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Disproportionate Restitution

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It's human nature to want to get even with someone who hurt you. It's also human nature to want to reward someone who did something nice for you.

And sometimes, you want to make restitution for something that you did to someone else that hurt them. The tricky part is making the restitution proportionate to the injury. If you step on someone's toe, most people would consider an apology sufficient. If you were feeling particularly bad about it, maybe you'd offer to pay for a shoeshine for them.


But if you're writing fiction, and you want comedy, going the Disproportionate Restitution route is an old standby. That's making the restitution far less than the offense merits.

It often results in a speech along the lines of "I know I framed you for murder, set your car on fire, killed your dog, and when you asked what evidence I had that you'd been a neo-Nazi, I just laughed and said, 'Evidence-schmevidence'. But I want to make it up to you. So I got you a t-shirt."

If it's not played for comedy, it's used to underline just how much of a self-centered rat-bastard the character offering it is; he (or she) expects that any gesture of apology should be sufficient because THEY are the person offering it.

Compare Disproportionate Reward.



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  • In Syriana, the prince feels responsible for the death of an associate's child even though the death was clearly an accident and offers him money — around 10 million. Double subverted when the associate is at first insulted for having a price placed on his son's life, then accepts when the prince offers him a career-making deal in apology.


  • In A Tale of Two Cities, a nobleman whose speeding carriage has just crushed a child flips a coin onto the street to the grieving father. The father and all commoners in audience react with outrage. The incident shows the growing discord between the classes that ultimately leads to the French Revolution and Reign of Terror.
  • Dickens also used this in David Copperfield, though it was never carried out, between Steerforth and Little Em'ly: in exchange for having seduced her, taken her from her loving family, dragged her all over Europe as his pet, completely broken her sense of self-worth, and broken her heart, Steerforth offers Em'ly marriage to his odious, much-older, and fully cooperative manservant, Littimer, as a consolation prize. Em'ly doesn't go for it.
  • Has happened from time to time in Harry Potter. One example that jumps to mind was when Harry spent the entire fifth book as the subject of a propagandic smear campaign from the Ministry of Magic, making him a social outcast and hated by the wizard community. And he's tortured by a sadistic Ministry garrison at Hogwarts. When he proves himself right and is a public hero again, the new Minister of Magic Rufus Scrimgeour (who by the way appears to have done bugger-all to improve the Ministry's methods), offers him a chance to "be friends," so he can look good by leeching off Harry's great PR. Harry is quite pissed, particularly when he sees that the aforementioned sadist still had her job. Played with since it is not Rufus individually who needs to make up for Harry but tries to as a representative of the offending institution as a whole. He does, however, refuse to give up Harry's location when the Death Eaters torture him for it, and they subsequently torture him to death.

     Live Action TV  

  • Played for laughs on Top Gear road trips, where the presenters amuse themselves by buying each other odd, useless, or bulky presents... and then sometimes buy even larger and less useful replacement presents for ones that they accidentally break or lose. Can lead to a highly entertaining Escalating War.
  • In Black Books, Bernard and Manny, while housesitting, have just consumed a bottle of wine worth around £10,000. Manny suggests they make up for it by buying the owner...a pencil.
  • Done in this Monty Python's Flying Circus sketch.


     Western Animation  

  • South Park:
    • Eric Cartman once tried to make up for all the bad things he did because he thought that he had died, and could only reach heaven through redemption. His big idea: make everyone a fruit basket. This included Scott Tenorman, whose parents Eric had killed. A fruit basket with an 'I'm sorry' card, that's it. Cartman did fix someone's fence that he broke and didn't tell the person who owned it, which in that case was proportionate.
    • In another episode, he feels quite put upon for being made to apologise for infecting Kyle with AIDS. Kyle however snaps and begins a more proportionate restitution of tearing apart his room.
      Cartman: I apologised, Kyle!


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