"Blackmail is such an ugly word. I prefer 'extortion'. The 'X' makes it sound cool."This trope dates back to movies in the 1930s (and possibly earlier). A character discovers that she is the target of blackmail and confronts the blackmailer who, while not denying their actions, would rather call it something prettier like a "comprehensive insurance policy". The line is virtually stock dialogue now; as a trope it is at the very least discredited. It was already being lampshaded in the 50s, and since then it's only used for laughs (or period flavor) these days. Variations on the theme sometimes appear for other "ugly" words in various situations where the perpetrator can't or won't deny the substance of the accusation but insists on softening it with a euphemism. Many times the character will claim something is extortion instead of blackmail or visa versa. According to free advice.com extortion happens when an someone gets money, property, or services through coercion, ex: threat of violence, destruction of property, improper government action or withholding testimony. Blackmail is when a person threatens to reveal information about a victim or his family members that is potentially embarrassing, socially damaging, or incriminating unless a demand for money, property, or services is met. Even if the information is true or actually incriminating, a person can still be charged with blackmail if he or she threatens to reveal it unless the victim meets his or her demand. A subtrope of Distinction Without a Difference and Insistent Terminology.
Examples using the word "Blackmail"
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Anime & Manga
- In Mayo Chiki!, Kanade threatens to do things to Jiro if he ever leaks out the secret that her butler Subaru is actually a girl. She then also promises to cure him of his gynophobia (fear of women, thanks to his sister and mother doing "wrestling training", or rather beating him up, every day), although she largely just does it because she finds teasing him funny.
- In episode 5, Jiro is forced to pretend to be Usami's boyfriend during the school festival, or she'll leak a photo she took of him and Subaru dressed up as a regular girl out. Naturally, this occurs just after he promised to take Subaru, who's not happy with the sudden change of plans.
- Subverted in an episode of Mazinger Z. The Dragon Baron Ashura hijacked a plane and threatened The Professor Yumi with killing all passengers if he didn't hand over the plans for the Mazinger's Mid-Season Upgrade. Yumi protested that was theft and blackmail. Ashura languidly replied: "OF COURSE it is. What else did you expect from me?"
- In WORKING!!, Hiroomi Souma is a master of this trope. When he learns about a character and their secrets, he will talk to them and start casually mentioning said secret(s). Which then causes them to immediately do his work for them so as to not have him reveal their secret. Of course, it doesn't always work, and some characters are immune to this, such as Jun Souta.
- Inverted in the Z-Man Productions card game Bell-Bottomed Badasses on the Mean Streets of Funk. "Extortion is such an ugly word. Me & the brothas prefer blackmail"
- S.W.O.R.D: Abigail Brand lets Gyrich know that his attempted coup of her organisation nearly led to Earth's destruction, she has all the evidence needed to prove it, and the only way she'll keep it to herself is if he quits and tells the higher-ups that she has no need of a co-command.
Gyrich: This is blackmail.
Brand: I prefer "squeezing your unexplored hairy planetoids in a vise".
- Subverted in Omaha the Cat Dancer when Joanne has incriminating info on some bad guys, but she will not specify what she wants for it right now. The potential recipient refuses to accept the info blind, but is persuaded otherwise when Joanne tells him that the info would be damaging to his interest as well. When the man growls this is blackmail, Joanne remarks, "It's all blackmail, I'm just choosing sides."
- In Supergirl story arc Day of the Dollmaker, Catherine Grant blackmails Lana Lang to get Supergirl to help her. When called out on it, Cat claims -pretty obtusely- that it was not blackmail.
Cat: And I'm not blackmailing anyone. I merely asked Lana to ask her friend to help me.
- In one early Dilbert storyline, an abusive skunk shows up at Dilbert's doorstep.
Skunk: Don't worry. Skunks only spray musk when scared.
Dilbert: Then why is your tail twitching?
Skunk: I'm scared you won't fix me a big bowl of strawberry ice cream.
Dilbert: This is blackmail!
Skunk: No it's not. I'm just easily frightened...Now I'm scared you won't sing the entire score from Cats while I eat.
- The Family Guy fanfic Wipe The Slate Clean has this mild subversion on the trope, between Brian and Stewie when Stewie plans to blackmail Brian:
Brian: So... it's blackmail, is it?
Stewie: Blackmail is such an ugly word. How about the word "extortion"?
Brian: Extortion's a good word.
Stewie: But unfortunately completely inaccurate. Extortion is when I just... beat you until you give me what I want!
(Stewie pulls out a baseball bat and starts whacking Brian on the back and shins)
Brian: Damn! Ow! Stop that! Okay, okay, blackmail it is!
- It is also a shout-out to every show that ever said blackmail was interchangeable with extortion - and by this page you can see there are quite the number of them.
- HERZ: Subverted. The Chinese Government tried to build its own Eva in a top secret facility. The monster went out of control, obliterated the facility and started to rampage through China. A Chinese commanding officer pleaded Misato dispatching her Evas. She retorted she would deploy them… in exchange for information on where the other Evas were being built. When the officer complained about it being blackmail, her reaction was "So what?"
Commander Hai:"This is an emergency. Many lives are at stake. Your charter allows for action now."
Commander Hai:"What is your price?"
Misato:"Information. On where the other Evas are being built. All of them."
Commander Hai:"You can't expect us to know all that. And what makes you think.."
Misato:"..that you would know? [...] That thing was built in Lop Nor. Using technology from SEELE and Chinese military resources. I'm sure this will be an interesting revelation before the UN Organs and the world media..."
Commander Hai:"That's blackmail!"
Misato:"I'm also perfectly happy to let this thing continue its grand tour through your heartland and population centres. I don't have to do anything until the UN to get its paperwork done or until it reaches Japan itself..."
- From Looming Darkness we have Dark Link quoting this almost word for word in chapter 9.
- In An Unepic Pony War In The Nondistant Future, to keep Shining from taking sides in her little war with Cadance, Twilight writes him a letter threatening him with humiliating pictures (though they would be equally humiliating to her) and ends it with:
Postscript: Brother, blackmail is such an ugly word
- In Blurring Reality Tom Riddle threatens to not dance in the Hogwarts year-end ballet unless Harry takes the role of the Hero, which would mean cancellation of the production and the loss of Fred and George's chance at a contract.
