"Suppose you're carefully warned not to mention Bill Fields' nose. You keep repeating that to yourself 'Don't mention the nose.' The words, eventually, fail to make sense. If you met Fields, you'd probably say, quite unconsciously, 'Hello, Mr. Nose.' See?"
— Professor Rutherford
, Nothing but Gingerbread Left
by Henry Kuttner
The cast is about to meet an important person with a peculiarity or disability, such as a wooden leg or an extraordinarily large nose. One of the cast who is in a position of authority exhorts the others not to comment on the guest's unusual feature, lest the guest take it as an insult.
When the guest arrives, some member or members of the cast — usually children or ditzes
— come close to commenting, but to the relief of the exhorting character they say nothing. But as soon as they are out of sight the character then turns to the guest and blurts a Freudian Slip
that delivers the very insult he was afraid the others would give.
This is merely the television version of a much older joke; Louis Untermeyer's 1946 humor anthology A Treasury of Laughter
includes a version dating to the 1930s (if not earlier) casting 19th-century financier J.P. Morgan (and his prominent nose) as the guest, a young Anne Morrow (the future Mrs. Charles Lindbergh) as the exhorted child, and Morrow's mother as the authority figure who embarrasses herself.
Compare Freudian Slippery Slope
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- Done in a Southwest Airlines commercial. A couple is seen heading towards a door, the wife turns to her husband "...And furthermore, Aunt Whatever is rather sensitive about her mole". Cut shot to doorbell, and the door opening.
Hi Aunt Mole! [cue Oh Crap
- From The Meaning of Liff:
If, when talking to someone you know has only one leg, you're trying to treat them perfectly casually and normally, but find to your horror that your conversation is liberally studded with references to (a) Long John Silver, (b) Hopalong Cassidy, (c) The Hokey Pokey, (d) 'putting your foot in it', (e) 'the last leg of the UEFA competition', you are said to have committed a wigan.
- The UK edition claims that the word has its origins in an ITV newsreader with a Dodgy Toupee, who kept getting stories about the town of Wigan or the politician Lord Wigg.
- Completely ignored, subverted and lampshaded in A Song of Ice and Fire where if you are a bastard (born out of wedlock), everyone mentions it. If you are crippled, it won't be spoken about with sugar; and resident dwarf Tyrion mentions being short more than anyone else, especially to prove a point about being thin-skinned to said Heroic Bastard. Of course, this is what you might expect from a Crapsack World.
- In an essay from Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim, David Sedaris mentions how his older sister started wearing baggier clothes after her father-in-law, noticing her scooting away from the fireplace, asked, "What's the matter, Lisa? Getting too fat? I mean, hot! Getting too hot?"
- Emily from Emily of New Moon: "Hello, Mr. Cup. Would you like your Johnson filled?"
- Dave Barry did a version of this joke involving the mark on Mikhail Gorbachev's forehead.
- At the beginning of Piers Anthony's Mute, Knot mentions "sights" in front of a blind mutant, then quickly apologizes. Flas isn't bothered by the comment at all.
- In G. K. Chesterton's Tales of the Long Bow, a character wears a cabbage as a hat. Other characters slip and slide about the matter, until one woman straightforwardly observes to his face that it's mad.
- On an episode of The Golden Girls, Rose brings her date home and he turns out to be a little person. Blanche and Dorothy are both extremely uncomfortable about this, but decide to conceal that fact out of friendship. Blanche comes out of the kitchen and offers Rose's date a plate of hors d'oeuvres by saying "Shrimp?" then turns tail and walks rapidly right back into the kitchen.
- It doesn't stop there: Shortly thereafter Dorothy announces — very reluctantly — that she is serving "short ribs" for dinner.
- "Can I take your height- HAT?"
- In another episode, when Rose needs to be hospitalized, the doctor introduces himself. Upon hearing his last name, Blanche brightens up and exclaims, "Dorothy, Rose is going to be all right! Her doctor is a Jew!" Dorothy rebukes Blanche for the comment, and then immediately asks, "How is she, Dr. Jew?"
