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Distinction Without a Difference

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"That's right: This year there are no rules. There are, however, a whole bunch of brutal laws, traditions, commandments, and decrees..."
The TF2 Team, Team Fortress 2

First you say what it isn't. Then you say what it is. Both of them effectively have the same meaning.

This is when a character rejects a word in preference of a more colorful (or much blunter) one — with the same practical meaning, given the circumstances, maybe with some extra connotations. In most occasions, it will reflect just how easy, one-sided, or unsporting the thing in question is.

A common form is "We're not lost, we just don't know where we are."

Sometimes the word being substituted is even worse than the previous while still having technically the same meaning — "I'm not going to hurt you. I'm just gonna kill you!" being a prime example of this.

This is a Sub-Trope to Insistent Terminology (any time a character corrects another's terminology) and Super-Trope to "Blackmail" Is Such an Ugly Word, Technical Euphemism, and Less Embarrassing Term (character uses a euphemism for terms with negative connotations).

Compare with:

  • By "No", I Mean "Yes": A character agrees, then disagrees; or the reverse.
  • Metaphorically True: A character hides their lies in a change of perspective.
  • Everything Except Most Things: Where conditionals applied are so numerous or so major that the usually-large difference might not be distinctive.
  • Dissimile: Where two things are said to be similar, then a list of how they aren't similar is added.

Contrast Both Sides Have a Point.

If there is a distinction that would matter to the specific people involved, but not to most people, it's You Keep Using That Word (for instance, the distinction between "murdered" and "killed" is hugely important within the legal system, but in common, casual usage, it's not uncommon for the two words to be used interchangeably).

Compare The Horseshoe Effect, where two groups that are ideological opposites act so similarly that there is no practical difference between them. May also relate to Cannot Tell a Lie, Will Not Tell a Lie or Weasel Words, when the wording is very deliberately selected to convey a false impression without technically being a lie in the traditional sense. Can lead to Immediate Self-Contradiction. The equivalent on TV Tropes is Ridiculously Similar Trope.

Examples? These are various instances that the trope has been used in:

    open/close all folders 

  • Twix has been relying on this trope since at least 2013 with their "Left Twix/Right Twix" campaign.
    "Each factory took a vastly different approach: Left Twix flowed caramel on cookie, while Right Twix cascaded on cookie. Left Twix bathed in chocolate while Right Twix cloaked in chocolate."

  • A joke from the Cold War where an American and a Russian are racing with the American winning. When the Russian newspapers print the story, they read that the American was second-to-last and the Russian was in second place.
  • Jon Stewart, when paying tribute to Bruce Springsteen during the 2009 Kennedy Center Honors:
    "When you listen to the music of Bruce Springsteen, you are no longer a loser. You are a character in an epic poem...about losers."
  • Jasper Carrott did a stand-up routine about the Balinese allegedly hating to answer "No" to any question, leading to a conversation like:
    Carrott: Do you have any tartare sauce?
    Balinese waiter: Oh, yes! [does nothing]
    Carrott: Er... well, can I have some then?
    Balinese waiter: Oh, yes! [smiles, does nothing]
    Carrott: [looks at watch] Er... will it be long?
    Balinese waiter: [nodding pointedly] Oh, yes!
  • An old Russian Reversal joke: Under capitalism, man exploits his fellow man. Under communism, the reverse is true.
  • The 1974 National Lampoon album Missing White House Tapes features a spoof of Sesame Street called "Pennsylvania Avenue." The main character is Big Dick (Nixon) who gives the Watergate tapes to Shredder Monster. When Sirica the Grouch investigates, Big Dick said the tapes were suddenly missing and is accused of lying about them.
    Big Dick: Uh, I wasn't lying. I...uh...misspoke myself.

