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Cannot Keep a Secret
Sterling: Good morning everyone. What's this big non-me-telling secret?
Malory: There's no secret, dear.
Sterling: Mother, pardon me for one second. Pam?
Malory: No you don't, Pam!
Pam: I'm okay, I'm okay, I'm fine...YOUR MOM'S GOT BREAST CANCER!
Archer

A classic sitcom trope, in which a character seems to be physically incapable of keeping a secret for very long, at least without showing extreme discomfort. Usually, by the end of the episode, or even within the same scene, they would spill the beans. Although sufferers of this trope in fiction are mostly women, due to the prevalent stereotype of women as gossips, there are male examples too.

Almost always Played for Laughs. Related to Keeping Secrets Sucks. Compare Cannot Tell a Lie.

Examples:

    open/close all folders 

     Anime and Manga  

  • Haruna Saotome in Mahou Sensei Negima! will not keep a secret if the truth is more entertaining. Only minutes after threatening to torture her friends for not letting her in on The Masquerade earlier, she proceeds to start telling the next people she sees, which is exactly why they didn't tell her in the first place. She also comes very close to telling Anya about Negi's Pactios.
  • Miyuki of Smile Pretty Cure! has a very poor time keeping her secret identity... and the secret identities of her teammates.
    • And then there's Megumi of Happiness Charge Pretty Cure, who blew her secret identity to a civilian in the third episode of the series, but not before making him extremely suspicious of her.
  • Ruby from Rave Master, who blurts out whatever he is thinking.
  • In episode 7 of Kitakubu Katsudou Kiroku, the going home club members talk about Natsuki's secret birthday party and plans, all while Natsuki is sitting in the club room hearing every little detail of it. She even tries to point out what's so secret about it if she's already expecting it.
  • In episode 13 of season 4 in Minami-ke, Kana utilizes this trope to get people to come watch the cherry blossoms fall off the trees, but no one seems interested. Then she hears various characters spilling other character's secrets, and intentionally blurts out a secret viewing place to individual groups of them. It doesn't seem to work at first, because she's by herself on the big day, but a short while later, practically all of the cast shows up to celebrate and watch the cherry blossoms fall.
  • In Hajime No Ippo, pretty much every member of the Kamogawa gym is like this. Every time Ippo tells a fellow member to shut it about something he will do (like a date with Kumi), the whole gym knows the day after. Itagaki is the most notable offender of this though: not only does he tell Mashiba the details of the relationship between Ippo and Kumi, but when the same Mashiba tells him a secret of his own, while Itagaki swears to keep it we see a pannel showing how impatient he is of telling everyone at the gym!

     Comic Books  

  • There's an example in Yann et Julie, an old and obscure Franco-Belgian comic book: In one of the skits, Yann sees Julie coming out of a shop during Christmas Holidays, having ordered an item. He presses her to tell him everything about this, but she's dubious as she knows he can't keep secrets. After he swears he will keep it, she reveals she'll offer the new Nintenga to one of her friends. Sure enough, once they part ways, Yann goes to the shop to get info about the order, and while the clerk can't tell him any name, he gives him the phone number he has to use to tell when the order will be available. Yann rushes to his house, dials the number, and right off the bat, thinking he's talking to Julie's friend, starts to spill out about the present... Only to hear the voice of a furious Julie: in his excitement, he didn't notice it was her phone number.

     Film  

  • From Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs:
    Sam: Can you keep a secret?
    Flint: No. *beat, then realization* But, but, but this time, sure, yeah.
  • Grease: Marty Maraschino has this problem right when it will do the most damage.
  • Greg's parents in Meet The Fockers, an extremely liberal and open couple who are too overjoyed that Greg got Pam pregnant before their wedding to keep it under wraps.
  • In The Far Country, taciturn gold prospector and cattle driver Jeff informs his partner, Ben, that he didn't tell Ben about the plan to leave Dawson by river (thus avoiding the bad guys waiting on the overland route) because Ben would spill the beans. Ben promptly starts blabbing to their friends about using the river as an escape route. Later Ben goes off to buy coffee for the trip and blabs some more, with fatal consequences.

     Literature  

  • Rubeus Hagrid from Harry Potter is described, quite accurately, by several characters as being "less than discreet", despite his best efforts to the contrary.
    Hagrid: I shouldn't have told you that.
  • There is a Fairy Tale about a peasant who found some treasure and is afraid that his wife who is like this will get him in trouble. So he starts a Zany Scheme, making her believe that things right out from Planet Chaos are happening, before he tells her the secret. Naturally, when she spills the beans and mentions that he found the treasure on the same day when these impossible things happened, the authorities believe her to be crazy, and the treasure nonexisting. Just as the smart peasant had planned.
  • Lori has this trait in the Aunt Dimity series; this trope is frequently invoked and only partly Played for Laughs. This trait is one of those that make her suited to the village gossip hive that is Finch. It's also the reason Bill doesn't tell her where he's sending her and the kids to escape the stalker at the opening of Aunt Dimity and the Deep Blue Sea. As it turns out, she's not the one to give that game away; Sir Percy makes an airy remark about taking her over Gretna Green with the stalker literally hiding in the bushes, so he knows they're going to Scotland and follows them there.
  • In The Wind in the Willows Toad's recklessness includes a tendency to blab any secret he hears, even after promising not to. As a result, his father never told him some important things about Toad Hall.
  • In Lois McMaster Bujold's Vorkosigan Saga, Simon Illyan develops a bad case of this at a key moment in A Civil Campaign, as a side effect of losing his computer-assisted memory.

