"Would Sonic the Hedgehog please report to the security office? Repeat, Sonic the Hedgehog please report to the security office. We've found your — er... your keys! That's it, we've found your keys. No need to be ready for a trap, since we only wish to return your keys!"The lovechild of Law of Conservation of Detail and Realistic Diction Is Unrealistic, Hesitation Equals Dishonesty is ubiquitous to the point of being unnoticeable. Whether engaging in Blatant Lies or making sure to Let Them Die Happy, any time a character visibly hesitates when relaying information (rather than, say, making an emotional appeal) to another character, it's even money or better that they're being dishonest, and are trying to barely avoid Saying Too Much. Performance-based works will often use this trope even when the audience knows that the character is lying to avoid a Seamless Spontaneous Lie. If the character tells a lie without any indication of effort, they'll suddenly look like master manipulators, which might be out of character. The trope can also be used on the assumption that Viewers Are Morons. If the character's delivery doesn't scream "lie," the audience might get confused and think that either the character believes what he just said or that his statement is actually true. The trope extends to videogames, even to the dialogue of the player characters: Even if Statistically Speaking the PC is an excellent liar, there's a good chance the writers will mark his Blatant Lies with the all too subtle "Why, yes.... I AM the assassin you've ordered". Sadly, belief in this in Real Life makes things even more difficult for those of us who aren't perfect communicators. Fridge Logic should indicate that the guy with the perfectly-rehearsed story is probably lying his ass off (or is extremely well-spoken, but there's a noticeable difference between the two), rather than the guy who occasionally pauses to collect his thoughts. Also, anything from being very anxious/suffering a panic attack (which can be induced in some situations where the truth is demanded - for example, the mere presence of police officers is a massive trigger for some forms of anxiety and panic) to being sleepy, drunk/high, or simply unsure and wanting to tell the truth but not sure of what the "truth" is can lead to hesitation and even confusion. Subtrope of You Can Always Tell a Liar. Compare Seamless Spontaneous Lie. Compare/contrast with Suspiciously Specific Denial, where saying too much suggests you're being dishonest.
— Doctor Eggman in Sonic Colors
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Anime & Manga
- This is used in the unaired episode of Kodomo No Jikan. When Reiji asks Rin what she and her friends were doing (making a birthday gift for Aoki), she hesitates a few times when trying to claim they were doing schoolwork. He actually notices it, but either believes her when she says she isn't lying or decides to let it go.
- During the Mahora Festival Story Arc of Mahou Sensei Negima!, Haruna flatly asked Yue if she got jealous when the former kissed Negi. When Yue tried to deny that accusation, Haruna noted that she took a fraction of a second too long to answer and that the old Yue would have smacked her for being an idiot immediately. Busted.
- In StrikerS Sound Stage X of the Lyrical Nanoha franchise, Teana asks Runessa if she has heard of Toredia Graze, and after a surprised pause, she says no. Teana does some more investigation into this as a result of noticing Runessa's reaction, and eventually learns of her past connection with Toredia and eventually arrests her for her role in the Mariage killings, pointing out that the way she responded was what tipped her off.
- Mostly inverted in Bakemonogatari. A good rule of thumb in this series is the more straightforward someone seems to be, the bigger the lie they're concealing. Nadeko is hesitant and lacks self-confidence, and her "big secret" is that she likes Araragi (secret only to Araragi, really); on the other hand, Suruga is quite forthright with her sexuality but no so much with her violent hatred towards Araragi for "stealing" Senjogahara from her. As it turns out, her provocative teasing of Araragi is probably a ploy to get Araragi to forget about Senjogahara, even if that means potentially having to seduce him.
- Relentlessly used in the Silver Age comics, but only when the reader knows it's a lie. A lie that is part of the twist ending (and thus not known as a lie to the reader) will be delivered blithely, while if we know the character is lying, every sentence will begin with "Um...".
