Sometimes, stating something plainly is not a good option. When that's the case, and simply leaving it unstated won't work either, you must resort to using double meanings.
For a statement to have a double meaning, it must have one obvious meaning and one deliberate meaning, concealed so that only those "in the know" will understand that second meaning.
This is frequently used to pass secret messages along, as it is often more subtle than using an obvious code. Alternatively, a sub-culture may adopt a phrase from the main culture, but assign their own meaning to it, understood only within that sub-culture.
Other times a double meaning is intended to be understood by everyone, but either the speaker has trouble saying it directly, or wants to be able to deny saying it later. And sometimes it's intended by the writer, but unintended by the speaker.
- Ambiguous Syntax
- Code Emergency
- Covert Distress Code
- Double Entendre
- Double-Meaning Title
- Double Speak
- Dual-Meaning Chorus
- Exact Words
- False Reassurance
- Multiple Reference Pun
- Multitasked Conversation
- No Man of Woman Born
- Public Secret Message
- Spy Speak
- Trouble Entendre
Examples that fit into one of the subtropes should be placed on the appropriate page; this page is for examples that don't fit elsewhere.
- In a flashback of Annie and Eren sparring together in Attack on Titan, Mikasa's implied to be jealous through interrupting them and challenging Annie to fight her instead. The other trainees gather in excitedment at who will win, while Reiner asks: "Which one would you pick, Eren?" (note the choice of words). In response, he stares at them while thinking "Which one..." and the flashback fades out on that line, making it seem like the narrative was hinting towards more than just the outcome of the fight. While likely meant as pure Ship Tease in canon, it might have been a nod to official parodies where Mikasa and Annie are really portrayed as Eren's Betty and Veronica.
- When Reiner calls out Annie as a slacker during training, Annie seems quite annoyed by this and, after beating Eren, challenges Reiner to spar with her, and beats him just as easily as she does Eren. While this can be merely interpreted as Reiner teaching Eren about "being a soldier" and/or teasing Annie, the fact that Annie and Reiner are both traitors, but don't seem on the best terms means this scene can be interpreted as Reiner challenging Annie to prove her loyalty. Though why this involves beating up Eren is not yet clear.
- Fullmetal Alchemist: At a funeral for his friend Maes Hughes, Col. Roy Mustang comments on how it's a "terrible day for rain" as he weeps. In truth, it was a sunny day at the funeral. In addition to having a Sand In My Eyes moment, the scene also references the Achilles' heel of his flame alchemy: he cannot use his power if he or his target are wet. In other words, he feels completely helpless and powerless.
- In-Universe in My Hero Academia. After beating a particularly powerful villain while being broadcast to the world, All Might pointed to the camera, saying "You're next." The masses watching the fight cheered as they saw it as a warning to other villains at large. But for those in the know and Midoriya in particular, it meant that the age of All Might is over and now it's time for Midoriya to step in as his successor.
- The English dub of Pokémon 2000 has an ancient prophecy which states that if the balance between Articuno, Zapdos, and Moltres is disrupted, "The earth shall turn to Ash". It is initially believed that the prophecy fortells The End of the World as We Know It, but the heroes realize that there is another way the prophecy could be interpreted: that if the world was imperiled, it would turn to someone named Ash for salvation — someone like Ash Ketchum.
- In Time of Eve, a character is asked why she frequents an establishment where revealing whether one is a human or an android is not allowed. Her answer is carefully ambiguous enough to work whether she is a human or an android, even though those two perspectives would normally be quite distinct.
- In Gensokyo 20XXV, an age-regressed Reimu's "Am I dying?" is supposed to be intended as this, in that she is either asking if she is actually dying or, alternatively, asking why is someone is so sad about the situation she's accepted or, she could be asking both.
- Chapter 4 of The Legend Of Zelda: Ocarina Of Time is titled "Torn Apart". The way the author names his chapters is by naming them after a phrase in that chapter. The way "Torn Apart" is mentioned in this chapter is when the Great Deku Tree is dying and Link's heart is metaphorically "torn apart". However, it may also be a reference to how Gohma died just moments before.
