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"Blackmail" Is Such an Ugly Word

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Getting postmodern with the trope?

De Sardet: Are you trying to blackmail me?
Aurélia De Vespe: Oh what a horrid word! Come now, I would never do such a thing. Let's just say that I'm ensuring your loyalty.

This trope dates back to movies in the 1930s (and possibly earlier). A character discovers that she is the target of blackmail and confronts the blackmailer, who — while not denying their actions — would rather call it something prettier, like a "comprehensive insurance policy". The line is virtually stock dialogue now; as a trope, it is at the very least discredited. It was already being lampshaded in the '50s, and since then it's only used for laughs (or period flavor) these days.

Variations on the theme sometimes appear for other "ugly" words in various situations where the perpetrator can't or won't deny the substance of the accusation, but insists on softening it with a euphemism.

Many times, the character will claim that something is extortion instead of blackmail or vice versa. It appears that fictional characters are more comfortable admitting to that since "X" Makes Anything Cool.

According to free, extortion happens when someone gets money, property, or services through coercion, e.g.: threat of violence, destruction of property, improper government action, or withholding testimony. Blackmail is when a person threatens to reveal information about a victim or his family members that is potentially embarrassing, socially damaging, or incriminating unless a demand for money, property, or services is met. Even if the information is true or actually incriminating, a person can still be charged with blackmail if he or she threatens to reveal it unless the victim meets his or her demand.

A subtrope of Distinction Without a Difference and Insistent Terminology. Compare Protection Racket, Is That a Threat?, Technical Euphemism, Unusual Euphemism, and Would Be Rude to Say "Genocide".


Examples using the word "Blackmail"

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    Anime & Manga 
  • Kurokochi: the titular corrupt inspector blackmails every local politician because he knows their dirty secrets. However, he just mentions whatever secrets they have and acts as if his bribes were gifts, letting the politicians give the money of their own volition instead of forcing them to do it. It seems to work like a charm since he's wealthier than anyone in the police force.
  • In Persona 5: The Animation: Sojiro has an exchange like this for Youji Isshiki, Sojiro's adopted daughter Futaba's uncle. Youji had abused Futaba while she stayed with him, and had demanded that Sojiro pay him a large sum of money in exchange for Futaba's custody.
    Sojiro: So that's what you're after?! Using Futaba as a bargaining chip for money?
    Youji: It's not good to assume things like that.
  • Trapped in a Dating Sim: The World of Otome Games is Tough for Mobs: Due to his cohort of Impoverished Patrician noblemen classmates proving Fair-Weather Friend in the past, Leon blackmails them all by giving them free warships from his shipyard, that Leon threatens to cut off from repairs and resupply if they don't fight under him, terming it "Friendship". Should have Read the Fine Print.

    Card Games 
  • Bell-Bottomed Badasses on the Mean Streets of Funk: Inverted in the Z-Man Productions card game. "Extortion is such an ugly word. Me & the brothas prefer blackmail".

    Comic Books 
  • In 2010 story arc Day of the Dollmaker, Catherine Grant blackmails Lana Lang to get Supergirl to help her. When called out on it, Cat claims -pretty obtusely- that it was not blackmail.
    Cat: And I'm not blackmailing anyone. I merely asked Lana to ask her friend to help me.
  • Subverted in Omaha the Cat Dancer when Joanne has incriminating info on some bad guys, but she will not specify what she wants for it right now. The potential recipient refuses to accept the info blind but is persuaded otherwise when Joanne tells him that the info would be damaging to his interests as well. When the man growls this is blackmail, Joanne remarks, "It's all blackmail, I'm just choosing sides."
  • Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (IDW): In #98, April warns Doctor Stockman she's got dirt on him, and it will be released publicly if anything bad happens to her, her family or her friends.
    Doctor Stockman: "So it's blackmail, then? Extortion."
    April: "I like to think of it as more of an insurance policy."
    Doctor Stockman: "Semantics."
  • S.W.O.R.D: Abigail Brand lets Gyrich know that his attempted coup of her organisation nearly led to Earth's destruction, she has all the evidence needed to prove it, and the only way she'll keep it to herself is if he quits and tells the higher-ups that she has no need of a co-command.
    Gyrich: This is blackmail.
    Brand: I prefer "squeezing your unexplored hairy planetoids in a vise".

    Comic Strips 
  • In one early Dilbert storyline, an abusive skunk shows up at Dilbert's doorstep.
    Skunk: Don't worry. Skunks only spray musk when scared.
    Dilbert: Then why is your tail twitching?
    Skunk: I'm scared you won't fix me a big bowl of strawberry ice cream.
    Dilbert: This is blackmail!
    Skunk: No it's not. I'm just easily frightened...Now I'm scared you won't sing the entire score from Cats while I eat.

    Fan Works 
  • In Blurring Reality Tom Riddle threatens to not dance in the Hogwarts year-end ballet unless Harry takes the role of the Hero, which would mean cancellation of the production and the loss of Fred and George's chance at a contract.
    Harry: You bastard, that's blackmail!
    Tom: Not really. I'm just enforcing your guilt. It only works on certain people with a special kind of conscience.
  • The Fifth House:
    Harry: Hermione reads romance novels? Seriously? You know, this is going to be used against you. I shall tease you mercilessly!
    Hermione: Are you threatening to blackmail me?
    Harry: Such an ugly word, blackmail. Think of it more as incentive, to do my homework. For the rest of our stay here at lovely Hogwarts.
  • Harry Potter and the Shadowed Light:
    Ragnok: [Rita Skeeter's] stories never say what you want them to - she’s unreliable.
    Harry: Ah, but I know how to make her do exactly what I want.
    Ragnok: Blackmail?
    Harry: I’d prefer ‘persuasive handling’.
  • Harry Potter - Three to Backstep:
    Harry: Still, it seemed to almost be like I was pretty much blackmailing them.
    Daphne: What some call blackmailing, others call politicking in backroom deals.
  • HERZ: Subverted. The Chinese Government tried to build its own Eva in a top-secret facility. The monster went out of control, obliterated the facility and started to rampage through China. A Chinese commanding officer pleaded Misato dispatching her Evas. She retorted she would deploy them… in exchange for information on where the other Evas were being built. When the officer complained about it being blackmail, her reaction was "So what?"
    Commander Hai: This is an emergency. Many lives are at stake. Your charter allows for action now.
    Misato: Indeed.
    Commander Hai: What is your price?
    Misato: Information. On where the other Evas are being built. All of them.
    Commander Hai: You can't expect us to know all that. And what makes you think..
    Misato: ..that you would know? [...] That thing was built in Lop Nor. Using technology from SEELE and Chinese military resources. I'm sure this will be an interesting revelation before the UN Organs and the world media...
    Commander Hai: That's blackmail!
    Misato: I'm also perfectly happy to let this thing continue its grand tour through your heartland and population centres. I don't have to do anything until the UN to get its paperwork done or until it reaches Japan itself...
  • From Looming Darkness we have Dark Link quoting this almost word for word in chapter 9.
  • The New Adventures of Invader Zim: Early in Season 2, Zim attempts to coerce Gaz into serving him by threatening to expose how she betrayed Dib at the end of Season 1. When Gaz incredulously asks for confirmation that he's actually trying to blackmail her, he smugly says that blackmail is a "nasty" word, but confirms that he is. Things only get worse for him from there.
  • The My Hero Academia fanfic Throw a Chair Through a Window and Call It a Day has Midoriya be a user of this under the impression that it makes them sounds less intimidating. He first renames "psychological warfare" to "a slight emotional manipulation of peers", and later calls an interrogation "a slightly more intense and focused interview".
    • When informed that giving alternate names to things makes them more intimidating and not less, he tries renaming psychological warfare to "extremely thorough observations and control over a friend's mental state and functions".
  • In An Unepic Pony War In The Nondistant Future, to keep Shining from taking sides in her little war with Cadance, Twilight writes him a letter threatening him with humiliating pictures (though they would be equally humiliating to her) and ends it with:
    Postscript: Brother, blackmail is such an ugly word
  • In When Reason Fails, according to Shoto, "blackmail" is too negative. He prefers "aggressive persuasion techniques".
  • The Family Guy fanfic Wipe The Slate Clean has this mild subversion on the trope, between Brian and Stewie when Stewie plans to blackmail Brian:
    Brian: So... it's blackmail, is it?
    Stewie: Blackmail is such an ugly word. How about the word "extortion"?
    Brian: Extortion's a good word.
    Stewie: But unfortunately completely inaccurate. Extortion is when I just... beat you until you give me what I want!
    (Stewie pulls out a baseball bat and starts whacking Brian on the back and shins)
    Brian: Damn! Ow! Stop that! Okay, okay, blackmail it is!
    • It is also a shout-out to every show that ever said blackmail was interchangeable with extortion — and by this page, you can see there are quite a number of them.
  • With Confidence: When Izuku confronts the Principal with ample evidence of how the school not only turned a blind eye to the bullying he received for being quirkless, but actively encouraged it for years, he declares that something can only be called blackmail if the person being threatened knows that their actions were unethical and illegal. As Principal Akashi would prefer feigning ignorance, well... he'll play along with that, provided that those mistakes are corrected moving forward.
  • Inverted in a chapter of X-Men: The Early Years where blackmailed Warren uses euphemisms and blackmailer Scott tells him to call it what it is.
    Warren: Okay, okay. I'll go get my keys. Though I don't know why I'm so nice to you two.
    Scott: (rolling eyes) I believe you being nice had nothing to do with it. If I remember correctly, the word you're looking for is blackmail. Oh, yes it's coming back to me now. Something about you gluing Professor Xavier's favorite pipe back together. You broke it and I caught you gluing it with Hank's special glue in the kitchen.
    Warren: Blackmail is such an ugly little word and so harsh. We are going to get so much mileage out of this from Bobby. I think I'm going to have him wash my car first. I'll come up with something more humiliating later.