- In the first issue of The Tick, a man on the street asks Tick if he's the guy who just broke out of the insane asylum (he is). Tick stutters for about half a page before coming up with the answer "No."
- Mark Trail plays this ludicrously straight. Begin your sentence with "um" and you're the villain.
- In Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality, Harry spots that Draco was considering lying with this, and Draco believes that Harry is telling the truth because he doesn't stammer.
Draco paused for a moment, weighing, and then opened his mouth —
"I see he did," said Harry, and Draco cursed himself, he should've known better, only it had been hard to decide.
Draco had listened carefully, but he hadn't detected any hesitation or tremor.
- Kyon does this in Kyon: Big Damn Hero when Tsuruya asked why he had to return to the clubroom despite he telling her before he was dismissed for the day. It turns out he had to find Mikuru to Time Travel back to the next day.
Kyon: Well, I have to head back in anyway, since ... I forgot my shoes. Yeah. I'll see you tomorrow, alright, Tsuruya-sempai?
- This is noticeable in a I Have to Go Iron My Dog scene from Calvin and Hobbes: The Series:
Rupert: You know, on second thought… we, um, left the, er, iron on. We've gotta go!
- The Porre ambassador in the Chrono Trigger Fan Sequel Crimson Echoes inserts significant hesitations into EVERY SINGLE ONE of his lines. Him not being on the up and up therefore comes as a tremendous surprise to the player.
- In the Miraculous Ladybug fic Spots Off, Chat Noir visits Marinette after her identity as Ladybug as publicly exposed. When she asks if he found out from the news broadcast, he hesitates before agreeing. As the reader knows, he actually found out when Nino called Adrien a couple of hours ago and told him about a viral video of her transforming, but he's not yet in a position to tell her they have mutual friends out of costume.
- In the Daredevil fanfic What They Wouldnt Do:
Matt Murdock: Alright, Sarah. Now we're going to talk about me. Do you know who I am?[Sarah can feel her palms starting to sweat and tries to play dumb]Sarah Corrigan: Y-you're...Daredevil.Matt Murdock: I think you know that's not what I'm asking. Do you know who I really am?Sarah Corrigan: I—I, um— [Matt increases his hold on her throat just slightly—not painful, but undeniably threatening]Matt Murdock: If you're thinking of lying, rethink it. Do you know who I am?Sarah Corrigan: Yes.Matt Murdock: What's my name?Sarah Corrigan: Matthew. M-Matthew Murdock.
- The premise of the work is that Sarah Corrigan, a young secretary at a company that used to be part of Wilson Fisk's criminal enterprise, accidentally stumbles upon Matt Murdock's secret identity of Daredevil. Matt, after conversing with Foggy about what to do, decides to track her down and intimidate her in an alleyway outside her apartment to find out how much she knows about him:
Matt Murdock: You know, if you were going to try and turn me in without me catching you, it might have been a smarter move to go to a police station not in Hell's Kitchen.Sarah Corrigan: Okay, w-wait. I know what you're thinking—Matt Murdock: I'm thinking that you just broke your part in our agreement, Sarah, less than twenty four hours after you swore you wouldn't, so give me one good reason why I shouldn't do the same.Sarah Corrigan: I wasn't there about anything to do with you. I swear. I wasn't going to—Matt Murdock: We'll get to what you were going to do in a minute. What I need to know right now is what you've already done. If the police station wasn't your first stop then my friends are in danger, meaning you have about ten seconds to tell me the truth. Have you already told someone?Sarah Corrigan: No. No, I—I haven't. A-and I wasn't going to in there, either.Matt Murdock: Then why were you there?[lengthy silence]Matt Murdock: You know, when someone takes this long to answer, it's not usually a good indicator that they're about to tell you the truth.Sarah Corrigan: It…it was for…personal reasons.Matt Murdock: "Personal reasons?" This is my life you're messing with. The lives of people I love. You can at least come up with a better lie than "personal reasons".Sarah Corrigan: It's not a lie! I just, I can't—I can't tell you. Why I was there. B-but it had nothing to do with you, I swear.Matt Murdock: Really. If it had nothing to do with me, why can't you tell me what it was?"Sarah Corrigan: I just—you don't need to know. It's not relevant. T-to anything that we're doing.Matt Murdock: So you're telling me that your mysterious reason for being in the police station has nothing to do with me? Nothing to do with Orion, or why you're working there? No connection to…any of that at all?Sarah Corrigan: R-right. No connection.
