- Angela Nicely: In “The Big Bike Ride!”, Maisie says that the money from her, Laura, and Angela’s lemonade stand is going to “poor people”, then says that’s technically true as Angela has no money.
- In Megamorphs #3: Elfangor's Secret, Crayak only agrees to help the Ellimist and the Animorphs fix the past on the condition that "one of them will die." Jake is ultimately killed during the American Revolutionary War, much to the group's chagrin—but then they discover that they are now immune from all fatal injuries (or at least recover from them after time jumps). Crayak said one Animorph had to die, and now that Jake has done so, the Ellimist is using his own powers to make the rest of them immortal for the remainder of the mission.
- One of these is responsible for some fanbase-wide speculation. The Drode tells Rachel that "The life of your cousin is your key to salvation in the arms of Crayak", in an attempt to get her to kill Jake. She ultimately kills Jake's brother Tom, who is also her cousin, leading to a lot of questions about her post-mortem fate.
- Danny, the Champion of the World: When Danny's father has not returned from poaching at ten minutes past two in the morning, Danny immediately knows his father is in trouble, because he never breaks promises. Interestingly, Danny's father mentions having made a "vow" to give up poaching until Danny was old enough to be left alone at nights, but broke his vow, implying that a "vow" is not the same as a promise.He had said "I promise I'll be back by ten-thirty." Those were his exact words. And he never, absolutely never, broke a promise.
- Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Diper Överlöde: Löded Diper plays a gig at the Headless Chicken rock music club, after the owner promises to pay them half of the admission revenue. After the gig is over, they find out that admission was free that day, so they don't actually make any money.
- Didn't I Say to Make My Abilities Average in the Next Life?: As her New Life in Another World Bonus, the protagonist asks to become an average person. The divinity misunderstands and averages out the greatest and least of all life in her new world, giving her half the strength and magic of the greatest Elder Dragon, half the rank of the highest nobility, and half the beauty of the World's Most Beautiful Woman — all vastly superior to most humans.
- Harry Potter:
- In the first book, Harry and Ron leave the dormitory after curfew. When Filch asks Peeves where the students are, Peeves says "I'm not saying nothing if you don't say please." But when Filch says please, Peeves says, "NOTHING!"
- The teachers have fun with this as soon as Umbridge is appointed to Headmistress in the fifth book. With the passage of Educational Decree Number Twenty-Six which bans teachers from telling students anything that doesn't have to do with their subject, they gleefully refuse to extinguish the fireworks Fred and George released, explaining that they weren't sure they had the authorization to do so.
- This is the reason why Kreacher was able to get away with selling out Sirius Black to Bellatrix Lestrange in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix without worrying about getting caught: when Sirius gets irritated with Kreacher, he shouts at him to "GET OUT!" He fails to specify where Kreacher was supposed to go after leaving the house. Sirius is really going to wish he ate those words later on...
- Harry, remembering this, averts the trope in the next book. When he asks Kreacher to spy on Malfoy, he follows it up with a long list of further orders, forbidding Kreacher to let Malfoy know he's being followed, through direct or indirect means. Kreacher, realizing that Harry left no room for Loophole Abuse, mutters "Master thinks of everything." That being said, he exploits this trope when Harry questions him about what he has observed about Malfoy by only mentioning the mundane aspects of Malfoy's life instead of what Harry wants to know, forcing Harry to ask Dobby, who spies on Malfoy alongside Kreacher, for more crucial information instead.
- Snape in the beginning of Half-Blood Prince tries to reassure Bellatrix that he's on the side of the Death Eaters by saying "I've played my part well, and I have deceived one of the greatest wizards of all time." (Bellatrix scoffs) "Dumbledore is a great wizard, only a fool would deny it." Note that he didn't actually say that Dumbledore was the great wizard he was deceiving.
- Harry Potter does this to the Minister of Magic (who keeps Umbridge in the ministry) in Half-Blood Prince when asked to publicly support the government (when he very much does not).
- Then, in Deathly Hallows, Harry makes a deal with a goblin: if he helps the Trio break into Gringotts, they'll give him Gryffindor's Sword. But they don't say when they're going to give it to him. In this case they only did it because they still needed the sword to destroy the Horcruxes and, after everything was over, Harry intended to keep his promise. Similarly, the goblin tells Harry that he'll break them into Gringotts in exchange for Gryffindor's Sword. Unfortunately for Harry and his friends, he never said that he'd actually get them out once he gets them in.
- It's implied that this is how Goblins operate regarding deals. Ludo Bagman bet on Harry to win the Triwizard Tournament in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire so he could keep the Goblin debt-collectors off his back. Unfortunately, Harry drew with Cedric (even if only one of them survived), and Ludo had to go on the lam, especially since the Goblins bet on Harry drawing with Cedric, which did happen exactly.
- As The Tales of Beedle the Bard illustrates, part of Death's Jackass Genie schtick is to exploit this trope when he learns of what the brothers want as prizes from him, intending that said prizes would ultimately allow him to claim their lives.
- Antioch wanted a powerful wand that "must always win duels for its owner", intending to become an unbeatable wizard with it, so Death gifted him with the Elder Wand. Indeed, it was powerful and capable of magic no other wand could perform. However, while the wand itself might be unbeatable, as Antioch intended, this did not extend to its master. As such, it is still possible for the wand's master to be stunned, disarmed, or killed outside of a Wizard Duel, moreso if he doesn't physically have the wand or isn't given the chance to use it to defend himself.
- Cadmus wanted the power to "recall others from Death", and intended to use it to resurrect his deceased lover as a living person, so Death gifted him with the Resurrection Stone. While it could indeed bring people Back from the Dead, as Cadmus stated, they Came Back Wrong in the form of disembodied spirits who expressed discomfort at being summoned to the living world. The is likely because Cadmus was not specific about wanting his lover brought back as she was in life, both physically and emotionally. Whether Death could resurrect the dead the way Cadmus wanted remains unknown.
- Ignotus, being the wisest brother, turns this on Death by simply requesting something that allowed him to leave "without being followed by Death". As Death had no way of twisting this request to suit his ends or declining it without giving away his intentions, he was forced to give Ignotus the Cloak of Invisibility. Contrary to the other Hallows, the cloak worked exactly as its receiver wanted, and allowed Ignotus to continually evade Death. He was thus able to live to a grand old age without Death being able to find him until he took off the cloak and willingly departed the living world.
- In The Cuckoo's Calling, Strike is interviewing Tansy Betrugui, who has been tabbed by the police and press as an attention-seeking liar and is going through a messy divorce, so she demands that Strike not write down any notes. He agrees... and instead surreptitiously switches on his phone's sound recorder.
- In The Voyage of the Dawn Treader from The Chronicles of Narnia series, the heroes' ship gets lost in a dark fog at sea. As they approach a mysterious island, they meet a lone survivor from a previous expedition, who warns them that this is "The Island Where Dreams Come True". At first, most of the crew are elated, but once they realize that this doesn't mean wishes or daydreams, but actual dreams, they leave with haste."Fools!" said the man, stamping his foot with rage. "That is the sort of talk that brought me here, and I'd better have been drowned or never born. Do you hear what I say? This is where dreams—dreams, do you understand, come to life, come real. Not daydreams: dreams." There was about half a minute's silence and then, with a great clatter of armour, the whole crew were tumbling down the main hatch as quick as they could and flinging themselves on the oars to row as they had never rowed before; and Drinian was swinging round the tiller, and the boatswain was giving out the quickest stroke that had ever been heard at sea. For it had taken everyone just that half minute to remember certain dreams they had had—dreams that make you afraid of going to sleep again—and to realize what it would mean to land on a country where dreams come true.
- Lewis Carroll played it for laughs frequently. Here's one example from Through the Looking Glass:White King: There's nothing like eating hay when you feel faint.
Alice: I should think throwing cold water over you would be better — or some sal-volatile.note
White King: I didn't say there was nothing better, I said there was nothing like it.
- In Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Wonka shows his guests his Square Candies That Look Round, which are hard candies with funny faces painted on them in a small room with a glass door. But they look square. When told this, he says they are square. But they look square, not round! Wonka insists they look round! After a few minutes of arguing, Wonka opens the door, and the candies turn round to look at who's coming in. (They're square candies, and they're looking round.)
- John Putnam Thatcher: Thatcher's subordinate Everett Gabler relishes using exact words during an investigation. In Pick up Sticks, he purchases a shoddy piece of real estate to get evidence in an investigation rather than because he wants to live there.''Everett had his small conceits. One was a fancy for literal truth. "I am sure," he said, "that this transaction is going to afford me considerable satisfaction."
- In Matthew G. Lewis's gothic novel The Monk, the title character makes a Deal with the Devil to be freed from his cell to avoid the torture of the Inquisition. The Devil then leaves him on a mountain to be pecked at by vultures and correctly notes to him that he only promised to save him from the Inquisition and had no obligation to protect him from harm after doing that.
- The Mysterious Benedict Society:
- In the second book, we are told that Mr. Curtain had asked Mr. Benedict about the location of duskwort. Mr. Benedict had answered that the answer could be secured for Mr. Curtain by someone close to Mr. Benedict. Mr. Curtain understood this as meaning that Benedict didn't know the answer, but that a close friend did. In fact, Mr. Benedict meant that he had already given Mr. Curtain an offer to send him the information after Mr. Curtain released him and his assistant - and that Mr. Curtain, who was in close proximity when he asked, could secure the answer for himself by
- In the third book, at one point SQ enters the room where the protagonists are being held, and tells them that they would be punished if they talk to him. They talk to each other, saying things intended for him to hear.
- The Amelia Bedelia series of books dealt with a maid who did everything she was told to the letter. For example, if she was told to draw (as in close) the drapes, she would literally draw a picture of the drapes.
- This is a key reason behind the Karma Houdini of Tom in The Great Brain. Whenever someone calls him out for scamming them, Tom is able to point out he never actually lied, just used precise wording. A good example is when he bets his older brother Sweyn's prized fishing rod on who can catch the most fish on a trip, using "only line, worms and reel." As it happens, Tom already scoped out a hidden spot near the main pond where fish congregate to ensure he caught more while using a special "lamp light" which only calls out the fish, not catches them. Younger brother JD testifies that Tom followed the bet to the letter, leaving out his little trick. While their father rightly suspects something, Sweyn adheres to the bet, learning like so many others you can't outwit the Great Brain.
- A Hole in the Fence: When Delphine declares Grisón cannot be her boyfriend since she does not even talk to him, her sister Coco replies "Of course you are not talking to him right now; he is away from the town".
- In Christopher Paolini's Inheritance Cycle:
- Magic functions via speaking in the Ancient Language. Exactly how you word your spell will affect how it happens, and certain mistakes (like casting a spell that requires more power than you have without specifically mentioning you can end it early) can easily kill the caster. Eragon also makes a grammar mistake that causes him to curse a young girl instead of blessing her due to the incorrect conjugation of a verb.
