark to suspect the Gender Flipped Dame Tristram.

Newspaper Comics

  • A Dilbert strip had the Pointy-Haired Boss putting Wally in charge of a group he was going to eliminate. Wally freaks out when he realizes that he's going to be fired too, and the PHB says he will not fire him. At which point Dilbert walks in, and the PHB walks off thinking "That would be a job for executive director Dilbert."


  • In Series 5 of Old Harrys Game, Hell is overcrowded, leading to a workforce on strike and Satan spending a lot of time in the mortal world trying to slow the flood a bit. One of the new arrivals, Roland, sees this "an opportunity" he can use to take over. When Satan returns, Roland offers to help, saying "If you let me talk to the demons, you won't have anything to worry about ever again."

Tabletop Games

  • In Magic: The Gathering, Dimir Doppelganger is a shapeshifter that takes the form of dead creatures. Its flavor text? "Fear not, your life will not go unlived."
  • This is the modus operandi of Hansel and Gretel from Grimm. They lure in children by promising that they will be safe from witches with them. This is technically true—they'll be fed to the malevolent oven that enslaved Hansel and Gretel and the witch before them long before witches can do anything to the children.


  • In Pirates, or Gilbert and Sullivan Plunder'd, an adaptation of The Pirates of Penzance, Frederick needs to marry a virgin to free himself from a curse. Ruth reassures him that she hasn't been subject to any unwanted advances from the other pirates, and hasn't succumbed to any one of them... emphasis on "unwanted" and "one".
  • It'll take an expert to tell if this is a good example or just has the airs of one, but Marlowe's Doctor Faustus.

Mephistophilis: And then be thou as great as Lucifer.

  • Part two of Shakespeare's Henry IV has an alliance of rebels (no, not that one) parleying with John of Lancaster, son of King Henry. They present him with a list of grievances, and John assures them that he will take the list directly to his father so they can be addressed. The rebels are satisfied and dismiss their army. John vows that they will "lie tonight together" ... then has them all arrested for treason and orders his army to ride down the now scattering soldiers of the enemy.

I promis'd you redress of these same grievances
Whereof you did complain; which, by mine honour,
I will perform with a most Christian care.
But for you, rebels—look to taste the due
Meet for rebellion and such acts as yours.


  • The classic joke: An old man on his deathbed is surrounded by his family: His wife of many years, and his three sons, two of which are strong, handsome men, the third is somewhat scrawny. As the man is breathing his last, he asks the sons to leave the room so he can talk privately to his wife. "My dear," he says, "I do not wish to pass from this world with any doubt, please tell me, for this has vexed me for many years, my third son, so unlike the other two, is he really mine? Do not lie to me as I lay dying!" The wife takes a deep breath. "I swear to you, he is truly yours." And, with that, the man dies satisfied. The wife breathes a sigh of relief. "Thank God he didn't ask about the other two!"
  • Another classic: A prince spots a humble peasant toiling in the fields and notices a startling resemblance between them.

"Say, did your mother ever work at the palace?"
"No, but my father did."

  • A woman stands by her very wealthy husband at his deathbed. In front of the entire family, he makes his last request; "I would like to be buried with my money." After a few moments of internal struggle, the woman nods and promises she'll bury her husband with his wealth. A few days go by as the funeral preparations are done, and the whole town is abuzz, wondering whether or not she'll actually give up the fortune on a dying old man's whim. At the funeral, all watch as the wife goes up and places a small envelope in her husband's coffin. When asked about it later, she tells the townsfolk "I gave him my word that I'd give him his money. A good wife always follows her word. I wrote him a check."

Video Games

Dr. Nefarious: To think, Lawrence, they said I was insane. But we'll see who's insane when my ameboids destroy all the life on this planet!
Lawrence: Yes sir, that should clear things right up.

  • One of many quotable lines in Portal spouted by GLaDOS is "As part of a previously mentioned required test protocol, we can no longer lie to you. When the testing is over, you will be... missed."
    • With Chell trapped on a platform slowly sliding into a large fire pit: "All Aperture technologies remain safely operational up to 4000 degrees Kelvin. Rest assured that there is absolutely no chance of a dangerous equipment malfunction prior to your victory candescence."
    • Early on GLaDOS informs you that it will no longer enhance the truth "in three, two, *static*". Since the countdown never finished, it's technically free of the promise.
  • In Betrayal at Krondor, Gorath and Owyn need to rescue someone enslaved as a mine worker. Gorath's plan? Pretend to offer Owyn into slavery, get both grabbed as slaves, find the person they need to rescue, and then swim out through the underground river that runs through the mine. Where the air and water is tainted with sometimes lethal amounts of napalm gas. While Gorath supposedly knows of people who escaped in such a way, Owyn is, understandably, a bit sceptical.