- It happens again later on when Sarah goes to the 15th precinct to fix a traffic ticket her dad received. Then she sees Matt and Foggy conversing with Brett Mahoney and immediately backpedals, knowing that Matt will think she's there to rat him out. Matt hastily follows her and drags her into an alleyway to interrogate her:
- How the Light Gets In has a variation that occurs several times. A character will hesitate before answering a difficult question, and the pause is usually always long enough for the person who asked to work out the answer on their own. The person answering usually doesn't an outright lie, but typically tries to downplay the truth, or gives a non-answer. For example, when Dean tries to calm Laurel down and prevent a panic attack:
Laurel: I used to have panic attacks?Dean: (long pause) Every now and then. Is this helping?Laurel: Yeah. Did you - Did we used to do this a lot?Dean:: (pause) I wouldn't say a lot. Sometimes. If you needed a little help.
Films — Animation
- Played with in Frozen, when Anna's hair starts to turn white after Elsa accidentally curses her with her ice magic:
Anna: Does it look bad?
Kristoff: Uh, no.
Olaf: You hesitated.
Films — Live-Action
- In the ending scene of Back to the Future, Marty asks Doc if he and Jennifer become "assholes" in the future and the Doc says they both turn out fine. The sequel establishes the Retcon that Doc was lying to protect Marty from the Awful Truth. In Back to the Future Part II, the refilmed version of that scene (refilmed to accommodate the Jennifer swap) has Doc hesitate before answering Marty's question.
- This is actually reversed in Stranger Than Fiction. After a disastrous first meeting, Harold encounters Anna Pascal on the bus, and stumbles his way through an apology, outright stating that he 'ogled' her and it was wrong. She accepts his apology... "But only because [he] stammered."
- Star Wars: Obi-Wan in A New Hope has a slight hesitation before telling Luke that his father was betrayed and murdered by Darth Vader, instead of telling him that Anakin and Vader were one and the same. Though, when the line was uttered in 1977, it was originally planned that Vader and Anakin were going to be two different people. And in a way, it was still "true" From a Certain Point of View after the change.
- Averted in Inside Man. When Madeline White confronts Arthur Case, asking him if it was true that he used to work for the Nazis in WWII, he hesitates for about four seconds...then smiles and says "Yes." Either he was a truly honest man, who was old and had nothing to lose, or he realized that hesitating that long before lying about it would make it obvious that he was lying.
- Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan: Chekov, under mind control, tells the Genesis scientists that the Reliant is going to appropriate their invention for immediate testing. His performance is so full of awkward pauses (Khan is feeding him lines offscreen) that even David, who believes the Federation to be a bunch of war-mongers, should have immediately considered it BS. Carol is at least rational enough to call for confirmation, which was Khan's plan all along.
- Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country: Invoked by General Chang, during Captain Kirk and Doctor McCoy's trial for the assassination of Chancellor Gorkon. Inspired by the Real Life incident where US Ambassador to the United Nations Adlai Stevenson II made a similar demand of the Soviet Ambassador.
- Hercule Poirot:
- In Murder on the Orient Express, when Poirot mentions to Hector MacQueen the letter naming Daisy Armstrong, the secretary interrupts his own reply. Poirot deduces that MacQueen is involved with the cover-up.