- When Blanche goes on a date with a man in a wheelchair, she tries to speak normally, but randomly blurts out the word "wheelchair".
- It doesn't always have to be a physical defect. In an episode of Fawlty Towers, Basil exhorts his staff not to "mention the war" (i.e. World War II) to a group of German guests, and as the stress of the plot (and a concussion suffered earlier in the episode) gets to him, eventually finds it impossible to talk about anything else, climaxing in a memorable Hitler impression. This is so well-known that "Don't mention the war!" is a common phrase in the UK and Australia.
German Guest: Will you stop talking about the war?
Basil: Me? You started it!
German Guest: We did not start it!
Basil: Yes, you did! You invaded Poland!
- In the "Hollow Pursuits" episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation, Captain Picard orders the crew to stop referring to the unpopular Lieutenant Barclay as "Broccoli," and further orders Chief Engineer Geordi LaForge to work with Barclay and help raise his self-esteem. Later, after Barclay makes a breakthrough in determining the cause of various shipboard malfunctions, Picard is pleased with his progress and tells him, "I'll look forward to your report, Mr. Broccoli."
- On Gilligan's Island, Gilligan becomes bald for one episode. Everyone decides not to talk about it, but Mrs. Howell then says she'll have a "hard bald egg".
- Happens in one episode of The Adventures of Lano and Woodley , with neighbour Susannah's lithp. I mean, lisp.
- Done gloriously blatantly in Father Ted when Ted tells Dougal not to call the Bishop by his first name or mention his (illegitimate) son. What does Dougal say on meeting His Grace? "Hello Len, how's the son?"
- Spoofed in Jack of All Trades, Jack is warned urgently by Croque, not to comment on Napoleon's height. The audience is led to believe that it will lead to this trope, but Jack's tell-it-like-it-is nature turns it, and he comes right out and calls Napoleon shorty.
- A Monty Python's Flying Circus example, from episode 24.
Interviewer: From the world of the theatre we turn to the world of dental hygiene. No, no, no, no. From the world of the theatre we move to the silver screen. We honour one of the silver screen's outstanding writer-dentists... writer-directors, Martin Curry who is visiting London to have a tooth out, for the pre-molar, er... premiere of his filling, film next Toothday... Tuesday, at the Dental Theatre... Film Theatre. Martin Curry talking to Matthew Palate... Padget.
Interviewer: Martin Curry, welcome. One of the big teeth... big points that the American critics made about your latest film, 'The Twelve Caesars', was that it was on so all-embracing a topic. What made you undertake so enormous a tusk... task?
<We see the reason for the slips: the interviewee has two gigantic front teeth>
Interviewer: ...well, let's have a look at a clip in which Julius Incisor...Caesar talks to his generals...
- In an episode of According to Jim, Jim and Cheryl accidentally find out that their new neighbors, a man and wife, refer to the man's penis as "Little Winston." The next time they have the couple over for dinner, Jim offers a tray of small sausages and asks if they'd care for — you guessed it — a Little Winston.
- An episode of Boston Legal had this with a witness who had a glass eye.
- On The Odd Couple when Felix photographs a family of little people, he develops a complex etiquette for his friends for fear they might offend them. However, when the time comes to take the picture he shouts: "Everybody say 'midget'!"
- In one episode of Wings, Fay helps a passenger named Tupperman with a very bad toupee. Although she's distracted by it, she manages to get through the conversation without mentioning it...until the end, when she accidentally calls him "Mr. Toupee-man."
- Kramer on Seinfeld always manages to avert this trope. For example, when Jerry is dating a woman with a very large nose, nobody says anything about it until Kramer walks in and comments on it nonchalantly.
- Frasier plays with this spectacularly in the episode "Roz and the Schnoz." Roz is pregnant, and Frasier plays host to the birth father's parents, who, unknown to anyone (including themselves), have extremely large noses. It doesn't help matters that they keep unwittingly setting up nose-related puns: "We have a couple of giant schnauzers." Just go watch it.