    Films — Animation 
  • In Turning Red, Tyler tells Mei that he has done her a "favour" by not telling her mother about her hustling of her panda form and views blackmailing her into attending his birthday party as asking for a favour back.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Played straight in The Bad and the Beautiful.
    Harry: You think you blackmailed me!
    Jonathan: Harry, that's a horrid word.
  • In Bedtime Story (1964), Freddy stops his general from disciplining him by reminding that if he does, his inability to curb Freddy's rampant misbehavior will be exposed. He says, "'Blackmail' is such an ugly word, sir. Couldn't we use the word 'persuasion'?"
  • Chad in Burn After Reading blackmails an ex CIA agent for money, but sees himself as a "Good Samaritan" rather than what he really is.
  • Burn Notice: The Fall of Sam Axe:
    Admiral Gregory Maitland: That's blackmail!
    Sam Axe: No, actually, sir, I believe this form of extortion is known as greymail. It's much nicer than blackmail.
  • Death of a Cyclist: When Maria says the Spanish word for "blackmail"—chantaje—Rafa sneers "That's such an ugly word, and not even Castilian." This is a sneaky reference to dictator Francisco Franco's insistence that the Spanish film industry exclusively use pure Castilian Spanish.
  • Dial M for Murder
    Tony: I was hoping sooner or later I might catch you at something and be able to...
    Lesgate: Blackmail me?
    Tony: Influence you.
  • Inverted in Downstairs.
    Baroness: Do you realize that this is blackmail?
    Karl: That's just the word I was trying to remember.
  • In the film Edge of Tomorrow, Major Cage attempts to extort General Brigham rather than fight the aliens. It nets him a bust to private and put right on the front lines.
    General Brigham: Are you blackmailing me, major?
    Cage: I would prefer...not to be filming acts of heroism and valor on that beach tomorrow.
  • Inverted in Entrapment, where Gin is shown the evidence of her theft of the Rembrandt by Mac. She claims it's "entrapment". Mac counters that entrapment is when a cop does this to a thief. When a thief does it to another thief, it's just blackmail. Then it turns out that Mac is an FBI informant.
  • Hilariously subverted in It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World:
    Chief Aloysius: (on the phone with the mayor) Now you know the word for this your Honor: it's called blackmail!
  • In Kind Hearts and Coronets, Louis sees through one of Sibella's schemes: "Not only are you trying to blackmail me — an ugly word, but the right one, I think — but you're trying to bluff me as well."
  • From The Loved One:
    Joyboy: That's blackmail!
    Dennis: My dear sir, blackmail is not a word to be bandied about by gentlemen.
  • Played straight in the Stanley Kubrick film Paths of Glory.
  • Inverted in Tenet:
    Protagonist: If you and I were to make an arrangement…
    Kat: An arrangement? You mean blackmail? You can’t be afraid of the word.
  • Inverted for great effect in They Call Me Trinity when the title character threatened to tell people his brother wasn't a real sheriff.
    Bambino: That sounds like blackmail.
    Trinity: Yeah, it does.
  • A variation in TRON: When Alan Bradley asks Kevin Flynn if he's using his hacking into the ENCOM computer system for embezzling, Flynn says that embezzling is such an ugly word and instead points out that his hacking into the system is to gather evidence that Ed Dillinger was stealing from his work.
  • Subverted in You Only Live Twice considering whatever Blofeld thinks of the word, blackmail, its closely related term, extortion, is fine with him with as the essence of his business.

  • Adrian Mole uses this phrase in The Wilderness Years, when he has been sworn to secrecy about an affair between Brown and Megan.
    God, blackmail is an ugly word. I hope Brown doesn't force me to use it.
  • The novel And Heres To You by Brian "Arkle" Webber has main female character Alicia Mitchell use this exact line on a co-worker at an office party. Partially Justified by the character's internal monologue revealing that she was directly quoting Bender from Futurama when she did so.
  • Subverted in Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged:
    Rearden said calmly, "In my youth, this was called blackmail."
    Dr. Ferris grinned. "That's what it is, Mr. Rearden. We've entered a much more realistic age."
  • Terl of Battlefield Earth has an obsession with finding "leverage" over his opponents that rivals J. Edgar Hoover.
  • Averted in the Conrad Stargard series by Leo Frankowski. When Count Lambert tries to force Conrad Stargard into an Arranged Marriage with his daughter, Conrad erupts, "But this is filthy, rotten blackmail!" Count Lambert replies, "Yes it is, isn't it."
  • Inverted in The Culture novel The Player of Games. The protagonist is blackmailed by a drone and the drone actually says something like "What I'm doing to you is called blackmail." Presumably, since The Culture is a utopia, the protagonist might not actually know what blackmail is. Alternatively, the trope's being invoked: the protagonist is a games theorist very used to concepts of threat and leverage, and the drone is relying on emotional emphasis to sell its (objectively poor) position and catch the protagonist at another weak moment. Out-of-universe, it's arguably a subtle bit of foreshadowing.
  • Fifty Shades of Grey: When Christian Grey does it, he prefers to call it "leverage". And he's not averse to doing things to create "leverage" such as (threatening to) rape people in public. Seriously, whenever he offers you something and then asks you to use it, don't deny him in any way, shape or form. Ever.
  • In The Final Reflection, Krenn attends an interstellar peace conference as part of his home planet's delegation. A Rigellian delegate attempts to sway Krenn's delegation with an offer of substantial "administrative expenses", and protests when Krenn prefers to call it "bribery".
  • Going Clear states that L. Ron Hubbard didn't consider his practice of gathering the embarrassing secrets of his followers through the "Auditing" process and then holding it over their heads to be blackmail. In his mind, blackmail was done to extract money from people. He was extracting obedience.
  • In Hullo Russia, Goodbye England, the pilots of Britain's nuclear deterrent strike jets are vulnerable to blackmail. The Russian spy who attempts to compromise Flight-Lieutenant Silk over his affair describes what he does as "working for the Press", the implication being that if Silk does not play nicely, his MP wife will be embarrassed by his affair becoming common knowledge. Especially since Silk is paying cash to the lady for "cello lessons". A local bookie also threatens to go to the CO if another pilot's gambling debts are not paid in full, and "have a concerned discussion as to his little problem. You can't have a man with a gambling problem in charge of nuclear weapons, can you? It's my public duty."note 
  • In the Tamora Pierce novel Lady Knight, Kel has decided to commit treason to save refugees and is angered when she finds people willing to help — they'll get charged, same as her. One of them teasingly says she won't get to use the potentially very helpful maps he brought unless they come with her.
    "That's blackmail," Kel said through a thick piece of bacon.
    "Actually, it's extortion." That was Lofren, whose father was a magistrate. "Blackmail implies—"
    His squad-mates dragged him to his feet and took him to saddle their mounts. Kel was grateful. Lofren was happy to talk about matters of law at length, in detail, to anyone who would listen.
  • Inverted — very strangely — in Hugh Laurie's novel The Gun Seller:
    "You followed me here."
    "Tut. Followed is such an ugly word. I prefer 'blackmail'."
    "But, of course, it means something completely different. So all right, let's say I followed you here."
  • In Lolita, Humbert corrects himself when fantasizing on how he will "blackmail" his wife Charlotte into letting him spend more time with Lolita, saying that "blackmail" is too harsh and suggesting "mauvemail" as a lighter term.
  • Variant: In the Lord Darcy novel Too Many Magicians, when the Marquis of London pressures Darcy to take a case, Master Sean calls it blackmail:
    "'Blackmail' is perhaps too strong a word," Lord Darcy said thoughtfully, "but I will admit that no other is quite strong enough."
    • To clarify, it isn't blackmail: the Marquis isn't threatening to expose any information, to seek any incriminating information, or in fact to do anything. And the Marquis is stopping short of actual villainy; while circumstantial evidence threatens an innocent man close to Lord Darcy with a murder conviction, and the Marquis is far too intelligent for his professed satisfaction with the current investigation to be genuine, if pushed far enough he wouldn't really let this stand. The never-stated issue here is entirely who will do the work and whose pocket the expenses of investigation will come out of. Thus the quote.
  • Lord Peter Wimsey himself engages in a little blackmail in one of the short stories, but he would of course not use that word.
  • In The Many Mysteries of the Finkel Family, Lara is annoyed when Benny accuses her of spying on people. She prefers "investigating."
  • Eric Idle's Rutland Dirty Weekend Book contains a letter to critics in which Idle explicitly states they will be paid bribes for a good review of the book, and subject to physical violence for a bad review, and notes that blackmail is an ugly word, "but in this case, it's also a very accurate one."
  • Abe Mazur from Vampire Academy, never blackmails. "It's much easier if people simply see reason..."

