- Harry Potter
- The teachers have fun with this as soon as Umbridge is appointed to Headmistress in the fifth book. With the passage of Educational Decree Number Twenty-Six which bans teachers from telling students anything that doesn't have to do with their subject, they gleefully refuse to extinguish the fireworks Fred and George released, explaining that they weren't sure they had the authorization to do so.
- This is the reason why Kreacher was able to get away with selling out Sirius Black to Bellatrix Lestrange in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix without worrying about getting caught: whenever Sirius gets irritated with Kreacher, he shouts at him to "GET OUT!" Sirius fails to specify where Kreacher was supposed to go after leaving the house. Sirius is really going to wish he ate those words later on...
- Harry, remembering this, averts 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."
- Snape in the beginning of Half-Blood Prince tries to reassure Bellatrix that he's on the side of the Death Eaters by saying "I've played my part well, and I have deceived one of the greatest wizards of all time. *Bellatrix scoffs* Dumbledore is a great wizard, only a fool would deny it." Note that he didn't actually say that Dumbledore was the great wizard he was deceiving.
- Harry Potter does this 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.
- It's implied that this is how Goblins operate regarding deals. Ludo Bagman bet on Harry to win the Triwizard Tournament in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire so he could keep the Goblin debt-collectors off his back. Unfortunately, Harry drew with Cedric (even if only one of them survived), and Ludo had to go on the lam.
- In The Cuckoo's Calling, Strike is interviewing Tansy Betrugui, who has been tabbed by the police and press as an attention-seeking liar and is going through a messy divorce, so she demands that Strike not write down any notes. He agrees... and instead surreptitiously switches on his phone's sound recorder.
- In The Voyage of the Dawn Treader from The Chronicles of Narnia series, the heroes' ship gets lost in a dark fog at sea. As they approach a mysterious island, they meet a lone survivor from a previous expedition, who warns them that this is "The Island Where Dreams Come True". At first, most of the crew are elated, but once they realize that this doesn't mean wishes or daydreams, but actual dreams, they leave with haste.
“Fools!” said the man, stamping his foot with rage. “That is the sort of talk that brought me here, and I'd better have been drowned or never born. Do you hear what I say? This is where dreams—dreams, do you understand, come to life, come real. Not daydreams: dreams.” There was about half a minute's silence and then, with a great clatter of armour, the whole crew were tumbling down the main hatch as quick as they could and flinging themselves on the oars to row as they had never rowed before; and Drinian was swinging round the tiller, and the boatswain was giving out the quickest stroke that had ever been heard at sea. For it had taken everyone just that halfminute to remember certain dreams they had had—dreams that make you afraid of going to sleep again—and to realize what it would mean to land on a country where dreams come true.
- Lewis Carroll loved this Trope, although it's usually done for laughs in his works. Here's one example from Through the Looking-Glass:
White King: There's nothing like eating hay when you feel faint.
Alice: 'I should think throwing cold water over you would be better — or some sal-volatile.note
White King: I didn't say there was nothing better, I said there was nothing like it.
- In Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Wonka shows his guests his Square Candies That Look Round, which are hard candies with funny faces painted on them in a small room with a glass door. But they look square. When told this, he says they are square. But they look square, not round! Wonka insists they look round! After a few minutes of arguing, Wonka opens the door, and the candies turn round to look at who's coming in. (They're square candies, and they're looking round.)
- 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 blessing a character with suck.
- From the Black Library:
- Ciaphas Cain:
- Early in For the Emperor Cain has to pass judgment on a group of Guardsmen from the newly created 597th Valhallan for a Bar Brawl immediately preceding their creation from the merged 296th and 301st, during which several people died. The regulations (and the troopship's captain, who lost several of his crew) demand their deaths, but Cain, trying to avoid the loss of painstakingly recovered morale, notes during sentencing that the regs say nothing of when; thus he orders them transferred to a penal legion at earliest convenience. In the meantime they're to be used in any suitably suicidal mission that becomes available.
- At the end of Cain's Last Stand, Cain 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 Varan's surrender. (Then they fight.)
