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Distracting Disambiguation

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Roy: I'll take on the archers. Haley, V: slow down that wizard!
Haley: She's a sorcerer, actually.
Vaarsuvius: Technically, a sorceress.
Roy: Wow, I can't tell you how much more fulfilling this battle will be now that I can refer to my enemy by the proper appellation. Now stop wasting time and get moving!
Haley: Relax, speaking is a free action.

It's pretty common to make mistakes when trying to communicate so it's not rare to see characters stop to disambiguate their meaning to avoid confusion. What is unusual is when they do it in the middle of a fight to the death, and their enemies politely stop to listen.

This is a kind of Non Sequitur where a character, usually in the prelude to or middle of a serious (if not deadly) situation takes a time out to clarify that what he really meant to say was X. Expect it to escalate into an inane conversation on the subtle differences and various interpretations of X as opposed to Y, or XYZ rather than ZYX.

Once the character's Distracting Disambiguation is over, expect everyone to go right back to the critically dangerous situation as if nothing had happened.

Subtrope of Talking Is a Free Action. See also Digging Yourself Deeper, which can happen in said disambiguation. Compare and contrast Poor Communication Kills, which can happen if talking is not a free action or if the disambiguation could kill if not corrected. Many times it happens because characters are Derailed for Details. See also Sidetracked by the Analogy.


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    Fan Works 
  • The Miraculous Ladybug fic Eye of the Beholder has this exchange between Alya, newly chosen wielder of the Peacock Miraculous, and an Akumatized biology post-grad.
    Alya: You have crossed the line. And in the name of... uh... l-love and justice
    Chlorokill: Why are you a peacock?
    Alya: I will punish... wait, what? Wait... what do you mean why am I a peaco
    Chlorokill: You're a girl, right?
    Alya: I-I don't see how that's your business. But yes, I am a—
    Chlorokill: Well then why aren't you a peahen? Peacocks are male.
    Alya: ... okay—
    Chlorokill: So why aren't you a peahen?
    Alya: I...I don't know. Why are you a barky green plant monster?
    Chlorokill: Evil butterfly did it. Don't change the subject.
    Alya: I don't know: why is this so important to you?
    Chlorokill: Laws of secondary sexual characteristics don't just change because magic is involved.
    Alya: So what; a seahorse Miraculous is supposed to magically make anyone sans uterus capable of childbirth then?
    Chlorokill: Now you're confusing biological makeup for superficial indicators of sex.
    Alya: Well if it's so superficial why do you care so much?!
    Chlorokill: Because your costume is wrong!
    Alya: Oh my God, you are such a nerd! And this is coming from someone who just quoted Sailor Moon as part of her threatening speech.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • In Hancock, the title character pauses in the middle of a gunfight while rescuing a pinned down (female) police officer to ask for permission to touch her body since he has been coached on public relations in order to repair his tattered image. He explains that he would only touch her to rescue her, with no inappropriate connotations, and he then explains that it's not that he doesn't find her attractive, he just doesn't want to cross any lines. He calmly explains this under a hailstorm of bullets while the villains are loading up a rocket launcher.
  • Meet the Spartans does this straight, complete with Talking Is a Free Action.
    Commander: I hope you're all ready, because today is the day we DIIIIIE!
    Everyone: YE— Wait, wha...?
    Commander: Urgh, today is the day they die, that's what I meant to say...
  • Raising Arizona: When Gale and Evelle try to rob a bank, they shout, "Everybody freeze! Everybody get down on the ground!" The people in the bank all just stare at them blankly. Finally, an old geezer explains that they're all confused by his orders, saying, "Well, which is it, young feller? You want I should freeze or get down on the ground? Mean to say, if'n I freeze, I can't rightly drop. And if'n I drop, I'm a-gonna be in motion. You see..." Gale tells him to shut up and get down on the ground. Evelle helpfully adds, "Ya'll can just forget about that freezing part."
  • Take the Money and Run: The bank tellers think that Woody Allen's character's holdup note says "I have a gub." He spends some time correcting them that he has a gun.

  • Discworld:
    • Ankh-Morporkians are particularly known for this. The Creator wouldn't have been able to say "Let there be light" without someone asking "What color?"
    • The wizards are in a league of their own. In The Last Continent, they respond to being threatened by a god ("Begone, lest I visit you with boils!") by pointing out that visiting someone with cake is a lot better than boils, provided it's not sponge. Hilariously, the god they're being threatened by is just as easily distracted.
    • Guards! Guards!:
      • There is a discussion on whether the female version of "Head Honcho" would involve the term Honchette, Honchessa, or Honcharina.
      • Some monster-hunters discuss whether saving Ankh-Morpork is worth it because they're "only" being offered fifty thousand dollars instead of the Standard Hero Reward, and they get hung up on exactly what Vetinari would be offering them half of (he ain't a king! Well, half his Patrimony or whatever) and whether he could give them his aunt in Pseudopolis or, hilariously, his little dog, as a replacement for the nonexistent princess.
  • The Dresden Files: In Skin Game, Harry Dresden and Michael Carpenter are in a standoff and Carpenter says if the villains attack, he and Harry will fight to the death. Harry then clarifies that Michael means he and Harry will fight the villains to the death, not each other.
  • Ellen DeGeneres' writing style, much like her stand-up comedy, relies heavily on these. She's almost a living Wiki Walk, meandering off on long, seemingly aimless tangents that always — somehow — circle back to the original subject. She lampshades this with the title of her semi-autobiography, My Point, and I Do Have One.
  • The Squire's Tales: In The Savage Damsel and the Dwarf, by Gerald Morris, one knight is threatening another and shouts, "I shall not rest until thou art cleaved in twain!" The other characters present (including the second knight, who doesn't really want to fight) start arguing over the proper past participle of "cleave".