    Live-Action TV 
  • 24:
    Allison Taylor: What you're proposing is blackmail.
    Jonas Hodges: Well, that's putting it in the worst possible light.
  • 3rd Rock from the Sun episode "Alien Hunter":
    Caryn: You know, Dr. Solomon, this could be interpreted as blackmail.
    Dick: No, Caryn, it's extortion.
  • Alias Smith and Jones:
    Heyes: This is blackmail, Georgette. You know that.
    Georgette: I hate the word blackmail.
    Curry: You like extortion any better?
  • Arrow
    • In "Darkness on the Edge of Town", Felicity Smoak has a humorous moment when she starts this trope by claiming "hacking is such an ugly word"... and then is unable to think of a better one.
    • In "Fighting Fire with Fire", Thea Queen brushes off her plans to blackmail a council member to swing the vote in her brother's favor as "politics". Oliver Queen is not amused.
    • In "Due Process", Felicity drops a hint that she might put Anatoly's name on the no flight list, calling it an "enthusiastic suggestion" rather than a threat.
  • Subverted in an episode of Bones when Brennan shows the federal prosecutor evidence she has on his illicit activity and threatens to reveal it if he doesn't have the false charges against Booth dropped.
    Brady: Do you have any idea what you're doing?
    Brennan: Yes. I'm blackmailing you.
  • Lampshaded or subverted or something in Brass, when one character sets out to blackmail another, and they hold a conversation in which each suggests what the other would be likely to say next — starting with this line.
  • From Buffy the Vampire Slayer:
    Xander: Blackmail is such an ugly word.
    Amy: I didn't say blackmail.
    Xander: Yeah, but I'm about to blackmail you, so I thought I'd bring it up.
  • Burn Notice has the occasional use, as spies use plenty of doublespeak. One episode has Jesse convincing a target to follow Michael's plan, or some information is getting to the media.
    Wayne Meyerson: Wait. Are you blackmailing me?
    Jesse: Yeah. But... let's not call it that. Let's call it 'a potential win-win'.
  • In Diff'rent Strokes, Arnold gets into a fight with the bullying son of the landlord's brother who is subbing for a short time. This leads to a loud confrontation where the brother confronts Mr. Drummond, threatens to evict the family and provokes Drummond to punch the blowhard out. Later, the Landlord comes to the Drummonds saying that he approved of his dumb brother being put in his place. However, he also exploits a lease violation that the brother found to raise the rent on the Drummonds, with a veiled threat of eviction to convince them to give in. When Drummond protests that this is blackmail, the landlord responds "I prefer to think of it as plea bargaining". The punchline is after the Drummonds cave in to this threat, the father tells the kids that this is the result of his act of violence. However, when asked if it was worth it, Mr. Drummond immediately remarks it was for having the pleasure of shutting a bully up.
  • In the Doctor Who story "Logopolis", the Master manages to accidentally unleash an entropy field which destroys a quarter of the universe, simply because he didn't fully understand the consequences of interfering with the titular planet's mysterious operation. But he then pulls an Enemy Mine with the Doctor, and the combined efforts of the two of them eventually get the entropy field under control again, but the Master quickly realizes that he can do rather sinister things with that control, and as soon as the danger is seemingly over, he broadcasts a message across the universe, demanding that the all various races of the universe submit to him or he will unleash the destructive forces of the field again.
    The Doctor: (outraged) Blackmail!
    The Master: No, Doctor, I'm merely reporting the state of affairs.
  • An episode of The Good Life ("The Pagan Rite" in series 1) has Margo on the telephone giving her choir mistress a long list of reasons why she should be allowed to stand in the front row for their upcoming performance. She gets her way:
    Margo: No I have not finished, Miss Mountshaft. Furthermore, let us remember that it is I who supply the gingerbread men for rehearsal teas. (pause) Ha ha ha ha ha, blackmail is an ugly word, Miss Mountshaft."
  • In Hannibal, the title character manipulates Abigail Hobbs into silence after she accidentally murders someone. He prefers to call it "keeping each other secrets".
  • On I Love Lucy, Ricky accuses Lucy of trying to blackmail him.
    Lucy: Let's not call it that.
    Ricky: That's what it is!
    Lucy: I know, but let's not call it that.
  • In the K9 episode "The Custodians", a Misplaced Kindergarten Teacher is demanding ten million credits to shut down his mind-control once it proves to have horrific side-effects that even the Department don't like:
    Inspector Thorne: You're blackmailing me?
    John: That's a very non-wonderful word, Inspector. But yes, I am.
  • M*A*S*H has:
    BJ: Blackmail is such an ugly word.
    Hawkeye: We prefer extortion.
  • Inversion: After Reese destroyed a new fridge in Malcolm in the Middle via a hand grenade given to him by his grandfather, Hal sits down with his in-laws and asks for money to repair the damages and then some. His father-in-law believes this is a loan to be paid back. Hal calmly informs them that they endangered the children by bringing live munitions into the house and that he could easily have them arrested for that. He then proceeds to tell them "This money I'm asking for, it's not a loan. It's blackmail."
  • The Office:
  • The Professionals. In "Stakeout", Bodie thinks that an attractive blonde might know something about the case they're investigating.
    Doyle: Yeah alright, go on—chat her up.
    Bodie: That's a very coarse way of putting it!
    Doyle: (laughs) Oh, you mean there's another way?
    Bodie: (in posh accent) Yes, I prefer "interrogation", "investigation" on account of the fact that I'm very conscientious about my work.
  • In The Rockford Files episode "The Empty Frame", Angel tells his brother-in-law "When it's in the immediate family it's not called blackmail. It's called family spirit."
  • Scoundrels (2010): Hope has taken pictures of Logan's relationship with his teacher and vice-principal Valerie in order to blackmail both. When Logan tries to get her to stop, Hope is mock offended when he calls to it as Blackmail.
    Hope: That's not blackmailm ok? It's quid-pro-quo. I get whatever I want and she gets to keep her job.
  • In the Sherlock episode "His Last Vow", Magnussen subverts this by using an even uglier word: ownership.
  • The Vow (2020): Women recruited into DOS have to provide "collateral" to their recruiter to even be told what DOS is, then more collateral when they join, then more collateral every month. "Collateral" has to be something that would be personally damaging if it were to be made public. Nude pictures and videos were apparently common, but the "collateral" doesn't even need to be true; Sarah states she was videoed making allegations against her husband and family, including that her husband was abusing their son. Any attempt to leave DOS or refuse the orders of your Master is backed by the threat of releasing your collateral. "Collateral" is the most-often used term to describe this, only when some extra punch is needed do they call it what it is: blackmail.
  • Yes, Minister gave us a version of this, when the black, male revolutionary leader of a small African nation threatens to give a strongly nationalist speech in Scotland unless the Government gives him £50 million (around $115 million in 1980, when that episode aired).
    Sir Humphrey: It's blackmail!
    General Selim Mohammed: Are you referring to me or my proposal?
    Jim Hacker: Your proposal, obviously! No, wait, not even your proposal!

    Puppet Shows 
  • Lampshaded and subverted on Greg the Bunny:
    Leo: ... and I thought, what a coincidence! Your show is hiring a Singing Mailman and I... have your dirty tape?
    Dottie Sunshine: You're blackmailing me?
    Leo: (as Jack Nicholson) Blackmail is such a dirty word.
    Leo: (as himself) Jack Nicholson, Chinatown. And yes.

  • A spoof of this trope, from the British radio series I'm Sorry I'll Read That Again:
    John (Cleese): So... it's blackmail, is it?
    Graeme (Garden) : Please. Blackmail is such an ugly word.
    John: All right. How about... fishpaste?
    Graeme: Much better.
    John: So... it's fishpaste, is it?
    Graeme: I'm afraid so.
  • Lampshaded in Round the Horne:
    Kenneth Horne: "This is blackmail!"
    Kenneth Williams: "Call it what you will!"
    Horne: Alright, this is "iff-eff-iquana", and "iff-eff-iquana" is an ugly word!

    Stand-Up Comedy 
  • In one of her routines as Ernestine the telephone operator, Lily Tomlin tells a customer, "Blackmail is such an ugly word. Let's just call it a vicious threat."