     Live Action TV  

  • Lily Aldrin on How I Met Your Mother can't keep a secret for her life.
    • Marshall also can't keep secrets specifically from Lily.
    • Ted can't so much not keep secrets as he doesn't understand why something should be a secret unless specifically told so. For example, when Stella told him she hadn't had sex in five years, he immediately told the rest of the gang, much to her annoyance.
  • Marie from Breaking Bad is a world-class blabbermouth.
    Marie: I promise not to tell. All I'll say is, adultery is involved.
  • In a first season episode of Charmed, Phoebe learns that their handy man, Leo is essentially an Angel. She tells her sisters by the end of the episode but they don't believe that Leo is magical, which is odd considering that they are themselves witches...
    • To a lesser extent, Paige Cannot Keep a Secret. In Season 4 Piper told her not to tell Phoebe that they suspect Cole of being a demon. Paige almost immediately does afterwards.
  • Virginia on Raising Hope encourages others to blackmail her with a secret of her own to avoid blabbing theirs. This backfires when her family notices her "gossip face" and she ends up telling them her own secret.
  • Cheers: In "Truce or Consequences", Carla confides in Diane, only for Diane to turn around and blab the secret to Coach less than 24 hours later. (Well shy of the purported 47.)
    • Of course, it turns out the secret was a huge lie in the first place.
  • An entire episode of Corner Gas revolved around Brent and Lacey competing to see which one of them is a better confidant.
    Emma: See? You both suck.
  • Chandler is pretty much made of this trope on Friends, several times during the series he has accidentally revealed his friends secrets. Probably his biggest offence is when he revealed to Rachel that Ross was in love with her. In a final season episode he reveals to a child that they were adopted and then later reveals to Phoebe's nieces and nephew that Phoebe actually gave birth to them.
    Chandler: I'm going to go tell Emma that she was an accident.
    • Monica's just as guilty. At one point, Monica learns that Gary is gonna ask Phoebe to move in with him, and asks that she doesn't tell Phoebe. Monica manages to hold out for a full 25 seconds before blabbing.
    • When Joey was throwing a party for the cast members of his soap opera on the roof, he didn't tell the others due to them gaining multiple idiocy levels around celebrities (Rachel being the worst of them). After he concedes to allow Rachel to attend the party, she almost immediately heads across the hall, and basically tells the others "He didn't want me to tell you, so I came over here to tell you guys."
  • Saturday Night Live: Kristin Wiig's character Sue, who is almost orgasmic in her desire to tell a secret, usually involving parties. (Sorry for the ad at the start of the video.)
  • Averted in Scrubs; Carla usually can't keep secrets, but when Eliot loses her job at another hospital, she manages not to tell Turk and J.D. about it. Of course, they can tell she knows something ... so she tells them she's keeping the secret that Eliot smokes a pipe.
  • It's happened to Fran Fine a number of times on The Nanny, like in "One False Mole and You're Dead".
  • Elaine from Seinfeld will spill the beans if you give her schnapps.
  • Grizz and Dot Com (apparently) on 30 Rock. Liz and Tracy tried to invoke this to create a rumor, but it backfired and they got burned by Gossip Evolution.
  • Mystery Science Theater 3000: Mitchell:
    Gypsy: Can you guys keep a secret?
    Crow: Never have, never will! Haha!
  • The Big Bang Theory: Sheldon can't do impromptu secrets. So he goes way, way overboard constructing elaborate, and usually unnecessary, lies. They fall apart because he's Sheldon.
  • Michael Scott from The Office frequently blurts out people's secrets. On several occasions it's been due to him showing off what he perceives as a close friendship (evidenced, in his mind, by the fact that they confided in him in the first place) with the person whose secret it is.
  • Andy in Parks and Recreation has a minor nervous breakdown when he learns Leslie and Ben are pregnant and he can't tell anyone. When telling them that he's bad at keeping secrets, he accidentally mentions that Kyle's wife is cheating on him, and that his neighbor is in witness protection.
  • Nick in New Girl is wholly uncomfortable with having secrets. When he has one, he starts sweating uncontrollably. At one point, to try to keep a secret, he wears a head-concealing motorcycle helmet just to buy a little more time of no eye-contact.

     Newspaper Comics  

  • Edda in 9 Chickweed Lane is an unrepentant gossip, who gets offended if she finds someone (like Amos) who can keep a secret.

     Professional Wrestling  

  • In 2004, after her test came back positive, Lita confides to Stacy Keibler that she's pregnant but asks her not to tell Matt Hardy (Lita's boyfriend) because she wants to tell him herself. Later that same show, Stacy tells Matt.

