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Double-Edged Answer

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It's just a simple question. Give a simple answer! Not always that easy...
"Go not to the Elves for counsel, for they will say both no and yes."

Sometimes situations aren't simple. That's where the Double-Edged Answer comes into play. Alice asks Bob what she expects is a simple question with a binary yes or no answer. The problem is that the answer to her question can be yes and no at the same time without either answer being factually inaccurate. Rather than just give her the simple and incomplete answer, Bob prefaces a longer explanation with some variation on "yes and no" to let her know his response has to deal with the nuances of the situation at hand.

There are multiple situations in which this trope can be played.

  • There was a point in time where the answer was yes, but the situation is rapidly coming to the point of being no (or vice versa).
  • Technically yes, but not in a meaningful way.
  • The situation is not nearly simple enough to be explained in yes or no format.

In games translated from Japanese, this can be often be a result of inexperienced translators, since "hai" doesn't precisely mean the same thing as "yes", in a way that makes this trope a nonissue in that language; translating literally can sometimes introduce confusion that wasn't present in the original.

Not to be confused with "No" Means "Yes". Compare and contrast Mathematician's Answer and Distinction Without a Difference.


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    Fan Works 
  • Beginning to Question. The Chessmaster Dumbledore is under Veritaserum.
    Harry: Did you set me up in my first year with the Philosopher's Stone?
    Dumbledore: Yes and no.
    Harry: Explain.
    Dumbledore: Yes, it was a set up. No, it wasn't the real Philosopher's Stone.
  • Lily's Next Great Adventure. The reincarnation of Harry's mother tells him about a conversation she had with Death before her arrival.
    Harry: Do you — do you know the prophecy?
    Holly: Yes and no.
    Harry: What do you mean by that?
    Holly: Harry, Dumbledore told your parents about the prophecy. I just explained to you that the man created fantasy wills from your parents just so he could use it against you. It is possible he might have created a fantasy prophecy as well.

    Films — Animation 
  • In The Road to El Dorado, Tulio and Miguel manage to sneak off Cortez's ship with enough food to get back to Spain, with the unexpected event of Altivo jumping off the ship in chase of an apple. After saving themselves, the horse, and the boat, Altivo eats all of their food within seconds.
    Tulio: Did any of the provisions make it?
    Miguel: [looks and sees Altivo eating] Well, yes and no...

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Flash Gordon. Emperor Ming offers to give Earth to Flash to rule.
    Flash: You'd call off the attack? [...] Everyone would be saved?
    Ming: Yes, and no. After the earthquakes and tidal waves, they won't be the same human beings. They'll be more tractable. Easier for you to rule, in the name of Ming.
  • From Iron Man:
    Soldier: Is it true that you went twelve-for-twelve with last year's Maxim cover models?
    Tony Stark: That is an excellent question. Yes and no. March and I had a scheduling conflict but fortunately the Christmas cover was twins.
  • From both the book and film version of Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone about the Mirror of Erised.
    Harry: It shows us what we want... whatever we want.
    Dumbledore: Yes... And no. It shows us nothing more or less, than the deepest and most desperate desire of our hearts.
  • In A Knight's Tale, the main group encounters Chaucer (yes, that one) walking naked on the same road. They ask if he was robbed.
    Chaucer: On one hand, "yes"... and on the other, a huge, resounding "No". It's more of an involuntary vow of poverty, really.
    (it turns out he has a gambling problem and is trying to blow it off while still technically speaking the truth).

  • In the Lucy Valentine novel Absolutely, Positively, we have this exchange, stemming from Lucy's mother and grandmother encouraging her to move in with her boyfriend; and Lucy's fear that the family curse will break them up if they do move in together:
    "What?" he asked.
    "You sure it's nothing, Lucy?"
    My insides melted like chocolate on a hot day. It was the way he said my name. Filled with love and tenderness, heat and passion. He looked into my eyes. I was lost in his pearly gray gaze.
    I realized just how much I wanted him to move in. "No. Yes. No." Panic warred with euphoria.
    He smiled. "That's clear."
  • The Lord of the Rings: Discussed and lampshaded early on.
    Gildor: I do not like this news. That Gandalf should be late does not bode well. But it is said: Do not meddle in the affairs of Wizards, for they are subtle and quick to anger. The choice is yours: to go or wait.
    Frodo: And it is also said, Go not to the Elves for counsel, for they will say both no and yes.
    Gildor: Is it indeed? Elves seldom give unguarded advice, for advice is a dangerous gift, even from the wise to the wise, and all courses may run ill...
    • However, Gildor then relents and does give Frodo a straight answer: go. This turns out to be very much the right advice; if Frodo had waited the Nazgul would have assuredly got him. They almost did anyways.
  • In Snow Crash, the guy in front of The Black Sun insists that the "Snow Crash" he's offering Hiro is really a drug, much to his consternation since he can see that it's a data-bearing hypercard:
    "Does it fuck up your brain?" Hiro says. "Or your computer?"
    "Both. Neither. What's the difference?"
    Hiro finally realizes that he has just wasted sixty seconds of his life having a meaningless conversation with a paranoid schizophrenic.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Was one of the catch phrases in Yes, Minister.
  • An episode of Billy (a short-lived Head of the Class spinoff) had David's (Johnny Gelecki) mother asking him if he was smoking, to which he replied "no". When Billy called him on it (knowing David had taken up smoking), David explained that he didn't lie because he wasn't smoking at that particular time. Billy didn't care about the lying, just the smoking.
  • Monty Python's Flying Circus: Put on the spot by a bullying film producer, a writer blurts out "splunge", meaning "it's a great idea but possibly not and I'm not being indecisive".
  • Star Trek: The Original Series: The Guardian of Forever explains that its nature is too complex for a simple description:
    Kirk: Are you machine or being?
    Guardian: I am both and neither. I am my own beginning, my own ending.
    Spock: I see no reason for answers to be couched in riddles.
    Guardian: I answer as simply as your level of understanding makes possible.

