Created By: schoolbully on February 17, 2013

Digits mistaken for Letters

A dying character uses remaining strength to name their killer by writing on unusual media, but the name is misinterpreted until the very end.

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A murder/death has taken place and the investigators find what looks like a part of a name written in blood, or scratched into a nearby surface, or written in condensation on a window (whatever is to hand). The entire episode proceeds with the assumption that the "name" has been read/understood correctly, but it is later found to have been misinterpreted.

A recent episode of Lewis saw "500" scratched into the metal of a car by the victim. The detectives automatically assumed this was a telephone extension number and proceeded as if this were gospel. As it turned out, it was really a Chinese name "Soo Lin" or similar.

I think that this is only a trope if the audience immediately thinks "well, maybe it means something else" but it takes the _characters_ the rest of the episode to find out (like Tales of The Unexpected).

There was an episode of Jonathan Creek where somebody was predicted to die "at the time of ISIS". It turned out that this was really "15:15" on a digital clock (Americans wouldn't immediately get that, of course). The digital clock display was shown prominently several times until the reveal; it was obvious (to me, anyway) what ISIS meant.

An episode of B7 had a murder victim scrawl "54124" in blood. The episode proceeded with people trying to work out what the number meant. The actual blood writing was not shewn until later, when its meaning became obvious to the audience, but not to the characters.
Community Feedback Replies: 11
  • February 17, 2013
    Sorry, the 54124 was actually "Sara", an interpretation which was immediately obvious when the actual crime scene was shewn.
  • February 17, 2013
    Covered by Dying Clue, I think.
  • February 19, 2013
    Yes, Dying Clue. I'd not come across that trope before. None of the Dying Clue examples though, seem to have a situation where the "correct meaning" is obvious (or is at least seen as ambiguous) to the _audience_, but not to the _characters_.
  • February 19, 2013
    Inversion: In DC Challenge a series of numbers is a clue. Their sum is 51,773,173; turned upside down reveals the name "ELI ELLIS."
  • February 19, 2013
    • In one episode of Scooby Doo, the victim, a musician, wrote a series of musical notes just before they were killed. The song from the notes doesn't make any sense, but when the notes were read as letters they reveal the name of the murderer.
  • February 19, 2013
    An episode of CSI had a victim who had been hit by a car. As they were dying, they keyed what seemed to a random set of numbers into their phone. The cops thought they might have been trying to indicate the licence plate of the vehicle. They were actually trying to text the name of their killer, but were too far gone to notice they hadn't set their phone to text.
  • February 19, 2013
    Knowing revolves around a piece of paper in a time capsule that lists dates, coordinates and casualties for all the upcoming major disasters. The final number is 33. It's eventually determined to actually be EE written backward, and EE stands for Everyone Else.
  • February 19, 2013
    Here's an oldie.

    • An episode of Perry Mason had an episode where the Body Of The Week managed to write "K /" before expiring. The Inspector Lestrade thought it was supposed to be "K N," which were the initials of one of the BOTW's office workers. Mason got his client acquitted and the real killer arrested by demonstrating it could just as easily have been "K A", the first two letters of a different worker's name.

    Okay, the forward-slash was supposed to be followed by a backslash but apparently there's some wiki code issue. Suggest replacing it with a Greek delta if this gets launched.
  • February 19, 2013
    The Get Smart episode "Hubert's Unfinished Symphony" has exactly the same plot point as the Scooby Doo episode mentioned above.
  • February 20, 2013
    • Naruto: Before dying, Jiraiya sends a coded message to Konoha to reveal his killer's true identity. It's a series of numbers referring to pages and lines of his novel, but the last one, at first thought to be a 9, is in fact the katakana character for "ta".
  • February 20, 2013
    • In Dangan Ronpa, a victim bleeding out against a wall writes a name behind her back. Because the message turned out upside-down, the hero spends an embarrassingly long time thinking it says 11037 instead of the intended LEON.