    Comic Books 
  • Chick Tracts: In "Four Angels", Henry, the youngest of the four brothers, and the only one Chick believes remained a Bible-believing Christian, refuses to eat with his elder brother Charlie because Charlie is a fornicator. When Henry shows up after dinner, he condemns Charlie's lifestyle, calling him "a friend of the world and an enemy of God." When their brother Bobby asks Henry if he's saying Charlie's going to Hell, Henry says "I didn't say it. The Word of God does."
  • Death's Head isn't a Bounty Hunter, he's a freelance peacekeeping agent, yes?
  • From the Don Rosa story "The Billionaire of Dismal Downs":
    Fergus: Oh, dear — my son is as crazy as a loon!
    Hortense: Poor people are crazy, papa! Rich people are eccentric!
    Matilda: Scroogey's as eccentric as a loon!
  • Devin Grayson stated that Nightwing's... unfortunate encounter with Tarantula "wasn't rape, just nonconsensual"—a feat roughly on par with saying "not the ocean, just a really big sea."
  • Silver Surfer once explained to Dawn Greenwood that the inhabitants of the Giraud Expanse only sound French due to their Universal Translator, and that they are actually speaking Space-French.
  • Spider-Man:
    • Averted whenever John Jonah Jameson (Jr.) is accused of Malicious Slander against the titular hero, he usually retorts with an accurate relevant legal distinction: "It is NOT! Slander is spoken. In print, it's libel."
    • A humorous double page splash in The Amazing Spider-Man (1963) of Peter's sixties Local Hangout, the Coffee Bean Barn, has a sign over the counter reading "FREE ESPRESSO TO ALL! (+50¢ rental for the cup and saucer!)"
  • In The Transformers: More than Meets the Eye, Whirl uses this, although he's not arguing for something:
    Whirl: So, this is what running away feels like, huh? I'm not keen. It's like... it's like fighting but in the wrong direction.
  • The Ultimates: Nick Fury tells Stark that he's a strange man. Stark replies that he hopes with his fortune in the billions, he'd qualify as eccentric.

    Comic Strips 
  • In Peanuts when Linus develops a Precocious Crush on his teacher, Miss Othmar, Lucy exclaims, "It's ok to like a teacher, but it's wrong to worship her!" Linus retorts, "I never said I worship her. I just said I was very fond of the ground she walked on."

    Films — Animation 
  • On the DVD commentary for G.I. Joe: The Movie, it was mentioned that while Cobra retreats, the Joes withdraw.
  • In The LEGO Batman Movie, when Dick Grayson discovers the Batcave and sees Batman:
    Dick: Does Batman live in Bruce Wayne's basement?
    Batman: No, Bruce Wayne lives in Batman's attic!
  • In The LEGO Movie 2: The Second Part, when Batman agrees to marry Queen Watevra Wa-Nabi, she asks him if he wants to have the wedding in 15 minutes. Batman tells her to make it a quarter of an hour.
  • In Madagascar 3: Europe's Most Wanted, Kowalski's latest invention powering the Penguin-Mobile... Skipper corrects Gloria in a way that makes you wonder how he made it.
    Gloria: That's a nuclear reactor?!
    Skipper: [calmly] NUKE-u-lar.
  • Sulley in Monsters University:
    Sulley: You're wasting time. We need a new team.
    Mike: We can't just "get a new team"! I checked this morning, it's against the rules.
    Sulley: What if we disguise the new team to look like the old team?
    Mike: Oh no, we are not cheating!
    Sulley: It's not cheating, it's... leveling the playing field. [Mike narrows his eye] Okay, so it's kinda cheating.
  • Monsters vs. Aliens:
    "Don't think of it as a prison. Think of it as a hotel you can never leave, 'cause it's locked from the outside."
  • My Little Pony: The Movie (2017): When Rarity apologizes to Applejack for a "raised in a barn" comment, Applejack replies that no apology is needed because she wasn't, although her family did have one where she was born and spent most of her childhood...
    AJ: My family just happens to have a barn. Where I was born. And... spent most of my formative years...
    Rainbow Dash: Rrrrraised in a barn!
  • Robin Hood (1973), the Disney version:
    Little John: Y'know something Robin, I was just wondering. Are we good guys or bad guys? Y'know, our robbing the rich to feed the poor.
    Robin Hood: Rob? Tch tch. That's a naughty word. We never rob. We just... sort of borrow a bit from those who can afford it.
    Little John: Borrow? Heh. Boy, are we in debt.
  • Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse: After Gwen and Miles meet up in Mumbattan, despite Miles not supposed to be there.
    Gwen: Did you follow me?!
    Miles: No, I...just...saw where you went and went there without you knowing.
  • Storks: Junior (stork) responding to Tulip (human) about the baby they are trying to deliver.
    Junior: We're not like a family, we're just a guy and girl trying to put our baby to sleep.

