This is a kind of wordplay joke you find characters using, on themselves or others, about how a common expression is very appropriate to the situation at hand... but not for them, since they can no longer use it without it being technically incorrect or highly ironic. Another way to do this is to "fix" the expression so that it works unironically, which changes the expression into a suspiciously off statement for those who have no clue about the character.
- An undead could say "The city at night is so beautiful it takes my breath away... if I still breathed, anyway."
- Or an atheist might exclaim "Oh your God, what have you done?!"
- Going with a bit of dark humor: "This is an outrage; I won't stand for this! ...And not just because I'm in a wheelchair."
- And to use the trope name: "I would say this is impossible, if it hadn't already happened."
For this humor to work, the audience has to know enough about the character to see why the normal statement wouldn't apply. It's not a very difficult task if it can be known just from looking at them or watching them for a bit, but if the relevant bit of background is subtle or requires knowing Backstory the joke can get lost to new viewers. Alternately, a character can be introduced using this kind of humor so the audience and fellow cast can learn something about them, be it that they're somehow different or prone to offbeat humor. If it takes a few episodes for the joke to pay off, it becomes funnier in repeat viewings.
- Brook in One Piece, who is a skeleton, use any opportunity he finds to deliver one of his "Skull jokes":
"It has been over a few decades since I have eaten anything decent. It became so painful that the back of my stomach and my back were almost indistinguishable. That was the kind of life I lived for so many years. Then again, I am a skeleton so I don't have a stomach or back. Yohohohohohoho."
- 7-Zark-7 on Battle of the Planets was often given lines referencing his being a robot, such as 'My heart would be in my mouth — if I had a mouth' (perhaps with a line about his non-existent heart added for variety).
- Two examples in Doom Patrol from early November 2009:
- In the main story, the Black Lantern, Negative Woman says, "I can't for the life of me understand why. Ah, perhaps 'life' was not the best choice of word."
- In the Metal Men backup strip, Doc Magnus says, "My God (Metaphorically speaking. I don't actually believe in the existence of a supreme being)! What happened here?"
- A Running Gag with Doctor Thirteen was him saying "Oh my God... Who is not real and is used only as a figure of speech referring to a widespread cultural fiction."
- A variant in Igor, where Scamper, a reanimated rabbit with an extreme Healing Factor; and Brain, exactly what the name implies; are trying to dismantle a doomsday device. Failing, Brain panics and exclaims, "We're all gonna die! Except you!"
- Emily in Corpse Bride has the "take my breath away" variant.
- Hercules: "My friends call me Meg. At least, they would if I had any friends."
- In Aladdin after Crashing Through the Harem, Aladdin is hit with a broom by a matron who yells, "I'd blame parents except he hasn't got 'em!"
- In the Cut Song "The Jitterbug" from The Wizard of Oz, the Scarecrow says, "I haven't got a brain, but I think I ought to worry."
- Aunt Em to Almira Gulch "For twenty-three years, I've been dying to tell you what I thought of you, and now—well—being a Christian woman, I can't say it!"
- In Return to Oz, the flying Gump says as they fall to their Doom™, "If I had a stomach, I know I'd be sick!"
- In Jason X, the android Kay-Em gets her head knocked off by Jason during the climactic battle. After Jason is killed at the end, Kay-Em's disembodied head is being carried by one of the other surviving heroes, and she states, "I'd clap, if I could."
- In The Matrix Reloaded, Agent Smith describes himself as "A new man, so to speak."
- In A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, Zero Mostel's character (a slave) says "This will make my father turn over in his grave". His young master tells him that his father is still alive. Mostel replies "Yeah, but this'll kill him!"
- In Star Trek VI, when the crew of the Enterprise is ordered to go back to a star base to be decommissioned, Spock's reply is "If I were Human, I believe my response would be 'Go to Hell.' If I were Human."
- In Avengers: Age of Ultron, Ultron makes his opinion known:
Oh, Captain America, always believing you can live without a war to fight. I can't physically throw up in my mouth, but...
- In the Casper movie, Cat gets in an argument with the the Ghostly Trio and tells them to "Drop dead!", to which they retort "Too late!"
- From Halloween Romance: "I defy any human being to fail to learn slow dancing. Then again, I'm technically not a human being anymore."