Harry: You bastard, that's blackmail!
Tom: Not really. I'm just enforcing your guilt. It only works on certain people with a special kind of conscience.
- Harry Potter and the Shadowed Light:
Ragnok: [Rita Skeeter's] stories never say what you want them to - she’s unreliable.
Harry: Ah, but I know how to make her do exactly what I want.
Harry: I’d prefer ‘persuasive handling’.
- The Fifth House:
Harry: Hermione reads romance novels? Seriously? You know, this is going to be used against you. I shall tease you mercilessly!
Hermione: Are you threatening to blackmail me?
Harry: Such an ugly word, blackmail. Think of it more as incentive, to do my homework. For the rest of our stay here at lovely Hogwarts.
- Harry Potter - Three to Backstep:
Harry: Still, it seemed to almost be like I was pretty much blackmailing them.
Daphne: What some call blackmailing, others call politicking in backroom deals.
Films — Live-Action
- Played straight in The Bad and the Beautiful.
Harry: You think you blackmailed me!Jonathan: Harry, that's a horrid word.
- Dial M for Murder
Tony: I was hoping sooner or later I might catch you at something and be able to...
Lesgate: Blackmail me?
Tony: Influence you.
- In the film Edge of Tomorrow, Major Cage attempts to extort General Brigham rather than fight the aliens. It nets him a bust to private and put right on the front lines.
General Brigham: Are you blackmailing me, major?
Cage: I would prefer...not to be filming acts of heroism and valor on that beach tomorrow.
- Hilariously subverted in It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World:
Chief Aloysius: (on the phone with the mayor) Now you know the word for this your Honor: it's called blackmail!
- From The Loved One:
Joyboy. That's blackmail!Dennis. My dear sir, blackmail is not a word to be bandied about by gentlemen.
- In Kind Hearts and Coronets, Louis sees through one of Sibella's schemes: "Not only are you trying to blackmail me — an ugly word, but the right one, I think — but you're trying to bluff me as well."
- Played straight in the Stanley Kubrick film Paths of Glory.
- Inverted for great effect in They Call Me Trinity when the title character threatened to tell people his brother wasn't a real sheriff.
Bambino: That sounds like blackmail.
Trinity: Yeah, it does.
- Inverted in Entrapment, where Gin is shown the evidence of her theft of the Rembrandt by Mac. She claims it's "entrapment". Mac counters that entrapment is when a cop does this to a thief. When a thief does it to another thief, it's just blackmail. Then it turns out that Mac is an FBI informant.
- Burn Notice: The Fall of Sam Axe:
Admiral Gregory Maitland: That's blackmail!
Sam Axe: No, actually, sir, I believe this form of extortion is known as greymail. It's much nicer than blackmail.
- Inverted in Downstairs.
Baroness: Do you realize that this is blackmail?Karl: That's just the word I was trying to remember.
- Subverted in You Only Live Twice considering whatever Blofeld thinks of the word, blackmail, its closely related term, extortion, is fine with him with as the essence of his business.
- Chad in Burn After Reading blackmails an ex CIA agent for money, but sees himself as a "Good Samaritan" rather than what he really is.
- A variation in TRON: When Alan Bradley asks Kevin Flynn if he's using his hacking into the ENCOM computer system for embezzling, Flynn says that embezzling is such an ugly word and instead points out that his hacking into the system is to gather evidence that Ed Dillinger was stealing from his work.
- Inverted — very strangely — in Hugh Laurie's novel The Gun Seller:
"You followed me here."
"Tut. Followed is such an ugly word. I prefer 'blackmail'."
"But, of course, it means something completely different. So all right, let's say I followed you here."
- In Lolita, Humbert corrects himself when fantasizing on how he will "blackmail" his wife Charlotte into letting him spend more time with Lolita, saying that "blackmail" is too harsh and suggesting "mauvemail" as a lighter term.
- Subverted in Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged:
Rearden said calmly, "In my youth, this was called blackmail."
Dr. Ferris grinned. "That's what it is, Mr. Rearden. We've entered a much more realistic age."
- The horse is not yet completely dead: played 100% straight in the 2009 John Grisham book The Associate.
- Terl of Battlefield Earth has an obsession with finding "leverage" over his opponents that rivals J. Edgar Hoover.
- Lord Peter Wimsey himself engages in a little blackmail in one of the short stories, but he would of course not use that word.
- In the Tamora Pierce novel Lady Knight, Kel has decided to commit treason to save refugees and is angered when she finds people willing to help - they'll get charged, same as her. One of them teasingly says she won't get to use the potentially very helpful maps he brought unless they come with her.
"That's blackmail," Kel said through a thick piece of bacon.
"Actually, it's extortion." That was Lofren, whose father was a magistrate. "Blackmail implies—"
His squad-mates dragged him to his feet and took him to saddle their mounts. Kel was grateful. Lofren was happy to talk about matters of law at length, in detail, to anyone who would listen.
- Eric Idle's Rutland Dirty Weekend Book contains a letter to critics in which Idle explicitly states they will be paid bribes for a good review of the book, and subject to physical violence for a bad review, and notes that blackmail is an ugly word, "but in this case, it's also a very accurate one."
- The novel And Here's To You has main female character Alicia Mitchell use this exact line on a co-worker at an office party. Partially Justified by the character's internal monologue revealing that she was directly quoting Bender from Futurama (see the second page quote above) when she did so.
- Variant: In the Lord Darcy novel Too Many Magicians, when the Marquis of London pressures Darcy to take a case, Master Sean calls it blackmail:
"'Blackmail' is perhaps too strong a word," Lord Darcy said thoughtfully, "but I will admit that no other is quite strong enough."
- To clarify, it isn't blackmail: the Marquis isn't threatening to expose any information, to seek any incriminating information, or in fact to do anything. And the Marquis is stopping short of actual villainy; while circumstantial evidence threatens an innocent man close to Lord Darcy with a murder conviction, and the Marquis is far too intelligent for his professed satisfaction with the current investigation to be genuine, if pushed far enough he wouldn't really let this stand. The never-stated issue here is entirely who will do the work and whose pocket the expenses of investigation will come out of. Thus the quote.
