Rhetorical Request Blunder
Ch'thier is merciful.
"Will no one rid me of this Turbulent Priest?"
— King Henry II, of Archbishop Thomas Becket. note
People routinely say things they do not mean. Swearing to kill someone or wishing some horrible fate would befall them is usually a harmless way of venting steam.
Sometimes a character may think he is speaking to himself, but unbeknownst to him someone is listening, and ready to act on his wishes. Alternatively, a character in company may speak in hyperbole, thinking no sane person would actually do it. He could be fatally wrong
on that point. Or there might be someone insane around.
Subtrope of Be Careful What You Wish For
and Poor Communication Kills
. Remember that asking for things you do not want to happen is Tempting Fate
. See Literal Genie
and Jackass Genie
for deliberately misinterpreted requests. See I Was Just Joking
for cases where someone else takes a hyperbolic statement seriously but doesn't act on it (usually because the speaker explains that he didn't really mean what he'd said).
Particularly moral characters may say It's All My Fault
after the deed is done. Compare I Wished You Were Dead
. May be carried out by a Poisonous Friend
. Blunt Metaphors Trauma
or being Sarcasm-Blind
might lead to this. See also Irrevocable Order
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Anime and Manga
- In Ah! My Goddess, there's a non-death related example in the beginning: Keiichi makes a wish that he didn't think would really be granted, to have a Goddess like Belldandy, whom he just met, stay with him forever.
- Near the beginning of Monster, Dr. Tenma says in front of the apparently unconscious Johan that his corrupt superiors at the hospital "would be better off dead!" So Johan kills them.
- In a later flashback, Wolf asks Johan "how he feels" after saving his life. Johan responds "you'll see" and spends the next fifteen years methodically hunting down and killing every single person who knows who Wolf is, so he knows how Johan 'feels' about being isolated from the rest of humanity.
- In Code Geass, Lelouch says that with his powers, he could tell Euphemia something like "Kill all the Japanese." Bit of bad timing on that one, as Lelouch lost control over his mind control powers at that exact moment.
- Throughout the Suzumiya Haruhi series Kyon continually wishes that he were living a normal life. In the fourth book (and in The Movie), Yuki provides just that. At least she's smart enough to give him an 'out' in case he doesn't like it.
- In Heaven's Lost Property, the protagonist ends a bout of gratuitious wish fulfillment with the statement "Now all that's left is to take over the world!" in front of the Literal Genie Ikaros. The next morning, she has concluded that since no one would recognize him as sovereign, the most efficient way of granting his wish is to make everyone disappear. As in, every human in the world. And so she does. This is the first episode. (They get better.)
- In the second episode, Tomoki starts shenanigans that leads to Sohara being unable to wear underwear. She beats him silly for it. When Ikaros shows up, Tomoki manages to croak "Panties..." She concludes that he wants panties, and makes every pair in the rear area fly off their owners and converge on Tomoki. This does not help at all.
- In Dragon Ball GT, when Goku gatecrashes Pilaf's latest attempt to wish for world domination he inadvertantly wishes that Goku was still a little kid. ... While the wish granting dragon was listening.
- Shizuo does this to some extent in Durarara!! when he jokingly promises to introduce Kururi and Mairu to his younger brother, a famous actor, if they ever manage to kill their older brother Izaya.
- In the Ed Brubaker comic Sleeper, undercover agent Carver tells his comrades in the organization he's infiltrating that he'd love to have his ex-wife's new husband helpless in front of him...and to Carver's horror, helpful new guy "Pit Bull" makes this happen.
- During the "Velocity 9" arc of The Flash, Vandal Savage explains the addictive effect of the Velocity 9 drug telling that he just has to suggest one of the addicts to kill another and he would do. Then, an addict kills another and Savage coldly explains that he was being rhetorical.
- In an example that's borderline subversion, an issue of Deadpool features the eponymous nut-case kidnapped by the X-Men after he attempted to kill an anti-mutant crusader on national television. Domino hears Cyclops wishing that someone would take Deadpool "out of the picture". Fearing that Wolverine will kill him, she releases Deadpool from captivity. Cue Wolverine telling her that he was just going to take Deadpool with him on a secret mission to China till things cool down... but now that he's on the loose, he might now have to kill him.