    Tabletop Games 

  • In Evita, the song "Rainbow Tour" ends with them agreeing that Evita's tour of Italy, France, and England was a success "...we had a few doubts, but the answer is yes. And no. and yes. and no."
  • David Selznick resorts to this when trying to explain the ambiguous ending of Gone with the Wind to screenwriter Ben Hecht in Moonlight And Magnolias.
    Hecht: What did I miss? Did we drop some scenes? Do they end up together or donít they?
    Selznick: Yes.
    Hecht: What do you mean, yes?
    Selznick: No.
    Hecht: Yes or no?
    Selznick: Yes and no.
    Hecht: And no?
    Selznick: No.
    Hecht: No?
    Selznick: Yes.
    Hecht: Do they or donít they?

    Video Games 
  • In Dragon Age: Inquisition, this is Dorian's answer if the player asks whether mages really do rule the Tevinter Imperium. He goes on to explain that aristocratic families of mages rule it, and mages who aren't from the right family aren't much better off than non-mages.

    Web Comics 
  • In El Goonish Shive the Will of Magic decided not to change how magic worked, though it did pull out some of the functions that were serving to restrain magic. This had the effect of functionally' changing a whole lot of things'', and giving a major headache to the supernatural division of the FBI. Justified in that the Will of Magic does not perceive things the way humans do, and probably still doesn't realize just how much the "tiny" change has altered things.
  • In this strip of Schlock Mercenary, Ennesby replies "Yes and no" to the question of whether the Zero Point Energy generator at the core of the Milky Way Galaxy is a drive or not.
  • In Sequential Art, a psychotic AI gasses all personnel in a government facility. As Art, Pip, and Scarlet are sneaking in, Pip uses a small mirror to see around a corner.
    Art: Well? Any security guards?
    Pip: Uh, yes and no.
  • In this Questionable Content page, Faye gives one because she's flustered and has issues about getting close to people.

    Western Animation 
  • Avatar: The Last Airbender: Toph tries to explain how her feet got burned: she surprised and startled Zuko in the middle of the night and he reflexively flung fire at her before he realized it was one of the Gaang. He was immediately contrite and apologetic, but Toph, in pain, bailed. She doesn't say "yes and no" precisely.
    Toph: Well, he did and he didn't.
  • Kick Buttowski has "Kickin' Genes" in which Honey Buttowski is asked by her son if the daredevil jumpsuit he found belongs to her. She says "No. Yes! No!" before finally admitting she used to be speedboating daredevil Honey Splash, but hadn't done a stunt since an injury years ago.
  • Kung Fu Panda: Legends of Awesomeness: "Ghost of Oogway" - Shifu stumbles into a Yes/No answer when Po asks whether Shifu wonders why Oogway would speak to someone like Po. Clearly Shifu still harbors a bit of his dubiosity about Po from the original film, despite his master's choice to name Po Dragon Warrior.
  • The Simpsons, "Hurricane Neddy". When Ned Flanders asks Reverend Lovejoy if God is testing him, Lovejoy answers, "Short answer, yes with an if; long answer, no with a but."
  • ThunderCats: "Into The Astral Plane", the answer to the location of the MacGuffin generates one:
    Panthro: Is it in the village or not?
    Tygra: It is and it isn't.

    Real Life 
  • German Language has a word for this: "jein" (starts with "ya", rhymes with "nine"), a portmanteau of "ja" (yes) and "nein" (no).
  • In the same style, Swedish has "nja", portmanteau of "nej" (no) and ja (yes).
  • Afrikaans also has a word that can be used in this situation: Jawelnofine.
  • Allegedly, Columbia philosophy professor (and legendary smartass) Sidney Morgenbresser was once asked by one of his students if he agreed with Chairman Mao's proposition that a statement could be both true and false at the same time. He replied, "Well, I do and I don't."
  • Utilized in the following joke:
    A: Will you check and see if the turn signal is working?
    B: Yes. No. Yes. No. Yes. No.
  • Harry Truman is supposed to have said that he wanted a one-handed economist, because all his economists started their advice with "On the one hand.../On the other hand..."
  • French humorist Coluche once answered a question with : "I am neither for it neither against it, on the contrary!"