- In The Dresden Files novel Ghost Story, Harry, currently a ghost, uses the undead version: "Centuries from now, who knows? Maybe magic will have the side effect of making you really good-looking and popular with the opposite sex - but I'm not holding my breath. I mean, you know. I wouldn't be. If I still had any."
- In the Discworld, Gaspode The Wonder Dog is fond of mutating the expression "pull the other one, it's got bells on" to "pull one of the others, it's got bells on", since being a dog he has four legs. This almost gets him caught when he has to pass for human at one point.
- There's something similar in Jingo. A watchman says "well, at least we're all still breathing" and resident zombie (and Zombie Advocate) Reg points out that this is a "vitalist remark."
- Death, essentially a walking robe-wearing skeleton, does this in Hogfather:
It gets under your skin, life. Speaking metaphorically, of course.
- Mack narrates, in The Automatic Detective: despite his vow to keep his nose clean, "which should have been easy, since I didn't have a nose", he heard something break in the apartment and had to investigate.
- In Simon R. Green's Nightside novels, it's not uncommon for entities without bodies, like animated doors, talking wishing wells, or sentient computers, to bitch about how a confusing situation or Logic Bomb is giving them a headache, in defiance of the fact they don't have heads.
- BIONICLE: Makuta to Carapar:
"You couldn't snap your fingers without help... if you had fingers."
- Makuta again, chatting with Toa Vakama during their brief alliance against the Dark Hunters.
"Don't assume that all Dark Hunters are bitter ex-Toa like Nidhiki or bumbling masses of muscle like Krekka. Some of them would be enough to make my flesh crawl... if I had flesh."
- A variant is also used by Hahli, said to Karzahni, who has imprisoned her and her team in the BIONICLE version of Hell:
"I'd tell you where you can go, except I think we're already there."
- Makuta again, chatting with Toa Vakama during their brief alliance against the Dark Hunters.
- In the third book of P.C.Hodgell's Chronicles of the Kencyrath series, Seeker's Mask, Jame, the heroine, trying to sort out how she's related to another character, in a culture that places a great deal of importance on blood relationships, says, "If I had a piece of chalk, I'd work it out on a wall, if I had a wall."
- A variation of this is found in Doctor Who, with the Fourth Doctor telling a girl "You're a beautiful woman... probably."
Max Capricorn: My own board voted me out. Stabbed me in the back!
- In "Voyage of the Damned", the Tenth Doctor discovers the man trying to sabotage the Starship Titanic is Max Capricorn himself, who had run the company for decades as a disembodied cyborg head.
The Doctor: If you had a back.
- See Asymmetric Dilemma for an example from the Sesame Street comic strip, where a girl says, "If I had a book, I could read... if I could read".
- From the musical episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, there's a number that goes, "If my heart could beat, it would break my chest."
- According to Spike, Andrew is "a breath of fresh air, isn't he? Thank God I don't breathe."
- From 2007's Bionic Woman:
Jaime Sommers: You don't have to be so dramatic.
Sarah Corvus: Don't I? Cause I thought I was just told by the one person who can save my life that she has better things to do. That feels pretty dramatic to me... not that I can actually feel anything, but I can intellectually imagine that that feels pretty dramatic.
- Dexter does this a lot in voice over, referring to his lack of emotional reactions. Of his adoptive sister, he says "I don't have feelings, but if I could have feelings, I would have them for Deb."
- From Angel:
Angelus: "I do not like being kept in the dark!... figuratively speaking"
- In one episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation, Data visits his birth planet (so to speak), and tells Picard, "I could say 'home, sweet home', sir. If I understood how the word 'sweet' applies."
- The Big Bang Theory: Leonard the shy physicist guy asked Penny the beautiful neighbour out, but she's not aware that it's a romantic date. When Leonard prepares, he's pretty stressed out. His room-mate Sheldon the insufferable genius offers possible outcomes: first one that alcohol and poor judgement might work for Leonard's benefit, or that there will be a string of awkward meetings in the hall until one of them moves to another zip code.
Leonard: You could have stopped at it could go well.Sheldon: If I could have, I would have.