- Inverted in The Culture novel The Player of Games. The protagonist is blackmailed by a drone and the drone actually says something like "What I'm doing to you is called blackmail." Presumably, since The Culture is a utopia, the protagonist might not actually know what blackmail is.
- Abe Mazur from Vampire Academy, never blackmails. "It's much easier if people simply see reason...".
- In Hullo Russia, Goodbye England, the pilots of Britain's nuclear deterrent strike jets are vulnerable to blackmail. The Russian spy who attempts to compromise Flight-Lieutenant Silk over his affair describes what he does as "working for the Press", the implication being that if Silk does not play nicely, his MP wife will be embarrassed by his affair becoming common knowledge. Especially since Silk is paying cash to the lady for "cello lessons". A local bookie also threatens to go to the CO if another pilot's gambling debts are not paid in full, and "have a concerned discussion as to his little problem. You can't have a man with a gambling problem in charge of nuclear weapons, can you? It's my public duty." . note
- Averted in the Cross-Time Engineer series by Leo Frankowski. When Count Lambert tries to force Conrad Stargard into an Arranged Marriage with his daughter, Conrad erupts, "But this is filthy, rotten blackmail!" Count Lambert replies, "Yes it is, isn't it."
- Lampshaded or subverted or something in Brass, when one character sets out to blackmail another, and they hold a conversation in which each suggests what the other would be likely to say next — starting with this line.
- From Buffy the Vampire Slayer:
- M*A*S*H has:
BJ: Blackmail is such an ugly word.
Hawkeye: We prefer extortion.
- In Diff'rent Strokes, Arnold gets into a fight with the bullying son of the landlord's brother who is subbing for a short time. This leads to a loud confrontation where the brother confronts Mr. Drummond, threatens to evict the family and provokes Drummond to punch the blowhard out. Later, the Landlord comes to the Drummonds saying that he approved of his dumb brother being put in his place. However, he also exploits a lease violation that the brother found to raise the rent on the Drummonds, with a veiled threat of eviction to convince them to give in. When Drummond protests that this is blackmail, the landlord responds "I prefer to think of it as plea bargaining". The punchline is after the Drummonds cave in to this threat, the father tells the kids that this is the result of his act of violence. However, when asked if it was worth it, Mr. Drummond immediately remarks it was for having the pleasure of shutting a bully up.
- Inversion: After Reese destroyed a new fridge in Malcolm in the Middle via a hand grenade given to him by his grandfather, Hal sits down with his in-laws and asks for money to repair the damages and then some. His father-in-law believes this is a loan to be paid back. Hal calmly informs them that they endangered the children by bringing live munitions into the house and that he could have them arrested for that. He then proceeds to tell them "Don't think of it as a loan. Think of it as blackmail."
- Subversion: In Jeeves and Wooster, Bertie gets blackmailed by Stiffy, and sets her up for the line as such: "Are you blackmailing me?" Even though most of the characters can be rather verbose, she just looks at him for a moment and replies with a simple "Yes."
- Creed Bratton uses the trope name directly in the webisodes for The Office.
- Alias Smith and Jones:
Heyes: This is blackmail, Georgette. You know that.
Georgette: I hate the word blackmail.
Curry: You like extortion any better?
- In the K9 episode "The Custodians", a Misplaced Kindergarten Teacher is demanding ten million credits to shut down his mind-control once it proves to have horrific side-effects that even the Department don't like:
Inspector Thorne: You're blackmailing me?
John: That's a very non-wonderful word, Inspector. But yes, I am.
- Burn Notice has the occasional use, as spies use plenty of doublespeak. One episode has Jesse convincing a target to follow Michael's plan, or some information is getting to the media.
Wayne Meyerson: Wait. Are you blackmailing me?
Jesse: Yeah. But... let's not call it that. Let's call it 'a potential win-win'.
- Yes, Minister gave us a version of this, when the black, male revolutionary leader of a small African nation threatens to give a strongly nationalist speech in Scotland unless the Government gives him £50 million (around $115 million in 1980, when that episode aired).
Sir Humphrey: It's blackmail!
General Selim Mohammed: Are you referring to me or my proposal?
Jim Hacker: Your proposal, obviously! No, wait, not even your proposal!
Allison Taylor: What you're proposing is blackmail.
Jonas Hodges: Well, that's putting it in the worst possible light.
- 3rd Rock from the Sun episode "Alien Hunter":
Caryn: You know, Dr. Solomon, this could be interpreted as blackmail.
Dick: No, Caryn, it's extortion.
- In Hannibal, the title character manipulates Abigail Hobbs into silence after she accidentally murders someone. He prefers to call it "keeping each other secrets".
- An episode of The Good Life ("The Pagan Rite" in series 1) has Margo on the telephone giving her choir mistress a long list of reasons why she should be allowed to stand in the front row for their upcoming performance. She gets her way:
Margo: No I have not finished, Miss Mountshaft. Furthermore, let us remember that it is I who supply the gingerbread men for rehearsal teas. (pause) Ha ha ha ha ha, blackmail is an ugly word, Miss Mountshaft."
- On I Love Lucy, Ricky accuses Lucy of trying to blackmail him.
Lucy: Let's not call it that.
Ricky: That's what it is!
Lucy: I know, but let's not call it that.
- In The Rockford Files episode "The Empty Frame, Angel tells his brother-in-law "When it's in the immediate family it's not called blackmail. It's called family spirit."
- Subverted in an episode of Bones when Brennan shows the federal prosecutor evidence she has on his illicit activity and threatens to reveal it if he doesn't have the false charges against Booth dropped.
Brady: Do you have any idea what you're doing?
Brennan: Yes. I'm blackmailing you.
- In Sherlock, Magnussen subverts this by using an even uglier word: ownership.
- In Arrow, Felicity has a humorous moment when she starts this trope by claiming "hacking is such an ugly word"... and then is unable to think of a better one.
- In the 'Doctor Who story "Logopolis", the Master manages to accidentally unleash an entropy field which destroys a quarter of the universe, simply because he didn't fully understand the consequences of interfering with the titular planet's mysterious operation. But he then pulls an Enemy Mine with the Doctor, and the combined efforts of the two of them eventually get the entropy field under control again, but the Master quickly realizes that he can do rather sinister things with that control, and as soon as the danger is seemingly over, he broadcasts a message across the universe, demanding that the all various races of the universe submit to him or he will unleash the destructive forces of the field again.
