This is often, but not always, a case of Compliment Backfire. See also Personal Dictionary for another way to take an unfamiliar word, invent a meaning, and assume it's the one everybody uses, and You Keep Using That Word, when a character calls out another on their misuse of words.
Pretty much the inverse of Insult Backfire. Contrast Malaproper. Particularly unfortunate choices of words can be Mistaken for Racist. If they're afraid instead of offended, then you get Scary Science Words. When the word confused is a homophone, it's often a Mondegreen Gag
- In the English dub of Case Closed in the fourth episode, Conan mentions that it would be ironic if a piece of paper Amy has found really is a treasure map. George and Mitch promptly scold him for using such language in front of a lady. It does turn out to be a treasure map, in the form of a cryptic series of clues leading to a stash of gold coins stolen by Italian gangsters
- George Carlin's "Fussy Eater" routine, he talks about how he doesn't like some foods because of the way they sound, including succotash. "What'd you call me, you fuck?!" "Hey, cool out, cool out. It's lima beans and corn. Cool out."
- Archie Comics: Moose, the typical strong guy with limited intelligence, will confuse words that are unknown to him with words of a completely different meaning.
Moose: Duhhh hey! Who are you calling an idiom!?
- In a Running Gag, Groo the Wanderer becomes violently enraged whenever someone calls him a "mendicant", even though he has no idea what the word means (a beggar, usually one of a religious order). In issue #100, Groo learns to read (having been illiterate all his life) and he does learn what "mendicant" means.
- Paperinik New Adventures: In a bonus comic, Angus, needing to create a distraction, walks to the biggest and dumbest-looking guy in a crowded room and has a few words with him.
Angus: Really you don't mind that guy [points in a random direction] calling you a dim-witted, brutish and overly ignorant ape?
Big Guy: Did he call me overly?!
- In the Shade/Scalphunter story in Starman 80-Page Giant, the Shade is investigating a black man's disappearance in 1885 Opal when two hired thugs warn him off, and also make insinuations about his interest in the missing man.
Shade: My interests and peccadilloes are my own affair.
Thug: Pecca—what? Did you just cuss me, y'son-of-a-bitch?
Shade: No... but let's pretend I did.
- Superman: This happens when, right after announcing his candidacy, Lex Luthor is abducted by a villain called "The Adversary".
Luthor: Put me down, you grotesque, macrocephalic lummox!!
The Adversary: Y'know, I'd be insulted... if I knew what the *#%!! that meant!!
- Inverted in Tintin, where some of Captain Haddock's insults to the bad guys are this (he's even used "logarithm" itself at least once) interspersed with actual derogatory terms (for example, referring to the yeti as a megacycle and a satrap).
Sid the Sexist: Well, I must admit...
Big Dave: DIVVUN CAAL ME MUSTARD MITT! [punch]
- In Beetle Bailey, Sgt. Snorkel files a complaint that Beetle called him a baboon, when he actually called Sarge a bassoon. Snorkel asks what a bassoon is, and the captain replies that it's a wind instrument.
- One Peanuts storyline has Marcie and Peppermint Patty going to summer camp. Marcie mentions that a boy has been calling her names. Peppermint Patty is ready to step up and take care of this kid, but Marcie was already way ahead of her (hitting the boy with her lunch tray, shoving him in poison oak, etc). In the end, it's revealed that the boy actually has a crush on Marcie, and she had been misinterpreting his little pet names as insults.
- When Popeye was trying to find a job in one storyline, but wasn't sure of what field he should try for, Wimpy suggests that he get his aptitude tested. Popeye then slugs him and shouts, "There's nottin' wrong with me aptitude!" Olive later has to explain to Popeye what Wimpy meant.
Wallingscomb: This old prescription's a full point off on your left eye and half a point on your right. You've astigmatism.
Draco: How dare you!
- Dragon Ball Z Abridged: When the Z Fighters first meet Vegeta and Nappa, Nappa points out that Piccolo is a Namekian. Krillin takes offense before Piccolo tells him that he is who they are directing the comment toward and how it isn't an insult as he begins to detail what Namekians are before Nappa interrupts by saying Namekians don't have penises.
- Harry Is a Dragon, and That's OK: Hermione starts to tell Ron off for saying, "Merlin's lugholes!" until she stops to think about it.
Hermione: No, wait, hold on. Lugholes… that's ear holes, right?
Ron: Well, yeah. I wanted to be a bit more creative and less rude.
Hermione: Then I apologize.
- In Chapter 1 of Luminosity, Bella talks about how she wants to take notes on people's names and appearances but doesn't because of an incident in eighth grade when someone she described as "wee" in her notebook retaliated by throwing it into a puddle in the lavatory.
- Platinum Pirate: Lucas, dazed from being slammed facefirst into the Going Merry, mistakes Chopper for a "cute baby Stantler" before passing out from his injuries. Chopper isn't sure whether to be happy that to be called cute, angry that he was called a baby, or worried that Lucas called him a nonsense word because of a concussion.
- RealityCheck's Nyxverse: A variant in Alicornundrum. Celestia, speaking of the Crusaders and the "Royal Brats" (youngsters who are part of the visiting ambassadors' retinue) starts talking about how they've exposed and brought a major problem to her attention, "Thanks to their, ahem, proactive measures..." Pipsqueak, not knowing what "proactive" means, suspiciously says that he's looking it up when he gets home.