    Video Games 
  • In Borderlands 2, Handsome Jack became president of Hyperion by threatening the previous president. At first, Jack doesn't want to use an ugly word like blackmail...until he decides that blackmail is actually an awesome word.
    Jack: C'mon, say it with me! Blackmail! Blllllaaaaaack-
    Tassiter: Oh, go to hell, John.
  • Final Fantasy XIV: In the Astrologian quest "Spearheading Initiatives", evidence is taken from the body of one of the many assassins that have been trying to kill Leveva throughout the questline that proves Jannequinard's uncle, chief astrologian Forlemort is in league with the assassins. This evidence would ensure the accomplice is hanged, but Leveva decides instead to use it to leverage him into helping her mission of spreading Sharlayan astromancy in Ishgard rather than enduring future hinderance.
    Jannequinard: Are you saying we use the missive to blackmail Forlemort!?
    Leveva: I am saying we merely grant the chief astrologian his life in exchange for a little assistance in furthering our just and noble cause. No more, no less.
  • Metal Gear Solid:
    Snake: So, you're blackmailing me?
    Col. Campbell: I prefer to think of it as helping to make you come to a decision more easily.
  • Humorously averted in The Outer Worlds:
    Player: Are you suggesting extortion?
    Silas: That's the word! "Extortion"! Been on the tip of my tongue all day.
  • Quest for Glory V gives us this exchange:
    Arestes: Watch yer backside, matey. Blackmail is a very risky profession.
    Ugarte: Blackmail, me? I would not put it quite so crudely as blackmail. I prefer to think of it as, say, keeping a secret. I am very careful with my secrets.

    Visual Novels 
  • Galaxy Angel: In Milfeulle's route in the second game, she gets Noah to cooperate by offering her some food as a token of friendship, and Noah agrees to talk about what she knows if she's given more. Tact calls her a "mercenary", to which Noah replies she'd rather be called an "utilitarian".
  • In Strawberry Vinegar, this exchange occurs between Rie and her mother:
    Mom: Come on, Rie, Licia's eating her natto~ You don't want to lose to Licia, do you?
    Rie: It's a competition?
    Mom: Of course it is. I'm going to give you affection points throughout the day, based on your behavior. Who knows? If you earn over twenty affection points, I might even give you an autograph~
    Rie: That's called blackmail, Mom.

  • In Buck Godot: Zap Gun for Hire, there is an inversion where the blackmailer, Buck, attempts to soften the situation but the victim is having none of it.
    Buck: Call it peace of mind.
    Vree: I'll call it blackmail and pay it if it gets you out of my embassy.
    • There is a subversion, also with Vree, near the end of the comic as well.
      Etarre: Why, I'm sure you'll give us such wonderful trade terms, I'll forget all about it [the sensitive information]!
      Vree: But- But that's BLACKMAIL!
      Etarre: Oh wonderful, we understand each other perfectly!
  • Exterminatus Now has a wonderful scene:
    Lothar: You're blackmailing someone, aren't you?
    Virus: (with hurt expression) We prefer the term "extortion".
    Eastwood: Hey, it's not our fault if Commander Schaefer leaves videos of his secret chicken fetish lying around. Anybody could've broken into his apartment and found them.
  • Goats, here:
    Scroggs: Blackmail is such a negative term. Let's call it Proactive Synergy Reallocation.
    Ix: Let's call it Susan. Ix always like that name.
  • Hero Oh Hero inverts this:
    Archibald (The Iron Judge): You are on thin ice, foreigner. I'd suggest you quit provoking me.
    Guy: Provoking? That's cute, Archie, really cute. I think the word you're looking for is blackmail.
  • Played entirely straight in this Narbonic strip. There's a slight twist, in that due to Artie's self-image as "the good one", he's trying to convince himself what he's planning isn't blackmail.
  • In Schlock Mercenary, regarding menacing the Sol system with the PDCL:
    Kevyn: That wasn't blackmail. That was, I don't know... passive extortion?
  • From Soap on a Rope:
    Max: Joe, you're blackmailing people!
    Joe: "Blackmail" is such a negative term. I prefer "mail of color".

    Web Original 
  • In Final Fantasy VII: Machinabridged, after the residents of Junon learn that Cloud's party is Shinra's most wanted fugitives:
    Old Man: I think it would be in your best interests to wait at the inn, until our leader is ready to speak with you.
    Barret: And if we don't?
    Old Man: Then I'll just have a word with Shinra instead.
    Barret: Oh my god, are you blackmailing us?!
    Old Man: Just think of it as "involuntary volunteering."
    Yuffie: As long as you're not extorting us!
    Barret: Oh my god, why are you here?
  • When Ayla and Jadis confront some would-be extortionists in the Whateley Universe:
    Jadis: Ooh. That sounds like blackmail. And blackmail is such an ugly word.
    Ayla: I prefer "intentional torts". At least it sounds like some deliberately tasty desserts.
    • Given that not only did they both already know that the 'evidence' being held over them was a particularly absurd case of Out-of-Context Eavesdropping, but also that the would-be blackmailer had inadvertently triggered a plan of Ayla's that left three different groups of opponents Out-Gambitted and put one of them under his thumb, a certain smugness was understandable.
  • In the aftermath of accusations that CNN threatened to DOX a Reddit user if he posted hateful messages again, CNN clarified that this wasn't their intention and was merely trying to state they made no deal with the Reddit user in question. At least one forum poster pointed out that CNN wasn't helping its case because claiming that you don't like to think of what you're doing is blackmail is the first thing anyone says when they blackmail you.

    Western Animation 

Examples of a different Ugly Word

    Anime & Manga 
  • From FAKE:
    Dee: So you are in cahoots with Berkeley after all, aren't you? I knew something was up.
    Diana: Awww, cahoots is such a mean, ugly word. We're more like childhood friends, if anything. Swear to God.
  • From Fullmetal Alchemist (2003):
    • In Episode 9, "Be Thou For the People":
      Ed: (having just received a small pouch of gold from Lieutenant Yoki) This supposed to be some kind of a bribe, Yoki?
      Yoki: That is such an ugly word. Why don't we just call it "equivalent exchange"?
    • And then later in the same episode:
      Yoki: No! You swindled me!
      Ed: That's such an ugly word. Why don't we call it "A gift from you to me"?
  • Kenichi: The Mightiest Disciple: When Miu realizes that Rimi's shoes have gold soles, she outright states her intentions to beat her up and take her shoes as prize, intending to sell them for money. When she's called out on that being stealing, she calls it "spoils of war".
  • One Piece: Since slavery is technically illegal, the World Government refer to the Celestial Nobles' human auction halls as "employment assistance offices". Not that it fools anybody.

    Comic Books 
  • Joker's Asylum: The Riddler:
    Jessica Duchamp: The painting. You're stealing it.
    Riddler: "Stealing" is such an unpleasant word. I prefer "acquiring". It's much more aesthetically pleasing to the tongue.
  • Used by Countess Invidia in Les Légendaires: Origins:
    Kasino: You want to.... murder Jadina?
    Invidia: Oh, let's not use such words! I am merely talking about luring her in a situation that will result in her death.
  • In a Peanuts strip where Linus brings flowers to his teacher, Charlie Brown tells him he won't get anywhere with bribery. Linus prefers the term "pump priming".
  • Simpsons Comics:
    Lisa: You fake the Mars missions here?
    Lindsay Neagle: "Fake" is such a harsh word. Accurate, but harsh.

    Comic Strips 
  • In a Dilbert Sunday Strip, the Pointy-Haired Boss confronts Alice for having made personal calls on the job (to tell her family she was working late), saying it's "like stealing from the company." After handing him a dollar to more than cover the phone bill, she presents him with her own bill for "$40,000 in unpaid overtime that the company stole from me."
    Pointy-Haired Boss: That's not stealing; that's being competitive.
    Alice: I think I'll be competitive with a few bushels of office supplies later today.