- In Lee Lightner's 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 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 Lúthien to Beren when Beren 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 Merry, a hobbit, stabs him behind the knee with an enchanted blade that breaks the Witch-King's invulnerability. Éowyn, a woman, finishes him off by stabbing him in the face. In this case, both meanings of man—the race of Men and the sex—work against the Witch-King.
- The instructions for entering the West-gate of Moria: "Speak Friend and Enter", written in Elvish. The password is the Elvish word for "friend". After he solved it Gandalf realizes it wasn't even supposed to be a riddle.
- Tolkien also uses these in his narrative voice, employing such tricks as never using male pronouns in referring to Dernhelm, and referring to this character as "a young man" only in Merry's perceptions. Similarly, the words "dead" or "death" are never used in reference to Gandalf, and only once of Frodo — in Sam's internal monologue.
- 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.
- In Robin Jarvis' Deptford Mouselets book Whortle's Hope, Virianna offers her own life to the evil rat goddess Mabb in exchange for her sparing Captain Fenny. Mabb agrees to take only one life... though she doesn't specify whose and so tricks Virianna. Fenny dies anyway, and by Virianna's own hand, no less, as she unwittingly allowed Mabb to take control of her body. When Fenny's corpse is discovered by the woodlanders with Virianna dancing about it madly, they kill her in retribution for the crime she has seemingly committed.
- Terry Pratchett's Discworld:
- During Wyrd Sisters, the witches summon a demon to answers their questions about what's going on in the kingdom. The demon proceeds to answer each question completely accurately in a way that's completely useless to them. Then subverted as Granny gets enough of it and threatens to boil the demon alive if it doesn't tell them "what the hell is going on".
- 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. Given it was Carrot's first book, he probably was following Vimes' order. It's only later he gets more Genre Savvy about it.
- In Men at Arms, Carrot threatens to follow the order he was given before entering the Fools' Guild, should he be denied entry. He really doesn't want to follow the order, but he will if Dr. Whiteface makes him... The order is to give up and go away. Sergeant Colon is impressed, describing it as not just bluffing on a bad hand, but bluffing without any cards.
- In The Science of Discworld, Ponder Stibbons' experiments on generating abundant energy by splitting 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 even all the Discworld.
- Jeremy Clockson 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.
- Also from Thief of Time, Lu Tze claims that none of the History Monks know the legendary martial art of deja fu. Near the end of the book, his apprentice Lobsang finds out the hard way that this is because Lu Tze (who is "merely" a senior sweeper, and not a monk) never taught it to them.
- 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 betray my Emperor" 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.) Also, the aide to the villain of the novel was hired after boasting that "I was a minor secretary and I was employed at the Palace". Which is technically true, as he'd gotten a menial job at the Palace after losing his position as a minor secretary to one of the guilds.
- All of the descriptions of elves in Lords and Ladies are exactly correct, albeit not as complimentary as they sound. Words like "wonderful" and "enchanting" tend to shift away from their literal meaning over time...
- 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.
- And then there's Jackrum in Monstrous Regiment: The Sarge constantly asserts that "I'm not a (violent, dishonest, etc.) man" immediately before doing something violent, dishonest, etc. Turns out she's not a man of any sort.
- Rincewind does this is The Last Hero, though it is mostly because he wants to start off by making something clear: he does not want to volunteer for the dangerous mission. He is volunteering, as he explains afterwards. He doesn't want to, but he figures he'd somehow end up 'volunteered' or just stumbling into it in an effort to get away anyway, so he volunteers to get it over and done with.
- And, from some flavor text in the Discworld Roleplaying Game:
“Stop right there,” said Ridcully, “Is this little speech going to feature the word ‘quantum’ at any point in the next three sentences?”
Ponder performed a hasty mental adjustment, determining that he could change the second and third sentences of his prepared explanation without excessive loss of precision. Hence, he was able to reply “No, Archchancellor,” with complete honesty.
“And was it goin’ to before I interrupted?” Ridcully demanded.