- Subverted in The Hollow which involves a group of people trying to cast suspicion on themselves in order to cover for the real murderer. This leads them to try all sorts of tricks to convince Poirot that they're lying when they're telling the truth, and telling the truth when they're lying.
- Both played straight and averted in Discworld. While pauses do often hint at lies, several characters, especially Sam Vimes, note that instant responses are even less honest.
- The Dresden Files:
- A fairly realistic example in Ghost Story; Butters and Daniel are impersonating Wardens to try and intimidate a low-level warlock, and it seems to work until he asks them why they don't have the Wardens' trademark swords, at which point Butters hesitates and their cover is blown. It's pointed out later that had Daniel and Butters immediately responded or completely ignored the question as below their concern, the bluff might have worked. Butters was not an experienced liar, he had not had much time to work out the cover story, he was under a lot of stress at the time, and the warlock in question had some sort of very weak innate telepathy and was exactly the sort of impulsive person who would not stop to consider whether there might be an innocent reason for the hesitation. There actually was an innocent explanation for a Warden not carrying a sword ( the person who forged them was trapped in another body that lacked her former magical talent,) but the warlock was too low down in the magical food chain for this information to have reached him yet, and was able to see through the lie when someone who was better informed would not have thought it odd that the imposters had no swords.
- Harry hesitates in Fool Moon when it's revealed that one of his apprentices was connected to the werewolf they were chasing causing Murphy to think he was withholding information.
- In Aunt Dimity and the Lost Prince, Lori and Bree return to Skeaping Manor to ask the curator for the home address of Amanda Pickering. Their conversation starts off pleasantly enough, but the curator Miles Craven falls silent when Lori makes the request, then puts her off with protestations about confidentiality. It turns out that Miles knows Amanda has left to join her husband in Australia, and is a lousy liar who can't keep a secret.
- Jon Lovitz's "The Liar" character from Saturday Night Live. "Yeah... that's the ticket!"
- From Get Smart: Max's "Would you believe?" segments often included this.
- Smallville's Clark Kent is the king of this, pausing for years before delivering a horrible explanation for something that has even the slightest correlation to his being an alien. If you're going to pause that long, Clark, at least come up with a plausible explanation, will ya?
- In Heroes, when Matt tells Daphne he believes she's reformed, the poor guy is told Hesitation Equals Dishonesty, with the extra twist that the amount of time he hesitated was only significant to someone with Super Speed.
- Averted on Lie to Me: characters point out that prepared lies generally cause people to answer more quickly because they have already prepared their story for questioning. The way to catch these people is to ask them to repeat their story backwards: your average liar won't bother to practice enough to get this right, but someone telling the truth will obviously be able to draw on their memory to answer. It's also mentioned, however, that hesitating is a way to make people think you're lying.
- In one episode of Monk, Monk's assistant asks him if he saw some embarrassing pictures of her. He hesitates for about a minute (no exaggeration intended), refusing to meet her eyes, before he responds "no". Then, as he walks away, he wretchedly adds, "Yes."
- Pick a crime drama, any crime drama... Sometimes seems you can't go two episodes without this trope being the only reason a cop or prosecutor declares someone to be lying, no matter how logical or reasonable what the suspect says is.
- Lost's Benjamin Linus falls into the trope rather absurdly. 98% of what he says is at best a half-truth, and after several seasons it's still hard to tell which was which. But whenever he says something the audience already knows is a lie (like, say, that the smoke monster killed Jacob), he hesitates.
- Played with on the Panel Game Would I Lie to You?, where hesitating can be the sign of a bad liar ... or a panelist trying to appear to be lying.
- Knight Rider pulled this now and again (since at least one character can only communicate with a words, and a series of little red lights, his hesitations were usually blindingly obvious. Then There's a scene in one of the traditional smash-KITT-up-so-we-can-redesign-him-for-the-new-season episodes:
KITT: Where are we? Everything is so dark... is it night?
