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Please consider the scenario below and let me know which choice fits in the blank and which doesn't and why (I think these two verbs mean the same in this sense and can be interchanged here):

  • Convict) They're........., officer, I swear! I would never go to a seedy place like that!
    Officer) Oh yeah? Then why did we find your fingerprints there?

a. framing me
b. setting me up

Bringing up this question, I want to know how these two verbs differ from each other?

To frame someone:
to deliberately make someone seem guilty of a crime when they are not guilty, by lying to the police or in a court of law.
SYN set up.

To set someone up:
To make it look like someone is guilty of some crime or wrongdoing:

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    Set someone up is more general and has other meanings.
    – mdewey
    Nov 10, 2021 at 17:18
  • I cannot frame you by making our dinner host think you ate the last slice of pizza but I can set you up for such a misunderstanding. Maybe our host will laugh. Maybe they will cry. But no one is going to jail. Eating the last slice of pizza is not a crime. It's a wrongdoing (at worst).
    – EllieK
    Nov 10, 2021 at 17:53

1 Answer 1

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The two are near identical in use. The slight distinction is that "frame" carries more connotation of an elaborate, thorough, and legally compelling case against someone. The metaphor is that the police and courts are presented with a picture of the supposedly guilty suspect, "framed [and ready for hanging]."*

"To set [someone] up" certainly would not be inappropriate to use for such a thorough deception, but might be used for a more casual and slapdash one. If Suspect A merely casts doubt on Suspect B, Suspect B might say "He's setting me up!"

* Edit: That might be a useful way of understanding it, but the implication of "hanging" might not be part of the history of the term.

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    "The metaphor is that the police and courts are presented with a picture of the supposedly guilty suspect" - sometimes the police are the ones doing the framing. Nov 10, 2021 at 18:07
  • I'd use frame if you didn't do anything and I was trying to make it appear as if you did (eg. by planting evidence, testifying against you) and set up if I was trying to deceive you specifically to do something illegal and get caught (eg. by giving you a bag of drugs to give to someone without telling you what it is). Nov 10, 2021 at 20:22

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