Passive-Aggressive Kombat

Looks like the verbal claws are out.

"Senior wizards never rowed in public. The damages were apt to be appalling. No, politeness ruled, but with sharpened edges."

Fighting doesn't have to involve shouting or anything physical. For some characters, sharp well placed words are all they need to duel. They can sound very reasonable, even gentle. It's still a knock-out, winner-take-all confrontation, just that the people involved are trying to remain composed and amicable.

Once in a while these can break into something more severe if a character's Berserk Button is hit or someone has hit a Rage Breaking Point. A Cat Fight might even ensue.

This is also Truth in Television, as it's practically a necessity in politics and diplomacy (some are better at it than others), and just a common trait of a Jewish Mother. Someone with Silk Hiding Steel is likely to engage in this when needed, as is any member of a Deadly Decadent Court worth their salt.

Common weapons in this include Politeness Judo, Chewbacca Defense, any of various Logical Fallacies, and Damned by Faint Praise.

Compare Jews Love to Argue, Sugary Malice, Snark-to-Snark Combat, Outhumbling Each Other.

Contrast Hair-Trigger Temper (who couldn't do this trope if they tried), Volleying Insults (where the fight becomes openly hostile).


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    Anime and Manga 
  • To the suspicion of all else, Paul von Oberstein from Legend of the Galactic Heroes
  • Adale from The Good Witch of the West was noted, by her enemy whom she'd just beaten in this, to never be at a loss for words.
  • Played more literally than usual in the Territory Arc in YuYu Hakusho, wherein one of the characters with Territory abilities can create a Territory in which violence is not possible, and the only way to beat the other person is to make them say whatever the Taboo might be at the moment. Kurama talked him into making the whole Japanese alphabet taboo one letter (kana) at a time, then made him laugh—setting off several of the Taboo sounds and beating him at his own game.
    • Also one earlier in the Four Saint Beasts Arc, where at the end Hiei notes that Kurama has to have the last word.
  • In Corsair, Aura, princess of a pirate clan, is kidnapped by the governor-general of a nearby territory, Jean-Hughes D'Aubigne. Their first conversation with her as a hostage consists of them sharing a meal and speaking in polite monotone while exchanging sentiments such as "It's hard to believe a beauty like you is also a dirty sea pirate."
  • In Black Butler II, those meetings between Sebastian and Claude that don't degenerate into an outright brawl inevitably turn into this, as they exchange backhanded compliments and critique each other's buttling-skills.
  • Light and L's battle of wits in Death Note in all its EPIC passive-aggressive glory. Later Light and Near's.
  • Anthy Himemiya of Revolutionary Girl Utena is a master at this, though it's also deconstructed in that it's the only way she can fight back, having been emotionally anesthetized by years of emotional and sexual manipulation by her Manipulative Bastard brother Akio.
  • Used quite in a while in Oniisama e..., specially by Rei and Kaoru when the first is in her rare good moods, by Mariko and Aya when they can't slap each other around, or by Fukiko against whoever she's displeased with.
  • Being a deconstruction of the Fighting Series Played for Laughs, Muteki Kanban Musume deconstructs Passive-Aggressive Kombat reminding us that this is the weapon of the people who cannot win a physical confrontation, but also takes a psychological toll in those who use it:
  • America and Russia in Axis Powers Hetalia are shown to do this. Most notably with their exchange in the America's Birthday strip, where Russia gives America a huge box of "extra small" condoms and a one-way ticket to Siberia. This conversation ends with them laughing while an intimidating aura emits from both of them.
  • In the anime version of Sailor Moon, basically every single thing that has come out of Michiru Kaioh's mouth is this. If Usagi is going to be the queen of the moon, Michiru is definitely queen of the trolls.

    Comic Books 

    Fan Works 
  • The second season of Children of Time has two running examples: the Holmeses vs. Chief Inspector Grayson (Beth Holmes's boss), and the Holmeses vs. Professor Moriarty.
  • In the Dangan Ronpa fanfic Hope On A Distant Mountain, Hope's Peak headmaster Jin Kirigiri spends most of his meeting with the school's steering committee bringing up all the bad and stupid things they've done in the story, though always politely and never actually accusing them of doing anything wrong. He finishes up with some Parenthetical Swearing.

