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False Reassurance

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"She does know you're blind, right?"
"Crystal never lets what she knows get in the way of her job."
"Don't worry — I'm on your side. A violent death is the last thing that'll happen to you."

If you can't or won't lie, it can be hard to keep your secrets. But fear not, because there are ways to pull the wool over another's eyes without speaking a single untruth.

Sometimes, you can tell the truth but no one will believe you because the truth is simply too weird. Other times, you can tell the truth in a tone of voice which makes everyone assume you meant the opposite. And if you are careful with your phrasing, you can pull off the highest verbal coup of all: to tell the truth, clearly and plainly, and still make everyone assume you meant something else. If others accuse you of being dishonest, you can stand behind the bulwark of your completely truthful Exact Words. Maybe they should pay more attention next time — if there is a next time...

A character who is told they'll get "what's coming to you" or "your just desserts" is almost always on the receiving end of this trope. At this point, in fact, such lines feature almost exclusively in comedies, since it's just too implausible that characters in a serious drama (i.e. responding to dangerous situations with appropriate caution) wouldn't recognize the threatening subtext behind such phrasing.

Needless to say, a villain who prides himself on his honesty considers this good form ("Alice can't come to the phone right now. She's all tied up at the moment"), especially when they're Faux Affably Evil, but it's not strictly a villainous trope. Heroic characters can give False Reassurance, too; particularly when they have a secret to keep, but can't or won't lie to their loved ones' faces. For example, Clark Kent might tell Lois Lane, "Don't worry. Clark Kent won't be seen outside this tropical resort," which does not bar Superman from going to investigate the mysterious temple.

The key trope to many a Deal with the Devil. Subtrope to Double Meaning. Compare Prophecy Twist, No Man of Woman Born (where a prophecy of triumph or doom gives False Reassurance to its target because it seems like it can never come true), Metaphorically True, Exact Words, Lying by Omission, Stealth Insult, and You Said You Would Let Them Go. See also New Era Speech and Worrying for the Wrong Reason. The Self-Poisoning Gambit often relies on this. Contrast Suspiciously Specific Denial, Assurance Backfire, and Empty Promise.

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  • A series of anti-teen pregnancy ads feature photographs of a handsome young man and a series of overlaid text directed at the viewer/reader, stating all the romantic things he'll do for her. The only thing he says he won't do is help her take care of their baby if she gets pregnant.
    Young man: I would do anything for you. Anything. Seriously. You know I love you, and that’s how deep my love goes. I would do anything. Seriously, anything. I love you more than anything. You know it. Unless you get pregnant. Then all bets are off. I won’t go to doctor appointments with you or go to those stupid Lamaze classes because I need to play some basketball with my buddies that night. Oh yeah, and when that baby is screaming, I’ll be at my own home, all cozy in my bed in the peace and quiet. And I ain't touching a diaper. That makes me want to puke. And I ain't pushing no stroller around the mall, that’s embarrassing. In other words, you’re on your own. Other than that, I’ll do anything for you, baby. Anything. Seriously. Anything.