Owyn: "No one has ever died doing this?"
Gorath: "I have met none that have."

  • Shigeru Miyamoto once described an (at the time) unrevealed Super Mario Bros. game with the mysterious phrase "If an onlooker were to see the game, he'd probably think that Luigi is the main character". That game? Luigi's Mansion - he never said the onlooker would be wrong.
  • In Silent Hill 3 the mysterious voice serving as the tour guide in the "haunted house" has plenty of these moments.

Voice: (After a spike ceiling stopped just inches before killing you) "I?m so sorry. This place is just falling apart. The mechanism is broken, you see. It wasn't supposed to stop there, I assure you."

Bernard: "Have any people been hurt in this?"
Dr. Fred: "Of course not! This is the first time I've tried it with people!"

  • In Fate Stay Night's Fate route, the Holy Grail War takes sudden turn for the worse once an eighth Servant shows up and turns out to have won the Superpower Lottery. When explaining this to the supervisor of the Grail War, he responds that this is something he cannot ignore, and that he will look into it. And indeed he can't; the Servant is his, and has just blown its cover by wandering off on its own.
  • In Jays Journey, Puff literally Can Not Tell a Lie, so when Farinade asks him who he's traveling with, he says that he's traveling with a moron who isn't the guy that Farinade is looking for. Good thing Farinade doesn't think to ask if Puff is traveling with anyone else.
  • The NES game Uninvited featured a segment where you meet a lady dressed like Scarlett O'Hara, faced behind. All to a chipper tune, and she said "Thank you for coming back to me, my love. You will be mine forever". Doesn't sound so horrid even for the Haunted House setting. Grab her attention, then chipper tune turns into Hell Is That Noise, you see her real face then she horribly kills you.
  • Full Throttle features one of these in the opening sequence:

Malcolm Corley: I know what your plan is, Ripburger. You're waiting for me to die so you can take over my company!
Adrian Ripburger: *Chuckling* Sir, that's horrible. I am not waiting for you to die!

  • In Assassin's Creed Brotherhood, Cesare assures Francesco Troche that he will not kill the latter, before getting Micheletto to kill the chump instead.
  • Fear Effect: Retro Helix has a scene at the beginning where a No Name Given Corrupt Corporate Executive essentially promises Deke, "Do this job for us, and we will cure your condition permanently." Deke has EINDS (think AIDS), and he has been doing assassinations for this guy in exchange for medication to improve his life span. Deke does the job, and the guy and his goons try to kill him off in a You Have Outlived Your Usefulness moment. In hindsight, I suppose your condition would be permanently cured if you're dead!


Fighter: "Hey, guys. Do you think I'm dumb?"
Thief: "I can honestly say I do not think that you're dumb."

    • Red Mage reassures Thief that his precious treasure shall be "preserved", without expounding on his plan to freeze the universe containing the treasure (and nigh-unstoppable fire demoness) in never-melting ice. It's a basically correct statement.
      • It then turned out to be another sense of "false" reassurance when White Mage shattered the bag of holding and its contents to have revenge on the demoness for killing Black Belt. Thief had a "Heroic" BSOD at the sight.
  • The Order of the Stick pulls this more than a few times:
    • After the party fails an attempt to escape from prison, the highly Lawful character Durkon states that "the five of us never left our cells"—which is true, because Durkon refused to follow when his four fellow party members left. When questioned about the unlocked cell doors, he truthfully responds "'Twas a mechanical defect"—he counts "able to be picked by a rogue" as a mechanical defect, and given that she had only improvised tools and a +2 love bonus to do it with, it's not even that much of a stretch.
    • Celia finds a suspicious magic-user while looking for someone who could resurrect Roy. She uses the skill "Sense Motive" to ensure that he was not lying when he said he would not transform Roy into an undead creature. He intends to turn him into a bone golem, which is not technically undead, in the same way ketchup is technically a fruit.
    • After Haley kills Crystal and returns with Crystal's knife, all she says to Celia is "Oh, she said I could have it" - which she did, but it had been intended as an insult rather than a genuine offer.
    • And of course, the Oracle does this all the time. Justified, though, since can only answer questions exactly as worded.
    • In this one Old Blind Pete told Crystal that he hadn't seen Haley. She never figures it out.
  • This Irregular Webcomic strip shows False Reassurance in action. The library mentioned was just destroyed by a series of traps.
  • In DMFA, Voluntary Shapeshifting and impersonation are fun!
  • The ship computer in Freefall goes at it too.
  • There is a widely-distributed one-panel comic of a Mad Evilutionary Biologist rubbing his hands together in glee as he exclaims, "If I can create life in the laboratory, it will prove no intelligence is required!"
  • Sluggy Freelance, a mole, a suicidally overconfident Super Soldier hunting operation: "I hope you find her. Each and every one of you."
    • Also this one, although the problem is more that Sam is stupid than the promise is too specific.
  • Averted in Schlock Mercenary:

Kevyn: Assuming, of course, that you're not just planning to throw them out of the airlock on a crazy whim.
Lota: Lota is not susceptible to crazy whims, commander.
Kevyn: Oh good. Now what about premeditated atrocities?

    • Also played straight, though briefly:

Kevyn: Are you killing me?
Howard Tayler: No.
Kevyn: Oh. Goo--
Howard Tayler: Blood loss is killing you.

  • Homestuck has Aradia playing this to the hilt, before the Sgrub game gets started. She got Sollux to put it together from alien technology and told him that it was to save the world and make sure that everyone didn't die when the apocalypse hit. This was, technically, true: Aradia just never got around to mentioning, until it was far too late for Sollux to do anything, that the world she meant wasn't theirs - and that "make sure everyone doesn't die" isn't the same as "more than twelve survivors". He's not happy when he finds out; Aradia is okay with this.
  • From Panthera:

Reynder: Don't worry, the nausea will pass in a moment.
Taylor: Uh, that's good, I guess...
Reynder: It will be replaced by nearly unbearable agony.

  • In one strip of Dominic Deegan, Randy writes a song about Luna, and how she saved him from screwing up his life. It's bad. He shows it to Taz to get some outside opinion.

Taz: There's nothing that can be misinterpreted as offensive.

Schaefer: *sigh* You made the place explode, didn't you.
Virus: I can categorically say, no, we didn't make it explode.

Web Original

  • In this NSFW chat log, in order to Troll someone on Skype, the poster poses as Princess Celestia from My Little Pony Friendship Is Magic and replies literally... without mentioning this to the stranger.
  • Dragon Ball Abridged movie, TFS Movie: Lord Slug Abridged has Popo telling Kami that he doesn't torture cats. Given what Mr. Popo is in the Dragon Ball Abridged setting, that isn't much reassurance for anything else.
    • In the series proper, finding himself outmatched against Freeza, Vegeta asks Krillin to "almost kill him" (since Saiyans become stronger every time they're beaten to near death). Krillin is confused as hell and asks if there are "no reprecussions for that". Vegeta replies that he "will not punch [him]". Krillin notes that as "oddly specific".

Western Animation

Principal Skinner: "I've got a gut feeling Uter's around here somewhere. In fact, isn't there a little Uter in all of us? In fact, you could say that we ate Uter, and he's in our stomachs right now! ...wait, scratch that one."

    • Played straight in "Lisa On Ice", where Lisa's panicked vision of the future sees her condemned to 'a lifetime of horror on Monster Island' by a judge who reassures her: 'Don't worry, it's just a name.' Cut to Lisa and a number of other prisoners being chased by fire-breathing monsters; one of her fellow captives explains: 'What he meant is that Monster Island is actually a peninsula."
    • Likewise, in "Lisa the Vegatarian" there is Troy McClure's "Meat and You - Partners in Freedom", which features this little gem:

Troy: Come on, Jimmy! Let's take a peek at the killing floor.
Jimmy: (gasp)
Troy: Don't let the name throw you, Jimmy. It's not really a floor, it's more of a steel grating that allows material to sluice through so it can be collected and exported.