  • "Only on Days That End in 'Y'" by Clay Walker:
    The only time I ever miss you, honey
    Is when I'm alone or when I'm with somebody
    Your memory never even gets to me
    Except for when I'm awake and when I'm sleeping
    Girl, you never even cross my mind
    Except just when I think I've left you far behind
    Only when I laugh, only when I cry
    And only on days that end in "Y"
  • "Lazyhead and Sleepybones" from They Might Be Giants' No! is all about two people who can't get along because they're too tired to realize they're only disagreeing with their choice of words:
    When Lazyhead says somebody's skinny
    Sleepybones says thin
    When Sleepybones says identical
    Lazyhead says twins
    When Lazyhead says the window is closed
    Sleepybones says it's shut
    When Sleepybones says that something isn't
    Lazyhead says it's not

    Pro Wrestling 

  • In one episode of The Men from the Ministry the General Assistance Department is given the task of distributing Culture Ministry's yearly Art's Council Grants for the entire Britain's artists. After giving most of it away to small-time no-names and simple con-men, Sir Gregory angrily calls and asks Lennox-Brown if he's forgotten annual grants for all the national organisations. He immediately states that he definitely hasn't, since he's never even heard of them.
  • The Procrastination Song from John Finnemore's Souvenir Programme is all about this.
    But I resent the implication
    this was mere procrastination
    the project underwent gestation
    sitting on the shelf.
    I was not procrastinating
    I was simply wisely waiting
    in case the project came to life
    and somehow did itself!

  • Dawn of a New Age: Oldport Blues:
    • Simon's mother gets angry with him after she finds out that he hasn't taken his medication. When he points it out, she rebuts that she isn't angry, she's just pissed off.
    • Sebastian freaks out upon discovering that Daigo has murdered two people. Fesxis 'helpfully' clarifies that it's only attempted murder, since neither of them is dead yet, which doesn't make Sebastian feel any better.

    Visual Novels 
  • Ace Attorney:
    • In the first case of Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney, prosecutor Winston Payne asks defendant Larry Butz if his ex-girlfriend, Cindy Stone (the murder victim in the case), broke up with him:
      Butz: I wasn't dumped! She just wasn't taking my phone calls... or seeing me... ever. What's it to you, anyway?!
      Payne: Mr. Butz, what you describe is generally what we mean by "dumped".
    • A truly dark example shows up in Justice for All. When questioning Matt Engarde about his innocence regarding the current trial, he declares "I didn't kill anyone"; this doesn't set off Phoenix's lie-detecting Magatama, so he (and the player) believes it to be true. It's later revealed that while Engarde didn't actually kill the victim, he did hire an assassin to do it. What makes it frightening is that anyone with a shred of morality would see that this trope applies, but Engarde doesn't, letting the players know just how twisted he really is.
    • In the fourth case of Spirit of Justice, Blackquill doesn't think Nahyuta knows enough about rakugo, but due to politeness, we get this exchange:
      Blackquill: Do you have enough knowledge of this art form to handle the case competently?
      Nahyuta: Are you implying that I am not qualified for this case?
      Blackquill: Not yet — I am simply trying to ascertain your familiarity with the topic... for now.
  • Daughter for Dessert:
    • Mortelli claims that his tryst with a prostitute in Las Vegas isn't a secret.
      Mortelli: [My wife] just hasn't asked the right questions.
    • Lainie, Cecilia, and their family hate when people call them "rich". They prefer to say that they own a lot.
  • In Double Homework, Ms. Walsh has trained to teach children who are "intellectually disabled", not "retarded". Justified in that school systems are more politically correct than most other environments, and in that schools do not want to discourage the parents of children who need special education from eschewing it due to social stigma.
  • Katawa Shoujo: One scene in Lilly's route has her object to Hisao calling her dirty-minded, insisting she instead has "a healthy adolescent sex drive." Hisao immediately points out that that's basically the same thing in different words.

    Web Animation 
  • FTL: Kestrel Adventures: "We prefer the term 'laborers who only accept payment in terms of food, shelter, and water'." — A rock slaver on slavery.
  • The American Civil War OverSimplified gives us this gem:
    General George B. McClellan: I didn't lose! I merely failed to win!
  • Red vs. Blue:
    • There's Sarge's "We're not retreating; We're advancing, towards future victory!"
    • Also: "It's not pink, it's lightish red!" Which gets the appropriate response: "They have a word for that. PINK!"
    • "I wouldn't really use the word 'replace', but there's no word for 'take over for you and make everything better almost immediately', so we just say 'replace'."
  • In Hunter: The Parenting, the vampire Kevin hates vampiric blood bonds, calling them effectively slavery. The blood-bonded detective Chapman disagrees, because he prefers to call it "indentured servitude".
  • RWBY shows us this:
    Yang: So Jinxy just steals from you?
    Little: [appalled] Steal!? No, no, no. [sincerely] He just takes things from us when we're not looking at them. That's more than fair.