- Explained on Friends "The One with the Jam" where Chandler is explaining his problems with Janice which includes him pausing before what could be considered a white lie.
Chandler: Okay, well. Janice said 'Hi, do I look fat today?' And I, I looked at her...
Ross: Whoa, whoa, whoa. You looked at her. You never look. You just answer, it's just a reflex. Do I look fat? Nooo! Is she prettier than I am? Noo! Does size matter?
Ross: And it works both ways.
- Invoked on Frontline, when Brooke edits a pause into the interview of a priest accused of rape to make it look like he's thinking about his answer.
- In a season two episode of How I Met Your Mother, Ted is trying to catch Robin out in a lie by asking a string of questions about the wedding she claims that she had. When she hesitates answering a question about the catering, he immediately takes that as his in to accuse her of lying, but she quickly covers by saying that she wasn't sure how to answer the question as there were multiple possible answers. She's got rapid-fire responses for all his other follow-up questions about the ceremony until he gets to "Husband's name?" to which she just stammers in response. It turns out that she is lying and was never married.
- Supernatural - after Balthazar rewrites history by un-sinking the Titanic, and is then forced to reset things by a very angry Fate, Castiel and the Winchesters have this exchange. The boys think Balthazar did it because he's an impulsive hedonist who hated the Titanic movie, but Castiel knows it was to create fresh souls for his war in heaven.
Dean: Did Balthazar really unravel the sweater over a chick flick?
Castiel:....Yes. (not meeting Dean's eyes) Absolutely. That's what he did.
- Inverted in Merlin when Gaius catches Morgana trying to retrieve the mandrake root enchantment that she's hidden under Uther's bed. On asking her if she's looking for something, Morgana doesn't hesitate for a second when she answers "my earring." However, Gaius knows full-well that she's lying, as Merlin has already told him what she's been up to.
- According to David Simon this is how the viewers should have been able to tell a certain story D'Angelo tells in the first season of The Wire is not quite true.
- On The Middle, Frankie had set up a play date for Brick that went well. Several days passed without the other mother contacting her again, so Sue called her to ask what was up. The other mother said, "My son's been... sick." Sue accepts this, but thinking about it later she wonders why the woman had hesitated, and it turns out she was lying.
- Star Trek: Deep Space Nine: Averted with Garak. When he hesitates, it means the Seamless Spontaneous Lie isn't coming.
- Judge Judy tends to assume that any answer with a pause in front of it is a lie. And don't you dare fill-in that silence with "Um"!
- Fallout, and doubtless many other older RPGs without much spoken dialog, use this trope to convey to the player that a particular dialog tree choice is... the gospel truth, of course. In modern gaming, tags such as "<Lie>" are included instead to indicate to the player that his character is lying.
- RPGs with a Character Alignment system, such as Planescape: Torment or Neverwinter Nights sometimes allow the exact same words to be spoken as truth or lie, only differentiated by a "<Lie>" tag. With no tag, opinions and claims are assumed to be the character's genuine belief, and alignments will adjust accordingly.
- Girl Stinky of Sam & Max does this constantly. Typically when she's actually being honest.
- Iji when lying about the surviving Tasen in a Pacifist Run. According to Word of God, this was to make it obvious to the player that she was lying, rather than saying the same line regardless of the facts.
- In The 1st Degree definitely plays this straight. When you question the defendent Tobin and pin him about the phone message of him threatening Zack, he says "I was trying to...persuade Zack to withdraw the claim." He's lying, you know it and the prosecutor you're playing as knows it.
- Eggman's public announcements in Sonic Colors are often full of these, at least whenever he's not being brutally honest.
- In Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney: Trials & Tribulations, when Edgeworth is cross-examining Larry Butz:
Larry: I didn't see a s-snowmobile!
Edgeworth: HOLD IT!...Larry! You really didn't see it?