    Live-Action TV 
  • This happens quite a few times in Buffy the Vampire Slayer in the midst of the Buffy Speak and general chitchat among heroes, villains, and between them. One season 7 episode, "Conversations with Dead People", has Buffy stop her fight with a newly risen vamp when it turns out he was a Sunnydale alumnus who'd had a crush on her. They spend the rest of the episode commiserating, and he even gives her therapy to get through her emotional troubles with Spike! Eventually, they fight and she dusts him.
    Webs: Oh, my God!
    Buffy: Oh, your God, what?
    Webs: Oh, well, you know, not my God, because I defy him and all of his works. Does he exist? Is there word on that, by the way?
    Buffy: Nothing solid.
  • Doctor Who: In "The Husbands of River Song", River tells the Doctor (not knowing it's him because of his latest regeneration) that she'll remove the organs of the next person who calls her by name — in alphabetical order. Prompting the Doctor to asks, "Which alphabet?"
  • Employed heavily in Firefly, unsurprising as it is another Joss Whedon show:
    Simon: [being held up at gunpoint] Are you Alliance?
    Jubal Early: Am I a lion?
    Simon: What?
    Jubal Early: I don't think of myself as a lion. You might as well though, I have a mighty roar.
    Simon: I said Alliance.
    Jubal Early: Oh, I thought...
    Simon: No, I was...
    Jubal Early: That's weird.
  • In the Volume 4 finale of Heroes, Sylar is holding Claire hostage and taunting her by listing all the members of her family he's going to kill, when:
    Sylar: Papa Petrelli, Mama Bennet, Mr. Muggles... What's your brother's name again? Larry?
    Claire: Lyle.
    Sylar: Right. He's gonna die, too.
  • Monty Python's Flying Circus
    • A man tries to skyjack a plane:
      Man: All right, don't anybody move... except to control the aeroplane... you can move a little to do that.
      Stewardess: Can I move?
      Man: Yes, yes, yes. You can move a little bit. Yes. Sorry, I didn't mean to be so dogmatic when I came in. Obviously you can all move a little within reason. There are certain involuntary muscular movements which no amount of self-control can prevent. And obviously any assertion of authority on my part, I've got to take that into account.
    • Dennis Moore sketch:
      Dennis: Stand and deliver! Drop that gun! [Moore shoots him] Let that be a warning to you all. You move at your peril, for I have two pistols here. I know one of them isn't loaded any more, but the other one is, so that's one of you dead for sure... or just about for sure anyway. It certainly wouldn't be worth your while risking it because I'm a very good shot. I practice every day... well, not absolutely every day, but most days in the week... I expect I must practice, oh, at least four or five times a week at least... at least four or five, only some weekends... like last weekend, there really wasn't the time, so that moved the average down a bit... but I should say it's definitely a solid four days' practice a week... at least. I mean... I reckon I could hit that tree over there... the one just behind that hillock... not the big hillock, the little hillock on the left. You see the three trees, the third from the left and back a bit — that one — I reckon I could hit that four times out of five... on a good day. Say with this wind... say, say, seven times out of ten.
      Man: What, that tree there?
      Dennis: Which one?
      Man: The big beech with the sort of bare branch coming out of the top left.
      Dennis: No, no, no, not that one.
  • In an episode of Night Court, Mac's old war buddy starts choking and has enough trouble calling attention to this fact that he writes it with squeeze ketchup on the cafeteria table.
    Mac: "I'm... cooking"?
    [he desperately wipes and edits it]
    Mac: "Choking." Well, no wonder I couldn't read it; your H looks like an O!


    Tabletop Games 
  • Happens fairly frequently when two players disagree on a rule, especially in the middle of a big combat. There's a reason most games give advice to the GM to intervene with a ruling quickly.
  • Dungeons & Dragons 2nd Edition has a spell that can cause Distracting Disambiguation: Leomund's lamentable belabourment. The victims of this charm will start discussing with the caster on any topic of his choice, whether to agree or disagree, whatever the earlier situation. If the effect is prolonged, the creatures will continue arguing even if the mage walk away, and may end up either confused or enraged.

