Created By: MidnightRambler on June 20, 2012 Last Edited By: MidnightRambler on June 26, 2012
Troped

Unfortunate Item Swap

A character confuses two similar-looking items, leading to embarrassing or dangerous situations

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Launching Tuesday at noon (GMT), under the current name, if no problems are brought up before then.

Rolling Updates; Seen It a Million Times; How Did We Miss This One?

The single-player version of Satchel Switcheroo.

Bob has two (rarely more) different items, which look rather similar on the outside; however, in reality they are vastly different, and meant for different people and/or situations. Of course, Rule of Funny - or in rare examples, Rule of Drama - dictates that he must get them mixed up, with disastrous results.

Items often used for this include:
  • Audio or video recording media.
  • Letters in closed envelopes.
  • Two meals or drinks - one poisoned or otherwise tampered with, the other perfectly normal.
  • A real weapon and a fake one.
  • Bottles of poison, magic potions, or other chemicals.

A common gag is for Bob to realise that the item he is holding, which he believed to be Item X, is actually Item Y: 'Oh no! Then the thing I sent to Alice was...' Cut to Alice receiving Item X and being surprised or angry.

Thanks to the Law of Conservation of Detail, this trope is often set up so obviously that Genre Savvy viewers can see it coming from miles away; in many works, the mere existence of two objects which can be easily confused is a Chekhov's Gun with the safety off.

Note that in order to fit this trope, the mix-up has to be accidental - if it happens because of misdirection (another character intentionally tricks Bob into this) or ignorance (Bob genuinely isn't aware of the difference between the two items), it's not this trope.

Overlaps with Script Swap and Blind Mistake. Oh Wait, This Is My Grocery List is a subtrope. Compare Satchel Switcheroo, which is about two or more characters accidentally and unknowingly exchanging items.

Examples:

Anime and Manga
  • In one episode of Maison Ikkoku, Godai records two spoken messages on tape - one for his Love Interest Kyoko, one for a toddler who said she wanted to marry him. Naturally, Kyoko gets the tape where Godai explains that he can't marry her because she's far too young, and the child gets the tape where he declares his love and says he will do his best to become worthy of her hand. (For added hilarity, the toddler's name is also Kyoko).
  • In One Piece, the villain Spandam commits an epic blunder by mixing up his two snailphones, accidentally issuing a buster call (basically a "Something has Gone Horribly Wrong here, level the place with heavy artillery, take no further orders from this phone" emergency order) on his location.

Comic Books
  • Happens frequently in Donald Duck stories; usually involves a gift meant for Daisy.
  • In one EC Comics story, a bigamist has a wife who bowls competitively, and another who golfs on a tournament level. He sends each of them a pair of shoes for their sport, but he puts them in the wrong boxes, so the bowling wife gets the golfing shoes and vice versa. He might have been able to laugh this off, if they hadn't been sharing a hotel room due to both reservations being made under his name.
  • The origin of Bouncing Boy from the Legion of Super Heroes - he mistook a bottle of experimental Super Serum (which he was supposed to be delivering when he got distracted) for the bottle of soda pop he'd just bought.

Film
  • In The Emperor's New Groove, Kronk mistakes the bottle of extract of llama for the bottle of poison due to faulty labeling.
  • In Johnny English, Johnny intends to play a DVD on which the villain explains his Evil Plan in detail to a crowd of royalty, politicians, and other VIPs. But this trope happens, and a clip of Johnny dancing half-naked comes up instead.
  • In Monsters vs. Aliens, the Big Red Button that launches all the nuclear missiles is identical to, and right next to, the button for the coffee dispenser. President Hardaway is warned in time. In The Stinger, he's not so lucky.
  • In My Favorite Brunette, the Bob Hope character manages to get a record made of the Evil Plan, but the Peter Lorre character switches it for a music record.
  • In Nine To Five, Lily Thomlin's character accidentally buys rat poison instead of non-dairy coffee creamer (they're packaged ridiculously similarly), and thinks she has poisoned her boss.
  • The Return of The Pink Panther: Chief Inspector Dreyfus has both a real gun and a lighter that looks identical to the gun. After getting angry at Clouseau he tries to shoot him with the gun but it turns out to be the lighter. Later he tries to light a cigarette and ends up shooting himself with the gun.
  • The entire plot of Road Trip is built on this. The protagonist inadvertently sends a sex tape (of him cheating) to his long-distance girlfriend, instead of a tape on which he sings a romantic song for her. Cue epic quest to get it back before she gets to watch it.