    Comic Books 
  • In All Fall Down, AIQ Squared promises his creator, IQ Squared, that "Nothing *on Earth* is unlawful about what's taking place."
  • In The Ballad of Halo Jones, she enlists in an army that assures new recruits that most soldiers never see combat. Later, when she's jumping with a parachute from a plane into the battlefield, she's told that if she's lucky, she will be one of the few whose parachute works.
  • In one of the later issues of The Boys, an argument between the main characters ends when one of them genially informs the others that there's no hard feelings and no real disagreement because "I killed the last bloke I disagreed with." Everyone laughs it off — except what the character in question doesn't reveal is that he actually did kill that person the previous night.
  • In Jack Chick's "The Contract," the titular Deal with the Devil on paper serves as a passive version of this for people who don't sign any diabolical contracts. Think a devil like Beelzebub Fox can't drag you to Hell just because you didn't sign any contracts with him? Hey, he never said he needed a contract to get your soul; you made that inference all by yourself, sucker!
  • In Doom Patrol, the Candlemaker promises Dorothy that it will revive Josh (who had just been killed by The Chief), if in exchange she will let it enter the physical world. Dorothy agrees and the Candlemaker does bring Josh back to life as promised, but it kills him immediately afterwards.
  • In Elseworld's Finest: Supergirl & Batgirl, Supergirl has just discovered Lex Luthor's dirty secrets and asks whether he's planning to kill her. Luthor replies he will not kill her... because The Joker will do so.
    Supergirl: So what are you going to do now that I know? Kill me?
    Luthor: Oh, no — I'd never do that... [The Joker] will.
  • In H'el on Earth, When Supergirl asks H'el if resurrecting Krypton will do anything to Earth, he assures her that the people of Earth won't suffer. That's because they'll all be dead after the Sun implodes if H'el's plan succeeds.
  • Mortadelo y Filemón: In "El circo", Mortadelo has to take the place of the lion tamer in the circus. He wonders how many tamers the lion has sent to the hospital, but he is told it hasn't sent any... because it has eaten the 14 previous right in its jail.
  • Scooby-Doo! Team-Up: The Atom delivers one to Shaggy after shrinking himself and the gang.
    Shaggy: (gulps) Like, we don't have to be this size for long, do we?
    Atom: Not long at all. We're going to shrink down much smaller!

    Comic Strips 

  • The classic joke: An old man on his deathbed is surrounded by his family: His wife of many years, and his three sons, two of which are strong, handsome men, the third is somewhat scrawny. As the man is breathing his last, he asks the sons to leave the room so he can talk privately to his wife. "My dear," he says, "I do not wish to pass from this world with any doubt, please tell me, for this has vexed me for many years, my third son, so unlike the other two, is he really mine? Do not lie to me as I lay dying!" The wife takes a deep breath. "I swear to you, he is truly yours." And, with that, the man dies satisfied. The wife breathes a sigh of relief. "Thank God he didn't ask about the other two!"
  • Another classic: A prince spots a humble peasant toiling in the fields and notices a startling resemblance between them.
    "Say, did your mother ever work at the palace?"
    "No, but my father did."
  • A woman stands by her very wealthy husband at his deathbed. In front of the entire family, he makes his last request; "I would like to be buried with my money." After a few moments of internal struggle, the woman nods and promises she'll bury her husband with his wealth. A few days go by as the funeral preparations are done, and the whole town is abuzz, wondering whether or not she'll actually give up the fortune on a dying old man's whim. At the funeral, all watch as the wife goes up and places a small envelope in her husband's coffin. When asked about it later, she tells the townsfolk "I gave him my word that I'd give him his money. A good wife always follows her word. I wrote him a check."

  • The Eagles song "Hotel California" starts out with tantalizing lines about how nice the hotel is. Then, after a bit of foreshadowing in the second verse with the bar not having the traveler's favorite wine, it takes a dark turn.
    They're living it up at the Hotel California!
    What a nice surprise
    With your alibis...
  • Jhariah: On "Not So Bad" from The Great Tale of How I Ruined It All, the protagonist tries to cope with the cult's takeover by convincing himself that maybe he should cave in, and it won't be such a big deal: "It's not so bad, it's just the end of the world." He ultimately doesn't, because a part of him still resists it.

    Myths & Religion 
  • In many versions of Arthurian Legend, Guinevere and several knights are kidnapped by Maleagant, who is in love with the queen. Thinking she is loyal to her husband, however, he cannot bring himself to touch her, and instead sets her up in the best room in his castle, leaving the wounded knights in the chamber just outside hers. Lancelot, of course, comes to save his Damsel in Distress, but doesn't waste the opportunity to climb in her bedroom window and sleep with her while Arthur isn't around. Only problem is, he hurts his hand and leaves blood on the sheets. Maleagant sees this and is angry at Guinevere for pretending to be faithful to her husband. Her response? She swears up and down she didn't sleep with any of the knights "outside her door".
  • In another Arthurian story, King Mark, suspecting his wife Isolde is unfaithful, has her Bound and Gagged, and dragged back to the palace. When they need to ford a river, a wandering hermit helps her across. Afterwards, she swears that she has been in the arms of no man except her husband and, obviously, the hermit. The hermit was her lover, Sir Tristram, in disguise.
    • Another version exists that follows the same story, except that as they're crossing the river, the hermit (Tristram) stumbles and falls down between Isolde's legs. Thus, she can ever swear that Mark and the hermit are the only men to ever have lain between her thighs.
    • And in Arthur, King of Time and Space, the story is retold exactly in the baseline arc, and then we switch to the space arc, where Isolde simply says she's been in the arms of no man except her husband. It doesn't occur to Mark to suspect the Gender Flipped Dame Tristram.

