Created By: Westrim on September 7, 2010 Last Edited By: Westrim on August 21, 2014

Unveiling Question

There shouldn\'t be enough information on the subject to ask a question

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There are questions that you shouldn't ask; better yet, you shouldn't know enough about the topic to have the questions you shouldn't ask. Not necessarily because it's dangerous, mind, but because the more that's kept secret the better, whether or not it needs to be. Standard Operating Procedure for many Real Life companies, organizations, and government agencies.

If it is dangerous, you can expect some MIBs to visit you to very strongly warn you off; if you persist, beware of alleyways.

See also I Never Said It Was Poison.

Compare Things Man Was Not Meant to Know, He Knows Too Much, You Are Not Ready, and Only the Knowledgable May Pass.


Examples

Conspiracy Theories
  • According to urban legend, and many UFO conspiracy theorists, the U.S. government has created levels of secrecy that are so secret that the knowledge such levels of secrecy even exist is classified.

Film
  • Deep Impact begins when an Intrepid Reporter, looking for a scoop on an apparent political affair involving a woman named Ele, turns out to know too much by the governments reckoning just by knowing that name- which turns out to be an acronym for Extinction Level Event.
  • In Men in Black, the MIB. Start snooping around, and you'll may end up getting a visit from the Memory-Wiping Crew.
  • In Close Encounters of the Third Kind, the organization(s) involved in the First Contact mission. They fake a massive disaster simply to clear the area of witnesses - and disguise their operatives moving in massive amounts of equipment as legitimate national guard emergency operations. Ask too many questions and you'll be arrested for trespassing, brought in for questioning, and wake up in a hospital suffering from "accidental exposure to nerve gas".
  • Fight Club
    • The first rule of Fight Club is you do not talk about Fight Club.
    • The second rule of Fight Club is you do not talk about Fight Club.

Literature
  • At one point in Cryptonomicon, Lawrence finds himself bored in Australia, and wants to make himself useful as a codebreaker. He briefly has trouble doing so, because his security clearance is so high that he can't even admit its existence to any of the people he'd be making himself useful to, so he has to track down someone who will give him papers with a clearance low enough that he's allowed to talk about it.
  • A recurring theme in Carole Nelson Douglas' Irene Adler novels, especially the later ones involving prostitution, serial killers, Jack the Ripper, Krafft-Ebbing's Psycopathia Sexualis, female circumcision, abortion, illegitimate births, secret adoptions, etc. The narrator, Nell Huxleigh, is a Shropshire parson's daughter with little experience of sex generally, now living with the more worldly ex-Pinkerton and former opera diva Irene Adler Norton. Propriety demands that polite people (and women particularly) know nothing of such matters much less discuss them, but as Irene points out more than once, ignorance of such things puts people (women particularly) in danger from them.
  • This starts coming up in later books of The Lost Fleet series, as the 100 year long war has engendered severe mistrust and paranoia among both government and military and they have a hard time shaking the habit even after it ends. The many morally questionable activities during the war don't help. Thus we get events like the Fleet Admiral, purely by chance, finding that only he has high enough authority to learn that someone has a mental block preventing them from spilling on a bioweapons project- a block the person couldn't even admit existed, much to their mental detriment.

Live-Action TV
  • The White Tower of The Wheel of Time got a bit carried away with this. The unaltered records of the Tower's history are Sealed to the Flame, meaning that only members of the ruling council are allowed to read them. The existence of any such records is also Sealed, as is the existence of a law forbidding the councilors from revealing any of this to outsiders.
  • In Doctor Who, when the Doctor meets up with the amnesiac Brigadier, teaching at a boys' school, the Brigadier's attitude undergoes an abrupt change when the Doctor mentions UNIT — he still doesn't know him, but anyone with sufficient secret clearance to mention it ought to know better than to talk like that.
  • The Oblivion War in The Dresden Files. An outsider as much as learning that there is such a thing already constitutes a major loss for one side (Venatori) and a major victory for the other. Understandably, the Venatori are extremely short on hands.

Tabletop Games
  • Paranoia lives this trope. Just asking some questions is treasonous and can get you executed by The Computer, a robot or a higher clearance citizen.
  • Modern day government conspiracy games such as Conspiracy X and Delta Green have this as a feature.

Video Games
  • Towards the end of Call of Juarez: Gunslinger, Ben The Bartender reveals himself as Roscoe "Bob" Bryant, one of the outlaws who killed Silas' brothers by asking Silas' about one of his marks and referring to him by his (the mark's) surname, which Silas never mentioned in his narration.

Western Animation
  • In Gargoyles, the Illuminati.
  • The Simpsons: the Stonecutters. Homer keeps asking about it, to which Lenny answers cryptically and Carl responds, "Shut up!" The third time this happens Carl is in mid-sip of his coffee, so he gives Lenny a dirty look and Homer tells Lenny to shut up.