- It's also impossible to lie in the Ancient Language. Any statement must be true, and any promises made are unbreakable. Of course as a result there are numerous examples of characters using exact words or From a Certain Point of View in order to skirt this limiation.
- The inability to lie is, of course, not the same as the inability to decide. A speaker can easily omit key information, imply something that is untrue, or even unknowingly say something false as long as they believe it is true. Elves in particular, since they communicate primarily in the Ancient Language, are somewhat infamous for being incredibly good at technically telling the truth while still deceiving.
- Oaths are also circumvented several times by the person holding to the letter of their oath while avoiding it's intention:
- Murtagh is ordered under an oath to try to capture Eragon. After the two fight and the former wins, but simply leaves. Since they had tried to capture the target, their oath was fulfilled, even if they hadn't actually tried very hard. He later notes that the Oaths were revised to be significantly stricter to avoid him using a similar loophole again
- Rhunön, the smith who made all of the Dragon Riders swords, swore never to make another weapon, but is able to circumvents this to make a sword for Eragon by guiding his mind. In other words, Eragon is the one physically doing the work but the smith is telling him what to do. Interestingly, when Eragon points out how close this is to violating her Oath she tells him to shut up, and that since she views it as different enough it's fine, but seems to indicate that if he had successfully convinced her it was in violation of her Oath, she would have become unable to do it.
- After Ajihad is killed and his daughter Nasuada takes over his role as the leader of the Varden, the Elder Council demands that Eragon swear an oath of loyalty as part of their machinations to turn Nasuada into something akin to a Puppet Queen. Eragon obliges... by publicly swearing an oath of loyalty to Nasuada, not to the Varden as a whole.
- During their first meeting, Angela prophesicizes to Eragon that a member of his family will betray him. Eragon doesn't believe her, as he cannot imagine his cousin Roran doing that to him. Angela is proven right when it's revealed that Eragon and Murtagh are related through their mother, making them half-siblings.
- Warhammer 40,000:
- Ciaphas Cain:
- Early in For the Emperor Cain has to pass judgment on a group of Guardsmen from the newly created 597th Valhallan for a Bar Brawl immediately preceding their creation from the merged 296th and 301st, during which several people died. The regulations (and the troopship's captain, who lost several of his crew) demand their deaths, but Cain, trying to avoid the loss of painstakingly recovered morale, notes during sentencing that the regs say nothing of when; thus he orders them transferred to a penal legion at earliest convenience. In the meantime they're to be used in any suitably suicidal mission that becomes available.
- At the end of Cain's Last Stand, Cain calls Varan, the enemy leader, to propose a meeting to discuss terms of surrender. At the meeting itself, he declares it was to discuss the terms of Varan's surrender. (Then they fight.)
- In Lee Lightner's Space Wolf novel Sons of Fenris, after Ragnar promised the Dark Angel Jeremiah that Cadmus was his to deal with, and then promised Cadmus that his life was his if he gave information, everyone else says his oaths conflict, and Cadmus says that he promised to let him go free. Ragnar says that he promised that his life was his. It was, and he had best start defending it.
- In Graham McNeill's Ultramarines novel The Killing Ground, Leodegarius tells Uriel that he will fight him and Pasanius and on the outcome, will determine their fate. When he has defeated them, he explains that victory would not have been possible without the use of warp-based power; their defeat proves their innocence.
- In Dan Abnett's Ravenor Rogue, Ravenor tries to make the tri-portal take his party back to their proper time and place by concentrating on the name Arethusa and the year 404. Because he wasn’t specific enough, the tri-portal brings them not to the ship Arethusa, but to Listening Post Arethusa on the other side of the galaxy, in the year 404 of the previous millennium.
- Ciaphas Cain:
- Tolkien's Legendarium:
- Beren and Lúthien:
- Gorlim the Unhappy catches a glilmpse of his missing wife, believes she has been captured by Sauron, and agrees to betray his companions in exchange for being reunited with his wife. Morgoth (or Sauron, depending on the version of the tale), promises to do so, and after Gorlim has betrayed to Morgoth the hideout of Barahir and his outlaw band, he reunites Gorlim with Eilinel by killing him. Gorlim did not see his wife but a hallucination cast by Sauron.
- Thingol told: "Bring to me in your hand a Silmaril from Morgoth's crown; and then, if she will, Lúthien may set her hand in yours." And Beren replied: "And when we meet again my hand shall hold a Silmaril from the Iron Crown; for you have not looked the last upon Beren son of Barahir." When they meet again, Beren cannot show the Silmaril because his hand got bitten off by Carcharoth, but he points his hand is still holding one, therefore he fullfilled his vow.
- In The Silmarillion: The Doom of the Noldor is very carefully worded to imply that the battle against Morgoth is hopeless, while simultaneously providing for Morgoth's defeat. Apparently it never occurred to Morgoth that Námo never said what would happen if a Son of Fëanor started a project with bad intentions...
- The Lord of the Rings: The best example is the Witch-King's boast of how no Man can kill him. So Merry, a male hobbit, stabs him behind the knee with an enchanted blade that breaks the Witch-King's invulnerability. Éowyn, a woman, finishes him off by stabbing him in the face. In this case, both meanings of man—the race of Men and the sex—work against the Witch-King. This counts as a trick, since the Witch-King only boasts about it because it was a prophecy made by Glorfindel. Glorfindel has the gift of foresight, and made this prophecy in the Witch-King's hearing. The Witch-King apparently was so cocky that it never occurred to him that his sworn enemy might make a prophecy with an unfortunate loophole.
- The instructions for entering the West-gate of Moria: "Speak Friend and Enter", written in Elvish. The password is the Elvish word for "friend". After he solved it Gandalf realizes it wasn't even supposed to be a riddle. Anyone with a halfway decent knowledge of Sindarin grammar would have realized the trick, since the word isn't properly spelled for its place in the sentence. But Gandalf's Sindarin is apparently rusty (somewhat justified in that Sindarin is a newfangled invention from his point of view, and he has spent the majority of his time in Middle Earth hanging out with hobbits.)
- J. R. R. Tolkien also uses these in his narrative voice, employing such tricks as never using male pronouns in referring to Dernhelm, and referring to this character as "a young man" only in Merry's perceptions. Similarly, the words "dead" or "death" are never used in reference to Gandalf, and only once of Frodo — in Sam's internal monologue.
- This is all by design: Eru Ilúvatar frequently exploits the difference between what people literally say and what they mean in order to get His desired result (usually, much to the dismay of the Big Bad who thought they were winning until that moment).
- Beren and Lúthien:
- The title character of Ella Enchanted gets good at this in order to avoid pleasing anyone who would take advantage of her inability to disobey.
- In Fate/Zero, Emiya Kiritsugu forms a contract that, if broken, causes the offender to lose all magecraft forever. He is not allowed to kill Lord El-Melloi or his fiancée, and El-Melloi must order Lancer to commit suicide and withdraw from the Grail War. With that done, he sends his partner after them to shoot them both. El-Melloi has some protection against bullets so he is wounded but doesn't die, and due to the contract Kiritsugu can't kill him. Eventually Saber has to step up for the Mercy Kill.
- In Robin Jarvis' Deptford Mouselets book Whortle's Hope, Virianna offers her own life to the evil rat goddess Mabb in exchange for her sparing Captain Fenny. Mabb agrees to take only one life... though she doesn't specify whose and so tricks Virianna. Fenny dies anyway, and by Virianna's own hand, no less, as she unwittingly allowed Mabb to take control of her body. When Fenny's corpse is discovered by the woodlanders with Virianna dancing about it madly, they kill her in retribution for the crime she has seemingly committed.
- Terry Pratchett's Discworld:
- In Sourcery, the Klatchian Evil Chancellor is ranting about being rejected by Unseen University because he was mentally unstable, and demands of Rincewind "Can you believe that?" Rincewind considers some of the wizards he's known who were accepted by UU, and is able to honestly answer that he can't.
- During Wyrd Sisters, the witches summon a demon to answers their questions about what's going on in the kingdom. The demon proceeds to answer each question completely accurately in a way that's completely useless to them. Then subverted as Granny gets enough of it and threatens to boil the demon alive if it doesn't tell them "what the hell is going on".
- From the same book: when the Rightful King Returns but doesn't want the job, Nanny reveals that the Fool is actually his older brother, so they make him king instead. She neglects to mention that he's actually Tomjon's half-brother, born from the queen's affair with another man.Granny Weatherwax: We're bound to be truthful, but there's no call to be honest.
- Near the end of Guards! Guards!, Vimes is trying to bring in the villain, and once cornered, orders Carrot to "Throw the book at him." Carrot complies, and knocks the villain over the edge with a well-aimed copy of "The Laws and Ordinances of Ankh-Morpork". Although Carrot's not being maliciously literal here, just completely unable to comprehend metaphor. Given it was Carrot's first book, he probably was following Vimes' order. It's only later he gets more Genre Savvy about it.
- All of the descriptions of elves in Lords and Ladies are exactly correct, albeit not as complimentary as they sound. Words like "wonderful" and "enchanting" tend to shift away from their literal meaning over time...
- In Men at Arms, Carrot threatens to follow the order he was given before entering the Fools' Guild, should he be denied entry. He really doesn't want to follow the order, but he will if Dr. Whiteface makes him. Dr. Whiteface blinks first, and allows them in, without ever knowing that the order is to give up and go away. Sergeant Colon is impressed, describing it as not just bluffing on a bad hand, but bluffing without any cards.
- From the same book, there is the prophecy about the return of the kings of Ankh-Morpork. It says a lot about how the king shall Serve and Protect the People with his Sword, and bring Law and Justice. It says nothing about the king actually taking the throne, and the heir to the throne is very happy with his job in the Watch.
- Lord Hong from Interesting Times promises never to speak or write an execution order for one of his informants (who was clearly a little bit Genre Savvy). Unfortunately, when said informant fails for the last time, Lord Hong demonstrates his superlative origami skills by folding a little paper human figure. Only, there wasn't quite enough paper to make the head...
- In the same book, a number of people meet their end by saying, "I would rather die than betray my Emperor" to Cohen the Barbarian, who tends to take it at face value.
- Jeremy Clockson in Thief of Time gets a bit... unusual if he doesn't take his medicine, so a man from the Guild of Clockmakers checks that he does that. Jeremy's assistant Igor assures him that he sees Jeremy pour out a spoonful every day — but doesn't mention that he then pours it down the drain.
- Also from Thief of Time, Lu Tze claims that none of the History Monks know the legendary martial art of deja fu. Near the end of the book, his apprentice Lobsang finds out the hard way that this is because Lu Tze (who is "merely" a senior sweeper, and not a monk) never taught it to them.
- The oath of the City Watch is used this way by Vimes, who notes that ruler after ruler has failed to notice "what a devious oath it is". The watchmen swear to uphold the laws and protect the public, but it never says one word about obeying orders or serving the ruler.
- Golems occasionally go crazy and repeat a task without end, causing chaos, because no-one told them to stop. This is actually a form of rebellion against a stupid or inattentive master. When you have a tool that can think, you'd better treat it right, or it will find a way to screw you over.