- 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 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 that give a false impression that humanity is an immensely ancient and powerful race. 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.
- Lord Darcy
- In Michael Kurland's novel A Study In Sorcery, an Imperial governor guarantees his agents' loyalty with a magically-reinforced oath that would destroy their minds if they fail to faithfully serve their royal sovereign and his authorized proxies. The fact that the oath he devised neglects to name the sovereign, in order to save having to rebuild it every time the crown changes hands, comes back to bite him when one of them is revealed to be a foreign spy and stringently loyal to his own king.
- In one of the original Randall Garrett stories, "A Case of Identity", there is a sociopath who is under a geas that he can't harm anyone unless ordered by Sir James le Lein. Midway through the story, Sir James orders him to "kill the traitor", and fails to realise that he's now free to kill anyone identified as a traitor until told otherwise.
- 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 Edgar Rice Burroughs's The Mad King, the hero is forced into an Emergency Impersonation of King Leopold. While doing so, he exerts himself to avoid speaking any untruths, thus frequently making statements that are technically true but not in the way his listeners think. He gets a lot of use out of the convention of the royal third person, saying things about the king that people take to be referring to himself.
- 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 arranges 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. 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.
- This also comes 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 (the dragon's) princess; after the wish is made, Cimorene points out that her dragon is female and therefore the wish wouldn't apply because the prince said "his". However, she does point him towards another princess.
- In Talking To Dragons Shiara tries this on Daystar's behalf; he had promised to help the princess, and she asked for his sword. Shiara argues that it's not his sword, but the Sleeping King's. Daystar refuses to accept this, and Shiara thinks it very unfair that only he has to fulfill what the words meant.
- Used several times in the Belisarius Series.
- Belisarius offers to swear an oath that the private discussion he wishes to have with Narses (then working for the enemy commander Damodara) will not do harm to Damodara. Later, Damodara realizes that said offered oath was that no harm would come to him personally, not to his superiors. Said conversation also revolves around exact words, specifically the oath Damodara's troops had made to serve the Malwa Emperor... it didn't say anything about who that emperor might be. Damodara also uses exact words later on when discussing the whole thing with Narses.
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 whose 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: I gave you your answer, you said you would let me go! Tom: Seems to me that what I said was I’d 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 city they were in when Viserys stormed in, sword at his hip and claiming exemption on account of being a non-Dothraki. Drogo did not break the rules - after all, death by molten crown doesn't shed blood.
- It's also implied that this sort of Loophole Abuse is frequent: sellers in the city market are described as keeping strong slaves nearby to strangle thieves.
- Jaime Lannister and Edmure Tully pull this on each other. Jaime gets Edmure to surrender the castle of Riverrun in part by offering to house him in keeping with his station at Casterly 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 when the Lannisters take the castle, they find Bryndyn "Blackfish" Tully, Edmure's uncle and the most capable general left to fight against the Lannisters missing. Edmure points out that he promised to surrender his castle, not his uncle. 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 also would still be within the terms of his offer.
- Shortly after his argument with Edmure, Jaime has to deal with a woman who betrayed the Starks partially because Jaime's father Tywin promised to make advantageous marriages for her children. In particular, he promised that her son "would have joy of him." How Tywin would have fulfilled this promise is unknown, but Jaime says that "Joy" is the name of one of his illegitimate cousins and offers a betrothal to her.
- 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 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.
- Jaime remembers a duel he witnessed between Arthur Dayne and the Smiling Knight. The Smiling Knight said he wanted Dayne's Thunderbolt Iron sword. Dayne replies "Then you shall have it" and runs him through.
- 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.
- Similarly to the Vaes Dothrak situation above, Ironborn are not allowed to shed the blood of other Ironborn. They are, however, exceptionally fond of drowning. Euron especially delights in exploiting this particular loophole.
- In A Dance With Dragons, Roose Bolton promises some recalcitrant peasants that if they go about their work, he will show mercy. He does... by hanging them instead of flaying them.
- Likewise, Joffrey promises Sansa he would show her father mercy. He considers a quick death by beheading to be merciful, considering that drawing and quartering were options too.