  • In Rick and Morty, Morty sometimes notes that he and Rick "don't usually die" on adventures when one is lit.

    Pro Wrestling 
  • A major driver of many tag-team and friendship splits, sparking huge feuds (and naturally driving ticket sales, fans of course wanting to see the good guy half of the duo get revenge on his "former friend."
    • The most famous example was Jake Roberts betraying the Ultimate Warrior during the series of vignettes in 1991. Roberts supposedly was going to help Warrior in his feud with The Undertaker, constantly reassuring him that he was on his side, but wound up locking him in a room where a cobra bit him, and as the Warrior passed out, Roberts revealed his alliance with the Undertaker.
    • Several feuds with Hulk Hogan began this way:
      • "Mr. Wonderful" Paul Orndorff provided Hogan a "false reassurance" moment at the end of their tag team match against Big John Studd and King Kong Bundy, to ignite an explosive feud that raged from the summer of 1986 through the early months of 1987. Shortly before Orndorff attacked Hogan, he (belatedly) stopped the heels' 2-on-1 assault of Hogan and ran them from the ring ... but curiously they hung around ringside — and Hogan, not yet having regained his senses, not noticing — as Orndorff helped Hogan to his feet, patted him on the back and said, in essence, "It's alright, the attack is over," the trope kicking in as Orndorff raised Hogan's hand in victory ... before Orndorff viciously clotheslined Hogan to the mat, piledrove him and then called Bundy and Studd into the ring to finish him off for good. Hogan, of course, got his revenge.
      • Sid Eudy also "reassured" Hogan that they were still friends, even though he was bitter at him for costing him the WWF World Heavyweight Championship at the end of the 1992 Royal Rumble. Two weeks later, on Saturday Night's Main Event, Eudy turned on Hogan in their tag team match against Ric Flair and The Undertaker.

  • In Series 5 of Old Harry's Game, Hell is overcrowded, leading to a workforce on strike and Satan spending a lot of time in the mortal world trying to slow the flood a bit. One of the new arrivals, Roland, sees this "an opportunity" he can use to take over. When Satan returns, Roland offers to help, saying "If you let me talk to the demons, you won't have anything to worry about ever again."
  • In the Finnish version of The Men from the Ministry episode "Ban the Wotsit," One and Two are being interviewed on the TV after Soviets manage to "replicate" the super-weapon Wotsit (which was really a pram full of junk mistaken for a weapon). The interviewer asks Lamb if he thinks the Soviet weapon is as powerful as the original, which he answers that he is sure it is just as powerful, no more or less.

    Tabletop Games 
  • Magic: The Gathering:
    • Dimir Doppelganger is a shapeshifter that takes the form of dead creatures. Its flavor text? "Fear not, your life will not go unlived."
    • Kiku's Shadow is a spell that causes a creature to damage itself. Its flavor text is a quote from the titular Kiku: "Me? No, I'm not going to kill you. I won't even lay a finger on you. I promise."
  • This is the modus operandi of Hansel and Gretel from Grimm. They lure in children by promising that they will be safe from witches with them. This is technically true — they'll be fed to the malevolent oven that enslaved Hansel and Gretel and the witch before them long before witches can do anything to the children.
  • In Paranoia, if Friend Computer or one of its human minions gives you what sounds like good news, you can pretty much assume that it's an example of this trope.
    • It can also be turned back on Friend Computer in order to complain about something without Friend Computer picking up on it. "It is as wonderful as I had expected" sounds a lot like "It's wonderful" if you don't specify how much you expected.
    "In fact, the chemically altered foam is absolutely safe when the proper safety measures are taken, although the proper safety measure would have been to wear GREEN clearance Ceramo-Tungsten body armor with LeadLike coating, or better still, to be in a completely different sector. But revealing the danger posed by the foam would have lowered productivity as a result of clones rioting or fleeing the area, so we applied a little SPIn. As a result, productivity in RON sector only dropped by 79.4% rather than a projected 98.1%, a marked success! And the clones liquefied in the Four Reactor Foam Flood would surely have suffered more if they'd had advance warning."
  • One of the entries in Warhammer 40,000 tie-in website "The Regimental Standard" reassures Guardsmen that 90% of injuries do not require immediate medical attention. This is because they result in immediate death.