The Doctor: (outraged) Blackmail!
The Master: No, Doctor, I'm merely reporting the state of affairs.
- Lampshaded and subverted on Greg the Bunny:
Leo: ... and I thought, what a coincidence! Your show is hiring a Singing Mailman and I... have your dirty tape?
Dottie Sunshine: You're blackmailing me?
Leo: (as Jack Nicholson) Blackmail is such a dirty word.
Leo: (as himself) Jack Nicholson, Chinatown. And yes.
- A spoof of this trope, from the British radio series I'm Sorry I'll Read That Again:
John (Cleese): So... it's blackmail, is it?
Graeme (Garden) : Please. Blackmail is such an ugly word.
John: All right. How about... fishpaste?
Graeme: Much better.
John: So... it's fishpaste, is it?
Graeme: I'm afraid so.
- In one of her routines as Ernestine the telephone operator, Lily Tomlin tells a customer, "Blackmail is such an ugly word. Let's just call it a vicious threat."
- Metal Gear Solid
Snake: So, you're blackmailing me?
Col. Campbell: I prefer to think of it as helping to make you come to a decision more easily.
- In Borderlands 2, Handsome Jack became president of Hyperion by threatening the previous president. At first, Jack doesn't want to use an ugly word like blackmail...until he decides that blackmail is actually an awesome word.
Jack: C'mon, say it with me! Blackmail! Blllllaaaaaack-
Tassiter: Oh, go to hell, John.
- Quest for Glory V gives us this exchange:
Arestes: Watch yer backside, matey. Blackmail is a very risky profession.
Ugarte: Blackmail, me? I would not put it quite so crudely as blackmail. I prefer to think of it as, say, keeping a secret. I am very careful with my secrets.
- In Strawberry Vinegar, this exchange occurs between Rie and her mother:
Mom: Come on, Rie, Licia's eating her natto~ You don't want to lose to Licia, do you?
Rie: It's a competition?
Mom: Of course it is. I'm going to give you affection points throughout the day, based on your behavior. Who knows? If you earn over twenty affection points, I might even give you an autograph~
Rie: That's called blackmail, Mom.
- When Ayla and Jadis confront some would-be extortionists in the Whateley Universe:
Jadis: Ooh. That sounds like blackmail. And blackmail is such an ugly word.
Ayla: I prefer "intentional torts". At least it sounds like some deliberately tasty desserts.
- Given that not only did they both already know that the 'evidence' being held over them was a particularly absurd case of Out-of-Context Eavesdropping, but also that the would-be blackmailer had inadvertently triggered a plan of Ayla's that left three different groups of opponents Out-Gambitted and put one of them under his thumb, a certain smugness was understandable.
- In the aftermath of accusations that CNN threatened to DOX a reddit user if he posted hateful messages again, CNN clarified that this wasn't their intention and were merely trying to state they made no deal with the reddit user in question. At least one forum poster pointed out that CNN wasn't helping its case because claiming that you don't like to think of what you're doing is blackmail is the first thing anyone says when they blackmail you.
- In Schlock Mercenary, regarding menacing the Sol system with the PDCL:
Kevyn: That wasn't blackmail. That was, I don't know... passive extortion?
- Played entirely straight in this Narbonic strip. There's a slight twist, in that due to Artie's self-image as "the good one", he's trying to convince himself what he's planning isn't blackmail.
- From Soap on a Rope:
Max: Joe, you're blackmailing people!
Joe: "Blackmail" is such a negative term. I prefer "mail of color".
- Goats, here:
Scroggs: Blackmail is such a negative term. Let's call it Proactive Synergy Reallocation.
Ix: Let's call it Susan. Ix always like that name.
- Exterminatus Now has a wonderful scene:
Lothar: You're blackmailing someone, aren't you?
Virus: (with hurt expression) We prefer the term "extortion".
Eastwood: Hey, it's not our fault if Commander Schaefer leaves videos of his secret chicken fetish lying around. Anybody could've broken into his apartment and found them.
- In Buck Godot: Zap Gun for Hire, there is an inversion where the blackmailer, Buck, attempts to soften the situation but the victim is having none of it.
Buck: Call it peace of mind.Vree: I'll call it blackmail and pay it if it gets you out of my embassy.
Etarre: Why, I'm sure you'll give us such wonderful trade terms, I'll forget all about it [the sensitive information]!"Vree: But- But that's BLACKMAIL!Etarre: Oh wonderful, we understand each other perfectly!
- There is a subversion, also with Vree, near the end of the comic as well.
Examples of a different Ugly Word
Anime & Manga
Comics — Books
- Joker's Asylum: The Riddler:
Jessica Duchamp: The painting. You're stealing it.
Riddler: "Stealing" is such an unpleasant word. I prefer "acquiring". It's much more aesthetically pleasing to the tongue.
- Simpsons Comics:
Lisa: You fake the Mars missions here?
Lindsay Neagle: "Fake" is such a harsh word. Accurate, but harsh.
- Used by Countess Invidia in Les Légendaires: Origins:
Kasino: You want to.... murder Jadina?Invidia: Oh, let's not use such words! I am merely talking about luring her in a situation that will result in her death.Kasino: THAT'S EXACTLY THE SAME THING!
- In a Peanuts strip where Linus brings flowers to his teacher, Charlie Brown tells him he won't get anywhere with bribery. Linus prefers the term "pump priming".
- The Bleach fanfic Uninvited Guest, when it is claimed that Yumokin is being murdered rather than sacrificing his own life, he says "Murder is such a harsh word. Accurate, but harsh."
- Nilvac and Sebboh, from Calvin and Hobbes: The Series, react this way to being called "evil". They prefer "dark".
- This example comes up in The Vow about Lord Shen's methods to enforce obedience from the citizens of Gongmen City.
- Thousand Shinji: When Shinji seizes a firm, an employee accuses him from "looting" them. Shinji takes offense to the term "loot".
Shiro: You ruined us just to loot us, didn’t you?
Shinji: Loot is such a pejorative term. I prefer the phrase ‘hostile takeover with extreme prejudice’.
