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I'll Pretend I Didn't Hear That
There are times when an authority figure has to be flexible but still maintain their authority. In these times, many use the following tactic to make clear that they have noticed an activity by commenting on how they haven't noticed it. This way, they're able to draw attention to the fact that the activity is prohibited while still allowing it to happen.

This is not willful ignorance; the authority figure is making it known that they are aware of the situation but for some reason feel that drawing further attention to it might be a problem. This usually carries one of two messages:

  1. : "I don't want you to be doing that, but I'll give you one warning." Example:
    Sergeant: Go home, Private, before I have to notice you being drunk and disorderly.
  2. : "I wanna turn a blind eye, but I also wanna warn you not to mention it again because the next person who overhears might not be as sympathetic." Example:
    Sergeant: It's a good thing I can't see you doing that graffiti, Private, or I'd have to report you to the C.O.

Related to Could Say It But. See also Suspiciously Specific Denial and Stepping Out for a Quick Cup of Coffee.

Examples:

    open/close all folders 

    Anime & Manga 
  • Bleach: After overhea... sorry, NOT overhearing a conversation between Iba and Ikkaku regarding Ikkaku's secret bankai,
    Captain Komamura: Rest easy. Unfortunately, my ears are not working well today.

    Comic Books 
  • At the end of Batman: Year One, Gordon realizes that the man who just saved his son must be the same Batman who the Gotham Police have been hunting. Given that he's standing close enough to hand Gordon his son, and Gordon had previously met Bruce Wayne, the implication is clear.
    Gordon: You must be wearing some armor under that jacket.
    Bruce Wayne: Yes.
    Gordon: You know, I'm practically blind without my glasses. Sirens coming. You'd better go.

    Film 
  • When K climbs on top of the Apollo 11 rocket in Men In Black 3, this exchange takes place among the crew.
    Buzz Aldrin: If we report this, they'll scrub the launch.
    Neil Armstrong: I didn't see anything.
  • In Lock, Stock & Two Smoking Barrels, enforcer Big Chris comes with an offer to settle Eddie's huge gambling debt to his boss in return for Eddie's dad JD giving up the deed to his pub:
    JD: I do know your reputation. So I choose my words very carefully. You tell Harry... to go fuck himself.
    Big Chris: Now, I'll put that down to shock. Only once.
  • Double variant in the first Starship Troopers movie. First, it's a written statement that the authority figure ignores, not something they saw or heard. Second, the "transgression" is in fact perfectly legal and acceptable; the "transgressor" just changes his mind about an important decision. After a training accident gets one of his soldiers killed, Rico decides to quit the service. However, shortly thereafter his hometown is destroyed and he decides to stick it out so he can get revenge on the bugs. Unfortunately, he's already signed his discharge papers, so he's technically already left the service.
    Sgt. Zim (holding up Rico's discharge form): Is this your signature, soldier?
    Rico (reluctantly): Yes, sir!
    Sgt. Zim: Doesn't look like it to me. (Tears up the form.) Carry on, Private!
    Rico (relieved): Yes, sir!