  • It'll take an expert to tell if this is a good example or just has the airs of one, but Marlowe's Doctor Faustus.
    Mephistophilis: And then be thou as great as Lucifer.
  • The Dutch comedian Herman Finkers has a skit in which he plays a depressed person. He then assures the public not to worry... "Suicide would be the last thing I'd ever do."
  • Part two of Shakespeare's Henry IV has an alliance of rebels (no, not that one) parleying with John of Lancaster, son of King Henry. They present him with a list of grievances, and John assures them that he will take the list directly to his father so they can be addressed. The rebels are satisfied and dismiss their army. John vows that they will "lie tonight together"... then has them all arrested for treason and orders his army to ride down the now scattering soldiers of the enemy.
    I promis'd you redress of these same grievances
    Whereof you did complain; which, by mine honour,
    I will perform with a most Christian care.
    But for you, rebels — look to taste the due
    Meet for rebellion and such acts as yours.
  • Macbeth: Macduff asks if Macbeth has been bothering his family, and Ross says "they were well at peace when I did leave 'em." Macduff notes Ross's oddly tight-lipped manner, and a few lines later Ross gathers his nerve and delivers the bad news: Macbeth has massacred Macduff's entire family.
  • In Pirates, or Gilbert and Sullivan Plunder'd, an adaptation of The Pirates of Penzance, Frederick needs to marry a virgin to free himself from a curse. Ruth reassures him that she hasn't been subject to any unwanted advances from the other pirates, and hasn't succumbed to any one of them... emphasis on "unwanted" and "one".
  • In the opening scene of The Recruiting Officer, Sergeant Kite is attempting to recruit peasants to the army, and does so using deception of this type. He invites a spectator to put on a soldier's cap, and the man asks, "won't the cap list me?". Kite replies, "No, no, no more than I can." Kite ultimately enlists the whole crowd by tricking them into accepting a "gift" of money and drinking to the King's health.

    Visual Novels 
  • In Fate/stay night's Fate route, the Holy Grail War takes a sudden turn for the worse once an eighth Servant shows up and turns out to have won the Superpower Lottery. When explaining this to the supervisor of the Grail War, he responds that this is something he cannot ignore, and that he will look into it. And indeed he can't; the Servant is his, and has just blown its cover by wandering off on its own. It should be noted that said supervisor, Kirei Kotomine, is a master of this.
  • In Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney: Justice for All, one of Phoenix's clients assures him that he didn't kill anyone that night, especially not the murder victim. He didn't... the assassin he hired did.
  • In The Pirate's Fate, the heroes may capture Queen Nakhta and try to force her to abdicate in favor of her sister, Bilba. Nakhta, sighing, declares that if Bilba wants power, she can have it, she'll put the crown on herself, and yes, she'd love to have the crew stay to watch. By which Nakhta means that she intends to place the magic crown that will de-age Bilba and remove her claim to the throne onto Bilba's head, and she wants the Dread Pirates present so that she can have them captured afterwards. What keeps this from being a moment of Nice Job Breaking It, Hero? Nakhta's technical honesty even in this is characteristic, and though you don't find out in this route, despite being a Jerkass she really is the better choice for the throne, as compared to the totally sociopathic Consummate Liar Bilba.