  • Danny Phantom: In the episode "Reality Trip," Freakshow kidnaps Danny's, Tucker's, and Sam's parents to force them to bring him the Reality Gems. When they do, he still traps them all on a roller-coaster Death Course, after reminding Danny that the deal was, "If you want to see your parents alive again..." which he just did.
  • In Batman: Mask of the Phantasm, mobster Salvatore Valestra is desperate enough to ask the Joker for help when someone's killing his associates. The Joker's response: "Certemonte! No way is anybody going to hurt my pal Sal! That's what I like to see, a nice big smile!" And of course, Mr J ensures the killer doesn't have a chance to hurt Sal, and Sal stays smiling, in his own unique fashion.
  • Garfield and Friends: Roy spent an episode with The Buddy Bears where they dropped sixteen ton safes on him whenever he did something different from the group. At the end of that episode, Roy got them to agree into not throwing him one sixteen ton safe. They dropped two. In a later episode when he's around them again, they assure him that they do not have any sixteen ton safes. Instead, when they inevitably drop a safe on him, it's twenty-seven tons. And before that they threw other stuff.
    • In another episode, Garfield promises Nermal he won't mail him to Abu Dhabi anymore. He then puts him in box labeled "To North Pole" and sets it outside. In yet another episode, Jon mail ordered something and told Garfield not to bother the mailman. Garfield was planning to bother the garbageman.
  • Justice League Unlimited: In the episode "The Doomsday Sanction", Amanda Waller demotes Professor Milo. To get revenge, he attempts to bargain with Doomsday with the knowledge that Waller fabricated his desire to kill Superman. Doomsday replies that, if Milo lets him go, he "will solve both our problems". Milo releases Doomsday, who promptly kills him and then goes after Superman.

Doomsday: Your problem's solved.

  • In The Princess and the Frog, Tiana's mom shows up at the restaurant as Tiana looks at it, and Tiana's excitement is decidedly not infectious.

Tiana: Doesn't it just make you want to cry?
Tiana's Mom: (Beat) Yes...

  • Chris McLean of the Total Drama series loves this trope, often using it to explain the challenges. The cast eventually wises up to this... somewhat.

Chris: Your challenge begins with a dive off beautiful Wherever-we-are Falls into the lagoon far below.
Noah: Which is full of what, sharks?
Chris: Nope. (contestants sigh in relief) Electric eels and sharks!

  • In one episode of King of the Hill, Hank is trying to blow the whistle on a local beer company, and the president threatens to sue him.

President: I'm not a litigious man Mr. Hill. That's what I have lawyers for. Now get out before I throw you out.
Hank: Are you threatening me?
President: I'm not a violent man, Mr. Hill. That's what I have security guards for.

Buzz: I just wanted to let you know that even though you tried to terminate me, revenge is not an idea we promote on our planet.
Woody: Oh, that's good.
Buzz: But we're not on my planet, are we?

  • Gravity Falls:
    • In one episode, Standford takes Dipper to explore an alien spaceship that crashed in prehistoric times. He assures Dipper that the aliens have been dead for billions of years. But then he adds, "Probably".
    • Bill Cypher does something similar in the Grand Finale. After turning most of the townsfolk to stone, he uses them to build a sort of throne, then assures a henchman that the victims are not conscious. Only to add, "probably". It becomes clear then that he's lying.
  • In an episode of Duck Tales, Scrooge is surprised and upset at the sight of Gyro's Humungous Mechas that he built for a construction project, the memory of the android he built that tried to conquer humanity still fresh in his head:

Gyro (Speaking from the mecha's cockpit): That was different Mr. McDuck, that robot had a computer for a brain. With this robot, I'm the brain!
Scooge: I'm not sure that's an improvement.

Real Life

  • Is it ever truly reassuring to hear a doctor - or dentist - say, "this won't hurt"?
  • In To Catch a Predator. Many episodes featured suspects asking the question "Are you going to arrest me?" Only to have Chris Hansen respond with "I'm not going to arrest you." and later have a police Officer arrest them instead.
  • The classic political one (mentioned several times on this wiki) is the Finnish president assuring the Germans in World War II that he most assuredly would not seek a separate peace with the Soviets. And he didn't. The next president after he resigned, on the other hand...
  • According to historian David Irving, the one who turned out to be a fricking Nazi, a British wartime MP asked in Parliament whether night bombings of Germany had adopted a policy of indiscriminately targeting civilians. He was told, completely accurately, that the policy had not been changed to this. He persisted, and was told "I said there had been no change in policy."
  • Another example (details are sketchy) but a woman asked Mussolini's government to return her imprisoned husband to her. They did... Chopped up in a suitcase.
  • An old story about Czar Ivan the Terrible has him promise a rebellious city that, if they surrender, not one drop of the inhabitants' blood will stain the ground. So when he slaughters every living soul in the city, he makes sure to do it indoors.
    • Somewhat similarly, when the Mongols captured Baghdad, out of respect for the caliph's semi-royal ancestry they put him into a watertight bag before trampling him to death with horses. That way none of his sanctified blood was spilled on the ground.
  • As mentioned above, nobody dies of AIDS. What they die of are unrelated bacteria or viruses that can proliferate unchecked by their much weakened immune system.
  • There's a ferry ride in Maine where the captain, over the speaker, mentions falling overboard, but humorously reassures everyone that "No one drowns off the coast of Maine. You freeze to death long before you drown."