- Suicide Squad had a shellshocked Rick Flag discover a Congressman was trying to blackmail the Squad into ensuring his re-election with the risk of exposure, so he set out to kill him. Amanda Waller gave Deadshot (who was not exactly stable at this point) the order to stop Flag from killing the Congressman by any means necessary. Deadshot did so — by killing the Congressman himself.
- In the Brothers Grimm fairy tale Hans My Hedgehog, a childless man says: "I wish I had a son, even if it was a hedgehog!" You probably guessed what happens next...
- In chapter 15 of Make a Wish, a Harry Potter fanfiction, Harry asks for either something to kill his hangover headache or something to kill himself, he doesn't care which. A few minutes later, when the professor brings a drink that 'would kill a herd of elephants': "You do know I was being sarcastic about the whole killing myself thing right?" Harry asked. "Yes," the Professor nodded nervously. "Of course I did, I'll be right back with the potion. I just need to . . . take it out of the room for a few minutes before I give it to you."
- Lilly the Genie in Three Wishes interprets "I wish I was the fastest pegasus in Equestria! Wait, wait! Scratch that!" as two wishes.
- In one Touhou yonkoma by Finnish doujin artist setz, Shinmyoumaru Sukuna muses to Seija Kijin as they're lying down in the grass, looking at clouds, that it would be interesting to see an upside down tree. Cue beat panel followed by this line:
- Labyrinth: When Sarah mutters to her colicky infant brother, "I wish the goblins would come and take you away. Right now," she has no idea they are listening.
- In National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation, Clark reacts to the news that he received a subscription to a Jelly-of-the-Month Club in lieu of a Christmas Bonus from his boss by ranting that he wished the boss was right there so he could chew him out. His cousin-in-law promptly jumps into his RV and kidnaps said boss.
- In Throw Momma from the Train, Owen overhears Larry saying he wished his ex-wife were dead. He tries to kill said ex-wife so Larry will "owe" him the murder of Owen's mother. Turns out the wife survives, and Larry is not very good at murdering people.
- In The 51st State, an unfortunate miscommunication occurs when DeSousa asks one of his assistants to "take care" of a nervous chemist. The assistant then goes into henchman mode, kills the chemist and stuffs him into the car boot, instead of following the intended meaning which was "look after him".
- Lampshaded in Pulp Fiction as Vincent and Jules discuss Marsellus' instructions regarding his wife: "Take her out like..." [mimes shooting Mia in the head]. Beat. "No, man, take her out like, show her a good time..."
- Subverted in the opening to American Beauty: it's actually just a Red Herring.
- Hudson Hawk: Darwin Mayflower gives a pair of mooks a You Have Failed Me speech that ends with "We'll just have to kill you." His wife Minerva promptly shoots both of them, causing Darwin to protest, "God, Minerva, I was only joking!" Since they're the villains, though, he's not particularly upset about it.
- In Oh God! You Devil, failed musician Bobby Sheldon, at the end of his rope following yet another boring, low-paying, dead-end gig, says aloud to himself, "I'd sell my soul to make it in this business". Unfortunately for him, the Devil has a habit of noticing when people say things like that.
- In The Thief of Bagdad, Prince Ahmad sees the princess in an All-Seeing Eye and discovers that she is being courted by the villain. Understandably upset by this, he says "Oh, I wish I were in Bagdad right now!" His sidekick, the eponymous thief Abu, is annoyed by Ahmad's angsting over the princess by this point, so he says "I wish you were!" Unfortunately, a Literal Genie is standing nearby, and whisks the prince away to Bagdad. Without Abu.
- "Weird Al" Yankovic's song Albuquerque:
OK, like, one time, I was out in the parking lot tryin' to remove my excess earwax with a golf pencil, when I see this guy Marty tryin' to carry a big ol' sofa up the stairs all by himself! So I, I say to him, I say "Hey, you want me to help you with that?" And Marty, he just rolls his eyes and goes "Noooo, I want you to cut off my arms and legs with a chainsaw!"
So I did.
- Blue Moon: Anita angrily says she wants a woman's "head in basket." She is shocked and horrified when it is delivered. In this case, the woman was going to be executed regardless; Anita just... got the head.