- True Blood: Jessica Hamby, when unloading to Nan Flanagan about her boy troubles:
Jessica Hamby: ...And then, I go over to Jason's house, because I thought, "maybe he might, like, understand what I was going through," but [sniffles] he just kicked me out also. [sobs] This is the worst day of my life! I wish I was dead...except I am and it doesn't even matter!Nan Flanagan: There have been times, I'll admit, when it's occurred to me that maybe I should put my career on hold and become a maker. But these last several hours here with you have erased those doubts forever.Jessica Hamby: [staring at her in disbelief] You are nothing like you are on TV.Nan Flanagan: [pleased] Aw, thanks.
- In The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, Marvin says, "Well, excuse me for breathing, which I never do anyway so I don't know why I bother to say it. Oh, God, I'm so depressed."
"I would like to say that it is a very great pleasure, honor and privilege for me to open this bridge, but I can't because my lying circuits are all out of commission. I hate and despise you all. I now declare this hapless cyberstructure open to the unthinking abuse of all who wantonly cross her."
- There was also his speech for the opening of the new bridge on Sqornshellous Zeta.
- In the Cabin Pressure episode "Gdansk", Douglas points out that he cannot honestly say "you win some, you lose some" to poor Martin.
- Murray the talking skull from The Curse of Monkey Island is the butt of a few jokes like this.
Murray: If I could just get my hands on that gunner! If I could just get my hands, period...
- In Halo: Combat Evolved:
Cortana: If I still had fingers, they'd be crossed!
- Kingdom Hearts II has Saix, a being without a heart and therefore no emotions.
"If I had a heart, this is where I would die of laughter."
- In Sam & Max Hit the Road:
Max: I'd be peeing my pants if I wore any.
- In Sid Meier’s Alpha Centauri:
A brave little theory, and actually quite coherent for a system of five or seven dimensions — if only we lived in one.Academician Prokhor Zakharov, "Now We Are Alone"
- A variation in Fallout: New Vegas, with Mr. House using some proverbs that haven't aged well every now and then.
"There's more than one way to skin a cat, as the saying goes. Or went, that is, cats being extinct."
- There's a variation in LittleBigPlanet; the narrator doesn't contradict himself or his existence, but rather gets contradicted by the fact that, well, sack people were harmed.
"We would like to say that no little sack people were harmed in the making of LittleBigPlanet. We would like to."
- Sparkling Generation Valkyrie Yuuki is fighting the Aurochs, a giant bull, ineffectively. She does a power slide beneath him and smacks his meatballs with her hammer.
- Used in this Scary-Go-Round strip.
"She has fled, right under where my nose would be, if I had a nose! I miss you, tiny, freckly nose."
- There is this exchange between a disembodied character and an animated skeleton in A Modest Destiny:
Hechter: Your eyes are as beautiful as diamonds. Well... er... I assume.
Giggles: I'm sure your eyes are pretty nice-looking too, wherever they are.
Hechter: If I told you that you had a nice body, would you hold it against me?
Giggles: I would, but I don't know where it is...
- Doc Scratch of Homestuck will be keeping an eye, which he doesn't have, on the clock, which he doesn't need.
- In this Blip comic, the first insult which comes to mind for Maggie the talking cat is 'pussy'.
- A Running Gag in Darths & Droids sees Jabba the Hutt always use expressions like "stick my neck out", "up my sleeve", "I'm all ears", and "take it lying down" before correcting them because they don't apply to him.
- Dragon Ball Z Abridged has the following gem from Dr. Gero after Android 19 finally gets the upper hand against Goku.
Dr. Gero: Well boys, I can't say it hasn't been fun. In fact, if I still had a penis, it would be most auspicious that we're wearing baggy pants. But enough about hypothetical erections...
- In Archer, "Placebo Effect":
Archer: Franny Delaney! Let's take a walk!Franny:(in a wheelchair) A walk? Is that some sort of joke?Archer: A roll, then, whatever!
- In House of Mouse:
Hades: I promise! Cross my heart, hope to— well, too late for that.
- The robot Bender often uses "Oh your God!" as an exclamation.
- Another Bender example: "I'm so excited I wish I could wet my pants."
- At one point Mr. Horrible Gelatinous Blob (who's in a bit of a bad mood) tells Cubert and Dwight (who broke his window and are apologising at their father's behest) to "Kiss my ass...which I don't have!", provoking a fight with Hermes and the Professor.