  • The first Iron Man movie has a wonderful little example between Pepper Potts and Christine Everhart.
    Pepper: (after Stark's one night stand with Christine) I have your clothes here; they've been dry cleaned and pressed. And there's a car waiting for you outside that will take you anywhere you'd like to go.
    Christine: (patronizing tone) You must be the famous Pepper Potts.
    Pepper: (smiles and nods) Indeed I am.
    Christine: After all these years, Tony still has you picking up the dry cleaning.
    Pepper: I do anything and everything Mr. Stark requires. Including, occasionally, taking out the trash. Will that be all?
  • The Green Hornet:
    • Britt never directly confronted his dad, but he never missed a chance to disappoint him. When Britt talks to you, you cannot be sure if he is praising you or insulting you (he bluntly tells Kato he had no life and called Casey “old”). The obvious example is when Kato is hitting on Casey, Britt doesn’t like that and, instead of confronting his feelings, he humiliates Kato by asking for a coffee. When Kato confronted Britt (by punching a hole in the wall) , he manipulated Kato with guilt and convinced him that Kato misunderstood the situation and that it was all part of their cover.
    • Kato takes this attitude with Britt when the direct approach doesn’t work: He goes on a date with Casey and lies to Britt about visiting his friend Tony. Does it not seem suspicious that the Hypercompetent Sidekick risks letting his Man Child employer near a gas gun?
  • In the Film of the Book of Memoirs of a Geisha, when Hatsumomo tries to interfere with Sayuri's debut by waltzing in unannounced during the latter's fan dance. The best part is that they are both smiling sweetly throughout the entire exchange, and Sayuri never pauses in her attentions to the clients:
    Hatsumomo: What a beautiful dance, yes Pumpkin? [breaking out her own fans] Her fans are so hypnotic, that you never notice her feet! [some applause] What's her name?
    Mameha: Her name is Sayuri.
    Hatsumomo: Sayuri — a name as sweet as she is! I'm afraid these days, even a common chambermaid can call herself a geisha. So it's nice to see such a sincere young maiko — isn't it?
    Mameha: Surely you would like to thank Hatsumomo for her gracious compliments?
    Sayuri: There is so much I would like to say to Hatsumomo...
    Hatsumomo: Sometimes, the smartest remark is silence!
    Sayuri: What better advice to follow than your own?
    Mameha: Sayuri...!
    Hatsumomo: I was a maiko myself once.
    Sayuri: [lighting a cigarette] Of course.'s been such a very long...long...[blows out her match]...long, long time.
    [everyone laughs, and Hatsumomo finally drops the smile]
  • From Star Trek via IMDb:
    Vulcan Council President: Why did you come before this council today? Was it to satisfy your emotional need to rebel?
    Spock: The only emotion I wish to convey is gratitude. Thank you, Ministers, for your consideration.
    Spock: Live long and prosper.
  • This is used as the Jews' ultimate weapon in The Hebrew Hammer, where Mordechai takes on the stereotypical Jewish Mother persona and runs with it.
  • Obi-Wan's brief meeting with Jango Fett in Star Wars: Episode 2, to the point that Boba Fett's origin story contains a comparison between that conversation and a swordfight.
  • Maggie Smith's character in Gosford Park makes backhanded compliments and snide remarks to everyone in earshot.
  • Elizabeth Taylor and Kim Novak have several hilarious catfights in the 1980 adaptation of Agatha Christie's The Mirror Crack'd.
    Lola: You seem lovely, as always. Of course, there are fewer lights on than usual. In fact, any fewer, and I'd need a seeing-eye dog.
    Marina: Oh, I shouldn't bother to buy one, dear. In that wig, you could play Lassie.
    Lola: Same adorable sense of humor. And I'm so glad to see that you've not only kept your GORGEOUS figure, but you've added SO MUCH to it!
    Marina: What are you doing here so early, dear? I thought the plastic surgery seminar was in Switzerland.
    Lola: Actually, darling, I couldn't wait to begin our little movie. You know the saying: once an actress, always an actress.
    Marina: Oh, I do know the saying. But what does it have to do with you?
    Lola: Cute angel. So do tell. How does it feel to be back, after being away SO LONG?
  • Many of the voice actors at Gustave's party in In a World... engage in this.

