Created By: neoYTPism on November 21, 2010 Last Edited By: SKJAM on February 21, 2012

If You Give An Inch They'll Take A Mile

Giving someone a small concession leads to them asking for larger concessions.

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Trope
"If you give a mouse a cookie, he's going to ask for a glass of milk."

Giving someone a small concession leads to them asking for larger concessions.

Greed is cumulative, and giving in to it often causes more greed. Thus, once a person has been given something small, they will often ask for more, or even demand it. In fiction, this can lead to ever-increasing demands and the giver being cleaned out of whatever it was they were generous with.

This principle is often used in the Slippery Slope Fallacy, where it's depicted as an inevitable process that cannot be stopped or reversed once you begin. In reality, the giver can often say "no" at any time. It's also related to Moving the Goalposts, in which one party changes an agreement to set more conditions or to get greater profit.

This goes by many names, including the Camel's Nose.

Examples:

Anime and Manga
  • In a Petshop Of Horrors chapter/episode, the adoptive parents of a cute little bunny/girl are warned to only feed it natural vegetables and clean water. But it begs so cutely for a cookie that they just can't resist. Just one couldn't hurt, right? Pretty soon it's gobbled down their entire supply of sweets and artificially flavored foods...and then the nightmare really begins.

Film
  • Cited but averted in Fast Break (starring Gabe Kaplan). Kaplan is a deli manager. Early in the film a homeless vet comes in asking for a handout. Kaplan says "I'm not going to see you tomorrow, and the day after, and the day after that, right?" Homeless man agrees, and Kaplan orders an order of knishes to go for the vet.

Folklore
  • There's an old fable about a man in a tent and a camel. When it rained, the camel asked if he could stick his nose in the tent out of the rain. The man agreed. The camel kept asking to come further and further into the tent, until the camel was completely inside. But then the tent was too crowded, so the camel threw the man out.
  • In Chinese culture, the "inch-mile" saying corresponds to the expression De Long Wang Shu, which is a quotation from the Book of Later Han about a Chinese general who took over Long (now Gansu) only to pursue further southwards into Shu (now Sichuan).

Literature
  • Charlie and the Chocolate Factory: Verruca Salt just got her Golden Ticket. Thanks Dad. 2 seconds later she wants another pony.
  • Is the entire point of If You Give a Mouse a Cookie.

Music
  • Aki Sirkesalo, Finnish pop/Schlager singer has a song, where "I gave [her my] pinky, she took the whole hand" is a metaphor for a female sexual predator. The song's called Naispaholainen, meaning "she-devil".

Newspaper Comics

Real Life
  • It's the British government's entire position on kidnappings. Most recently seen in the case of Paul and Rachel Chandler.

Theater
  • This is a pair of lines in {{Evita]], in the song "Peron's Latest Flame."

Western Animation
  • In South Park, Cartman accuses the Family Guy owners of caving in to the manatee employees who will simply want even more concessions--it's a metaphor for not giving in to terrorists.
  • Disney's ''The Little Mermaid": "Teenagers. You give them an inch, they swim all over."

Community Feedback Replies: 45
  • November 21, 2010
    ParadiscaCorbasi
    Normal term for this is "Give them an inch, they'll take a mile."
  • November 26, 2010
    neoYTPism
    Are you recommending that as a title instead? @ Paradisca Corbasi
  • November 27, 2010
    ParadiscaCorbasi
    No, just indicating that that's the most common colloquial usage. It'd make an alternate title, but not suggesting it as a replacement.
  • November 27, 2010
    DannyVElAcme
    This is the mantra of any drug dealer worth his salt.
  • November 27, 2010
    dotchan
  • November 27, 2010
    randomsurfer
    This is not Chain Of Deals.
  • November 27, 2010
    Generality
    This is the reason people are told never to give in to a ransomer. They'll just keep the captive and demand even more money. (I have no idea if this is real police protocol though)
  • November 27, 2010
    Bisected8
    ^It's the British government's entire position on kidnappings. Most recently seen in the case of Paul and Rachel Chandler.
  • November 28, 2010
    neoYTPism
    The real life examples are interesting, but this could use a few more fictional examples. o.o
  • November 28, 2010
    SKJAM
    In a Petshop Of Horrors chapter/episode, the adoptees of a cute little bunny/girl are warned to only feed it natural vegetables and clean water. But it begs so cutely for a cookie that they just can't resist. Just one couldn't hurt, right? Pretty soon it's gobbled down their entire supply of sweets and artificially flavored foods...and then the nightmare really begins.
  • November 28, 2010
    SuperBlah
  • November 28, 2010
    neoYTPism
    No, you have not "found it." Don't be so presumptuous @ mmysqueeant