  • 8-Bit Theater: Pick a strip, any strip. They lampshade their tendency to do this and point out that their method of dealing with threats is to bicker, argue semantics, stall with Fighter, hurt each other, bicker some more and then implement a brilliant plan from out of nowhere.
  • In Goblins, this come often with D&D rules . Minmax once stalls a fight against a bunch of demons because he had won initiative, and then they start arguing whether he'd drawn his sword beforehand or not.
  • Happens very shortly in Grrl Power, because Maxima is too professional to get easily distracted (unlike Sydney), especially when it Takes Ten to Hold Vehemence.
    Sydney: Riddle for you, how do you beat a guy who's got all the yang locked up? Oh right, your throat is still crushed. OK, I'll answer for you.
    Turns out you've got the same weakness as every guy! A fabulous pair of yings!
    Dabbler: Booya!
    Sydney: OK, cool it Jiggles, you don't have to flaunt them all the time.
    Maxima: Yins.
    Sydney: What?
    Maxima: It's yin yang, not ying yang.
    Sydney: Are you sure?
    Maxima: Sydney, tell me you have a plan or else I'm ashing his brain.
    Sydney: Oh, right.
  • Very common in The Order of the Stick, which has Talking Is a Free Action in full force.
    • For example, you get Roy trying to remind Xykon of the murder he's actually pursuing him for...
    • As well as many inane discussions in the middle of fights about D&D rules (like with the half-ogre munchkin).
    • Even outside of melee, a dramatic revelation can easily wander into Distracting Disambiguation and just spoil the effect:
      Eugene: Xykon is alive!!
      Roy: What??
      Eugene: Well, I don't mean actually alive. Technically, he's still dead, just not, you know, DEAD-dead.
      He's undead, right, so he's up and moving around, even though he's still life signs: negative. But it's not like he just spontaneously came back to life.
      I mean, he DID come back spontaneously, but back to, uh, undeath, I suppose.
      Roy: Just curious, do you get XP for killing this dramatic moment?
    • Even a pun-fight isn't safe from this.
      Elan: —and I'll foil your evil plans!
      Tarquin: Then I wonder what I've begotten into.
      Also, "foil" is less of a pun than it is a word derivation. We say someone "foiled" a plan because they defeated them — as with a foil.
      Elan: Really?
      Tarquin: No. The etymologies are unrelated. *kaTANG!* [disarms Elan]
  • In PepsiaPhobia, a tense hostage moment is ground to a halt by Phobia trying to say the name of the netherbeast, Klgwtzlpx... Krgbblfts... Krteskyblts... Krflksywlts... Krghxltlps... KRPHXYZWLPS! (the Z is silent).
  • Schlock Mercenary: After Petey gives an ultimatum to the Principal of Thrice, slipping a Hoist by His Own Petard reference to it.
    Principal of Thrice: Petard Battalion? What's a petard?
    Petey: A siege explosive named after French flatulence. I'm impressed that you're spending this final ninety seconds in the acquisition of new and useless vocabulary.
  • In this Skin Horse, while he and Sergio are being attacked by an Anasigma soldier, Artie takes the time to explain that Sweetheart is not his girlfriend and he is gay, single, and available. Sergio helpfully points out that this is not a good time for this conversation.
    Artie: And "gopher" isn't even close!
  • In the webcomic version of Vainqueur The Dragon, the eponymous dragon is about to attack a bandit troop burning a village. Most of the bandits and their leaders are terrified, except for the hulking Ogron the Ogre, who fearlessly defy Vainqueur. But instead of responding to the challenge, Vainqueur points out that Ogron clearly isn't an ogre, but a cyclops. After a few frustrating exchanges, an annoyed Ogron claims he's called that because he eats people. Vainqueur shrugs, and chomps out the cyclops' upper body with one bite.

    Web Videos 

    Western Animation 
  • Family Guy, Season 2, Episode 13, "Road to Rhode Island". Brian and Stewie have stayed the night at a motel, but their credit card was declined. The manager comes knocking...
    Manager: Open up or I'll hit you with this blunt instrument I use to hit dead-beats with bad credit cards. Well, it's not an instrument, it's more of an object, but it's blunt, hard and blunt, and's kinda like a bat. I found it out back one day when I was raking.
  • Early in season two of Jackie Chan Adventures, Tohru is fighting Hak Foo, whose schtick involves coming up with elaborate names for every single attack.
    Hak Foo: Mad Monkey Kung Fu! Octopus Fists of Fury! Shredding Lion Claws! Minnow Wallops Whale!
    Tohru: I'm sorry, what was that last part?
    Hak Foo: I said, "Minnow—" [gets body-slammed across the room] "What was that last part?"
  • In Wakfu Season 1 Episode 3, while fighting a villain named "The Black Raven", Yugo makes the point that all ravens are black. The team then immediately drops what they're doing in order to work on a better name for him, ignoring the feeble attempts of the Black Raven to remind them that they were about to fight.
  • This trope is central to the premise of WordGirl. Since it's an educational show as well as an Affectionate Parody of superheroes, WordGirl will always take time out of her confrontations with villains to define the word of the day for them before going right back to the action.