Created By: Unknown%252520Troper on February 16, 2010

Threat Backfire

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Do we already have something like this? (Tried Lost and Found, no luck so far) Possibly Needs a Better Description.

A character makes a threat, like "If you want her, you'll have to kill me first". Unfortunately, the person they're threatening decides to respond to this not as a threat but in Exact Words terms and as an offer or opening bid.

A specific sub-type of both Tempting Fate and the related Be Careful What You Say. Apart from the "you'll have to kill me first" version already cited, Threat Backfire is also a common effect of telling someone they have to Go Through Me, responding to someone else's threat with You and What Army?, or using virtually any Stock Phrase featuring the words "over my dead body" or "from my cold, dead fingers". Also a common response to implied threats on the lines of "Oh yeah? And what are you gonna do about it?" when the threatened person treats this as if it were a real request for information, to be answered with a practical demonstration of more or less devastating force, accompanied by the answer "This".

This one has a few variables:

1) The person being threatened is not being funny, just very literal-minded or socio-linguistically tone-deaf. The Unfunny will often give this kind of response, as will characters who were Raised by Wolves. May also be caused by or overlap with Blunt Metaphors Trauma. Depending on the size and menacingness of the threatened, this one can also be a case of Do Not Taunt Cthulhu.

2) The person being threatened knows it's a threat, but decides to take it at the Exact Words face value for comic effect at the other's expense. Most common when the person threatened is a Trickster or Deadpan Snarker.

On the other side of the coin

3) The person making the threat is either grandstanding or bluffing, and now finds they have to follow through, possibly to their own defeat, if they're even given time to respond at all (straight version).

4) The person making the threat means it literally, even if they might be hoping it doesn't have to come to that: not quite such a straight play, but still straight-ish. May lead to an Oh, Crap! moment on the threat-issuer's part.

5) The person making the threat is exploiting the fact that it will be taken in Exact Words terms, adding elements of I Know You Know I Know and possibly Bugs Bunny-style LogicBombing to the situation.


Live-Action TV

  • In Buffy the Vampire Slayer ("Buffy versus Dracula"), Xander, who has been Renfielded, tells Riley that if he wants "The Master" "you will have to go through me first". Riley flatly responds "Okey-dokey" and punches him out of the way.
  • In Neverwhere, Richard tells Croup and Vandemar that if they want Door, they'll have to kill him first. Vandemar is (quite unironically) delighted: "Thanks!"

Film :

  • From Men in Black:
    Bug: Place 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.
  • Spiderman:
    Doc Ock: [entering the carriage] He's MINE!
    Train Passenger: You want to get to him, you gotta go through me!
    [All the other passengers take up his claim and surround Spider-Man]
    Doc Ock: Very well...
  • And, of course...Star Wars:
    Greedo: Jabba's through with you. He has no use for smugglers who drop their shipments at the first sign of an Imperial cruiser.
    Han Solo: Even I get boarded sometimes. Do you think I had a choice?
    Greedo: You can tell that to Jabba. He may only take your ship.
    Han Solo: Over my dead body!
    Greedo: That's the idea... I've been looking forward to this for a long time.
Community Feedback Replies: 6
  • February 16, 2010
    How about Over My Dead Body, since that's what all your examples are.
  • February 17, 2010
    Unknown Troper
    that's more a shortcoming of the examples than the intention of the trope - but it also turns out somebody else has already had a similar idea (with better range of examples) under the same name:
  • March 4, 2010
    Unknown Troper
  • March 5, 2010
    In the Discworld novel Interesting Times, Cohen the Barbarian is doing this quite often -- killing people that have said in substance: "I'd rather die than..." -- because the barbarians' concept honor is rather devoid of subtelity. To the point that Cohen's companions start warning people beforehand to not say this kind of thing around their leader. As Cohen stats in exasperation, "Why are they saying this if they don't mean it?"
  • March 5, 2010
    Worth linking up as a sister to Insult Backfire
  • March 5, 2010
    Amazingly Enough
    In Tales of Monkey Island, Mcgillicutty captures the mermaid ruler and threatens that she'll "be sleeping with the fishes" if she doesn't tell him how to get the Mc Guffin. She responds that that's where she sleeps anyway.