    This may be vaguely connected to Slippery Slope Fallacy but it is NOT the same thing. A Slippery Slope Fallacy can exist without this, and this can be used as a legitimate argument. (As in, not necessarily a fallacy)
  • November 28, 2010
    mmysqueeant
    I believe this is a form of Slippery Slope Fallacy. There is no logical proof to show that giving people one thing will lead them to ask for more. It's armchair psychology.

    What other reasons for the difference do you have? That a Slippery Slope Fallacy can exist without it doesn't mean it's not an example of a Slippery Slope Fallacy. I just don't think it's an independent trope in its own right.

    I'm not sure why you're calling me presumptuous. I don't want duplicates of existing tropes, and I think this is the same thing. Just in a specific scenario. Sorry if I was too blunt in my original post, figured this was the common format for reporting tropes you thought were basically the same.
  • November 28, 2010
    neoYTPism
    There is legitimate reason to anticipate this in the real-life scenario of terrorism or hostage demands, but even putting real life examples aside, this can be treated as PERFECTLY legitimate, (ie. following directly from the logic) in the framework of a potential fictional example. For example, in South Park, Cartman accuses the Family Guy owners of caving in to his manatee employees; in practice, the episode is implying that by giving in towards terrorists, they are putting the terrorists in a position to demand MORE.
  • November 28, 2010
    MetaFour
    There's an old fable about a man in a tent and a camel. When it rained, the camel asked if he could stick his nose in the tent out of the rain. The man agreed. The camel kept asking to come further and further into the tent, until the camel was completely inside. But then the tent was too crowded, so the camel threw the man out.
  • November 29, 2010
    Chabal2
    There's a Far Side cartoon in which two wolves in a cave are preventing a group of cavemen from coming out of the rain, one of them telling the other "Be firm, Arnold, let them in once, and they'll expect it every time".

    There's a political cartoon in which two US soldiers are patrolling in Baghdad. One says the Iraqis are Ungrateful Bastards, saying "give them a hand, they'll take your arm!". The next panel has them come across a man with a hook-hand and a kid with only one arm.
  • November 29, 2010
    peccantis
    Charlie And The Chocolate Factory: Verruca Salt just got her Golden Ticket. Thanks Dad. 2 seconds later she wants another pony.
  • November 29, 2010
    wanderlustwarrior
    If this is indeed its own trope, I think you should name it "Give Them An Inch, They'll Take A Mile"
  • November 29, 2010
    randomsurfer
    Or just Give An Inch.
  • November 29, 2010
    neoYTPism
    I went with "If You Give An Inch They Will Take A Mile." It kind of specifies that this is a conditional statement.
  • November 29, 2010
    Ryusui
    Or Give An Inch Theyll Take A Mile.