    Fan Works 
  • Nilvac and Sebboh, from Calvin & Hobbes: The Series, react this way to being called "evil". They prefer "dark".
  • In Candy For Your Thoughts?, when Alejandro is trying to convince Gwen to manipulate Cody:
    Gwen: You want me to lie to Cody?
    Alejandro: Lying us such a strong word. I prefer flirting to your own advantage.
  • Goin' KABOOM!: Vlad doesn't like the use of the word "slave" to describe what he's doing to Katie. He prefers "to call it an unpaid internship and gaining a long term errand girl".
  • In He's Not Dead Yet Harry plans to get Snape to violate the restraining order he's currently under.
    Neville: Lord Potter, I would be delighted to join in your pursuit of vengeance.
    Harry: No, Neville, not vengeance. That is such an ugly word. Call it 'payback.'
  • Losing Control:
    Cedric: Merlin Daph, you sound like you want to overthrow the government.
    Daphne: Overthrow is such a strong word. How about modernize and make more effective. The more people we have that think like us, the easier it will be.
  • Once Upon a Time in 1917:
    Edward: You bribed a nun?
    Elizabeth Masen: No, dear, I made a donation to the poor.
  • Our Blades Are Sharp has a traveling Tyrion and Jon Snow happening on a crowded inn.
    Jon: Mayhaps, we should try elsewhere?
    Tyrion: You forget who you're traveling with, a crowded inn is no problem for a Lannister.
    Jon: You mean to swindle someone out of their room? Like Lann the Clever with Casterly Rock.
    Tyrion: You know my family's history. And swindle is such an ugly word. I prefer convincing with a slight edge. And this is hardly Casterly Rock.
  • When Ash confronts Sabrina in Pokémon Reset Bloodlines, he calls her out on her murdering innocent people just for considering them "unremarkable". She replies that "it's more akin to weeding than murder". Also, turns out that she stole from a Pokémon Coordinator the use of Psycho Cut with a Kadabra's spoons to create Laser Blades, and she insists that she didn't "plagiarize" the move, but learned it legitimately.
  • In Potter, Inverted Sirius shows off by interpreting Lina's coat of arms.
    Sirius: Sable; a chevron inverted and indented vert, in base a dragon... er... tué, I suppose, gules; over all a sword inverted or... Um... that would be... constancy, faithful service and a love of fire; enlightened warrior - I suppose that means a combat mage, in our case - plus two references to your surname; and a defender of treasure... no wait, the dragon's dead, so... you're actually advertising that you're a thief?
    Lina: I prefer 'asset recovery specialist'.
  • Son of Morgaine:
    Ariana's ghost: I thought you'd have loved to spend some time with your darling sister. Aberforth loves to talk to me.
    Dumbledore: Yes, but you don't torture him, do you?
    Ariana's ghost: Torture is such an ugly word. I prefer amuse.
  • Thief is such a harsh word, Harry:
    Blaise: You're a thief Draco-
    Draco: Thief is such a harsh word. I see myself as a modern day Robin Hood. You're my merry men, and I'm your heroic leader.
  • Thousand Shinji: When Shinji seizes a firm, an employee accuses him from "looting" them. Shinji takes offense to the term "loot".
    Shiro: You ruined us just to loot us, didn’t you?
    Shinji: Loot is such a pejorative term. I prefer the phrase ‘hostile takeover with extreme prejudice’.
  • The Bleach fanfic Uninvited Guest, when it is claimed that Yumokin is being murdered rather than sacrificing his own life, he says "Murder is such a harsh word. Accurate, but harsh."
  • This example comes up in The Vow about Lord Shen's methods to enforce obedience from the citizens of Gongmen City.
    Lianne: This is tyranny!
    Shen: It is domination.

    Films — Animation 
  • In sequels to Aladdin, it's nearly Iago's catchphrase to say "Hate/traitor is such a strong word".
  • In Atlantis: The Lost Empire, Milo accuses Rourke and the crew of being mercenaries.
    Rourke: Mercenary? I prefer the term "adventure capitalist."
    • Considering he outright describes himself and his crew as mercenaries just a few scenes later, it's likely he was just mocking Milo's naivete.
  • While it was used in blackmail, in Batman and Harley Quinn, Batman lords knowledge that many A.R.G.U.S. agents, including Sarge Steel, have frequented a brothel that caters to the BDSM crowd over Steel's own head to force cooperation. Steel himself responses by claiming in many countries, the reason for his visits would be considered "therapy". That said, this is an instance of both types as Bruce himself does calls it an "exchange" when Steel calls him out on the tactic.
  • From The Boss Baby: "'Hate' is a strong word. It's the right word, but still."
  • In the Lucky Luke movie Go West !, the villain, Mr Crook, keeps being called "a crook" by everybody. His answer? "Come on, that's a bit too harsh a word !". note 
  • Ratatouille: Django insists to Rémy that their scavenging garbage for food is acceptable practice, since "It's not stealing if nobody wants it."
  • Robin Hood (1973):
    Little John: You know sump'n, Robin, I was just wonderin' — are we good guys or bad guys? You know, I mean, uh, our robbin' the rich to feed the poor...
    Robin Hood: "Rob?" Tsk tsk tsk tsk — that's a naughty word; we never "rob." We just... sort of borrow a bit from those who can afford it.
    Little John: "Borrow?" Huh. Boy, are we in debt!

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Accepted:
    Bartleby Gaines: Eh, Stalking's an ugly word. I prefer obsessively shadowing.
  • Back to the Future:
    • In Back to the Future Part II, Doc "borrows" some old newspapers from the closed-down Hill Valley Library in 1985-A.
    • In Back to the Future Part III, as Doc Brown is unveiling his plan of returning Marty back 1985 (as he went to 1885 to presumably rescue Doc), he starts to say "We're going to hijack...", before freezing, immediately correcting himself and placing emphasis on new terminology with a wide, toothy grin, "BORROW... the locomotive..." Later, when the borrowing is taking place, the conductor asks if it's a hold-up. Doc responds that "it's a science experiment."
  • An odd variation occurs in The Blues Brothers when Elwood admits that he hasn't kept track of the old band as well as he said he did while Jake was in prison. The odd part is whether or not Elwood's choice of words is better than Jake's.
    Elwood: Well, what was I gonna do? Take away your only hope? Take away the very thing that kept you going in there? I took the liberty of bullshitting you, okay?
    Jake: You lied to me.
    Elwood: It wasn't a lie, it was just...bullshit.
  • Chinatown:
    Gittes: She was cheating on him. Were you?
    Mrs. Mulwray: I dislike the word "cheat".
    Gittes: Did you have affairs?
    Mrs. Mulwray: Mr. Gittes.
  • In The Freshman (1990), in a variant of this trope, the following dialogue occurs near the end:
    Clark: So this whole thing as been a scam?
    Carmine: This is an ugly word, 'scam.' This is business. If you want to be in business, this is what you do.
  • From the Vietnam War documentary In the Year of the Pig:
    Senator Thruston B. Morton: We've put over three million of them into what I would call a concentration camp. They call it a "refugee center".
  • Jurassic Park (1993) has an inversion with this line:
Ian Malcolm: What you call discovery, I call the rape of the natural world.
  • Kong: Skull Island: Brooks dislikes hearing the seismic charges they're going to drop on Skull Island described as bombs. He calls them "scientific instruments".
Slivko: You hear that, boys? We're scientists now!
[Soldiers laugh]
  • The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: when Quatermain is introduced to Nemo, he refers to him as a "pirate".
    Nemo: I'd prefer a less provocative title.
    Quatermain: I'm sure you would.
  • North By Northwest begins with a scene of Roger Thornhill stealing a taxicab for himself and his secretary, Maggie, by falsely telling the man who hailed it that she's "a very sick woman".
    Maggie: (after the cab takes off) Poor man.
    Thornhill: I made him a happy man. I made him feel like a good Samaritan.
    Maggie: He knew you were lying.
    Thornhill: Maggie, in the world of advertising, there's no such thing as a lie; there's only the expedient exaggeration. You know that.
  • In Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl, Will & Jack have this exchange:
    Will: We're going to steal a ship? [looks at the Dauntless] That ship?
    Jack: Commandeer; nautical term. We're going to commandeer...that ship. [points at the Interceptor]
  • In The Rocketeer, once it's revealed that Neville Sinclair is actually a Nazi spy:
    Jenny: Everything you told me was a lie.
    Neville: It wasn't lies, Jenny, it was acting.
  • From Spider-Man:
    Peter: Spider-Man wasn't trying to attack the city... he was trying to save it! That's slander.
    Jameson: It is not! I resent that! (beat) Slander is spoken. In print, it's libel.
  • Spock does this frequently with the word 'lie' in the Star Trek movies.
    • Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, when Spock reveals that "Hours would seem like days" was a code:
      Saavik: You lied.
      Spock: I exaggerated.
    • Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country:
      • After Spock opts not to inform Starfleet of their plan to rescue Kirk from Rura Penthe:
      Valeris: A lie?
      Spock: An omission.
      • Which becomes an Ironic Echo when Valeris refuses to give the names of her fellow conspirators:
        Valeris: I do not remember.
        Spock: A lie.
        Valeris: A choice.
    • Star Trek (2009), during Spock's meeting with Spock Prime:
      Spock: How did you persuade him to keep your secret?
      Spock Prime: He inferred that universe-ending paradoxes would ensue should he break his promise.
      Spock: You lied.
      Spock Prime: I... implied.
  • Doubled-up in Thor:
    Thor: if... you return the items you have taken from Jane.
    Jane Foster: Stolen.
    Agent Coulson: Borrowed.
  • Star Wars: During The Phantom Menace the Trade Federation blockades planet Naboo and threatens to invade it. Viceroy Gunray calls it "occupying" and "perfectly legal".
  • Thor: Ragnarok: The Grand Master refuses to call his press-ganged gladiators "slaves." He prefers the more positive term "prisoners with jobs."


By Author:

  • David Eddings uses this several times in his various book series. Silk is the patron saint of this trope.