- The Sea Shadow: When Koops calls her a Shadow Siren, Vivian assumes it's an insult and snaps at him.
- In one Shadowchasers Series story, Red Feather makes it through a booby trapped hallway and is compared to Indiana Jones. Red Feather, who is disdainful of technology and doesn't watch TV or go on the Internet, doesn't have any idea who that is and assumes she is being insulted.
- At one point in Ultrasonic, Nick refers to the situation in Zootopia as a pandemonium. The polar bear driving him objects to this saying that he has pandas in his family. Nick tells him to pick up a dictionary.
- The Visit With Mrs Figg:
McGonagall: Look at his arms!
Mrs. Figg: Oh my! How...
McGonagall: It must be from those muggles!
Harry: Who are you calling a muggle?
- In When You're Evil the Minister of Magic sends Harry to ask the Scoobies for a non-lethal solution to a vampire problem.
Spike: Sounds like you need Red, and she's not here.
Spike: Willow. She's one of your sort.
Harry: She's a witch? Brilliant. Shacklebolt told me you were all Muggles.
Xander: Hey! Take that back.
- In Wood It Work, a silver dragon assumes the Boys (a group of half Fyarl and half Brachen demons) are Tieflings and only confuses them.
Elan: It's someone with extradimensional parents.
Brian: Pretty sure ma doesn't have an extra dimensions.
Linda: My ma is getting pretty big in the rear.
- In Leroy & Stitch, Gantu criticizes the quality of 625's egg salad sandwiches:
625: You're gonna miss my egg salad!
Gantu: Not enough mayonnaise and too much dillweed.
625: What did you call me?
- In Oliver & Company, after Georgette moans about breaking a nail, Francis mutters "Balderdash!", to which Tito defensively replies "What'd you call my woman, man?!"
- Kevin Hart's cameo in The 40-Year-Old Virgin spells out the epitome of this trope:
Customer: Okay, well check this out though. First of all, you're throwing too many big words at me. Okay now, because I don't understand them I'm gonna take 'em as disrespect.
- Airplane! "and don't call me Shirley!"
- In After the Thin Man, one clue is that a note was written with hard words spelled correctly and easy words spelled wrong, in a bad imitation of an illiterate person.
Polly: Whadaya mean illiterate? My father and mother were married right here in the city hall!
- In the classic Australian comedy The Castle, the main character's lawyer is presenting his case in the High Court and the opposing lawyer tells the judge that the precedent just quoted was merely an example of obiter dictum. The main character, highly offended, yells "Was not!" For non-lawyers: judges decide cases based on the reasoning used in past decisions. If a reasoning was used to decide a case, judges are much more willing to follow it than if the past judge was imagining what-if scenarios and deciding how things would be decided in that situation. Those what-ifs are obiter dicta. Of course, even if you don't know your law, the reactions of the judge and lawyers are enough for watchers to realize this trope is in play.
- In Che: Part One, Camilo Cienfuegos nicknames a Cuban revolutionary "Ventrílocuo" (ventriloquist), but the revolutionaire mistakes the word for a made-up insult: ventre-culo (culo means "ass"). Che Guevara quickly corrects him.
- In the French film The Chorus, one of the teachers in a boarding school for delinquents wants to start a boys' chorus so he tests out each boy's voice. To the most feared delinquent of them all, he says, "You're a very good baritone." The kid tries to kick his ass.
- Congo. Richard compares his interrogation by Zaire soldiers to being in a Franz Kafka story. The soldier gets right in his face and shouts, "WHO'S KAFKA? TELL ME!"
- Easy to Love: After believing that they have caught their daughter Janet and her boyfriend in a hotel together, Carol and John summon a judge to get Janet immediately married. When the judge says that Janet was caught "in flagrante delicto", Eric says "Nothing of the kind, right here in this city."
- Explorers: A school bully is mentioned by the main character to have "elephantiasis on his ego." Gilligan Cut to the bully and his friends beating the crap out of him and the bully mentioning that, since he doesn't understand what 'elephantiasis' means, he's just gonna have to take it was a very rude insult and punish the main character... by nearly breaking his nose and then holding him down so he can drool on him. It's a downplayed example though because in this context, "elephantiasis" definitely is an insult, if not the rudest one.
- Gangs of New York: McGloin calls Amsterdam a "fidlam bens", which the latter is puzzled about. Even though McGloin explains it means someone who is so pathetic he has to steal crap no self-respecting burglar would steal unless desperate, Amsterdam says he can't really be offended by it. He would be offended if McGloin called him a "chiseler" (someone who steals a larger share from his fellow thieves). McGloin doesn't know the term, but says "Sure, Let's Go with That", because he really wants to pick a fight.
- Played with in Guardians of the Galaxy (2014). This trope's humor is portrayed, but it is not actually this trope. Drax has a problem with metaphors. He knows exactly what a thesaurus is due to his (or in spite of his) Sesquipedalian Loquaciousness, but finds it mildly insulting when another character calls him a book full of synonyms. What he actually does not comprehend is that the other character is not perfectly serious as he himself is.
Drax: Do not ever call me a thesaurus.
- Rocket is also insulted to be called a raccoon, asking what that is. It's not actually an insult because he literally is a (genetically and cybernetically enhanced) raccoon.
- Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, after Yondu escapes an exploding space ship by using his Trick Arrow to control his descent, offers this gem:
- When Det. Thorne in Hellraiser: Inferno notes to Nenonen that his name is a palindrome, he angrily retorts with "What did you call me?"
