A standard comedy misunderstanding, in which a character claims a loved one "is no longer with us", "has moved on", "isn't here anymore", "has joined the choir invisible" etc. Considering how many euphemisms for death
there are in modern language, everyone naturally assumes that they've died, but no, in fact the character was talking literally
and the allegedly departed has just gone to work, are on holiday, or are in a musical group that prevents its members from being seen.
Whatever the case, if these euphemisms become too obvious or contrived, the listener or the speaker may have picked up the Idiot Ball
A lesser used inversion is that the character really is dead, but the listener doesn't understand the euphemisms used. This is usually less comedic and more tragic, but not always
See also Never Say "Die"
, He Didn't Make It
, and Double Speak
. Particularly crazy examples (think the Monty Python's Flying Circus
Parrot Sketch) can cross over into Unusual Euphemism
and Hurricane of Euphemisms
. May involve a Rear Window Investigation
. If the character is still around but the "euphemisms" suggest he's going
to die, it overlaps with Mistaken for Dying
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- There was a German TV spot about old age insurance which went like this. The family, all in black, cries, with the father telling his wife and children that "grandma's now in a better place". Cut to the old lady getting tanned in Hawaii.
- Used in a UK TV advert for Direct Line Insurance with Chris Addison playing an insurance salesman who inadvertently confuses a potential customer by saying his grandmother is "no longer with us". She's actually in Australia.
Anime and Manga
- Possibly a variation in Persepolis: the man who is "on a trip" wasn't really dead, but it really was a white lie. In fact, he was in jail.
- The Long Halloween, after Dent gets a face full of acid: the surgeon slowly steps out of the operating room, telling the waiting Gilda Dent and Gordons that Dent's "...gone". Cue reactions of shock and grief. Turns out he means that Dent escaped, and then collapses, revealing a scalpel embedded in his back.
- In the German comic book Der Bewegte Mann, translated in English as Maybe Maybe Not, Doro rushes to the hospital immediately upon hearing about Axel's faked suicide attempt. She is greeted by a doctor and a nurse. The nurse curtly informs Doro that "the patient left us this morning." Doro is horrified until the doctor gently reminds the nurse that that Silesian phrase doesn't mean the same thing in North Rhine/Westphalia. The nurse grumpily amends her news to "the patient was discharged this morning," much to Doro's relief.
- In Fables, a mundy reporter who has been investigating Fabletown can't help but notice that people who have "gone to the Farm" don't seem to be around anymore... not realizing that there is, in fact, a literal farm that the missing Fables have moved to.
- In an issue of X-Men: the Hidden Years, a group of Savage Land natives tell the other X-Men that Jean Grey has gone to "the land of the dead". Which she has; it's just that the land of the dead is a city off in the mountains.
- The film Fried Green Tomatoes has a character named Buddy who is killed when his boot gets caught on a rail as a train approaches. Later in the film, it appears Ruth's son, who was named after Buddy, has met the same fate. The film cuts to a funeral, but then shows buddy in attendance. It turns out he lost his arm and the ceremony is in memory of it.
- In the present storyline, Evelyn arrives at the nursing home and finds a nurse taking down Ninny's paper rose garden. The nurse then tells her that Ninny is gone. Evelyn believes she means Ninny has died and doesn't understand how quickly the nursing home turns over the room and basically has a breakdown. The nurse then reveals that Ninny actually left in a cab a bit before Evelyn showed up.
- In Secondhand Lions, the greedy relatives come to visit Uncle Hub in the hospital after he has a heart attack. A doctor tells them "he's gone." The relatives badly fake sympathy and ask where the body is. Turns out, Hub trashed the hospital room and checked himself out.
- Done in The Brainiacs.com when Kara, the new bank clerk informs David that the previous clerk, an elderly man, has gone to the "Great Beyond", which turns out to be a retirement home (which, if you think about it, is a stupid name for people who don't want to think about death).
- After the conjoined twin main characters of Stuck On You get potentially fatal seperation surgery, the doctor tells the pair's friends that "they lost them." Turns out some other doctor had relocated them to another room and didn't mention this to anyone.
- A variation in the film Moonlight and Valentino, a woman wakes up to find her husband gone and he's left a note. She assumes he's left her and can't bring herself to read the note, so her friend, Whoopi Goldberg, reads it. —>He ''did' leave you. He went to the gym to play racquetball.