- There is this geek joke with the physicist highwayman and "This is a Poynting vector" (shows gun) "- don't let it become a Killing vector!" Belongs under "Pun", of course, but there is a SF story where the double meaning of "Killing vector" is weapunized with definitely no pun intended to sent the baddies, who don't get it, into certain black hole death.
- In Brave, to undo a spell, the witch tells Merida that she and her mother must mend what was torn by pride. Merida assumes this means a tapestry she slashed open during a fight between her and her mother; however, it's left ambiguous whether the witch really meant the tapestry or the relationship between Merida and her mother.
- The Avengers (2012): The Other tells Thanos that to fight Humans would be "to court death" (a common phrase meaning incredibly dangerous). Fans of the comics know that Thanos literally wants to date the incarnation of Death.
- The Baker's Wife: After his wife has returned, the baker says that he forgives her, but then chews out their female cat for having left their male cat. His true meaning is not lost on his wife, who bursts into tears.
- In Jason and the Argonauts, Jason tells a camp's general that he is visiting Thessaly to reclaim his rightful throne from Pelias, who had usurped it twenty years before. The general tells Jason, "When your father defended his throne, no man fought harder than I." Of course, the general is secretly Pelias himself, so the second meaning is, in a sense, "truer" than the seemingly straightforward one (he fought hard enough to win, after all).
- Man of Steel: Not only does Zod's message ("You Are Not Alone") inform humans that aliens exist, it lets Superman know he's not the last Kryptonian.
- In the 1995 film of Jane Austen's Persuasion, Wentworth says a great many things that only thinly veil references to the pain of his and Anne's broken engagement from eight years ago. He apologizes for the shock she must have seeing him again... here in Bath, after what happened in Lyme. He has so many regrets... over encouraging Louisa to be impetuous until her fall. Heartbroken men never truly get over their loss... Benwick, of course, not himself.
- The Dresden Files: In Turn Coat, Harry fights a Skinwalker when the pixie Toot-Toot had a Little Damn Heroes moment by attacking the skinwalker to give him a moment to recover. After one of the Senior Council gave him assistance and drove it away, he commented about Toot Toot throwing himself into danger to help him commenting, "Little guy like that, taking on something so far out his weight class. That was a sight to see.", but he was also commenting about Dresden as well.
- Dune. In the greenhouse room Jessica finds a note from Lady Fenring, a fellow Bene Gesserit. The last line of the message is "On that path lies danger", a secret warning code that there was a hidden message nearby. Jessica finds the hidden message as a series of dots on the underside of a nearby leaf.
- The Foundation Trilogy: A deliberate In-Universe version is when Hari Seldon admits during Foundation (1951) that he created two Foundations at 'opposite ends of the galaxy'; one at a remote backwater planet at the edge of the galactic arms called Terminus, and the other at Star's End. During Foundation and Empire, characters start trying to discover the location of the Second Foundation that Hari Seldon keeps mentioning. In Second Foundation, characters use 'the other end of the galaxy' as a clue. Some are doing it spatially (i.e. a planet on the opposite edge of the galaxy), others temporally (i.e. Terminus was the last planet to be settled by that point; by that logic, the Second Foundation must be on the first planet — Earth That Was). Some of these suggestions were deliberately misleading ideas by the Second Foundation in order to maintain their secrecy. Hari Seldon meant Trantor, whose archaic nickname was Star's End, was at the galactic core (in a spiral, the opposite ends are the centre and the far arms), and was the sociological opposite of Terminus (the centre of galactic business/government versus a remote backwater).
- In Helm, in Denesse Sensei's first conversation with Leland, his comments about the tea are simultaneously commentary on the effects of the Helm.
