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Lopsided Dichotomy

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"Either that kid has a lightbulb up his butt, or his colon has a great idea."

Either you're hallucinating after eating too much radioactive pizza last night, or you're reading a trope page about rhetorical comparisons like this one.

Sometimes, as a means of humour, or simply to argue for one possibility through ridicule of all possible alternatives, someone will frame a description or explanation as "either it was X highly unlikely set of circumstances, or it was Y straightforward apparent conclusion."

Often associated with Deadpan Snarkers and/or First Person Smartasses.

Most often "Y straightforward apparent conclusion" is obviously the truth and the dichotomy is employed as means of snark or lampshading. However on occasion, this trope will be subverted to comic effect when the more bizarre conclusion turns out to be precisely correct instead, perhaps sometimes as An Aesop about not being too sure of yourself about what is possible and what is not.

If the characters decide that the mundane explanation is actually less plausible, it may be an Impossibly Mundane Explanation.

Sometimes also overlaps with False Dichotomy, when the ludicrous explanation isn't really the only alternative to the implied one. Talks Like a Simile is related. See also Occam's Razor. Not to be confused with an Asymmetric Dilemma, which is also about mundane things being contrasted with extreme things, but in more of an "and" way than an "or".

When a translator provides translations of this nature, it is the Either "World Domination", or Something About Bananas subtrope.

See also Is the Answer to This Question "Yes"?.


    open/close all folders 

  • George Carlin suggested something like this as a way to "wake people up": When someone asks you what time it is, you look at your watch and say, "Either it's 8:15 or Mickey has a hard-on!"
  • Bo Burnham has an example in his song "Sad" that doesn't follow the usual format, but otherwise fits perfectly:
    I saw a red giraffe who had a short neck, that was sad...or a deer.
  • In New In Town, John Mulaney uses this to illustrate the kind of thing he sees in New York City that make him regret quitting drinking:
    "...I saw in front of my [apartment] building a wheelchair, knocked on its side with no one in it. That's a bad thing to see. Something happened there. You hope it was a miracle! But probably not."

    Comic Strips 
  • Calvin and Hobbes:
    • The page image, is of Calvin's detective alter ego commenting why a room was trashed.
    • Calvin saying "either mom's cooking dinner or someone got sick in the furnace duct."
  • Dilbert:
    • In "The Dilbert Principle", Scott Adams describes the two possible results of a career in engineering:
      Risk: Public humiliation and the death of thousands of innocent people. Reward: A certificate of appreciation in a handsome plastic frame.
    • At the end of a Dilbert arc, Dilbert wonders why he's sitting naked in a trash can, and Dogbert explains, "Either you were killed by wild deer and we cloned you back to life from your old garbage... or... you saved a lot of money on an aboveground pool."
  • David Ramirez's prize-winning short comic, "My Little Tomoka", is protagonized by a girl who was, accidentally, named Noo. So, when her mother calls her yelling...
    Mother: NOO!
    Noo: Has my mother just found my father's corpse inside of the microwave, or she is calling me for supper.
  • In the Pearls Before Swine treasury "Pearls Freaks The #%*# Out", one strip taking place in a supermarket had about three box-things lying on a shelf in the background. Pastis comments "Either the store had a huge run on that particular item, or a cartoonist I know got tired of drawing them.".
  • A Buckles strip from 5-29-13 had this:
    Buckles: Either I'm a bad liar, or Paul knows what TV shows the plant really watches.

    Films — Animation 
  • Madagascar: "Did that just say 'Grand Central Station', or 'my aunt's constipation'?"

    Films — Live-Action 

  • In Animorphs, Aximili ("Ax") says one time, while in flea morph, "He's welcoming the Visser back aboard the Blade ship. Or he may be telling him his brother is a meteor fragment. I understand Galard, but this morph's hearing is very uncertain."note 
  • Please Don't Tell My Parents I'm a Supervillain: Based on the number and variety of mad science devices Bad Penny has been shown to use, the Audit concludes that either Bad Penny is exponentially more powerful than any other mad scientist in human history, or she's a relatively weak mad scientist who steals other people's inventions out of jealousy. It's the first option.
  • Wayside School Gets a Little Stranger: Somehow, Miss Mush comes to the conclusion that either Kathy has suddenly turned nice, or Mr. Gorf is secretly a mean teacher who has stolen the class's voices, and she needs to smash a pepper pie into his face to make him sneeze them all out. Since she just can't believe Kathy would be nice, she decides it must be the other option, which is exactly correct.
  • Ridcully thinks he's doing this in Hogfather when he asks Ponder Stibbons "You mean the whole world has gone wrong or your machine is wrong?" after Hex produces figures that don't seem to make sense and requests "PLEASE REINSTALL UNIVERSE AND REBOOT". Ponder replies that Hex is tested every day and the universe isn't, which Ridcully is forced to concede is a good point.