- Once Upon a Time in 1917:
Edward: You bribed a nun?Elizabeth Masen: No, dear, I made a donation to the poor.
- Our Blades Are Sharp has a traveling Tyrion and Jon Snow happening on a crowded inn.
Jon: Mayhaps, we should try elsewhere?
Tyrion: You forget who you're traveling with, a crowded inn is no problem for a Lannister.
Jon: You mean to swindle someone out of their room? Like Lann the Clever with Casterly Rock.
Tyrion: You know my family's history. And swindle is such an ugly word. I prefer convincing with a slight edge. And this is hardly Casterly Rock.
Films — Animation
- In Atlantis: The Lost Empire, Milo accuses Rourke and the crew of being mercenaries.
Rourke: Mercenary? I prefer the term "adventure capitalist."
- In sequels to Aladdin, it's nearly Iago's catchphrase to say "Hate/traitor is such a strong word".
- Robin Hood:
Little John: You know sump'n, Robin, I was just wonderin' — are we good guys or bad guys? You know, I mean, uh, our robbin' the rich to feed the poor...
Robin Hood: "Rob?" Tsk tsk tsk tsk — that's a naughty word; we never "rob." We just... sort of borrow a bit from those who can afford it.
Little John: "Borrow?" Huh. Boy, are we in debt!
- In the Lucky Luke movie Go West !, the villain, Mr Crook, keeps being called "a crook" by everybody. His answer ? "Come on, that's a bit too harsh a word !". note
Films — Live-Action
Gittes: She was cheating on him. Were you?
Mrs. Mulwray: I dislike the word "cheat".
Gittes: Did you have affairs?
Mrs. Mulwray: Mr. Gittes.
- Parodied in TRON, when Alan Bradley goes to find out what Flynn knows about the hacker in ENCOM's system, figures out it's him, and asks if he's been embezzling. Flynn's response is a sarcastic, "Embezzling is such an ugly word, Mr. Bradley," followed by the actual explanation, that he was searching for the evidence that Dillinger's hit arcade games were, in fact, Flynn's.
- Clarification: Flynn knows that Dillinger pirated his games; being able to prove it, however...
Kevin Flynn: Because, man, somewhere in one of these memories is the evidence! If I got in far enough, I could reconstruct it!
- Clarification: Flynn knows that Dillinger pirated his games; being able to prove it, however...
- In Back to the Future Part III, as Doc Brown is unveiling his plan of returning Marty back 1985 (as he went to 1885 to presumably rescue Doc), he starts to say "We're going to hijack...", before freezing, immediately correcting himself and placing emphasis on new terminology with a wide, toothy grin, "BORROW... the locomotive..."
- Later, when the borrowing is taking place, the conductor asks if it's a hold-up. Doc responds that "it's a science experiment."
- In Back to the Future Part II, Doc also "borrowed" some old newspapers from the closed-down Hill Valley Library in 1985-A.
Bartleby Gaines: Eh, Stalking's an ugly word. I prefer obsessively shadowing.
- From Spider-Man:
- Doubled-up in Thor:
Thor: if... you return the items you have taken from Jane.
Jane Foster: Stolen.
Agent Coulson: Borrowed.
- Thor: Ragnarok: The Grand Master refuses to call his press-ganged gladiators "slaves." He prefers the more positive term "prisoners with jobs."
- In Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl, Will & Jack have this exchange:
Will: We're going to steal a ship? [looks at the Endeavour] That ship?
Jack: Commandeer; nautical term. We're going to commandeer...that ship. [points at the Interceptor]
- An odd variation occurs in The Blues Brothers, when Elwood admits that he hasn't kept track of the old band as well as he said he did while Jake was in prison. The odd part is whether or not Elwood's choice of words is better than Jake's.
Elwood: Well, what was I gonna do? Take away your only hope? Take away the very thing that kept you going in there? I took the liberty of bullshitting you, okay?
Jake: You lied to me.
Elwood: It wasn't a lie, it was just...bullshit.
- In The Rocketeer, once it's revealed that Neville Sinclair is actually a Nazi spy:
Jenny: Everything you told me was a lie.Neville: It wasn't lies, Jenny, it was acting.
- In The Freshman, in a variant of this trope, the following dialogue occurs near the end:
Clark: So this whole thing as been a scam?
Carmine: This is an ugly word, 'scam.' This is business. If you want to be in business, this is what you do.
- Spock does this frequently with the word 'lie' in the Star Trek movies.
- Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, when Spock reveals that "Hours would seem like days" was a code:
Saavik: You lied.
Spock: I exaggerated.
- Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country, after Spock opted not to inform Starfleet of their plan to rescue Kirk from Rura Penthe:
Valeris: A lie?
Spock: An omission.
- Star Trek, during Spock's meeting with Spock Prime:
Spock: How did you persuade him to keep your secret?
Spock Prime: He inferred that universe-ending paradoxes would ensue should he break his promise.
Spock: You lied.
Spock Prime: I... implied.
- Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, when Spock reveals that "Hours would seem like days" was a code:
- In fantasy settings, the thief may prefer a title like "Expert Treasure Finder". Especially if they are grouped with paladins.
- In The Hobbit, Glóin tells Bilbo, "You can say 'Expert Treasure-hunter' instead of 'Burglar' if you like. Some do."
- David Eddings uses this several times in his various book series. Silk is the patron saint of this trope.
- In the first Kingdom Keepers book, Wayne says that Finn would only "borrow" Walt Disney's pen, as oppose to stealing it. Possibly inspired by the exchange in Robin Hood, above.
- From "The Movie They Said Could Never Be Made" in The Joy of Clichés by Nigel Rees:
Dr. Big: You're just like all the others. You think I'm mad, don't you?
Side-Kick: Not mad, but how about geisteskrank?
Dr. Big: Geisteskrank is such an ugly word.!
- The Dresden Files: Informed by Harry Dresden that there've been two attempts on Harry's life since he was hired to follow him, a private investigator opts to discontinue his assignment, remarking that "accomplice" is an ugly word, as is "penitentiary".
- Reacher Gilt, anticipating his co-conspirators' thought processes in Going Postal, contemptuously muses that (at least for them) "embezzlement" is such a difficult word.