- In Feet of Clay, the latest incarnation of imp-powered organiser has handwriting recognition. Vimes show the imp his notebook, only to find that it can recognize handwriting ("Yep, that's handwriting."), but can't read it.
- And then there was the time that the Auditors tried to bring about The End of the World as We Know It, and Death pointed out that yes, he and his fellow horsemen did have to ride out, but against whom was not specified.
- In The Truth, the pathologically truthful William de Worde has high hopes for the sentence "I've been talking to to Commander Vimes and now I would like to see the room where the crime was committed", which appears to say Vimes has given him permission without actually doing so. It works on Corporal Nobbs, but not on Sergeant Littlebottom.
- In The Last Continent, when the wizards are bickering over how to draw a duck, the Chair of Indefinite Studies asks the Dean "When was the last time you saw a duck that didn't have peas round it?" meaning, of course, a live duck as opposed to one prepared for the table. The Dean, however, retorts "Last week, actually!" because they had crispy duck in plum sauce.
- Another one with Carrot: In The Fifth Elephant, Vimes asks why the dwarfs are so agitated and Carrot replies "Hard to say, sir." Vimes, who knows Carrot well by this time, responds "That isn't the same as 'I don't know', is it?"
- Rincewind does this is The Last Hero, though it is mostly because he wants to start off by making something clear: he does not want to volunteer for the dangerous mission. He is volunteering, as he explains afterwards. He doesn't want to, but he figures he'd somehow end up 'volunteered' or just stumbling into it in an effort to get away anyway, so he volunteers to get it over and done with.
- And then there's Jackrum in Monstrous Regiment: The Sarge constantly asserts that "I'm not a (violent, dishonest, etc.) man" immediately before doing something violent, dishonest, etc. Turns out she's not a man of any sort.
- In A Hat Full of Sky, Miss Level, having trouble controlling her second self when it no longer has a body attached to it, complains that it's as impossible as not picturing a pink rhinoceros when someone's mentioned one. Granny Weatherwax manages to get her to buck up and start getting the hang of it by telling her with the utmost sincerity that she, Granny, is not picturing a pink rhinoceros. Then, near the end of the novel, we get this exchange:Tiffany: You don't know what a rhinoceros looks like, do you?Granny: (happily) That's right!
- Used by Moist von Lipwig in Making Money when his fiancée is questioning him about an army of golems, because he doesn't want to give her the truth lest someone tries to endanger her. (She nearly gets a knife in the gut anyway, but for a different reason.) Also, the aide to the villain of the novel was hired after boasting that "I was a minor secretary and I was employed at the Palace". Which is technically true, as he'd gotten a menial job at the Palace after losing his position as a minor secretary to one of the guilds.
- In The Science of Discworld, Ponder Stibbons' experiments on generating abundant energy by splitting the thaum (the basic unit of magic) draw the obvious question from Archchancellor Ridcully: "What chance is there of this just blowin' up and destroyin' the entire university?" Ponder replies, "None, sir", but alas for him, Ridcully sees though that immediately. If anything goes wrong at all, it wouldn't just blow up the university; it would destroy the whole city, continent or even all the Discworld.
- And, from some flavor text in the Discworld Roleplaying Game:“Stop right there,” said Ridcully, “Is this little speech going to feature the word ‘quantum’ at any point in the next three sentences?”
Ponder performed a hasty mental adjustment, determining that he could change the second and third sentences of his prepared explanation without excessive loss of precision. Hence, he was able to reply “No, Archchancellor,” with complete honesty.
“And was it goin’ to before I interrupted?” Ridcully demanded.
- Sir Terry has thrice used a gag of the format that an Indestructible Edible is just as edible after a year as the day it was made, with an implication that this is “not very”. The dwarf cake in Guards! Guards!, Professor Macarena’s reheatable pasta in Unseen Academicals, and a non-Discworld example with the tinned milk in Nation.
- In G. K. Chesterton's The Man Who Was Thursday, when questioned about whether he is a delegate, Syme retorts, not that he is one, but "I am glad to see that your gate is well enough guarded to make it hard for anyone to be here who was not a delegate." He does it again when Gregory calls him a hypocrite and he replies that Gregory knows well that he is acting entirely according to his beliefs and duties in standing for the Central European Council. Which he is — those being the beliefs and duties of an undercover policeman trying to get to the centre of the web.
- In one Father Brown story, he says they have to get a certain man. Everyone takes it to mean that he's the murderer, until after his capture, when Father Brown protests that they need him as a witness.
- In Randall Garrett's science-fiction story "The Best Policy", a man is captured by aliens who interrogate him with Lie Detector comparing his answers to objective truth. Unable to lie to the aliens, he is able to scare them away with technically true statements that give a false impression that humanity is an immensely ancient and powerful race. Example: He tells them that humans are capable of transporting their bodies from place to place by mentally channeling certain physical energies. He means walking; the aliens think he means Psychic Teleportation.
- Lord Darcy
- In Michael Kurland's novel A Study In Sorcery, an Imperial governor guarantees his agents' loyalty with a magically-reinforced oath that would destroy their minds if they fail to faithfully serve their royal sovereign and his authorized proxies. The fact that the oath he devised neglects to name the sovereign, in order to save having to rebuild it every time the crown changes hands, comes back to bite him when one of them is revealed to be a foreign spy and stringently loyal to his own king.
- In one of the original Randall Garrett stories, "A Case of Identity", there is a sociopath who is under a geas that he can't harm anyone unless ordered by Sir James le Lein. Midway through the story, Sir James orders him to "kill the traitor", and fails to realise that he's now free to kill anyone identified as a traitor until told otherwise.
- In Edgar Rice Burroughs's The Master Mind of Mars, Ulysses Paxton has promised to return the two Grand Theft Me perpetrators to their own city. With some judicious maneuvering, he manages to strip them of all power there.
- In Edgar Rice Burroughs's The Mad King, the hero is forced into an Emergency Impersonation of King Leopold. While doing so, he exerts himself to avoid speaking any untruths, thus frequently making statements that are technically true but not in the way his listeners think. He gets a lot of use out of the convention of the royal third person, saying things about the king that people take to be referring to himself.
- Max & the Midknights: Some time ago, Kevyn's father helped Mumblin' the wizard, and recieved a summoning coin from him in return. Mumblin' tells him to, if he ever needs him, hold the coin tightly and Mumblin' would appear in the blink of an eye. Max states that what Mumblin' meant was "blink your eyes while holding the coin" to get him to appear.
- In Ambrose Bierce's One Kind of Officer, a captain tells a lieutenant "it is not permitted to you to know anything," having received a similar insulting order from his general and wanting to take it out on a subordinate. He comes to regret this.
- The Wheel of Time
- The Aes Sedai famously Cannot Tell a Lie, but are so adept at misrepresenting or avoiding the truth that they have a widespread reputation for dishonesty; a common saying is that "an Aes Sedai speaks only the truth, but the truth she says is never the truth you hear." Moiraine goes undercover simply by telling people "You may call me Mistress Alys" — after all, they may call her whatever they feel like.
- Siuan Sanche gives her most solemn oath of servitude to Gareth Bryne, then promptly runs away. She explains to her astonished companions that she does intend to fulfill it... she just didn't specify when.
- When Lan realizes that the Last Battle is coming soon and he needs to rally the Borderlands to fight, he makes Nynaeve promise to take him to the Borderlands. Nynaeve agrees to take him there, but drops him and his horse on the wrong side of the Borderlands to where he needs to go, so it will take him months to ride there. Nynaeve arranges that by the time he arrives to the battlefield, all of the other good guys will be there, too, so he won't get himself killed invading the Blight unsupported. She politely but firmly asks one merchant for the use of carrier pigeons to send a message out to all the Borderlands that Lan is riding to the Last Battle and does the same a dozen more times off-stage. She ensured that an army would join Lan, and leaving him on the wrong side of the Borderlands ensured that they would have time. Nynaeve practically resurrected Malkier single-handedly.
- This also comes into play with Verin. Verin was forced to swear an oath to the Dark One, not to betray him until the hour of her death. So she takes poison and spends her final hour debriefing Egwene on everything the Black Ajah has been up to.
- In The Dresden Files series, The Fair Folk are physically unable to lie. As a result they tend to be very good at being misleading while still telling the truth. The protagonist remarks that as a result their deals tend to be "heavily technical", to the point where his faerie godmother says "Give me your hand" and he replies, "I need my hand, Godmother". Fortunately for him, she takes it in good humor and responds: "No, silly child. Simply put your hand in mine."
- Enchanted Forest Chronicles: Multiple times:
- Used in a self-aware fashion. Cimorene's Unwanted Suitor wishes to defeat a dragon and marry his (the dragon's) princess; after the wish is made, Cimorene points out that her dragon is female and therefore the wish wouldn't apply because the prince said "his". However, she does point him towards another princess.
- In Talking To Dragons Shiara tries this on Daystar's behalf; he had promised to help the princess, and she asked for his sword. Shiara argues that it's not his sword, but the Sleeping King's. Daystar refuses to accept this, and Shiara thinks it very unfair that only he has to fulfill what the words meant.
- Used several times in the Belisarius Series.
Ajatsutra: But I did hear his last sentence. "You do not have my permission to do anything, Narses." That sounds pretty definite, to me.
- Belisarius offers to swear an oath that the private discussion he wishes to have with Narses (then working for the enemy commander Damodara) will not do harm to Damodara. Later, Damodara realizes that said offered oath was that no harm would come to him personally, not to his superiors. Said conversation also revolves around exact words, specifically the oath Damodara's troops had made to serve the Malwa Emperor... it didn't say anything about who that emperor might be. Damodara also uses exact words later on when discussing the whole thing with Narses.
Narses: You really must learn to parse a sentence properly, Ajatsutra. "You do not have my permission," my boy, does not mean the same thing as: "I forbid you."
Sanga's word, as always, was good.
- Another beautiful one: Malwa Lord Jivita ordered that some gate guards be lashed for something that Rana Sanga didn't think was their fault. Sanga promised to personally lash the guards. But neither of them said how hard....
Two lashes, each. From his own quirt, wielded by Rajputana's mightiest hand. It is conceivable that a fly might have been slain by those strokes. It is conceivable.
- Sanga's subordinate promises Malwa spymaster Nanda Lal that Lal will be in attendance at the wedding of the subordinate with Sanga's relative. Lal does attend the wedding... at least his head does. In a jar. It was never promised he'd be able to compliment the bride.
- Used several times in the Rats, Bats and Vats series with mind control devices designed by a race that has a very strictly parsed language, thus allowing the controlled to utilize the flexibility of the English language to invent loopholes. Also in a scene where a man with one such device uses one to order a girl who doesn't like him to come to him. Since he forgot to order her to disarm herself first, he ended up in a lot of trouble once she was close enough in to use her chainsaw...
- In the Robert Ludlum novels The Road to Gandolfo and The Road to Omaha, General Mackenzie Hawkins prides himself on never lying. But various characters learn the hard way that while that may be true, Hawkins has a bad habit of leaving out certain details...