Larry: H-H-Hey! No need to hit your desk! I can hear you! ...I didn't see it! I didn't see a s-s-snowmobile!
Edgeworth: ...Larry. Say "snowmobile" for me, please?
Edgeworth: If you truly have nothing to hide... then why are you stammering like you just flew over a cuckoo's nest!?
- The Simpsons:
- Parodied/subverted: Bart's announcement of, "Well, I'm doing a presentation on... fireworks!" is met with his mother saying, "Bart, I wish you wouldn't lie like that" before confiscating said fireworks. Cut to Springfield Elementary, where Skinner is announcing a fireworks show, courtesy of Bart.
- Also subverted when Marge asks Homer where he's going, and he replies 'I'm just going outside... to stalk... Lenny and Carl', which is exactly what he was planning to do.
- Played straight (And very noticably so) when Homer asks Marge whether she thinks he's smart or not. It veers into Overly Long Gag territory:
Marge: (after a very long pause) Yes.
Homer: Thanks, honey. (beat) Waaaait a minute. How come you hesitated?
Marge: No reason.
Homer: Oh, okay. (beat) Waaaait a minute. Are you humoring me?
Homer: Oh, okay. (beat) Waaaait a minute. That's bad!
- In "Diatribe of a Mad Housewife", Homer does this when Marge asks him is he read her manuscript. Each pause is accompanied by Homer's pupil darting back and forth.
- Parodied as well in The Looney Tunes Show, when Daffy accuses Porky of this due to his stutter when trying to get out of paying a littering fine. No one buys it.
- Richard Dawkins was asked in an interview if he could "give an example of a genetic mutation or evolutionary process which can be seen to increase the information in the genome" — a question that, he later said, "would only be phrased that way by somebody who doubts that evolution happened." He famously paused for eleven seconds before answering, and the tape was used by creationists to claim that evolutionists don't have all the answers. Dawkins explains he had actually just realized that the documentary being filmed wasn't what he thought it would be, and was trying to decide whether to throw them out or not. His full, non-"soundbite" answer can be read here.
- This Cosmo article is doing its best to make the belief more prevalent. Note that it counts both significant hesitation and simply SWALLOWING while having a conversation. Ruthlessly mocked by Cracked here
- Military recruiters. Hesitate for any reason, and they automatically assume you're a liar.
- Ever hesitated to answer a question your mother asked you? She'll automatically assume that the worst answer must be true regardless of the answer you do end up giving.
- Police interrogations, similar to the military recruiters example above. Most reasonable people would give you a few moments to ponder the question "where were you last night between 20:00 and 23:00?" as it's information you wouldn't usually keep accurate tabs on unless you knew it would be important later. Unfortunately, the end goal of an interrogation is to coerce a confession - and any detail that pushes things in that direction is to the interrogator's advantage.
- Statement analysis of the things said by many criminals have noted that they often repeat the questions that they have been asked—"Where was I last night?", "What time did I leave?", etc. This is because they are sensitive questions and repeating them allows the person to hesitate and think of an answer without making it obvious that they are doing so.
- Invoked by Adlai Stevenson II during The Cuban Missile Crisis, when he demanded that Valerian Zorin, the Soviet Ambassador to the United Nations, say whether or not they were installing nuclear missile sites in Cuba. In this case, invoking the trope for someone being asked a question in a foreign language, making for a darkly humorous play of this trope despite the serious topic.
Stevenson: Don't wait for the translation, answer 'yes' or 'no'!"note
- The Soviets were in fact placing nuclear missiles in Cuba, but Zorin refused to answer the question. Unfortunately for him, Stevenson had brought surveillance photographs of the missile sites.
- This trope is likely part of why introverted people are often distrusted by extroverted people. As this article says, an introvert usually thinks before he/she speaks, while an extrovert tends to speak as he/she thinks. Because saying their thoughts aloud right as they come is natural for an extrovert, they assume that anyone who doesn't do that is trying to hide something.