- In one of Ernest Bramah's "Kai Lung" stories, what most fantasy stories would call the thieves' Guild refers to itself as the "Joined-Together Band of Excrescence-Removers and Superfluity Adjustors".
- In Spock's World, McCoy insists on his hacking being called "borrowing" rather than "stealing."
- In the novel Foundation's Triumph, the Three-Laws Compliant robots must use this type of phrasing when they tell human mentallics it may be necessary to seriously harm Hari Seldon to stop what they view as another robot group's interference.
"It may become necessary..."
"But it is deeply embedded within Hari. To change it may cause him serious harm."
(Beat) The robot said "Regrettable." Then it croaked out "Necessary..." and left the room.
- Sherlock Holmes's client brings up the ugly word after Holmes politely attempts to avoid it in "The Problem of Thor Bridge":
Holmes: This case is quite sufficiently complicated to start with without the further difficulty of false information.
Client: Meaning that I lie.
Holmes: Well, I was trying to express it as delicately as I could, but if you insist upon the word I will not contradict you.
- In The Scarlet Pimpernel, Marguerite calls Chauvelin out for forcing her to spy on her peers (to uncover the Scarlet Pimpernel's identity) to ensure her brother's safety.
"Fie! two very ugly words, fair lady," protested Chauvelin, urbanely. "There can be no question of force, and the service which I would ask of you, in the name of France, could never be called by the shocking name of spying."
- In Downton Abbey, when the Countess Dowager asks Doctor Clarkson to make some "amenagements" with the truth to help Cora reconcile with Robert.
Dr Clarkson: So you want me to lie to them and say there was no chance at all?Countess Dowager: Lie is such an unmusical word.
- In Farscape when Rygel is accused of "snurching" (Farscape-ese for "stealing"), he responds "I don't snurch, I... procure."
- Who's the Boss?, "Not With My Client You Don't": Angela's assistant calls "hooker" an ugly word and prefers "call girl".
- In the Blackadder Goes Forth episode "General Hospital", during a discussion of spying, Melchett becomes so concerned with what's "a dirty word" and what isn't that he loses touch with the actual subject entirely.
Melchett: "Security" isn't a dirty word, Blackadder. "Crevice" is a dirty word, but not "security".
Blackadder: Well, good thing your jobnote is also your hobby.
Melchett: Now there's another dirty word: "job".
Darling: We've found a leak.
Melchett: Now "leak" is a positively disgusting word.
- M*A*S*H has a few examples, generally involving Klinger.
- In the episode where Hawkeye and BJ get named morale officers, Klinger shakes them down for a 3-day pass to go on an errand for them.
Klinger: "Thief" is such an ugly word. Shall we say "entrepreneur"?
- A little later in the same episode, they find out Klinger was going where they wanted him to anyway:
Hawkeye: You just stole a 3-day pass from us.
Klinger: "Stole" is such an ugly word. Shall we say "creatively acquired"?
- Subverted in "The Price":
Klinger: Bribery is such an ugly word. Ugly, but fitting.
- In the episode where Hawkeye and BJ get named morale officers, Klinger shakes them down for a 3-day pass to go on an errand for them.
- In the finale of Boston Legal:
Carl Sack: Fired is such an ugly word, Alan. An accurate one, but...
- Burn Notice: But at least Brennen admits it.
Michael: You're forcing me to break into a weapons manufacturer?
Brennen: "Forcing" is such an ugly word. Encouraging. Incentivizing... No, you're right, let's go with forcing.
- Two nonsensical examples in A Bit of Fry and Laurie:
Stephen Fry: I dislike the word brothel, Mr. Jowett. I prefer to use the word brothels. Yes, this is a brothels.
(Note that it was a shoe shop.)
Hugh: You certainly came prepared, didn't you?
Stephen: I prefer to put it this way: I certainly came prepared, didn't I?
- An episode of The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air:
Will: You hustled me!
Pool Shark: Hustled is such an ugly word. I like to call it creative money management.
- Buffy the Vampire Slayer: In the third season finale, when Buffy informed Wesley that she was through taking orders from the Watchers Council...
Wesley: This is mutiny!
Buffy: I call it "graduation".
Buffy: So...am I crazy?
- Also from Buffy the Vampire Slayer:
Willow: Well, "crazy" is such a strong word...
Giles: Let's not rule it out, though.
- In Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, Garak isn't pleased with Siskos' encouragement to help him with a rescue misson.
Garak: Commander, this is extortion!
Sisko: Hm... yes, it is.
- In "The Scarlet Letter" episode of The Mentalist, the line is fairly self-explanatory.
Minelli: You abused a corpse to get a confession.
Jane: Used. Used a corpse. There's no "ab".
- On an episode of Life, Charlie Crews abducts the Big Bad by waylaying his chauffeur and picking him up in his own car. When the victim points out that "this is a kidnapping," Charlie parks the car and begins to explain why he doesn't like that word and doesn't feel it applies in this case. The villain then says, "No, detective, you misunderstand me. This isn't a kidnapping. This is a kidnapping." Cue a tire iron smashing through Charlie's window.
- Castle has a suspect in one episode who isn't fond of the word "stalking". But he did follow the victim around for a few days....
- One Hundred Deeds For Eddie Mc Dowd:
Justin: I hate you!
Eddie: Justin, hate is a very strong word.
- The Comic Strip Presents episode "Space Virgins from the Planet Sex" has alien women needing human men to get them pregnant. They shy away from the term "sex slave" in favour of a description of being forced to have sex.
- The MacGuffin in one Hogan's Heroes episode is a collection of artwork taken from occupied France for a high-ranking German official's private collection — described as "not 'stolen'... 'confiscated'".
- From the Frasier episode "The Devil and Dr. Willly":
Babe: I'm just talking about having a little fun. After all, when I'm having fun, I'm happy. When I'm happy, I work harder. When I work harder, you become famous and powerful. Isn't that what you want? Fame and power?
Frasier: I like to think of it more as "influence", really, but...
- Combined with Brief Accent Imitation in Lovejoy when some former soviets ask if an official is "Coorv-ed"
Tinker: I think he means "Bent"
Lovejoy: I prefer "Coorv-ed".
- Subverted in Haven:
Duke: Lying is such an ugly word...but yeah, I lied.