    Literature 
  • Dumbledore does this in The Goblet of Fire, although in this case, Harry had already apologized for mouthing off against Rita Skeeter: "I have gone temporarily deaf and haven't any idea what you said."
    • Another more dramatic example from Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, when the trio arrives to Hogwarts, Neville recounts them what's been going on in the school, under the Carrows' rule. He told them, that the teachers were supposed to send all misbehaving students straight to the two sadists for detention, but they don't send anyone, because they want to protect the rule breakers from their Disproportionate Retribution.
  • Near the end of Holes, as Stanley and Zero are being driven home from Camp Green Lake, Zero openly admits that he committed the theft Stanley was wrongly arrested for. Their driver turns in her seat and tells him: "I didn't hear that. And I advise you to make sure I don't hear it again."
  • In Monstrous Regiment, Sergeant Jackrum says to a sentry who has left her post, "I must have bleeding good eyesight because I know for a fact you are on sentry duty over by those trees."
    • In Jingo, Lord Rust doesn't have to pretend he didn't hear Commander Vimes call him an "inbred streak of piss", because Rust is so convinced that anyone beneath his station would never blatantly insult him that he literally doesn't hear Vimes.
      • Vimes has been on the other ends of it, too, such as during the events of Thud!, when a fight nearly breaks out between dwarfish and troll members of the Watch over growing racial tensions. To save face for those involved, Corporal Nobbs tells an almost-plausible tale. Vimes "pretended he believed it, and they pretended to believe he believed it".
      • By Snuff, Sybil has insisted Vimes give up cigars, and Willikins usually helps enforce this rule. However, under specific circumstances:
      Vimes: You may think you see me lighting a cigar, Willikins, but on this occasion, I think, you eyes may turn out to be at fault, do you understand?
      Willikins: Yes, and in fact I am deaf as well, commander.
    • In The Truth Harry King can't sell the Ankh-Morpork Times any paper at the old price. He can, however, leave a cart full of paper unguarded and pretend he doesn't notice them stealing it.
    • In Raising Steam, Angua, investigating a terrorist attack on a clacks site, pretends not to notice evidence that one of the terrorists was killed and mutilated by a conveniently missing goblin worker.
  • Robert A. Heinlein liked to use this one; as a naval officer, he'd probably been on both sides of it.
    • In Space Cadet, when Tex Jarman gets drunk in public, one of the cadet's instructors (who is sitting nearby) calls over Matt Dodson and warns him, "Go back and tell Jarman to quiet down before I have to come over and ask him what his name is."
    • In The Number of the Beast, the protagonists ask the Governor of the UK colony on Mars how they can exchange their gold for the local currency. He offhandedly mentions how he is glad to hear they don't have any gold, being it is illegal there for individuals to own gold.
    • Starship Troopers has a strange variation. During basic training, a recruit strikes a drill instructor. Though the instructor — and later the base commander — do their best to ignore this, the recruit makes it impossible for them to do so (saying point-blank that he did it during a formal legal procedure). He's instantly court martialed, found guilty, whipped, and dishonorably discharged — which is actually a light sentence possible only through some deft legal maneuvering on the part of the commander, because striking a superior is normally a hanging offense.
  • In Betsy Byars's book The Pinballs, two of the child protagonists, Carlie and T.J., smuggle a puppy into the hospital to cheer up their friend Harvey. A nurse catches them doing this, but seeing that Harvey is genuinely feeling better thanks to the puppy, she tells them something along the lines of, "Now, you be careful with that puppy. Why, if I had seen it, I'd have to take it out of the room this very minute." Carlie is so impressed with the nurse's attitude that she declares later on that if she becomes a nurse, she'll act in the same way the nurse did.
  • Jack Aubrey does this on several occasions, usually when Stephen or Killick is muttering something that it wouldn't do for the Captain to take notice of.
  • David Sedaris writes that when his mother was dying of cancer, he tried to end a phone conversation with her by saying, "I love you," and she responded, "I'll pretend I didn't hear that."
  • In Jerry Pournelle's West of Honor, one of the lieutenants comes across a private painting graffiti on the orderly room wall. He simply points out how unfortunate it would be if the Sergeant Major had been the one to catch him, and says that he expects to see the wall clean when he returns. He also lets pass without comment the private's explanation that "IHTFP" stands for "I Have Truly Found Paradise" (rather than "I Hate This Fucking Place").
  • The Belisarius Series has a Running Gag with Valentinian; when the latter mumbles something, typically cursing about the situation Belisarius is leading them into, Belisarius (who knows exactly what is being mumbled), asks what was said and someone, typically Anastasius, will cheerfully repeat it out loud... but since it would be insubordinate for Valentinian to say something like that, it might have actually been something else that sounds vaguely similar, even though it admittedly makes no sense.
  • Star Trek Novel Verse:
    • In Star Trek: Vanguard, Captain Desai (the station's JAG officer) responds to a mission request by Admiral Nogura with something akin to accusing him of trying to punt her off the station to avoid legal trouble. Nogura replies that, as a favor and for the sake of her Starfleet career, he's going to pretend he didn't hear her insubordinate remark.
    • Admiral Nechayev says it word for word in Terok Nor: Dawn of the Eagles, when Elias Vaughn explodes at her regarding the supposed peace with Cardassia, which he knows wasn't accepted in good faith by Cardassia. Instead, he insists that they both know it's just a means to give the Cardassians time to regroup.
  • The officers in McAuslan, a great deal. "It is astonishing just how often an officer's duty seems to consist of looking the other way, or maybe I was just a bad officer."
  • Played with in the X-Wing Series:
    Hobbie Klivian: "Lieutenant Myn Donos. A good pilot, smart—"
    Wes Janson: "—smart, egotistical, self-centered, arrogant, insufferable—you know, a typical Corellian."
    Wedge Antilles: "As a fair, broad-minded officer, I should ignore that. But as a Corellian, of course, I'll manage some sort of revenge."
  • Gaunt's Ghosts: A common element of Colonel-Commissar Gaunt's leadership, especially when it comes to bootleg liquor. In one noteworthy incident, he drops in on a celebration for the newly-minted Guard recruit Dalin Criid and asks point-blank if anyone brought any sacra. When it turns out they (of course) did, he suggests doling it out to the revelers "before someone sees it".
  • Likewise used by fellow Commissar Who Doesn't Shoot His Men Ciaphas Cain on occasion, such as his total ignorance to rank-inappropriate fraternization as long as it doesn't cause trouble, or his continued confusion as to how his aide Jurgen keeps finding things like meltas, extra carapace armor, the best rooms at the local billet, amasec rations, etc. (A combination of creatively misfiling requisitions and petty theft, mostly.) On the other hand, he finds it more reliable to bring the miscreants in question up on charges, and then find some bureaucratic pretext to drop the punishment. The end result is the same, of course, but he's a much more visible part of the process this way, which suits his purposes.
  • Common in The Legend of Sun Knight. Since Sun is both the leader of the holy knights and supposed to be viewed a perfect in the eyes of the people, the other holy knights are often obligated to act as though they don't know he practiced illegal magic, conspired against the king, or snuck an undead creature into their ranks.
  • In RCN, Daniel Leary's manservant and surrogate father Hogg is given to various "ne'er-do-well" activities, but because of the friendship Leary explicitly says in narration that he doesn't ask how Hogg has "acquired" what the mission needs, because if Hogg's methods did come to light Leary would probably have to fire his mentor and best friend.
  • In the Relativity story "Payback", a little girl is kidnapped by mobsters. After she is rescued by the superheroes, the police chief, Aaron Brooks, wants her taken into protective custody (so she can serve as a witness). The superhero, Dark Flame, knows that the mob would have no hesitation in killing a little girl, and being protected by the police wouldn't do any good because too many cops are controlled by the mob. Her solution is to take the girl herself, so she would essentially disappear.
    Brooks: How the hell am I gonna explain her just 'disappearing?'
    Dark Flame: Well, what if I disappeared?
    Brooks: (turns his back on her and takes several steps away) You know, I can’t just let you go like that. I mean, what would they say downtown?