- Gandolfo revolves around a wild plot to kidnap the Pope only for him to actually enjoy this "vacation." When Sam's boss, Aaron, accuses him of kidnapping, Sam points out that kidnapping is defined as "held against one's will" and the Pope clearly was okay with it all.
- In Omaha, Hawkins plans to use an obscure treaty with the Wopotami tribe and sue the U.S. government for possession of all Wopotami lands...which would be the entire state of Nebraska. Tribe member Jennifer Sunrise is outraged by this lawsuit as she feels it will fail and make her tribe a joke. Seemingly convinced, Hawkins vows on his honor that he will abide by the wishes of the Tribal Council of Elders. Jennifer then gets a frantic phone call from her brother informing her that, with outright bribery, Hawkins has convinced the Elders to cede full authority of all tribal members and allow Hawkins to be the sole arbiter of all matters, including the lawsuit.Jennifer: I can't believe this! He told me he'd go along with whatever the Council of Elders approved.
Charlie: Why not? He is the Council of Elders.
- In Red Seas Under Red Skies, Captains Drakasha and Rance decide to have a drinking contest to see whose crew gets to sit at the high table of the Tattered Crimson. The only terms are that the loser will be the "first on her ass" and that Rance has to take her first drink "Syrune-fashion". In other words, through her eyes as Drakasha throws her own drink in Rance's face shortly before socking her in the jaw and thereby knocking her to the floor. Drakasha then drinks from the other cup, but Rance's first mate protests that it wasn't a proper drinking contest. But as Locke, now a member of Drakasha's crew, points out, the terms were met:Locke: The test was a drink, and your captain's on her ass.
First Mate: But—
Locke: Your captain should've had the wit to be more specific and she lost.
- A Song of Ice and Fire:
Merrett: I gave you your answer, you said you would let me go!
- At the end of A Storm of Swords, the third book in the series, Merrett Frey finds himself on the wrong end of this. Merrett goes to ransom a cousin who has been kidnapped by outlaws, only to see that the outlaws have hanged the cousin. One of the outlaws says that he'll tell the others to let Merrett go if he gives them the gold he brought for ransom and give them some information. When they go to hang Merrett anyway, the following conversation happens:
Tom: Seems to me that what I said was I’d tell them to let you go. Lem, let him go.
Lem: Go bugger yourself. (continues preparing to hang Merrett)Tom: (shrugs).
The Elder Brother: The Hound is dead.
- Before this, Viserys has made an absolute ass of himself over his desire to be a king. Finally, Khal Drogo tells him, "You shall have a golden crown that men shall tremble to behold." He's telling the truth. What he didn't mention? That crown will be molten gold.
- This one's a twofer. The Dothraki have a law that no blood may be shed or steel permitted in the holy city they were in when Viserys stormed in, sword at his hip and claiming exemption on account of being a non-Dothraki. Drogo did not break the rules - after all, death by molten crown doesn't shed blood.
- It's also implied that this sort of Loophole Abuse is frequent: sellers in the city market are described as keeping strong slaves nearby to strangle thieves.
- Jaime Lannister and Edmure Tully pull this on each other. Jaime gets Edmure to surrender the castle of Riverrun in part by offering to house him in keeping with his station at Casterly Rock and allow him to be with his wife (if Edmure didn't surrender, Jaime threatened to send his son to him via trebuchet). Edmure surrenders, but when the Lannisters take the castle, they find Brynden "Blackfish" Tully, Edmure's uncle and the most capable general left to fight against the Lannisters missing. Edmure points out that he promised to surrender his castle, not his uncle. In response, an angry Jaime threatens to put him in a dungeon cell so cramped he cannot move and his wife in an identical cell right next to him, pointing out that this also would still be within the terms of his offer.
- Shortly after his argument with Edmure, Jaime has to deal with a woman who betrayed the Starks partially because Jaime's father Tywin promised to make advantageous marriages for her children. In particular, he promised that her son "would have joy of him." How Tywin would have fulfilled this promise is unknown, but Jaime says that "Joy" is the name of one of his illegitimate cousins and offers a betrothal to her.
- Another example from Jaime is when he offers an outlaw a large sum of gold to return him and Brienne to King's Landing. The outlaw is savvy enough not to take Jaime up on his offer, which is lucky for him, as Jaime planned to give him the gold...and then hang him.
- Jaime remembers a duel he witnessed between Arthur Dayne and the Smiling Knight. The Smiling Knight said he wanted Dayne's Thunderbolt Iron sword. Dayne replies "Then you shall have it" and runs him through.
- From A Feast for Crows:
Brienne: So it's true, then... Sandor Clegane is dead.
The Elder Brother: He is at rest.
- Similarly to the Vaes Dothrak situation above, Ironborn are not allowed to shed the blood of other Ironborn. They are, however, exceptionally fond of drowning. Euron especially delights in exploiting this particular loophole.
- In A Dance With Dragons, Roose Bolton promises some recalcitrant peasants that if they go about their work, he will show mercy. He does... by hanging them instead of flaying them.
- Likewise, Joffrey promises Sansa he would show her father mercy. He considers a quick death by beheading to be merciful, considering that drawing and quartering were options too.
- While Ned Stark, noted by Catelyn Stark, publicly calls Jon Snow "his son" and Ned refers to Robb and Jon as "my sons" in Bran's first chapter, he does not specifically call him this in his POV thoughts, but refers to him as his blood. When Ned once told Catelyn to never ask about Jon's mother, he said Jon was his blood. This only supports the theory that Jon is not his son but is instead his nephew who Ned is raising as his own son. This theory posits that Jon is the son of Ned's sister Lyanna Stark and Rhaegar Targaryen and Ned is protecting Jon by hiding his true origins to keep Jon safe from their family's enemies, with Ned keeping Jon close and raising him as his own.
- When Littlefinger "rescues" Sansa from Kings Landing, he promises to take her home. He does, bringing her to his home, before bringing her to the Vale. During the whole trip, she thought he was going to bring her to her home (which he knew, but pretended not to).
- The Tattered Prince agreed with Ser Garris that each would only bring "two men" to their meeting - he brings a third person, a woman.
- Works both ways with Arya Stark and Jaqen H'ghar — the latter claims that he only offered three deaths, no more and no less and certainly not help, so Arya takes advantage of Jaqen not specifying that ''he himself'' can't be one of those deaths to coerce him to help her free the Northern prisoners in the dungeonnote .
- A general piece of advice: when getting a prophecy in any form of Valyrian, some words that do denote a gender in the common tongue, such as "prince" and "princess", are not gender-specific in Valyrian, much like "teacher" and "scientist" are not gender-specific in English. The Valyrian word for "prince" and "princess" is the same. As Maester Aemon said, when looking for a "Prince That Was Promised" they never thought to look for a girl as in Valyrian it could also be a "Princess That Was Promised". (Note: per the author of the books and the language creator for the TV show, "valonqar" does specifically mean "little brother." The word for "little sister" is different.)
- And finally, a subversion. Maesters, black brothers, and the Kingsguard are not allowed to have sex at all. However, their vows only state that they can't take a wife, which means a visit to the local whorehouse is technically all right by the standards, as long as they don't conceive (another caveat of their vows). But no one ever feels compelled to point out this distinction and it's considered oathbreaking anyway. Despite this, the distinction is observed by practically everyone, including heroic characters, all of whom have technically broken their vow of chastity by the end of the fourth book.
- These Words Are True and Faithful: On an internet discussion board, Ernie announces his breakup with Danny and says he does not want a word out of Rob. Rob responds with a string of laughing emoji.
- In the first book of Sapkowski's The Witcher, the Framing Device ends with a duel to first blood in which Geralt is told that if he so much as touches his opponent with his sword or body, he will afterwards be killed. He wins by smashing his opponent's own sword into their face with a hard parry.
- Artemis Fowl
- In the first Artemis Fowl book, at the end of his negotiations with Commander Root, Artemis tells him that "None of your kind may enter this building while I am alive". As The Fair Folk can't enter a human building without an invitation, these words are magically-binding, but eventually they spot the obvious loophole: if they can't go in while he's alive, then they'll go in once he's dead. So they bio-bomb the manor. Except that Artemis had deliberately left that loophole there, knowing the LEP would pick up on it, and he and his associates had already escaped the time-field by the time the bomb went off.
- Similarly, while in the household of "mud men," a fairy is compelled to obey their orders. However, these orders must be phrased exactly, saying stuff like "You really shouldn't do such-and-such" won't stop them from doing it, you have to actually say "don't do it" or "you may not." This is something that the kidnapped Holly Short uses to her advantage.
- In one incident in The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, somebody is given an overdose of truth serum right before a trial. When asked to tell the whole truth, he does, and people Go Mad from the Revelation. Apparently, there were some interesting bits about frogs. There's also less of it than people think. It only takes him about four days.
- Earlier, when he and Ford Prefect are about to be thrown out of the airlock of the Vogon ship, Arthur Dent wishes that he had listened to his mother when he was young. Ford asks him what his mother had said, and Arthur replies, "I don't know - I didn't listen!"
- One of the short stories in Land Of The Lawn Weenies uses this... the main characters are cursed by a little girl who tells them to beware what they say — it'll come true. And, well... let's just say they quickly learn that slang should not be said idly, and that there is a huge difference between "I am holding a baseball" and "There's a baseball in my hand."
- In Robert E. Howard's Conan the Barbarian story "Rogues in the House", Nabonidus promised only to not have the king kill Murilo; he can kill him himself.
- Paranormalcy's Faeries are well known for exploiting this trope in regards to Named Commands — a 2-week course is mandatory to command a Faerie, and that isn't enough. Make it too explicit "Do not touch her!" or too vague "Go get her." and you'll regret it. Reth is probably the expert at this, since he can "misinterpret" each of his commands as stalk Evie.
- Mike "Jenkins", in A Deeper Blue, promises to not kill a terrorist that he was interrogating. After getting the desired information, he kept his word. Oleg delivered the killing blow.
- In the Tom Clancy novel Clear and Present Danger (but not the movie), Jack Ryan says to Colonel Cortez that he won't be prosecuted. True to his word, Cortez isn't prosecuted. He's handed back to his former agency in Cuba, where his fate is most likely to be far less pleasant than what it could be under the US criminal justice system.
- In Alastair Reynolds' short story "Nightingale", the medical ship Nightingale promises the narrator that if she chooses to return planet-side with the evil Colonel Jax, who will die as a result, Nightingale will allow her and her fellow bounty-hunters to return "in one piece". As in, Nightingale will suture them together into a single, monstrous body.
- Q plays this trick on the Grand Nagus in the Star Trek Expanded Universe novel I, Q. He challenges the Nagus that he will say a number that the Nagus thinks of, and if he can't, he'll be the Nagus' servant. After Q guesses, the Nagus tells him the number he's thinking of, and after an... overly familiar retort, Q says that number. He never did say just when he'd say the number the Nagus was thinking of...
