No True Scotsman

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The correct answer to "If you're such a big fan, then in what issue of Aquaman did we learn the name of Aquaman's father?" is "Fuck you — Arthur, Prince of the Sea, belongs to everyone."

No True Scotsman (also referred to as the fallacy of "Victory by Definition" in Robert Allen's "The Propaganda Game") is an intentional logical fallacy which involves the act of setting up standards for a particular scenario, then redefining those same standards in order to exclude a particular outcome.

The Trope Namer and prime example of this sort of behavior is a hypothetical scenario (first told by British philosopher Antony Flew in his 1975 book Thinking About Thinking) in which a Scotsman reads about a horrible crime in the newspaper that takes place in the English town of Brighton and smugly thinks to himself, "No Scotsman would ever do such a thing." Something much worse happens in nearby Aberdeen and is reported on the next day. Rather than admit that he's wrong, he instead thinks, "No true Scotsman would ever do such a thing." In this case, he is going from "someone who lives in Scotland" to "someone that meets my standard of Scottish behavior."

A similar way of illustrating the point:

Angus: No Scotsman puts sugar in his porridge!
Bonnie: But my uncle Scotty MacScotscot does just that!
Angus: Weel, then he's no' a true Scotsman.

This is very common within subcultures. Works or creators are discredited as not part of the genre due to not living up to arbitrary standards (or just being popular). Often this is followed by examples of what are considered real examples of the genre (see also Pretender Diss). By extension, you aren't considered a real fan of the genre if you don't know of these works. Sometimes, when dealing with a Dead Horse Genre or another sufficiently ghettoized field, the fallacy is used to try and distance a well-liked entry from it.

In real life, it's most commonly found in arguments about politics, race, nationality, or religion, usually when it comes to perceived stereotypes that something negative "can only be done" in a specific region or group of people (especially The Rival) and not the accuser's own group; with of course ignoring the fact that it can.

Essentially a form of Begging the Question, in that, to accept the argument that No True Scotsman would do X, one must accept that the definition of "True Scotsman" includes "would not do X." It's also a good example of Confirmation Bias in action. Related to Moving the Goalposts, where the definition isn't changed, but the standards for accepting a counter-argument are made increasingly more rigorous.

Tropes which rely on, or include this fallacy:

Looks like this fallacy but is not:

  • If the group being referred to has clearly-defined or generally-accepted membership standards that exclude the counter-example. For instance: if a statement is made about "Eagle Scouts", and a rebuttal is offered concerning "Boy Scouts", pointing out that "Not all Boy Scouts are Eagle Scouts" is not No True Scotsman.
  • If the group being referred to has specific and/or objective guidelines/rules of behavior as a member of said group. E.G., "No clean cop would take a bribe" is not fallacious, because a clean cop, by definition, doesn't take bribes.
  • If the action axiomatically (referring to (a) base reasoning principle(s)) or logically disqualifies one from inclusion in the group. For example, "No right-handed person predominantly uses their left hand" is not fallacious because right-handed people are defined as those who predominantly use their right hand. Someone who is calling themselves "right-handed" but predominantly uses their left hand either is lying or doesn't understand the distinction between "right-handed" and "left-handed" people.
  • If the term is redefined because it is susceptible to multiple interpretations and there was legitimate confusion about which was being used. This would be sloppy, but not necessarily fallacious. It could be clarified by observing, "You Keep Using That Word..."

Not related to Violent Glaswegian, Brave Scot, The Scottish Trope, that Shcottish actor, or Fake Scot.

A form of Selective Obliviousness. Straw Affiliation is a related form of this. Stop Being Stereotypical and Not So Different are often invoked when these situations occur. The inverse is Hitler Ate Sugar, when someone tries to argue that all True Scotsmen are evil because of one bad apple, though both tropes can be (and often are) used hand-in-hand to stigmatize and exclude certain people/things/etc.

In regards to Real Life examples, what may be considered as "a true/not a true (whatever)" often relies on personal interpretation which can result in heated arguments, so let's not go there.

It's perhaps also worth mentioning that, among those who wear the kilt, a "True Scotsman" is the humorous term for someone who is confident enough to go commando. So if someone asks "Are you a true Scotsman," it might not be this fallacy— they may just be wondering about your underwear.