  • Pride and Prejudice is like the WWII of snarkery and Politeness Judo, but almost everyone is so passive-aggressive, blink and you miss it.
    • Pretty much everything by Jane Austen is made of this trope because they're about snarking on a society that reveres manners (so most conflict is dealt with in the most cutting — but polite! — manner possible), but Pride and Prejudice is probably the best example because of all the people who disapprove of the couples and make it known in the most polite way possible.
    • Someone once re-wrote Dirty Harry in the style of Pride and Prejudice. "Dirty" Harriet Bennett ends up telling Lady Catherine de Burgh "I have no objection, Madam, to your proceeding, since by doing so you shall render my day perfectly agreeable."
  • A refrigerator is also the site of Passive Aggressive Kombat in The Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul... Dirk Gently does not want to open it before his housekeeper cleans it, and sets up elaborate, tiny traps in order to be able to tell if she has, one including a strand of hair. The refrigerator turns out to be so epic in its filth that it spawns a horrible god-eating abomination when it's finally opened.
  • Amaranta Buendía from One Hundred Years of Solitude is a master of this. Her favorite targets are her first boyfriend Pietro Crespi whos' Driven to Suicide for it, her Dogged Nice Guy Gerineldo Márquez, and her nice-in-law Fernanda.
  • The Reynard Cycle: This is so common amongst the nobility of the series that it's practically their language. The females of one family wear it as their hat. Only the Countess Persephone seems to be above resorting to it.
  • Sansa Stark in A Song of Ice and Fire is left with only her pretty words, knowledge of story and song tropes and phrases to lie cautiously with, as well as courtesy and politeness to use as either defence or the occasional attack when she winds up as a hostage in a Deadly Decadent Court. She gets increasingly good at it, although her start was, by any measure, rocky.
    • Cersei Lannister is much more accomplished at this, as when she tells Margaery Tyrell that she's "never seen her as a rival," which Margaery (publically, at least) takes as a denial of ill-feeling between them but which Cersei intends as implying that she does not view Margaery as a worthy opponent.
  • In Gifts by Ursula K. Le Guin, Canoc Caspro tries to fight Ogge Drum this way while he and his family are guests at Drummant. It takes several attempts for his jibes and implications to work, though, since he's fencing and Ogge is using a bludgeon.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Sheldon from The Big Bang Theory does this a lot.
  • Khan Noonien Singh once commented on Star Trek, "Social occasions are only warfare concealed." About sums it up.
  • Kai Winn and Weyoun, the two most passive-aggressive characters in Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, meet only once, but their conversation is full of veiled barbs and insincerity.
  • The Golden Girls is based around this trope. Fortunately, most of this (at least among the main characters) falls under Brutal Honesty.
  • Game of Thrones: Since much of the show is about medieval political intrigue, many scenes ooze with this trope (when they don't ooze with blood or other fluids, of course). Example:
    • Any scene with both Varys and Littlefinger.
    • Much of Season 3 as Tyrion and Cersei Lannister share power in King's Landing with politically-astute House Tyrell, plus their all-powerful patriarch, Lord Tywin Lannister. Snarky comments are sometimes the only defense they have left.
      • Oberyn snarks at Tywin and Cersei when they insult his bastard paramour, reminding them that Princess Myrcella is currently in Dorne with Oberyn's family, and using the Insistent Terminology of "Former Queen Regent" when addressing Cersei.
      • Jaime tells Loras that Cersei would kill Loras if he marries her, but insists that Loras will never marry Cersei anyway. Loras responds with a snappy comeback of his own:
        Loras: (smiles smugly) And neither will you. (pats Jaime on the arm)
      • Tyrion reminds Joffrey (during the latter's wedding feast) that Joffrey was not the big hero during the Battle of Blackwater that he likes to claim.
  • Pretty much everyone in The Palace makes use of this frequently.
  • Dynasty breathes this trope. Alexis' first meeting with Dominique is a textbook example. Dominique went for the kill by pointing out that Alexis' wine had been frozen and thawed.
  • Downton Abbey, being set in a British manor house in the early 1900s, is chock full of this. Mary and Edith, and Violet and Isobel, are the particular champions. When Cora's mother shows up, however, she and Violet play for the World Cup Final, US v UK.
  • Sherlock's brother Mycroft and best friend John in Sherlock are never downright rude to one another, and seem generally resigned to working together for Sherlock's sake. While they are allies, they're clearly not on friendly terms, and things can - and do - get snarky and hostile at times. John tips closer to the 'aggressive' end of passive-aggressive in The Reichenbach Fall due to the knowledge that Mycroft, in an attempt to get Moriarty's master keycode, ended up giving the Diabolical Mastermind exactly what he wanted: Sherlock's entire life story.
  • In Arrested Development, Lucille and Lucille II engage in this as "primary social rivals", usually these encounters get less subtle and less passive as they go.
  • Farscape: War Minister Ahkna and Commandant Grayza meet in private to discuss a potential treaty, without the knowledge of their superiors. While they are clearly enemies, they manage to maintain a polite(ish) facade, with only occasional barbs about Ahkna's inability to get promoted of late and Grayza's use of her body to get ahead.
  • Rome. Atia of the Julii excels at this, but finds herself outclassed by Cleopatra. When Atia whispers an insult in her ear while giving a goodbye kiss, Cleopatra just smiles in triumph, knowing she's won.