- In the Left Behind books, after Carpathia's resurrection, the standard greeting becomes "He is risen," with the response being "he is risen indeed": the "he" refers to Carpathia. The Christians reclaim the greeting (since it was originally the Paschal greeting), placing a slight emphasis on the "he" to indicate that they are referring to Jesus instead of Carpathia. This allows the Christians to interact with the rest of the world without drawing suspicion to themselves, while at the same time not violating their beliefs.
- A Song of Ice and Fire: A possibly unintentional one in A Game of Thrones: Jorah's last reply could equally well mean "Alright, let's drop the subject," or "You, too, will be dead one day."
Jorah: The Dothraki claim that someday ghost grass will cover the entire world, and then all life will end.
Dany: I dont want to talk about that now. It's so beautiful here, I don't want to think about everything dying.
Jorah: As you will, Khaleesi.
- The so called "Hand of the King" has a figurative meaning akin to "right arm of someone", the name of the office indicating that he's acting as if the actual hand of the king was doing tasks, that is, he's working in his stead. This is open to some puns, like "when the king shits, it is the hand that cleans", which can be taken literally in the actual situation, but also figuratively according to the context (when the king does mistakes, it is the duty of the Hand to solve them before things become troublesome).
- In a twist, in Tara's song, "Under Your Spell", in the Buffy the Vampire Slayer episode "Once More with Feeling", the metaphorical meaning is the more obvious and positive one, about how much she loves Willow, and Willow has brought her out of her shell and introduced her to happiness. However, if the lyrics are taken completely literally, they're about how Willow has been magically manipulating Tara's mind and memories.
- Game of Thrones:
- The Spice King of Qarth deftly counters Daenerys' accusation that the Thirteen have broken their promise to receive her by noting that they have indeed "received" (i.e. met with) her.
- After reminiscing that his father was a kind and loving man who nearly led his family to ruin, Tywin states that he is cold. After a palpable silence, Arya decides on the less personal interpretation and offers to gather more wood for the fire.
- When Lysa asks if he remembers their "wedding night" many years ago, Littlefinger replies, "Like it was yesterday." Lysa doesn't notice, perhaps because she's so obsessed, but it's clear from his face that it's not a happy memory.
- How I Met Your Mother: Robin follows her boyfriend Ted to a nightclub and asks the bouncer about him. We are shown the event, in which Ted, who has been acting unlike himself, is flirting with another woman and agreeing to go to her apartment. Ted is confronted by Marshall, who says "Aren't you afraid a certain someone will find out about this? This isn't you, Ted." It turns out that Barney had been calling himself "Ted Mosby", so that's who the bouncer thought he was; we were shown Ted instead of Barney because that's how Robin would have imagined the bouncer's account. Meanwhile, Marshall's "certain someone" was the real Ted, and "This isn't you" was meant literally.
- A sad version in the Stargate Atlantis episode McKay and Mrs. Miller. Rodney and his sister Jeannie are having an argument about how they haven't talked in four years since Rodney decided that Jeannie quitting physics to raise her daughter was a mistake. "Rod", an alternate universe version of Rodney, hears them talking and asks, "Hey, you guys got something over there?" Jeannie averts her eyes and says "No, we don't" as she walks away. Fortunately, they make up by the end of the episode.
- Dawn of a New Age: Oldport Blues:
- During the Mass Super-Empowering Event, Hyeon discovers that a fire extinguisher is effective at driving off the smoke-like apparitions that attack them. Later on, when he's with Nadine, he asks his friend (who doesn't know about the superpowers) to fetch three extinguishers for him. When Nadine asks him why, he couches the real answer in a common phrase so that Nadine is the only one to pick it up: "Where's there fire, there's smoke."
- Ciro tries the same thing with Nadine later, when she asks him what he was talking to the principal about. The real answer is that he and the principal were discussing events related to the superpowers- since Nadine's lackeys are nearby, and Ciro doesn't want them clued in, he instead tells Nadine that the principal was merely hoping that the exams didn't go up in smoke. Nadine doesn't catch on this time, however, leading the gang to instead believe that Ciro had gotten caught for dealing drugs.