- In Iain Banks' Use of Weapons the protagonist attacks a city that prides itself on its library. They agree to surrender providing he doesn't "destroy one bit of data". On taking the city, he orders his men to take the databanks — and rearrange them into alphabetical order. He similarly reorders all pictures by colour scale.
- In James H. Schmitz's Telzey Amberdon short story "Child of the Gods", Telzey is mentally enslaved by another psionic, with several of her most potent skills locked away. When the man is incapacitated and a monstrously powerful alien is shortly due to arrive to enslave and/or eat them, Telzey breaks free when she realizes that his command to look after his best interests — without him conscious to decide otherwise — would best be served if she had full access to all her abilities and was free of his control so she could use them most effectively.
- In Dune: House Harkonnen, Abulurd Harkonnen has a plan to sever his ties with his brother, the Baron Harkonnen and keep his homeworld of Lankiveil in the process - something which the Baron would almost certainly object to. When he is being questioned by a Truthsayer, he says, truthfully, that he notified the Baron, and has received no objection. He sent the message by an overly long route, so by the time the Baron finds out, the paperwork will have gone through and it will be too late to do anything.
- In Frank Herbert's Dune series, the Bene Gesserit are stated to be incapable of outright lying, by virtue of their use of the Water of Life to expand their consciousness. Because of that, they've become masters of misdirection through clever word use and "encouraging" others to draw the wrong conclusions.
- A more direct version of this occurs in the first novel: Dr. Yueh is able to overcome his Suk conditioning (which would normally prevent him from betraying or doing harm to his masters) and aid the Harkonnens against the Atreides because the Harkonnens are holding his wife hostage, subjecting her to torture. The Baron promises Yueh that he would "free her from the agony and permit you to join her" if he holds up his end of the deal. When it comes time to honor the agreement, it soon becomes clear that she is long dead, and the Baron has Yueh knifed in the back, telling him as he dies, "So, join her!". Unfortunately for the Baron, Yueh completely anticipated this, and had made his own contingency plans that would lead to the Baron's downfall.
- In The Bartimaeus Trilogy, orders given to demons are often spoken without pause for breath, because the demon can interpret the pause as a period, rendering the order gibberish. At another time, Nathaniel orders Bartimaeus to stop his prisoners from escaping in his car, which he notes means he's completely free to let them escape by any other means. Because the magicians can punish them for not performing to their satisfaction, many demons cooperate with what the magician meant. Bartimaeus generally uses it only when he thinks it to his advantage or is fairly sure he won't get caught, but one of Nathaniel's servants did this to everything he said. After spending fifteen minutes ordering it to draw his bath, he realized how absurd this was, stippled it, and dismissed it.
- The protagonist of Gary Jennings' Aztec, Mixtli, challenges his long-time enemy to a Duel to the Death in front of the Revered Speaker. Unfortunately, said enemy also happens to be the Speaker's favorite artist, and so the Speaker warns Mixtli that he is NOT to kill his foe. Luckily for Mixtli, "alive" doesn't necessarily mean "capable of sight and coherent speech"...
- Isaac Asimov:
- Black Widowers:
- In "Truth to Tell", the group's guest, a known compulsive truth-teller repeatedly insists that, though he was apparently the only possible suspect, he did not steal the cash or the bonds from a company safe. He declines to answer when Henry asks him if, by any chance, he stole the cash and the bonds.
- In "Northwestward", Henry requests clarification on if Mr Pennyworth said “northwest” or “northwestward” because one means a particular direction and the other has several possible meanings.
- Lucky Starr and the Rings of Saturn: Agent X ejected a personal capsule in "normal orbit" around Saturn. Both the Sirians and the Terrestrial government are rushing to find it first. The capsule cannot be found until it is realised that "normal" was actually used in the geometric sense — "perpendicular", a polar orbit.
- This sets off the plot of the short story "Little Lost Robot". A man gets annoyed by a robot and tells it to get lost. Since robots must follow orders given to them by humans, and this robot is already a little unstable, it does its best to oblige.
- Black Widowers:
- L. Jagi Lamplighter's Prospero Lost has an unusual use: Ferdinard, believing that Miranda never married because of her vow to marry him or die a maid, and that she does not want to marry him, offers to go through the ceremony with her and then have the marriage dissolved for non-consummation. Then she would be free to marry as she chose, having technically married him.
- Near the beginning of Dragon Keeper, Alise is convinced her husband Hest is having an affair, and confronts him about it. He promises that he's not having an affair with another woman - and more specifically, that he has never "shown any interest, here in Bingtown or on our trading journeys, in any woman". When Sedric, her childhood friend and his secretary and confidante, agrees with him, saying that he would know how Hest spends his time if anyone does, she believes them. As you might be able to guess, Hest is not having an affair with another woman... he is, however, having an affair with Sedric.
- Robert A. Heinlein's The Number of the Beast has a white mutiny when a know-it-all member becomes captain.
- In Heinlein's Have Space Suit – Will Travel, a robot tells Kip and Peewee that their presence is required. Kip, feeling uncooperative, says "You'll have to drag me!" It does.
- The Excalibur Alternative
- The Ternaui queens use this as a means of possible rebellion against the enslaving Federation: forced to place telepathic directives into the minds of the children they have to give up for service, the commands they give are specifically what they are told to implant, not necessarily what was meant. One ship commander orders guards who will obey his commands, not harm him, and protect him from attack. Nothing was said about obeying any of the other crew, informing him of conspiracies against him, or not helping said conspirators with their plans.
- The humans take advantage of this to save the lives of the Ternaui guards. The guards were prepared to use their Exact Word loopholes to sacrifice themselves, allowing the humans to kill them first so they wouldn't be able to defend the commander when the humans try to capture him. The humans decide that their sacrifice isn't worth the minor advantage they'd get by capturing the commander, and instead kill the commander right away while the Ternaui were under the impression they were the ones about to be attacked. Because he neglected to include anyone else as individuals they'd have to obey, the Ternaui are free to join the rebellious humans.
- The ship's Artificial Intelligence computer system also doesn't take the initiative in informing the crew of what it knows the humans are talking about because that isn't its job, even though it has the humans under near-constant surveillance. Showing just how much of an asshole the commander and his crew are, the computer has no problem showing initiative when later working with the humans.
- The Ternaui queens use this as a means of possible rebellion against the enslaving Federation: forced to place telepathic directives into the minds of the children they have to give up for service, the commands they give are specifically what they are told to implant, not necessarily what was meant. One ship commander orders guards who will obey his commands, not harm him, and protect him from attack. Nothing was said about obeying any of the other crew, informing him of conspiracies against him, or not helping said conspirators with their plans.
- In Poul Anderson's The High Crusade, much of Sir Roger's interplanetary negotiations involve boasts which are not factually incorrect, but are carefully worded to imply that his forces are larger than they actually are."Our lords have extensive foreign possessions, such as Ulster, Leinster, Normandy — but I'll not weary you with a catalogue of planets." I alone noticed that he had not actually said those counties and duchies were planets.
"Sir, I am no petty noble," the baron answered with great stiffness. "My descent is as lofty as any in your realm. An ancestor of mine, by the name of Noah, was once admiral of the combined fleets of my planet."
- Underground: Before the semifinals fight, Cassandra tells Robyn, "...you will be the one who moves on to the final". Robyn proceeds to lose the fight, noting that Cassandra was wrong. However, Cassandra never said Robyn would win her fight. In fact, her opponent Tyler is later found murdered and Robyn advances to the final fight in his place. So what she said was true.
- In War of the Dreaming, the dream-colt tells Galen that she cannot carry him beyond the borders of Tirion. She can, however, carry him back.
- In Wen Spencer's Tinker, Windwolf tells Tinker he needs to perform a spell or she'll die. Being human, she thought he meant really soon. Afterwards, she realized that, no, he was panic-stricken because she had been mortal.
- In Jack London's The Sea Wolf, Wolf Larsen promises the protagonist "not to lay a finger" on two sailors he previously threatened with death. So what does he do? When they are shipwrecked and trying to escape, he lets them drown.
- In Tanya Huff's first story about the thief Terizan, the Thieves' Guild asks her, as an initiation test, to bring them the braid of the mercenary Swan. Terizan is enamored of Swan and doesn't especially want to do this, and wants to do it even less after she and Swan team up to take down a treacherous councilman, but she does very badly want to join the Guild. So she has Swan accompany her to the guildmasters, braid still attached.
- In Andre Norton's Dread Companion, Kosgro, offered "a gate", objected and demands the gates they came through, which they get, putting them back where they started. To be sure, she did not alert them to the time factor.
- Used several times in A Civil Campaign, which makes sense as this volume is about parliamentering and imperial court politics.
- In 1632, Grantsville accepts Gustavus Adolphus as Feudal Overlord on the condition that he would be "captain general" rather then "king"-because a captain general is not claiming divine right and therefore has no interest in Grantsville's religious predispositions.
- In Andre Norton's The Zero Stone, Jern hands over his zero stone, and tells them where the caches are. Eet, meanwhile, had taken a stone from one cache, and when handing it over, tells him that he had done what he had promised.
- In China Miéville's Un Lun Dun, a seeming mistake in The Book of prophecy turns out to actually be correct: the Smog indeed fears nothing and the ungun.
- Nero Wolfe tends to use these to get information out of people who are reluctant to give it to him or to prevent having to reveal information he doesn't want to let go. He prides himself on never actually lying, but is a master of equivocation.
- In Julie Kagawa's The Iron King, Meghan is asked for her name in return for a way into the Winter Kingdom, and promises a name. Then she gives "Fred Flintstone", which is indeed a name.
- In Little Women, the day before Meg's wedding:Meg: I wonder if you will ever grow up, Laurie.Laurie (whose head was about level with Meg's chandelier): I'm doing my best, ma'am, but can't get much higher, I'm afraid, as six feet is about all men can do in these degenerate days.
- The Stormlight Archive:
- The Way of Kings: Prince Renarin is being tormented by Wit:Wit: What of you, Prince Renarin? Your father wishes me to leave you alone. If you can speak and yet say nothing ridiculous, I will leave you alone for the rest of the week.
Renarin: Nothing ridiculous.
- Words of Radiance: Shallan, on her way to her betrothed, Adolin, is attacked at sea. The rest of her party missing, presumed dead, she runs across Tyn, a scam artist, and (accidentally) convinces Tyn that she is likewise planning to pull a scam. When pressed for details, she tells the literal truth: she discovered information that Adolin was betrothed to a woman who happens to look very much like herself, and she is planning on taking her place.
- Another example from Words of Radiance that almost ended disastrously: Adolin needs to challenge other Shardbearers to duels, but nobody's dumb enough to accept challenges from the resident Master Swordsman. Eventually he gets the idea to goad them into it by going for a duel at a disadvantage: two against one, which he knows he can still win. Except... he didn't say two against one, he said "me against whoever you bring." His opponent brings three Shardbearers. Luckily, the heroes turned this back on them: four on three still counts as a disadvantage, allowing Kaladin and Renarin to jump into the ring and back Adolin up.