- Used on The Big Bang Theory, about a robot belonging to NASA that Howard brought with him to Leonard and Sheldon's apartment.
Penny: Does NASA know you're using that thing as a napkin holder?
Howard: Are you kidding? They still think it's in a secure locker at JPL.
Penny: You stole it?
Howard: Borrowed! The trick is to carry it out to your car like you own it.
- Person of Interest: Finch, to Carter in "Baby Blue":
Carter: You hacked into his company?
Finch: 'Hacked' is such an ugly word.
- Doctor Who: In "The Big Bang", the Doctor, saying goodbye to a young Amy, mentions, "Did I tell you that I stole the TARDIS? Well, borrowed." His subsequent description of the TARDIS as "ancient and modern at the same time and the most brilliant blue ever" allowed Amy to remember it at her wedding to Rory as "Something old, something new, something borrowed and something blue."
Idris(the TARDIS in a human form): Then you stole me. And I stole you.
- Brought up again, in "The Doctor's Wife":
The Doctor: I borrowed you.
Idris: Borrowing implies the eventual intention to return the thing that it was taken. What makes you think I would ever give you back?
- Subverted on Arrow.
Oliver: Felicity, are you hacking into the Merlyn Global mainframe?
Felicity: "Hacking" is such an ugly word. No. I'm... Yeah. Totally hacking into the Merlyn Global mainframe.
- This is an almost character defining trope for Sir Humphrey Appleby of Yes, Minister, who usually merges it with spectacular Sesquipedalian Loquaciousness, as in the following gem:
Bernard: It is a bit of a cover up, isn't it?
Sir Humphrey: Certainly not, Bernard. It is a responsible discretion exercised in the national interest to prevent unnecessary disclosure of eminently justifiable procedures in which untimely revelations would severely impair public confidence.
Bernard: I see. [beat] It's like Watergate?
- From the Yes, Prime Minister episode "A Conflict of Interest":
Hacker: You mean he's indiscreet?
Humphrey: That's such a pejorative word. I prefer to say he's obsessively honest.
- Star Trek: Voyager. In "Concerning Flight", the Villain of the Week Tau is a Space Pirate turned Arms Dealer, and has this as his Establishing Character Moment.
Alien Buyer: Your prices are said to be unreasonable.
Tau: Unreasonable is such a strong term. But if I can't sell to you, I'll sell to one of the other colonies in your system. A violent sort, your neighbours, aren't they? I'd hate to make your life difficult by offering my weapons to them. But if you don't give me a choice...
- In Jessica Jones, Kilgrave, serial mind rapist, doesn't like the word 'rape', despite that being exactly what he did to Jessica, Hope Schlottman, and almost every woman he's encountered. He seems to acknowledge that's exactly what he did when Jessica confronts him on this, but denies it at first and later mutters that he doesn't like what he does being described that way.
- Averted in the Kraft Suspense Theatre episode "One Step Down". When sleazy No-Tell Motel owner Homer Fargis tries to get money out of wealthy Janet Cord for almost cheating on her husband, she replies "That's blackmail!"—and he responds with a Blunt "Yes".
- The Basil Brush Show:
Dave: Fraud is such an ugly word, Steven. I prefer "rearrangement of the facts".
Steven: Well, rearrange this then. Grounded. You. Forever. Are!
- In the Family Matters episode "False Arrest", Carl is confronted by Buddy Goodrich, a celebrity whom he'd arrested earlier in the episode for assault. Goodrich tries to talk Carl out of putting him on trial because he could simply have his assistant lie to the jury to counter any bad press that would come from the incident. Carl, of course, is having none of it:
Carl: So what you're gonna have him do is lie? Commit perjury?
Goodrich: Those are such ugly words, Carl! They're true, but still...they're very ugly.
Carl: So what you're offering me is a bribe?
- When that doesn't work, Goodrich tries to offer Carl money for a one-time appearance on his show, which Carl also rejects:
Goodrich: Ooh, another ugly word!
- In the Star Trek episode "Let that be your last Battlefield", Kirk accuses Lokai of stealing, making off with, whatever, the shuttle. Lokai replies, "I do not make off with things! My need gave me the right to use the ship! Mark the word, sir: The use of it!"
- From "Erase" by They Might Be Giants:
Think of this as solving problems
That should never have occurred
Please don't call it "strangulation"
That is such an ugly word
- In the German version of Kingdom Hearts II, Demyx responds to Goofy accusing him of being a thief with "Dieb – was für ein hässliches Wort!", meaning "Thief – what an ugly word!".
- Final Fantasy VI with Locke, and his insistence that he's not a thief, he's a "treasure hunter". Naturally, he often "hunts for treasure" in other people's homes. But press the issue and he might rip your lungs out. Or at least steal your clothes.
"Bah! Semantic nonsense!"
- In Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles: Ring of Fates
Aleria: She's a sacrifice to your god?!
Chaspel: "Sacrifice" is such a harsh word. "Catalyst" sounds so much nicer.
- This exchange is brought up in Jak II: Renegade when the words "forced labour trade" are mentioned:
Jak: You mean the slave trade?
Krew: Uh, I prefer "freedom challenged".
- From Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic II: The Sith Lords:
HK-50: Clarification: "Assassin Droid" is such a crude term, master, reserved for durasteel drones with only the most archaic kill-programs. The function I perform has been referred to as "wanton slaughter". I prefer to see it as a means of facilitating communication, resulting in the termination of hostilities.
- From Star Wars: The Old Republic:
NPC: You're insane!
Sith Inquisitor: Insane is such a harsh word. I prefer differently rational.
- God Hand:
Gene: This arm makes me popular among the hellish set.
Conchita (a demon): Hellish?!? We prefer "supertropical".
- Thief II: The Metal Age, while looting a ruined city:
Garrett: Archaeologist sounds so much more dignified than Thief.
- In Geneforge V, a bandit argues over semantics.
Emogene: I object to the word "extort". It is an ugly term. We are helping them. If they are so tight with their coins that they can't pay us for this service, it is a good thing we are here to teach them manners.
- In Disgaea: Hour of Darkness, after we find out the real reason of CAPTAIN GORDON, DEFENDER OF EARTH!'s mission to the Netherworld, this conversation takes place:
- Fallout: New Vegas has Mr. House
Courier: In the meantime, you'd rule Vegas as some kind of dictator?