- Merry Gentry - Gentry is more Genre Savvy, and subverts this by always phrasing herself carefully around the Fey. Unfortunately, the Sithen appears to read and obey her thoughts.
- In the TED Klein story Nadelman's God, Nadelman, a guy who once wrote a poem about a vengeful, evil god gets an obsessive fan who tries to make a trash golem as in the poem. On receiving one stalking call too many, Nadelman yells "I wish you and your mother were out of my life!" down the phone. Unfortunately, it's the golem who's on the line and it puts the creepy fan and his mother out of everyone's life.
- In A Song of Ice and Fire It is eventually revealed that the assassination attempt on Bran is this. King Robert mentioned how it would be better if Bran were simply put out of his misery after his injury. Prince Joffrey, having heard this, steals one of his father's knives and commissions a killer to do the deed.
- In the Discworld novel A Hat Full of Sky, Tiffany says that the Nac Mac Feegle can be like this.
She had learned to be careful not to wish for anything that might be achievable by some small, determined, strong, fearless, and fast men who were also not above giving someone a good kicking if they felt like it.
- There's even a version of this in The Bible. King David is on the run from his son, who has usurped the throne, and remarks apparently to himself that he misses drinking water from his hometown well. In this case the desire is genuine but he doesn't expect it to actually happen. But one of his best warriors overheard, gathered a few other mighty men together, and broke through enemy lines to bring back Bethlehem well water, and the King was appalled that anyone would actually risk his life for that.
- Invoked in Sailor Nothing. The Alpha Bitch Ami has been a thorn in the side for the heroes for all of the story, with pretty much all of them having some sort of grudge against her. Thus, in order to show the heroes just what it means to hate somebody, Argon decides to give them what they want, or thought they want until they actually saw what it entailed.
Argon: You never liked this one, am I correct? I bet you even wished something horrible would happen to her. Something horrible has happened to her. Do you feel happy now? Has justice been served? I'd call it a fitting punishment... but it's not. Nobody deserves this, no matter how 'bad' they are. That's what makes the act evil. But I bet you wished this evil upon her, a fellow human being.
- In The Eyes of Kid Midas, the protagonist, Kevin Midas, snaps at a bully, telling him to "Go to Hell!" Unfortunately, Kevin forgets that he's wearing his Reality Warping sunglasses, and...oops.
- Dillon in the Star Shards Chronicles, has gathered a small army of followers/worshippers. While in the midst of a Heroic BSOD, he is asked if there is anything he wants. Lost in memories of his childhood, he offhandedly asks for Roller Blades. To his horror, his followers later return with several pairs, as they were unaware of his shoe size.
- In Mad Ship, after being constantly mistreated by Kyle, his rather terrible father, for a book and a half, Wintrow cries out in anguish to the pirate Kennit that he wished someone would make his father just disappear. He's smart enough to make it clear that he specifically does not want his father dead, just gone. Still, he didn't actually want Kennit to drag Kyle out of bed in the middle of the night a few days later and grant his wish, imprisoning Kyle in a secret dungeon few people even know exists, nor is he pleased to discover his father missing.
- Faking one of these and then killing the underling "responsible" is suggested as a way of eliminating political enemies in The Prince. It's one of the few strategies in the book with a "seriously, don't really do this" disclaimer.
- In one The Saint story, Simon tells Heroic Comedic Sociopath "Hoppy" Uniatz to "get rid of" a couple of defeated villains, meaning just "take them away from here and drop them somewhere". Hoppy interprets "get rid of" euphemistically, shoots them, and dumps their corpses in the English Channel. When Simon finds out about this, he isn't particularly bothered.
Live Action TV
- In an episode of Blackadder, Richard IV was telling the story to his wife to contrast the situation there with how happy he is with the current Archbishop, and a couple of Mooks overheard and decided to "help." The two of them sitting at opposite ends of a very long table contributed to the misunderstanding. He initially said "Never again will I have to say "Who will rid me of this turbulent priest" (he had in fact had several of the previous archbishops murdered), but had to repeat the last bit.
- In Buffy the Vampire Slayer, vengeance demons thrive around this sort of thing.
- In True Blood, when Tara tells Maryanne to leave her and Eggs out of the shenanigans, she retorts that Tara was the one who summoned her. The exorcism that Tara thought was a fake turned out to be a real...maenad summoning spell? Something along those lines, anyway.