Fictional Examples:

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    Anime & Manga 
  • Kazemakase Tsukikage Ran: The samurai in the 11th episode; the only 'true' samurai in their opinion are samurai that think like them. They talk about honor in one scene, for instance, they refuse to sneak attack and decide on a time and place of neutral favor. Then they attack him three to one, even when he reveals himself to be unarmed. Everyone who doesn't act like this is a "coward" or a "maggot".
  • In One Piece, there's a great deal of Fantastic Racism between humanity and fishmen. Arlong split off from the Sun Pirates and formed his own crew because their leader Jinbe went and became a privateer for the human-ruled World Government to help patch things up, but the worst case are the New Fishman Pirates. Their leaders hate humans to the extent that they'll kill any fishmen or merfolk who seek peace with humans. Hody Jones, leader of the pirates, is even willing to have all of Fishman Island destroyed than have fishmen and humans understand each other, all out of Irrational Hatred.

    Comic Books 
  • Superboy Prime doesn't think Conner Kent is the real Superboy in Infinite Crisis due to his lack of confidence in himself and darker personality. In fact, Earth-2 Superman believes the same about the entirety of the concurrent DC Universe, insisting that everything about it is inferior and corrupt, and therefore unworthy of being called the "real" Earth, until he's asked if that's the case with Dick Grayson, and has to admit that no, it isn't.

    Fanfic 
  • In My Immortal, Ebony and friends are obsessed with which characters are "real goffs" and which are just "tryin 2 be goffik". Hagrid, or rather "Hargrid", is reclassified repeatedly, always for nonsensical, arbitrary reasons. How a person becomes a "real goff" never is explained (among a lot of other things), with the closest anyone can guess is that you're born a goff.
  • Dead or Alive 4: The Devil Factor: Ayane spitefully tells Kasumi that, given her compassionate nature and reluctance to kill, she could never hope to be a real ninja.
  • In Equestria: A History Revealed, the narrator thinks she's the only legitimate historical essay writer because she's the only one brave enough to tell the "truth", and dismisses all other works of real historians as false. She even calls herself the one true historian in Equestria at one point.

    Film 
  • In Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, much like the original movies, there's the Ape Shall Never Kill Ape rule, which Koba uses to taunt Caesar at the end. Caesar responded by declaring that he was no ape. Given how Koba already violated that rule by trying to assassinate Caesar and murdering Ash, this trope holds some real weight for once.
  • Jack Reacher has one of the few rational examples of the trope: if the real killer was US Army sniper James Barr, he would have picked the best possible vantage point for the shooting spree (one that forces targets to walk towards or away, and with the sun to the shooter's back). Instead, the shooter picked the worst (sun in the shooter's eyes, with targets walking left and right) indicating that the shooting location was chosen to hold the resulting Orgy of Evidence instead of practicality.
  • In My Cousin Vinny, Vinny cross-examines a witness who claims to have seen the defendants leave the scene of the crime while he made grits for breakfast. Vinny asks if the witness used "instant grits". The witness answers "No self-respecting Southerner would use instant grits. I take pride in my grits."
  • The Christian film Christian Mingle, as Hugo and Jake from The Bible Reloaded pointed out, incurs on this with its protagonist, who is a young woman who starts using the eponymous dating website for Christians. Despite claiming to have been raised as one, been baptized, and believing in Jesus in general, all the other characters treat her as not being a true Christian because she doesn't go to church or read The Bible very often and botching a praying before dinner because she's not accustomed to it. It's even more baffling when the film shows that when creating a profile the dating website does have an option for saying how often one goes to church (including the option "Not at all").
  • In X-Men: The Last Stand, Magneto meets with a group of teenage/young adult mutants he's looking to recruit. They all have facial tattoos, and one snidely asks Magneto "If you're so proud of being a mutant, where's your mark?" Magneto shuts here down pretty easily, however, by showing the serial number Those Wacky Nazis tattooed on him in a concentration camp, and stating that he will never allow himself to be marked again.