Literature
  • In My Uncle Oswald, Yasmin Howcomely tries to seduce the King of Norway by giving him a chocolate truffle filled with a powerful aphrodisiac. However, she accidentally gives him a perfectly normal truffle and eats the "spiked" truffle herself. Note, however, that at this point in the book, she has pulled the exact same trick succesfully with a lot of rich and famous men.

Live-Action TV
  • In the fourth season of Blackadder, Captain Blackadder, who is about to be court-martialled for shooting General Melchett's pet pigeon, writes two letters: one asking his klutzy sidekick George for a sponge bag, another asking his brilliant lawyer cousin for legal aid. Of course, his idiotic aide Baldrick gets the letters mixed up.
  • In one episode of Cheers, Sam burns an envelope which he believes to contain his sperm count test results - but he's got it switched with Frasier's will.
  • In the Doctor Who episode "The Lodger", the Doctor, in a hurry, accidentally grabs an electric toothbrush instead of his sonic screwdriver.
  • Friends: A porn video is swapped with a video of Phoebe's friend giving birth (intended to prepare Rachel for giving birth to Emma). Chandler and Monica's romantic evening is thus ruined.
  • In the "Police Raid" sketch from Monty Python's Flying Circus, Graham Chapman plays the role of a policeman who intrudes on two guys having lunch, claiming he's got a warrant to search the premises. After a brief awkward silence, Graham produces a paper bag from his pocket, drops it on the table, and begins loudly declaring that he has discovered a bag which may indeed contain illicit substances. Eric Idle searches the bag to find... a sandwich. Dismayed, Graham looks at the camera and inquires, "Blimey! Whatever did I give the wife?"
  • My Name Is Earl: Chubby has two guns, a real gun and an identical-looking water pistol he keeps filled with vodka. He accidentally kills himself (offscreen, between episodes) when he tries to squirt some vodka into his mouth with the wrong gun.
  • Soap: Eunice is having an affair with a Congressman. A Blackmailer sends him pictures in a manila envelope, threatening that he'll expose the affair unless the Congressman pays him. As he and Eunice are talking about it, a delivery boy from a newspaper comes to pick up a copy of the Congressman's speech scheduled for the next day. The Congressman absently hands him the speech in a manila envelope. A few minutes later, after the Congressman's wife comes home, she picks up the manila envelope and opens it - it's the speech. The Congressman accidentally gave the blackmail photos to the press.

Western Animation
  • In The Adventures of Jimmy Neutron, Jimmy keeps all the crew's superpowers from a past episode in ridiculously similar sprays. He also puts a love potion in the same type of tube. Oh, and they come across a situation where they actually need them. Fast.
  • In the Tex Avery cartoon Crazy Mixed Up Pup, a man and his dog are out for a walk and get hit by a car. The paramedics come, but one mixes up "human plasma" and "dog plasma," so that the man gets the dog plasma and vice versa. The man starts acting like a dog, and the dog like a man.
  • On South Park, a pornographic video gets switched with a Lord of the Rings tape. When Butters accidentally watches the porn video, his confusion translates into acting like Gollum.

Community Feedback Replies: 35
  • June 20, 2012
    akazilliadenaro
    • In Family Guy quagmire confuses a 'ahem' toy with a dog whistle in one episode.

  • June 20, 2012
    Lumpenprole
    In the movie Nine To Five, Lily Thomlin's character accidently buys rat poison instead of non-dairy coffee creamer (they're packaged ridiculously similar), and thinks she has poisoned her boss.

  • June 20, 2012
    hambor12
    In the Adventures of Jimmy Neutron, Jimmy kept all the crew's superpowers from a past episode in ridiculously similar sprays. He also puts a love potion in the same type of tube. Oh, and they come across a situation where they actually need them. Fast.
  • June 20, 2012
    Dacilriel
    Film- Animated: Happens to Ariel (thanks to some bad advice from Scuttle) in The Little Mermaid. She confuses a fork for a comb and a smoking pipe for a musical pipe. While the items are different enough that getting them mixed up seems ridiculous, it is actually a fairly understandable mistake when you consider that the fork and comb both have a handle at one end and a row of tines at the other, and the two kinds of pipes both have mouth pieces and bells at either end.

    Film- Live Action: In the 1997 adaptation of George Of The Jungle Lyle has a lighter which is made to look like a tiny pistol. He scares the guides with it, and they later decide to get him back by switching the lighter for a real pistol. It doesn't end well. Fortunately no one dies in this movie.
  • June 20, 2012
    Alvin
    In My Favorite Brunette the Bob Hope character manages to get a record made of the evil plot, but the Peter Lorre character switches it for a music record.
  • June 20, 2012
    Shnakepup
    If someone can remember this properly, please help. I remember some show on MTV once where some comedian convinced an innocent old lady that a vibrating dildo was some kind of cooking mixer. She was stirring this vibrating sex toy around in a bowl with some batter, naively commenting on how it wasn't a very good mixer...