Real Life
  • So called "Super-injunctions" in the United Kingdom (which are controversial, since judges have granted them without legislation from parliament allowing them to do so) not only protect the identity of whoever's covered by them, but also protect the fact that there's even an injunction from being reported. Although there are loopholes; Some MPs have used parliamentary privilege to speak out about them (newspapers can report what they said freely), papers only distributed in Scotland and other British countries with devolved parliaments are technically not under the jurisdiction of British courts and it's somewhat harder to enforce on the internet. By the way, in case you were wondering Ryan Giggs had an affair.
  • Most governments also have some sort of law or legislation which makes them able to have sensitive documents treated like this. Private companies can do the same with "non-disclosure agreements" (although being contracts the law can override them).
  • In government there is what is called a "Gag order" (no, not ordering someone to joke:). In the United States, a "National Security Letter", an administrative subpoena used by the FBI, has an attached gag order which restricts the recipient from ever saying anything about being served with one.Most normal subpoenas allow for notice to the person who's information is being requested, so they may dispute the government's (or in civil cases, the other party's) need for it. But the gag order prevents them from doing so, since they don't even know it exists.

    Some U.S. libraries protested this by posting a sign, "No National Security Letters have been received by this library", with the idea that if they were served with one, they would remove the sign, thus legally letting people know without violating the gag order. In addition, people attempting to sue the U.S. government for breaking the law and violating their rights must first prove their rights were violated. However, that is classified information. A nice Catch22. One person who the government accidentally sent a copy of the illegal spying report was forced by the courts to return it to the government and thus their lawsuit was then thrown out for lack of evidence.
  • Allegedly, in the Allied command in WWII, those who had advance knowledge of the D-day plans were referred to as "BIGOTs", on the theory that even in the 1940's no one would admit to being a bigot, and thus those who asked too many questions would get sidetracked by the accusation. The sign - countersign conversation started out something like so:
    Are you a bigot?
    Yes, I'm a bigot.

Community Feedback Replies: 30
  • April 22, 2010
    Arivne
    Tabletop RPG
    • Paranoia lives this trope. Just asking some questions is treasonous.
    • Modern day government conspiracy games such as Conspiracy X and Delta Green.
  • September 6, 2010
    randomsurfer
    The Simpsons: the Stonecutters. Homer keeps asking about it, to which Lenny answers cryptically and Carl responds, "Shut up!" The third time this happens Carl is in mid-sip of his coffee, so he gives Lenny a dirty look and Homer tells Lenny to shut up.
  • September 7, 2010
    Unknown Troper
  • May 23, 2011
    Bisected8
    • In a Real Life example; So called "Super-injunctions" in the United Kingdom (which are controversial, since judges have granted them without legislation from parliament allowing them to do so) not only protect the identity of whoever's covered by them, but also protect the fact that there's even an injunction from being reported. Although there are loopholes; Some MPs have used parliamentary privilege to speak out about them (newspapers can report what they said freely), papers only distributed in Scotland and other British countries with devolved parliaments are technically not under the jurisdiction of British courts and it's somewhat harder to enforce on the internet. By the way, in case you were wondering Ryan Giggs had an affair.
    • Most governments also have some sort of law or legislation which makes them able to have sensitive documents treated like this. Private companies can do the same with "non-disclosure agreements" (although being contracts the law can override them).
  • August 22, 2011
    FrodoGoofballCoTV
    Real Life (at least allegedly):
    • IIRC, In the allied command in WWII, those who had advance knowledge of the D-day plans were referred to as "BIGOTs", on the theory that even in the 1940's no one would admit to being a bigot, and thus those who asked too many questions would get sidetracked by the accusation. The sign - countersign conversation started out something like so:
      Are you a bigot?
      Yes, I'm a bigot.

    Conspiracy Theories
    • According to urban legend, and many UFO conspiracy theorists, the U.S. government has created levels of secrecy that are so secret that the knowledge such levels of secrecy even exist is classified.
  • August 22, 2011
    jaytee
    • The first rule of Fight Club is you do not talk about Fight Club.
      • The second rule of Fight Club is you do not talk about Fight Club.
  • August 22, 2011
    Micah
    • At one point in Cryptonomicon, Lawrence finds himself bored in Australia, and wants to make himself useful as a codebreaker. He briefly has trouble doing so, because his security clearance is so high that he can't even admit its existence to any of the people he'd be making himself useful to, so he has to track down someone who will give him papers with a clearance low enough that he's allowed to talk about it.
  • August 24, 2011
    Fanra
    In government there is what is called a "Gag order" (no, not ordering someone to joke:).

    In the United States, a "National Security Letter", an administrative subpoena used by the FBI, has an attached gag order which restricts the recipient from ever saying anything about being served with one.

    Most normal subpoenas allow for notice to the person who's information is being requested, so they may dispute the government's (or in civil cases, the other party's) need for it. But the gag order prevents them from doing so, since they don't even know it exists.

    Some U.S. libraries protested this by posting a sign, "No National Security Letters have been received by this library", with the idea that if they were served with one, they would remove the sign, thus legally letting people know without violating the gag order.