- In LOST, Juliet is being recruited by the Others, but says she couldn't possibly join unless her ex-husband "gets hit by a bus". She meant it rhetorically. They, on the other hand, hit him with a bus.
- Inverted with the That Mitchell and Webb Look sketch that has a villain insisting on using Deadly Euphemisms in a way that his staff finds "needlessly ambiguous."
Webb: We spent nine months hoping that Professor Rickson would meet with an accident before Leslie made it clear it was an accident we were supposed to make happen!
- Frasier once makes an offhand reference to Bebe that a part of him hopes that Roz won't get a radio show slot she's going for so that she can still be his producer. Bebe takes this as a request for her to sabotage Roz's audition (maintaining the belief that he had asked for it even while he insists he didn't). Roz doesn't take his slip up well.
Frasier: How was I supposed to know she would go so far?
Roz: She's Bebe! If you had said you liked my eyes, they would have been on your desk tomorrow in a Tiffany box!
- Another episode has Frasier and Niles attempt to run a restaurant. After the kitchen staff flees, they attempt to do the cooking themselves. The night's special is eels and Niles is unsure how to kill them. Frasier sarcastically suggests throwing a toaster into the tank. He then goes out to talk to their guests. Just after one asks how the eels are coming, the lights flicker. Frasier replies "He's frying them now."
- The X-Files: In the Cold Open of "Je Souhaite", Anson Stokes, quite unaware that he's rolled up a Literal Genie, wishes that his boss Mr Gilmore shut up. Indeed, he does, and ends up with no lips and a sealed up mouth. Poor Mr Gilmore!
- Horrible Histories had a sketch involving Henry II explaining what had happened to Thomas Beckett (see Real Life section below), while still being followed by the two "idiot knights" responsible for the death. When the interviewer keeps asking questions, he rhetorically asks if no one will rid him of this troublesome interviewer. The two idiot knights immediately start trying to kill the interviewer.
- An episode of History Bites was based around the investigation into the murder of Thomas Beckett, done in the style of Law & Order. The investigators learn from Henry II that he had asked that rhetorical question and some nearby knights interpreted it as a royal command.
- In the 2014 Cosmos there is a non-murderous version in "The Electric Boy". After fooling around with electromagnetism but not able to make it do anything useful, Sir Humphry Davy jokingly tells his assistant Michael Faraday to see if he can make anything of it, once he's done tidying up. Michael Faraday ends up making an electric motor of it. He takes Davy's place as the toast of the scientific community; Davy is not happy.
- Forgotten Realms has a village called Maskyr's Eye. Back when humans were new in that part of the world, a human mage wanted a quiet place for his tower and liked one vale. The territory did belong to a dwarven kingdom, so he got audience and asked Tuir "Stonebeard" (called so for grim stoicism — for a dwarf). The king didn't trust humans or powerful mages at all, and thus said "on one condition only: pluck thy right eye and give it to me here and now". He intended it as a somewhat poetical refusal and didn't expect anyone would really do such a thing.
- Played with in the play Fortinbras, a faux-sequel to Hamlet. The title character, when questioned on the legitimacy of him being in charge, orders two very stupid guards to bring him "the head of the Electors" meaning "chief". One of the more Genre Savvy characters is understandably nervous, especially when the guards bring Fortinbras a round object in a sack, which he interprets as an unsolicited melon. Turns out "it really is a melon!"
- In William Shakespeare's King John the title character tries to claim he's in this situation when the peers react badly to the (supposed) death of Arthur note on John's orders — although when he gives those orders he is obviously worried his hints aren't blatant enough.
- In Richard II, Bolingbroke (aka Henry IV) says, "Have I no friend will rid me of this living fear?" and Exton interprets this as an order to kill the already defeated King Richard. Henry develops a serious Guilt Complex about this and tries to atone by launching a crusade.
- In Justice League, this is the downfall of the ancient Thanagarians of whom Hawkgirl and Hawkman are supposed to be the reincarnations: Upon discovering his wife's infidelity with John Stewart's counterpart, Katar Hol hyperbolizes that he wishes they were dead. When the vizier takes this as a literal order and carries it out, Katar commits suicide in despair.