    Web Comics 
  • Jupiter-Men: When Nathan first shows a picture of cosmic energy to the twins, Quintin instantly calls it a cloud. Nathan denies it, calling it a gathering of cosmic energy that builds up until it dissipates by falling to the ground. Jackie points out how it sounds exactly like a cloud, after which Nathan drops the subject.
  • The Last Days of FOXHOUND has Ocelot insist that he's not a "torture expert", but that he performs art. By torturing people.
    Ocelot: "Torture" is such an inelegant word. I'm an artist. Their testicles are my canvas.
    Mantis: Please stop touching me.
  • Vincent from My Life In Blue:
    Vincent: I'm not queer, I'm inverted, thou lie-breeding swine.
  • The Order of the Stick:
  • Schlock Mercenary got a lot of this:
    • Like this one, on which our amorph answers:
      TV Con: ...If what I just said insulted your intelligence, you should change the channel now.
      Schlock: I need this guy's address, and some breacher-round reloads.
    • Andy is not bait. He is flypaper.
  • From Misfile: I'm not spying, I'm strategically listening.
  • From Three Panel Soul: "They're not replacements. They're just going to do the same job as you, and eventually you won't work here anymore."
  • From Vexxarr, a variation.
    Firstofficerbot: Is this true?
    Vexxarr: Only in the sense that it's factually accurate...
  • In Sorcery 101, Asagi states he doesn't make threats since he lacks the reputation to make them effective. "For that sort of reputation, one must occasionally leave survivors."
  • From The Sanity Circus, as Attley and Fletch quiz Donovan Sparc for answers to some of their problems:
    Donovan: Uh, yes, the "secret" organisation. I wouldn't so much call it "secret", though... it just... handles things without the public knowing.
    Attley: That's pretty much the definition of secret.
  • Stand Still, Stay Silent: After an event that has every reason to have taken an emotional toll on him, Reynir, when asked, insists that he's not depressed, just feeling crushing regret and helplessness.
  • Lampshaded in this Penny Arcade:
    Tycho: Dropmix is a music game, not a Rhythm Game.
    Gabe: I want you to shove this whole mechanism up your asshole, not your butthole. See? I can do this shit too.
  • From Unsounded, a rewording of the page image:
    Ruffles: [Duane]'s inside the mop closet spying on us.
    Duane, bursting out of the closet: I am not! I was assessing the situation ere intruding!
  • Freefall has Sam Starfall gets talking to a robot modeled after Jar-Jar Binks about copyright laws while speaking of Wookiee opera coming into being.
    Sam: Someone other than Lucas might do it.
    Jar-Jar Bot: No. Copyright lasts for the life of the creator plus seventy years. George Lucas had his head frozen. Not completely dead, his copyright shall never expire.
    Sam: Weren't copyright laws made to ensure creative properties didn't get locked up forever?
    Jar-Jar Bot: It's not forever. It's only until the heat death of the universe.
  • Questionable Content: Marten pulls this when he's in denial about his First Gray Hair.
    "Oh, no, that's not a grey hair. It's just one that happened not to have any pigment."
  • When Nin Wah is found guilty of a crime in Commander Kitty, it's decided by the court of the planet Gazelle that she won't be getting the death sentence, but get off with community service. Said community service is to clean the space station, from the outside, without a spacesuit. (She survives anyway, through luck.)
  • Dregs: Mags's collection isn't of guns, it's of pneumatic weapons. That fire bullets. Hard enough to kill.
  • Unknown Lands: When his name is questioned Mischief agrees that it's not his real name, and when subsequently asked what his name is replies Mischief.
  • Sweetheart in Skin Horse knew her creator was a homicidal maniac. She just didn't think he was the kind of homicidal maniac who went crazy and killed people.
  • Girl Genius: Vipsania Perrault insists that she's not a thief (well, not... professionally). Lumi suggest they'd call her "burglar" or "rogue", to her distress. (Her introduction is a clear shout-out to The Hobbit scene between Bilbo and Smaug.)
    • Meanwhile in the main story, Princess Neena is very much not a "stowaway". She's a "surprise, freelance member of Agatha's expedition to Mechanisburg, joining quietly to avoid undue fuss."