- The Simpsons:
- Tom: "Bart, I could kiss you... If Bigger Brothers hadn't made me sign a form promising I wouldn't."
- In "Worst Episode Ever", Comic Book Guy has a stress-induced cardiac episode. When he tells Dr. Hibbert he runs a comic book shop, the doctor says they would call said job "the widowmaker" if any of the people who had it had wives.
- Once, a gay character said to Lisa, "If I was a straight 8-year-old boy, I'd be so holding your hand right now."
- Lindsay Nagael: "This is where the tears would be if I could cry. But I can't. Botched facelift."
- In the Wacky Races episode "Creepy Trip to Lemon Twist", one ghost says to the other, "I'd be bored out of my skull … if I had a skull."
- Superman: The Animated Series: Luthor, discovering who his kidnapper is, exclaims "Brainiac!", to which Brainiac replies "in the flesh, so to speak". Metallo uses the same joke in another episode.
- In Xiaolin Showdown, as Wuya returns to a corporeal form:
Omi: If I had hair, it would be standing on end!
Dojo: If I had boots, I'd be quaking in them!
Clay: Wanna borrow mine?
Dojo: No thanks. No feet.
- A variation in one episode of Adventures in Care-a-Lot: Pleased with a plan, Grizzle kisses UR-2, his robot minion. UR-2 is not pleased, and comments, "I'm sick to my stomach, and I don't even have one."
- Avatar: The Last Airbender: Toph and her friends have never been shy about pointing out her blindness:
Toph: I've seen enough of Ba Sing Se. And I can't even see!Toph: There it is!*Gaang looks where Toph's pointing*Toph: ...is what it'll sound like when one of you spots it. *Grins mockingly while waving a hand in front of her face*
- Kim Possible: In the episode where she first meets Felix, Kim is overly conscious of the fact that he's in a wheelchair (albeit an impressively tricked-out one), and keeps being over-helpful. Fortunately, he's amused rather than resentful:
Kim: Felix, you go stand watch.
Felix: You mean, sit watch.
[Kim claps a hand to her mouth in embarrassment]
Felix: Kim? I'm just playing with you.
- In the Maryoku Yummy episode "Sound Advice", Baburu, seeing Hadagi pull out an accordion, comments, "It's times like this I wish I had hands to cover my ears."
- From the My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic episode "A Bird in the Hoof", where Twilight Sparkle tries to convince Fluttershy to show a sickly bird some "tough love":
Twilight Sparkle: You need to show this patient who's the boss! Make her straighten up and fly right!
Fluttershy: She can't fly.
Twilight Sparkle: No excuses!
- From the 2010 Pound Puppies episode "Dog on a Wire":
Strudel: I'm so nervous I could sweat! If dogs sweated, which we don't. So I guess I'll just pant.
- From the Space Ghost Coast to Coast episode "Chambraigne" has Carl and Little Carl, a pair of giant floating brains, with this exchange:
Carl: SILENCE!Little Carl: (excited, incomprehensible babbling)Carl: (to Little Carl) Shut up! Shut! If you had a neck and I had hands, I would squeeze your brain, which is your body, right out of the top of your head, which does not exist!
- Adventure Time has this exchange between Marceline and her father in "It Came from the Nightosphere":
Marceline: Stay out of my life, Dad!
Hunson: You're not even alive!
- Doc McStuffins, rescuing her stuffed dragon from a puppy: "Sorry, Rudy, but Stuffy's not a toy. *beat* Well, not a dog toy."
- Sofia the First:
Clover: Hey, I Know A Guy! Well, technically, a fox.Glacia: Don't let the door hit you on the way out. Oh, that's right, I had the door removed.
- Batman: The Animated Series: Batman discovers Mr. Freeze's tragic backstory and is caught off-guard by Freeze's return:
Mr. Freeze: It would move me to tears, if I still had tears to shed.
- Used from time to time in Mysticons in regards to General Dreadbane.
Queen Goodfey: Dreadbane! You're alive!
- "Sisters in Arms":
Dreadbane: Not so much alive as undead.
- "The Dragon's Rage":
Dreadbane: In the flesh! So to speak.