    I was going to suggest Give A Mouse A Cookie as a nice, concise name for the trope (since the book is all about this), but then the name itself doesn't really describe the trope.
  • November 29, 2010
    neoYTPism
    Give A Mouse A Cookie is actually what I originally went with until people recommended Give An Inch...
  • November 29, 2010
    c0ry
    This is a pair of lines in Evita, in the song "Peron's Latest Flame."
  • November 30, 2010
    peccantis
    I think "If You Give An Inch" or "Give An Inch" would be shorter and sweeter. Aki Sirkesalo, Finnish pop/Schlager singer has a song, where "I gave [her my] pinky, she took the whole hand" is a metaphor for a female sexual predator. The song's called Naispaholainen, meaning "she-devil".
  • November 30, 2010
    TwoGunAngel
    Another way of saying this would be "There's more where that came from."
  • November 30, 2010
    neoYTPism
    The shortened version wouldn't sum up what this is about though @ peccantis
  • November 30, 2010
    SomeGuy
    Give An Inch They Take A Mile would probably be the most readable.
  • January 6, 2011
    Scooter007
  • January 7, 2011
    ChimbleySweep
    Not exactly the same, I don't think.
  • January 8, 2011
    neoYTPism
    Not at all, actually.
  • January 8, 2011
    jatay3
    For the slippery slope fallacy to be a fallacy it must claim inevitability. If all one is claiming is estimate of probability based on experience one must judge case-by-case. "If we let the enemy breech our walls, they will sack our city" is not inevitable(they might magically stop). But it is so extremely probable that it cannot be called illogical to assume so.
  • January 8, 2011
    Sackett
    Moving The Goalposts is very much related to this.

    Basically this trope occurs when the hero anticipates the villain will move the goalposts and so refuses to make a deal in the first place.

  • January 11, 2011
    neoYTPism
    It may be a related trope, but it's not the same thing. @ Sackett
  • January 12, 2011
    Nyperold
  • January 21, 2011
    Fanra
  • January 21, 2011
    Fanra
    For some reason when I can't edit my post above. So here is the rest:

    There are a number of other metaphors and expressions which refer to small changes leading to chains of events with undesirable or unexpected consequences, differing in nuances.

    • Foot in the door - a persuasion technique
    • Slippery slope - an argument, sometimes fallacious
    • "The thin end of the wedge"'
    • Domino effect
    • For Want of a Nail (proverb) - the claim that large consequences may follow from inattention to small details
    • Boiling frog
    • "Give them an inch; they'll take a mile". The original saying goes "Give them an inch, and they'll take an ell".
    • In Chinese culture, the "inch-mile" saying corresponds to the expression De Long Wang Shu, which is a quotation from the Book of Later Han about a Chinese general who took over Long (now Gansu) only to pursue further southwards into Shu (now Sichuan).

    For comparison, positive consequences may start from small acts, and there is a similar set of sayings like Lao Tzu's Tao Te Ching "A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step" (or "A journey of a thousand li begins with a single step").

    Relating this sentiment in idiom to scientific observation, the notion that large-scale phenomena may be affected by tiny initial incidents is the essence of chaos theory. However, in all the examples above, the result of the tiny initial incident is supposed to be predictable, unlike in chaos theory.
  • January 21, 2011
    robybang
    Is the entire point of If You Give a Mouse a Cookie.
  • January 21, 2011
    SKJAM
    And thus we come full circle.
  • January 24, 2011
    neoYTPism
    To be fair, robybang might not be aware of that being the prior title @ SKJAM

    Or were you referring to something else?
  • February 8, 2011
    TBeholder
    @neoYTPism: A little Google-foo shows that several writers were "inventive" enough to name their books like this.
  • March 15, 2011
    neoYTPism
    Still not sure what you mean @ T Beholder
  • March 17, 2011
    randomsurfer
    Averted but cited in Fast Break (starring Gabe Kaplan). Kaplan is a deli manager. Early in the film a homeless vet comes in asking for a handout. Kaplan says "I'm not going to see you tomorrow, and the day after, and the day after that, right?" Homeless man agrees, and Kaplan orders an order of knishes to go for the vet.
  • February 18, 2012
    SKJAM
    New laconic, updated description, adding and sorting of examples. Still Needs A Better Description.
  • February 21, 2012
    aurora369
    The Russian proverb is "A talon is stuck, the entire bird is lost".
  • February 21, 2012
    Tambov333
    ^It's not that. It's For Want Of A Nail.
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