    Web Original 
  • In its early days, Pointless Waste of Time published an excerpt of the supposed script for the then-unmade The Matrix Reloaded. A warning read "it doesn't contain spoilers, but it does contain details about the plot that may ruin the film if you read them."
  • From the Something Awful review of the movie The House That Screamed: "I'm not saying I disliked the film, I'm just saying that I'd rather rip all of my teeth out with rusty pliers, make them into a comb, and use the comb made of my own teeth to scrape all of my skin off than watch it again."

    Web Videos 
  • "Technically you could call me a Serial Killer. I don't know if that's the correct noun. Personally, I just think I'm a bloke who had a few people put down. I don't have any voices in my head, and I haven't got any mother-love fantasies. Well, not really." ~ Terrence, KateModern: The Last Work
  • Third Rate Gamer:
    • In his Daze Before Christmas review:
      Third Rate Gamer: Ooh, I know what you're thinking: "How dare you make fun of Santa Claus!?" But I'm not! This game is awesome, but it's a piece of shit.
    • In his Super Mario Bros./Super Mario Bros. 2 review, he parodies and quotes near-verbatim what the The Irate Gamer said about Super Mario Bros. 2:
      Third Rate Gamer: This is a horrible game that I remember fondly playing when I was five years old. I don't really hate Mario 2, but when you compare it to the other Mario games, it just has "ass" written all over it!
  • Jimquisition: In Jim Sterling's second crack at Kobra Studios' Second Warfare (after KS suggested that Jim had been criticising the game "poorly" by missing features like a flashlight and grenade launcher, both of which turned out to be equally hideous-looking and borderline nonfunctional) they make this gem of a comment:
    Jim Sterling: Some people might suggest, like in other videos where I've had tiffs with developers, that I'm being "petty" here. I would like to refute that; I would say I'm being infantile and petulant. [Beat] And spiteful. That's what I'm— I wouldn't say I'm being "petty". I think "spiteful" is a much better word for what I'm being right now.
  • With the Philadelphia Eagles one of the teams that were playing in Super Bowl LII (held in 2018), the team itself having last won an NFL championship in 1960, and Philadelphia itself infamous for its sports fans' reputation for unruly behavior, UrinatingTree's "The Hater's Guide to Super Bowl 52" summed up the situation as "Will we see Philadelphia joyously rioting in the streets, or Philadelphia angrily rioting in the streets?" It ended up being a joyous rioting.
  • Folding Ideas:
    • When discussing Uwe Boll, Foldable Human flies in the face of conventional wisdom by saying he isn't a terrible director... he's a mediocre director and a terrible producer.
    • Another video, dealing with The Last Airbender, backs down from a section title card saying that one of the problems is M. Night Shyamalan, deciding to look at the department heads and see if there's a weak link. Cue the amended title card, which reads "M. NIGHT SHYAMALAN IS THE WEAK LINK."
  • In the opening dialogue of this clip, one of the Epic NPC Man muggers proposes this as a threat to try out on their next victim:
    Mugger: ...if you don't give me that gold, I will mug you.
  • The Warp Zone: In "Mandalorian Couples Therapy", when Boba Fett accuses the Mandalorian of being part of a cult.
    Boba Fett: At least I'm not a member of a freaky helmet-obsessed cult.
    Din Djarin: What? I'm not in a cult! I'm just part of an isolated group of people who live by a stringent set of rules and morals that must be followed absolutely and unquestioningly and if you ever break the rules, you're ruthlessly cast out and shunned by the rest of the... okay, I might be in a cult.
  • X in X Minutes: Stroheim isn't a "Nazi". He's simply a "German soldier from the late 1930s".
    Speedwagon: So, you're a Nazi?
    Stroheim: [backed by Wolfenstein 3-D's version of "Horst Wessel Lied"] ACH! Just because I'm a major in the German military in the late 1930s [walks around doing a Nazi salute], you can't just go around and accuse everyone you don't like of being a Nazi, you know!
  • Lock Picking Lawyer:
    • In video 1272 he praises Master Lock for finally fixing a flaw in one of their lines of locks that made it susceptible to unlocking by slipping a thin strip of metal between the codewheels, but then points out that even if they've fixed that issue, they haven't fixed another issue that makes it trivially easy to open by simply pressing on the shackle and whacking it with a mallet.
    • In mid-2021 he did a series of several videos about several bags which advertised themselves as "slash-resistant" yet all proved trivially easy to cut open with knives, to the point that the last one, 1317, joked that "slash-resistant" bags are advertised as such not because they actually resist slashing but specifically because they resist being torn or cut open with a butter knife by Slash, the musician.
  • When the Game Grumps are attempting the Green Demon Challenge of Super Mario 64, Arin balks at Danny implying he can't do it. Danny tries to say that's not the case and explain that he just meant the level is hard, but Arin points out that's the same thing:
    Danny: This is less about a lack of faith in your ability, and more just a realization of how insanely hard this is.
    Arin: Oh yeah, thanks. No, I get it.
    Danny: I mean, I'd tell you if thought you were incapable of doing it.
    Arin: Well that's what you're saying. You're just saying it in a roundabout way.