- While Ned Stark, noted by Catelyn Stark, publicly calls Jon Snow "his son" and Ned refers to Robb and Jon as "my sons" in Bran's first chapter, he does not specifically call him this in his POV thoughts, but refers to him as his blood. When Ned once told Catelyn to never ask about Jon's mother, he said Jon was his blood. This only supports the theory that Jon is not his son but is instead his nephew who Ned is raising as his own son. This theory posits that Jon is the son of Ned's sister Lyanna Stark and Rhaegar Targaryen and Ned is protecting Jon by hiding his true origins to keep Jon safe from their family's enemies, with Ned keeping Jon close and raising him as his own.
- When Littlefinger "rescues" Sansa from Kings Landing, he promises to take her home. He does, bringing her to his home, before bringing her to the Vale. During the whole trip, she thought he was going to bring her to her home (which he knew, but pretended not to).
- The Tattered Prince agreed with Ser Garris that each would only bring "two men" to their meeting - he brings a third person, a woman.
- Works both ways with Arya Stark and Jaqen H'ghar — the latter claims that he only offered three deaths, no more and no less and certainly not help, so Arya takes advantage of Jaqen not specifying that ''he himself'' can't be one of those deaths to coerce him to help her free the Northern prisoners in the dungeonnote .
- A general piece of advice: when getting a prophecy in any form of Valyrian, it behoves you to remember that genders may not be specified thanks to a lack of gender distinctions in the grammatical list of options for those languages — so using your own cultural norms and expectations may just bite you. The Targaryens may have managed to almost wipe themselves out forgetting a few crucial details about their background... (not least, that female-derived linages are also a thing). Oh, nor may the precise order of birth in terms which mean such things as "the younger sibling" (which you may also have mistaken to mean "my youngest brother", naturally) be quite as obvious as you'd expect. Not that prophecies are usually shy about other forms of Exact Words, anyway.
- And finally, a subversion. Maesters, black brothers, and the Kingsguard are not allowed to have sex at all. However, their vows only state that they can't take a wife, which means a visit to the local whorehouse is technically all right by the standards, as long as they don't conceive (another caveat of their vows). But no one ever feels compelled to point out this distinction and it's considered oathbreaking anyway. Despite this, the distinction is observed by practically everyone, including heroic characters, all of whom have technically broken their vow of chastity by the end of the fourth book.
- 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.
- Artemis Fowl
- In the first Artemis Fowl book, at the end of his negotiations with Commander Root, Artemis tells him that "None of your kind may enter this building while I am alive". As The Fair Folk can't enter a human building without an invitation, these words are magically-binding, but eventually they spot the obvious loophole: if they can't go in while he's alive, then they'll go in once he's dead. So they bio-bomb the manor. Except that Artemis had deliberately left that loophole there, knowing the LEP would pick up on it, and he and his associates had already escaped the time-field by the time the bomb went off.
- Similarly, while in the household of "mud men," a fairy is compelled to obey their orders. However, these orders must be phrased exactly, saying stuff like "You really shouldn't do such-and-such" won't stop them from doing it, you have to actually say "don't do it" or "you may not." This is something that the kidnapped Holly Short uses to her advantage.
- In one incident in The Hitchhiker's 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 stalk 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 (but not the movie), Jack Ryan says to Colonel Cortez that he won't be prosecuted. True to his word, Cortez isn't prosecuted. He's handed back to his former agency in Cuba, where his fate is most likely to be far less pleasant than what it could be under the US criminal justice system.
- 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 H. 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: 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 Frank Herbert's 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 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 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"...
- Isaac Asimov:
- Black Widowers:
- In "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.
- In "Northwestward", Henry requests clarification on if Mr Pennyworth said “northwest” or “northwestward” because one means a particular direction and the other has several possible meanings.
- In one of the Lucky Starr stories, a lost spaceship is known to be in a "normal" orbit around a planet, but cannot be found despite this. It is only found when Starr realises that "normal" in this case did not mean "standard" (an equatorial orbit), but an orbit normal (perpendicular) to a standard orbit — a polar orbit.