    Web Animation 
  • RWBY:
    • In the pilot episode, a Dust shop is robbed by Roman Torchwick and his mooks. The elderly shop owner holds up his hands and tells them to just take his Lien (money) and leave. Roman tells him to relax because he's not there to steal money. He then orders his men to steal as much Dust as they can. Dust is the basis for all technology in the show, and also acts as ammunition for weapons. While Dust is common and easily available, it's therefore highly valuable.
    • From the moment Weiss returns home, Whitley is supportive of her and understanding about her situation. Weiss is confused by this because she was always under the impression that Whitley didn't really like her or Winter, but Whitley assures her it was only Winter he had issues with. It is only after Jacques has stripped her of her inheritance and handed it to Whitley that Weiss realises that Whitley was only pretending to be the supportive brother so that he would be seen by Jacques as the only suitable heir. He explains to Weiss that instead of rebelling, the only way to handle their father is to become exactly what he wants them to be.
  • Supermarioglitchy4's Super Mario 64 Bloopers: "What do you have to lose? Besides your life."

    Web Original 
  • In this NSFW chat log, in order to troll someone on Skype, the poster poses as Princess Celestia from My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic and replies literally... without mentioning this to the stranger.
  • SCP Foundation: SCP-507 was once reassured from behind a locked door that should he unlock it, the person behind it would not be able to stab him "because all of his objects were 'very blunt'".
  • On This Very Wiki's Wretched Hive page:
    Limerick has often been named Stab City. Though in recent years the number of stabbings has decreased, as gun crime has gone through the roof.
  • Not Always Right:
    • A story about an internet user who believed that the way to get an in-person visit from a technician was to not only verbally abuse the tech support line, but to threaten to come round to the company with a gun. This earned the false reassurance that someone would definitely be visiting the customer soon, possibly even running red lights to get there.
    • Similarly, this story, where an auto shop is offered second-hand wheels of dubious provinence for a luxury car, and tells the seller they have a customer who is looking for exactly those kinds of wheels ... because they've recognised that the wheels have been stolen from a car they service.

    Web Videos 
  • Critical Role: Exandria Unlimited: During the Darkest Hour of the "Calamity" prequel miniseries, as Asmodeus, Lord of the Nine Hells is unleased on Exandria in presence of the party, Brennan Lee Mulligan has the party roll a saving throw for each of their magic items. He tells Luis, playing The Paladin, that he doesn't need to roll for his Holy Avenger. This is because the sword is corroded and unmade instantly, with No Saving Throw (although it doesn't explode on him like the items that do fail their saves, which is some small grace).
  • Title Pending: Alyssa tries to convince the two that having 20 escaped life-sentence convicts as the filming crew isn't bad. Bayden starts thinking this isn't a good idea, but Cameron makes him reconsider.
  • In What If the Star Wars Prequels Were Good?, Darth Maul demands his Master for a chance to kill his mortal enemy, Obi-Wan. Sidious tells his apprentice to be patient and relax, as all the loose ends will be wrapped up soon. When the foes eventually clash, Maul is defeated by Obi-Wan and Anakin. Sidious/Palpatine orders both Jedi to kill Maul, who suddenly realises that he was the loose end his Master was referring to earlier.
  • Played for Laughs in this video from Mark Angel Comedy. A woman tells her friend Kachi that she's getting fat, and the larger woman denies it, calling for a passing little girl named Emanuella to back her up. The child takes a look and remarks "You're not getting fat"—then immediately follows up with "You're ALREADY fat!" Emanuella then cracks some fat jokes about the situation, much to Kachi's frustration and her friend's delight.

