Archive for April 10th, 2015

April 10, 2015

Quibble

monkeys paw by matt verges

In terms of fiction, a quibble [kwib-uhl] is a plot device, used to fulfill the exact verbal conditions of an agreement in order to avoid the intended meaning. Typically quibbles are used in legal bargains and, in fantasy, magically enforced ones. In one of the best known examples, William Shakespeare used a quibble in ‘The Merchant of Venice.’ Portia saves Antonio in a court of law by pointing out that the agreement called for a pound of flesh, but no blood, and therefore Shylock can collect only if he sheds no blood.

A ‘pact with the Devil’ commonly contains clauses that allow the devil to quibble over what he grants, and equally commonly, the maker of the pact finds a quibble to escape the bargain. In Norse mythology, Loki, having bet his head with Brokk and lost, forbids Brokk to take any part of his neck, saying he had not bet it; Brokk is able only to sew his lips shut.

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