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Distracting Disambiguation
Roy: I'll take on the archers. Haley, V: slow down that wizard!
Haley: She's a sorcerer, actually.
Vaarsuvius: Technically, a sorceress.
Roy: Wow, I can't tell you how much more fulfilling this battle will be now that I can refer to my enemy by the proper appellation. Now stop wasting time and get moving!
Haley: Relax, speaking is a free action.

It's pretty common to make mistakes when trying to communicate so it's not rare to see characters stop to disambiguate their meaning to avoid confusion. What is unusual is when they do it in the middle of a fight to the death, and their enemies politely stop to listen.

This is a kind of Non Sequitur where a character, usually in the prelude to or middle of a serious (if not deadly) situation takes a time out to clarify that what he really meant to say was X. Expect it to escalate into an inane conversation on the subtle differences and various interpretations of X as opposed to Y, or XYZ rather than ZYX.

Once the character's Distracting Disambiguation is over, expect everyone to go right back to the critically dangerous situation as if nothing had happened.

Suptrope of Talking Is a Free Action. See also Digging Yourself Deeper, which can happen in said disambiguation. Compare and contrast Poor Communication Kills which can happen if talking is not a free action or if the disambiguation could kill if not corrected. Many times it happens because characters are Derailed For Details.


Examples:

    open/close all folders 

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Take the Money and Run: The bank tellers think that Woody Allen's character's holdup note says "I have a gub." He spends some time correcting them that he has a gun.
  • In Raising Arizona, Gale and Evelle's bank robbery is thrown off the rails when the bank customers start nitpicking the brother's orders: "Well, which is it, young feller? You want I should freeze or get down on the ground? Mean to say, if'n I freeze, I can't rightly drop. And if'n I drop, I'm a-gonna be in motion. You see..."
  • Meet the Spartans does this straight, complete with Talking Is a Free Action.
    Commander: I hope you're all ready, because today is the day we DIIIIIE!
    Everyone: YE— Wait, wha...?
    Commander: Urgh, today is the day they die, that's what I meant to say...
  • In Hancock, the title character pauses in the middle of a gunfight while rescuing a pinned down (female) police officer to ask for permission to touch her body. He then explains that it's not that he doesn't want to, because she's very attractive, but he wouldn't want it to be inappropriate contact. He calmly explains this under a hailstorm of bullets while the bad guys are loading up a rocket launcher.

    Literature 
  • In The Savage Damsel and the Dwarf, by Gerald Morris, one knight is threatening another and shouts, "I shall not rest until thou art cleaved in twain!" The other characters present (including the second knight, who doesn't really want to fight) start arguing over the proper past participle of "cleave".
  • Discworld:
    • We get a discussion on whether the female version of "Head Honcho" would involve the term Honchette, Honchessa, or Honcharina.
    • Ankh-Morporkians are particularly known for this. The Creator wouldn't have been able to say "Let there be light" without someone asking "What color?"
    • And even then the wizards are in a league of their own. In The Last Continent, they respond to being threatened by a god ("Begone, lest I visit you with boils!") by pointing out that visiting someone with cake is a lot better than boils, provided it's not sponge. Hilariously, the god they're being threatened by is just as easily distracted.
  • Ellen DeGeneres' writing style, much like her stand-up comedy, relies heavily on these. She's almost a living Wiki Walk, meandering off on long, seemingly aimless tangents that always — somehow — circle back to the original subject. She lampshades this with the title of her semi-autobiography, My Point, and I Do Have One.

    Live-Action TV 
  • This happens quite a few times in Buffy the Vampire Slayer in the midst of the Buffy Speak and general chitchat among heroes, villains, and between them.
    • One season 7 episode, "Conversations with Dead People", has Buffy stop her fight with a newly risen vamp when it turns out he was a Sunnydale alumnus who'd had a crush on her. They spend the rest of the episode commiserating, and he even gives her therapy to get through her emotional troubles with Spike! Eventually, they fight and she dusts him.
      Webs: Oh, my God!
      Buffy: Oh, your God, what?
      Webs: Oh, well, you know, not my God, because I defy him and all of his works. Does he exist? Is there word on that, by the way?
      Buffy: Nothing solid.
  • Monty Python's Flying Circus
    • A man tries to skyjack a plane:
      Man: All right, don't anybody move... except to control the aeroplane... you can move a little to do that.
      Stewardess: Can I move?
      Man: Yes, yes, yes. You can move a little bit. Yes. Sorry, I didn't mean to be so dogmatic when I came in. Obviously you can all move a little within reason. There are certain involuntary muscular movements which no amount of self-control can prevent. And obviously any assertion of authority on my part, I've got to take that into account.
    • Dennis Moore sketch:
      Dennis: Stand and deliver! Drop that gun! [Moore shoots him] Let that be a warning to you all. You move at your peril, for I have two pistols here. I know one of them isn't loaded any more, but the other one is, so that's one of you dead for sure... or just about for sure anyway. It certainly wouldn't be worth your while risking it because I'm a very good shot. I practice every day... well, not absolutely every day, but most days in the week... I expect I must practice, oh, at least four or five times a week at least... at least four or five, only some weekends... like last weekend, there really wasn't the time, so that moved the average down a bit... but I should say it's definitely a solid four days' practice a week... at least. I mean... I reckon I could hit that tree over there... the one just behind that hillock... not the big hillock, the little hillock on the left. You see the three trees, the third from the left and back a bit — that one — I reckon I could hit that four times out of five... on a good day. Say with this wind... say, say, seven times out of ten.
      Man: What, that tree there?
      Dennis: Which one?
      Man: The big beech with the sort of bare branch coming out of the top left.
      Dennis: No, no, no, not that one.
    • To say nothing of a certain, unexpected, Spanish Inquisition....
  • In an episode of Night Court, Mac's old war buddy starts choking and has enough trouble calling attention to this fact that he writes it with squeeze ketchup on the cafeteria table.
    Mac: "I'm... cooking"?
    (he desperately wipes and edits it)
    Mac: "Choking." Well, no wonder I couldn't read it; your H looks like an O!
  • Employed heavily in Firefly, unsurprising as it is another Joss Whedon show:
    Simon: (being held up at gunpoint) Are you Alliance?
    Jubal Early: Am I a lion?
    Simon: What?
    Jubal Early: I don't think of myself as a lion. You might as well though, I have a mighty roar.
    Simon: I said Alliance.
    Jubal Early: Oh, I thought...
    Simon: No, I was...
    Jubal Early: That's weird.
  • In the Volume 4 finale of Heroes, Sylar is holding Claire hostage and taunting her by listing all the members of her family he's going to kill, when:
    Sylar: Papa Petrelli, Mama Bennet, Mr. Muggles... What's your brother's name again? Larry?
    Claire: Lyle.
    Sylar: Right. He's gonna die, too.