- Oathbringer: Wit was introduced as the king's jester, who ditched his job and ran away for mysterious reasons. He reappears as a promoter for an inn, and told the innkeeper that he would treat him like a king. After telling stories and doing nothing to help him, he then ditches his job and runs away for mysterious reasons.
- The Way of Kings: Prince Renarin is being tormented by Wit:
- In John R. Powers' fictionalized memoir Do Black Patent Leather Shoes Really Reflect Up?, the narrator mentions that the boys-only Catholic high school he went to, Bremmer High, had an unbreakable dress code: all students were required to wear a sport coat, a tie and a belt. If you forgot, you'd be "jugged" (get detention) or suspended. Noting that the rule didn't say what shape the items of clothing had to be in, he says that a few enterprising students kept extra ties in their lockers to rent out to students who'd forgotten theirs, but "you could tell, however, if a tie was rented: it looked like it had gone through someone's digestive tract." And he says that "every year, a few students who had no interest in staying at Bremmer anyway would talk about coming to school wearing nothing but a sport coat, a tie, and a belt."
- Faeries in the Modern Faerie Tales books are forced to obey any order given using their true name, to the literal letter - and only to the letter. Thus, when the villain commands Rath Roiben Rye to grab the heroine, he does - and then immediately lets her go again.
- Done by the narrator in the Star Trek: The Fall novel The Crimson Shadow, which introduces the Cardassian character Rakhat Blok by saying that if any one asked him, which they didn't, he would have told them he was born on a client world of the Union... and so on for three paragraphs of exposition, all of which is what he would say, not the truth.
- The Crystal has the mayor who hired the adventurers trying to fool them about the worth of the title object, offering half of its value for them to return it to him. It doesn't work, and they take him at his exact words.
- Royal Flash. Flashman is torturing a man who tried to kill him as part of a plot, and swears on his honor as an English gentleman to let him go if he talks. Being the most dishonorable Englishman in the British army, Flashy has no intention of doing so, but decides to follow this trope by letting his captive go off a cliff.
- Here is an extremely rare example for the trope coming out benign. The German rororo Rotfuchs series for kids always had a comic on the backcover. Here, a cat has a can with catfood...but no opener. The eponymous fox quips: "Why don't you get a mouse?" She does...and the mouse helps her out by playing can opener with his teeth.
- Neil Gaiman uses this in the novel Stardust.
- When Tristran returns with the star, Victoria tells him that, despite her engagement to Mr. Monday, she will honor their bargain and marry Tristran, instead. Tristran reminds her that her exact words were that she would grant his heart's desire, which he tells her is now to see her happily wed to Mr. Monday.
- Also, the witch Ditchwater Sal promises to take Tristran back to the Wall, providing food and shelter on the way, and to deliver him in the same shape and condition he is at the time. She never said anything about not transforming him during the journey, or that the shelter wouldn't be a small cage and the food only as much as a dormouse needs.
- Mollie Hunter's novel, A Stranger Came Ashore, has a character named Finn Learson, a Tall, Dark, and Handsome young man who turns out to be the Great Selkie, lord of all the other selkies. After he comes ashore following a shipwreck, he leads everyone to believe that he was a member of the ship's crew who survived because he was a good swimmer, but after protagonist Robbie realises Finn's true identity, he looks back on the conversation and realises that Finn's answers to others' questions were intended to create the impression that he was part of the crew without ever explicitly saying that he was, such as referring to the wreck as "the ship" rather than "my ship".
- Gaiman uses the trope again in American Gods: Shadow and Chernobog play checkers, with the stakes being that if Chernobog wins he will get to hit Shadow in the head with his sledgehammer, and if Shadow wins Chernobog will throw in with Shadow's employer. Shadow loses the first round and challenges Chernobog to a rematch with the same stakes. Chernobog wonders how he will be able to kill Shadow twice, and Shadow points out that Chernobog has won one swing, and he might need more. Chernobog grumbles, but accepts, and Shadow wins the second time. At the end of the book, Shadow seeks out Chernobog to pay his debt, but Chernobog only laughs, taps him lightly on the head with the hammer and gives him some friendly advice.
- It also shows up in the conversation between Shadow and Sam the hitchhiker.Well... as long as you aren't a murderer or escaped convict or something... you aren't, are you?
But you hesitated.
Did my time, never killed anyone.
- It also shows up in the conversation between Shadow and Sam the hitchhiker.
- In the setting of Pact, Poke, and Pale, all mystical practitioners, as the cost for being able to perform magic, agree to speak only the truth, and to faithfully abide by all oaths that they swear. Naturally, many practitioners exploit this trope in order to trick their enemies.
- One of the earliest examples being Pact's Laird Behaim, who, in his first appearance, approaches Blake, agrees to protect him while they talk (and makes several statements to the effect of it being in his best interests to do so) and then shortly thereafter ruthlessly exploits both the vagaries of the English language and the precise wording of his statements to justify leaving Blake to die.
- On another occasion, it's demonstrated that it's terrifyingly easy to accidentally lie and invoke karmic backlash even when you were trying to be truthful. Blake declares that he promised a ghost that he would keep her close and warm... and is told that, technically, his companion Rose was the one who spoke the words of that promise, therefore he just lied. It's then discussed that there is some grey area there: Rose was speaking on Blake's behalf, and as a magically-conjured female version of himself, it could be argued that Blake and Rose are the same person, therefore it wasn't a very "large" lie and the backlash for it was overall very minimal. Blake learns from this and starts frequently qualifying statements he makes with phrases like "I believe", "so to speak", or "in a way" in order to avoid this.
- Despoilers of the Golden Empire is built on this trope. The entire story is written in scientific language, with frequent references made to science, but also to the ignorance of science of the characters in the story - they don't bring along any scientists on their expedition, they don't have any interest in the genetics of the natives, they need gold to run their empire, they have found no way of transmuting other elements into gold... because the story is not about the future at all, but actually about the past, namely the conquest of Peru in the 1500s, and is not in fact a work of science fiction, as the prose seems to present it, but a work of historical fiction.The sun, a yellow G-O star, hung hotly just above the towering mountains to the east.
- Absolutely true, because they were on Earth All Along.
- Beetle does this in the sixth Septimus Heap book to convince Merrin Meredith that his plan (a Darke Domaine- an expanding cloud of evil which puts into a trance and eventually kills those trapped inside) has failed.
- This is a major subplot of The Dream-Maker's Magic. Mrs Carmichael desperately wants a son and is insistent that she gave birth to one. She takes her daughter Kellen to a Truth-Teller, begging her to confirm that Kellen was born a boy. The Truth-Teller, sneering at her foolishness, confirms that Kellen was 'a girl in the womb'. Unfortunately, Mrs Carmichael didn't think to ask if Kellen was the child she gave birth to.
- An ongoing, major point of the first nine Honor Harrington novels — give or take an anthology — was that the war between Manticore and Haven could only end with the destruction of the Star Kingdom or the destruction of the People's Republic. At the end of book nine, Havenite Admiral Thomas Theisman puts a very pointed end to the People's Republic of Tyranny Haven had become via a pulser dart to Oscar Saint-Just's head. The People's Republic of Haven ceased to exist, and three books later — give or take half a dozen side novels — the Star Kingdom of Manticore and the Republic of Haven formed the Grand Alliance. Well played, Weber. Well played. It works even better if one notes that the year before the final peace treaty and alliance, the Talbott Cluster had just joined with Manticore, and as a result the Star Kingdom of Manticore didn't get to see the final end of the war either. The Star Empire of Manticore, on the other hand...
- Awake in the Night Land has a story in which a hero called Telemachos has to rescue his friend Perithoos. It was prophesied that after such rescue attempt only one pair of footprints is seen returning home. Telemachos deals with this by carrying Perithoos on his shoulders back home.
- In the first Night Huntress book, Bones shakes down a murderous, rapist vampire for information, promising not to kill him in exchange for cooperation. However, Cat didn't promise not to kill him. In a later book, Vlad is about to execute an enemy ghoul who gave no useful information they didn't already know. Cat tells Vlad, "He's done his best to tell you all he knows, so you need to let him go." Vlad almost argues, then catches the emphasis and cheerfully complies. When the ghoul tries to leave, Cat kills him.
- Bones makes this work for him, because he's built a reputation for doing exactly what he says he'll do. When he threatens to, for example, rip off your stones and feed them to you, he isn't using hyperbole; he means he will literally do just that, which makes his threats especially effective. Conversely, he's trusted to honor any bargain he makes to the letter.
- In the first Phule's Company novel, when the female Legionnaires pose for a girlie mag, Colonel Battleaxe asks if Phule had approved of this. Mindful of the importance of not directly lying to a superior officer — and not wanting to say he had no idea about it at all — he tells her he doesn't think it's his place to approve or disapprove; he has no more right to order them not to strip than he would to order them to do so.
- In the Flash Fiction story "Walking Oddbins" by Paul H. Trembling, Marcus is told he can take the freshly-bathed eponymous dog for a walk so long as the dog doesn't get dirty. Marcus lets himself get all wet, muddy, and ash-and-leaf-covered in order to make sure Oddbins is clean and dry.
- In Watersong, when Gemma asks Demeter about ways of breaking the siren curse and brings up killing Penn, Demeter states: "If you tried to kill Penn, then you wouldn't need to break the curse". Gemma takes this to mean that Demeter is endorsing killing Penn as a solution to her predicament. However, Lydia points out that Demeter's statement could also be interpreted as saying that if Gemma tried to kill Penn, she would lose and herself be killed.
- In Rangers At Roadsend Katryn tells Chip that she has not been demoted. When she is later mockingly addressed with a higher rank by an old colleague, Chip accuses her of having lied. Katryn explains that she has not been demoted, she gave up her higher rank voluntarily. She didn't explain this because of the internal rivalry between the military branches, which means that she will be looked down on for changing from the militia to the rangers, which is how she lost her rank.
- In Starlight and Shadows, Danilo's master, a powerful archmage, learns that the drow priestess Liriel is coming to Skullport to seek Danilo's help. Danilo intends to meet her at the docks; but the archmage, not wanting him to get involved in matters, forbids it. Danilo therefore gives his solemn vow that he will not meet Lirel at the docks. The archmage, however, is no fool; he quickly notices the linguistic loophole and sends another apprentice to tail Danilo and make sure he doesn't try to meet Liriel anywhere else, either.
- From the Rigante series: "You will find fame, Valanus. You will find fame." General Custer-style fame, but still fame.
- The nigh-indestructible Big Bad of the post-apocalyptic novel Bloodstone by David Gemmell forces the hero, who has gained a time travel ability, to take him back to the twentieth century so he can take over a fully-populated Earth. The hero takes him to July 16, 1945, and strands him at ground zero of the Trinity nuclear bomb test a few moments before detonation.
- In Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Rodrick Rules, Greg’s mom threatens to ground him if he keeps lying. Later in the book, someone calls the house, wanting to talk to his mom, so she tells Greg to tell the caller that she's not home. In order to tell the truth, Greg makes his mom stand outside in the rain so that he can, with utmost sincerity, tell the caller that "My mom is not inside the house right now".