    Real Life 
  • When Augustus defeated all his opponents and stood as the sole ruling man in Rome, he was by all means a monarch. But instead of using the term king (rex in Latin), which was totally despised in ancient Roman culture, and while trying to give an appearance of having preserved the republican institutions, he instead called himself Princeps Civitatis ("first citizen"). Meanwhile, he concentrated for life on his persona various titles and positions that held power, for example: primus inter pares ("first among equals", previously an honorific title for the most respected member of the senate), imperator ("commander", or more properly "he who holds the military rule"), pontifex maximus ("greatest priest", the most important position in the ancient Roman clergy), censor, tribune, and so on.
  • Maj. Gen. Oliver P. Smith, the Commanding General, 1st Marine Division, at the Chosin Reservoir, said, "Retreat, hell! We're not retreating, we're just advancing in a different direction." To a civilian, retreat means "move away from a battle or position" but the military definition is specifically "withdrawal of troops to a more favorable position to escape the enemy's superior forces or after a defeat. Since they were moving to attack the enemy as part of their break-out, their actions could be described as an advance rather than a retreat.note  What it all comes down to, of course, is that Marines would much rather point out that they were attacking the enemy instead of getting hung up on the fact that they were also getting themselves out of a very untenable situation. "Retreat" is a word that brings with it connotations of running away from the fight, which they were certainly not doing.
  • Near-ubiquitous in any culture where saying No is disapproved of, whether because it entails a loss of face ("I am unable to satisfy you") or because it implies an insult to the asker ("you want something you can't have"). See the Jasper Carrot stand-up routine about the Balinese in Comedy above. Their neighbors, the Javanese, also have this habit. This concept is called "Inggih, boten kepanggih" which is "Yes" as in "Yes, I understand perfectly what you said, but I never said I'm agreeing with you/confirming that."
  • According to William Lutz, author of The New Doublespeak, the first Doublespeak Award went, in 1974, to US Air Force Colonel David Opfer in Phnom Penh, Cambodia for saying to American reporters, "You always write it's bombing, bombing, bombing. It's not bombing, it's air support."note . The source of the colonel's complaint is presumably that American journalists deliberately used only the term "bombing", probably in order to bring to mind the deliberate bombing of civilian targets that was common in World War II (the only war most of the American public had had any direct contact with)—rather than giving the details of what "air support", something very different, entails (it's generally much more precise and smaller-scale, and mostly only used against enemy forces that are actually a threat).
  • David Dinkins, after it was discovered that he hadn't paid income tax some years earlier, replied: “I haven't committed a crime. What I did was fail to comply with the law.”
  • There was a Swedish quote: "Jag har inte begått något brott, jag bara misslyckades med att följa lagen." Translation: "I haven't committed a crime, I simply failed in following the law."
  • After losing to the Americans in a sporting event (not the Olympics) the Soviet media (supposedly) claimed that they had come in second, while the US came in second to last. Which is all totally true...since the event only had two nations competing: The U.S. and the Soviets.
  • Clarke's Third Law can be paraphrased as "the Hand Wave I'm using isn't magic, it's just science we don't understand yet!" You'd be surprised how often this excuse is given for stories that violate well-understood laws of physics.
  • Daniel Boone once said of himself, "I can't say as ever I was lost, but I was bewildered once for three days." This anecdote is sometimes used by the Boy Scouts while training in orientation to make an important distinction: To be lost is to be beyond hope of recovery. To be disoriented is to simply not know where you happen to be, a situation which is quite fixable if you do not lose hope.
  • This famous dialogue from The French Revolution just after Louis XVI was informed of the Bastille's fall:
    Louis XVI: Is it a revolt?
    Aide: No, sire. It is a revolution.note 
