Two people have a conversation in a public area. People overhearing the conversation find nothing of interest in it; it seems to just be idle conversation. Even the reader notices nothing unusual about it. For the two talking, however, it has a more sinister meaning. Frequently, one is blackmailing or otherwise threatening the other in a sort of "code" they both understand. May involve a Deadly Euphemism.
- Lampshaded nearly to the point of subversion in Baccano!: Placido Russo, the head of a prominent crime family, tells his notoriously Ax-Crazy nephew Ladd to go "have a word with" some business associates. Ladd insists on making absolutely sure that his uncle means what he thinks he means, despite Placido's best efforts to keep it implied.
Placido: "Go to the Van Dyke auto plant, Ladd. But just...have a word or two with 'em, okay?"
Ladd: "Huh? Y'mean you're gonna let me handle it?"
Placido: "I'm just sayin', go and have a word with 'em."
Ladd: "But uncle, to me that means the same thing as, 'Why don't you go there and kill everyone you want to your heart's content,' so are you sure about that?"
Placido: "...I haven't said anything except for you to go have a little word with 'em..
- Dragon Ball Z: Parodied. When the Ginyu Force decide who's going to fight the heroes, Captain Ginyu tells his underlings to treat them with "tender loving care." Cue Jeice saying, "Yeah, and when he says 'treat them with tender loving care', he don't mean patting you on the head and givin' you flowers; he means we're gonna kill you!", triggering a scolding from Captain Ginyu.
- Fullmetal Alchemist: Multiple:
- Hawkeye, who is being watched by Pride, manages to reveal his secret identity in a conversation with Mustang. She uses the first letters of every name she says.
- Another time Mustang exasperates his whole office tying up military lines chatting with a lady friend the one day Hawkeye is off duty. His phone friend is ultimately revealed to be Hawkeye, the "flower shop" she refers to her stakeout, the "girls" working with her other members of Mustang's group (they all get girl names as cover, save Breda, who the omakes reveal would have been "Bredette"), and the "customers" she deals with her targets.
Hawkeye: "Oh no. I'll have to get back to you later. . .. A guest of honor is here.
- In That Epic Plan Light and Beyond strike up a bargain while pretending to be talking about a game of cards.
- Fantasy of Utter Ridiculousness: This is how Yuyuko clues Yukari in on Megas's return to Gensokyo, alluding to Coop's love of wrestling and the confusion surrounding the mech's name by claiming he got past the Barrier thanks to a "shining wizard".
- Dungeon Keeper Ami: From "A Fitting Punishment": Subverted intentionally, using the vagueness of "I got rid of them,", and lampshaded after, by noting precisely what happened:
The bravest of the dark elf women raised a shaking hand. "Er, w-what did you do to them?"
"I got rid of them," the teenager replied in an impassive tone of voice, trying to pretend being the kind of person that they would not want to disobey. It was fairly hard to project an unfeeling mask, if she was honest with herself. A large part of her only wanted to provide them with some blankets, since their skin was starting to look blue from the cold. She obviously hadn't killed the bile demons either, only tossed them into the portal and given them a hard shove to help them through. If her prospective employees opted to misunderstand her, so be it.
- Michael Clayton has Tilda Swinton character contract "Professional Cleaners" to kill Arthur, and the cleaner's dialogue absolutely swims with this.
- Subverted in The 51st State where a villain tells his henchman to "take care" of someone and the henchman kills them. It seems the villain just wanted them to be treated well.
"I meant to take care of him, not to fucking take care of him."
- In Pulp Fiction, Vince tells Jules that Marcellus wants Vince to take care of Mrs. Wallace over the weekend. Jules pauses a moment before making a gun with his fingers and asking, "Take care of her?"
- Wrong is Right (1982). The President orders the CIA chief to "take care of" the Ghadaffi-like figure who's causing trouble. He pretends not to know what the President is talking about, then reels off a whole bunch of euphemisms ("I've heard 'grease him', 'whack him', 'waste him', 'terminate him'..." etc"). Finally the President spells it out.
President: "K.I.L.L him, by God."
CIA Chief: "By God, sir?"
President: "By executive order."
- Schindler's List: Oskar Schindler is trying to console Itzhak, the brains behind his successful business and also the man who initially protected the Jewish employees from the Nazis, when he learns that Itzhak is going to be sent away to one of the camps. Oskar explains that he has arranged with the SS commandant for "special treatment," and Itzhak explains that he has heard the term "special treatment" many times and he hopes they are not talking about the same thing. Oskar amends it to preferential treatment.
- Though technically, they're talking about someone else, The Break-Up has the lead male and his local bartender engaged in one of these conversations; unfortunately, they have exactly the opposite ideas as to where they want it to lead.
- Apocalypse Now:
Lucas: "When you find the Colonel, infiltrate his team by whatever means available and terminate the Colonel's command."
Willard: "Terminate... the Colonel?"
Civilian: "Terminate... with extreme prejudice."
- Referenced in Star Craft Brood War, when Lieutenant Duran is sent to bring in Vice-Admiral Stukov. When he arrives he announces that he is there to "terminate [Stukov's] command". Stukov retorts, "we both know what it is you're here to terminate".
- Horrible Bosses has the trio of protagonists attempting to hire a hitman. Dale says that assassins can't advertise what they do so they communicate their services in code phrases. Leads to a hilarious misunderstanding with the 'Wetwork Man' who thinks they want to hire him to urinate on them.
- In Wild Wild West, West and Loveless exchange barbs disguised as pleasantries (about West's ethnicity and Loveless' handicap).
Loveless: Mr. West, how kind of you to show up and add color to this otherwise monochromatic affair.West: Well, when your oldest enemy comes back from the dead, it makes a man want to stand up and be counted.Loveless: I hear you're looking for my old friend General McGrath. I'm afraid I haven't seen him in a coon's age.West: I can understand how it would be hard for a man of your stature to keep up with even half his acquaintances.Loveless: I hope Miss East can keep you from being a slave to your disappointment.West: Oh, you know women. One minute they love you, the next, they yank the legs out from under you.
- Combined with Bond One-Liner and lampshaded in Quantum of Solace. M asks Tanner, on the phone with Bond, to inquire about the hit man he'd been investigating as a lead:
Tanner: He says Slate was a dead end.
M: Dammit, he killed him!
- In The Godfather, after a Corleone soldier who helped set up the assassination attempt on Don Vito was dispatched:
Clemenza: "Paulie? Won't see him no more."
- Licence to Kill: Killifer and Sanchez's exchange turns out to be a negotiation on Rewatch Bonus:
Killifer: You're facin' 139 felony counts, Sanchez. Why, that's 936 years! Even one of your famous million dollar bribes can't get you out of this one.
Sanchez: Two million. (smug smile)
- Death on the Nile: An attempt at blackmail is made through coded language addressed to the murderer while in the presence of Poirot.
Blackmailer: Naturally, if I had been unable to sleep, if I had mounted the stairs, then perhaps I might have seen this assassin, this monster, enter or leave Madame's cabin, but as it is Monsieur, I implore you you see how it is? What can I say?
Murderer: My good girl, don't be a fool. Nobody thinks you saw or heard anything. You'll be quite all right. I'll look after you. Nobody's accusing you of anything.
Blackmailer: Monsieur is very good.
- "End Play" and "The Man on the Ladder" by Harry Kemelman both feature this, although it later comes out in "End Play" that the man who claims he did this lied.
- The Three Coffins aka The Hollow Man, a Dr. Gideon Fell novel by John Dickson Carr.
- Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman. Mr Croup is rather fond of these.
"Some of us are so sharp, we could just cut ourselves."
Mr. Croup scratched his head of orange hair, theatrically. "Talking of the marquis, I wonder where he is. He's a bit late, isn't he, Mister Vandemar?"
"Very late indeed, Mister Croup. As late as he possibly could be."
Mr. Croup coughed sententiously and delivered his punch line. "Then from now on, we'll have to call him the late marquis de Carabas."
- The Matt Helm novel The Terminators. Matt's boss asks Matt to take care of an old friend of said boss (who helped our heroes out in a previous novel). Eventually, Matt realizes that the boss really meant a different kind of 'take care of him'.
- Elinor Dashwood and Lucy Steele have too many of these for Elinor's comfort in Sense and Sensibility.
- Fanny Price overhears too many of these for her comfort between Henry Crawford and her engaged cousin Maria in Mansfield Park.
- Inverted in Isaac Asimov's story "Nothing Like Murder", in which a Russian visitor believes that he overheard talk of a conspiracy to tie someone up in the dark and murder him, using the ringing of bells as a signal to action. What he actually heard was a recitation of the verse from The Lord of the Rings describing the Rings of Power, which he misinterpreted (e.g. hearing "Mordor" as "murder") because of his limited command of English.
- A similar inversion got an inoffensive exterminator caught up in a plot involving international assassins in Bill Fitzhugh's Pest Control.
- A children's book (one of the Horrible Histories spinoff series, Dead Famous) about Al Capone notes that you should not ask him to take care of your cat for the weekend.
- In one Relativity story, the Mafia threatens various politicians by leaving messages in graffiti. The police realize it's a code, but can't crack it. It turns out that they're targeting family members of their victims by inserting numbers and names which would be significant only to them. For example, the street name the victim's daughter lives on, plus her telephone prefix. The victim makes the connection instantly, but everyone else just sees a nonsense combination of names and numbers.
- Discworld: Lord Vetinari is quite good at these. "Don't let me detain you" is used simultaneously as a warning, a dismissal, and a threat.
- In Callan, the titular assassin definitely did not appreciate this kind of talk:
You want a killing? You give an order. Straight. Direct. In front of witnesses.
- Law & Order:SVU: In one episode, Benson gets involved with a home invasion, after making a welfare call at the request of her son's baby-sitter. After her team sends a text asking her where she is, she's allowed to send a text out, asking her team to pick up her son from daycare. Only instead of her son's name, she sneaks in the name of a vicious criminal she had a nasty history with (asking them to pick up "William" because he has a playdate with "Lewis"). Her team figures out it's a Covert Distress Code and goes to investigate.
- In an episode of Not Going Out, a "Fawlty Towers" Plot rendered the main characters unable to say their true meanings in order not to reveal the fact that they weren't disabled, leading to this sort of talk, which everyone else remains clueless too, even when one of them explicitly says "blackmail".
- Played with for laughs in the "A Study in Pink" episode of Sherlock. John Watson is driven to a secret location to meet a sinister gentleman who inquires about John's friendship with Sherlock, with whom he has a "childish feud" and whom he worries about "constantly". John becomes convinced by the man's manner that he's some kind of master criminal speaking in Trouble Entendres, only to discover later that the gentleman is Mycroft Holmes, Sherlock's brother, who was being entirely sincere and (for him) straightforward the whole time.
John: So, when you say you're concerned about him, you actually are concerned about him?
Mycroft: [As if John's grown a second head] Yes, of course.
- Used quite often on The Sopranos where they use a lot of euphemisms and code that seems made up on the spot to dance around distasteful topics—not because they find them distasteful, but because they never know when there might be a bug. An example from the first season: after they've killed a Hispanic drug dealer and stolen his money stash and found a lot more cash than they expected, Paulie calls Tony:
Tony: Yeah?Paulie: It's done. And it's the biggest refrigerator you've ever seen.Tony: What else?Paulie: Juan Valdez has been separated from his donkey.
- Parodied on a That Mitchell and Webb Look sketch, in which a Dragon expresses irritation with his Diabolical Mastermind boss's habit of doing this, since it leads to unnecessary ambiguity when the henchmen take him too literally. His statement 'let's hope Professor Ritson meets with a little accident' leads the henchmen to wait around to see if he meets with an accident until they realize that it's an accident they were supposed to make happen.
- Undercover cop Vinnie Terranova is told to "get rid of" someone who'd just tried to shoot town kingpin Mark Volchek. After putting him into protective custody Vinnie returns with a jar full of ashes (ostensibly the dead victim), only to be told by a shocked Volchek that it wasn't what he meant. Volchek congratulates Vinnie on his "initiative", but to prevent future "misunderstandings" decides to use a codeword for such occasions.
- Vinnie's stepfather, Don Rudy Aiuppo, asks Vinnie to follow another mob boss who plans to murder Aiuppo, to find out who the assassins will be. Vinnie reports this to Frank McPike.
Vinnie: Aiuppo wants me to follow Cericco.Frank: He wants you to kill him.Vinnie: He didn't say that.Frank: He doesn't have to.
- In the 1990's Australian Law Procedural series Janus, barrister Michael Kidd informs his client that the police have intercepted a message he sent asking a fellow criminal to "put the handbrake" on a key witness. Kidd sarcastically points out that a jury will have no trouble working out what that means.
- Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.: A boss at a HYDRA-run company asks a new hire, in a somewhat judgmental tone:
Employer: So, what are you just really into this sort of thing, - or what brings you to the company?New Hire: [nervously] Uhh...the...incentives program?Employer: [resignedly] Yeah...no one's turned that down yet.
- We later find out that the Incentives Program involves HYDRA holding someone's family member hostage in order to force their cooperation
- Two and a Half Men: When Charlie almost dies, he has a vision of his dead father urging him to take care of his mother. Everyone is confused by this revelation, as Evelyn is a horrid woman who arguably drove Charlie's father to death. Charlie still does his best to help his mother out as much as possible, and she predictably takes advantage, to his dismay. Then, when they're watching a mafia movie together, two mobsters discuss "taking care" of an enemy, and Charlie slowly smiles.
Charlie: [to the ceiling] Sorry. Misunderstood!
Evelyn: What was that, dear?
Charlie: Nothing. [grabs a pillow menacingly] Nothing at all...
- Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Warren tries to tell Andrew that the third member of their Nerd Trio has outlived his usefulness by talking about milk that's passed its expiry date. Andrew keeps Comically Missing the Point until Warren spells it out.
- In an episode of I'm Sorry I'll Read That Again, they perform a comedic version of Macbeth. The murderers and Macbeth discuss the situation in very vague terms, with the murderers often answering incomplete sentences: "So you're the..." "Precisely." "And he'll..." "Quite." At the end of the scene, Macbeth leaves; One murderer then says to another, "So what are we supposed to do?" To which the other replies "I have absolutely no idea."
- In Bells Are Ringing, the management of Titanic Records is shocked to find that its orders for Beethoven's Tenth Symphony have been switched to Beethoven's Ninth Symphony. They don't care that Beethoven only wrote nine symphonies, as the coded "orders" placed with Titanic Records have less to do with classical music than with horse-racing. (To translate the code for this particular case, bets placed on the tenth horse at Belmont Park were changed to the wrong horse.) So the Corvello gang sends a pair of goons to approach Sandor, president of the operation, in a café. He explains them to Sue as "musicians from the Chicago Symphony Orchestra," but is horrified to learn that Titanic Records might want him to attend a "recording session" across the East River of "Siegfried's Rhine Journey and Funeral March."
Sue (Sweetly): Sandor, don't let little business worries upset you. You'll get ulcers.
Henchman: Yeah. Perforated ulcers! We'll be back. You got two hours.
- The James Bond game Everything or Nothing has this exchange in "Mardi Gras Mayhem."
Henchman (on the phone): Yes, Mr. Diavolo?Diavolo: Somehow, inexplicably, Yayakov has allowed a double agent to infiltrate the club. He's going to take care of her tonight, and then...you...are going to take care of him. Understood?Henchman: Yes sir.Diavolo: Good. Don't make me take care of you.
- In Hitman (2016) and its sequel, when under disguise 47 is really fond of veiled threats that come off as completely mundane towards whomever he's talking to (generally his target).
- BlazBlue: Classy villain that he is, Hazama engages in this from time to time.
(Regarding Makoto Nanaya, who has silently wised up to his latest scheme) You really shouldn't wander around poking that cute little nose of yours where it doesn't belong! I mean, gosh... Surely you know gathering intelligence is the sort of thing you've got to do covertly? I'm just worried about you. One mistake in this business can mean your life, you know.
- The third case of Ace Attorney Investigations has Lance Amano receive a letter demanding the payment of a loan... in the form of a love letter.
- Subverted in The Order of the Stick 597 when Vaarsuvius tries to threaten Elan this way, but fails due to both Elan's low intelligence and V's Sesquipedalian Loquaciousness.
Vaarsuvius: Do as you wish, though I find it odd that one who just witnessed the haste with which I will remove that which distracts me from my crucial research would risk becoming just such a distraction one's self....Vaarsuvius: Because then I might be forced to remove the distraction.Elan: I don't get it.Vaarsuvius: YOU are the distraction in this case. Remove the distraction, which is you. Remove YOU with haste.Elan: What are you getting at?Vaarsuvius: Oh, forget it. It would take longer to make you understand than it would to research the next spell.Elan: Wait, are you saying that you're going to research the spell "Haste" if I don't distract you anymore?
- Inverted for comedic value in a series of Sluggy Freelance strips, in which Mr. Middleman hires Riff and Torg to help someone take a dirt nap ( a vampire who needs to regenerate in his native soil) or fit someone else for concrete shoes ( the exercise of walking in them should slim her legs).
- Problem Sleuth: Due to an in-universe glitch causing some items to double as weapons, attacking with the violent form will cause the narration to assume the more innocuous form is used, and vice versa.
You console yourself with your TEDDY BEAR.
You'll console everyone down with you if you have to.
- Fictosophy: "Translating Minnesota Nice" is this trope embodied. The sinister aspect is hidden beneath layers of Minnesota accent.
- Parodied in Futurama:
Donbot: That scab's gonna have a little on-the-job accident.Joey Mousepad: With all due respect, Donbot, I don't think we should rely on an accident to happen. Let's kill him ourselves.Donbot: Grrrr.
Donbot: I want you to take care of him.Clamps: You mean "take care of him", or, "take care of him"?Donbot: (with no change in inflection) Take care of him.
- And then from the third movie, after Bender messes around with the Donbot's wife:
- Parodied in an episode of The Simpsons.
Legs: "We're Italian. Everything means shooting something."
- A similar dialogue as in the Futurama-example above happens in The Simpsons S 22 E 19 The Real Housewives Of Fat Tony when Fat Tony's henchmen Legs and Loui have to "take care of" a doctor.
- Harley Quinn, in The New Batman Adventures episode "Joker's Millions," invokes this trope before exacting revenge against The Joker by beating him with her nightstick.
Quinn: Hiya, Mr. J... Welcome to the club.
- Very common within organized crime due to the threat of surveillance. Gangsters will usually speak in extremely vague terms that won't hold up in court as a confession. It's hard to prove that, "The big guy left town," means, "I just killed Vito."
- In addition, their name for the Mafia as a whole is "Cosa Nostra", Italian for "this thing of ours."
- Oral tradition (incorrectly) claims that four of Henry II's knights killed Thomas Becket, Archbishop of Canterbury, because they thought this trope applied to the king's frustrated remark of: "Will no one rid me of this Turbulent Priest?"
- When Kaiser Wilhelm II met Queen Wilhelmina of the Netherlands prior to World War One, the Kaiser remarked that his guards were seven foot tall while the Queen's were only shoulder high. Wilhelmina replied "Quite true, your Majesty, your guards are seven feet tall, but when we open our dikes, the water is ten foot deep!".