- A pretty major plot point in The Big Lebowski, where Bunny Lebowski appears to have been kidnapped, but she actually just went to Palm Springs and forgot to tell anyone.
- In the film Sunny's Ears, the title character has been visiting a dog pound daily to see if anyone has claimed a stray dog she rescued, as the date upon which he is to be euthanized if not claimed draws ever closer. She runs into the dog pound on the day he is to die having come up with an alternative (to have the highly intelligent stray trained as a service dog), only to have the woman at the desk relay that "he's gone," devastating Sunny. Two minutes later, we see the same woman in conversation with one of the kennel workers: "Oh, you mean he's gone! Well, find him!"
Live Action TV
- In The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, Will had went to the hospital to get his tonsils removed, and befriended an elderly man named Max. After escaping, and returning to the hospital, he found Max was gone. Asking the nurse, she replied "He's gone off to a better place." (To be fair, the nurse did imply he was dead by sighing, but then it shows what she thinks about her own workplace.) After Will had his tonsils removed, Max returned to his hospital room looking for his lucky hat. "Max, I thought you died." "I did die... in Pittsburgh!" It turns out "gone to a better place" meant sent to a hospital with cable in the patient's rooms.
- At the end of the first season of Arrested Development, the Literal Doctor says George Sr. is "gone" when he escapes. In fact, this trope is pretty much the doctor's entire schtick as a character.
- Later, the same doctor says that "It looks like [Tobias] is dead" when he has merely painted himself blue.
- He also mentions that Buster would be "all right," though he meant that he was going to be "all right" as in "right handed", as Buster lost his left hand to a seal.
- And the time Michael is in the hospital, the doctor says there's nothing he can do for Michael...because another doctor has been assigned. By this time, Michael (the most Genre Savvy member of the family) has learned to anticipate this.
- He gets brought back as a VA doctor in the fourth season to explain that they "had to give Buster a big hand." Turns out he didn't mean a round of applause, Buster was literally given a comically oversized bionic hand.
- A Scrubs episode where Elliot assumes this about a man who says his wife is "not with us" and is obviously showing interest. Turns out she just wasn't there that day, and Elliot spends the rest of the episode running from the man's angry wife.
- In another example the Janitor points heavenwards when talking about his father. He quickly adds "He's not dead, he's just upstairs. Dying."
- Done in a more intentional manner earlier in the series. Dr. Kelso got a large portrait of himself made and hung it in a hall in the hospital, then left on an extended trip. Dr. Cox placed a tiny plaque at the bottom noting Kelso's year of birth to "death", letting everyone think the Chief's absence was more permanent.
- In Spaced, Daisy tells Tim her dog has gone next door. He reacts sympathetically because it was his parents' euphemism for a pet dying. But she means the dog really has left for the neighbours. Meanwhile, Mike realises this means the rabbit he loved that "went next door" is dead and takes it badly.
- When Andy's sitcom is being executive meddled on Extras, he complains about a certain gay writer. When he's told not to worry, the writer "won't be with us much longer", he replies "Is it AIDS?" It's not.
- Corner Gas:
- Hank asks Emma for some Motherly Advice. Emma tells Hank that he should just ask his own mother, but Hank says she's in a better place. Emma points out that they have phones in Saskatoon.
- In "Cat River Daze," Oscar and Karen become attached to a cat and are horrified when they find out it might have to go to "a better place." Naturally, this turns out to be the name of a cat farm.
- Just Shoot Me!: Jack, dressed as Santa Claus, tells a boy who wishes his grandmother would come back that she isn't coming back. Turns out grandma moved to Palm Beach.
- In Who's the Boss?, Tony's father-in-law is telling Tony that he (the father-in-law) is going to prison. But he can't bring himself to say the word "prison" and leaves off with, "I'm going to..." So Tony assumes that "die" was the unspeakable word that he was having trouble with. Hilarity Ensues as the father-in-law spends the whole episode enjoying the sympathy that is accorded to a terminally ill person.
- In Yes, Minister, Humphrey says "I'm on my way out.", that there comes a time when "one passes on to pastures new, perhaps greener", and that "one has to accept what fate has in store, when one passes on". The Minister asks when he found out, whether he's told his wife, and how long they gave him ("Oh, just a few weeks... but it will give me enough time to sort everything out"). When the Minister says that Humphrey is taking it well, Humphrey replies that he's "a little anxious, of course", but that although "one is always a little wary of the unknown, but I have faith somehow I will muddle through". It transpires, of course, that he's talking about a promotion that will take him away from the department. The Minister tries to pretend he hadn't been about to cry.
