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Passive-Aggressive Kombat
aka: Passive Aggressive Combat

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Looks like the verbal claws are out.

"Senior wizards never rowed in public. The damages were apt to be appalling. No, politeness ruled, but with sharpened edges."

Fighting doesn't have to involve shouting or anything physical. For some characters, sharp well-placed words are all they need to duel. They can sound very reasonable, even gentle. It's still a knock-out, winner-take-all confrontation, just that the people involved are trying to remain composed and amicable.

Once in a while these can break into something more severe if a character's Berserk Button is hit, someone has hit a Rage Breaking Point, or someone makes a Fisticuff-Provoking Comment. A Cat Fight might even ensue.

This is also Truth in Television, as it's practically a necessity in politics and diplomacy (some are better at it than others), and just a common trait of a Jewish Mother. Someone with Silk Hiding Steel is likely to engage in this when needed, as is any member of a Decadent Court worth their salt.

Common weapons in this include Politeness Judo, Stealth Insult, Chewbacca Defense, any of various Logical Fallacies, and Damned by Faint Praise.

Compare Jews Love to Argue, Politeness Judo, Sugary Malice, Snark-to-Snark Combat, Outhumbling Each Other, Compliment Fishing.

Contrast Hair-Trigger Temper (who couldn't do this trope if they tried), Volleying Insults (where the fight becomes openly hostile).


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    Anime & Manga 
  • In Black Butler II, those meetings between Sebastian and Claude that don't degenerate into an outright brawl inevitably turn into this, as they exchange backhanded compliments and critique each other's buttling-skills.
  • In Bloom Into You, Sayaka engages in this from time to time.
    • After hearing Touko call Yuu by her first name, Sayaka offers to do the same. She then retracts that offer, saying that she didn't call her kouhais at her old middle school by their first names, as a way of subtly expressing jealousy over how close Touko and Yuu are.
    • After hearing that her former senpai is sorry about getting her interested in girls (as opposed to suddenly dumping her and breaking her heart), Sayaka gives a polite but backhanded reassurance that she's no longer interested in her senpai.
    • She also frequently reminds Yuu of her status as Touko's kohai. By doing so, Sayaka subtly asserts that as Touko's best friend, she's closer to Touko than Yuu is.
  • In Brave10, this is Kanetsugu Naoe's forte, being quick of wit and vaguely disdainful towards everyone.
  • In Corsair, Aura, princess of a pirate clan, is kidnapped by the governor-general of a nearby territory, Jean-Hughes D'Aubigne. Their first conversation with her as a hostage consists of them sharing a meal and speaking in polite monotone while exchanging sentiments such as "It's hard to believe a beauty like you is also a dirty sea pirate."
  • Light and L's battle of wits in Death Note in all its EPIC passive-aggressive glory. At one point, though, Light does actually just punch L, leading to a brawl. Later Light and Near's..
  • Adale from The Good Witch of the West was noted, by her enemy whom she'd just beaten in this, to never be at a loss for words.
  • Sir Integra Hellsing and Father Enrico Maxwell love to engage in this whenever they meet. It comes with the territory when you're the heads of two supernatural hunting organizations on a denominational divide.
  • To the suspicion of all else, Paul von Oberstein from Legend of the Galactic Heroes.
  • Used quite in a while in Dear Brother, especially by Rei and Kaoru when the first is in her rare good moods, by Mariko and Aya when they can't slap each other around, or by Fukiko against whoever she's displeased with.
  • America and Russia in Hetalia: Axis Powers are shown to do this. Most notably with their exchange in the America's Birthday strip, where Russia gives America a huge box of "extra small" condoms and a one-way ticket to Siberia. This conversation ends with them laughing while an intimidating aura emits from both of them.
  • In Kaguya-sama: Love Is War, most of Kaguya and Shrogane's flirting is done through canonical subtext, since neither of them feel comfortable openly admitting their feelings and they are often surrounded by people. Their aim is to make the other person lose their composure and confess... but their "war of love" humiliates them both more than if they were just honest about their feelings. Fujiwara also gets in on the action in chapter 84 when Kaguya stealing her role as Shirogane's dance teacher causes her dialogue to suddenly become a lot more sarcastic than usual.
  • Every single conversation that Keith and Gerald have in My Next Life as a Villainess: All Routes Lead to Doom! is dripping with very obvious subtext as they battle for Katarina's attention. Katarina being who she is, she just sees them as being close friends.
  • When Negi and Fate meet up for a discussion in the Magic World arc of Negima! Magister Negi Magi, they sit down for a cup of tea and coffee like gentlemen, seemingly polite and in control, all the while spitting ever more contemptuous and malicious insults and one another's tastes and manners at the table. Even though they're only talking about drinks and what they put in their drinks, the others around the table can't help but back up from the tangible fury building around that table.
  • Being a deconstruction of the Fighting Series Played for Laughs, Ramen Fighter Miki deconstructs Passive-Aggressive Kombat reminding us that this is the weapon of the people who cannot win a physical confrontation, but also takes a psychological toll on those who use it:
  • Anthy Himemiya of Revolutionary Girl Utena is a master at this, though it's also deconstructed in that it's the only way she can fight back, having been emotionally anesthetized by years of emotional and sexual manipulation by her Manipulative Bastard of a brother, Akio Ohtori. The one time Anthy talks straight to the point is after Utena's Heroic Sacrifice for her- she manages to break the cycle of abuse and walks out on Akio, leaving Ohtori with Chuchu to find Utena.
  • In the anime version of Sailor Moon, basically every single thing that has come out of Michiru Kaioh's mouth is this. If Usagi is going to be the queen of the moon, Michiru is definitely queen of the trolls.
    • Michiru finally meets her match in Sailor Aluminum Seiren, who manages to embarrass Michiru and Haruka after the two make their grand entrance standing on Usagi's dining room table... with their shoes on.
      Sailor Aluminum Seiren: I don't believe this!
      Sailor Lead Crow: That's right, you tell them!
      Sailor Aluminum Seiren: They put their shoes on the table!
      Sailor Uranus: Oh it, it was an accident.
      Sailor Neptune: We're so sorry!
  • One chapter of Touhou Ibarakasen ~ Wild and Horned Hermit has Sanae and Reimu arguing about alcohol, with Sanae getting coached in this technique by her ancestors/bosses/patron gods Kanako and Suwako. Under the pretext of a peace offering, she gives Reimu some high-quality sake that was drunk at important moments in history; Kasen, who's far savvier than Reimu, realizes that the sake is perfectly mundane, and the moments in history were ones where people made fools of themselves because they were drunk. Since Reimu didn't pick up on either of those things, she ends up looking like a fool and doesn't even realize it.
  • Played more literally than usual in the Territory Arc in YuYu Hakusho, wherein one of the characters with Territory abilities can create a Territory in which violence is not possible, and the only way to beat the other person is to make them say whatever the Taboo might be at the moment. Kurama talked him into making the whole Japanese alphabet taboo one letter (kana) at a time, then made him laugh — setting off several of the Taboo sounds and beating him at his own game. Also one earlier in the Four Saint Beasts Arc, where at the end Hiei notes that Kurama has to have the last word.

    Comic Books 

    Fan Works 
  • Child of the Storm has Loki and Dumbledore as two particular past masters of this trope, with the hapless Cornelius Fudge a frequent target.
    • Harry demonstrates a proficiency in it in chapter 6 of Ghosts of the Past.
  • Children of Remnant: Summer notes that this is one of Ozpin's qualities that she can't help but respect - with everything that he says, it's near impossible to tell if it's just a statement of fact, setting up a new argument, or a thinly veiled insult.
  • The second season of Children of Time has two running examples: the Holmeses vs. Chief Inspector Grayson (Beth Holmes's boss), and the Holmeses vs. Professor Moriarty.
  • Hetalia: Axis Powers fanfic Gankona, Unnachgiebig, Unità: Germany and Japan engaged in plenty of this over Italy before their cock fight. More aggressive than passive though.
  • In the Danganronpa fanfic Hope on a Distant Mountain, Hope's Peak headmaster Jin Kirigiri spends most of his meeting with the school's steering committee bringing up all the bad and stupid things they've done in the story, though always politely and never actually accusing them of doing anything wrong. He finishes up with some Parenthetical Swearing.
  • When Trevor isn't outright Hannibal Lecturing his audience or Ink City at large, he engages in this instead. GLaDOS and Mew are other regular combatants, and even Yakko treads the thin line between this and Deadpan Snarking.
  • In A Knight's Tale as Inquisitor, Josephine and Vivienne engage in this with each other during their first conversation in the story, exchanging honey-coated words with sharpened blade tongues.
  • Scarlet Lady:
    • Mme. Bustier regularly holds a "Morning Compliment Time" where her students are meant to exchange praise. Lila loves it because she uses this as a chance to lob Stealth Insults at Chloé, who tries to respond in kind. Mme. Bustier seems completely oblivious to this.
    • Ironically enough, Bustier herself also specializes in this. Rather than directly addressing Chloé being an utterly unapologetic bully, she prefers guilt-tripping her better-behaved students into "leading by example". When the rest of the class gets upset over Chloé vandalizing Marinette's gift, she asks them "We don't want to be upset on my birthday, do we?", and takes Marinette aside to try pressuring her into letting the incident go.
  • System Restore: Koizumi and Togami get into this when he learns that she secretly arranged a "girls' day out" without informing him of their plans:
    Koizumi: Okay, fine. But you just said you didn't have a problem. So it sounds more like you just want an excuse to talk down to me again.
    Togami: Is that what this is to you, then? A power play? There's no reason for it to be. I am merely cautioning you to inform me next time, especially if you are going to arrange such a large gathering. The unstable are drawn to such spectacles, and if you don't take the necessary precautions-
    Koizumi: Wait – what are you implying? Why would any of us do anything like that?
    Togami: I'm not implying anything about anyone. I'm simply making sure you remember that there's a precedent of such things occurring, and that no matter what you may think of someone, you don't know what they're thinking.
    Koizumi: That's not news to me. But since I actually talk to the people on this island, I think I know them better than you do, especially the girls involved. And I think we've learned a thing or two from Komaeda and Hanamura's mistakes.
  • Truth and Consequences: Adrien covers this in a veneer of Oblivious Guilt Slinging when he delivers a toast wherein he praises Ladybug as "The most honest, faithful, and truest friend this city has." Ladybug doesn't know that he's aware of the deal she made with Hawk Moth, and he's intentionally aiming to make her uncomfortable by complimenting her on traits he no longer believes she has.
  • Vision of Escaflowne Abridged: The Trope Namer, which spoofed Hitomi's and Millerna's discussions in the real The Vision of Escaflowne series over who would get Allen. Basically, each fight starts and end with an Mortal Kombat-style announcer presenting them as intense, brutal fights (complete with "-ality!" puns), even though the actual scenes are just them calmly talking. The Running Gag first shows up here at 2:56.
  • In the My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic fanfic Warmongering, a Diamond Dog king sends Celestia a letter declaring war, and demands she give up a number of spoils or be destroyed. Celestia responds as if he was canceling a dinner reservation, then starts aimlessly talking about some new inventions of her country (which can be used as weapons), the trade treaties that she has with him (which she just canceled), and the fact that she controls the sun (and how she "accidentally" dropped it a little low over his capital, raising the temperature to a hundred and twenty degrees for a minute). By the end, all of his allies have pledged their support to Celestia and he has to deal with a war from a completely different country. In the last line of the fic, she drops the act.

    Films — Animation 
  • My Little Pony: Equestria Girls – Friendship Games: Principal Cinch's speech at the welcoming party sounds polite, but in fact she's constantly putting down Canterlot High School, and saying in substance that they have no chance to win the Friendship Games.
    Abacus Cinch: It's been four years since the last Friendship Games, but it feels as though nothing has changed. Canterlot High continues to pick its competitors in a popularity contest and Crystal Prep continues to field its top twelve students. It is a comfort to know that even after so many years of losses, your school remains so committed to its ideals, however misguided they may be. I wish you all the best of luck, regardless of the inevitable outcome.
  • Turning Red: When Mei's aunts arrive to help with the ritual, they get in some minor jabbing at both Mei and Ming's expense the way only family members can.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • The 1982 film of Evil Under the Sun contains these exchanges from Daphne Castle (Dame Maggie Smith) and Arlena Marshall (Diana Rigg):
    Daphne Castle: Arlena and I are old sparring partners.
    Arlena Marshall: Hello, Daphne.
    Daphne: Oh, it's been years.
    Arlena: A little time, yes.
    Daphne: Years. Arlena and I were in the chorus of a show together. Not that I could ever compete. Even in those days, she could always throw her legs up in the air higher than any of us. And wider.
    Arlena: Kenneth, this is such a surprise! When you told me of an island run by a quaint little landlady, I had no idea it was Daphne Castle.
    Kenneth Marshall: (embarrassed) Er, yes, quite. Daphne, I wonder if we could go to our rooms. It's been a long journey.
    Daphne: Oh, certainly. (rings the bell, and calls out) Andreas! (no response)
    Arlena: If you're short-staffed, Kenneth can easily carry the bags.
    Daphne: They'll be brought up in a minute! Do have a good, long, peaceful rest, Arlena.
    (later, during that evening's cocktail gathering)
    Arlena: (making a grand entrance) Oh my, I'm the last to arrive!
    Daphne: Have a sausage, dear. You must be famished, having to wait all that time in your room.
  • Jerry Lundegaard's Establishing Character Moment in Fargo has him taking this approach to con a couple into paying for a protective coat of paint that they didn't want on their car. When Jerry only knocks $100 off of the $500 cost for the paint, this pisses the husband off even more.
  • Gosford Park: Dame Maggie Smith's character is an expert at this, making backhanded compliments and snide remarks to everyone in earshot. She takes particular interest in attacking the woman from a working-class background, complimenting her for being so refreshingly economic in only bringing one formal gown to the weekend. This is hypocritical of her, since she's only there to beg for money from her richer relative.
  • The Green Hornet:
    • Britt never directly confronts his dad, but he never misses a chance to disappoint him. When Britt talks to you, you cannot be sure if he is praising you or insulting you (he bluntly tells Kato he has no life and calls Casey "old"). The obvious example is when Kato is hitting on Casey; Britt doesn't like that and, instead of confronting his feelings, he humiliates Kato by asking for a coffee. When Kato confronts Britt (by punching a hole in the wall), he manipulates Kato with guilt and convinces him that Kato misunderstood the situation and that it was all part of their cover.
    • Kato takes this attitude with Britt when the direct approach doesn't work: He goes on a date with Casey and lies to Britt about visiting his friend Tony. Does it not seem suspicious that the Hypercompetent Sidekick risks letting his Manchild employer near a gas gun?
  • This is used as the Jews' ultimate weapon in The Hebrew Hammer, where Mordechai takes on the stereotypical Jewish Mother persona and runs with it.
  • Many of the voice actors at Gustave's party in In a World… engage in this.
  • The first Iron Man movie has a wonderful little example between Pepper Potts and Christine Everhart.
    Pepper: (after Stark's one night stand with Christine) I have your clothes here; they've been dry cleaned and pressed. And there's a car waiting for you outside that will take you anywhere you'd like to go.
    Christine: (patronizing tone) You must be the famous Pepper Potts.
    Pepper: (smiles and nods) Indeed I am.
    Christine: After all these years, Tony still has you picking up the dry cleaning.
    Pepper: I do anything and everything Mr. Stark requires. Including, occasionally, taking out the trash. Will that be all?
  • In the Film of the Book of Memoirs of a Geisha, when Hatsumomo tries to interfere with Sayuri's debut by waltzing in unannounced during the latter's fan dance. The best part is that they are both smiling sweetly throughout the entire exchange, and Sayuri never pauses in her attentions to the clients:
    Hatsumomo: What a beautiful dance, yes Pumpkin? (breaking out her own fans) Her fans are so hypnotic, that you never notice her feet! (some applause) What's her name?
    Mameha: Her name is Sayuri.
    Hatsumomo: Sayuri — a name as sweet as she is! I'm afraid these days, even a common chambermaid can call herself a geisha. So it's nice to see such a sincere young maiko — isn't it?
    Mameha: Surely you would like to thank Hatsumomo for her gracious compliments?
    Sayuri: There is so much I would like to say to Hatsumomo...
    Hatsumomo: Sometimes, the smartest remark is silence!
    Sayuri: What better advice to follow than your own?
    Mameha: Sayuri...!
    Hatsumomo: I was a maiko myself once.
    Sayuri: (lighting a cigarette) Of course. But... it's been such a very long... long... (blows out her match) ...long, long time.
    (everyone laughs, and Hatsumomo finally drops the smile)
  • In-Universe rival actresses Marina Gregg (Elizabeth Taylor) and Lola Brewster (Kim Novak) have several hilarious catfights in the 1980 adaptation of Agatha Christie's The Mirror Crack'd.
    Lola: You seem lovely, as always. Of course, there are fewer lights on than usual. In fact, any fewer, and I'd need a seeing-eye dog.
    Marina: Oh, I shouldn't bother to buy one, dear. In that wig, you could play Lassie.
    Lola: Same adorable sense of humor. And I'm so glad to see that you've not only kept your gorgeous figure, but you've added so much to it!
    Marina: What are you doing here so early, dear? I thought the plastic surgery seminar was in Switzerland.
    Lola: Actually, darling, I couldn't wait to begin our little movie. You know the saying: once an actress, always an actress.
    Marina: Oh, I do know the saying. But what does it have to do with you?
    Lola: Cute angel. So do tell. How does it feel to be back, after being away so long?
    Marina: I've always thought of Lola as one of my oldest, oldest friends.
  • Bill Lumbergh and the other managers seen in Office Space rely on this to avoid direct confrontations with their subordinates. Lumbergh in particular constantly bugs his employees with requests for them to do extra work, etc. but makes it all the more annoying by always phrasing it as if they have a choice in the matter, let alone his constant state of emotional detachment.
  • In Shall We Dance? (1937), this scene where Denise, the Stalker with a Crush, meets Linda, the new wife of the man she's been pursuing.
    Denise: You know, you're a lot more intelligent than you look.
    Linda: Why, thank you. I wish I could say the same of you.
  • From Star Trek (2009):
    Vulcan Council President: Why did you come before this council today? Was it to satisfy your emotional need to rebel?
    Spock: The only emotion I wish to convey is gratitude. Thank you, Ministers, for your consideration. (in a tone reserved for telling someone to "Go to Hell") Live long and prosper.
  • Obi-Wan's brief meeting with Jango Fett in Star Wars: Episode II, to the point that Boba Fett's origin story contains a comparison between that conversation and a swordfight.


By Author:

  • The novels of Jane Austen are full of this. The characters are products of a society that reveres manners, so conflict is dealt with in the most cutting—but polite!—manner possible.
    • Pride and Prejudice is like the WWII of snarkery and Politeness Judo. Blink and you'll miss it.
    • Captain Wentworth of Persuasion is as good at this as he is at handling his ship. Even though he never addresses Anne directly in the first part of the novel, and all of his remarks seem normal and conversational to the Crofts and Musgroves, they are full of barbs about Anne's decision to break their engagement eight years ago. Many of his sentences, such as the one about not having a wife to keep him ashore, have a silent "...Anne" at the end of them. The only time he directly helps her is when one of her nephews tries to roughhouse with her while she's taking care of his hurt brother and won't let her go.

By Title:

  • Cryptonomicon: Randy Waterhouse's girlfriend doesn't like his beard, but he doesn't want to get rid of it. She then launches an in-depth study into the psychology behind male beard growth and shaving. The relationship doesn't work out. When America finds the study in Randy's home, she bluntly asks if this was how arguments in their relationship went.
  • Discworld:
    • How wizards settle their differences on the Discworld, having figured out that not only are sharply-worded memos a lot safer than each building a tower and lobbing fireballs at each other, it's just as fun.
      • Wizards have nothing on witches when it comes to viciously attempting to out-polite one another. Especially if it's Granny Weatherwax and Mrs. Earwig who are doing it.
    • Averted in Night Watch Discworld in a fancy dinner party featuring two Ankh-Morpork Feuding Families: since any insult would inevitably lead to open hostilities, they have to make do with the few subjects of conversation that haven't been used for this trope in the past. Like observing that the other is standing up, for example.
  • In The Falling Kingdoms Series, all the royals of Mytica are well-versed in using politeness, false sincerity, doublespeak, and Exact Words as daggers. Cleo in particular likes it; at one point she and Lucia have a, on the surface, perfectly polite conversation that is practically dripping with poison.
    Lucia: [My brother] is very forgiving, though. After all, he forgave you your unfortunate and shameful loss of chastity to Lord Aron Lagaris, didn't he?
    Cleo: As you said, I'm very lucky.
    Lucia: I'm sorry for stating this so bluntly, but as you know, servants talk.
    Cleo: Yes. I've heard things too. About you.
    Lucia: Oh? Such as?
    Cleo: I'm sure it's a lie. Unlike some people, I prefer to make my own judgments, not have my head filled so easily with the gossip of servants.
  • In Gifts by Ursula K. Le Guin, Canoc Caspro tries to fight Ogge Drum this way while he and his family are guests at Drummant. It takes several attempts for his jibes and implications to work, though, since he's fencing and Ogge is using a bludgeon.
  • When Jane refuses St. John Rivers' first proposal in Jane Eyre, she notes his skill in changing none of his conversation or actions towards her while completely managing to suck any hint of warmth from them.
  • A refrigerator is also the site of Passive Aggressive Kombat in The Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul... Dirk Gently does not want to open it before his housekeeper cleans it, and sets up elaborate, tiny traps to be able to tell if she has, one including a strand of hair. The refrigerator turns out to be so epic in its filth that it spawns a horrible god-eating abomination when it's finally opened.
  • Laernan Kite and Lisana from Mirror Dreams do this every time they are in court. Kite even narrates their conversations as if they are engaged in a tennis match. Initially, this is because they are trying to bring the other down over either past slights or currying favour with the king. By the end however, they've become staunch allies, but still continue taking shots at one another because it's what they've always done.
  • Amaranta Buendía from One Hundred Years of Solitude is a master of this. Her favorite targets are her first boyfriend Pietro Crespi who's Driven to Suicide for it, her Dogged Nice Guy Gerineldo Márquez, and her niece-in-law Fernanda.
  • The setting of The Princess' Bedroom Doll is a tyrant's court where criticizing the royal family to any degree is a good way to get killed. So, every year, on the anniversary of her unjustly-killed sister's death, Duchess Esther approaches the imperial princess alone and gives her a bouquet of dried flowers. Every year, since the princess was twelve. They know why.
  • The Reynard Cycle: This is so common amongst the nobility of the series that it's practically their language. The females of one family wear it as their hat. Only the Countess Persephone seems to be above resorting to it.
  • Every great strategist in the Romance of the Three Kingdoms, but the absolute zenith must be Zhuge Liang, who writes a letter so insulting it makes the ill Cao Zhen angry enough to die.
  • The Screwtape Letters: Screwtape advises his nephew, Wormwood, to entice his "patient" into this sort of routine in order to build up a mutual disdain in families with everyone seeking to be "unselfish". Specifically, he wants Wormwood to deliberately make his "patient" fall into the Abilene Paradox, here at The Other Wiki.
  • A Song of Ice and Fire:
    • Sansa Stark is left with only her pretty words, extensive knowledge of both story and song tropes, as well as carefully applied stock phrases to lie cautiously with, as well as her hard-won courtesy and politeness to use as either a deliberate counter-snark defence or the occasionally subtle attack when she winds up as a hostage in a Decadent Court. She gets increasingly good at it, although her start was, by any measure, rocky.
    • Cersei Lannister is accomplished at this when she pulls back on the aggressive side, as when she tells Margaery Tyrell that she's "never seen her as a rival," which Margaery (publicly, at least) takes as a denial of ill-feeling between them but which Cersei intends as implying that she does not view Margaery as a worthy opponent.
    • Olenna Tyrell is pretty nifty with the dry (and obvious) verbal stab to the diaphragm, but even when she's backed you into a corner where you simply can't publically take offence at a rude little old lady's words without looking like an untutored, ungrateful prole, she's not left anybody in hearing range with the remotest doubt about how vicious the attack actually was. Her whole reliance on the stock "just a harmless, horrible old biddy" schtick is there so she can launch attacks and get away with it.
  • The Wheel of Time: Among the Aiel Proud Warrior Race, deft social use of their honour code is one alternative to actual combat. The would-be Shaido Clan Chief asks to enter a Roofmistress' lands with the form a true Chief would use, daring her to either accept or insult the Shaido by turning him away. Instead, she formally invites him in... with the words used to grant charity to the destitute.
    Aviendha: As one friendless and alone. She has welcomed him as a beggar. The gravest insult to him, and none to the Shaido.

    Live-Action TV 
  • In Arrested Development, Lucille and Lucille II engage in this as "primary social rivals", usually these encounters get less subtle and less passive as they go.
  • Babylon 5: Since a lot of the show is about political intrigue (in space), you find this trope is spades.
    • One awesome example is in the episode "Soul Mates", where Mollari's wives are arriving to the station:
      Timov: Daggair! My, what a surprise!
      Daggair: A pleasant one?
      Timov: I wouldn't go that far.
      Vir: Madame Daggair, my pardons! This is unconscionable! I was at customs. I don't know how I could have missed you!
      Timov: Believe me Vir, if you knew her as well as I do, you wouldn't miss her a bit.
      Daggair: Oh, Timov, Timov, why do you always try to draw me into your little verbal fencing matches?
      Timov: Because I don't have a real sword handy.
    • See also Brother Theo vs. the Reverend Will Dexter in "And the Rock Cried Out, No Hiding Place".
  • Billions: This occurs several times between Laura and Wendy, who are put at odds because Wendy is employed by Laura's husband Bobby while her own husband is trying to arrest him. During a party, Laura casually inquires about Wendy's marriage, which she knows is failing. Wendy tries to brush aside the jab by saying, "Marriages are hard." Laura smiles supportively and answers, "Yes, I've heard other people say that!" The next time they see each other, Laura tries to have another go by tactfully explaining why Bobby has instituted a professional barrier between himself and Wendy. Wendy nonchalantly agrees and states that this was exactly why she herself demanded this rule. Later, Wendy admits that she couldn't resist stinging Laura with the revelation.
  • Downton Abbey, being set in a British manor house in the early 1900s, is chock full of this. Mary and Edith, and Violet and Isobel, are the particular champions. When Cora's mother shows up, however, she and Violet play for the World Cup Final, US v UK.
  • Dynasty (1981) breathes this trope. Alexis' first meeting with Dominique is a textbook example. Dominique went for the kill by pointing out that Alexis' wine had been frozen and thawed.
  • Farscape: War Minister Ahkna and Commandant Grayza meet in private to discuss a potential treaty, without the knowledge of their superiors. While they are clearly enemies, they manage to maintain a polite(ish) facade, with only occasional barbs about Ahkna's inability to get promoted of late and Grayza's use of her body to get ahead.
  • In Friends, Ross and Joey engage in this in "The One with the Cheap Wedding Dress" where they meet and date the same girl.
  • Game of Thrones: Since much of the show is about medieval political intrigue, many scenes ooze with this trope (when they don't ooze with blood... or other fluids... though there is some overlap). Examples:
    • Season 1 has Ned Stark and Jaime Lannister verbally sparring in the throne room with Jaime arguing that he's a great swordsman and can take Ned, while Ned implies that Jaime is a showboat and a coward.
    • Varys and Littlefinger rarely pass up an opportunity to verbally spar under the pretense of friendly conversation during their time on the Small Council.
    • Much of Season 3 as Tyrion and Cersei Lannister share power in King's Landing with politically-astute House Tyrell, plus their all-powerful patriarch, Lord Tywin Lannister. Snarky comments are sometimes the only defense they have left.
    • Oberyn snarks at Tywin and Cersei when they insult his bastard paramour, reminding them that Princess Myrcella is currently in Dorne with Oberyn's family, and using the Insistent Terminology of "Former Queen Regent" when addressing Cersei.
    • Jaime tells Loras that Cersei would kill Loras if he marries her, but insists that Loras will never marry Cersei anyway. Loras responds with a snappy comeback of his own:
      Loras: (smiles smugly) And neither will you. (pats Jaime on the arm)
    • Tyrion reminds Joffrey (during the latter's wedding feast) that Joffrey was not the big hero during the Battle of Blackwater that he likes to claim.
    • Margaery Tyrell, Cersei's much hated new daughter-in-law cheerfully and politely calls her a drunkard, by apologizing for not having any wine to offer when Cersei makes an appearance in her lunch, and adding that for friends and herself it's just too early to drink. (No, Cersei didn't ask for wine.) She later implies that Cersei is old and has lost all her power. Her handmaidens titter at this indirect slight. Cersei scowls through it all and takes a threatening step toward her, but remains equally civil on the surface.
    • Margaery and Cersei at dinner with Joffrey and Loras in "Valar Dohaeris", and stealth insulting each other all the while.
    • Subverted in "Unbent, Unbowed, Unbroken", where Cersei tries initiating this with Olenna only for Olenna to respond by blatantly insulting her to her face. Cersei is not amused.
      Cersei: Ah, yes, the infamous tart-tongued Queen of Thorns.
      Olenna: And the infamous tart Queen Cersei.
    • Irri with Doreah, who she competes with for attention from Dany.
  • Gilmore Girls features it fairly often, particularly when Emily is on-screen. One episode has Lorelai trying to warn Luke about it, but he insists he can take care of himself. After dinner, he declares to Lorelai in astonishment: "I could only thank her! She insulted everything about me and I thanked her!"
    Luke: What is this feeling in my chest? This mixture of rage and weakness?
    Lorelai: You've been Gilmore'd!
  • The Handmaid's Tale: June engages in a lot of this by the third season, having learned when she won't be punished as she technically isn't breaking Gilead's laws or mores, or some other factor prevents it.
  • House of the Dragon:
    • Alicent Hightower brings a green dress (a sign of This Means War! coming from the Hightowers) at the marriage of Rhaenyra and Laenor.
    • The final dinner of King Viserys and his whole family could have gone relatively well if not for Aemond's Stealth Insult towards the first three children of Rhaenyra ("strong", as in "Strong bastards").
  • The Golden Girls is based around this trope. Fortunately, most of this (at least among the main characters) falls under Brutal Honesty.
  • In Oshin, the Yamato Nadeshiko Oshin engages uses this against her mother in law Kiyo at first, and later against her daughter-in-law Michiko.
  • Our Miss Brooks: This descibes Miss Brooks' relationship to her Sitcom Arch-Nemesis Miss Enright. Whenever the two meet, prepare for a cavalcade of catty remarks. Miss Enright takes the matter further, often dropping a Stealth Insult or two about Miss Brooks in front of her students.
    Walter Denton: Miss Enright's always saying nice things about you, Miss Brooks.
    Miss Brooks: She is? Miss Enright?
    Walter Denton: Yes, just the other day Miss Enright said you have the most natural blonde hair she's ever seen on a brunette.
  • Pretty much everyone in The Palace makes use of this frequently.
  • Revenge is another textbook example of the trope due to its Hamptons setting. Emily and Victoria's dynamic in particular is built on this, although it gradually degrades into Volleying Insults as the facade of their relationship diminishes.
  • Rome. Atia of the Julii excels at this, but finds herself outclassed by Cleopatra. When Atia whispers an insult in her ear while giving a goodbye kiss, Cleopatra just smiles in triumph, knowing she's won.
  • Sherlock's brother Mycroft and best friend John in Sherlock are never downright rude to one another, and seem generally resigned to working together for Sherlock's sake. While they are allies, they're clearly not on friendly terms, and things can — and do — get snarky and hostile at times. John tips closer to the "aggressive" end of passive-aggressive in "The Reichenbach Fall" due to the knowledge that Mycroft, in an attempt to get Moriarty's master keycode, ended up giving the Diabolical Mastermind exactly what he wanted: Sherlock's entire life story.
  • Khan Noonien Singh once commented on Star Trek, "Social occasions are only warfare concealed." About sums it up.
  • Kai Winn and Weyoun, the two most passive-aggressive characters in Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, meet only once, but their conversation is full of veiled barbs and insincerity.
  • Wednesday: Larissa Weems and Morticia Addams exchange some nice piques whenever they're together.
    Morticia: Oh, don't be so modest. You've always filled a room with your presence. Like a stately sequoia tree.
    Weems: And I guess that would make you the lumberjack.
    Morticia: There's that biting sense of humor that I always adored.
  • Yes, Minister runs on equal part this trope and Blackmail.
    • Sir Humphrey, at one point lunches with a Civil Service superior who genially says that, while he is not inclined to judge seeing as he doesn't have all the facts, he still has concerns that people might get the idea that Humphrey might not be considered... "sound"... if he can't resolve the current situation satisfactorily. Sir Humphrey leaves the meeting looking like someone took a ball-peen hammer to his kneecaps, and Bernard describes the incident as "a real punch-up".
    • Similarly, Hacker brings in some union representatives to discuss new proposed legislation. All three calmly and civilly say that they are deeply concerned about the possible effects of the legislation for their members and leave. When Bernard asks how the meeting went, Hacker buries his head in his hands and asks him to "Get someone in here to mop up the blood."

  • Hamilton: In "Your Obedient Servant", Aaron Burr and Alexander Hamilton are at each other's throats, but they still end their statements "I have the honor to be, Your Obedient Servant, *insert name*" with classy music playing in the background.
  • The duet "Via resti servita, madame brilliante" from Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart's The Marriage of Figaro involves an exchange of politely delivered insults between Susanna and Marcellina. The latter storms out after Susanna wins by "congratulating" her on her old age.
  • "Passive Vengeance" by Psychostick.

    Tabletop Games 
  • Exalted has rules for this, with emphasis on Combat. You can actually kill someone with a sufficiently sharp insult.
  • GURPS has the Rapier Wit advantage (of course), which lets you land a stunning blow with a well placed insult.
  • Lace & Steel has the Repartee skill, which you can use in a tense social situation to engage in a verbal duel. Mechanically, such duels are identical to physical combat, only replacing attacks with "remarks" (e.g. attacks to the head represent intellectual challenges, and attacks to the legs, to "low blows"). Instead of Hit Points, the remarks target Self-Image.
  • Vampire: The Masquerade: This is nearly essential in the Decadent Court of the Camarilla, particularly in the ruthlessly enforced Truce Zones of Elysium, where cutthroat social maneuvering is the only permissible alternative to, well, cutting throats. The degree depends on the vampire's Clan; if you're Brujah or Gangrel, it's rather optional, but if you're Toreador or Ventrue, it's not only mandatory, it's your life.

  • Diana: The Musical: Diana and Camilla's friends are delighted to watch the two women throw polite barbs at each other about their messy situation (Diana knows Charles is cheating on her with Camilla) at dinner. It's even compared to the famously brutal boxing match, "Thrilla in Manila".
  • Hamilton: Since this involves politics, of course they have some songs dedicated to passive aggressive talks. Especially during the Cabinet Battles.
  • The Importance of Being Earnest: When Gwendolen and Cecily mistakenly come to believe that they are both engaged to the same man, they engage in an incredibly vicious yet polite catfight. The unstated rule is that they must insult each other while maintaining the appearance of civility and the one who loses her temper first loses. Cecily wins.
  • The verbal battles between Beatrice and Benedick in William Shakespeare's Much Ado About Nothing practically define the trope.

    Video Games 
  • In Dragon Quest V, Rodrigo Briscoletti puts the Hero through an engagement challenge. In the DS version, if you pick Bianca instead of one of his daughters, he says that he's not surprised by your decision, that you're a sensitive man, and that you must've realized that Nera would've been humiliated if you'd picked Debora over her. If you read between the lines, he's blaming Debora's surprise toss of her own hat into the ring for Nera not getting chosen.
  • Minecraft: Story Mode: Whichever hero you didn't pursue at the end of The Order of the Stone will have a tense conversation with you in Assembly Required. If Jesse doesn't try to defuse the tension, the conversation takes a passive aggressive turn.
  • Portal and Portal 2, GLaDOS as a character is just full of this.
    GLaDOS: Most people emerge from suspension terribly undernourished. I wanted to congratulate you on beating the odds and somehow managing to pack on a few pounds.
  • Happens a lot in the Touhou Project Universe Compendium Symposium of Post-mysticism. The symposium section is composed almost entirely of three characters taking snipes at each other while explaining how their world works.
  • Clementine can engage in this with Rebecca in Episode 1 of The Walking Dead: Season Two:
  • From Xenoblade Chronicles X:
    Rook: I'm torn; do I master on hand-to-hand combat, or focus on ranged attacks?
    Celica: Perhaps you could find another hobby altogether.
  • Nessiah from Yggdra Union and Blaze Union is as sharp-tongued as he is short-tempered (which is very), and isn't one to let an insult slide. This is a lot more apparent in Blaze Union as Nessiah has more screen time there, but he's still passive-aggressive as anything in Yggdra Union too. For instance, take this discussion with that game's protagonists (who have just committed mass genocide and killed a number of people Nessiah cared about) concerning a character Nessiah brought back from the dead:
    Nessiah: It was an awfully thankless task, gathering up every last scattered piece [of her body]. *giggle* But it's quite all right. Wherever anything was missing, I was able to substitute other parts. You left quite a lot of those parts for me to work with...

    Visual Novels 
  • Some of the cases in the Ace Attorney series are this.
    • The exchange between Franziska and Mia (channeled by Pearl) at the start of the second trial day in case 2-2 is a nice example (slightly undermined by von Karma's foolish foolery, though Mia remains civil), Phoenix internally comments on it but wisely keeps his mouth shut:
      Franziska: The image of your defeated face will be transmitted all over the world!
      Mia: All over the world, huh? Sounds like you've made quite a name for yourself, Phoenix.
      Franziska: Don't be foolish, you foolish fool wearing the foolishly foolish clothes. The famous one is me! I'm the prodigy who has never lost a case since becoming a prosecutor five years ago. Naturally, the world's eyes are on me, as I conduct my first trial in this country!
      Mia: Uh, huh... That's nice, Ms. von Karma.
      Franziska: Hmph. Glad to see you're in such good "spirits" today, Ms. Fey.
      Phoenix: (Uhh... It's true what they say... Women really are scary when they fight... *gulp*)
    • Morgan Fey's interactions with most people involve her doing this, as she tends to address others with superficial politeness and humility, but is actually quite condescending.
      Lotta: Hold on, now, granny!
      Morgan: ...Granny?
      Lotta: How come we ain't allowed in that room!?
      Morgan: Dear madam, you have an "impressive" grasp of English. From where did you learn it?
  • In Double Homework, the protagonist and Tamara communicate in large part by shit-talking each other. It's slightly deconstructed in the end, with Tamara admitting that she acts like a bitch sometimes because she often can't find healthy ways to express her feelings.
  • Katawa Shoujo:
    • Lilly and Shizune get into a rather heated war of words over the punctuality of the submission of reports for Student Council activities before the school festival. However, as Shizune is deaf-mute (and Lilly is blind), Misha is at hand to translate everything she conveys, and doesn't quite grasp the true context of what the two are actually saying, which diminishes the effect somewhat.
      Lilly: I was actually just discussing the budget report before you came by. You must be very talented to have finished all your student council duties so quickly that you can track me down to make sure I don't forget my own.
      Misha: (translating for Shizune) Are you accusing me of slacking off? It seems like you're confusing me with yourself~!
      Lilly: I don't think so. That would be a very difficult thing for me to do: comparing myself to you.
      Misha: You're right, the difference between us is like heaven and hell.
      Lilly: And it's not hard to guess which one you might represent.
    • Poor Hisao, who's much more contextually aware, is also tapped once to translate a conversation between the two. His attempts to modulate the argument prove futile.
      Shizune: [Turn over here. It's very disrespectful to not look at the person you're speaking to. That isn't the way a prim and proper lady should conduct herself.]
      Lilly: "I'm sorry, such formalities slipped my mind completely. I forgot that the Student Council president is the type who would demand such respect and adherence to the rules at all times."
      Shizune: [I'll devour you!]
  • Eva from Umineko: When They Cry often uses this towards, well, pretty much anyone except her husband and her son. Her son George shows signs of this, especially towards Battler. Though he is much more subtle with it than his mother.