    Tabletop Games 
  • Vampire: The Masquerade. The Camarilla. If you're not indulging in this, you're doing it wrong.
    • Well, it depends a bit on your clan. If you're Brujah or Gangrel, it's rather optional. If you're Toreador it's not only mandatory, it's your life.
  • Exalted has rules for this, with emphasis on Combat. You can actually kill someone with a sufficiently sharp insult.
  • GURPS has the Rapier Wit advantage (of course), which lets you land a stunning blow with a well placed insult.


    Video Games 
  • Happens a lot in the Touhou Universe Compendium Symposium of Post-mysticism. The symposium section is composed almost entirely of three characters taking snipes at each other while explaining how their world works.
  • Nessiah from Yggdra Union and Blaze Union is as sharp-tongued as he is short-tempered (which is very), and isn't one to let an insult slide. This is a lot more apparent in Blaze Union as Nessiah has more screen time there, but he's still passive-aggressive as anything in Yggdra Union too. For instance, take this discussion with that game's protagonists (who have just committed mass genocide and killed a number of people Nessiah cared about) concerning a character Nessiah brought back from the dead:
    Nessiah: It was an awfully thankless task, gathering up every last scattered piece [of her body]. *giggle* But it's quite all right. Wherever anything was missing, I was able to substitute other parts. You left quite a lot of those parts for me to work with...