    Literature 
  • In A Song of Ice and Fire:
    • Sansa maintains her belief in a world of Knights in Shining Armor, despite repeatedly confronting evidence that many knights are just thugs with swords, by declaring that any knight who doesn't live up to her expectations and their vows to protect the innocent is obviously "no true knight." Her behavior fits in with the "objective guidelines of behavior" exception since, as noted, to become a knight you have to make certain vows to protect the innocent, fight with honor, protect women etc. It might be more accurate to say that "true knights" are actually in the minority in the setting. Thus, she seems to be sticking to this even after acquiring Jade-Colored Glasses by recognizing that true knights, if they exist at all, are very rare.
    • In "The Hedge Knight" Dunk invokes this when seeking a sixth man to fight by his side in his Trial of Seven. When an entire stand of knights refuse to acknowledge the rightness of his cause, he shouts "Are there no true knights among you?" Then the Prince of Dragonstone himself rides out to fight alongside him, citing that Dunk was the one who behaved "as all knights should".
  • The Halkans in the StarTrek Novel Verse are total pacifists, who insist that there is no violence of any kind in their hearts. As a result of this, anyone capable of violence cannot be truly Halkan, and will be regarded as a non-person.
  • Matters of ethnicity are discussed in George MacDonald Fraser's McAuslan trilogy of short stories. Author Avatar Dand McNeill discusses the agonies the Gordon Highlanders went through when accepting a draft of soldiers from the Liverpool Scottish—sons and grandsons of Scotsmen who'd settled in Liverpool but who had the accent of Merseyside rather than Clydeside. One of whom was black, played the bagpipes, and applied to join the Regimental Band. The question was "Can a black-skinned Scouser be said to qualify as Scottish?" closely followed by "What's it going to look like?"
    • Dand also describes the Pipe-Sergeant in these terms:
    If he hadn't been such a decent wee man, he'd undoubtedly have been a professional Scotsman of the most offensive type.
  • The BFG: The other giants essentially disown the BFG for not eating humans, though neither party does anything to patch the ties. The climax of the film makes it clear that they don't even consider him a giant.
    Fleshlumpeater: You is not giant! You is like... human bean!
    BFG: Human being! Yes! I'd rather be like them, than like you!
  • In Wolf Hall, Thomas Cromwell is always getting this from various individuals. He's not really a trusted councilor, he's a strange whim of the king's. He's more Italian than English. He's Jewish, his father was Irish, he has no place among gentlemen, etcetera etcetera etcetera.

    Live Action TV 
  • The Daily Show:
    • Excessive use of this in the 2008 US Presidential campaign led to Jon Stewart producing a handy test: "Are You A Real American?"
    • The May 5, 2014 segment showed how Republicans running against other Republicans all declare the opponent to be "not a true conservative" (tying into the Real Life example of RINO) by showcasing all the potential definitions thereof and how they are applied in a South Carolina race.
  • In an episode of Desmond's, Desmond's son is failed on an essay about black British youth, because his teacher thinks it reflects a middle-class background which isn't typical of urban culture. Or as his sister puts it "They're saying he's not black enough!"
  • Star Trek: Deep Space Nine:
    • One of the tactics used by Gul Dukat. After the Klingons attacked, the new civilian government pressed for a diplomatic solution. This flew in the face of his pride, so he waged a one-ship war on the Klingons and then forged an alliance with the Dominion. He says the following to Major Kira:
    Dukat: What Cardassians? Don't you see, Major? They're paralyzed. They're beaten and defeated. I am the only Cardassian left, and if no one else will stand against the Klingons, I will.
    • Sirella, Martok's wife, who Jadzia Dax has to please before she can marry Worf. During the reading of ceremonial reading of The Chronicle, a history of the Martok family's unbroken (until now, ahem) bloodline, Jadzia sprinkles in her own extracurricular research, including: a positive spin on an Oliver Cromwell-type figure in Klingon history, the revelation that Sirella's claim to nobility is false, and that her mother-in-law's ancestor was not the Princess but a concubine who lived out of the royal stables.
    Sirella: You are STRAYING FROM THE SAGA!!
    • From "hew-mon" standards, Quark is an appalling boss, but from Ferengi standards, he's quite benevolent. He gave food and medicine to Bajoran refugees at just above cost and tries to look out for his employees.
    Quark: I can reform! I'll start gouging the customers again! I'll revoke all my employees' vacation time!
    Brunt: ...You gave them vacations?
  • The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air:
    • In many episodes, Will often mocks Carlton for not being black enough. For example:
    Carlton: Wait 'till we come downstairs in these tuxes. People may not think we're twins, but I'll bet they'll think we're brothers.
    Will: You know, I don't think you'll have to worry about anybody mistaking you for a brother.
    • Used a bit more seriously in the episode "Blood is Thicker Than Mud", where Will and Carlton try to join an all-black fraternity. Although they're both hazed, Carlton's is more severe than Will's, and even after he endures everything they put him through, the Pledgemaster still refuses to let Carlton join because he thinks he's a "sellout". Will quits in disgust when he finds out, and after they return home and tell Uncle Phil and Aunt Vivian what happened, Phil laments: "When are we going to stop doing this to each other?"

