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My friend and I had another argument over the meaning/implication of the second 'intelligence' in the following sentence:

“An intelligence organization that fears intelligence?” Tony said. “That’s historically . . . not awesome.”


My friend believed that the second intelligence is the same as the first one –– also means "spy", which refers to Tony's action of breaking into S.H.I.E.L.D.’s secure files by decryption program ever since he was on board, like a spy.

I believe the second one means "smartness/cleaverness", which refers to Tony's own high IQ, and he is being sarcastic, pointing out that SHIELD, an intelligence organization , full of elites (intelligent persons), should not have feared to bring one more intelligent person (himself) into the organization, which leads to the conclusion that Fury is definitely hiding sth from people.

So, which one is correct? or we both wrong? And if , not necessarily, anyone could point out how to distinguish the two would be a lot more helpful, thanks a lot.

Here is the sentence in the context:

Bruce sighed and took off his glasses. “‘A warm light for all mankind,’” he quoted. “Loki’s jab at Fury about the cube.”

“I heard it,” Cap said.

“I think that was meant for you,” Bruce said to Tony. “Even if Barton didn’t tell Loki about the tower, it was still all over the news.”

“The Stark Tower? That big ugly . . .” Tony looked up. “Building?” Cap finished. “In New York.”

“It’s powered by an Arc Reactor, a self-sustaining energy source,” Bruce pointed out. “That building will run itself for, what? A year?”

“That’s just the prototype,” Tony said. “I’m kind of the only name in clean energy right now,” he explained to Cap. “That’s what he’s getting at.”

Cap didn’t know what he meant by clean energy, but he could tell it was another of Tony’s typical boasts, so he let it pass.

“So why didn’t S.H.I.E.L.D. bring him in on the Tesseract project?” Bruce asked. “What are they doing in the energy business in the first place?

“I should probably look into that once my decryption program finishes breaking into all of S.H.I.E.L.D.’s secure files.” Tony looked at a tiny computer tablet, barely bigger than a credit card.

“I’m sorry,” Cap said. “Did you say—”

“Jarvis has been running it since I hit the bridge,” Tony said. “In a few hours, I’ll know every dirty secret S.H.I.E.L.D. has ever tried to hide.”

“Yet you’re confused about why they didn’t want you around,” Cap said.

“An intelligence organization that fears intelligence?” Tony said. “That’s historically . . . not awesome.”

Cap felt his temper starting to rise. He got it under control.

The Avengers I

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It is a pun, or wordplay. It plays with the double meaning of "intelligence" meaning both "spies" and "cleverness".

The second "intelligence" basically means "cleverness", and, in context, it is probably Tony talking about himself.

  • thanks for the explanation, my initial thought was it's a pun:) so how's my friend answer? is it make sense to a native speaker? – user86301 Mar 30 at 8:36
  • It could be an aspect of the pun, but "an intelligence" doesn't mean "a spy". – James K Mar 30 at 13:59

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