Mr. House: I prefer the term 'autocrat'.
- Shin Megami Tensei: Persona:
Yukari: You used both me and my father!
- In Persona 3, when SEES confronts Ikutsuki and learns of their intentions:
Ikutsuki: "Used" is such an ugly word. It was for the sake of the world, so how could it be wrong?
- In Ratchet & Clank: Up Your Arsenal, during an episode of Supervillain Weekly:
Supervillain Weekly Host: Lawrence, tell us a bit about this top secret "super weapon" being constructed on Planet Daxx?
Lawrence: Well, "super" is such a strong word... For that matter "weapon" may be a tad overdoing it.
- Pokémon Insurgence:
Zenith: Mind control is such an ugly term. I prefer "mind optimization".
- Mr. Butch from Chopping Block is not a "serial killer". He prefers the term "High Yield Afterlife Inducement Broker."
- Inverted in Intragalactic:
Captain Glee: "Unofficial incentive" is such an ugly... pair of words. Let's just say I bribed you with full knowledge that I'm violating the law.
- Much like Haley, Mordekai from Irregular Webcomic! is a "Loveable Rogue".
- Revolver Ocelot in The Last Days Of FOXHOUND:
Revolver Ocelot: "Torture" is such an inelegant word. I'm an artist. Their testicles are my canvas.
- Gav in Nukees, in a way illuminating his character.
Gav: "Better" is such an ugly word...
- The Order of the Stick
- Haley Starshine dislikes being called a thief. She prefers "Freelance Wealth Redistribution Specialist".
- Also, when Vaarsuvius' mate questions where V got a massive power boost:
Vaarsuvius: I negotiated an exchange with three gentlemen from... other planes of existence.
Inkyrius: Which planes?
Vaarsuvius: Those in the ventral position.
Inkyrius: You sold your soul to fiends??
Vaarsuvius: Technically, it is more of a fixed-term lease with an occupancy date yet to be determined!
- This ''Pibgorn'' strip:
Stan: These creatures you treasure, they are as good as dead unless you follow my instructions to the letter.
Pibgorn: So they're hostages!
Stan: "Hostage" is such an ugly, sordid word ... yes. They're hostages.
- Schlock Mercenary has a few examples. On the rare occasion acknowledging their status as mercenaries is politically inconvenient, the Toughs and others will be called "security and armed response." There's also:
Petey: "Spy" is such a short ugly word. I prefer "espionage". Those three extra syllables really say something.
- In this Sluggy Freelance strip, the Evil Chancellor doesn't like the term "bad guy", prefering to be called "morally challenged".
- Spacetrawler: inverted, "Please, don't call it a gift. Call it a bribe."
- Choco from Moxie would rather use the word "bamboozle" instead of blackmail.
- Similarly, this post on the (now disused) old NationStates forums, memorialised in someone's signature:
Extortion is such a nasty word.
I much prefer "magnolia". "Magnolia" is a much nicer word.
- This◊ demotivator. They're not pirates, they're preemtive nautical salvage experts.
- Genocide is such a harsh word...
- "Pre-release" used to be a euphemism for "stolen from the Chinese factory it was made in" when it came to Transformers action figures. Internet Personality Vangelus rejects this euphemism, preferring "Stolen Chinese Toys".
- On Invasion America, this exchange takes place:
Cale Oosha: TREASON!
- Codename: Kids Next Door, "Op LEADER": Chad calls "traitor" an ugly word. Which he isn't.
- In The Venture Bros., the Guild of Calamitous Intent also don't like morally charged phrases like "good guys" or "bad guys", and insist people use "protagonist" and "antagonist" instead. In all fairness, with guys like Brock Sampson running around, it is a legitimate complaint.
- The Simpsons:
Homer: (to Sherri) C'mon, why won't you go out with Bart?
- Homer posing as 4th-grader:
Sherri: He's a smelly, ugly dork!
Homer: Ugly is such a smelly word.
Lisa: You're replacing me?
- Another Simpsons example:
Homer: Now, Lisa, "dumping" is such a harsh word. Let's just say I'm replacing you.
Marge: Did you jimmy open Mr. Burns' liquor cabinet?
- And another:
Homer: Jimmy is such an ugly word. Unless you're talking about Jimmy Smits. Mrrow!
Bart: Did you replace me with this tinker toy?!
- In the Treehouse of Horror Bartificial Intelligence
Homer: Replace is such an ugly word. We upgraded.
- Spongebob Squarepants includes a variation in "Bucket Sweet Bucket".
Mr. Krabs: (takes the safe out from his throat) And I bet you tried to steal this, too.
Plankton: (chuckles) Well, steal is such a strong word.
- Metalocalypse: The band members don't like talking about dying (when it's them); they prefer the term "hamburger time".
- Subverted in Dan Vs.
Amber: "Extortion" is such an ugly word. I prefer..."extortion".
Dan: That's the same word.
Amber: I said it nicer the second time.
- In Danny Phantom when Danny calls Vlad a Green Bay Packers fanatic. Vlad openly admits it.
Vlad: Fanatic is such a negative word... but yes.
- In Batman: The Animated Series, when a captured Batman is put on "trial" by the inmates of Arkham Asylum and district attorney Janet Van Dorn helps him as best she can by sowing discord among the criminals:
Harley: Ha! You're just jealous because you don't have a fella who's as lovin' and loyal to you as my Puddin' is to me!
Van Dorn: Ah-ha. And I suppose it was that same "loyalty" I saw the last time you escaped and "Puddin'" here finked on you in hopes of getting time off!
Harley: (dejected) Is that true, Puddin'?
Joker: (sheepishly) "Finked" is such an ugly word....
Harley: (grabs Joker and starts shaking him) You lousy, scum sucking creep!
- Atlantis: The Lost Empire : Rourke insisting he's not a "mercenary."
I prefer the term "Adventure Capitalist."
- Spider-Man: The Animated Series:
Michael Morbius: I borrowed this equipment from the ESU Science Department.Felicia Hardy: Pilfered.Michael Morbius: ...Borrowed.
- Biker Mice from Mars: As Ronaldo Rump says, kidnapping is such a harsh word. He prefers to describe Charley as a "reluctant guest".