- In Homeward Bound: The Incredible Journey:
Shadow: Chance, you're a genius!
Chance: I am not! What's a genius?
Shadow: Never mind.
- The character of Raymonde in the French film Hôtel du Nord is mainly famous for indignantly asking her interlocutor « Atmosphère ? Atmosphère ? Est-ce que j'ai une gueule d'atmosphère ? » ("Atmosphere? Atmosphere? Do I look like an atmosphere to you?")
- In Jumping the Broom, the maid of honor tells Malcolm (who is blatantly hitting on her) that he wouldn't like her because she's a hermaphrodite. His response is that he doesn't care what religion she is.
- Kansas City Princess: Dynamite, a blustery gangster, doesn't get it when Junior asks him about his relationship with Rosie.
Junior: Your fiancée?
Dynamite: (offended) I should say not! We're engaged!
Dr. Poole: She seems to have such nicely rounded diphthongs!
Snaps: That's what got her into this jam!
Connie: Even in the old days he was known as an honest crook.
Dr. Poole: That's an oxymoron.
Connie: Gee, you shouldn't oughta said that, Doc.
Snaps: Yeah, leave Connie alone. He does the best he can.
- The Pink Panther (2006): Clouseau is doing an interrogation and trips over the phrase "pushing up daisies". The person he's interrogating tries to explain that it's an idiom, only for Clouseau to respond "You, sir, are the idiom!"
- One of the students in Renaissance Man misunderstands the word "oxymoron" and asserts that he "ain't no ox-moron".
- Comes up in the movie version of Richie Rich when the butler explains to Richie that "crib" is an idiom for "home" in the slang used by Richie's newfound friends. One of the kids misunderstands and asks "Who are you callin' an 'idiom'?"
- Satan's Cheerleaders: When Sheriff Bubb orders his followers to drag "the large one" to the altar, Sharon demands to know if he was implying she is fat. She does, however, proudly admit to having the biggest boobs of any of the cheerleaders.
- In the film of A Series of Unfortunate Events, the orphans make pasta puttanesca for Count Olaf and his fellow actors. When Klaus announces that they've made "puttanesca," Olaf responds "What did you call me?" (This was likely intended as a Bilingual Bonus since the name "puttanesca" actually is derived from the Italian word for "prostitute".)
- Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (1990) has one "insult" (actually a description) traded for another. Casey Jones reveals that he's uncomfortable spending the night in the Turtles sewer lair.
Donatello: You're a claustrophobic.
Casey Jones: Hey, you want a fist in the mouth? I've never even LOOKED at another guy!
- The Thin Man: A son talking to reporters calls his missing father a "sexagenarian." The reporters protest, "We can't print that kind of language!" The confused son asks why they can't print that his father is in his sixties.
- Artemis Fowl: The Bumbling Henchman Duo of Chips and Pex is manipulated into burying Mulch alive instead of shooting him. He does this by claiming he insulted them.
Mulch: I did call you a pair of overdeveloped, single-cell Cro-Magnons.
Pex: Did you?
Mulch: Well I have now.
Pex: Nobody calls me an overdeveloped, single-bell crow magnet.
Mulch: No. I bet nobody does.
- Daisy Miller, when the Annoying Younger Sibling is talking about how he hates Rome:
Randolph: I hate it worse and worse every day!
Winterbourne: You are like the infant Hannibal.
Randolph: No, I ain't!
- Practically a Running Gag throughout Discworld:
- In Wyrd Sisters, the ghost of Verence I calls Granny Weatherwax a "doyenne amongst witches". She's clearly ready to be affronted, though she's cautious enough not to haul off and yell at him until she can determine for sure what it means ("senior/superior").
- In Soul Music, Albert calls young Susan a "chit of a girl". The Death of Rats anticipates this trope and insists that Quoth explain to her that "chit" only means a small girl.
- In Interesting Times, Cohen the Barbarian reacts violently to a merchant calling him "venerable one" while trying to purchase an apple.
Cohen: He didn't ort to have called me what he did!
Teach: But "venerable" means "old and wise", Ghenghiz.
Cohen: Oh. Does it?
- In Feet of Clay, Vimes is told that Nobby is entitled to a coat of arms. He goes back to the Watch House and says "Nobby, you're armigerous!" This is taken by Nobby to mean, while not quite an insult, something for which he might need "a special shampoo." When one barman is informed that Nobby is a Peer, he assumes it is used in the verb sense rather than the "-of the realm" sense.
- In Jingo, Angua is asked if she is a hourinote by a delirious Klatchian. Angua (presumably mistaking it for the similarly-sounding English word "whore" - understandable, given that she happened to be naked at the time) responds that she doesn't have to take that kind of language and promptly leaves.
- In Unseen Academicals, Glenda is offended when Mr. Nutt tries to flatter her by calling her "fecund"note After hastily looking the word up she's merely embarrassed, and Glenda gently explains to Nutt why that might not be a good word with which to compliment women. Of course, then Nutt asks if he should have complimented her on her great big ti-
- In Dodger by Terry Pratchett, Mrs. Mayhew describes Dodger as an astute young man. He apologizes and says his best trousers are in the wash.
- There's a variant in "Famigerado", a short story by Brazilian author João Guimarães Rosa. A local bandit goes to a doctor hoping the educated man can explain what means the word in the title (translation: "infamous"), which a cop has described him as. The medic says it's a compliment akin to "notorious", and the guy buys it.