    In addition, people attempting to sue the U.S. government for breaking the law and violating their rights must first prove their rights were violated. However, that is classified information. A nice Catch22. One person who the government accidentally sent a copy of the illegal spying report was forced by the courts to return it to the government and thus their lawsuit was then thrown out for lack of evidence.
  • August 27, 2011
    Westrim
    Okay, so lots of Real Life examples as I expected. Are there any more fictional examples to be added?
  • August 27, 2011
    FrodoGoofballCoTV
    Would these count?

    film:
    • In Men In Black, the MIB. Start snooping around, and you'll end up getting a visit from the Memory Wiping Crew.
    • In Close Encounters Of The Third Kind, the organization(s) involved in the First Contact mission. They fake a massive disaster simply to clear the area of witnesses - and disguise their operatives moving in massive amounts of equipment as legitimate national guard emergency operations. Ask too many questions and you'll be arrested for trespassing, brought in for questioning, and wake up in a hospital suffering from "accidental exposure to nerve gas".

    Western Animation
  • August 27, 2011
    Westrim
    Yep.
  • January 6, 2012
    Noaqiyeum
    Bump.
  • January 19, 2012
    Westrim
    This keeps getting left behind, like there's something to hide about it... *shakes self* Does anyone have any suggestions concerning the title? Is this ready for launch, and if not what do you think still needs work?
  • January 20, 2012
    69BookWorM69
    This sounds like a recurring theme in Carole Nelson Douglas' Irene Adler novels, especially the later ones involving prostitution, serial killers, Jack the Ripper, Krafft-Ebbing's Psycopathia Sexualis, female circumcision, abortion, illegitimate births, secret adoptions, etc. The narrator, Nell Huxleigh, is a Shropshire parson's daughter with little experience of sex generally, now living with the more worldly ex-Pinkerton and former opera diva Irene Adler Norton. Propriety demands that polite people (and women particularly) know nothing of such matters much less discuss them, but as Irene points out more than once, ignorance of such things puts people (women particularly) in danger from them.
  • January 20, 2012
    Noaqiyeum
    The title does make it sound like Doomy Dooms Of Doom - i.e. a prevalence of calling things 'secret' rather than a particularly over-hidden secret. That would be more along the lines of the Ostentatious Secret, which is basically this trope's direct antithesis.

    Concealed Secret, Invisible Secret...?
  • January 20, 2012
    Goldfritha
  • February 5, 2012
    Westrim
    Changed the title, let me know if it works or if there are any suggestions. Moving the old title and a note about it here.

    Secret Secrecy of Secrets Probably Needs A Better Title, but I was riffing off of Doomy Dooms Of Doom. Any suggestions are appreciated.
  • February 6, 2012
    aurora369
    In Soviet/Russian law, there are "recognizances of nondivulgement" (подписки о неразглашении). Everyone who comes in touch with some kind of secret must sign one of these and keep to themselves.
  • February 6, 2012
    Myra
    This example, currently on Masquerade: In Doctor Who, when the Doctor meets up with the amnesiac Brigadier, teaching at a boys' school, the Brigadier's attitude undergoes an abrupt change when the Doctor mentions UNIT — he still doesn't know him, but anyone with sufficient secret clearance to mention it ought to know better than to talk like that.
  • February 6, 2012
    Myra
    The White Tower of The Wheel Of Time got a bit carried away with this. The unaltered records of the Tower's history are Sealed to the Flame, meaning that only members of the ruling council are allowed to read them. The existence of any such records is also Sealed, as is the existence of a law forbidding the councilors from revealing any of this to outsiders.
  • February 6, 2012
    Koveras
    • The Oblivion War in The Dresden Files. An outsider as much as learning that there is such a thing already constitutes a major loss for one side (Venatori) and a major victory for the other. Understandably, the Venatori are extremely short on hands.
  • February 6, 2012
    Stratadrake
    Wanting to suggest better titles here. Like Secret Secret Is Secret or Uber Secret or something.
  • February 6, 2012
    Koveras
  • February 12, 2012
    Westrim
    I don't know, that implies it's a secret not only in-universe but in real life.
  • February 13, 2012
    pawsplay
  • March 7, 2012
    Westrim
    I like that, using.
  • March 17, 2012
    Westrim
    It should have more examples and the explanation needs some cleanup, but this seems to fit all the requirements for launch technically. Are there any more suggestions?
  • February 1, 2013
    Westrim
    Rebooting, adding the examples from the comments.
  • May 15, 2014
    DAN004
    Laconic isn't clear. Maybe it should be "a question you wouldn't expect from someone not knowledgeable with the subject".

    See also I Never Said It Was Poison.

    Compare Things Man Was Not Meant To Know, He Knows Too Much and You Are Not Ready.
  • May 22, 2014
    Koveras
    • Towards the end of Call Of Juarez Gunslinger, Ben The Bartender reveals himself as Roscoe "Bob" Bryant, one of the outlaws who killed Silas' brothers by asking Silas' about one of his marks and referring to him by his (the mark's) surname, which Silas never mentioned in his narration.
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