    Live Action TV 
  • At least two instances on Battlestar Galactica (Reimagined):
    • When Galactica stumbles across an infected baseship in which all the Cylons are dying after they encountered a probe containing an ancient plague, an opportunity presents itself for the Colonial Fleet to destroy the entire Cylon race once and for all. This could be done by taking a few still alive ones that they found on the ship, and then killing them after jumping in range of a Ressurection Hub, infecting the entire system with the incurable disease. Being himself married to the (good) Cylon Athena, Helo Agathon objects to it on principle when the Galactica command staff are discussing the option with President Roslin. Then this conversation happens:
    Helo: They tried to live with us on New Caprica.
    Roslin: What did you say?
    Helo: They tried to live with us on New Caprica.
    Roslin: You weren't on New Caprica. To my recollection you never set foot there? So out of respect for the hundreds of men and women of your crew who suffered through that snakepit... I'm gonna pretend I didn't hear that.
    • After they bring up the subject of the Final Five Cylons (a taboo topic in Cylon culture) Cavil orders a number of his fellow Cylons to "take a cleansing walk" and he'll forget what he just heard them say.
  • Subverted in an episode of Bones. Bones told Caroline Julian (the DA) something and Julian said "I didn't hear that," so Bones started to repeat herself louder.
    Caroline Julian: (dumbfounded) Do I have this right, you're a genius? An honest to goodness dyed in the wool genius?
    Bones: (hesitantly) Yes?
  • In an episode of Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, an attempt to find a deceased man's lover at his funeral backfires when a fight breaks out between mourners and protesters, and a number of people leave before they can be interviewed. This leads to the following exchange:
    Cragen: What did you get from the people at Reed's funeral?
    Fin: Not much. After the fight broke out, a bunch of people left before we got their names.
    Munch:(holding up a camera) Yeah, but we got their pictures.
    Cragen: Where the hell is that from?
    Munch: One of Reverend Shaw's church members, he must have left it behind
    Casey: I didn't hear that.
  • In an episode of Ned's Declassified School Survival Guide, a character starts an underground reaction to the school talent contest and one of the other characters asks the woodwork teacher for advice. His reply goes more or less "I, of course, didn't hear you refer to an event that the principal has specifically prohibited."
  • On That '70s Show, the main characters are talking about sex using thinly veiled metaphors, until Mrs Foreman complains: "You're making it really hard to pretend I don't know what you're talking about".
  • Jim Keats, the season 3 Big Bad of Ashes to Ashes is hardly a Reasonable Authority Figure - he's just posing as one. He still breaks this one out every so often to maintain the facade that he isn't trying to bring down the entire department.
  • Happens somewhat regularly on both NCIS and NCIS: Los Angeles. Either the team needs something but don't have the time to get approval or approval would tip off the perp or Gibbs/Vance/Hetty require plausible deniability.
  • On Hogan's Heroes, Sergeant Schultz frequently said "I see nothing!" because he knew that investigating would just make things worse for him.
  • A recurring exchange in the first season of The Smell of Reeves and Mortimer, whenever Mortimer tells a bad joke:
    Reeves: Oh you cheeky so-and-so.
    Mortimer: I'll pretend I didn't hear that.
    Reeves: I can't blame you. (or "I'll pretend you didn't")
  • On one episode of L.A. Law, Abby is attacked in her law office by a disgruntled client; she pulls a gun out of her purse and shoots him. In the next episode, the distraught Abby is describing the scene to a police officer. When she says she took the gun from her purse, he firmly corrects her: "Desk drawer. ...You didn't have a highly illegal concealed weapon; you had a lawful gun in your desk for personal defense."