- In Jaroslav Hasek's The Good Soldier Švejk when Švejk and Marek are stuck in a prison carriage they are bored and Marek mocks the corporal in charge with Sesquipedalian Loquaciousness. Works as expected.
Marek: If I call you an embryo, you'll forget the word [...] before the next telegraph pole flashes by.
- In Harry Potter, when Vernon Dursley is called a Muggle, he gets angry and automatically assumes he's being insulted, even though he doesn't know what that means. Of course, the slur being derived from the English word "mug" — "someone who's easy to fool" might have something to do with it.
- In Robert A. Heinlein's If This Goes On—, Zeb does this deliberately, demonstrating that language can be weaponized. Unfortunately, the exact words aren't given, but John's reaction is:
"You leave my mother out of this!"
[after John calms down]
"But what did I say? All I said, in fact, was that you were the legitimate offspring of a legal marriage. Right? What is insulting about that?"
"But—" I stopped and ran over in my mind the infuriating, insulting, and degrading things he had said — and, do you know, that is absolutely all they added up to. I grinned sheepishly. "It was the way you said it."
- In The Mysterious Benedict Society and the Perilous Journey, Sticky's girlfriend dumps him for remarking on her "pulchritude." It means beauty.
- In Andrei Belyanin's My Wife Is a Witch, the protagonist Sergey is a humble poet whose wife turns out to be a witch. After she vanishes, his personal Good Angel, Bad Angel suggest he go into the "dark worlds" (magical parallel realities) to find her. In the first of the worlds, he is captured by zealous Jesuit monks and they accuse him of sorcery (in retrospect, wearing a black suit-and-tie is probably not wise during the Dark Ages). At his trial, he decides to use his debate skills and logic to convince the elder monks that he's not a sorcerer. Unfortunately, his speech ends up being full of so much legalese that it results in Stunned Silence, after which the monks, now utterly convinced that he's trying to cast a spell on them, order him captured and executed.
- In Neverwhere, Mr. Vandemar at one point confuses the word "circumlocution" for something else, and indignantly responds that he hasn't got one. He is quickly corrected by Mr. Croup. (Mr. Croup likes words, while Mr. Vandemar is always hungry. It's kind of a running theme that Croup will say something that Vandemar will misunderstand and be somewhat offended by.)
- Princesses of the Pizza Parlor: Princesses on the Lonely Isle: A word mistaken for a general swear, possibly, although, given that it's directed towards enemies, people might mistaken it for an insult:
The langauge of her forefathers had many convenient words, including one which described the feeling of being obliged to help an enemy and not being happy about it. The paired syllables were short, pithy, and frequently mistaken as swear words by foreigners. That was certainly how Selvi was using it now.
- The short story A Palavra Mágica (the Magic Word) by Portuguese author Vergílio Ferreira is centered around the chaos sown in a rural village after a heated dispute in which one of the participants calls the other "innocuous", with neither of them knowing what the word really means. The word, corrupted to "inoque" then "noque", then becomes known as a horrifically vile swear.
- Percy Jackson and the Olympians: Used in book 3, The Titan's Curse. In this case, it is an insult, but it doesn't change the fact that Thalia's not sure what it means.
Zoe Nightshade: You challenge my skills, you scullion? You know nothing of being a Hunter!
Thalia Grace: Oh, scullion? You're calling me a scullion? What the heck is a scullion?
- As quoted above, Mark Twain's Roughing It is the Trope Namer.
- In a Sonic the Hedgehog children's novel, Sonic the Hedgehog in the Fourth Dimension, an imaginary dragon creature threatens to redo the universe with his allies (the Mythos creatures) and remake it In Their Own Image. In the process, he claims he would erase "you [Sonic] and your ilk". Tails responds indignantly with "I'm a fox, not an ilk!" "Ilk" means "kind"note , as in things of a similar type, and he was threatening to remove all life forms the universe considers normal, or real. This book was made in 1993, before Tails was established to be a genius.
- In The Westing Game, Flora is shocked that Westing's will refers to his death as a "dastardly deed." "First murder, now a swear word."
- And over on Angel, after everyone loses their memories:
Wesley: The cross obviously doesn't affect me or our friend, [points to Gunn] the pugilist.
Gunn: Oh, yo' ass better pray I don't look that word up.
- A recurring sketch from the series Balls of Steel features the "Militant Black Guy", who always takes great offense to what he thinks are racial slurs, but are obviously totally innocent terms in context. For instance, when he enters a bakery and is shocked to hear the cake he asked for is called a black forest gateaux.
- In the Barney Miller "Asylum" episode, Stevens reproves Wojo for his unauthorized actions in preventing Jininsky from being kidnapped:
Wojo: I just think somebody ought to tell this guy that people don't get away with kidnapping around this precinct. I don't care what country they're from.
Stevens: You might have taken alternative actions if you had been a bit more perspicacious.
Wojo: (pausing) Oh yeah?
- The Big Bang Theory:
- Similar to the variant in Home Improvement:
Leonard: Okay, I understand your impulse to try to physically intimidate me. I mean, you can't compete with me on an intellectual level and so you're driven to animalistic puffery.
Kurt: Are you calling me a puffy animal?
- In another episode, after the group has returned from an investigation at the polar circle, Sheldon is having a phone conversation with his (very religious) mother.