    Professional Wrestling 
  • Portia Perez says that if you don't recognize her, then you aren't a real pro wrestling fan. Also, Allison Danger is a diet Canadian.

    Podcasts 
  • In their 100th episode, the hosts of Who Back When note that the most common trend they see when someone sends them hate mail is to ask how they can call themselves Doctor Who fans yet go on to rate episodes as anything less than perfect. Their own view is that the fact that some episodes are genuinely bad does not detract from their love of the series. Indeed, they see Doctor Who as something to be loved, warts and all.

    Recorded Comedy 
  • George Carlin related this on his album "FM/AM":
    I got fired in Las Vegas from the Frontier Hotel for saying "shit." In a town where the big game is called "craps." There seems to be some sort of double standard. I'm sure there was some Texan standing outside the casino saying "Aw, shit, I crapped out!" They fly those guys in for free. They fired me. Shit!

    Religion 
  • In The Bible, John 19:12 has the Jewish leaders shouting to Pontius Pilate "If you release this man (Jesus), you are no Friend of Caesar. Anyone who makes himself a king opposes Caesar." Being governor of Judea, Pilate held the title of Friend of Caesar (a status above ordinary subjects), and the Jewish leaders are implying that if Pilate releases Jesus, he's no "true" Friend of Caesar (which makes this trope Older Than Feudalism).

    Tabletop Games 
  • The Orks of Warhammer 40,000 happily use No True Greenskin to stir up conflict when they can't find anyone else to fight. For example, Orks of the Goff clan know that the only proper greenskin is one who disdains fancy uniforms and is serious about busting in heads, the Bad Moons know that Orks ought to strut about in flashy clothes and blast things with snazzed-up shootas, the Snakebites know that the only true Orks fight with simple weapons astride a Squiggoth, while the Evil Suns know that being an Ork is all about racing around on a bike, buggy or trukk. The Blood Axe clan doesn't do this because they think being a true Ork is about turning your enemy's tricks against them, which then becomes one of the reasons they get it from the other clans.

    Theatre 
  • Cyrano de Bergerac: In Act IV Scene III, this fallacy is played perfectly straight In-Universe. All the Gascon cadets are sick to death of De Guiche because he is The Dandy wearing an ermine cape, plotting with his uncle Cardinal Richelieu. When captain Carbon tries to defend him, one cadet says that De Guiche is "No True Gascon":
    Carbon: For all that—a Gascon.
    The First Cadet: Ay, false Gascon!... trust him not...
    Gascons should ever be crack-brained...
    Naught more dangerous than a rational Gascon.