By Title:

  • From An Acceptable Time:
    Polly: You let that man kidnap me.
    Zachary: Oh, sweet Pol, don’t call it that. They made it very clear to me that the healer wouldn’t come near me if I didn’t bring the goddess to them.
  • In Artemis Fowl, Artemis discovers that Mulch has been lurking around Fowl Manor to steal things.
    Mulch: Lurking is not a nice word. Makes me sound like a sea serpent. I like to think I was hiding in the shadows. Cool, like a cat burglar.
    Artemis: You eat cats, Mulch.
  • Discworld: Reacher Gilt, anticipating his co-conspirators' thought processes in Going Postal, contemptuously muses that (at least for them) "embezzlement" is such a difficult word.
  • The Door into Summer:
    Dan: Well, first, which one of you cooked up the swindle? Or did you plan it together?
    Miles: That's an ugly word, Dan. I don't like it.
  • Dragonlance: Kenders use to "borrow" other people's personal belongings (or just picked it up, or just wanted to have a look at it ...)
  • The Dresden Files: Informed by Harry Dresden that there've been two attempts on Harry's life since he was hired to follow him, a private investigator opts to discontinue his assignment, remarking that "accomplice" is an ugly word, as is "penitentiary".
  • In the Star Trek novel The Final Reflection, a Rigellian diplomat tries to sway the Klingon protagonist Captain Krenn at a summit by discussing vast sums of money... Krenn simply states that "Klingons do not believe in bribery," to which the diplomat replies, "That's a terrible word to use for — administrative expenses."
  • In the novel Foundation's Triumph, the Three Laws-Compliant robots must use this type of phrasing when they tell human mentallics it may be necessary to seriously harm Hari Seldon to stop what they view as another robot group's interference.
    "It may become necessary..."
    "To kill?"
    "But it is deeply embedded within Hari. To change it may cause him serious harm."
    (Beat) The robot said "Regrettable." Then it croaked out "Necessary..." and left the room.
  • In The Hobbit, Glóin tells Bilbo, "You can say 'Expert Treasure-hunter' instead of 'Burglar' if you like. Some do."
  • From "The Movie They Said Could Never Be Made" in The Joy of Clichés by Nigel Rees:
    Dr. Big: You're just like all the others. You think I'm mad, don't you?
    Side-Kick: Not mad, but how about geisteskrank?
    Dr. Big: Geisteskrank is such an ugly word!
  • In one of Ernest Bramah's Kai Lung stories, what most fantasy stories would call the thieves' Guild refers to itself as the "Joined-Together Band of Excrescence-Removers and Superfluity Adjustors".
  • The Kingdom Keepers: In the first book, Wayne says that Finn would only "borrow" Walt Disney's pen, as opposed to stealing it. Possibly inspired by the exchange in Robin Hood (1973), above.
  • For most of the book The One and Only Ivan, Ivan insists that the small glass-windowed space he is confined to isn't a "cage", it's a "domain", the same word he uses for the territories of wild gorillas. Ruby's arrival, and the death of the elephant who always called it a cage, shakes his complacency and his general attempt to Cope by Pretending that things are fine, so he ends up reconsidering.
  • In The Scarlet Pimpernel, Marguerite calls Chauvelin out for forcing her to spy on her peers (to uncover the Scarlet Pimpernel's identity) to ensure her brother's safety.
    "Fie! two very ugly words, fair lady," protested Chauvelin, urbanely. "There can be no question of force, and the service which I would ask of you, in the name of France, could never be called by the shocking name of spying."
  • Sherlock Holmes's client brings up the ugly word after Holmes politely attempts to avoid it in "The Problem of Thor Bridge":
    Holmes: This case is quite sufficiently complicated to start with without the further difficulty of false information.
    Client: Meaning that I lie.
    Holmes: Well, I was trying to express it as delicately as I could, but if you insist upon the word I will not contradict you.
  • In Spock's World, McCoy insists on his hacking being called "borrowing" rather than "stealing."
  • In Treasure Island, the pirates prefer to be called "gentlemen of fortune."

    Live-Action TV 
  • Subverted on Arrow.
    Oliver: Felicity, are you hacking into the Merlyn Global mainframe?
    Felicity: "Hacking" is such an ugly word. No. I'm... Yeah. Totally hacking into the Merlyn Global mainframe.
  • The Basil Brush Show:
    Dave: Fraud is such an ugly word, Steven. I prefer "rearrangement of the facts".
    Steven: Well, rearrange this then. Grounded. You. Forever. Are!
  • Used on The Big Bang Theory, about a robot belonging to NASA that Howard brought with him to Leonard and Sheldon's apartment.
    Penny: Does NASA know you're using that thing as a napkin holder?
    Howard: Are you kidding? They still think it's in a secure locker at JPL.
    Penny: You stole it?
    Howard: Borrowed! The trick is to carry it out to your car like you own it.
  • Two nonsensical examples in A Bit of Fry and Laurie:
    Stephen Fry: I dislike the word brothel, Mr. Jowett. I prefer to use the word brothels. Yes, this is a brothels.
    (Note that it was a shoe shop.)
    Hugh: You certainly came prepared, didn't you?
    Stephen: I prefer to put it this way: I certainly came prepared, didn't I?
  • In the Blackadder Goes Forth episode "General Hospital", during a discussion of spying, Melchett becomes so concerned with what's "a dirty word" and what isn't that he loses touch with the actual subject entirely.
    Melchett: "Security" isn't a dirty word, Blackadder. "Crevice" is a dirty word, but not "security".
    Blackadder: Well, good thing your jobnote  is also your hobby.
    Melchett: Now there's another dirty word: "job".
    [even later]
    Darling: We've found a leak.
    Melchett: Now "leak" is a positively disgusting word.
  • In the finale of Boston Legal:
    Carl Sack: Fired is such an ugly word, Alan. An accurate one, but...
  • Buffy the Vampire Slayer:
    • In the third season finale, when Buffy informed Wesley that she was through taking orders from the Watchers Council...
      Wesley: This is mutiny!
      Buffy: I call it "graduation".
    • Also:
      Buffy: I crazy?
      Willow: Well, "crazy" is such a strong word...
      Giles: Let's not rule it out, though.
  • Burn Notice: But at least Brennen admits it.
    Michael: You're forcing me to break into a weapons manufacturer?
    Brennen: "Forcing" is such an ugly word. Encouraging. Incentivizing... No, you're right, let's go with forcing.
  • Castle has a suspect in one episode who isn't fond of the word "stalking". But he did follow the victim around for a few days...
  • El Chavo del ocho: When Quico chides el Chavo for pretending to sleepwalk at his house to steal a bag of bread, Chavo's response is "But I didn't steal the bread. I just ate it."
  • The Comic Strip Presents episode "Space Virgins from the Planet Sex" has alien women needing human men to get them pregnant. They shy away from the term "sex slave" in favour of a description of being forced to have sex.
  • Doctor Who:
    • In "The Big Bang", the Doctor, saying goodbye to a young Amy, mentions, "Did I tell you that I stole the TARDIS? Well, borrowed." His subsequent description of the TARDIS as "ancient and modern at the same time and the most brilliant blue ever" allowed Amy to remember it at her wedding to Rory as "Something old, something new, something borrowed and something blue."
    • Brought up again in "The Doctor's Wife":
      Idris (the TARDIS in a human form): Then you stole me. And I stole you.
      The Doctor: I borrowed you.
      Idris: Borrowing implies the eventual intention to return the thing that it was taken. What makes you think I would ever give you back?
  • In Downton Abbey, when the Countess Dowager asks Doctor Clarkson to make some "amenagements" with the truth to help Cora reconcile with Robert.
    Dr Clarkson: So you want me to lie to them and say there was no chance at all?
    Countess Dowager: Lie is such an unmusical word.
  • Family Matters:
    • In the episode "False Arrest", Carl is confronted by Buddy Goodrich, a celebrity whom he'd arrested earlier in the episode for assault. Goodrich tries to talk Carl out of putting him on trial because he could simply have his assistant lie to the jury to counter any bad press that would come from the incident. Carl, of course, is having none of it:
    Carl: So what you're gonna have him do is lie? Commit perjury?
    Goodrich: Those are such ugly words, Carl! They're true, but still...they're very ugly.
    • When that doesn't work, Goodrich tries to offer Carl money for a one-time appearance on his show, which Carl also rejects:
      Carl: So what you're offering me is a bribe?
      Goodrich: Ooh, another ugly word!
  • In Farscape, when Rygel is accused of "snurching" (Farscape-ese for "stealing"), he responds "I don't snurch, I... procure."
  • From the Frasier episode "The Devil and Dr. Willly":
    Babe: I'm just talking about having a little fun. After all, when I'm having fun, I'm happy. When I'm happy, I work harder. When I work harder, you become famous and powerful. Isn't that what you want? Fame and power?
    Frasier: I like to think of it more as "influence", really, but...
  • An episode of The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air:
    Will: You hustled me!
    Pool Shark: Hustled is such an ugly word. I like to call it creative money management.
  • Subverted in Haven:
    Duke: Lying is such an ugly word...but yeah, I lied.
  • The MacGuffin in one Hogan's Heroes episode is a collection of artwork taken from occupied France for a high-ranking German official's private collection — described as "not 'stolen'... 'confiscated'".
  • In Jessica Jones (2015), Kilgrave, serial mind rapist, doesn't like the word 'rape', despite that being exactly what he did to Jessica, Hope Schlottman, and almost every woman he's encountered. He seems to acknowledge that's exactly what he did when Jessica confronts him on this, but denies it at first and later mutters that he doesn't like what he does being described that way.
  • Averted in the Kraft Suspense Theatre episode "One Step Down". When sleazy No-Tell Motel owner Homer Fargis tries to get money out of wealthy Janet Cord for almost cheating on her husband, she replies "That's blackmail!"—and he responds with a Blunt "Yes".
  • On an episode of Life, Charlie Crews abducts the Big Bad by waylaying his chauffeur and picking him up in his own car. When the victim points out that "this is a kidnapping," Charlie parks the car and begins to explain why he doesn't like that word and doesn't feel it applies in this case. The villain then says, "No, detective, you misunderstand me. This isn't a kidnapping. This is a kidnapping." Cue a tire iron smashing through Charlie's window.
  • Don West in Lost in Space (2018) hates to be called a smuggler. He's an importer of rare goods.
  • Combined with Brief Accent Imitation in Lovejoy when some former soviets ask if an official is "Coorv-ed"
    Tinker: I think he means "Bent"
    Lovejoy: I prefer "Coorv-ed".
  • M*A*S*H has a few examples, generally involving Klinger.
    • In the episode "Morale Victory", where Hawkeye and BJ get named morale officers, Klinger shakes them down for a 3-day pass to go on an errand for them.
      BJ: You thief!
      Klinger: "Thief" is such an ugly word. Shall we say "entrepreneur"?
    • A little later in the same episode, they find out Klinger was going where they wanted him to anyway:
      Hawkeye: You just stole a 3-day pass from us.
      Klinger: "Stole" is such an ugly word. Shall we say "creatively acquired"?
    • Subverted in "The Price":
      Klinger: Bribery is such an ugly word. Ugly, but fitting.
  • In "The Scarlet Letter" episode of The Mentalist, the line is fairly self-explanatory.
    Minelli: You abused a corpse to get a confession.
    Jane: Used. Used a corpse. There's no "ab".
  • One Hundred Deeds For Eddie Mc Dowd:
    Justin: I hate you!
    Eddie: Justin, hate is a very strong word.
  • Person of Interest: Finch, to Carter in "Baby Blue":
    Carter: You hacked into his company?
    Finch: 'Hacked' is such an ugly word.
  • Star Trek:
    • In the Star Trek: The Original Series episode "Let That Be Your Last Battlefield", Kirk accuses Lokai of stealing, making off with, whatever, the shuttle. Lokai replies, "I do not make off with things! My need gave me the right to use the ship! Mark the word, sir: The use of it!"
    • In Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, Garak isn't pleased with Siskos' encouragement to help him with a rescue mission.
      Garak: Commander, this is extortion!
      Sisko: Hm... yes, it is.
    • Star Trek: Voyager: In "Concerning Flight", the villain Tau is a Space Pirate turned Arms Dealer and has this as his Establishing Character Moment.
      Alien Buyer: Your prices are said to be unreasonable.
      Tau: Unreasonable is such a strong term. But if I can't sell to you, I'll sell to one of the other colonies in your system. A violent sort, your neighbours, aren't they? I'd hate to make your life difficult by offering my weapons to them. But if you don't give me a choice...
  • Succession: While reading obituaries of their father, the siblings muse that wording like "man of his age" is a polite way to say "racist and lenient on sexual assault".
  • Switch (1975): Pete isn't counterfeiting money, he's simulating it.
  • The Umbrella Academy (2019): Klaus thinks that 'cult' is a very negative term, and prefers his to be called an 'alternative spiritual community'. Allison refuses to play ball and reiterates that he started a cult.
  • Who's the Boss?, "Not With My Client You Don't": Angela's assistant calls "hooker" an ugly word and prefers "call girl".
  • Yes, Minister:
    Bernard: It is a bit of a cover-up, isn't it?
    Sir Humphrey: Certainly not, Bernard. It is a responsible discretion exercised in the national interest to prevent unnecessary disclosure of eminently justifiable procedures in which untimely revelations would severely impair public confidence.
    Bernard: I see. [beat] It's like Watergate?
    • In another episode, Sir Humphrey assures Hacker that, if a certain report is unfavorable, it will never see the light of day. He's then offended when Hacker refers to that as suppression.
      Sir Humphrey Suppression is the instrument of totalitarian dictatorships, we don't talk of that sort of thing in a free country! We simply take a democratic decision not to publish it.
    • From the Yes, Prime Minister episode "A Conflict of Interest":
      Hacker: You mean he's indiscreet?
      Humphrey: That's such a pejorative word. I prefer to say he's obsessively honest.