- 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 A. Heinlein's The Number of the Beast has a white mutiny when a know-it-all member becomes captain.
- In Heinlein's Have Space Suit – Will Travel, a robot tells Kip and Peewee that their presence is required. Kip, feeling uncooperative, says "You'll have to drag me!" It does.
- The Excalibur Alternative
- The Ternaui queens 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 humans take advantage of this to save the lives of the Ternaui guards. The guards were prepared to use their Exact Word loopholes to sacrifice themselves, allowing the humans to kill them first so they wouldn't be able to defend the commander when the humans try to capture him. The humans decide that their sacrifice isn't worth the minor advantage they'd get by capturing the commander, and instead kill the commander right away while the Ternaui were under the impression they were the ones about to be attacked. Because he neglected to include anyone else as individuals they'd have to obey, the Ternaui are free to join the rebellious humans.
- The ship's Artificial Intelligence 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 even though it has the humans under near-constant surveillance. Showing just how much of an asshole the commander and his crew are, the computer has no problem showing initiative when later 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
"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.
- In Wen Spencer's Tinker, Windwolf tells Tinker he needs to perform a spell or she'll die. Being human, she thought he meant really soon. Afterwards, she realized that, no, he was panic-stricken because she had been mortal.
- In Jack London's The Sea Wolf, Wolf Larsen promises the protagonist "not to lay a finger" on two sailors he previously threatened with death. So what does he do? When they are shipwrecked trying to escape, he lets them drown.
- In Tanya Huff's first story about the thief Terizan, the Thieves' Guild asks her, as an initiation test, to bring them the braid of the mercenary Swan. Terizan is enamored of Swan and doesn't especially want to do this, and wants to do it even less after she and Swan team up to take down a treacherous councilman, but she does very badly want to join the Guild. So she has Swan accompany her to the guildmasters, braid still attached.
- In Andre Norton's Dread Companion, Kosgro, offered "a gate", objected and demands the gates they came through, which they get, putting them back where they started. To be sure, she did not alert them to the time factor.
- Used several times in A Civil Campaign, which makes sense as this volume is about parliamentering and imperial court politics.
- In 1632, Grantsville accepts Gustavus Adolphus as Feudal Overlord on the condition that he would be "captain general" rather then "king"-because a captain general is not claiming divine right and therefore has no interest in Grantsville's religious predispositions.
- In Andre Norton's The Zero Stone, Jern hands over his zero stone, and tells them where the caches are. Eet, meanwhile, had taken a stone from one cache, and when handing it over, tells him that he had done what he had promised.
- In China Miéville's Un Lun Dun, a seeming mistake in The Book of prophecy turns out to actually be correct: the Smog indeed fears nothing and the ungun.
- Nero Wolfe tends to use these to get information out of people who are reluctant to give it to him or to prevent having to reveal information he doesn't want to let go. He prides himself on never actually lying, but is a master of equivocation.
- In Julie Kagawa's The Iron King, Meghan is asked for her name in return for a way into the Winter Kingdom, and promises a name. Then she gives "Fred Flintstone", which is indeed a name.
- In Little Women, the day before Meg's wedding:
Meg: I wonder if you will ever grow up, Laurie.
Laurie (whose head was about level with Meg's chandelier): I'm doing my best, ma'am, but can't get much higher, I'm afraid, as six feet is about all men can do in these degenerate days.
- The Stormlight Archive:
- The Way of Kings: Prince Renarin is being tormented by Wit:
Wit: What of you, Prince Renarin? Your father wishes me to leave you alone. If you can speak and yet say nothing ridiculous, I will leave you alone for the rest of the week.
Renarin: Nothing ridiculous.
- Words of Radiance: Shallah, on her way to her betrothed, Adolin, is attacked at sea. The rest of her party missing, presumed dead, she runs across Tyn, a scam artist, and (accidentally) convinces Tyn that she is likewise planning to pull a scam. When pressed for details, she tells the literal truth: she discovered information that Adolin was betrothed to a woman who happens to look very much like herself, and she is planning on taking her place.