    Video Games 
  • Inverted in Final Fantasy X. Devout Yevonite Wakka questions the involvement of Maester Seymour Guado - essentially a high priest of Yevon - in an operation that uses machines forbidden by that religion; Seymour coolly suggests he simply pretend he doesn't see them. When Wakka, shocked, protests that that's not something a Maester should say, Seymour replies, "Then pretend I didn't say it." This is one of many early clues that Seymour is Obviously Evil.
  • In Company of Heroes, a cutscene shows a sergeant chugging away on a bottle of French wine. An officer strolls up and says he'll "assume that's grape juice". The sergeant says as the officer walks away "Right sir, grape juice! Well, it was...'bout a year ago."
  • Mass Effect 2 - If you have Grunt in your party when you enter the quarantine zone on Omega, he'll ask if the smell of burning corpses makes anyone else hungry. If you also have Jacob, he'll drop the line.
  • In The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, the Empire's hope was to do this in regards to Talos worship in Skyrim, due to the White-Gold Concordat banning it. However, the Thalmor had other plans, manipulating the "asset" known as Ulfric Stormcloak into blatantly violating the concordat, giving the Thalmor justification to force heavier enforcement by the Empire and direct enforcement by the Thalmor. In the Empire ending for the Civil War, General Tullius does one on Legate Rikke as she says her last goodbye to her old comrade Ulfric's corpse, when she said "Talos guide you".
  • The World Ends with You has a section where Neku and his partner Joshua are fighting a rhino Taboo Noise. When they can't seem to beat it, Joshua suddenly levitates and fires a laser at it, destroying it in one shot, something way more powerful than anything he did before. Unfortunately, they're seen by Kariya, who notes that what he just did shouldn't be possible for a player - so Joshua's playing the game while still being alive. He also says that by Reaper rules, he should erase them both right now - but since what they did helped him out...
    Kairya: I blinked. And didn't see that. Too much paperwork... But if it happens again, Uzuki will erase you. Enthusiastically.
  • Happens twice in the same scene in Persona 4. Your cousin Nanako has just been kidnapped after your Detective Uncle Dojima takes you in for questioning. After he recieves the news, he takes off leaving you and your friends with his partner Adachi. When the rest of your friends come as well, Adachi says he really shouldn't allow everyone to be in the Interrogation Room, but doesn't do anything to stop it. A little while after, the team finally discovers who the true murderer really is and tell Adachi they need to go after him, begging him to let you leave. He then decides to leave the room.
    Adachi: I just have to hope nothing happens here while I'm gone... I didn't see anything.