    I wanna say it was either Tom Green or maybe Jackass.
  • June 20, 2012
    randomsurfer
    • My Name Is Earl: Chubby has two guns, a real gun and an identical-looking water pistol he keeps filled with vodka. He accidentally kills himself (offscreen, between episodes) when he tries to squirt some vodka into his mouth with the wrong gun.
    • [copied from Oh Wait This Is My Grocery List] Monty Pythons Flying Circus. Graham Chapman plays the role of a policeman who intrudes on two guys having lunch, claiming he's got a warrant to search the premises. After a brief awkward silence, Graham produces a paper bag from his pocket, drops it on the table, and begins loudly declaring that he has discovered a bag which may indeed contain illicit substances. Eric Idle searches the bag to find... a sandwich. Dismayed, Graham looks at the camera and inquires, "Blimey! Whatever did I give the wife?"
    • A Saturday Night Live Parody Commercial for the Amazon Kindle shows a father and two kids bringing Breakfast In Bed to Mom for Mother's Day and walk in while she's reading 50 Shades of Gray (a hardcore erotica book). The daughter picks up mom's vibrator. "Look, a microphone!" and starts pretending to sing into it.
  • June 21, 2012
    SKJAM
    The origin of Bouncing Boy from the Legion Of Superheroes--he mistook the bottle of experimental Super Serum (which he was supposed to be delivering when he got distracted) and the bottle of soda pop he'd just bought.
  • June 21, 2012
    Arivne
    Film
    • The Return of The Pink Panther. Chief Inspector Dreyfus has both a real gun and a lighter that appears identical to the gun. After getting angry at Clouseau he tries to shoot him with the gun but it turns out to be the lighter. Later he tries to light a cigarette and ends up shooting himself with the gun.
  • June 21, 2012
    TonyG
    • In The Emperors New Groove, Kronk mistakes the bottle of extract of llama for the bottle of poison due to faulty labeling.
    • In Monsters Vs Aliens, the Big Red Button that launches all the nuclear missiles is identical to, and right next to, the button for the coffee dispenser. President Hardaway is warned in time. In The Stinger, he's not so lucky.
  • June 22, 2012
    MidnightRambler
    Guys the article and the examples are coming along nicely, but this really Needs A Better Name. Suggestions, please.
  • June 22, 2012
    Alvin
    I'm sure I've seen two suitcases get mixed up a lot. I remember seeing an advertisement where a woman hears a noise and discovers her mother is using a vibrator ... as a mixer. Like an above example, but definitely a commercial (from Europe, I think). I think I've read a Real Life news story about Asian scientists thinking a sex toy was a rare mushroom. I have a non-fiction book (Dead Men Do Tell Tales by William R. Maples, Ph. D.) in which a female forensic anthropology student is supposed to have seen a decomposed dead body that had had breast implants and said 'I didn't know jellyfish came so far inland.' Maybe it doesn't count, though.
  • June 22, 2012
    Mozgwsloiku
    In One Piece, the villain Spandam commits an epic blunder by mixing up his two snailphones, accidently issuing a buster call (basically a "Something has Gone Horribly Wrong here, level the place with heavy artillery, take no further orders from this phone" emergency order) on his location.
  • June 22, 2012
    FrodoGoofballCoTV

    EDIT: Not Examples, sorry, my bad.

    Anime and Manga:

    Film:
    • Trading Places features an extended "swap the suitcase" scene.
    • Diamonds Are Forever had fun with a computer tape containing a secret control code, which was disguised as an ordinary minicassette tape.
    • In Desperately Seeking Susan, a mix up occurs involving stolen jewelry.

    Live Action Television:
    • In The George Burns Show, two couples accidently steal each other's identical vehicles, and Hilarity Ensues when they both fail to check the back seat before driving off.
  • June 22, 2012
    cenauge
    Unfortunate Item Swap?
  • June 22, 2012
    Ogodei
    The entire film Road Trip was predicated on this, where the protagonist inadvertently sent a sex-tape (of him cheating) to his girlfriend, which he mixed up with a tape of him singing a romantic song for her.
  • June 22, 2012
    Alvin
    In an episode of Cheers Sam burns an envelope containing his sperm count test results- but he's unknowingly got it switched with Frasier's will
  • June 23, 2012
    MidnightRambler
    I... think I've got a decent name for it now, but other suggestions are still welcome, of course.