- In John R. Powers' fictionalized memoir Do Black Patent Leather Shoes Really Reflect Up?, the narrator mentions that the boys-only Catholic high school he went to, Bremmer High, had an unbreakable dress code: all students were required to wear a sport coat, a tie and a belt. If you forgot, you'd be "jugged" (get detention) or suspended. Noting that the rule didn't say what shape the items of clothing had to be in, he says that a few enterprising students kept extra ties in their lockers to rent out to students who'd forgotten theirs, but "you could tell, however, if a tie was rented: it looked like it had gone through someone's digestive tract." And he says that "every year, a few students who had no interest in staying at Bremmer anyway would talk about coming to school wearing nothing but a sport coat, a tie, and a belt."
- Faeries in the Modern Faerie Tales books are forced to obey any order given using their true name, to the literal letter - and only to the letter. Thus, when the villain commands Rath Roiben Rye to grab the heroine, he does - and then immediately lets her go again.
- Done by the narrator in the Star Trek: The Fall novel The Crimson Shadow, which introduces the Cardassian character Rakhat Blok by saying that if any one asked him, which they didn't, he would have told them he was born on a client world of the Union... and so on for three paragraphs of exposition, all of which is what he would say, not the truth.
- The Crystal has the mayor who hired the adventurers trying to fool them about the worth of the title object, offering half of its value for them to return it to him. It doesn't work, and they take him at his exact words.
- Royal Flash. Flashman is torturing a man who tried to kill him as part of a plot, and swears on his honor as an English gentleman to let him go if he talks. Being the most dishonorable Englishman in the British army, Flashy has no intention of doing so, but decides to follow this trope by letting his captive go off a cliff.
- Here is an extremely rare example for the trope coming out benign. The German rororo Rotfuchs series for kids always had a comic on the backcover. Here, a cat has a can with catfood...but no opener. The eponymous fox quips: "Why don't you get a mouse?" She does...and the mouse helps her out by playing can opener with his teeth.
- Neil Gaiman uses this in the novel Stardust. When Tristran returns with the star, Victoria tells him that, despite her engagement to Mr. Monday, she will honor their bargain and marry Tristran, instead. Tristran reminds her that her exact words were that she would grant his heart's desire, which he tells her is now to see her happily wed to Mr. Monday.
- Also, the witch Ditchwater Sal promises to take Tristran back to the Wall, providing food and shelter on the way, and to deliver him in the same shape and condition he is at the time. She never said anything about not transforming him during the journey, or that the shelter wouldn't be a small cage and the food only as much as a dormouse needs.
- In the setting of Pact, all mystical practitioners, as the cost for being able to perform magic, agree to speak only the truth, and to faithfully abide by all oaths that they swear. Naturally, many practitioners exploit this trope in order to trick their enemies, with the foremost example being Laird Behaim, who, in his first appearance, approaches the protagonist Blake Thorburn, agreeing to protect him while they talk (and making several statements to the effect of it being in his best interests to do so) and then shortly thereafter ruthlessly exploits both the vagaries of the English language and the precise wording of his statements to justify leaving Blake to die.
- Despoilers of the Golden Empire is built on this trope. The entire story is written in scientific language, with frequent references made to science, but also to the ignorance of science of the characters in the story - they don't bring along any scientists on their expedition, they don't have any interest in the genetics of the natives, they need gold to run their empire, they have found no way of transmuting other elements into gold... because the story is not about the future at all, but actually about the past, namely the conquest of Peru in the 1500s, and is not in fact a work of science fiction, as the prose seems to present it, but a work of historical fiction.
The sun, a yellow G-O star, hung hotly just above the towering mountains to the east.
- Beetle does this in the sixth Septimus Heap book to convince Merrin Meredith that his plan (a Darke Domaine- an expanding cloud of evil which puts into a trance and eventually kills those trapped inside) has failed.