    Video Games 

  • In Mass Effect 3, EDI complains that Liara doesn't seem to trust her, and notes that she's become much more paranoid ever since she became the Shadow Broker. If you've played the Lair of the Shadow Broker DLC, that piece of information is not a surprise, and the conversation continues unabated. But she says it even if you haven't played the DLC.
    Shepherd: Wait, Liara's the Shadow Broker?
    EDI: ...oops.

     Webcomics  

  • Rudy in Rain is known to be bad at keeping the secret that Maria is a lesbian, among other slips.
  • Harem of Grrl Power due to having a single mind split between five bodies. If one sees or hears something, the other four know and often react instantly, thus making any efforts to tell the body actually present to keep a secret worthless. Sydney once tried to swear her to secrecy, only to hear the other four Harems in the next room spilling the beans already.

     Web Original  

     Western Animation  

  • Arthur: DW is desparate to be told a secret, any secret, which she then tells other people - because what's the point of knowing a secret if you don't tell? She eventually learns An Aesop about keeping secrets.
    • It's also a Running Gag that Arthur's best friend Buster just cannot keep a secret - whenever Arthur tells him a secret, he'll promise to keep it and then promptly loudly inform the person closest to them that he's got a secret to tell them. When Arthur is still standing right there.
  • Pam Poovey in Archer has this reputation among her colleagues.
  • The Simpsons: in a Flash Back episode to when Maggie was born, Marge begs her sisters Patty & Selma to not tell until she's ready to inform her husband.
    Marge: I've got to tell Homer about this baby in just the right way and at just the right time. Until then, please, keep this to yourselves.
    Patty: Oh, if he found out now, it would probably destroy him, huh?
    Marge: Oh, yes.
    Patty and Selma: *exchange evil grins and get up* Gotta go!
    Marge: Wait a minute! Wait, I know that look. Now promise you won't tell Homer.
    Selma: Oh, we promise we won't tell...Homer.
    *they go to the phone book and open it to page one*
    Patty: Hello, is this A. Aaronson? It might interest to you to know that Marge Simpson is pregnant again.
    later
    Patty: on the phone with a weary voice Just thought you'd like to know, Mr. Zykowski. hangs up, sighs There. Aaronson and Zykowski are the two biggest gossips in town. In an hour, everyone will know.
    • Also used in "Stark Raving Dad" when Homer's friend (supposedly Michael Jackson tells Homer to ask Bart to keep his visit a secret.
    Bart: No Dad, I will not tell another another living soul...*listens on phone*...No, not even Milhouse.
    *Bart hangs up phone, before struggling to keep his hand away. He submits and quickly dials Milhouse*
    Bart: Hey Milhouse, can you keep a secret?
    Milhouse: No.
    Bart: Oh, who cares! Michael Jackson is coming to my house!
    • Also played with in another episode, where Homer overhears Moe proclaim he'll give a free beer to the gossiper "Mr X" (Homer's secret alias). Homer whispers if Moe can keep a secret, he claims no, not even a little one.
  • In the "Green Isn't Your Color" episode of My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic, one of the recurring jokes is Twilight's extreme difficulty in not telling secrets (particularly because of the irony in that telling said secrets would almost immediately solve the episode's conflict).
  • Jimmy Two-Shoes can't keep secrets when he's excited. Even when Beezy can.
  • In the pilot episode of The Dreamstone, the Dream Maker insists Rufus promise not to tell a soul about the Dreamstone's existance. Within five minutes, he brings Amberley up to the tower to look.
  • Don't tell Alex to keep a secret. Just don't.
  • One of the characters in Little Dogsonthe Prarie is this. The second he's told a secret, he blurts it out for all to hear.
  • Patrick Star is too dumb to keep a secret. In fact, it was thanks to him that Mr. Krabs found out where their hiding place is at.
  • 6teen: Given her gossipy nature, if somebody tells Caitlin a secret, it is almost guaranteed that she will spill it. She told her Guy of the Week all of the gang's most embarrassing stories in "Pillow Talk" after promising to keep the stories only among the group, and she reveals Jude's secret girlfriend Melinda to the gang in "Silent Butt Deadly".
  • Cameron from Total Drama Revenge of the Island, who accidentally tells first Scott, then Zoey about Mike's multiple personalities, though it only does damage the first time as Mike reveals them himself to Zoey soon afterwards.
  • Wander over Yonder:
    Wander: (To Lord Hater) "[Sylvia] wanted to come, but she had to go to the bathroom! Zbornaks only go once every like, five months? Crazy huh?! She told me it takes a while and it's kind of embarrassing and so she doesn't want everybody knowing about it so she said *as Sylvia* Wander, don't go blabbing like you always do! Oh . . ."

     Real Life  

  • Actor Christopher Lee subverted this magnificently when an interviewer asked about his World War II experiences in Britain's Special Operations Executive. Lee leaned in and asked, "Can you keep a secret?" The interviewer said yes, at which point Lee replied "So can I." So much for that question.


Bookcase PassageThe Secret IndexThe Confidant
Cannot Convey SarcasmCharacter Flaw IndexCannot Spit It Out
CalvinballComedy TropesCannot Tell a Joke

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