- An episode of Saved by the Bell had Zack con his friends into thinking Slater would die unless they were so mean to him he'd want to leave for Hawaii to get treated had a conversation like this between Jessie and Belding, where he rather flippantly told her that Slater would not be with them for much longer.
- Essentially the whole of the last episode of Frasier: Dr Crane's accepted a new job in San Francisco, but all the other characters think he's dying (he's just back from the doctors and is constantly weeping due to a bad botox injection he got there, he's giving away posessions he 'won't need anymore' etc). He thinks they already know and so launches into a long speech about moving on to better places, how they shouldn't be sad, how when he passes through that Golden Gate he'll be smiling...
- A very similar example happened on an earlier episode with Martin and Daphne.
- A Barney Miller episode had Det. Fish in the hospital. At one point Wojo tells Barney "They lost him." Barney is grief-stricken, then Wojo clarifies that the hospital staff literally lost him.
- On an episode of All Aussie Adventures, Russell Coight says this while talking about his first wife. He quickly reveals that she is alive but left him for another man.
- Family Matters, when young Richie is annoyed at having to wear a suit:
Richie: I haven't had to dress up since Uncle Louie bought the farm!
Steve: Oh, Richie, I didn't know your Uncle Louie died.
Richie: No, he didn't! He bought a farm!
- Coporal Jones gets this in one episode of Dad's Army:
Pike: "Why don't you have a word with Mr Jones' mother?" (facetious, since Jones is elderly)
Jones (sadly): "You leave my mother out of this. My mother's gone to another place."
Pike (quietly): "Sorry, Mr Jones."
- Series one of The Catherine Tate Show featured the character of an unhelpful information-desk worker in a shopping centre. In one episode she is approached by a customer who has "lost her mother", and the information-desk worker replies that she is sorry to hear this, but it turns out the customer has just got separated from her mother in the store.
- In series two of 2point4 Children, David has to be rushed to hospital with tetanus. A doctor tells the Porters that "we've lost him", and they break down thinking David has died. It turns out the hospital has literally lost David due to a computer failure that means they can't check which ward he's on.
- It happened in Laverne and Shirley when Shirley was hospitalized for an emergency appendectomy. The nurse tells Laverne and the others, "I'm afraid she's gone," whereupon everybody freaks out. The nurse means that Shirley has disappeared.
- In a The Broons story, Maw and the Bairn get on the bus but can't sit next to each other because it's crowded. As they pass the cemetery, the Bairn tells the woman she's sitting next to that her Grandpaw is in there and can't play with her. The woman feels sorry for her losing her Grandpaw, and gives her money for sweets, and is shocked when she talks to Maw as they get off the bus, since Maw says she's glad Grandpaw's out from under her feet. Then they go to the cemetery, where Grandpaw tells them that he'll play with the Bairn as soon as he's finished weeding the plots.
- From the Big Finish Doctor Who audio Death in Blackpool. A man who believes himself to be Santa is waiting in a hospital to hear news about Lucie Miller, who is in a coma. It doesn't help that English isn't the nurse's first language:
Nurse: Excuse me, Mr ... yes. Your friend...
Santa: Yeah, I know.
Nurse: She is gone.
Santa: Yeah. (sobs)
Nurse: Oh! No, I mean she has left the building.
Santa: It's alright. You don't have to resort to euphemisms.
Nurse: No, I mean really left the building. She just discharged herself. She is very foolish.
- The second Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney game has Wright talk as though Edgeworth was dead up until the final case. In reality he was on a soul searching journey overseas. This would all be very effective if Edgeworth wasn't on front of the damn box.
- It probably wasn't meant to be taken literally - just that he felt incredibly betrayed by Edgeworth's departure (he says as much in the final case) and thus acted like Edgeworth was dead to him.
- Considering that Edgeworth left a note that said, "Miles Edgeworth chooses death," it's not unlikely that Phoenix actually believed he was dead. Detective Gumshoe, on the other hand, was implied to have known what really happened.
- Myst V begins with a letter from Atrus that strongly implies that he has died. Guess who shows up in the good ending?
- In a Side Quest in The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword, Link takes the elder of the Mogmas to one of the game's floating islands to plow a pumpkin patch. If he talks to one of the other Mogmas afterwards, Link will say that the elder was "launched up beyond", which the Mogma takes to mean that the elder has died and that he must take up the leadership of his race.