- "Everyone who knows you knows you're nosy!" "Everyone who knows you knows you're nosier!"
- The fifth season of The Office brings us a variation: After Michael is fired from Dunder-Mifflin, Dwight uses his notes on his sales clients, which have detailed notes about their families and personal lives on different colored stickers. Dwight tries to chat up a client using something in green ink — "1 son, gay" — and turns out that all of Michael's client notes are about the things he shouldn't say to their faces, in an attempt to avoid this trope!
Michael: Green means "go ahead... and shut up about it." Orange means "Orange you glad you didn't bring it up?" Pretty much every color means don't say it.
- This was a rather sneaky Batman Gambit of Michael to trip up Dwight who had been using Michael's stolen client notes. By going after Dwight's biggest client whom he remembered he had some colored notes info and taunting Dwight about it, he was certain Dwight would try and use that information, invoking the trope full force and making him lose the account.
- The first episode of Sabrina the Teenage Witch has her completely wrecking her day and thus going to the Witchs' Council to ask them to reverse the time back to the previous one. The leader of the council is Drew, and her aunt, his ex-girlfriend, warns Sabrina not to stare at his mole. It's a literal one.
- Norm's dream job interview in Cheers went exactly like this after Rebecca gave him the advice not talk about anything stupid, like his pants, lest he start apologizing about it and eventually end up singing and dancing about it. Inevitably, when he meets the president of the company, the first thing he says is "Nice pants!" It all goes downhill from there.
- The first appearance of Sammy Davis, Jr. on All in the Family has Archie successfully keep Edith from saying something stupid to Davis, then promptly do so himself.
Archie: "Do you take cream or sugar in your eye?"
- During the Cold Open of the Scrubs episode 'My Karma', Dr. Kelso gets his coffee splashed onto his face, and, when J. D. runs into him later on, his face is covered in splotches.
- An old Dilbert strip featured a short engineer named Les, who was defensive about his height. This led to the following conversation.
Dilbert: Hi, Les.
Les: You say that almost mockingly. The way you say it, my name sounds like "less". I've told you a thousand times, my name is French - pronounced "Lez".
Les: Hey! That time you did it on purpose!
- Sherman's Lagoon: Megan tells Sherman not to mention the string of bad luck a friend has been going through.
Sherman: Please pass the hook in the mouth.
- In Safe Havens, Luis got annoyed at meddlesome Samantha always trying to do things for him. In fact, the whole reason Luis fell for Jenny of all people is that she alone ignored his wheelchair, even forgoing designated parking spaces.
- Before Jillian Hall become a Hollywood Tone-Deaf singer she was MNM's publicist. In her first appearance Melina told M and N that Jillian had a mole on her face and not to mention it. Jillian comes in and we see her only from profile, and we see MNM stare at the mole - but they successfully refrain from saying anything. It is revealed later in the episode that the mole covers most of the left side of her face. Later the Boogyman ate it off her face.
- Bill Cosby had a routine in his standup about a conversation with Ray Charles, in which he kept asking Ray why he had all the lights off in his hotel room.
- Mass Effect 2:
Tali: Commander, this is admiral Koris vas Qwib Qwib. (aside) Do not ask about the name.
Commander Shepard: You have a ship called the Qwib Qwib?
Tali: Oh, here we go.
- Though it doesn't turn out as badly as one would think. Koris takes no offense at the name, and even states that though he has thought of requesting a transfer to another ship, he would never leave the Qwib Qwib. This isn't really Tali not wanting to offend Koris so much as it is that, being a daughter of a different admiral, she has probably already heard more than enough about the ship for one lifetime.
- Not a disability exactly but Hanyuu from Higurashi no Naku Koro ni was born with horns. When she's a human no one mentions her horns except for Takano in the sound novels due to this.
- In Dominic Deegan, Gregory manages to blow Luna's first impression of him by mentioning her tusks this way.
