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Disproportionate Restitution

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"Sorry I burned down your village. Here's some gold."

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.

See Rejected Apology, if the person rejecting the apology isn't some grudge holding Jerkass because the offender did something really unforgivable that a mere apology will not suffice. The person who apologizes can even be Made Out to Be a Jerkass since the apology itself can be seen as a bigger insult, into thinking that a single apology is going to undo the damages.


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.
  • In The Dresden Files, the various magical/political power-players are signatories to Queen Mab's Unseelie Accords, which outline codes of conduct. One of the rules concerns weregild, an old-fashioned concept where one party who has injured or killed the members or vassals of another party can satisfy the rules with a payment. Harry dislikes the rule, as he knows that money is poor compensation for the loss of a loved one, but at the end of Battle Ground he invoked it in a big way to force the Accorded Nations to recompense the citizens of Chicago for the terror they'd faced.
    • One book earlier in Peace Talks, when the Fomorian King enters the conference, the first thing his soldiers do is kill Baron Marcone's waiters and staff. When an enraged Mab confronts them, the king sneers that they were "hirelings" and "chattel" and plops a bag of gold on the ground in front of Marcone.

    Live-Action TV 
  • In Chernobyl, Shcherbina and Legasov need to ask three of the stricken power plant's remaining staff to undertake what is almost certainly a Suicide Mission to go into the basement and drain the water before the molten core remnants hit it and cause a steam explosion. Since Shcherbina is presently in a Heroic BSoD, Legasov has to give a pathetically uninspiring pitch to the engineers: a yearly stipend of 400 rubles. And a promotion. When one of the engineers asks why they should die for 400 rubles, Legasov has no answer. However, this does prompt Shcherbina to come back to himself and give a Rousing Speech on the subject of necessity and sacrifice.
  • 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. But a really nice box of pencils.
  • Done in this Monty Python's Flying Circus sketch.
  • The Boys (2019). After his girlfriend is accidentally killed by a superhero, Hughie Campbell is offered $45,000 in 'compensation', though it's actually hush money as he has to sign a legal agreement never to discuss the matter. In Season 2, he meets a woman who saw her brother murdered in cold blood by a racist superhero back in The '70s and took a $2000 hush payment because her family was poor and she thought no-one would do anything about it anyway.
    "Two thousand dollars. That is what my brother's life was worth. Just two thousand dollars!"
  • Ressha Sentai Toqger has a humorous inversion. Akira is a reformed monster who is a Death Seeker because he convinced that his crimes so heinous that he needs to die to atone for them and won't listen to his friends telling him otherwise. His crimes? ruining people's days by making it rain.

    Web Original 
  • The Map Men episode on Bir Tawil has a skit where the British government apologized for drawing the original border that separates Egypt and Sudan, reassuring the two countries that the person responsible for drawing that border had been "shamed". Cut to a scene where his moustache was torn off.

    Western Animation 
  • South Park:
    • In "The Death of Eric Cartman", Eric Cartman tries 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 "Tonsil Trouble", 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!
  • Danger Mouse gets planted in a hole in the ground in which a ground wolf lives and takes umbrage at the intrusion (episode "The Wild Wild Goose Chase") . When Penfold apologizes:
    Wolf: "Sorry?!" "Sorry?!" Look John, I'm on the night shift. There's you rushing about the desert like a demented Fred Astaire on me roof; your half-eyed friend comes through me ceiling with his feet in me porridge and all you can say is "sorry"! (inside) I told you, Gladys, we never should've moved into this neighborhood!