- This is a major subplot of The Dream-Maker's Magic. Mrs Carmichael desperately wants a son and is insistent that she gave birth to one. She takes her daughter Kellen to a Truth-Teller, begging her to confirm that Kellen was born a boy. The Truth-Teller, sneering at her foolishness, confirms that Kellen was 'a girl in the womb'. Unfortunately, Mrs Carmichael didn't think to ask if Kellen was the child she gave birth to.
- An ongoing, major point of the first nine Honor Harrington novels — give or take an anthology — was that the war between Manticore and Haven could only end with the destruction of the Star Kingdom or the destruction of the People's Republic. At the end of book nine, Havenite Admiral Thomas Theisman puts a very pointed end to the People's Republic of Tyranny Haven had become via a pulser dart to Oscar Saint-Just's head. The People's Republic of Haven ceased to exist, and three books later — give or take half a dozen side novels — the Star Kingdom of Manticore and the Republic of Haven formed the Grand Alliance. Well played, Weber. Well played. It works even better if one notes that the year before the final peace treaty and alliance, the Talbott Cluster had just joined with Manticore, and as a result the Star Kingdom of Manticore didn't get to see the final end of the war either. The Star Empire of Manticore, on the other hand...
- Awake in the Night Land has a story in which a hero called Telemachos has to rescue his friend Perithoos. It was prophesied that after such rescue attempt only one pair of footprints is seen returning home. Telemachos deals with this by carrying Perithoos on his shoulders back home.
- In the first Night Huntress book, Bones shakes down a murderous, rapist vampire for information, promising not to kill him in exchange for cooperation. However, Cat didn't promise not to kill him. In a later book, Vlad is about to execute an enemy ghoul who gave no useful information they didn't already know. Cat tells Vlad, "He's done his best to tell you all he knows, so you need to let him go." Vlad almost argues, then catches the emphasis and cheerfully complies. When the ghoul tries to leave, Cat kills him.
- Bones makes this work for him, because he's built a reputation for doing exactly what he says he'll do. When he threatens to, for example, rip off your stones and feed them to you, he isn't using hyperbole; he means he will literally do just that, which makes his threats especially effective. Conversely, he's trusted to honor any bargain he makes to the letter.
- In the first Phule's Company novel, when the female Legionnaires pose for a girlie mag, Colonel Battleaxe asks if Phule had approved of this. Mindful of the importance of not directly lying to a superior officer — and not wanting to say he had no idea about it at all — he tells her he doesn't think it's his place to approve or disapprove; he has no more right to order them not to strip than he would to order them to do so.
- In the Flash Fiction story "Walking Oddbins" by Paul H. Trembling, Marcus is told he can take the freshly-bathed eponymous dog for a walk so long as the dog doesn't get dirty. Marcus lets himself get all wet, muddy, and ash-and-leaf-covered in order to make sure Oddbins is clean and dry.
- In Watersong, when Gemma asks Demeter about ways of breaking the siren curse and brings up killing Penn, Demeter states: "If you tried to kill Penn, then you wouldn't need to break the curse". Gemma takes this to mean that Demeter is endorsing killing Penn as a solution to her predicament. However, Lydia points out that Demeter's statement could also be interpreted as saying that if Gemma tried to kill Penn, she would lose and herself be killed.
- In Rangers At Roadsend Katryn tells Chip that she has not been demoted. When she is later mockingly addressed with a higher rank by an old colleague, Chip accuses her of having lied. Katryn explains that she has not been demoted, she gave up her higher rank voluntarily. She didn't explain this because of the internal rivalry between the military branches, which means that she will be looked down on for changing from the militia to the rangers, which is how she lost her rank.
- In Starlight and Shadows, Danilo's master, a powerful archmage, learns that the drow priestess Liriel is coming to Skullport to seek Danilo's help. Danilo intends to meet her at the docks; but the archmage, not wanting him to get involved in matters, forbids it. Danilo therefore gives his solemn vow that he will not meet Lirel at the docks. The archmage, however, is no fool; he quickly notices the linguistic loophole and sends another apprentice to tail Danilo and make sure he doesn't try to meet Liriel anywhere else, either.
