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Double Meaning
Sometimes, stating something plainly is not a good option. When that's the case, and simply leaving it unstated won't work either, you must resort to using double meanings.

For a statement to have a double meaning, it must have one obvious meaning and one deliberate meaning, concealed so that only those "in the know" will understand that second meaning.

This is frequently used to pass secret messages along, as it is often more subtle than using an obvious code. Alternatively, a sub-culture may adopt a phrase from the main culture, but assign their own meaning to it, understood only within that sub-culture.

Supertrope to:

Sister tropes include Literal Genie, Literal-Minded, Literal Metaphor, Prophecy Twist, Subtext, and Talking through Technique.

Examples that fit into one of the subtropes should be placed on the appropriate page; this page is for examples that don't fit elsewhere.


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    Films — Animation 
  • In Brave, to undo a spell, the witch tells Merida that she and her mother must mend what was torn by pride. Merida assumes this means a tapestry she slashed open during a fight between her and her mother; however, it's left ambiguous whether the witch really meant the tapestry or the relationship between Merida and her mother.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Man of Steel: Not only does Zod's message ("You Are Not Alone") inform humans that aliens exist, it lets Superman know he's not the last Kryptonian.
  • In Jason and the Argonauts, Jason tells a camp's general that he is visiting Thessaly to reclaim his rightful throne from Pelias, who had usurped it twenty years before. The general tells Jason, "When your father defended his throne, no man fought harder than I." Of course, the general is secretly Pelias himself, so the second meaning is, in a sense, "truer" than the seemingly straightforward one (he fought hard enough to win, after all).

  • In the Left Behind books, after Carpathia's resurrection, the standard greeting becomes "He is risen," with the response being "he is risen indeed": the "he" refers to Carpathia. The Christians reclaim the greeting (since it was originally the Paschal greeting), placing a slight emphasis on the "he" to indicate that they are referring to Jesus instead of Carpathia. This allows the Christians to interact with the rest of the world without drawing suspicion to themselves, while at the same time not violating their beliefs.
  • Dune. In the greenhouse room Jessica finds a note from Lady Fenring, a fellow Bene Gesserit. The last line of the message is "On that path lies danger", a secret warning code that there was a hidden message nearby. Jessica finds the hidden message as a series of dots on the underside of a nearby leaf.
  • In Helm, in Denesse Sensei's first conversation with Leland, his comments about the tea are simultaneously commentary on the effects of the Helm.

    Live-Action TV 
  • How I Met Your Mother: Robin follows her boyfriend Ted to a nightclub and asks the bouncer about him. We are shown the event, in which Ted, who has been acting unlike himself, is flirting with another woman and agreeing to go to her apartment. Ted is confronted by Marshall, who says "Aren't you afraid a certain someone will find out about this? This isn't you, Ted." It turns out that Barney had been calling himself "Ted Mosby", so that's who the bouncer thought he was; we were shown Ted instead of Barney because that's how Robin would have imagined the bouncer's account. Meanwhile, Marshall's "certain someone" was the real Ted, and "This isn't you" was meant literally.
  • In a twist, in Tara's song, "Under Your Spell", in the Buffy the Vampire Slayer episode "Once More with Feeling", the metaphorical meaning is the more obvious and positive one, about how much she loves Willow, and Willow has brought her out of her shell and introduced her to happiness. However, if the lyrics are taken completely literally, they're about how Willow has been magically manipulating Tara's mind and memories.
  • A sad version in the Stargate Atlantis episode McKay and Mrs. Miller. Rodney and his sister Jeannie are having an argument about how they haven't talked in four years since Rodney decided that Jeannie quitting physics to raise her daughter was a mistake. "Rod", an alternate universe version of Rodney, hears them talking and asks, "Hey, you guys got something over there?" Jeannie averts her eyes and says "No, we don't" as she walks away. Fortunately, they make up by the end of the episode.

  • Much Ado About Nothing: Benedick thinks Beatrice is in love with him (she isn't), and when she is sent to bring him in to dinner he thinks she's sending him secret signals; he cites this trope by name.
    "Against my will I am sent to bid you come in to dinner." There's a double meaning in that. "I took no more pains for those thanks than you took pains to thank me." That's as much as to say, "Any pains that I take for you is as easy as thanks." If I do not take pity of her, I am a villain. If I do not love her, I am a Jew.

    Video Games 
  • Deep in the first Eye of the Beholder game, at the start of the Mind Flayer level, a wall engraving reads "Alignment must be true." Since this is a D&D game, you'd expect it to be a cryptic mention about Character Alignment. In truth, it's a hint about how to open the next secret passage, which is a the end of an alignment of hidden doors.

    Visual Novels 
  • In the Prologue to Grisaia short story in Grisaia No Rakuen Yumiko, Amane and Michiru are told to expect a new honor student transfer student at Mihama, a school for students with severe psychological issues that interfere with their ability to attend normal schools. When Sachi shows up, she's intelligent, dutiful, athletic, friendly and more. Following a flippant suggestion about cleaning the school, Michiru comes back the next morning to find that she stayed the entire evening and into the morning, working nonstop to clean the school. It's not that Sachi happens to be an honor student but rather that she's here because she's an "honor student" and obsessively follows all orders, no matter how absurd or destructive.

    Real Life 
  • During the 18th century Jacobite Rebellion in Scotland, noblemen supposedly loyal to the English crown but secretly on the side of the rebels had to tread a very fine line, or risk having their wealth confiscated. Since in those days the word of a nobleman was almost sacred, and breaking it meant great loss of face, a common test of loyalty was to propose a toast to the king. This was in effect swearing loyalty to the crown, and many Scots nobles would have found this difficult or impossible to do.

    The way they got around was that in his own home, a noble with Jacobite sympathies could join in and even propose loyal toasts to the king by using special cups with the name "Charles Edward Stuart", or a shortened version thereof at the bottom, which would also be supplied to any other rebels around the table, but not the English visitors. So you could raise your cup and say: "To the king!" while looking straight at the name of the Jacobite Pretender. A variation was to have a glass of water on the table positioned so that the toasting glass passed directly above it, thereby toasting "the king across the water".
  • Prussian Field Marshal Blücher, co-victor of the Battle of Waterloo, once bet other guests at a social function that he was able to kiss his own head. He then proceeded to kiss his chief of staff, General Gneisenau.

Covert Distress CodeCryptic ConversationDoublespeak
Double Edged AnswerDialogueDouble Speak

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