Sheldon: No, mom, the fact that we returned safely is not proof that your prayer group's prayers worked, that's post hoc ergo propter hoc. [Beat] No mom, I'm not sassing you in Eskimo language.note
- Similar to the variant in Home Improvement:
- The Buffy the Vampire Slayer episode "Bad Eggs". In this case, he may have known what the word meant; he was just genuinely unsure if that was a compliment or insult.
Giles: I suppose there is a sort of... Machiavellian ingenuity to your transgression.
Xander: I resent that! Or possibly thank you.
- On an episode of Castle, a safe deposit box belonging to a mob figure is broken into. The mobster claims it contained his stamp collection. One of the cops asks him how long he has been a philatelist. His response is "Hey! I don't roll that way!"
- In an episode of El Chavo del ocho, Professor Jirafales comes at night to give Doña Florinda a serenade with a mariachi, but with Mr. Barriga lurking around pretending to be a ghost, she pulls out a shotgun and fires at the air, scaring them away. After the misunderstanding is cleared, Professor Jirafales says he'll sing "Acapella", and Doña Florinda first assumes he's going to sing for someone named "Capella", before he explains "Acapella" means without music.
- As as semi-regular gag, Don Ramón would just as often play this trope straight or sometimes invert it (not catching when a word or expression is meant to be an insult), when Professor Jirafales used unusual words.
Prof. Jirafales: Leave this to me, I'm a pedagogue.
Don Ramón: And how is that my fault?
- As as semi-regular gag, Don Ramón would just as often play this trope straight or sometimes invert it (not catching when a word or expression is meant to be an insult), when Professor Jirafales used unusual words.
"Billiards, Carts, these are things you're adroit at, Sam."
"Listen, nobody calls me a 'droit'."
- A Drake & Josh episode had Craig telling Drake that Eric is a pacifist. Drake responds with "I thought he was Jewish."
- Eureka: A Running Gag has Sheriff Carter mistaking terms like "p-brane" as insults to his intelligence.
- Get Smart:
- During a Hunting the Most Dangerous Game episode, the bad guy calls Max a "Homo sapien."note Max replied: "Hey, I'm as normal as the next guy."
- Another example deals with Hymie the Robot, and why he shouldn't date the Chief's niece.
Chief: Max, Hymie is a cybernaut.
Max: What's his religion got to do with it?
- Later on, after Max learns that the Chief's niece has fallen for Hymie:
Max: Hymie is a cybernaut.
Phoebe: Uncle Max, I'm ashamed of you. A person's religion doesn't make any difference.
- In an episode of Gilligan's Island, the Howells are scandalized by the Professor's Techno Babble.
- A variant on Home Improvement: Randy actually does mean to insult Tim, but not in the way he thinks.
Randy: You're acting like some tyrannical fascist!
Tim: [to Jill] Did he just call me a dinosaur?
- On How I Met Your Mother, when he tries breaking up with Natalie by saying she's "not the one":
Ted: I can't explain it.... It's ineffable.
Natalie: [livid] ...I'm not F-able?
- Jonathan Creek had a streaker who after interrupting the show one day, ended up being hired by Adam as a good form of misdirection. He ended up complaining about his dressing room and abusing the staff. Jonathan fired him and pointed out that a streaker's dressing room was an oxymoron. The streaker replied that Jonathan was the poxy moron.note
- A first-season episode of Night Court involved a woman who remarried after her husband was declared dead, only to have him return to her life. Hubby #1 is a career soldier, and #2 is a nerd. #2 criticizes #1 for his use of violence as "typical homo-sapien behavior". #1 responded by saying "I never even hugged my father."
- On Psych season four, Juliet calls Shawn "prophetic," who childishly retorts that she's the one who's prophetic.
- Inverted in The Sing-Off, where Ben Folds joked "Are you calling me a sesquipedalian?" The joke is that he is and knows exactly what that word means, and his use of it is proof.
- In Stranger Things, an inversion of the usual trope is found, in which a character is flattered by an insult because they don't know what the insulting word means. Dustin and Lucas are inviting Max to go trick-or-treating with them in a way which is kind of assuming that she automatically wants to go with them. Max witheringly calls them presumptuous. Dustin, clearly not knowing what that means, obliviously thanks her and then, when she's gone, spends a few moments preening over it... until he sees the look on Lucas's face and worriedly begins to realise that it might mean something bad.
- On The Suite Life of Zack & Cody episode "The First Day of High School", Cody says "kudos" to the school bully, who answers, "What did you just call me?"
- In the Eighties episode of The Supersizers Eat, Giles's character offers Sue's character a Pop-Tart, and she assumes he's calling her one.
- In an episode of That '70s Show, Hyde is trying to teach Fez to pick up girls by being cool and aloof. Fez hears it as Hyde calling him a "loof", which is apparently an insult in his native language (whatever the heck it is).
- A sketch on The Tracey Ullman Show had a girl asking her friend what "satiated" meant, and then phoning her boyfriend to apologize for what she had done after he had said he was satiated following sex.
- The Wire. Brother Mouzone says to his associate Lamar about finding a guy in a gay bar, "You're the perfect bait. They'll see you as conflicted; your homophobia is so visceral." Lamar replies, "You see that? I ain't even stepped inside the joint yet, and you callin' me a cocksucker."
- "Americans", a short Take That! poem by Gavin Ewart:
Americans have very small vocabularies.
They don't understand words like "constabularies".