    Web Comics 
  • Bruno the Bandit: In one arc, Bruno encounters a gang of pirates who wield weaponized passive-aggressiveness. They do it with the help of magic rings that make other people unreasonably concerned about what the pirates think of them.
  • Homestuck: When Rose and her mother aren't more aggressively fighting, they're engaging in a complex contest of one-upmanship and insincere compliments, each trying to outdo the other in gifts, faux-appreciation and civility without ever actually committing to open hostility. A good example of their feud consist of their refrigerator, which they've spent considerable time and effort decorating in ways subtly intended to mock each other.Subverted as it turns out Mom is absolutely sincere with the stuff she does and Rose is only misinterpreting her actions.
  • Kill Six Billion Demons: Solomon David is The Perfectionist and wants for the Multiverse to see him as a stern, paternal and Affably Evil God-Emperor. Hence, when people annoy him enough his responses tend to take this form. Of course, being an immortal God-Emperor his definitions of 'passive' do not exactly fit into ordinary peoples' definitions: When 82 White Chain calls him 'tyrant' to his face, his response is to allow every (other) member of the Tournament Arc to attack him unhindered and then butchers them all in less than a second, just to demonstrate to her just how geometrically more powerful than her he is.
  • Rumors of War: Characters use conversation as their primary mode of aggression.
  • Something*Positive: If they could make money at it, this would be the family business of the McIntyres. The champion in the family is, generally, agreed to be Faye.
  • Stand Still, Stay Silent: Due to her Extreme Doormat tendencies, Siv's attempts at holding her ground tend to take this form.

    Western Animation 
  • Captain Planet and the Planeteers: In "Mind Pollution", as the Planeteers are preparing to take a little time off, Linka and Wheeler get into a sniping match about the former's perfectionism. While talking about her plans to visit her favorite cousin, Linka declares that she's missed him and adds that he's charming, while looking very hard at Wheeler.
  • Family Guy:
    • One of the many Cutaway Gags is Peter helping Chris to get his insect badge by observing a family of "wasps." Cut away to Chris and Peter sitting behind a potted plant in a lavish dining hall watching a family of upper-class white Anglo Saxon Protestants doing exactly this. Subverted at the end when the father calls his wife a whore in front of their child.
    • Tom Tucker and Diane Simmons jab at each other with passive aggressive comments on live television and the comments grow more and more demeaning in each episode as their disdain for each other gets more intense.
    • In another cutaway gag, two women at a cafe spend the whole time hurling backhanded compliments at each other. A few tables over, two men are sitting together and one simply says he likes the other's tie, and the other one simply thanks him for the compliment. "Men! We know how to be friends!"
    • Stewie and Brian get into this type of snark war a lot. The latter's feuding with Quagmire has also dialled down into this.
  • My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic:
    • "Look Before You Sleep": Rarity and Applejack end up stuck at Twilight Sparkle's place during a thunderstorm, and end up doing a bit of this thanks to residual bad feeling from an earlier argument.
      Rarity: Fortunately, I can get along with anypony, no matter how rude she may be.
    • In "To Where and Back Again – Part 1", Trixie gleefully rubs Starlight inviting her to come to Our Town with her in Twilight's face, while smugly "complimenting" the Princess of Friendship on her "wisdom" and emphasizing how she's Starlight's best friend.
      Trixie: Oh, I don't know, Starlight. Time really flies when you spending it with your best friend!
  • Taken to absurd levels with the Gogobas of Sonic Boom, a tribe of anthropomorphic chinchillas who effectively rope Sonic and Tails into service by guilt-tripping them. Ultimately comes to a climax with a passive-aggressive Showdown at High Noon parody as Sonic counters their guilt trips with his own, complete with rolling tumbleweeds.

    Real Life 
  • There's a popular story about Sir Arthur Wellesley, the Duke of Wellington, that he once attended a party in France and as one, all the French officers in the room turned their backs to him as a show of disgust and non-acknowledgement. When the host came up to apologize he said, with all sincerity and grace, "It is of no matter, Madame. I have seen their backs before."
  • An apocryphal story about Dorothy Parker says that she and Clare Booth Luce approached a door at the same time. Luce let Parker go first, saying, "Age before beauty." Parker responded, "Pearls before swine."


Video Example(s):

Alternative Title(s): Passive Aggressive Combat


How Vulcans Insults

Because it's staffed entirely by Vulcans, this is the height of conflict on the Sh'vhal.

How well does it match the trope?

5 (22 votes)

Example of:

Main / PassiveAggressiveKombat

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