- In an early Elf Life page, a character tells us that his brother/cousin/whatever embarked on a ship called "Eternity". Literally: he signed as First Mate.
- Housepets! gives us a hat-trick.
- Sluggy Freelance: "Something happened to Zoë." (The cast is let in on the joke a while before the reader is.)
- An earlier example. That one's a sort of Double Subversion — we find out later the agreement was written by someone with an equally poor understanding of human colloquialisms, and really did mean he was to be set free.
- Happens at the end of Disney's Atlantis The Lost Empire where the other explorers upon returning to the surface from their journey actually tell Whitmore that Milo "went down with the sub" since he chose to stay behind in Atlantis instead to going back with his teammates.
- Sid carves a voodoo doll out of soap in Hey Arnold! to get revenge on Principal Wartz, and when he hears Wartz is in the hospital, he goes to check on him and finds out he's "checked out" (outpatient rhinoplasty). After the name is removed from Wartz's office and parking space (moved to a bigger office on the other side of the school), and a crying relative informs Sid that Wartz is "under the big tree in the backyard" (Wartz was gardening and the relative was chopping onions), Arnold and Sid finally run into the principal.
- There was also an episode of Johnny Bravo where his mom is angry that the clothes selection in the shop they are in is so poor and tells him she'll go to "a better place". That plus his natural stupidity get everyone in the shop to think he's an orphan. Quite funny because he knows she's not dead, what he doesn't get is that the others assume so.
- This happens on an episode of King of the Hill. Due to English not being his first language, the actor who plays Monsignor Martinez tells Peggy his wife's with "her ancestors", when he really just means visiting her grandparents.
- Used in the Making Fiends episode "Parents":
Charlotte: I wish my parents could be here.
Vendetta: Why? Where are your parents?
Charlotte: (sadly) They're in a better place. (points up) Up there.
Vendetta: (looks up then grins evilly) Were they eaten by bears?
Charlotte: Teehee! No, silly, they're living on a space station!
- Actually, it's been implied that they died. Though Charlotte may, or may not, know this, so this may invert the trope.
- A flash forward episode of Pepper Ann has someone noting that the former school secretary was no longer with us. Her pension finally payed out (while complaining about which has been a Running Gag) and she moved to Florida.
- In the Rocko's Modern Life episode "Ed Is Dead," Rocko believes Bev to have killed Ed, based on what he has seen through his Rear Window Investigation, as well as remarks to this effect by Bev herself. Ed comes back from getting a wart taken off his butt, and Bev is offended that Rocko would even think she'd kill Ed.
- The Simpsons episode "Lisa's Wedding":
"You're getting married! Oh, if only your father was still here to see this... but he left for work five minutes ago!"
- Another episode gives us "The one you call Milhouse is gone.... He went to his grandma's place while we're spraying for potato bugs."
- In the episode "Bart of Darkness" (a parody of Hitchcock's Rear Window), Bart's assumption that Ned killed Maude is reinforced when he overhears Ned telling his sons, "She's with God now." What he meant was that she was away on a religious retreat.
- When Bart sells Santa's Little Helper and later tries to get him back, he tracks him down to the church. Rev. Lovejoy says that the dog is "no longer among us", but he just means they had given him to a blind man.
- In the same episode, Groundskeeper Willie tells Bart that he bought Santa's Little Helper... and "I ATE him." But it turns out Willie has difficulty pronouncing "H".
- "Troy McClure!? You said he was dead!" "No, what I said is that he sleeps with the fishes! You see..." "Uh, Tony, please, no. I just ate a whole plate of dingamagoo."
- In "Lisa's Date With Density" Nelson beats up Milhouse, who is then carried away on a stretcher. We get this exchange:
Lisa: Milhouse, I'm so sorry!
Paramedic: He... can't hear you now. We had to pack his ears with gauze.
- There's the one where Bart & Lisa are caught going through Sideshow Bob's dumpster. Cut to him showing up at their house and telling Marge that her children "are no more... than a couple of ill-bred troublemakers".
- In another episode, Abe is seriously ill and lying in hospital: "I'm going to a better place - Shelbyville hospital!" *tries to leave his bed*
- Done in an episode of Tiny Toon Adventures. After her hamster dies and her grandmother leaves town on vacation, Elmyra is taken to the school nurse, where she's reduced to tears and sputters out the above. The nurse assumes, and tells everyone, that the grandmother is dead. That's the biggest case in the episode, though; most of the misunderstandings through the rest of the episode have the characters clearly talking about death (just of the wrong character.)