    Live-Action TV 
  • During the "Inspector" sketch of Monty Python's Flying Circus, Inspector Lookout sees the body of Inspector Tiger. Lookout surmises that either the murderer is someone in the same room, or else he had 40-foot long arms.
  • From House, where House talks about the iPhone someone bought himnote :
    "Either that costs more than 25 bucks, or I'm seriously starting to doubt Steve Jobs' business strategy."
  • Penn & Teller: Bullshit! used this in the college episode in response to a college rally organizer who told a counter-protester to move away from the crowd.
    "There's 300 of them, and 1 of us, and he's worried about their safety? He's either a pussy, or he thinks he recognizes Erin from Drunken Master 2."
  • The page quotation from Scrubs, of course.
  • From the Tom Baker-era Doctor Who arc "The Deadly Assassin":
    Doctor: Engin, I can feel my hair curling, and that means either it's going to rain or else I'm on to something.
  • In Person of Interest "Allegiance," Root confronts Greer about some of the things he's recently acquired:
    Root: You have some things that don't belong to you: two hard drives, a superconducting chip, and six generators. Which means either you're planning to bring Samaritan online or you're the world's most ambitious gamer.
  • Star Trek: The Next Generation: In "Remember Me", when Crusher realizes nothing makes sense because she's trapped in a bubble universe.
    Crusher: If there's nothing wrong with me, maybe there's something wrong with the universe.
  • Star Trek: Voyager: In "Waking Moments", the crew is put through dream manipulation by mysterious aliens. In one shared dream, there's a warp core breach that Janeway fails to stop, who is still unharmed in the explosion.
    Janeway: Either I've become impervious to antimatter explosions, or we're still dreaming.
  • That '70s Show: In "Kitty's Birthday (That's Today?!)", Red and Eric forget Kitty's birthday, then try to pretend it's a Not-So-Forgotten Birthday, buying her a few balloons and a funnel from the gas station at 11:40 P.M.. However, she sees through it.
    Kitty: Well, um, either these gifts are really thoughtful, or you bought a bunch of crap at the gas station!

    Print Media 
  • In the Mad Magazine parody for Charlie's Angels, the angels are given "costumes" to wear, namely skimpy bikinis. One of them quips:
    "Do we put these on our bodies, or do we paste them on an envelope?"

    Video Games 
  • In Dead to Rights, Jack Slate uncovers the villain's secret gold-smelting plant beneath Grant City, and snarks to himself "That's a lot of gold, and I doubt Fort Knox was having a yard sale!"
  • At the end of Quest for Glory IV, the hero is surrounded by the thankful people of the land after (like the past three games) completing yet another heroic quest. Cue Erasmus and Fenrus taking that moment to scry on the hero, with Fenrus commenting that "It's either an award ceremony or a lynch mob."
  • In Guild Wars 2, while looking for an infiltrator who is apparently stealing people's uniforms and able to paralyze with a touch, Rhytlock comments
    "More dazed soldiers staggering around in their skivvies. Either we're on the right track or we missed the best party ever."
  • In Tales of Graces, a Traveling Beastmaster concludes from Sophie's acrobatic tricks that she's either from the circus, or she's an assassin.

    Web Comics 
  • Subverted in a strip from The Order of the Stick, when Roy (as a spirit in the Afterlife Antechamber) attempts one after his father hands him copies of Frankenstein, I, Robot, Promethean: The Created and Everything You Always Wanted To Know About Your Dead Body Being Used To Make A Bone Golem (But Were Afraid To Ask) to "help [him] come to terms with the bad news". He tries to make this snark but it is so specific he cannot come up with a joke.
    Roy: Either you're trying to tell me that my body was used to make a golem, or... actually, I can't think of any other possible interpretation.
  • Parodied in Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal — a scientist tells a reporter "Either we had a slight measuring error, or all of physics is wrong." Again, she says this to a reporter, a profession notorious for misleading attention-grabbing science headlines. You can probably guess the result.

    Web Original 

    Western Animation 
  • Garfield and Friends episode, "Wonderful World":
    Garfield: Either Jon's home or somebody put a VCR in the garbage disposal.
  • Phineas and Ferb:
    • "Ask A Foolish Question":
      Major Monogram: Good morning, Agent P. The entire Tri-State Area is becoming riddled with holes. Also, numerous light beams have been shot from Doofenshmirtz's building. Either he's having some sort of a rave, or he's the one behind all those holes.
    • "Meatloaf Surprise":
      Major Monogram: Morning, Agent P. We've recently found surveillance footage of Doofenshmirtz buying fresh produce. We've concluded that there are two possibilities: either he's up to something sinister that is food-related, or he's cooking dinner because he's got a beautiful woman coming over and he wants to imp... Never mind, it's obviously the first thing.
    • "One Good Scare Ought to Do It!":
      Major Monogram: Good morning, Agent P. Dr. Doofenshmirtz is on the move. We tracked him to these coordinates when we suddenly lost his signal. We have two scenarios to explain his disappearance. First, that magical elves have caused Dr. Doofenshmirtz to vanish to the land of angry corn people. The second, is that he may be on his secret, hideout-shaped island with the initial "D" carved into it that satellites found in the exact, spot, where he... vanished... uh, you know what? Uh, forget the magical elves thing. Way off base with that.
  • From The Simpsons "El Viaje Misterioso De Nuestro Jomer", when Homer stands in front of a lighthouse, causing his silhouette to be projected onto the clouds... note 
    Bart: Hey look! Is that Dad?
    Lisa: Either that or Batman's really let himself go.
  • From Duckman:
    "Either you're babbling, or you just said in Cherokee that my scrotum is many colored."
  • Happens once in Daria when pop music starts playing.
    Tom: What the hell is that?
    Daria: Either a traveling band of eunuchs, or Quinn's figured out how to turn on the radio.

    Real Life 
  • Pakistani women's rights activist Shahnaz Bukharihas on bride burning:
    "Either Pakistan is home to possessed stoves which burn only young housewives, and are particularly fond of genitalia, or (...) there is a grim pattern that these women are victims of deliberate murder."