If you went up to a cop in New York and you said,
"I perceive you are indigenous", he would hit you on the head.
- In The Men from the Ministry, when assessing Mr. Lamb, Ministry's psychiatrist Dr. Schwein states that he has many latent aptitudes and unplunged propensities. Lamb immediately assumes that Schwein is insulting him, and Lennox-Brown has to tell him that Schwein is complementing him.
- In The Gondoliers, the characters are trying to resolve a Love Dodecahedron by working out who's legally married to whom. Someone points out that if between two men there are three wives, then each wife gets 2/3 of a husband. Upon which:
Tessa: My good sir, one can't marry a vulgar fraction!
Giuseppe: You've no right to call me a vulgar fraction.
- In The Pirates of Penzance, Major-General Stanley asks the pirates "You're not thespians, are you?" Depending on the production, the pirates' reaction to this can be priceless.
- A Raisin in the Sun: Beneatha's rich suitor refers to Walter as "Prometheus" to mock him for pretending that he knows more than he really does. He becomes even more offended than he would have been otherwise because he has no idea who Prometheus is.
- In You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown, one number has a bunch of the kids getting in an argument in the middle of singing "Home on the Range". Lucy tells Sally that "[Linus] said — he said you were — an enigma!" This shocks the rest of the kids, and Sally spends the rest of the song alternating between being mad and asking "What's an enigma?"
- BlazBlue: Continuum Shift: In the Calamity Trigger Reloaded story, Rachel ends her conversation with Ragna with "Well... tempers fugit, Ragna". Ragna responds with "Hey, what the hell'd you call me?!"
- In the DS translation of Chrono Trigger, after making him generous through his ancestors, one of the Porre Mayor's daughters in 1000 AD says "Everybody says Daddy's magnanimous, but he says he's just big-boned."
- In a Final Fantasy-related example, this video involves asking random passersby what a Chocobo is. At least one person interprets the word as a slur.
- The Nameless Mod: has this quote from a Board Guest: "I can't believe the moderators won't do anything! Every time I ask something, people call me a faq!"
- NEO: The World Ends with You: Happens as beat drop banter when you have resident Mad Mathematician Minamimoto and high-octane Idiot Hero Beat both as active party members.
Minamimoto: It's all exponential!
Beat: What'chu just call me!?
- In Poker Night 2, when Sam laments that he wishes he had a large mandible like Ash and Brock, Ash is briefly offended until Brock tells Ash that Sam's talking about their chins.
- In the first episode of Helluva Boss, Stolas calls Blitzo over the phone over the matter of his grimoire. Blitzo demands to know in an aggressive tone what Stolas just called him, forcing Stolas to elaborate that he's referring to the spellbook Blitzo uses to go from Hell to the living world.
- In the RWBY episode "Round One", Ruby laments being starving. Weiss goes into Sarcasm Mode about there not being any food around while the group is in the middle of the Vytal Festival grounds with all of their food stalls. Ruby, being Sarcasm-Blind, tries to console Weiss about being absent-minded by admitting she forgets about the fairgrounds too.
Weiss: I was being facetious?
Ruby: [stammers] Well, If you were hungry then why didn't you say so?!
- Inverted in Dean & Nala + Vinny after Nala proposes they travel from Scotland to Iceland by van:
Vinny: Do I have to bring out my globe? Your knowledge of world geography is ABYSMAL.
Nala: (genuinely touched) Why, thank you, Vinny. That's kind of you to say. I'm quite sure you're just as abysmal.
- In Goblins, Complains-of-Names says that Minmax's name is an oxymoron, to which Minmax replies "Well, you are a moron."
- In JL8, at Diana's birthday party, Karen gushes over how Clark looks, and Diana responds by agreeing that he looks dapper. Karen takes offence on Clark's behalf until Diana clarifies to her that the word 'dapper' means 'well-dressed'.
- The Order of the Stick: In a Cutaway Gag, Belkar is seen grilling steaks to kill a vampire, while yelling "no, YOU'RE a homophone!" at the bemused NPC next to him.
- The Rock Cocks: On page #1004, Suria confides to Elizabeth that her dream was to have sex on stage in the middle of a live concert:
Elizabeth: Oh gosh... You really are an exhibitionist...Suria: Huh? No, dude, I want to get creampied on a concert stage. I'm not gonna do that at a museum.Elizabeth: T-That's... Not what that means...?
- Not Always Right:
- "I'm not a homophone! I write Slash Fic!"
- Similarly, there's a semi-Memetic Demotivational Poster that features a forum exchange between a former stripper and someone else asking if her being "former" means she'd retired. The former stripper mistakes it for retarded, and Hilarity Ensues.
- An inversion where a teacher punished a student for using a term the teacher didn't know but was clearly intended as an insult. The specific term? "Hanzo main".note
- In the "Beauty and the Beast" episode of Brows Held High:
- In the Steam Train series on VVVVVV, Ross misunderstanding something Arin said leads to them inventing the character of Dinkles, a nerd who's also a buff Jerk Jock and a bully. Arin imagines him using this exact trope, leading to this exchange:
Dinkles: You're such a polynigmion!
Jock: What the... I don't even know what that means! How could I be offended by that?
Dinkles: When you know what it is, you're gonna be super offended! In like, ten years, when you take Trig 7, you're gonna be super, super offended!
Ross: Can you imagine the guy, he's just, like, "Whatever, man", and he actually gets to Trig 7 and he starts crying in class?