- Though really, that's just the fact that Gregory's a master of the Pun and pops them off constantly. In this particular case it was just the wrong subject to pick.
- In Freefall, just after admonishing Tangent about dog references to Florence (a sentient wolf), Niomi promptly sticks her foot solidly in her mouth.
- General consensus among the townsfolk in The Inexplicable Adventures of Bob! seems to be that Molly the Monster is a deformed human. Ms. Hatbrim even addresses her as, "Hi, Bob's Friendly Deformed Niece!" When it's pointed out that she has "claws, fangs, and a tail," the stock response is a polite, "Well we all try not to stare..."
- In Star Guys, when Neptune's parents come over to visit, he asks Earth not to comment on his mother's appearence. Turns out she has a moustache (she's a Sealeo◊)...and Earth ends up exploding from keeping comments about it in his system.
- Torg from Sluggy Freelance is famous for this, as exemplified in this strip (ZoŽ is wearing a wig, but she hadn't been a few minutes before, when Torg saw her without).
- Housepets!: Peanut puts his foot firmly in his mouth when accidentally using a bunch of cliche phrases about hands and arms when talking with "Four Finger Discount" Jack, who is missing an arm. Jack looks angrily at Peanut over it but then lets up in the last panel, saying he was just messing with Peanut.
- Family Guy:
- In one episode, Brian warns Stewie not to say anything about Tom Tucker's son's facial deformity (it's upside down). While they are talking, Brian inadvertently says "This whole thing has really just turned Chris' life upside-down face." Subverted when Tom Tucker doesn't take offense at the comment, or even seem to notice. "It's no problem of mine if it's turned his life upside-down face."
- Played with in another episode. Brian is staying with Quagmire, who goes on and on about how his girlfriend with a gimpy leg is visiting, and repeatedly tells Brian not to mention it. It's basically one painfully obvious set up for this joke. Then Quagmire leaves and Stewie shows up. After a minute of conversation between Brian and Stewie, the girl shows up and it's Stewie who says "Oh my God, what happened to your leg?" The girl runs out crying, and Quagmire follows her shouting "Dammit, Brian!"
- And again when Peter is talking to a man with one leg: "Alright well if you like movie trivia, I got one that will stump ya...aaaaah....of course you're probably not into tibia-Trivia!...aaaah...Boy, that global warming, hm? They say we lost a foot of snow last wint-aaaaah...Hey! How about another beer? I bet you like the taste of hops..aaaaah.....You only have one leg, sir."
- In South Park the school's Nurse Gollum, who has a dead fetus hanging off the side of her head, is invited to a dinner party at the Brofloskis' where this memorable exchange takes place;
Mr Mackey: (Talking about the school's softball team) I don't think they have much of a chance, the Denver team always win m'kay.
Gerald: Maybe so but I think our boys might have the dead fetus to win-HEART!!
Sheila: *Clobbers him* Gerald, keep your damn mouth shut!!
- Kim Possible falls prey to this the first time she meets a wheelchair-bound Felix. Except her behavior has her acting in a very protective (yet condescending) way. Ron snaps her out of it.
Kim: "RON! What are you doing?"
Ron: "What? Just hanging with Felix."
Kim: "He could have gotten hurt!"
Ron: "Uh..KP. We were just playing basketball."
Kim: "You need to be more careful with him! You're treating him..."
Ron: "...like a normal person?"
- Truth in Television, according to this article.
- Defied by Aimee Mullins; at a TED talk she gave, she describes how she was once going to talk to a class of children and she just knew the grownups were going to hush up the kids and insist they not stare at her prosthetic legs or acknowledge them in any way, which would largely defeat the purpose of her coming to talk. So she made the teachers agree to give her ten minutes with the kids completely unadulterated before the adults were even allowed in the room, so the kids could ask all the questions they wanted. So a little girl asked whether she could get jetpack legs and fly.
- Truth in Television, for anyone with an obvious disability can attest to. People with some form of Facial Paralysis/Facial Palsy can attest to many times where others will avoid looking at them just to avoid asking any rude questions.