- One episode of The Fairly OddParents had Gary and Betty almost being eaten by alligators. Upon escaping, Gary asked for a song (Gary and Betty like singing) about not being eaten by alligators. Betty started playing one at her guitar until he explained he was being sarcastic.
- On Danny Phantom, a wish-granting ghost often invokes this trope.
- On an episode of Family Guy, Peter becomes friends with a mobster, who later misinterprets a joke about killing his wife. He then promptly calls a hit on Lois.
- In Wander over Yonder, an interdimensional being who appears only once every thousand years is about to grant Lord Hater one wish. Just as Hater is about to wish to be ruler of the whole universe, Wander comes along and starts taking photos, yammering to Hater and generally being a nuisance. Hater finally has enough and blurts out "I wish you would leave me alone for five seconds!" And of course, the interdimensional being takes that as his one wish.
- On The Amazing World of Gumball, Bobert has to do whatever Gumball says after losing a bet. Unfortunately, every comment Gumball makes about anyone who slights him gets interpreted by Bobert as an order to attack.
- The Warner Bros. cartoon "The Hardships Of Miles Standish" has an elderly gentleman telling the story of Miles' courtship of Priscilla in pilgrim days to his grandson. He tops it with "If that ain't the truth, I hope I get struck by lightning!" He does, and as he's singed, clinging to a beam from the roof, he turns to us and says "Well, anyway, that's the way I heard it!"
- The apocryphal story of Napoleon Bonaparte sneezing as he was reviewing some prisoners and saying "tuez les tous" (kill them all) which is somewhat close to the sound one actually makes when sneezing (atchoo) and was possibly interrupted mid sentence giving something like "tu es...atchoo!" (you are atchoo!). The more well-known story (albeit also totally apocryphal) goes like this: some zealous soldier heard a flu-ridden Napoleon saying "Ma sacrée toux!" (My bloody cough!) and interpreted it as the homophone "Massacrez tout!" (Slaughter everything!).
- Henry II was frustrated with Archbishop Thomas Becket, his former friend, and said something like (according to popular tradition) "Will no one rid me of this troublesome [or turbulent] priest?" or (according to a contemporary biographer) "What miserable drones and traitors have I nourished and brought up in my household, who let their lord be treated with such shameful contempt by a low-born cleric?" A couple of Mooks decided to take care of it themselves, by killing Becket. Henry II took it badly, as did many in England. The reason for Henry's frustration, namely Becket defying the wishes of the king who had nominated him note , had alienated many who already regarded Henry as an outsider (neither an Englishman or even a Norman, but an Angevin) who was subverting local custom and concentrating too much power in the central government. Becket's personal popularity and the fact that he was discovered to be wearing a hairshirt under his clothing (a rather serious act of asceticism, as hairshirts are about as comfortable as a shirt made of sandpaper) only added to the outrage that a high clergyman had been openly murdered in a church; Henry had to perform public penance over the issue and Becket rapidly became St. Thomas.
- It's a common claim of Hitler apologists that the Holocaust was this. As in, his subordinates, having read Mein Kampf and knowing how he felt about Jews, decided it would be a nice favor to him if they rounded up and killed all the Jews in Europe, while he was none the wiser. The idea comes from the book ''Hitler's War'', which not only had its own counter-book, but after a libel suit in court, said counter-book was proven true in a court of law.
- Dictators who were also charismatic and well-remembered by the people frequently get this treatment; this is particularly true of Third-World post-independence leaders regarded as "Father of the Nation." For instance, many Egyptians believe that the well-documented torture of political prisoners in Gamal Abdel Nasser's regime must have been the result of a misinterpreted order or some such, rather than being led and organized by Abdel Nasser himself. Many other Egyptians point out that if that were true, he would still be to blame—not for being a cruel tyrant, but for being an idiot.
- This has been invoked in several unsolved assassinations in ex-USSR. In each case some high-ranking official later testified that he had said that something should be done about this journalist to make him shut up, but he didn't mean murder.
- Dmitry Kholodov in Russia in 1995. Either killed by orders of the defence minister of Russia or to frame the defence minister.
- Georgiy Gongadze in Ukraine in 2000. The president of Ukraine wanted him silenced.