  • From "Erase" by They Might Be Giants:
    Think of this as solving problems
    That should never have occurred
    Please don't call it "strangulation"
    That is such an ugly word

  • Quest in Show: When Suzy expresses discomfort at stealing Queen Manon’s things, Prose advises her not to think of it as stealing. When Suzy asks what should she think of it as, Prose replies, “Not stealing!” She then suggests “rehoming”.

  • Happens twice with Ivy in Dawn of a New Age: Oldport Blues. First she creates a robotic drone that then orders a Nintendo Switch for her without taking any money from her account; when her friend Luna points out that that's stealing, she rephrases it as 'getting it for free'. Then, when she needs to find a bucket of water to put out a fire, she 'borrows' one from a nearby garden, she doesn't steal it.

    Video Games 
  • When the AI declares war on you in Civilization V, one of the quote they may use is "Backstab is such an ugly word. Shall we instead say I am just "reinterpreting" our supposed friendship?".
  • In The Darkside Detective, when McQueen accuses Nigel of kidnapping Dooley, Nigel protests that that's a harsh word for luring someone to a remote place under false pretences and refusing to let them leave.
  • In Disgaea: Hour of Darkness, after we find out the real reason of CAPTAIN GORDON, DEFENDER OF EARTH!'s mission to the Netherworld, this conversation takes place:
    Kurtis: Hmph. They're nothing but pawns to you, huh...
    General Carter: What an ugly way of saying it, Kurtis. I prefer to call them the "heroes who sacrificed their lives for the earth". Muhahahahaha!!
  • Fallout: New Vegas has Mr. House
    Courier: In the meantime, you'd rule Vegas as some kind of dictator?
    Mr. House: I prefer the term 'autocrat'.
  • Final Fantasy VI with Locke, and his insistence that he's not a thief, he's a "treasure hunter". Naturally, he often "hunts for treasure" in other people's homes. But press the issue and he might rip your lungs out. Or at least steal your clothes.
    "Bah! Semantic nonsense!"
  • In Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles: Ring of Fates
    Aleria: She's a sacrifice to your god?!
    Chaspel: "Sacrifice" is such a harsh word. "Catalyst" sounds so much nicer.
  • Galaxy Angel: On Milfie's route in Moonlit Lovers, Tact calls Noah a "mercenary" when Milfie convinces her to help them by offering her some food. Noah replies that she would prefer to be called an "utilitarian".
  • In Geneforge V, a bandit argues over semantics.
    Emogene: I object to the word "extort". It is an ugly term. We are helping them. If they are so tight with their coins that they can't pay us for this service, it is a good thing we are here to teach them manners.
  • God Hand:
    Gene: This arm makes me popular among the hellish set.
    Conchita (a demon): Hellish?!? We prefer "supertropical".
  • This exchange is brought up in Jak II: Renegade when the words "forced labour trade" are mentioned:
    Jak: You mean the slave trade?
    Krew: Uh, I prefer "freedom challenged".
  • In the German version of Kingdom Hearts II, Demyx responds to Goofy accusing him of being a thief with "Dieb –- was für ein hässliches Wort!", meaning "Thief –- what an ugly word!".
  • In Kathy Rain, the titular character has this conservation when confronting Father Issac with the Red Scythe plant, which has psychedelic properties.
    Kathy: You know something about this plant, right?
    Father Issac: Oh, yes, a link to the divine. They help by preparing the body for unity with God.
    Kathy: So, you've drugged people with it?
    Father Issac: Such a crude choice of words. It has been one component of my sacred work, yes.
  • Persona:
    • In Persona 3, when SEES confronts Ikutsuki and learns of the latter's intentions, this happens twice in the same conversation:
      Yukari: In the video from my father... He said to defeat the Shadows... Was that a lie too?
      Ikutsuki: Ah... He did record that himself. ...Of course, I had to make some modifications.
      Mitsuru: You doctored it!?
      Ikutsuki: I corrected it.

      Yukari: You used both me and my father!
      Ikutsuki: "Used" is such an ugly word. It was for the sake of the world, so how could it be wrong?
    • In Persona 5, one of the Confidant bonuses received from formerly-crooked politician Yoshidanote  lets the party demand more money from enemy Shadows they're holding at gunpoint. Said bonus is called "Fundraising".
  • Pokémon Insurgence:
    Zenith: Mind control is such an ugly term. I prefer "mind optimization".
  • In Ratchet & Clank: Up Your Arsenal, during an episode of Supervillain Weekly:
    Supervillain Weekly Host: Lawrence, tell us a bit about this top-secret "super weapon" being constructed on Planet Daxx?
    Lawrence: Well, "super" is such a strong word... For that matter "weapon" may be a tad overdoing it.
  • From Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic II: The Sith Lords:
    HK-50: Clarification: "Assassin Droid" is such a crude term, master, reserved for durasteel drones with only the most archaic kill-programs. The function I perform has been referred to as "wanton slaughter". I prefer to see it as a means of facilitating communication, resulting in the termination of hostilities.
  • From Star Wars: The Old Republic:
    NPC: You're Insane!
    Sith Inquisitor: Insane is such a harsh word. I prefer differently rational.
  • Thief II: The Metal Age, while looting a ruined city:
    Garrett: Archaeologist sounds so much more dignified than Thief.
  • Cheekily Subverted in Xcom 2, when accessing the black market to buy ADVENT materials:
    Alien Alloy Tooltip: "Stealing" is a harsh word for how we acquired these alloys. Accurate, but harsh.