  • Field Marshal Bernard Law Montgomery had to get around this problem in World War II. During his limited participation on the Battle of the Bulgenote , he was placed in command of a significant part of the American forces on the northern flank of the German advance. His American subordinates were clearly unhappy about his request to them to retreat without firing a shot or even having seen the enemy. This was even though Monty had seen their positions were clearly untenable in the event of any determined German attack and could easily be outflanked and encircled. With great and uncharacteristic diplomacy and tact, Monty got them to see that this was not so much a retreat as a strategic realignment to positions they could realistically hold, upon which the Germans would blunt their offensive strength, and from which a quick counter-attack could be launched. The Americans complied.
    • Montgomery famously said that Operation Market Garden (almost entirely his brainchild) hadn't failed, because 90% of the objectives were achieved. Unfortunately, that remaining 10% included establishing a position on the German side of the Rhine, aka the entire point of the operation.
  • In the Pacific Theatre of World War II, the Japanese were notorious for refusing to surrender, which they considered shameful. The few Japanese who did surrender early on gave their captors a word of advice: telling Japanese troops to "cease resisting," rather than "surrender," would greatly overcome that indoctrination. This resulted in higher numbers of captures, although the Japanese still continued to fight to the death in most cases.
  • Common in politics from every side, "It's not a cut, it's an efficiency dividend", "We're not raising taxes, we're indexing them to inflation", "It's not a new tax it's a levy/co-payment/tax adjustment", "It's not a broken promise, circumstances changed which meant we couldn't fulfill our original commitments", "It's not a lie, it's an alternative fact". This is the reason for the counter from the people, "left wing, right wing, same shitty bird."
  • The Republican and Democratic Parties in the United States respectively use the term RINO and DINO (Republican/Democrat In Name Only) to describe members who strike them as this trope (identifying with one party while seemingly promoting the values of the other), particularly when they support the entire party platform except for one item.
  • Due to the peculiarities of British History, cavalry regiments did not have sergeants. They had Corporals of Horse, which were exactly equivalent to sergeants, but since even enlisted cavalrymen were gentlemen, and the word "sergeant" shares a root with the word "servant", the term could not be applied to them. To this day, the Household Cavalry maintains the tradition (though it is the only regiment to do so).
  • The same tradition applies in the French army: the infantry has "caporaux" and "sergents", the cavalry (now armored regiments) has "brigadiers" and "Maréchaux des Logis". Same ranks, same functions, different names.
  • This is also the reason why NATO Rank Codes exist. A Canadian Warrant-Officer, a German Hauptfeldwebel, a UK Colour Sergeant, and a United States Sergeant First-Class are all the same rank, which you conveniently know since they are all listed as NATO OR-7. The same can be said for the Canadian Petty Officer 1st Class, the German Hauptbootsmann, the UK and United States Navy Chief Petty Officer, and the United States Marines Gunnery Sergeant, which are also all NATO OR-7 ranks found in Naval branches.
  • "They aren't dolls, they're action figures". This trope has gotten so bad that companies advertise their own products as doll or action figure.
  • A common occurrence when people don't want to use the word "War". As can be seen in the examples below, there are sometimes some very slight legal or political distinctions to be drawn by avoiding the word, but the practical difference is still zero.
    • Vietnam and Korea were both called Police Actions, not Wars. Because, per the Constitution, for the US to declare war requires an Act of Congress, and the respective Presidents knew they would not get it.
    • During the Cuban Missile Crisis, the Blockade of Cuba was insistently termed a Quarantine - because a naval blockade is legally an Act of War, and Kennedy both did not want to signal that he was going to war with Cuba (and thus, also, the USSR) and, again, would probably not have got the requisite declaration of War from Congress (and certainly not fast enough to get the ships in place).
    • The War on Terror is a war in name only; once again Congress never declared war on anyone but instead passed an Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF) back in 2002, and keeps renewing it whenever some President wants to take an action in the Middle East.
    • As should be evident by now, the US has not fought a war since 1945.
    • During the Suez Crisis, British Prime Minister Sir Anthony Eden insisted the UK was not at war with Egypt and was merely in "armed conflict."
    • Similarly, the Russian invasion of Ukraine in 2022 was termed by president Vladimir Putin to be not a war, but rather a "special operation".