    Anyway, read the description, people. The examples in which items are accidentally exchanged between characters are not this trope, but Satchel Switcheroo. The article explicitly mentions that this is the "single-player" version of that trope.
  • June 23, 2012
    TARDIS2468
    In the Doctor Who episode The Lodger, the Doctor, in a hurry, accidentally grabs an electric toothbrush instead of his sonic screwdriver.
  • June 23, 2012
    Routerie
    A good trope, but almost any noun in the dictionary would be better than "Chekhov's Gun" in this title.
  • June 23, 2012
    MidnightRambler
    Yeah, I've got my doubts about the title myself. I think it makes sense since the very existence of two easily-confused items in the story is usually a Chekhov's Gun, as noted in the article. But if you've got a better idea, go ahead and propose it.
  • June 23, 2012
    MidnightRambler
    I liked the "MacGuffin Mix-Up" suggestion, but then I reread the article for "Mac Guffin" and noted that the items involved are not necessarily MacGuffins (i.e. objects which serve to drive the plot but don't do anything else). Still might be a good title though.
  • June 23, 2012
    JonnyB
    The lighter/gun mix-up mentioned in the Pink Panther example was a favorite of old sitcoms; I've seen it done on Get Smart also.
  • June 23, 2012
    Andygal
    Unfortunate Item Swap works for me.
  • June 23, 2012
    lu127
    Dialogue-like names are discouraged, I'm afraid, so the working title isn't really feasible. The other suggestions work well enough.
  • June 23, 2012
    randomsurfer
    • Soap: Eunice is having an affair with a congressman. A Blackmailer sends him pictures in a manilla envelope, threatening that he'll expose the affair unless the congressman pays him. As he & Eunice are talking about it, a delivery boy from a newspaper comes to pick up a copy of the congressman's speech scheduled for the next day. The congressman absently hands him the speech in a manilla envelope. A few minutes later, after the congressman's wife comes home, she picks up the manilla envelope and opens it - it's the speech. The congressman accidentally gave the blackmail photos to the press.
    • In the Tex Avery cartoon "Crazy Mixed Up Pup" a man and his dog are out for a walk and get hit by a car. The paramedics come, but one mixes up "human plasma" and "dog plasma," so that the man gets the dog plasma & vice-versa. The man starts acting like a dog, and the dog like a man.
  • June 24, 2012
    SKJAM
  • June 24, 2012
    MidnightRambler
    @SKJAM: That example is going to need a little more context, I think.

    Anyway, I say the thing's ready for launch. The naming issues appear to have been resolved, and there are 20 examples already from 6 different media. Launching in 48 hours unless someone brings up a problem before then.
  • June 25, 2012
    MidnightRambler
    Bumping for more examples.
  • June 25, 2012
    Bisected8
    I'm note sure if this is quite this trope, but;

    • In Deception Point, Senator Sexton is defeated when this trope is invoked as an Engineered Public Confession. Envelopes he plans to give to the press, containing (what he knows is misleading) evidence that the incumbent president was involved in a conspiracy are swapped, by his mistreated assistant, with ones containing photos proving he had an affair with said assistant (the very same affair he'd accused the president's office of making up to slander him, no less).
  • June 25, 2012
    HeartOfAnAstronaut
    • In Meet The Parents, the protagonist's suitcase is switched with someone else's identical suitcase by the airline. Of course, he ends up with a suitcase full of kinky sex equipment.
    • On South Park a pornographic video got switched with a tape of Lord Of The Rings. When Butters accidentally watches the porn, his confusion translates into acting like Gollum.
    • Friends had an episode where another porn video was switched with a video of Phoebe's friend giving birth (intended to prepare Rachel for giving birth to Emma). Chandler and Monica's romantic evening was thus ruined.
  • June 25, 2012
    MidnightRambler
    @Bisected8: Holy Gratuitous Spoiler Usage, Batman! See Editing Tip #9 and the Spoiler Policy. As for the example itself, does the assistant deliberately swap the envelopes, or was it an accident? It only fits this trope in the latter case.

    @ Heart Of An Astronaut: The Meet The Parents example sounds like Satchel Switcheroo, not this trope, since there are multiple characters involved (even if we never get to see the poor guy who ends up with the protagonist's luggage). The others seem to be valid examples.
  • June 25, 2012
    Bisected8
    Ah, it's the former. Never mind.

    Also, while I spoilered a large portion of the example, the important part was visible (that this trope was used against a particular character) and the spoiler only protects the elaboration.
  • June 25, 2012
    SKJAM
    @Midnight Rambler, okay, let's try again.

  • June 26, 2012
    MidnightRambler
    IT IS TIME.
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