    Real Life 
  • To Catch a Predator. Many episodes feature suspects asking the question "Are you going to arrest me?", only to have Chris Hansen respond with "I'm not going to arrest you." Which he doesn't, because he's not a police officer. They're waiting outside.
  • The classic political one (mentioned several times on this wiki) is the Finnish president assuring the Germans in World War II that he most assuredly would not seek a separate peace with the Soviets in exchange for Germany's offer of (badly needed) military aid. And he didn't. The next president after he resigned right after receiving the aid, on the other hand...
  • In 1956, during the Hungarian Revolution, what started as peaceful protests turned into riots against the Soviet Union. In October, Hungarian P.M. Imre Nagy announced a ceasefire, declaring that the government would not treat the uprising as a counter-revolution, but as a "great, national and democratic event". Five days after the brief victory, Soviet tanks and troops invaded Budapest and suppressed the Hungarian defenders, with many arrestees being sentenced to imprisonment, concentration camp internment, or execution.
  • Saddam Hussein once fired one of his cabinet ministers, Dr. Riyadh Ibrahim, and then ordered him arrested. Ibrahim's wife went to Saddam in tears, begging that her husband be returned to her. He promised her he would indeed be returned to her the next day. Hussein kept his word, and did indeed return Dr. Ibrahim to his wife... in several pieces.
  • An old story about Czar Ivan the Terrible has him promise a rebellious city that, if they surrender, not one drop of the inhabitants' blood will stain the ground. So when he slaughters every living soul in the city, he makes sure to do it indoors.
  • The Mongols had a habit of telling the captured leaders of the cities they conquered that none of their blood would be spilled. Which was technically true — the Mongols were extremely superstitious about shedding the blood of those of noble birth, and killed them in ways such as breaking their necks, trampling them to death, rolling them up in a carpet and beating them to death or tossing them into rivers in a felt sack.
  • Nobody dies of AIDS. What they die of are unrelated diseases that can proliferate unchecked by their much weakened immune system. Though nowadays, with modern medical treatment, that's getting rarer. Most people living with HIV end up living long enough to die of something else.
  • There are a couple of old sayings in medicine that fit this trope. "All bleeding stops...eventually," and "All fevers will come down (some of them to room temperature)."
  • During one of his seminars, American travel writer Rick Steves told attendees something along the lines of "In Europe, you won't get mugged by criminals who threaten you using a gun or a knife — that's what happens here... Instead, you are more likely to experience pickpocketing."
    • As it turns out, this isn't actually the case; while your odds of being threatened with a gun are much lower in Europe, the odds of being robbed with a weapon of some sort (be it a knife, club, acid, or something else) aren't particularly different from that of the US. And you're still more likely to get pickpocketed.
  • There's a ferry ride in Maine where the captain, over the speaker, mentions falling overboard, but humorously reassures everyone that "No one drowns off the coast of Maine. You freeze to death long before you drown."
  • When tourists take mule rides down into the Grand Canyon, the guide will warn them that the mules like to walk close to the edge of the cliffs. "But don't worry about it... because there's nothing you can do about it."
  • Food labels and advertising often rely on any number of these sorts of tricks, sometimes to the point of Asbestos-Free Cereal:
    • You sometimes find a tub of non-butter spread named "Tastes Like Butter", or something with "Real Cheese Flavor".
    • Likewise, some products attempt to sound healthy with labels such as "fat-free" or "gluten-free", without mentioning the crapton of salt or sugar they contain.
    • In the United States, most packaged foods are required to include the nutritional information labeled somewhere. A small can of soup with 25% of your daily recommended allowance of fat or salt per serving might not sound so bad, until you look closer and see that this one little can supposedly holds 3 servings.
    • Saying that something is "made with 100% real beef/chicken/cheese/etc" isn't the same thing as saying that it's made FROM that and nothing else.
    • In the U.S., some meats will be advertised as "hormone free," which is technically correct but doesn't mention the fact that the use of growth hormones in meat animals is illegal in the U.S.note 
  • Angered by some subversive graffiti lampooning his sister, Pope Sixtus V announced that if the writer gave himself up, he'd receive a huge cash reward and not be hanged. The man duly surrendered, whereupon Sixtus had his hands cut off and his tongue bored through instead.
  • In 1642, George Spencer stood trial for bestiality in Connecticut. To get him to confess, the magistrate quoted the Scripture "He that hideth his sin shall not prosper, but he that confesseth and forsaketh his sins shall find mercy." Unfortunately for George, once he confessed the court revealed that the mercy would be shown by God, not them. He became the first non-native person in Connecticut to receive the death penalty.

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Mom, It's A Picture Phone

When Lisa calls Marge to tell her she's getting married, she asks her to make sure Homer doesn't do anything embarrassing. Marge assures her Homer will be on his best behavior, crossing her fingers while doing so...forgetting that she's on a picture call with Lisa.

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