    Radio 

    Tabletop Games 
  • Dungeons & Dragons 2nd Edition has a spell that can cause Distracting Disambiguation: Leomund's Lamentable Belabourment. The victims of this charm will start discussing with the caster on any topic of his choice, whether to agree or disagree, whatever the earlier situation. If the effect is prolonged, the creatures will continue arguing even if the mage walk away, and may end up either confused or enraged.
  • Happens fairly frequently when two players disagree on a rule, especially in the middle of a big combat. There's a reason most games give advice to the DM to intervene with a ruling quickly.

    Web Comics 
  • 8-Bit Theater: Pick a strip, any strip. They become Genre Savvy to their tendency to do this and point out that their method of dealing with threats is to bicker, argue semantics, stall with Fighter, hurt each other, bicker some more and then implement a brilliant plan from out of nowhere.
  • Very common in The Order of the Stick, which has Talking Is a Free Action in full force.
    • For example, you get Roy trying to remind Xykon of the murder he's actually pursuing him for...
    • As well as many inane discussions in the middle of fights about D&D rules (like with the half-ogre munchkin).
    • Even outside of melee, a dramatic revelation can easily wander into Distracting Disambiguation and just spoil the effect:
      Eugene: Xykon is alive!!
      Roy: What??
      Eugene: Well, I don't mean actually alive. Technically, he's still dead, just not, you know, DEAD-dead.
      He's undead, right, so he's up and moving around, even though he's still life signs: negative. But it's not like he just spontaneously came back to life.
      I mean, he DID come back spontaneously, but back to, uh, undeath, I suppose.
      Roy: Just curious, do you get XP for killing this dramatic moment?
    • Even a pun-fight isn't safe from this.
      Elan: —and I'll foil your evil plans!
      Tarquin: Then I wonder what I've begotten into.
      Also, "foil" is less of a pun than it is a word derivation. We say someone "foiled" a plan because they defeated them — as with a foil.
      Elan: Really?
      Tarquin: No. The etymologies are unrelated. *kaTANG!* (disarms Elan)
  • Same principle in Goblins, again with D&D rules. Minmax once stalled a fight against a bunch of demons because he had won initiative, and then they started arguing whether he'd drawn his sword beforehand or not.
  • In GastroPhobia, a tense hostage moment is ground to a halt by Phobia trying to say the name of the netherbeast, Klgwtzlpx... Krgbblfts... Krteskyblts... Krflksywlts... Krghxltlps... KRPHXYZWLPS! (the Z is silent).

    Web Original 

    Western Animation 
  • Family Guy, season 2, episode 13, "Road to Rhode Island". Brian and Stewie have stayed the night at a motel, but their credit card was declined. The manager comes knocking...
    Manager: Open up or I'll hit you with this blunt instrument I use to hit dead-beats with bad credit cards. Well, it's not an instrument, it's more of an object, but it's blunt, hard and blunt, and well... it's kinda like a bat. I found it out back one day when I was raking.
  • In Wakfu season 1 episode 3, while fighting a villain named "The Black Raven", Yugo makes the point that all ravens are black. The team then immediately drops what they're doing in order to work on a better name for him, ignoring the feeble attempts of the Black Raven to remind them that they were about to fight.
  • Early in season two of Jackie Chan Adventures, Tohru is fighting Hak Foo, whose schtick involves coming up with elaborate names for every single attack.
    Hak Foo: Mad Monkey Kung Fu! Octopus Fists of Fury! Shredding Lion Claws! Minnow Whallops Whale!
    Tohru: I'm sorry, what was that last part?
    Hak Foo: I said, "Minnow—" (gets body-slammed across the room) "What was that last part?"
  • This trope is central to the premise of WordGirl. Since it's an educational show as well as an Affectionate Parody of superheroes, WordGirl will always take time out of her confrontations with villains to define the word of the day for them before going right back to the action.


Not Distracted by the SexyDistraction TropesEasily-Distracted Referee
Distracted by the SexyComedy TropesD.I.Y. Disaster
Distracted from DeathAdded Alliterative AppealDistressed Dude

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