- Generator Rex: At the end of the "Ben 10/Generator Rex: Heroes United", Rex asks where the injured Six is, prompting this response:
Bobo: He's gone...
(Horrified reaction from Rex)
Bobo: ...to the little ninja's room.
- In Gravity Falls episode 'Boss Mabel', Mabel explain's Stan absence as;
Mabel: Stan is no longer with us.
Soos: He's dead?! Oh, why couldn't have it be me?!
Mabel: Whoa, whoa, Soos! Stan's not dead. He's just gone on vacation for a few days.
Soos: ...Thank you for clearing that up.
- When ska band Five Iron Frenzy's trumpet player missed a show (he was attending a wedding), vocalist Reese Roper made a comment to the fans that Brad was "in a better place". This comment spawned rumors on the Internet that Brad really was dead. The band then made fun of the entire incident in their song "The Untimely Death of Brad".
- There's the one about the woman who asks after an acquaintance's teenage son, who hasn't been seen for some weeks, and is told he's "gone up to Jesus" Jesus College .
- This happened to old-time Western actress Dorothy Fay. A friend paid a visit to her at her nursing home, but after finding her room empty she was told by a staff member that Dorothy was "gone". The friend immediately telephoned an acquaintance who worked at the Telegraph newspaper in the UK; a full obituary was published in the following day's edition. It turned out that Dorothy had actually "gone" to another floor of the nursing home and was still very much alive. The newspaper's obituary editor had to publish a correction and also had to call her son, John Ritter, to apologize personally for the error. Very much a "Funny Aneurysm" Moment, as Fay eventually outlived Ritter by two months.
- At least the Russian sector of web-news feeds is very fond of headlines like "The world has lost the famous singer X". Turns out X retired or moved into sports or something.
- This happens during an exchange in Shaun of the Dead when Shaun is tearfully trying to tell his (clueless) mother Barbara that her husband Phillip had died. The group is riding in the car, Phillip and Shaun are in the back seat while Barbara is in the front and Ed is driving. Shaun orders Ed to stop the car, which he does jerking the wheel and slamming the breaks. Ed's behavior triggers the below discussion:
Ed: Chill ooout, everyone's alright.
Barbara: Shaun what's wrong?
Shaun: *tearfully* Mum it's Phillip, he's gone.
Barbara: Where's he gone?
Shaun: No mum, he's dead.
*Barbara looks back at Phillip*
- The inversion of this trope is Older Than Print: This is how Chaucer's Book of the Duchess ends. Notable because the narrator fails to figure out what's going on even though he has been listening to the knight eulogizing his lady for over eight hundred lines in terms that are, for a medieval dream poem, relatively non-euphemistic.
Live Action TV
- In Silent Hill 2, Mary tells Laura in her letter not to worry about her, that she has gone to "a quiet, beautiful place". Of course, she really means that she's being sent home from the hospital to die. However, Laura, being eight, thinks Mary means that she's still alive, just in a literal on-Earth quiet, beautiful place.
- In Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha As Portable: The Gears of Destiny, after some small talk about Levi's return, the topic drifts over to Fate's dead older sister Alicia, with Levi asking about where Alicia is now. Fate responds that Alicia is now "beyond the skies"... which the Literal-Minded Dumb Muscle Levi assumed to mean that Alicia's currently staying in another world (a fairly plausible interpretation in fairness, due to The Multiverse setting).
- Happens at the end of the Strong Bad Email "virus" from Homestar Runner:
Strong Bad: Hey, Bubs! How did you take care of- (notices that Bubs is wielding a rifle) (voice breaking)Why do you have a shotgun? What did you do? Where's my Compy?!
Bubs: It's in a better place now, Strong Bad. Or rather, it's in the same place, but it now has a big hole through it!
Strong Bad:(in a worrisome voice) You murderer! You killed my brother- I mean computer!
Bubs: Look, Strong Bad. My mouth was a broken JPEG. I had no choice!
Strong Bad: You don't understand! You all understand! I mean don't understand! (starts running away crying, with the Cheat following him)
- Parodied in the Pinky and the Brain episode "The Third Mouse", where minor characters believe Brain to be dead and try to tell Pinky. Pinky, however, doesn't understand even when they flat-out tell him that Brain is dead.