- From the Rigante series: "You will find fame, Valanus. You will find fame." General Custer-style fame, but still fame.
- The nigh-indestructible Big Bad of the post-apocalyptic novel Bloodstone by David Gemmell forces the hero, who has gained a time travel ability, to take him back to the twentieth century so he can take over a fully-populated Earth. The hero takes him to July 16, 1945, and strands him at ground zero of the Trinity nuclear bomb test a few moments before detonation.
- In one book in the Diary of a Wimpy Kid series, Greg's mom threatens to ground him if he keeps lying. Later, someone calls the house, wanting to talk to his mom, so she tells Greg to tell the caller that she's not home. In order to tell the truth, Greg makes his mom stand outside in the rain so that he can tell the caller that "mom is not in the house right now".
- In The Four Feathers, Durrance asks Ethne if she's marrying him out of pity, knowing that she won't outright lie to him. So she replies; "I want to marry you more than anything in the world." Note that she doesn't say why.
- In the Ouachita Mountain Shifters series, a seer prophecies that Thames' soulmate "will hide darkness in her heart, and have no love to give [Thames]". Which is true- for about a day. And then she gets over being Drunk on the Dark Side and lives happily ever after with Thames. Grammatical tenses are a bitch that way.
- In Heretical Edge, the Necromancer Fossor is very much the type to obey the letter of an agreement at the expense of the spirit. Case in point: he made a deal with Joselyn Chambers to cause no harm to her child in exchange for her servitude and obedience. But the deal only protects Felicity Chambers as long as she's a child, and he has every intention of returning to enslave her once she turns eighteen. Furthermore, while he can't harm Flick, he can cause her discomfort if it's ultimately beneficial, as seen when he impersonates a dentist and pulls some of her teeth.
- In the first The Paper Magician book, the explanation of how Excision (flesh magic) was invented plays on this, specifically the definition of "manmade".
Mg. Phillips: Materials magic can only be performed through manmade materials, of course, but someone many, many years ago concluded that because humans begot humans, people were also manmade, and thus the dark arts began. Now, turn to page one twenty-six in your text—
- In Shattering The Ley, Hounds are soldiers that have trained to have a superhuman sense of smell for tracking, and their (not always willing) training involves being tortured to the point where they will follow orders without question. At one point, a Hound is given an order to find another character: specifically, to "find the traitorous Kormanley bastard, and subdue him". However, when he *does* locate that character, he determines that the character he was pursuing is not actually a member of the Kormanley, and therefore, is unwilling to subdue him, as he was given an order explicitly to find a "traitorous Kormanley bastard", so he lets his quarry go.
- Clarissa in the Goosebumps story "Be Careful What You Wish For" simply lives for this trope, especially in the TV adaptation. For but one example, when the protagonist says she wishes everyone would just buzz off, Clarissa grants her wish...by turning everyone into flies.
- In The Trials of Apollo, protagonists Meg and Apollo are informed that they must face unkillable monsters on their journey. When they meet those monsters, Apollo realizes that they're facing Yales, which are not immortal... but Meg and Apollo aren't allowed to kill them because they're an endangered species protected by the gods.
- The Divine Comedy: In order to learn the backstory of a damned traitor, Dante swears that he'll clear the frozen tears from the traitor's eyes or go down to the very bottom of Hell. Of course, since he isn't actually damned himself, Dante does go down to the bottom of Hell and can then leave without suffering either damnation or alliance with the worst of humanity.
- The Lensman novel Second Stage Lensmen has two examples.
- In the first, Mentor convinces Kimball Kinnison that "Prime Minister Fossten" is a mad Arisian who Kinnison has just defeated in mental combat - using exact words to conceal that Fossten was actually Gharlane of Eddore and was actually killed by Mentor himself.
- The second is lampshaded in the narrative as being a truthful but utterly misleading message by Kinnison in his guise as Boskonian Tyrant Traska Gannel: "My forces have won, my enemy has been wiped out to the last man." The forces of Civilization did win the Battle of Klovia, wiping out the Boskonian fleet to the last man.