    Video Games 
  • The game Metal Wolf Chaos features propaganda news reports that define a true American as "anyone who supports the idea of having the families and friends of terrorist sympathisers murdered in the streets" rather than "anyone who is a citizen or long-standing resident of America".
  • In Team Fortress 2, if an Engineer Dominates another Engineer, one possible response is "A real Texan would've dodged that".
  • Rozalin from Disgaea 2: Cursed Memories loves her father, Overlord Zenon. Until she actually meets him in person, and discovers he's actually kind of a jerk who seems to care for her only as a decorative object to be 'kept safe' in a castle isolated from the outside world. She immediately deduces that he can't be the real Overlord Zenon and is only a fake. She's actually right, but her reasoning that no true Overlord Zenon is a petty jerk had nothing to do with it — the real Overlord Zenon is much worse. Or at least used to be, until reincarnating as Rozalin.
  • The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim:
    • This lies at the heart of Skyrim's civil war. The Stormcloaks know that no true son or daughter of Skyrim would follow an empire that bowed to an elven treaty outlawing the worship of the Nords' patron deity Talos, while loyalists argue that no true Nord would abandon their allies in their hour of greatest need or fight against the empire that Talos himself founded before he ascended to godhood.
    • No true dovah would ever flee from a fight, especially against another dovah. When Alduin flees from the Dragonborn after fighting them on the Throat of the World, the rest of the dragons start questioning his right to lead, and his second-in-command Odahviing actually assists you (once you defeat him) because he dislikes serving a Dirty Coward.
  • In the Borderlands 2 DLC Tiny Tina's Assault on Dragon Keep, Lilith is incredibly reluctant to let Mr. Torgue join in on their game of Bunkers & Badasses because he is a muscular guy, so she believes he's not a true geek and only wants to play because being geeky is "trendy" now. It's invoked again moments later when Tina asks him "Three Geeky Questions". Torgue gets the first two right, but the third has an Unexpectedly Obscure Answer, and he doesn't know. Therefore, according to Lilith, Torgue isn't really into geek culture. After a great deal of Inelegant Blubbering from Torgue, she reluctantly agrees to let him stay as a sidequest-giver. One wonders what her problem is, since she had no problem with Mordecai playing and he is very clearly not interested in the game or anything else geeky (of course, he doesn't try to pretend he is, either).
  • Dragon Age:
    • In Dragon Age: Origins, Sten believes in both things and people having an essential nature they are born with and you can't change. For example, if you are born to a merchant clan but become a blacksmith, you are never a blacksmith. You are, forever, a merchant trying to be a blacksmith. If your character is female, Sten comments that you seem to be both a woman and a soldier but this is impossible, you must be either a woman or a soldier. His conclusion is that you aren't a woman, even though you clearly look like one. If the PC is male he'll have this conversation with Liliana.
    • This gets weird in Dragon Age II DLC, when you meet Tallis, who is both a woman and a warrior and follows the same religion/philosophy that Sten did. This is because the Qun classifies her (like all official assassins) as a priest rather than a warrior.
    • Dragon Age: Inquisition introduces yet another twist. Iron Bull explains that if a person of one gender can best serve society in a role of the other, they're called "Aqun-Athlok", or transgender. So, for example, if a child the tamassrans think is female shows proficiency at fighting, but isn't good enough at lying to be made a spy like Tallis, everyone acknowledges that the midwife made a mistake in saying they were a girl, the child is put in the military, and from then on is expected to look and act exactly like all the other men, because he is a man. Hence Sten's confusion: the female Warden was clearly a warrior and therefore, a man, but looked and acted like a woman. Iron Bull mentions he gets around this issue by mentally slotting them between genders depending on whether they have armor on at the time.
  • In World of Warcraft there are five Horde factions: the playable Horde, which includes all Horde races and not just the orcs like the other examples; the Dark Horde, The Remnant of the Warcraft II Horde that is based mostly in Blackrock Mountain and the Burning Steppes; the Fel Horde, the still demon-corrupted remnant of the Warcraft II expansion Horde in Outland, mostly aligned with Illidan; Garrosh Hellscream's True Horde, which is the orc supremacist faction of the Horde civil war that plays out during the fourth expansion; and finally the Iron Horde, the pre-Warcraft Horde hijacked and industrialized by Garrosh after some time traveling shenanigans during the fifth expansion.
  • In the Dwarf Fortress community, experienced players often try to make Difficult but Awesome solutions to otherwise mundane problems. When asked why they don't use an easier solution, the usual response is, "It's not dwarven enough."

    Western Animation 
  • The theme-song of "The Adventures of Ned Flanders", a short at the end of the Simpsons episode "The Front":
    Singers: Hens love roosters, geese love ganders, everyone else loves Ned Flanders.
    Homer: Not me.
    Singers: Everyone who counts loves Ned Flanders.


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