    Visual Novels 
  • In Katawa Shoujo, Lilly and Shizune get into a rather heated war of words over the punctuality of the submission of reports for Student Council activities before the school festival. However, as Shizune is deaf-mute (and Lilly is blind), Misha is at hand to translate everything she conveys, and doesn't quite grasp the true context of what the two are actually saying, which diminishes the effect somewhat.
    Lilly: I was actually just discussing the budget report before you came by. You must be very talented to have finished all your student council duties so quickly that you can track me down to make sure I don't forget my own.
    Misha: [translating for Shizune] Are you accusing me of slacking off? It seems like you're confusing me with yourself~!
    Lilly: I don't think so. That would be a very difficult thing for me to do: comparing myself to you.
    Misha: You're right, the difference between us is like heaven and hell.
    Lilly: And it's not hard to guess which one you might represent.
    • Poor Hisao, who's much more contextually aware, is also tapped once to translate a conversation between the two. His attempts to modulate the argument prove futile.
      Shizune: [Turn over here. It's very disrespectful to not look at the person you're speaking to. That isn't the way a prim and proper lady should conduct herself.]
      Lilly: "I'm sorry, such formalities slipped my mind completely. I forgot that the Student Council president is the type who would demand such respect and adherence to the rules at all times."
      Shizune: [I'll devour you!]
  • Some of the cases in the Ace Attorney series are this.
    • The exchange between Franziska and Mia (channeled by Pearl) at the start of the second trial day in case 2-2 is a nice example (slightly undermined by von Karma's foolish foolery, though Mia remains civil), even lampshaded by Phoenix:
    Franziska: The image of your defeated face will be transmitted all over the world!
    Mia: All over the world, huh? Sounds like you've made quite a name for yourself, Phoenix.
    Franziska: Don't be foolish, you foolish fool wearing the foolishly foolish clothes. The famous one is me! I'm the prodigy who has never lost a case since becoming a prosecutor five years ago. Naturally, the world's eyes are on me, as I conduct my first trial in this country!
    Mia: Uh, huh... That's nice, Ms. von Karma.
    Franziska: Hmph. Glad to see you're in such good "spirits" today, Ms. Fey.
    Phoenix: (Uhh... It's true what they say... Women really are scary when they fight... *gulp*)
    • Interestingly enough, Mia is far more forthcoming about how little she thinks of Edgeworth during their first trial, and Franziska tends to repeatedly call people fools when she's not using her whip.
    • Morgan Fey's interactions with most people involve her doing this, as she tends to address others with superficial politeness and humility, but is actually quite condescending.
    Lotta: Hold on, now, granny!
    Morgan: ...Granny?
    Lotta: How come we ain't allowed in that room!?
    Morgan: Dear madam, you have an "impressive" grasp of English. From where did you learn it?
  • Eva from Umineko no Naku Koro ni often uses this towards, well, pretty much anyone except her husband and her son.
    • Her son George shows signs of this, especially towards Battler. Though he is much more subtle with it than his mother.

    Web Comics 
  • Rose and her mother fight this way (when they're not more aggressively fighting) in Homestuck. Their refrigerator is a good example of the nature of the feud (goes on for several pages).Subverted as it turns out Mom is absolutely sincere with the stuff she does and Rose is only misinterpreting her actions.
  • In one arc of Bruno the Bandit, Bruno encounters a gang of pirates who wield weaponized passive-aggressiveness. They do it with the help of magic rings that make other people unreasonably concerned about what the pirates think of them.
  • Something*Positive: If they could make money at it, this would be the family business of the McIntyres. The champion in the family is, generally, agreed to be Faye.
  • Characters in Rumors of War use conversation as their primary mode of aggression.

    Web Original 

    Western Animation 
  • One of the many Cutaway Gags in Family Guy is Peter helping Chris to get his insect badge by observing a family of "wasps." Cut away to Chris and Peter sitting behind a potted plant in a lavish dining hall watching a family of upper-class white Anglo Saxon Protestants doing exactly this.
    • Subverted at the end when the father calls his wife a whore in front of their child.
    • Tom Tucker and Diane Simmons jab at each other with passive aggressive comments on live television and the comments grow more and more demeaning in each episode as their disdain for each other gets more intense.
    • In another cutaway gag, two women at a cafe spend the whole time hurling backhanded compliments at each other. A few tables over, two men are sitting together and one simply says he likes the other's tie. "Men! We know how to be friends!"
  • My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic, "Look Before You Sleep": Rarity and Applejack end up stuck at Twilight Sparkle's place during a thunderstorm, and end up doing a bit of this thanks to residual bad feeling from an earlier argument.
    Rarity: Fortunately, I can get along with anypony, no matter how rude she may be.

Alternative Title(s):

Passive Aggressive Combat