- In The Four Feathers, Durrance asks Ethne if she's marrying him out of pity, knowing that she won't outright lie to him. So she replies; "I want to marry you more than anything in the world." Note that she doesn't say why.
- In the Ouachita Mountain Shifters series, a seer prophecies that Thames' soulmate "will hide darkness in her heart, and have no love to give [Thames]". Which is true- for about a day. And then she gets over being Drunk on the Dark Side and lives happily ever after with Thames. Grammatical tenses are a bitch that way.
- In Heretical Edge, the Necromancer Fossor is very much the type to obey the letter of an agreement at the expense of the spirit. Case in point: he made a deal with Joselyn Chambers to cause no harm to her child in exchange for her servitude and obedience. But the deal only protects Felicity Chambers as long as she's a child, and he has every intention of returning to enslave her once she turns eighteen. Furthermore, while he can't harm Flick, he can cause her discomfort if it's ultimately beneficial, as seen when he impersonates a dentist and pulls some of her teeth.
- In the first The Paper Magician book, the explanation of how Excision (flesh magic) was invented plays on this, specifically the definition of "manmade".Mg. Phillips: Materials magic can only be performed through manmade materials, of course, but someone many, many years ago concluded that because humans begot humans, people were also manmade, and thus the dark arts began. Now, turn to page one twenty-six in your text—
- In Shattering The Ley, Hounds are soldiers that have trained to have a superhuman sense of smell for tracking, and their (not always willing) training involves being tortured to the point where they will follow orders without question. At one point, a Hound is given an order to find another character: specifically, to "find the traitorous Kormanley bastard, and subdue him". However, when he *does* locate that character, he determines that the character he was pursuing is not actually a member of the Kormanley, and therefore, is unwilling to subdue him, as he was given an order explicitly to find a "traitorous Kormanley bastard", so he lets his quarry go.
- Clarissa in the Goosebumps story "Be Careful What You Wish For" simply lives for this trope, especially in the TV adaptation. For but one example, when the protagonist says she wishes everyone would just buzz off, Clarissa grants her wish...by turning everyone into flies.
- The Camp Half-Blood Series:
- In the first Percy Jackson and the Olympians book, Percy informs us that his mother always told him that his father was Lost at Sea; she never said that he was dead. As we later learn, Percy's father is Poseidon, so yeah—she "lost" touch with him because he went back to the sea, where he lives in a palace with his actual wife.
- The Heroes of Olympus:
- The second book contains a possible example; after arriving in Canada, Ella gives an actual prophecy for the quest, the second line of which is "Falling from ice, the son of Neptune shall drown." Later, when the party makes it to Alaska, Percy accidentally steps in a muskeg and very nearly suffocates. The prophecy never said there'd be water involved, but it was also only the first two lines, so there's no way to know.
- One of the enemies Gaea sends after the Seven in the third book are a trio of eidolons, spirits who can possess others, who Piper orders via charmspeak to never take control of anyone on the Argo II. They show up later on possessing a couple of tourists and later a bunch of abandoned Archimedes projects.
- After landing in Atlanta and meeting the old Titan of the sea Phorcys in the third book, he promises to tell Frank and Percy "everything they need to know". But seeing as how there's no god that would help them at that point and the only way to kill any giant is for a demigod and god to work together, they don't need to know anything as far as Phorcys is concerned.
- In the fifth book, Jason, with a little help from Hazel's Mist magic, pretends to be an old beggar named Iros and claims to a handful of Gaea-aligned spirits that he's a messenger for her forces. He says he walked through the House of Hades and personally met with the giant Clytius, which he did, but not as a messenger, obviously.
- In The Trials of Apollo, protagonists Meg and Apollo are informed that they must face unkillable monsters on their journey. When they meet those monsters, Apollo realizes that they're facing Yales, which are not immortal... but Meg and Apollo aren't allowed to kill them because they're an endangered species protected by the gods.
- The Divine Comedy: In order to learn the backstory of a damned traitor, Dante swears that he'll clear the frozen tears from the traitor's eyes or go down to the very bottom of Hell. Of course, since he isn't actually damned himself, Dante does go down to the bottom of Hell and can then leave without suffering either damnation or alliance with the worst of humanity.
- The Lensman novel Second Stage Lensmen has two examples.
- In the first, Mentor convinces Kimball Kinnison that "Prime Minister Fossten" is a mad Arisian who Kinnison has just defeated in mental combat - using exact words to conceal that Fossten was actually Gharlane of Eddore and was actually killed by Mentor himself.
- The second is lampshaded in the narrative as being a truthful but utterly misleading message by Kinnison in his guise as Boskonian Tyrant Traska Gannel: "My forces have won, my enemy has been wiped out to the last man." The forces of Civilization did win the Battle of Klovia, wiping out the Boskonian fleet to the last man.
- In The Hollow Boy from Lockwood & Co., Lockwood tells Lucy that he will always protect her so long as she's with the company. So Lucy tries to exploit this, by quitting the company. The following book, The Creeping Shadow, shows it doesn't last long.
- The Unexplored Summon://Blood-Sign uses the Cronus precedent. It is an oft-repeated and incontrovertible fact that no one in either world can defeat the White Queen, in the same way that a human can't kill a bear. But a human can create and use a weapon that can kill bears. Hence, the creation of the Colorless Little Girl.
- In his autobiography Black Boy, Richard Wright tells how, one day, after adopting a kitten, his father, angered by the noise, told him to "kill that damn thing". So, wanting to defy his father in a way that ensured he could never be punished by him without losing face because he just did what he told, he proceeded to hang the kitten.
- In her autobiographical Pretending to be Normal, Liane Holliday Willey was told by her mother, when she was a child, to always be able to see her house. Being autistic, she initially didn't understand why her mother was upset one day: after all, she was able to see her house from where she was - she just had to climb on a roof.
- Bastard Operator from Hell: The first story has a user requesting more space on his account. The BOFH complies with his request in a suspiciously happy manner, and the user nervously asks how much space he has now. The answer:"Well, let's see, you have 4 Meg available."
"Wow! Eight Meg in total, thanks!" he says pleased with his bargaining power.
"No," I interrupt, savouring this like a fine, red room temperature. "4 Meg in total."
"Huh? I'd used 4 Meg already, How could I have 4 Meg Available?"
I say nothing. It'll come to him.
I kill me; I really do.note
- In Command Decision by Elizabeth Moon, Subspace Ansibles are supposed to be too large to have on board a ship, but Vatta Enterprises have discovered this isn't true, and reverse engineered the concept to sell. The fact ansibles can be made small enough to be implanted, however, is a massive secret only known to a handful of people. So when Ky Vatta is asked by a potential customer if she gained her information about the enemy from her shipboard ansible, she just says yes, thinking to herself that it is an ansible, and it is on board her ship. Later, the person she contacted is talking to Stella Vatta, and since she knows the capabilities of the shipboard ansibles, his version is that Ky contacted him after the system ansible was repaired, which is also true.
- Ebenezer Scrooge gets hit with a double dose of this while with the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come in A Christmas Carol. After witnessing people gossip unfeelingly about an unknown man's dying, and then watching thieves sell off said man's stolen goods to a pawnbroker, he begs the Spirit to show him someone "who feels emotion caused by this man's death." Yet to Come agrees...by taking him to see a poor family whose debt will now be forgiven because of the man's demise, making them extremely happy (Scrooge didn't specify which emotion he wanted to see). Distraught, Scrooge next begs the spirit to demonstrate "some tenderness connected to a death." The ghost yet again obliges by showing him the Cratchit house, where they are mourning Tiny Tim's passing—it's tenderness connected to a death, but not the first man's death.
- Invoked in Paladin of Souls. When Arhys dy Lutiz is first introduced to the Dowager Royina Ista dy Chalion he asks her about his late father Arvol, her late husband Roya Ias's chancellor, and his fate. She denies both the official reasonnote for his abrupt execution and the rumors that had spreadnote about same, but when pressed loses her nerve and claims she was never released from oaths of silence about the matter before Ias himself died the better part of twenty years ago. A few days later, after they both discover that Arhys had been a sundered ghost haunting his sorcery-animated body for the past couple of months, he asks for a private conversation:"You once told me that you had promised Ias not to speak of my father's true fate to any living soul. Um. Well. Here am I, before you now. Royina, I would know."
- Captain Underpants:
- Used in the eleventh book. The Hamsterdactyls grab the Terrible Turbo Toilet 2000 and carry him half a mile into the sky. The Turbo Toilet yells "LET ME GO!" But unfortunately, he never tells the Hamsterdactyls to land first.
- In the fifth book, Ms. Ribble announces her retirement and then writes a poem on the blackboard for the students to copy into their goodbye cards: "Roses are red, violets are blue, you are retiring, and we'll miss you. Signed, your name here." The illustration shows that instead of writing their own names, everyone literally wrote "your name here" on the cards.
- Bravelands has a positive example. The Code of moral conduct given by the Great Spirit dictates; "Only kill to survive." This is typically understood to mean 'don't hunt for sport'- and it does- but when Sky Strider kills the murderous tyrant Stinger, who's at her mercy after a war that he incited, the Spirit reassures her she hasn't lost its favor. Sky did kill to survive, because Stinger had previously attempted to murder her for no good reason, and would clearly do it again if she let him live.
- Worm: Ends up being a plot point regarding Scion. See, the reason Scion spends his time flying around the world helping people is because some random drunk homeless guy told him to. Scion was aimless, without any direction at all, so the first person who told him to do something, that's what he did. The homeless guy eventually realizes that he might have misworded one of his instructions: he told Scion to "fight the Endbringers and protect people from them". After numerous fights have ended with Scion in a clear upper hand but the Endbringers retreating, he realizes he should have said "Kill the Endbringers". So he rewords his instruction next time he sees Scion. And Scion proceeds to do just that to the next Endbringer that attacks.
- In the book the film "Babe" is based on, this saves the farmer's integrity. He worried that the forms for entering Babe in the herding competition would say "Name of Dog", making whatever he put a lie. However, the form merely says "Name of Entry", allowing him to truthfully put Pig since while somewhat bizarre, Pig fits most of the standards for a sheepdog's name, the most crucial one being short and easy to say quickly.
- Jurassic Park: John Hammond tells everybody that he “spared no expense” on Jurassic Park. And that’s true... for all the things that would be noticed by the guests, like the tours and restaurants. For the nuts and bolts details that guests won’t see but which actually keep the park working, he skimps outrageously and constantly, with the result that the park is a barely functional, understaffed disaster waiting to happen.
- The Han Solo Trilogy:
- While playing a high-stakes card game, Lando offers Han a marker for "any ship on [his] lot" when he runs short of cash. As he doesn't specify that he means his inventory, Han uses the marker to claim Lando's personal ship, the Millennium Falcon, which Lando had left parked in said lot. Lando tries to object, but Han presses him on his literal statement, and Lando unhappily agrees.