- Much Ado About Nothing: Benedick thinks Beatrice is in love with him (she isn't), and when she is sent to bring him in to dinner he thinks she's sending him secret signals; he cites this trope by name.
"Against my will I am sent to bid you come in to dinner." There's a double meaning in that. "I took no more pains for those thanks than you took pains to thank me." That's as much as to say, "Any pains that I take for you is as easy as thanks." If I do not take pity of her, I am a villain. If I do not love her, I am a Jew.
- Westeros: An American Musical: At some point, plans are made to use a hairnet to smuggle a small item into an event without the person actually wearing the hairnet being aware of it. As the female character meant to wear the hairnet recieves it at is asked to wear it at the event in question, the orchestrator of the smuggling says "That hairnet is meant to go over her head"; it can be read both as an idiosyncratic way of saying "on her head" and an allusion to the fact that the wearer must have no idea that she's being used as a smuggler.
- In the 2019 Edinburgh Fringe play Islander, Eilidh lives on the island with her granny, while her mother is a teacher on the mainland. There is a song near the start in which Eilidh video-calls her mother over a very bad connection, and tries to tell her about her experiences that day, but her mother is still working. Eilidh has the refrain "Can you see me, can you hear me?" which isn't just about the call quality. This gets reprised by Eilidh's mother near the end, leaving a voicemail when Eilidh isn't speaking to her.
- Civilization VI: The French leader, Catherine de Medici, is a master of espionage. On first greeting the player in a game, she remarks 'I do so look forward to learning everything there is to know about you'.
- Deep in the first Eye of the Beholder game, at the start of the Mind Flayer level, a wall engraving reads "Alignment must be true." Since this is a D&D game, you'd expect it to be a cryptic mention about Character Alignment. In truth, it's a hint about how to open the next secret passage, which is a the end of an alignment of hidden doors.
- Niko cooks up a false resume for a mission in Grand Theft Auto IV when he needs to secure an interview at a particular law firm. While there are some outright lies on it (like saying he went to college and graduated in the top 1% of his class), a lot of the other things are just his actual qualifications as a criminal, but phrased in such a way they seem like his specialties as a lawyer. "Dealing with emerging markets in the West Indies, particularly Jamaica and Puerto Rico. Instrumental in the trading of commodities from those emerging markets."
- Jhin from League of Legends is an assassin who uses murder as a form of artwork, claiming that each kill is special 'performance'. One of his battle quotes is "When they see you, they will cry" - whether this is from being moved or horrified is unsaid and, quite possibly for Jhin, is not seen as important.
- NieR: while fighting the boss Shade in the Aerie, Kaine calls out the Shade's attempt to lull her into accepting her death by imitating her beloved Grandma, stating that her grandmother inspired her to continue to live on and come to terms with her "mutated body". This refers both to her nature as a half-Shade and as an intersex woman.
- Near the end of a neutral or pacifist run in Undertale, monsters in the New Home area tell you a story about their king, Asgore. Asgore had adopted a child that had fallen into the monster world and he raised him as his own. When the child had fallen ill and died, his son by blood, Asriel, took his fallen brother's body back to the village where had came from, but was attacked by the humans instead and he wound up dying as a result. Asgore flew into a fit of rage and vowed to obtain seven human souls in order to break the barrier that kept his people trapped so that he could extract revenge. With six souls already obtained, yours is the last one he needs to succeed. The last group of monsters tell you that you should be excited and happy because you will be "free" very soon. While the monster's version of "free" means that you will soon be killed and be freed from the physical world, it can also take on another meaning where you will be free from the underground and finally return home. Either version can fit depending on if you been playing peacefully or if you had killed a handful of monsters along the way.
- Another version of this happens in the Genocide route, where Asgore will ask the player upon their arrival what kind of monster they are. It can be seen as either A) he believes he's looking at another monster in the underground, but can't identify it, or B) a What the Hell, Hero? moment.
