Mistaken for Index
aka: Oops I Did It Again

Chandler: Oh, I think this is the episode of Three's Company where there's some kind of misunderstanding!
Phoebe: Oh. Well then I've already seen this one. (turns off TV)

A result of a principal character misinterpreting something. In comedy, this often leads to further and further misunderstandings, each more comical than the last, until things get straightened out at the end of the episode. In dramas, the principal character usually exerts much effort trying to prepare for a "showdown," only to discover at the last second it was "all a huge mistake."

This trope is one of the basic elements of Farce, but can lead to an Idiot Plot. Related to Poor Communication Kills.

Has nothing to do with the Britney Spears song of the same name.

See also Public Medium Ignorance.

Sub Tropes:


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    Films — Live Action 
  • In Flying Down to Rio Roger is mistaken for a male prostitute and Belinha's aunt pays him and tells him "his services won't be needed". He quickly picks up on the misunderstanding but doesn't correct her, and instead uses the money to buy Belinha a flower (which she insults and refuses).

  • Literary example where a mis-heard conversation made a major difference in the story: in David Weber's short story "Nightfall" in Changer of Worlds, two characters are preparing evidence so that, if it becomes necessary to remove another character (Esther McQueen), they'll have backup. They spend some considerable time talking about the necessity of hiding this action, since they need McQueen and will for some time yet. The final comment of the conversation (approximately, "We'll need this when we pull the trigger on McQueen") is overheard and passed to McQueen — where it triggers a full revolt. McQueen repeatedly complains that if she'd been given even six more weeks she would really have been ready. The revolt fails, McQueen dies, in the aftermath the government falls — and the entire premise of the first 8-9 books in the series (good monarchy against evil socialist republic) is fundamentally altered. The series is up to 12 books now.
    • It should be noted the series was to this point Horatio Hornblower IN SPACE! with Esther McQueen being the expy of Napoleon. This is the story that goes off the plot rails.

    Live Action TV 
  • Coupling does this a bit, too: Sally approaches Patrick's bisexual girlfriend, trying to get a confession that she "fooled around" with Jeff (when no such thing had occurred), and the girlfriend thinks Sally is hitting on her; Jeff talks about how Jane's clinginess to Steve means "he's got an unflushable", and Susan, who just met Steve in the bathroom, thinks it means something else entirely.
    • In another episode, Steve and Susan are watching a TV show which mentions the number of men who continue to masturbate when in a committed relationship. In the awkward silence that follows, Steve starts whistling, in an attempt to seem relaxed. He justifies it by saying that he felt like some music but wasn't in the mood for a whole CD. "Sometimes you want a full orchestra, and sometimes you just want a... quick whistle?" Susan tells him that she doesn't mind his whistling, as long as he doesn't get "whistled out." Later in the episode, Susan's parents come round for a visit, and while Susan is out of the room her father mentions that Susan told him that Steve's been "going solo, and Steve interprets it how you'd imagine. This leads to the classic line, "If music be the food of love, then masturbation is just a quick snack between meals." And then Susan walks back in and says, "I was just telling Dad how you've started whistling to yourself." Later in the episode, we see Steve throwing them out for an apparently out-of-line comment, which Steve starts to repeat to Susan before self-censoring the end of it: "With all that whistling, by the time Susan gets home you'll be too tired to-" Susan then finishes it for him to make it clear just how badly he misheard it: "''pucker."
  • There is a persistent rumour of an unaired Frasier episode that's not based at least partially on this plot (or the "A Simple Plan" plot).
    • After some research, it has finally been found. It was "War of the Words" from the show's 9th season. And hilariously enough, it's among the lowest-ranked Frasier episode of all time on IMDb. Another sign that Tropes Are Not Bad and that shows should stick to what they're good at.
  • Every episode of the German series Hausmeister Krause. Yes, all of them.
  • In an episode of Jonathan Creek Maddy does this deliberately to Jonathan, interrupting their phone conversation with lines like "Oh, go on! Take me! I'm powerless to resist!" He isn't fooled:
    Jonathan: How many men left?
    Jonathan: Resign.
  • In the "Death of a Bailiff" episode of Night Court, Bull gives away all his possessions after a near-death experience in which he thinks God said to him "Give to the poor, and thou shalt have riches in heaven." It was actually a person Bull was feeding cable to, who said over a walkie-talkie "Give me some more; I'll shout when it reaches eleven."
  • Just one of many from Three's Company (which made so much use of this that it was the Trope Namer at one point): Mr. Furley, the landlord, overhears Jack and Chrissy trying to hang a shower curtain in the bathroom, which begins with Chrissy saying something like "You'd better get into the tub with me so we can get it on" and "come on, I'll show you what to do". As Jack is permitted by the landlord to live with two women only because he is supposedly gay, Hilarity Ensues. Chrissy then falls, hits her head and is rushed to the hospital, and her roommates misunderstand the doctor and she is Mistaken for Dying.
    • Another example comes from the episode when the main characters met the British Ventriloquist Leslie and his puppet Pamela. Because he kept Pamela a secret for certain reasons (she was kept in a large suitcase that he would not let anyone touch), several misunderstandings came out. First Pamela was mistaken by Jack as Leslie's crime partner after reading a news article on the "Duke and Duchess" (Leslie was mistaken for being the "Duke"), then she's mistaken for being Leslie's girlfriend when Jack lets Janet and Terri hear Pamela's (actually Leslie's) voice through his bedroom wall. The Crowning Moment of Funny of the episode was a case of Mistaken for Murderer when the trio break into Leslie's apartment, and Jack opens the suitcase thinking that's where Leslie kept the stolen money in, only to pull out Pamela's hand. Cue the trio screaming in terror and fleeing the scene in the most hilarious fashion.
      • This was lampshaded in an early episode of Friends (who would later still use this trope plenty anyway):
      Chandler: Oh, I think this is the episode of Three's Company where there's some kind of misunderstanding.
      (studio audience laughs)
      Pheobe: Well then I've already seen this one. (turns off TV)

    Web Comics 
  • Pv P, which calls back to seventies shows often, does this quite a bit. Subverted in that Cole hears Brent and Jade having sex in their office, realizes he's probably making assumptions like he has lots of time before, and comes to the conclusion that they're just moving furniture.
  • One of the page quotes alludes to the brief, one-sided relationship that tried to take root while Elan was separated from Haley in The Order of the Stick. Although he's aware of the trope (Vaarsuvius notes early on that Elan's training as a bard makes him very Genre Savvy), he's generally compelled to let tropes rule in the name of narrative even if acting on his insight would save a lot of headaches later (he once delayed Roy during an escape from a self-destructing dungeon because they escaped with several seconds to spare, and had to wait for the dramatic fireball to catch up).

Alternative Title(s): Oops I Did It Again