Jock: HE CALLED ME A POLYNIGMION! THAT FUCKING ASSHOLE!
- Pesto from the "Goodfeathers" cartoons uses something similar to this trope. From their first episode:
Squit: I wanna be a tough bird, like you, Pesto.
Pesto: Whaddaya mean by that?
Squit: I just mean you're tough, that's all.
Pesto: Are you sayin' I'm an overdone piece of meat? Is that what you're sayin'?
Squit: No, that's not what I'm saying.
Pesto: I am tough?
Squit: Yeah, that's what I'm sayin'.
Pesto: DAT'S IT!!!! [he starts to beat up Squit]
- Also happens with "Rita and Runt". Rita describes Runt's actions as "chivalric". Runt apologizes.
- Pesto from the "Goodfeathers" cartoons uses something similar to this trope. From their first episode:
- The Cow and Chicken episode "Black Sheep of the Family" features the... well, black sheep of the family (a literal black sheep). Everyone would mistake his Sesquipedalian Loquaciousness for insults or swearing.
- A rather serious, if brief example on Davey and Goliath, a French cobbler says to Davey's little sister Sally, "Dulce, dulce," or "sweet." The children not only take it as an insult but tell their father, which leads to problems when Sally is missing and the father confronts the cobbler over where she is.
- Done a few times in Ed, Edd n Eddy, such as Edd's reaction to Eddy's side of the story in "Once Upon an Ed"
Edd: Pure fiction, Eddy. Your exaggerated tale can only be described as cockamamie!
Ed: Tsk, tsk, tsk, I have never heard such language.
- From the Family Guy episode "The Thin White Line".
Rehab Center Overseer: (speaking to Brian and referring to Peter) You know this degenerate?
Peter: A degenerate, huh? Well, you are a festizio. See? I can make up words too.
- An early episode has Meg observe a situation as ironic. Peter responds by telling her that her mother is not an i-ron.
- In "Dog Gone", PETA causes confusion for Peter:
Brian: See, I thought I'd start locally, and then maybe try to merge with one of the larger groups.
Lois: That's a great idea, Brian! Maybe you could join PETA!
Peter: Join me for what?
Lois: No, PETA, the organization.
Peter: What organization?
Lois: PETA is an acronym, Peter.
Peter: No, I'm not, I'm Catholic!
Stewie: Are we really doing this?
Lois: No, Peter, I'm just saying, maybe if this meeting goes well, Brian could be part of a PETA rally.
Peter: Somebody is having a rally for me now?
Lois: No, for PETA!
Peter: That's me! I'm Peter!
Lois: I'm not talking about you, Peter, I'm talking about PETA!
Peter: Somebody better have something to say to me pretty damn soon, or I'm gonna have something to say to them! I'm very busy!
Chris: I think Betty White is in PETA.
Peter: That doesn't even make any sense!
- In The Grim Adventures of Billy & Mandy, Grim uses the word "aerodynamic" for describing how gnomes fly better in the cold. Billy takes offense.
Billy: Grim, please! Watch your language! There are children present!
Grim: [utterly gobsmacked]
Sperg: You got something to say to me, squirt?
- Another instance has Mandy insulting Sperg by... talking nicely about his mom.
Mandy: Your mother has a job and is a respected member of the community.
Sperg: No one talks about my mother that way!
- On King of the Hill, Peggy asks the wrestling coach to let Connie on the team, and brings up Title IX, which is the American law that bans gender discrimination in sports, among other things. He replies, "Roe v. Wade has nothing to do with this."
- In Littlest Pet Shop (2012), after Blythe trounces Whittany and Brittany Biskit in a debate.
Blythe: [to Whittany and Brittany] Your rebuttal, ladies?
Brittany: Ugh! You're a butthole, Blythe Baxter!
- This is probably how the word "nimrod", originally the name of a great hunter from the Bible (and thus a nickname for a hunter), became to mean "a fool, a klutz." In the Looney Tunes short, "Rabbit Every Monday", Bugs Bunny called Yosemite Sam a "little Nimrod," and the kids watching it thought it was some fancy insult they never heard before.
- The Looney Tunes Show: In "Bugs & Daffy Get a Job", Dr. Wiseberg tells Daffy he has a deviated septum. Daffy slaps him in the face and declares "There's nothing wrong with my septum! (Beat) What's a septum?"
- In one episode of Mighty Magiswords, after Vambre complains that Prohyas plays the same songs over and over again, he plays an entirely new one, leading to this exchange:
Vambre: Now are you going to play it ad nauseum now?
Prohyas: One, you're a nauseum. And two, I'm never playing it again.
- My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic: In "The Return of Harmony, Part 1", Sweetie Belle calls Scootaloo a dodo. Scootaloo's response? "Don't call me things I don't know the meaning of!" (Though in this particular case, it actually was clearly intended as an insult.)
- A Running Gag on Pinky, Elmyra & the Brain is Elmyra scolding Brain for being a "naughty-waughty potty mouth" whenever he uses a big word she doesn't understand.
- In The Powerpuff Girls (1998):
Roach Coach: I am the future ruler of this planet, you stupid biped!
Bubbles: Who you calling biped?
- SpongeBob SquarePants:
- After Squidward finds himself accidentally stuck down a deep well with SpongeBob and Patrick:
Squidward: Could you not stand so close? You're making me claustrophobic.
Patrick: What does claustrophobic mean?
SpongeBob: It means he's afraid of Santa Claus.
Squidward: No, it doesn't.
Patrick: Ho, ho, ho! [giggles]
SpongeBob: Stop it, Patrick; you're scaring him!
Patrick: Ho, ho, ho!
Squidward: It's not working, Patrick.
- In "Frozen Face-Off" SpongeBob takes offense to Sandy using the word "simulacrum" to describe Plankton's robotic double that they just destroyed.
- After Squidward finds himself accidentally stuck down a deep well with SpongeBob and Patrick:
- In Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2012), after a legitimate insult to Michelangelo, Fishface calls Casey "the obligatory human ally". Casey shoots back that he's not "oblidary".
- An episode of US Acres in Garfield and Friends had the running gag of someone mentioning procrastination and the other person answers by covering his mouth and saying "Watch your language, this is a kids show!"
- In one episode of Time Squad, after arriving in Sweden, a guy approaches Tuddrussel and says "Guten Morgen!"note . Tuddrussel automatically assumes he's being insulted and decks the guy. Larry 3000 scolds him and says the guy said, "Good morning."
- There is an anecdote with frequently changing dramatis personae, where a professor or someone gets caught in an exchange of abuse with a fishwife or female peddler, and finally reduces her to tears by calling her things like "a hypotenuse" or "an isosceles triangle!"
- An apocryphal story claims that during the 1950 Senate campaign in Florida, George Smathers delivered what was called the "redneck speech", in which he referred to his opponent, Claude Pepper, as "a shameless extrovert", whose brother was "a known Homo sapiens". He also mentions that his opponent was found matriculating in Harvard, habitually indulged in celibacy before marriage, practiced nepotism with his niece in Washington, had a sister who was a thespian in New York, and vacillated on the Senate floor.
- There have been a number of highly publicized cases where people used the word "niggardly" and were accused of racism by people who assumed it was a racial slur. It really means "cheap" or "stingy", and is, in fact, completely unrelated to the n-word, having been borrowed from the Norse language. On the other hand, there's really no benefit to using "niggardly" instead of "stingy".
- Others have been offended by the supposed race-baiting after hearing the term "black-and-white thinking".
- Dallas County, Texas Commissioner Kenneth Mayfield (white) had to explain what a black hole is when fellow Commissioner John Wiley Price (black) took it as a racial slur, prompting Judge Thomas Jones (also black) to demand that Mayfield apologize for his "racist" comment.
- Similarly, a University of Pennsylvania student in 1993 got charged with racial harassment when he shouted at a crowd of mostly black sorority sisters creating a ruckus outside his dorm, calling them "water buffalo". While under prosecution, he explained the term comes from the Hebrew slang word behema, used by Jews to refer to a loud, rowdy person — the student was Jewish.
- The president of the Lake County, Ohio, NAACP misconstrued a "You mad, bro?" sign at a football game as "racial intimidation" against a losing team.
- Creationist Ray Comfort once took umbrage at being called a "bibliophile" on Facebook. Ironically, the other person's response ("It means a lover of books. I never meant to cast that aspersion upon you.") could be interpreted as a Stealth Insult, calling Ray Comfort Book Dumb.
- Bertrand Russell allegedly once put down a lady by saying, "Madam, you are a parallelogram!"
- Eleazar Blaze, a captain of Napoléon Bonaparte's army, tells a variant of this: a colonel commanding a frontier fortress was told to be on guard because the equinox was approaching, meaning that nights would get longer. After reviewing his troops and fortifications, the colonel shouted: "Let that bastard of a General Equinox come here and we'll fuck him."
- This trope can be inverted by small children. They hear a word that they think sounds like an insult or an ideological term that they only hear used contemptuously by their ideologically opinionated parents, so that they think it's inherently an insult. Cue kids referring to other kids they don't like by the political party that their parents hold in high contempt, despite not knowing what the word means.
- If someone mentions that another is Obfuscating Stupidity or Obfuscating Disability, there might be a slight chance that the other person might mistake "obfuscating" as something filthy or nasty; on the other hand, YMMV...
- "Your epidermis is showing" is a straight example that shows up on occasion among elementary school children who learned the word in science class. It works reasonably often on the younger kids who haven't learned what the word means yet.
- This interview concludes with the player saying (in German) that he only lost his nerves after his opponent called him "a pardon" — and yes, that is a (French-derived) German word meaning "sorry" — not all that common nowadays, but still in use and understood by non-Book Dumb people.
- Orthodox Jews in Israel generally adhere to the Hebrew calendar, which uses gematria in place of numbers to mark days in a month. In colloquial Hebrew, the Arabic ya, used originally as a vocative particle, is used before insults (kinda like "you" in "You Bastard!"). And, it just so happens that the letters used to write ya in Hebrew (יא) also mean '11' in gematria. All this leads to this very confusing conversation between a religious soldier and his non-religious IDF commander, who thought "Tammuz" (the name of a month) to be some insult he must have misunderstood:
Commander: Vaanunu, when's the wedding?
Soldier: Tammuz 11.
Commander: Who are you calling a Tammuz.
- A viral thread on the Reddit board "r/nostupidquestions" saw a concerned teacher asking the group why her students continually called her "a goat". She was informed that her students weren't calling her "a goat"; they were calling her "the G.O.A.T." - an acronym meaning "Greatest Of All Time." The teacher was both relieved and overjoyed by this.