    Visual Novels 
  • In Spirit Hunter: NG, Ban is fond of using nice euphemisms for his dirty work.
    • Rosé gets annoyed with Ban for extorting the high-schooler Akira. Ban retorts that it wasn't 'extortion', he was just 'collecting fees' that he was due.
    • When Rosé talks about breaking-and-entering into the Miroku residence, Ban rephrases it as them 'investigating' the place. Rosé makes fun of him for being so hung up on the terminology.

  • Mr. Butch from Chopping Block is not a "serial killer". He prefers the term "High Yield Afterlife Inducement Broker."
  • Inverted in Intragalactic:
    Captain Glee: "Unofficial incentive" is such an ugly... pair of words. Let's just say I bribed you with full knowledge that I'm violating the law.
  • Much like Haley, Mordekai from Irregular Webcomic! is a "Lovable Rogue".
  • Revolver Ocelot in The Last Days of FOXHOUND:
    Revolver Ocelot: "Torture" is such an inelegant word. I'm an artist. Their testicles are my canvas.
  • Gav in Nukees, in a way illuminating his character.
    Gav: "Better" is such an ugly word...
  • The Order of the Stick:
    • Haley Starshine dislikes being called a thief. She prefers "Freelance Wealth Redistribution Specialist".
    • Also, when Vaarsuvius' mate questions where V got a massive power boost:
      Vaarsuvius: I negotiated an exchange with three gentlemen from... other planes of existence.
      Inkyrius: Which planes?
      Vaarsuvius: Those in the ventral position.
      Inkyrius: You sold your soul to fiends??
      Vaarsuvius: Technically, it is more of a fixed-term lease with an occupancy date yet to be determined!
  • This ''Pibgorn'' strip:
    Stan: These creatures you treasure, they are as good as dead unless you follow my instructions to the letter.
    Pibgorn: So they're hostages!
    Stan: "Hostage" is such an ugly, sordid word ... yes. They're hostages.
  • Schlock Mercenary has a few examples. On the rare occasion acknowledging their status as mercenaries is politically inconvenient, the Toughs and others will be called "security and armed response." There's also:
    Petey: "Spy" is such a short ugly word. I prefer "espionage". Those three extra syllables really say something.
  • In this Sluggy Freelance strip, the Evil Chancellor doesn't like the term "bad guy", preferring to be called "morally challenged".
  • Spacetrawler: inverted, "Please, don't call it a gift. Call it a bribe."
  • Unsounded: The Aldish insist on calling the rebellion in Avelpit the Foi-Hellick "Affair". This lets them play down the brutality with which they put down the rebels and their families and makes the whole thing sound like it was Roger Foi-Hellick's idea rather than a populist uprising which he had a part in leading.

    Web Original 
  • Critical Role: In episode 84 of the first campaign, Kima tries to invoke this, but poor Grog doesn't really get such subtleties.
    Kima: If Mr. Vord starts coming round asking questions? ...Tell him you haven't seen me.
    Grog: Lie?
    Kima: No, no... Just tell him you haven't seen me.
    Grog: (Confused) But I have seen you...
    Kima: Tell him you haven't.
    Grog: [Turns to Vex and Pike for help, the expression on his face causing the entire table to erupt into minutes-long peals of laughter.]
  • Similarly, this post on the (now disused) old NationStates forums, memorialised in someone's signature:
    Extortion is such a nasty word.
    I much prefer "magnolia". "Magnolia" is a much nicer word.
  • This demotivator. They're not pirates, they're preemptive nautical salvage experts.
  • Genocide is such a harsh word...
  • "Pre-release" used to be a euphemism for "stolen from the Chinese factory it was made in" when it came to Transformers action figures. Internet Personality Vangelus rejects this euphemism, preferring "Stolen Chinese Toys".
  • Parodied in one Show of the Weekend for Outside Xbox, which has Luke defend his choice to harvest all the Little Sisters in Bioshock by saying "harvested" is such a harsh word and he prefers "murdered". It takes him a moment to realise that it didn't go the way he planned.
  • Texts From Last Night:
    (928): whats a positive sounding word for "exploit"?
  • Calling the trope Jack Bauer Interrogation Technique is much more professional-sounding than 'Violent physical abuse until they give you the information'.
  • One Internet meme consists of an image macro of a sketchy-looking guy with a moustache reading "Kidnap? I prefer the term 'surprise adoption'."

    Western Animation 
  • Archer: When Archer is training Cyril to be a spy early in season one, he stresses that to us the term "call girl" and NOT "hooker". Unless they're dead (which happens with surprising regularity to Archer), then they're hookers.
  • In Batman: The Animated Series, when a captured Batman is put on "trial" by the inmates of Arkham Asylum and district attorney Janet Van Dorn helps him as best she can by sowing discord among the criminals:
    Harley: Ha! You're just jealous because you don't have a fella who's as lovin' and loyal to you as my Puddin' is to me!
    Van Dorn: Ah-ha. And I suppose it was that same "loyalty" I saw the last time you escaped and "Puddin'" here finked on you in hopes of getting time off!
    Harley: (dejected) Is that true, Puddin'?
    Joker: (sheepishly) "Finked" is such an ugly word....
    Harley: (grabs Joker and starts shaking him) You lousy, scum-sucking creep!
  • Biker Mice from Mars: As Ronaldo Rump says, kidnapping is such a harsh word. He prefers to describe Charley as a "reluctant guest".
  • Codename: Kids Next Door, "Op LEADER": Chad calls "traitor" an ugly word. Which he isn't.
  • Dan Vs.:
    • Played Straight in "Technology," where big tech CEO Barry Ditmer prefers "guiding synaptic processes from afar" to "mind control."
    • Subverted in "Anger Management":
    Amber: "Extortion" is such an ugly word. I prefer..."extortion".
    Dan: That's the same word.
    Amber: I said it nicer the second time.
  • In Danny Phantom when Danny calls Vlad a Green Bay Packers fanatic. Vlad openly admits it.
    Vlad: Fanatic is such a negative word... but yes.
  • In Elena of Avalor Song of the Sirenas, when Elena accuses her cousin Cristobal of betraying their family, he replies, "Betrayed is such a nasty word." But when he thinks about it, he can't think of a better word and he concedes "no, you're right, betrayed works."
  • On Invasion America, this exchange takes place:
    Cale Oosha: TREASON!
    Dragit: Revolution.
  • Metalocalypse: The band members don't like talking about dying (when it's them); they prefer the term "hamburger time".
  • Inverted in Phineas and Ferb. When it's suggested that Mitch is essentially a zookeeper, he feels that "sort of legitimizes the whole thing," and prefers to be called a poacher.
  • Played with in Rick and Morty
    Cop Morty: Big Morty likes to contribute to keeping the peace in Mortytown. Think of him as a "druglord", and us as "cops on his payroll".
  • The Simpsons:
    • Homer posing as 4th-grader:
    Homer: (to Sherri) C'mon, why won't you go out with Bart?
    Sherri: He's a smelly, ugly dork!
    Homer: Ugly is such a smelly word.
    • Another Simpsons example:
    Lisa: You're replacing me?
    Homer: Now, Lisa, "dumping" is such a harsh word. Let's just say I'm replacing you.
    • And another:
    Marge: Did you jimmy open Mr. Burns' liquor cabinet?
    Homer: Jimmy is such an ugly word. Unless you're talking about Jimmy Smits. Mrrow!
    • In the Treehouse of Horror Bartificial Intelligence
    Bart: Did you replace me with this tinker toy?!
    Homer: Replace is such an ugly word. We upgraded.
  • Spider-Man: The Animated Series:
    Michael Morbius: I borrowed this equipment from the ESU Science Department.
    Felicia Hardy: Pilfered.
    Michael Morbius: ...Borrowed.
  • Spongebob Squarepants:
    • The series includes a variation in "Bucket Sweet Bucket".
    Mr. Krabs: (takes the safe out from his throat) And I bet you tried to steal this, too.
    Plankton: (chuckles) Well, steal is such a strong word.
  • Star Wars Rebels. Lando Calrissian thinks that "smuggler" is such a small word. "I'm more of a galactic entrepreneur."
  • In The Venture Brothers, the Guild of Calamitous Intent also don't like morally charged phrases like "good guys" or "bad guys", and insist people use "protagonist" and "antagonist" instead. In all fairness, with guys like Brock Sampson running around, it is a legitimate complaint.


Video Example(s):


I prefer "misdirection."

Black Cat set up Spider-Man by saying that Hammerhead had her son just so he can unknowingly help her steal the wealth of the entire Maggia. When Spider-Man said that Black Cat lied about having a son, she said that she has "misdirected" him.

How well does it match the trope?

5 (9 votes)

Example of:

Main / BlackmailIsSuchAnUglyWord

Media sources: