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Roy: I'll take on the archers. Haley, V: Slow down that wizard!

Haley: She's a sorcerer, actually.

Vaarsuvius: Technically, a sorceress.

Roy: Wow, I can't tell you how much more fulfilling this battle will be now that I can refer to my enemy by the proper appellation. Now stop wasting time and get moving!

Haley: Relax, speaking is a free action.

It's pretty common to make mistakes when trying to communicate (boy, is it ever!) so it's not rare to see characters stop to disambiguate their meaning to avoid confusion. What is unusual is when they do it in the middle of a fight to the death, and their enemies politely stop to listen.

This is a kind of Non Sequitur where a character, usually in the prelude to or middle of a serious (if not deadly) situation takes a time out to clarify that what he really meant to say was X. Expect it to escalate into an inane conversation on the subtle differences and various interpretations of X as opposed to Y, or XYZ rather than ZYX.

Once the character's Distracting Disambiguation is over, expect everyone to go right back to the critically dangerous situation as if nothing had happened.

Compare Talking Is a Free Action. See also Digging Yourself Deeper, which can happen in said disambiguation.

Examples of Distracting Disambiguation include:

Films -- Live-Action

  • Take the Money And Run: The bank tellers think the Woody Allen character's holdup note says "I have a gub." He spends some time correcting them that he has a gun.
  • In Raising Arizona, Gale and Evelle's bank robbery is thrown off the rails when the bank customers start nitpicking the brother's orders: "Well, which is it, young feller? You want I should freeze or get down on the ground? Mean to say, if'n I freeze, I can't rightly drop. And if'n I drop, I'm a-gonna be in motion. You see..."
  • Meet the Spartans does this straight, complete with Talking Is a Free Action.

 Commander: I hope you're all ready, because today is the day we DIIIIIE!

Everyone: YE- Wait, wha...?

Commander: Urgh, today is the day they die, that's what I meant to say...


  • In The Savage Damsel and the Dwarf, by Gerald Morris, one knight is threatening another and shouts, "I shall not rest until thou art cleaved in twain!" The other characters present (including the second knight, who doesn't really want to fight) start arguing over the proper past tense of "cleave".
  • Discworld gives us a discussion on whether the female version of "head honcho" would involve the term Honchette, Honchessa, or Honcharina.

Live-Action TV

  • This happens quite a few times in Buffy the Vampire Slayer in the midst of the Buffy-Speak and general chitchat among heroes, villains, and between them.
    • One season 7 episode, "Conversations with Dead People", has Buffy stop her fight with a newly risen vamp when it turns out he was a Sunnydale alumnus who'd had a bit of a crush on her. They spend the rest of the episode commiserating, and he even gives her talk therapy (of a sort...) to get through her emotional troubles with Spike! Eventually, they do fight and she dusts him, though.

 Webs: Oh, my God!

Buffy: Oh, your God, what?

Webs: Oh, well, you know, not my God, because I defy him and all of his works. Does he exist? Is there word on that, by the way?

Buffy: Nothing solid.

 Man: All right, don't anybody move... except to control the aeroplane... you can move a little to do that.

Stewardess: Can I move?

Man: Yes, yes, yes. You can move a little bit. Yes. Sorry, I didn't mean to be so dogmatic when I came in. Obviously you can all move a little within reason. There are certain involuntary muscular movements which no amount of self-control can prevent. And obviously any assertion of authority on my part, I've got to take that into account.

 Dennis: Stand and deliver! Drop that gun! [Moore shoots him] Let that be a warning to you all. You move at your peril, for I have two pistols here. I know one of them isn't loaded any more, but the other one is, so that's one of you dead for sure... or just about for sure anyway. It certainly wouldn't be worth your while risking it because I'm a very good shot. I practice every day... well, not absolutely every day, but most days in the week... I expect I must practice, oh, at least four or five times a week at least... at least four or five, only some weekends... like last weekend, there really wasn't the time, so that moved the average down a bit... but I should say it's definitely a solid four days' practice a week... at least. I mean... I reckon I could hit that tree over there... the one just behind that hillock... not the big hillock, the little hillock on the left. You see the three trees, the third from the left and back a bit -- that one -- I reckon I could hit that four times out of five... on a good day. Say with this wind... say, say, seven times out of ten.

Man: What, that tree there?

Dennis: Which one?

Man: The big beech with the sort of bare branch coming out of the top left.

Dennis: No, no, no, not that one.

    • To say nothing of a certain, unexpected, Spanish Inquisition....
  • In an episode of Night Court, Mac's old war buddy starts choking and has enough trouble calling attention to this fact that he writes it with squeeze ketchup on the cafeteria table.

 Mac: "I'm... cooking"?

(he desperately wipes and edits it)

Mac: "Choking." Well, no wonder I couldn't read it; your H looks like an O!

  • Employed heavily in Firefly, unsurprising as it is another Joss Whedon show:

 Simon: (being held up at gunpoint) Are you Alliance?

Jubal Early: Am I a lion?

Simon: What?

Jubal Early: I don't think of myself as a lion. You might as well though, I have a mighty roar.

Simon: I said Alliance.

Jubal Early: Oh, I thought...

Simon: No, I was...

Jubal Early: That's weird.

  • In the Volume 4 finale of Heroes, Sylar is holding Claire hostage and taunting her by listing all the members of her family he's going to kill, when:

 Sylar: Papa Petrelli, Mama Bennet, Mr. Muggles... What's your brother's name again? Larry?

Claire: Lyle.

Sylar: Right. He's gonna die, too.


Tabletop Games

  • Dungeons and Dragons 2nd Edition actually has a spell that can cause Distracting Disambiguation: "Leomund's Lamentable Belabourment". The victims of this charm will start discussing with the caster on any topic of his choice, whether to agree or disagree, whatever the earlier situation. If the effect is prolonged, the creatures will continue arguing even if the mage walk away, and may end up either confused or enraged.

Web Comics

  • Eight Bit Theater runs on this trope. Just pick a strip, any strip. They even become Genre Savvy to their tendency to do this at one point, pointing out that how they deal with threats is bicker, argue semantics, stall with Fighter, hurt each other, bicker some more and then implement a brilliant plan from out of nowhere.

 Eugene: Xykon is alive!!

Roy: What??

Eugene: Well, I don't mean actually alive. Technically, he's still dead, just not, you know, DEAD-dead.

He's undead, right, so he's up and moving around, even though he's still life signs: negative. But it's not like he just spontaneously came back to life.

I mean, he DID come back spontaneously, but back to, uh, undeath, I suppose.

Roy: Just curious, do you get XP for killing this dramatic moment?

 Elan: --and I'll foil your evil plans!

Tarquin: Then I wonder what I've begotten into.

Also, "foil" is less of a pun than it is a word derivation. We say someone "foiled" a plan because they defeated them -- as with a foil.

Elan: Really?

Tarquin: No. The etymologies are unrelated. *kaTANG!* (disarms Elan)

Western Animation

  • Family Guy, season 2, episode 13, "Road to Rhode Island". Brian and Stewie have stayed the night at a motel, but their credit card was declined. The manager comes knocking...

 Manager: Open up or I'll hit you with this blunt instrument I use to hit dead-beats with bad credit cards. Well, it's not an instrument, it's more of an object, but it's blunt, hard and blunt, and well... it's kinda like a bat. I found it out back one day when I was raking.

  • In Wakfu season 1 episode 3, while fighting a villain named "The Black Raven", Yugo makes the point that all ravens are black. The team then immediately drops what they're doing in order to work on a better name for him, ignoring the feeble attempts of the Black Raven to remind them that they were about to fight.
  • Early in season two of Jackie Chan Adventures, Torhu is fighting Hak Foo, whose schtick involves coming up with elaborate names for every single attack.

 Hak Foo: Mad Monkey Kung Fu! Octopus Fists of Fury! Shredding Lion Claws! Minnow Whallops Whale!

Torhu: I'm sorry, what was the last part?

Hak Foo: I said, "Minnow--" (gets body-slammed across the room)

 Spike: You know, Pinkie, these two ponies have a bit of a grudge match they try to settle, trying to prove who's the most athletic.

Pinkie: Yes! And grudge rhymes with fudge!

Spike: Yes it... does? What?

Pinkie: And I like fudge. But if I eat too much fudge I get a pudge and then I can't budge!

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