    Web Comics 
  • In The Beast Legion, that's what Fyre thinks when Xeus bluntly says she's hot!
  • Kaspall: "SORRY? WHAT WAS THAT? I APPEAR TO HAVE GONE TEMPORARILY DEAF! GOD, I HOPE NO ONE CONFESSED TO A SERIOUS OFFENCE WHEN I WASN'T LISTENING!"
    "What? I'll be spending the next four weeks filling out paperwork as it is.

    Western Animation 
  • Avatar: The Last Airbender gives us the following... conversation:
    Aang: I know you can't really talk. Pretending you can just helps me think.
    Momo: [chitters]
    Aang: I'm going to pretend I didn't pretend to hear that.
  • When Marge becomes a police officer, she offers to turn a blind eye to Homer buying beer for teenagers as long as he moves his car away from where he's parked it across three handicapped spaces. He doesn't, instead opting to take her hat and do a mocking impersonation of her, so she arrests him anyway.
    • In "Itchy and Scratchy: The Movie", Homer tries to console Bart after he forbids him from seeing the aforementioned movie.
    Homer: I'll let you watch anything on TV.
    Bart: TV sucks.
    Homer: (agitated) I know you're mad right now, so I'll pretend you didn't say that.
  • In a Robot Chicken segment, Mickey Mouse questions the romance between Goofy and Clarabelle, to which Goofy replies there aren't a lot of dogs around for him to date. When Mickey recommends Pluto, who is licking his private parts, Goofy says this in response.
  • In one episode of Star Wars: The Clone Wars Captain Rex is "badly" injured, and is left by his men on a farm to recover. At evening he found out that the husband of Suu, the woman who took him in, is a deserter clone called Cut Lawquane. After he got to know Cut and his family, and fought side-by-side with him, Suu asked him, whether he was going to turn Cut in for deserting the army. Rex answered that he had no choise in the matter, but then reminded them that "in his condition", he wouldn't be able remember the meeting.
  • In Turbo, Whiplash does this twice.
    I'm gonna pretend I didn't hear what I clearly just heard!

    Real Life 
  • Someone demonstrating a home-made flame thrower was approached by an off-duty cop and informed that had he been on duty, the officer would have had to arrest the user for having a weapon of mass destruction. The user immediately yanked the fuel supply out and both pretended that it was a lighter.
    • Fun fact: In most of the United States, you don't even need a license to own a flamethrower, though it varies on a state-to-state basis. Among other things, they are used for clearing brush, and in some cases are used to deal with africanized bees.
  • In Wikipedia it's a written rule. On the user level, offenses are excused for the first couple events without penalty, and those first couple events can happen many times if spaced far apart. On the article level, they have a number of rules and even a pillar saying in almost as many words "If it sounds right, it doesn't have to follow the rules." If we don't like what you're saying though, there are no shortages of rules and clauses it can be attacked with.
  • In 1949, soldiers of the Royal Canadian Navy staged a minor mutiny over various general grievances. In general, the naval staff were very lighthanded and sympathetic, refusing to call it a "mutiny" as that introduced various legal complications. When the commander of HMCS Athabascan was negotiating with his crew, he was given written demands; incontrovertible proof of mutiny. The captain hid the legal faux pas under his hat.
  • In 1916, at the height of World War I, the German Military High Command conducted a Judenzählung (Jewish census) — which was deliberately designed from the very start to prove the disloyalty of German Jews (it also didn't help that back then antisemitism was an acceptable prejudice). When results came in, they defeated the purpose so badly — it showed that 80% of the German military's Jewish population actually served on the frontlines — the High Command concealed them out of embarrassment.

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