    • In many, many, many cases, including the aforementioned "special operation", the aggressor Government will insist they are not invading another country, they are liberating that country. Similarly, there are no offensive wars, only defensive ones. If you have to defend yourself all over another country and take their stuff, that goes to show what a horrible threat they were, to require so much defense. Adults are really disappointing sometimes.
  • Businesses these days like to insist that their staff are not employees but associates or family, and that you are not a customer but a guest in an attempt to sound more friendly or like they're not Only in It for the Money. They're not fooling anyone.
  • In all US court jurisdictions, there is a general rule that hearsay statements (statements made outside of the testimony of the current trial used to prove the truth of the matter asserted) are inadmissible. There are plenty of exceptions to the hearsay rule that allow certain types of out of court statements into evidence. One of the exceptions is the opposing party statement, where a statement by the plaintiff or the defendant can be used by the other party. In many jurisdictions, an opposing party statement is defined by the law as not hearsay, even though something being not-hearsay makes it just as admissible as if the statement constitutes an exception to the hearsay rule.
  • When representatives from Electronic Arts were called up in front of a committee about the gambling-like loot boxes in their games, most notably Star Wars Battlefront II (2017), their representative infamously insisted that they didn't like calling them "loot boxes"- they preferred the term "surprise mechanics". This came in for a metric crapton of mockery from unimpressed gamers, who sent it memetic with responses like "It's not 'piracy', it's 'cost-free acquisition'."
  • US Vice President Dan Quayle once said, "It isn't pollution that's harming the environment. It's the impurities in our air and water that are doing it."
  • People in high-ranking positions in business and government tend not to be "fired" or "terminated". Instead, they are often "asked to resign".
  • During the spree of failed lawsuits Donald Trump and his legal team filed in an attempt to overturn the 2020 US presidential election — all of which fell through, largely due to their claims of voter fraud conspiring against Trump lacking any evidenceone lawyer during a Philadelphia case was questioned by the federal judge on whether there were any Republican observers present while votes were being counted. The lawyer said that there was "a nonzero number of people in the room." Judge Diamond was not amused by this and immediately got the lawyer to say "yes."
  • Authoritarianism and totalitarianism are sometimes used interchangeably since their methods are similar to each other (for example the use of oppression, lack of freedom of speech, censorship, forbids individualism) and in some cases it's pretty accurate.
    • Similarly, some (often Libertarians) argue there's no fundamental difference between Fascism and Socialism/Communism, because both are basically forms of hyper-statist authoritarian control that claim to be for the Greater Good, and the actual conflict is over statist "market share", so to speak (see also The Horseshoe Effect). As you might expect, both leftists and rightists hate this argument only slightly less than they hate each other.
  • In Japanese Idol Singer culture, there is a distinct difference between the terms "graduate" and "withdraw" when it comes to an idol retiring. Both words relate to the idol moving on past her idol career, but when an idol "graduates", it is treated as an amicable departure, usually accompanied by a farewell performance. Conversely, an idol "withdrawing" is seen as due to less than pleasant circumstances, such as an idol being fired.
  • Serial killer David Berkowitz, aka Son of Sam, claimed "I didn't want to hurt them. I only wanted to kill them."
  • Germany's Vice Chancellor Robert Habeck: "They are not insolvent, they just stop producing."
    • Habeck again: He said it wasn't the economic situation that's bad, but "the data."
  • Nikola Tesla strongly objected to the media calling his proposed invention, Teleforce, a "Death Ray". Why? "Rays are not applicable", it's really more of a Death Beam.

Alternative Title(s): This Is Pest Control, Yes Except No, Useless Distinction, Meaningless Distinction, No Except Yes


Satori Komeiji

Satori doesn't want to make Remilia her pet. She just wants a close relationship where Remilia is her pet.

How well does it match the trope?

5 (1 votes)

Example of:

Main / DistinctionWithoutADifference

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