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[Popular Saying], But...

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"Well, you know the old saying. When Life Gives You Lemons... go murder a clown."
Festus Krex, The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim

This is what happens when someone takes a well known phrase or saying, and then decides that it doesn't convey quite as much information as it needs to. So the speaker adds a little bit on the end, usually with the modifier "But", usually either missing the point or totally reversing the original meaning of the phrase.

Related to the Ice-Cream Koan, but differs in that while the first part of the phrase is valid, the second part is clearly tacked on by the speaker. Often said by a Seemingly Profound Fool in some of his more fauxlisophical moments. You Can't Make an Omelette... and When Life Gives You Lemons... are common victims of this trope. Not to be confused with attempts to separate the face-value meanings of Loaded Words and slogans from the connotations with which they are loaded.

Can't Live with Them, Can't Live Without Them is a common magnet for such jokes, such as changing the message to "Can't live with 'em, can't kill 'em" or leaving it at just "Can't live with 'em", since depending on who the subject is about it's perfectly possible to live without 'em.


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    Anime & Manga 
  • In Mr. Nietzsche in the Convenience Store, an uppity customer tries to invoke "Customers are gods" note  on Nii. His response?
    Nii: God Is Dead.
  • In one episode of Samurai Pizza Cats, Francine comments, "Tomcats! You can't live with them, and you can't throw them down a well and drown them!"

  • Steven Wright: If at first you don't succeed, skydiving is not for you.
  • Eddie Izzard: "Guns don't kill people, people do, and monkeys do too (if they've got a gun)"
  • Anonymous joke: Before judging a person, walk a mile in their shoes. That way, you'll be a mile away when you judge them, and you'll have their shoes.
  • Dennis Miller: "That which does not kill me makes me funnier."
  • Emo Philips:
    Women: You can't live with them, and you can't get them to dress up in a skimpy little Nazi costume and beat you with a warm squash or something.

    Comic Books 
  • Marvel has gotten a lot of mileage from subverting With Great Power Comes Great Responsibility, in a rare case of a creator doing this with a saying they themselves popularized.
  • In the very first issue of Paperinik New Adventures, when the titular hero is having a hard time defending a woman from the coolflames: "Don't worry! When the going gets tough... I wish I was somewhere else."
  • Transmetropolitan: Spider Jerusalem. "Editors. Can't live with 'em, and the mass grave by my compound is getting full."

    Fan Works 
  • Paul in The Keys Stand Alone: The Soft World: “With great power comes a lot of people pestering you to use it on their behalf.”
  • In Alarm Clock, after Rainbow Dash breaks a cart by speeding, she says, “Ehhhhh, you can’t make an omelet without breaking a few ... uh, carts.” A few chapters later, Ditzy Doo adapts the saying again: “It’s like they say: you can’t make an omelet without destroying Ponyville Town Hall once or twice.”
  • Meeting the Godfather:
    Sirius: All's fair in love and sandwiches.
    Harry: You ruined a perfectly good saying.
    Sirius: And I shall ruin many more.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (1990): Wise man say: Forgiveness is divine, but never pay full price for late pizza.
  • Hobo with a Shotgun: When life gives you razor blades, you make a baseball bat. Covered in razor-blades.
  • The Miss Congeniality sequel plays with this trope in the following exchange:
    Sam Fuller: Men. You can't live with 'em, you can't...
    Sam Fuller: ... no, that's pretty much it.
    Gracie Hart: Yeah.
  • The Mummy (1999): Rick is fighting off Imhotep while Evy searches the Book of the Dead for the spell that will send him back to the underworld. Rick tries to get her to move a little faster.
    Evy: Patience is a virtue.
    Rick: Not right now, it isn't!
  • Joker in the The Dark Knight gives us this one-letter change from Whatever doesn't kill you makes you stronger:
    I believe whatever doesn't kill you simply makes you... stranger.
  • Toward the end of Happy Gilmore, Happy's former boss is wearing a shirt which reads "Guns don't kill people, I kill people!"
  • In Shoot 'Em Up, Hertz comments that "Guns don't kill people... But they sure help!"
  • Tom Arnold's Gib in True Lies: "Women. Can't live with 'em, can't kill 'em."

  • Tom Holt has used many variants on the omelette saying, most notably Only Human's "It might be possible to make omelettes without shredding chickens, but it doesn't make for nearly as good television."
  • Discworld:
    • “Set a thief to catch a thief” is actually the version updated by the Thieves’ Guild of an older proverb that actually advocated a long and complicated trap to catch a thief.
    • Jingo brings us “Build a man a fire and he’s warm for a day. Set a man on fire and he’s warm for the rest of his life.”
    • In The Truth, William De Worde expands greatly on the “glass half full/half empty” dichotomy, noting that there are also people whose glasses have been knocked over, or people who can’t get the bartender’s attention, or how the people who run things tend to look at a half-empty glass and say “This isn’t my glass! My glass was full! Who’s been pinching my beer?”
    • In Going Postal, Ankh-Morpork's pin-collecting fraternity have the saying "See a pin and pick it up, and all day long you'll have a pin".
  • Karal uses this trope to get out of what could have been a very uncomfortable conversation in Storm Breaking. After Altra tells him about Firesong's near-fall into insanity (specifically, that Firesong was close to injuring/killing Karal), Karal deflects any questions from Firesong about what made him look odd with the line:
    Cats. You can't live with them, and the fur's too thin for a rug.
  • In the Red Dwarf Survival Manual, Kochanski writes "That which does not kill you makes you stronger (unless it bites your legs off, in which case it makes you shorter)" and also that her mother used to say "Violence is the last resort of the little humpty people", but was heavily on Valium at the time.

    Live-Action TV 
  • The actual line was parodied twice on 3rd Rock from the Sun. In the pilot, Harry declares "Women, you can't live with 'em... and yet they're everywhere." In a later episode, Dick declares "Women, you can't live with 'em and you can't have heterosexual sex without 'em."
    • To which Harry responds, "That's probably true."
    • Also in one episode Judith says to Mary, "Men, can't live with 'em" [beat while Mary waits for the rest] "Goodbye, Mary."
  • In The Big Bang Theory, when Sheldon and Amy end their friendship over an argument as to whether Neurobiology or Theoretical Physics is the more important science, Howard offers the opinion: "Women, can't live with 'em, can't successfully refute their hypotheses".
  • From Blackadder the Third, Episode 4: "When the going gets tough, the tough hide under the table."
  • Cheers:
    • As Carla puts it. "When in doubt... kill Diane."
    • From Norm, there's "Women. Can't live with 'em. Pass the beer nuts."
  • The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air: Sticks and stones may break my bones, but a fifty foot fall will kill y'all!
  • Pretty much the reason why Al in Married... with Children hasn't just up and left his ungrateful life parasite of a wife and kids. Among Al's immortal quotes:
    "Women. You can't live with them, you can't shoot them".
    "Women, can't live with 'em, can't herd 'em all into Canada"
    "Women. Can't live with 'em... The End."
  • Star Trek: Deep Space Nine:
    • The Ferengi Rules of Acquisition contain an interesting subversion in rule 75: Home is where the heart is, but the stars are made of latinum." In that case, the subversion of the original popular saying has itself become a popular saying.
    • Later played straight with rule 229:
      Rom: Latinum lasts longer than lust.
      O'Brien: Maybe, but lust can be a lot more fun!
  • The Red Dwarf episode "Stasis Leak" has:
    Holly: What I'm saying, Dave, is that it's better to have loved and to have lost... than to listen to an album by Olivia Newton-John.
    Cat: Why's that?
    Holly: Anything's better than listening to an album by Olivia Newton-John.
  • In Caméra Café, Paolo always repeats twice the first part of the proverb he's about to say. For example: "An apple a day... an apple a day".
  • Bewitched: It's like Aunt Hagatha always used to say, if at first you don't succeed, quit. (beat). I never did like Aunt Hagatha.
  • Used in The Suite Life of Zack & Cody:
    Carey: I'm dreaming...NO ONE PINCH ME!
  • Barney Miller manages to do this with the actual saying, because the second part is usually left unsaid and so comes across as a Non Sequitur:
    Barney: (trying to get Levitt to stop overextending himself and take some time off) You know, all work and no play.
    Levitt: (who's never heard the expression) ... Sir?
    Barney: (very reluctantly and anticlimactically) ... Makes Jack a dull boy.
    Levitt: (baffled) If you say so, sir.
  • Reba: Van, trying to give some relationship advice.
    Van: If you love something, let it go. Or cripple it so it can't get away.
  • Mimpi Metropolitan:
    • In episode 22, Bambang tries to calm Mami Bibir's rant down by reminding her of Indonesian proverb "your mouth is your tiger", but subverts it mid-sentence into "your mouth... is your mouth".
    • In episode 47, Alexi quotes how "humans are made out of tanah (earth/land)", but Juna is "made of disputed land", referring to how frustrating Juna is to Alexi.
  • Last Week Tonight with John Oliver: In 2022, when the US Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, which constitutionally-protected abortion rights, John criticized Democratic Party leaders for their tepid responses, noting how so many Democratic politicians and party organizations immediately sent texts requesting $15 donations, quipping "When they go low, we ask you for $15.", subverting the saying "When they go low, we go high.", which was popularized by then-First Lady Michelle Obama at the 2016 Democratic National Convention.

  • AJR: From "Break My Face": "What doesn't kill you, makes you ugly, life gives you lemons, at least it gave you something."
  • The Babyshambles song "Sticks and stones" has the following chorus: Sticks and stones may break my bones/Oh but your words, they really hurt.
  • They Might Be Giants: A number of their songs feature oblique references to idioms and cliches.
    • "Absolutely Bill's Mood": "I know monkey see, but monkey's dead"
    • "Hey Mr. DJ, I Thought You Said We Had a Deal": "You scratch my back, and I'll scratch your record"
    • "Narrow Your Eyes": "They say love is blind / I don't think you're blind"
    • "Rhythm Section Want Ad": "Speak softly and drive a Sherman tank / Laugh hard, it's a long way to the bank"
  • Tracy Lawrence also had a song called "Sticks and Stones," with the operative line being, "These sticks and stones may break me, but the words you said just tore my heart in two."
  • "Sticks and stones may break my bones, but chains and whips excite me." Na-na-na-na, come on.
  • Biffy Clyro has this in the pre-chorus of "Instant History": "Hell hath no fury like a human born."
  • "Weird Al" Yankovic's "This is the Life" has "If money can't buy happiness, I guess I'll have to rent it".

    Memetic Mutation 
  • Candy is dandy, but sex won't rot your teeth.
  • Guns don't kill people, people kill people. With guns.
  • The optimist sees a light at the end of the tunnel. The pessimist sees an oncoming train. The realist sees an exit and leaves the other two to their fates.
  • There are two wolves fighting inside of you. The first wolf is [X]. The second wolf is [X]. You are [X].
    • There are two wolves fighting inside of you. You need medical help, there shouldn't be any wolves inside of you!
    • There are two wolves fighting inside of you. You are a furry.
  • History is Written by the Winners... and edited by the losers, published by the observer, and fact-checked by the reader. Look, books take a lot of time to make.
  • [Group you dislike]. Can't live with them.
    • Can't live with them, can't kill them.
    • Can't live without them, but we can try.
    • Can't live with them, but thanks to [relevant technological/social advances] we don't need to.
  • Come for the X, Stay for the Y is subverted by the phrase about Arkansas: "Come for the meth, stay because you sold/traded your car to buy meth."
  • "The blood of the covenant is thicker than the water of the womb." One that not only has been rumored as the original phrase through urban legends, but reverses its meaning from promoting strong bonds between blood family to bonds between a Family of Choice.
  • If you want to learn about another person, walk a mile in their shoes. Now they're a mile away, and you've got new shoes.
  • Rome didn't fall in a day.note 

  • "Today's proverb", the Credits Gag at the end of each episode of Welcome to Night Vale are usually like this:
    What has four legs in the morning, two legs at noon, and three legs in the evening?note  I don't know, but I trapped it in my bedroom. Send help.

    If you love someone, set them free. Set them free now. This is the police, and we have you surrounded.
    • Also, a twist on a National Rifle Association motto: "Guns don't kill people,note  it's impossible to be killed by a gun, we are all invincible to bullets and it's a miracle".
    • One of their other spoofs goes, "Guns don't kill people, and if you say guns kill people one more time, I will shoot you with a gun and you will, coincidentally, die."
    • A staple for the Night Vale twitter feed. For example, "Home is where the heart is. You'll never guess where we hid it, though."
  • An animated trailer for The Adventure Zone: Balance contains the tagline "When the going gets tough, it's their own damn fault."

  • This is how the Complete Proverbs round on I'm Sorry I Haven't a Clue (a variant on Quote, Misquote) works. The teams are given the first half of a well-known saying and have to complete it. Points are deducted for a correct answer.
    Humph: Rome wasn't built in...
    Willie: Norway.

    Tabletop Games 
  • From Magic: The Gathering Arena, Vraska gives us an insight into Golgari politics:
    Keep your friend close. Kill your enemies.

  • From Starship:
    Junior: We have a saying where I come from too; God save the Queen.
    Bug: Oh, good.
    Junior: Lucky for me, God Is Dead.

    Video Games 
  • Animal Crossing: Wild World: Crazy Redd the fox runs a black market tent that requires a call-and-response password to get in (which he posts to you in advance). Some of them take this kind of form.
    Ask and you shall... be charged.
    Cat's away... mice shop.
    Head in sand... find something.
    Talk is cheap... so is Redd.
    The pen is mightier... and cheaper.
  • Destroy All Humans!: When Crypto is about to fatally probe a government agent, he says "don't get mad... get sadistic."
  • Final Fantasy X: One of Tidus' famous Narmy lines is "I was out of the frying pan and into the freezer". This is because he was locked in a freezing-cold chamber of Baaj Temple with no fire to keep himself warm.
  • Ghost Trick: Trying to get to safety in a submarine rapidly filling with water, Sissel comments at one point that they're "out of the water". Fridge Brilliance kicks in when one realizes that it's no wonder that Sissel, a cat, would consider water more dangerous than fire.
  • Katamari Damacy: Love makes the world go round... But Manners keep you from getting motion sickness.
  • Little Kitty Big City: In the first teaser trailer, when the titular feline tells a crow that they're curious about the place, the crow declares that "Curiosity never hurt anyone. Especially not a cat!"
  • In Portal 2, when Cave Johnson discovered that he was dying from moon dust poisoning, he started out with an optimistic attitude, actually saying "When life gives you lemons, make lemonade". However, he wasn't that mentally stable to begin with, and the news of his impending death drove him even further over the edge. This culminated in a dramatic lemon-flavored Rage Against the Heavens speech.
    Alright, I've been thinking. When Life Gives You Lemons...... don't make lemonade. Make life take the lemons back! Get mad! "I don't want your damn lemons, what am I supposed to do with these?!" Demand to see life's manager! Make life rue the day it thought it could give Cave Johnson lemons! Do you know who I am? I'm the man who's gonna burn your house down! With the lemons! I'm going to get my engineers to invent a combustible lemon that BURNS YOUR HOUSE DOWN!
  • Project X Zone 2: Resident Otaku Xiaomu has this to say early on in the game.
    Xiaomu: When Life Gives You Lemons..., you close the bedroom door and read them all!

  • Achewood: Eating an apple a day keeps the doctor away... but throwing it at him works better!
  • The Order of the Stick:
    • Here: "You can't make an omelet without permanently deafening someone."
    • And later on: "You can't make an omelette without ruthlessly crushing dozens of eggs beneath your steel boot and then publicly disembowling the chickens that laid them as a warning to others."
  • Schlock Mercenary: A few of the Maxims of Maximally Effective Mercenaries are phrased that way. To name a few examples:
    35: That which does not kill me has made a tactical error.
    43: If it's stupid and it works, it's still stupid and you're lucky.
    59: Two wrongs is probably not going to be enough.
  • xkcd offers two takes on a classic, one in this comic and one in its Alt Text.
    Father: Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words—
    Child: —can make someone else feel happy or sad, which is literally the only thing that matters in this stupid world?
    Alt Text: Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can make me think I deserved it.
  • Ozy and Millie has this take:
    Llewellyn: That which does not kill me, makes me stranger.
    Ozy: Are you sure you don't mean "stronger"?
    Llewellyn: Quite sure, yes.

    Web Original 

    Web Video 
  • The Guild gives us this gem:
    Vork: Women. Can't live with them... they will not go out with me.

    Western Animation 
  • Rocket Power: Blood is thicker than water... But not nearly as refreshing.
  • Phineas and Ferb: Blood is thicker than water. But mango chutney is thicker than blood.
  • The Fairly OddParents!: In "Old Man and the C-", Timmy's dad finishes an assignment with "...sticks and stones may break your bones, but words leave psychological wounds that never heal!"
  • Ed, Edd n Eddy:
    Ed: An elephant never forgets, but I forget what the elephant remembered.
  • Batman: Assault on Arkham: When Harley Quinn spots the Joker's cell and tries to shoot him:
    Joker: Women! Am I right, officer? Can't live with 'em... can't kick 'em out of a moving car.
  • Big Hero 6: The Series: Wasabi grimly states upon concluding that a bear is about to attack from a nearby bush in Muirahara Woods that this is how the team is going to die... "Not with a bang but with a Bear".
  • Milo Murphy's Law: Milo does this fairly frequently, though frequently blames it on his dad
    Milo: Sticks and stones can damage your vital organs, so always wear body armor.
    Milo: It's like my dad always says, that which does not kill you, only makes you late for school.
  • Bojack Horseman: In the Show Within a Show Horsin' Around, the Horse's catchphrase is, "I've heard of [popular phrase], but this is ridiculous!" Due to Stylistic Suck, the "popular phrase" is sometimes just gibberish that no one has ever said before, like, "Lookie, lookie, who's got the cookie?" Even Bojack, who revers the show, will get confused when he revisits an episode.
  • Joe Jitsu from The Dick Tracy Show episode "The Casbah Express":
    If at first you don't succeed...oh, you better give up!
  • Animaniacs: The lessons in the "Wheel of Morality" segment often take this form. For example:
    Yakko: (reading) People who live in glass houses should get dressed with the lights out.
    Yakko: (reading) Early to rise, early to bed, makes a man healthy, but socially dead.
  • Subverted in one episode of My Gym Partner's a Monkey. Principal Pixiefrog starts saying "Women! You can't live with 'em..." He pauses, and we expect him to say "You can't live without 'em," but then he says "That's all. You can't live with 'em."
  • Recess: Spinelli says this about boys in one episode:
    Spinelli: Boys! Can't live with them, can't grind 'em into chalk dust!
  • Star Trek: Lower Decks: Mariner likes to operate by the credo of "keep your friends close and your enemies way the hell away from you."
  • From the intro to Hong Kong Phooey:
    When the going gets rough,
    He's super-tough,
    With a Hong Kong Phooey chop!
  • Transformers: Animated:
    Ratchet: Young Bots... Can't live with them, can't melt them down for spare parts.


Video Example(s):


Keep Your Friends Close,...

... and your enemies way the hell somewhere else.

How well does it match the trope?

5 (17 votes)

Example of:

Main / PopularSayingBut

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