- In the Prologue to Grisaia short story in The Eden of Grisaia Yumiko, Amane and Michiru are told to expect a new honor student transfer student at Mihama, a school for students with severe psychological issues that interfere with their ability to attend normal schools. When Sachi shows up, she's intelligent, dutiful, athletic, friendly and more. Following a flippant suggestion about cleaning the school, Michiru comes back the next morning to find that she stayed the entire evening and into the morning, working nonstop to clean the school. It's not that Sachi happens to be an honor student but rather that she's here because she's an "honor student" and obsessively follows all orders, no matter how absurd or destructive.
- The r/nosleep story "My boyfriend needs to be drunk in order to have sex with me" is, on the surface, about a trans woman who feels unwanted because of Exactly What It Says on the Tin, and insists that they do it sober, for once. After unenthusiastically complying, the man "...got up from the bed, pulled away the maggots that clung to his flesh, and wiped away the streaks of slime from his belly. He then opened both windows of the bedroom, letting out the miasmal gases." Turns out that the narrator's "transition" was not "male-to-female", but rather "dead-to-living"...
- In Central Park, Season 1 "Hat Luncheon", when Helen meets a former maid named Lucy who inherited everything from her previous employer, Lucy gives Helen advice on waiting to inherit's Bitsy's fortune by telling her "Where there's a will, there's way", and then whispers to her to make sure she's in Bitsy's will. The phrase means to have determination to overcome a difficult obstacle, which Helen is going to need if she continues to be Bitsy's assistant, and if Bitsy has a will then there's a way to inherit everything from her. The double meaning is used again in Helen's Villain Song "If There's a Will".
- The Gravity Falls episode "The Time Traveler's Pig" has quite a few:
- When Dipper and Mabel get back to the present, but are unsure of which timeline they are in, they soon see Wendy holding the stuffed animal Dipper won for her and saying, "This is the best present ever!"
- When Dipper makes a speech to Wendy about how people make mistakes and tight pants are overrated, she tells him, "Dude, you lost me." For her, it just means she's confused, but to Dipper it's a reminder of what he has to sacrifice in order for Mabel to be with Waddles: he's going to ruin his chances with Wendy, and essentially "lose" her to Robbie.
- During the 18th century Jacobite Rebellion in Scotland, noblemen supposedly loyal to the English crown but secretly on the side of the rebels had to tread a very fine line, or risk having their wealth confiscated. Since in those days the word of a nobleman was almost sacred, and breaking it meant great loss of face, a common test of loyalty was to propose a toast to the king. This was in effect swearing loyalty to the crown, and many Scots nobles would have found this difficult or impossible to do.
The way they got around was that in his own home, a noble with Jacobite sympathies could join in and even propose loyal toasts to the king by using special cups with the name "Charles Edward Stuart", or a shortened version thereof at the bottom, which would also be supplied to any other rebels around the table, but not the English visitors. So you could raise your cup and say: "To the king!" while looking straight at the name of the Jacobite Pretender. A variation was to have a glass of water on the table positioned so that the toasting glass passed directly above it, thereby toasting "the king across the water".
- Prussian Field Marshal Blücher, co-victor of the Battle of Waterloo, once bet other guests at a social function that he was able to kiss his own head. He then proceeded to kiss his chief of staff, General Gneisenau.
- Is PetSmart where you learn to pet intelligently or a mart where pets can buy things?
- The image of a blue-and-yellow-striped tiger became this in World War II Sweden, although less to conceal a message than to make it more memorable — the phrase "En Svensk Tiger" can mean either "A Swedish Tiger" or "A Swede Keeps Silent", so a tiger in the colours of Sweden was used in loose-lips-sink-ships campaigns.
- There is a Procrastinator's Club of America, established in 1956 and based in Philadelphia. Their motto is 'Behind you all the way'.