- When the Battle of Nar Shaddaa turns against the Imperials, Admiral Greelanx orders his capital ships to retreat and abandon their TIE fighters. One of his captains, Soontir Fel, objects and requests permission to wait and retrieve the fighters (being an ex-TIE pilot himself), but Greelanx angrily says his order stands. Fel complies and orders his helmsman to set course out of the system, but to fly as slow as possible so that the TIEs can catch up and dock with his dreadnaught.
- The Arcadia Project series, by Mishell Baker, is about fae folk in Hollywood, and the human agents responsible for making sure fae-human relationships go smoothly (and The Masquerade is maintained). Most of the fae who come to Los Angeles are there to psychically bond with artists, and are pretty harmless. Key word being "most". The characters are frequently reminded to be extremely careful how they talk to the main antagonist of the first book, a powerful Unseelie noble. Because the difference between asking her not to hurt someone and asking her not to harm someone can be a giant chandelier dropped on someone's head after she magically snaps its chain—after all, the chandelier did all the actual damage. A certain character makes this exact mistake at the climax of the book, and things go as badly as you might expect.
- In Ward, Victoria uses this against Valefor when he tries using his Mind Control power on her. In the midst of a battle, he orders Victoria to "help him". Victoria "helps" him by flying him far away from the battle (far away enough he can't mind control anyone else), and depositing him on the roof of a building so no one can get him... and which he can't get down from without assistance. Then she goes right back to fighting his allies.
- In "Tirant lo blanc" (you probably know it only as the book that escaped burning in Don Quixote) the enemy town didn't play fair, which angered Tirants cousin(?) so much that he declared the whole town will come under his sword. Later, they surrendered and even converted to Christianity. Magnanimous Tirant wants to spare them, but a knights word of honor is unbreakable. So he cheats a bit and makes the oath come true literally: The sword is hung in the air and the whole town marches under it. Even the hot-headed cousin, cooled off in the meantime, is happy with this outcome.
- Gods in The Raven Tower and the associated "Nalendar" short stories by the same author make things true by speaking them aloud, and this always happens in a literal way. The power required to make these things true drain the God in question, even potentially maiming or killing them. As a result, Gods in the setting are always extremely careful in their language and tend to speak as exacting as possible if they speak at all. The Raven Tower contains a side story of a God killed by a blessed object of its own making, by not making the rules by which it worked unambiguous enough.
- The Neverending Story:
- The words on the back of AURYN: DO WHAT YOU WISH. For Bastian, it was a double sided rule as his wishes led him both good and bad.
- The Childlike Empress's command to the Old Man Of Wandering Mountain... to turn to the beginning of the book... She didn't tell him WHICH book...
- The Rise of Kyoshi: When Kyoshi becomes a criminal daofei, she swears three oaths: To always defend her sworn brothers and sisters, to follow no ruler and be beholden to no law, and to never receive an honest wage from those who abide by the law. In the sequel, she's discovered that in her duties as the Avatar, she can still hold these oaths. She protects those close to her, sits above the law, and doesn't accept payment. Considering how staggeringly corrupt the Earth Kingdom is, these oaths actually make her a rather effective enforcer of the law.
- In the Horatio Hornblower short story "The Last Encounter", a stranger approaches Hornblower (a veteran of the Napoleonic Wars) claiming to be Napoleon Bonaparte and asking for a carriage so he could go to France and run for President. Hornblower believes he's suffering a Napoleon Delusion, but decides to help him anyway because it amused him. It turns out the gentleman really was Napoleon Bonaparte...Napoleon Bonaparte the Third, (Napoleon's nephew) exploiting the Napoleon Delusion trope to get to France and use the presidency as a stepping stone to bring the Bonapartes back to power.
- In Changeling by Delia Sherman, Neef, a human girl raised in the New York fairy courts, breaks fairy law and is charged to bring the Lady of Central Park "the Scales of the Dragon of Wall Street", meaning his immensely valuable weighing apparatus. This challenge is cruelly, impossibly difficult and everybody knows it. But, after all, as a dragon, he has an entirely different set of scales growing all over him which he sheds regularly and is far more willing to part with— and the Lady never said which kind, did she?
- Reaper (2016): In Chapter 1, Jex and Nathan discuss the newly-applied Leebrook-Ashton Bill, which redefines nineteen as the age of majority, so it'll be another year before they can enter Game. Jex notes that the bill was "agonisingly-carefully worded" so that eighteen-year-olds who have temporarily left Game will still be able to go back in.
- The Witchlands: As Aeduan notes, he's been hired to find Safiya for Hasstrel, but nobody said anything about returning her to his employers.
- James Bond does this in Moonraker while staying at Hugo Drax's compound, posing as an inspector who's looking into some unusual deaths. Drax asks him if he's read any of the files on his employees and Bond responds "Didn't have the key to the filing cabinet"... he broke into the filing cabinet to read the files the night before, but doesn't want to upset Drax by letting him know that.
- The Rudest Alien on Earth: To stop Oluu from stealing eggs from the henhouse, Molly tells her: "Dogs must not eat eggs." Oluu later realizes that she had said "eggs", not "egg", so she thinks she's allowed to eat one egg.
- In a Horrible Harry book, Harry bets Sidney that he'll eat rocks if Sidney can run around the playground four times before the school bell rings. When Sidney does it and comes back, Harry pulls out a salt shaker and eats some salt, because salt is a mineral and counts as a rock.
- New Jedi Order:
- Shedao Shai tells Elegos he's going to use the man to send Corran Horn an unmistakable message. The message is Elegos's remains.
- At the beginning of Agents of Chaos: Hero's Trial, some Yuuzhan Vong ask Vergere, a local from the Galaxy who's been living with them for decades, if she's ever seen any of these "Jedi" they keep hearing about use the Force. Vergere answers that she has, and they inquire no further. Vergere has definitely seen Jedi use the Force before, by dint of having been a Jedi before the Vong grabbed her.
- In They Are Smol, a hospital's new class of recruits is tested for their ability to stay calm under pressure. Various clips of extremely disturbing stimuli- death, grotesque injuries, psychotic patients- are shown to them, and any student who leaves the room instantly fails out of the class. Of course, nobody can bear looking at those sorts of things for long (except sadists, whose ruthlessness is noted and also get failed), so the test is really, "Do you have the sense to cover your ears, shut your eyes, and stay in your seat once you've seen all you can bear?" The teachers only forbade leaving.
- In The Irregular at Magic High School, the criteria for Strategic-Class magicians is that they must be able to kill a given (vast) amount of people with one spell. This is why Miyuki doesn't count as Strategy-Class- her biggest spell can only freeze a fleet of military submarines, and all the people inside them, in place. Although death is extremely likely to follow in those circumstances (for example, if someone else then fires missiles at the sitting ducks), the spell itself has not killed them.
- Lester Leith loves to use his words to manipulate people. In "Lester Takes the Cake," he bets his valet (an undercover cop itching to bust him) that he can take a diamond necklace from a jewelry store, and the police will never be able to convict him. The cops are dancing a jig at this development, sure that they'll be able to convict Leith of conspiracy even if they can't find the necklace itself. Instead, Leith buys a necklace (which they can't convict him of stealing) while also managing to slip away with another necklace that had been hidden on store property in the aftermath of a recent robbery.
- A Piece in the Game of Gods: A paintball gun is allowed past a firearms ban on the reasoning that, since it fires its projectiles through energy physically stored in compressed air and not by chemical combustion, it works fundamentally like bows, crossbows, or slingshots and is thus allowed.
- Rogues in the House: Nabonidus promises not to have the king kill Murillo. He didn't say anything about personally killing Murillo though.
- Xanadu (Storyverse): In "Far Indeed From Sherwood Forest", a Kestagian mage is described by fictional RPG as being rendered mortal again if his Soul Jar is put within its body. The assumption is that he will be tricked or forced to swallow it somehow, but the main character realizes that this can also be achieved by punching the object directly through the undead mage's rotten flesh.
- Spinning Silver
- The Staryk King sets Miryem to transmute all the silver in his three treasure rooms to gold in exchange for taking her to her cousin's wedding in the human world—otherwise she will die. After taking a whole day to transmute the first, Miryem has her servants empty as much as they can from the largest chamber—if it's not in the chamber she doesn't have to change it. The King, when he sees it, is impressed with how she fulfilled his terms.
- Chernobog continually tries to tempt Irina with promises of beauty, riches, or magic powers in exchange for the Staryk King, but she maintains that all she will have is that he leaves "me and mine alone." Irina is the tsarina. That means that Chernobog cannot touch anyone in the country of Lithvas, which he discovers when someone else subverts her agreement and he comes back for revenge. It also extends to the possessed tsar, because Irina's right to him as his wife overrides his mother's right to sell him to a demon.
- Stick Dog: In "Stick Dog Craves Candy", near the end, Stick Dog and his friends find a house that has a bucket full of lollipops out front. It states that the owners of the house are out, and to take one. Stick Dog and his friends oblige, and each take a lollipop. Well, most of them take a lollipop. Poo-Poo takes one bucket full of lollipops.
- When prophecies aren't running on metaphor in The Belgariad, they're using this trope. Early in the sequel series, Garion (the king of Riva at this point) reads in a prophecy he knows to be accurate, "Guard well the son of the Rivan king, for he shall have no brother." He briefly takes this to mean he and Ce'Nedra will only have one child (their son Geran), but then realizes it specifically says "no brother". After a moment's thought, he decides he quite likes the idea of having a lot of daughters.
- This is how Mystico the Magician wins his challenges against Super Gran in Super Gran is Magic. In one example he challenges her to a race up Slackpool Tower. She races up the 500 foot structure, bewildered by his radio messages assuring her that he's "halfway up", "nearly at the top" and so on. It turns out he climbed a much shorter tower on the beach; it's a tower and it's in Slackpool, so it's a Slackpool tower.
- In Last Son of Krypton, Superman gets Lex Luthor's cooperation by getting him a pardon for all federal crimes. At the end of the novel, he arrests Luthor for a state crime. Luthor's reaction is somewhere between Touché and Actually Pretty Funny.
- Under Heaven: While Shen Li-Mei is being "abducted" away from a bridal party heading north, Meshag informs her at one point, "There is Kitan garrison not far. We sleep now, ride tonight. See it in the morning." He then interrupts her complaining about how the garrison would just send her back, since she's part of an arranged marriage, with:"Do Kitan women all speak so much, not listen? I said we see garrison. Not go there. [...] We see walls and turn south. Kiran fortress is protection[.]"
- The Doctor Who New Adventures novel The Also People has a scene near the end with the Doctor playing chess against Kadiatu, and telling her the first person to predict checkmate wins. She's rather taken aback when he wins by saying that she can mate in three moves.
- In Cassandra Clare's The Last Hours trilogy, Cordelia accidently makes herself Lilith's paladin. In the third book, Cordelia (with some help from Lucie and the nearby dead)forces Lilith to promise to free her from this burden once Belial has received the third and final blow from her sword Cortona. Note she never said it had to be her who delivers the blow.
Exact Words / Literature