Old comedic trope that isn't used too much anymore.
Basically, somebody writes down a safe combination, a speech or poem, plans for the Death Star, etc. onto a piece of paper.
So they reach into their pocket, pull out a list, and more or less go....
"Now that's done, let's see what else I must do. Eggs, milk, bread... wait, no. That's my grocery list", puts it away, pulls out another list: "Okay, let's start again."
A variation has a messenger handing at first a grocery list instead of the intended message to its recipient.
Not to be confused with Bread, Eggs, Milk, Squick. Except in the most literal examples.
A subtrope of Unfortunate Item Swap. See also Script Swap.
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Anime and Manga
Used in one of the Full Metal Panic! novels, 'Cinderella'. Sagara Sousuke lists things Cinderella needs to go to the ball: "1 pumpkin, 4 mice, 1 lizard, 1 assault rifle, 1 shotgun, 24 anti-personnel hand grenades, 160 5.56 mm bullets, three cases of c4 explosives, 6 Claymore land mines..." Turns out, all of those deadly weaponry are just his shopping list, not the things one needs to get to the ball.
In Durarara!!, Shinra finds out that he gave Celty his shopping list rather than the license plate of the van she was supposed to chase after when he checked it at the supermarket. Later, it turns out that she didn't need to do anything anyway since Kyohei AKA Dotachin's group was chasing after it, albeit for other reasons.
Some of the manga editions of the original Kingdom Hearts included a set of one-shot comic strips at the end of the volume, generally featuring an amusing twist on something that happened in the main story. One of the ones at the end of Volume 3 featured Aerith trying to decode Ansem's Xehanort's Report. "Ansem the Wise... what were you trying to do...? Pork, onion, carrot, potato, shiitake mushroom... Ansem... You like shiitake mushroom in your curry?!"
Inverted in Walt Disney's Comics and Stories 630 (1996), story "Scandal on the Epoch Express." Donald Duck, porter on a train, reads what appears to be a grocery list of all the freight items the train should have picked up, but segues halfway through into the Witches' Chant from Macbeth.
In The MuppetsKing Arthur, a group of planted protestors are reading cue-cards provided by Sir Sam of Eagle. One of them shouts out "Bread, milk, cheese, armour polish..." before Sam gives him the right card.
In The Smurfs comic book version of "The Astro Smurf", Harmony (or Drummer) makes an announcement that Astro Smurf's invention is ready to be unveiled, but the first thing he reads off is a recipe Greedy Smurf had given him.
One Dilbert strip had a man trying to push a stupid plan because the pros outnumbered the cons. Dilbert read the list and found out that everything in the pros column was part of his grocery list. Having been caught out, the man claims that the fault is trying to quantize pros vs cons, rather than that the plan is stupid, and goes ahead anyway.
Prickly City: Winslow's final comments on the budget: 1. Milk. 2. Carrots 3. Toilet paper. Except that no one notices.
In Dartagnans Daughter, a series of mix-ups and misunderstandings by the heroes and the villains have both looking for (and finding) coded messages in a laundry list and a really bad love poem. Neither contain any coded messages and are, in fact, a laundry list and a really bad love poem.
Used by a hero in Mystery Men, where Lance Hunt (alter-ego of Captain Amazing) feigns reading a letter sent by Captain Amazing - but the piece of paper he's supposedly reading from is just his grocery list.
This gag appears in the 1960s-vintage parody novel Bored of the Rings (written by the staff of The Harvard Lampoon), and when it appears, it's called "ancient".
The trope also appears in the James Thurber children's book Many Moons, where the king's three advisors carry lists of all of the matters they have been consulted on. As each one reads out his list, all have added grocery items their wives wanted the advisors to pick up that day.
In Foucaults Pendulum by Umberto Eco, the main characters construct an elaborate conspiracy theory around a document that is eventually revealed to be a laundry list.
A Canticle For Leibowitz, sort of. Among the holy relics found by Brother Francis in the fallout shelter are a grocery list and a circuit diagram.
Of course, since the Simplification had long destroyed every remaining diagrams and list out in the open, they're as valuable as War and Peace to the monks.
In Jane Austen's Northanger Abbey, Catherine finds some papers just before the light goes out. Having read far too many Gothic novels, she is horrified with the possibilities. And morning reveals it was a laundry list. At the end of the novel, to escape the problems of a Parental Marriage Veto, Austen has the hero's sister marry a nobleman, and the hero's father is so pleased that he approves the hero's marriage. She then asserts that the nobleman was the one who left the laundry list, and therefore she wasn't introducing a new character at the end to act as a Deus ex Machina.
Happens to the Prime Minister in Minidoka: 937th Earl of One Mile Series M by Edgar Rice Burroughs. Having written his speech on the back of his wife's recipe book, he drops his notes. When he picks them up, he accidentally begins reading the recipe rather than his speech.
Sasha: "It wasn't a map, it was just a list of things I had to do once I got back to base."
Detectives In Togas: In the first book, the boys write a letter to the emperor to explain that Rufus is innocent. Because they have nothing else to write on, they use the backside of a pergament with Cicero's speech against Catilina on it. When Xanthos wants to read the letter, this trope happens.
Not used, but in Jingo Vimes reflects that Carrot is charismatic enough that he really would be able to inspire people with a speech that went "Bread! Eggs! Milk! FLOUR!"
Live Action TV
In Spin City, vice mayor Charlie's friends at the office come to do an intervention to make him stop betting money on football games. Paul starts reading from a list of arguments, which turns out to be a chili recipe. "Charlie, I want you to know how much you mean to me. 'One pound of ground meat....'"
An odd version; the Affably Evil Mayor does not actually keep them on separate lists, making it almost literally Bread, Eggs, Milk, Squick : Meet with the PTA, Boy Scout awards ceremony, Become invincible, Haircut.
In the Thanksgiving episode Pangs Willow starts reading what she thinks is a list of ingredients for a magic potion, only to be told it's the recipe for the turkey stuffing. (This is part of a running gag: virtually every conversation in the episode is eventually derailed to be about food.)
"Eggs, Tea, Bread, Rich Tea biscuits.. Are you sure this is the right list Mr. Schindler?"
Hugh Dennis: "Milk! Bread! Germoloids! I believe...I have been reading from the wrong piece of paper."
Variation in an episode of That '70s Show where stoner Leo falls in love with Kitty and sends her a bouqet of flowers with a note reading "Roses are red, Violets are blue eggs, milk, butter"
In an episode of Keeping Up Appearances, Hyacinth Bucket announces she has a list of demands from the Women's Institute written on the back of a voucher for 20 pence off golden syrup, and immediately afterwards reads the first demand as "20 pence off golden syrup".
In a LazyTown episode, Robbie Rotten, disguised as a pirate, pulls out his grocery list instead of the treasure map.
Red Dwarf went farther than most with this. The evolved descendants of Lister's cat escaped the space ship years ago aboard arks using a "star map" given to them by their god, Cloister the Stupid. The star map turned out to be Lister's laundry list which he used to line his cat's basket.
In the episode Timeslides the crew goes back in time and steals Hilter's Diary. It read: "Things to do: Stop milk, pay papers, invade Czechoslovakia!"
The second episode of Psych featured Shawn reading things to the spelling bee contestants from the original announcer's shopping list. Things like "banana" and "onion".
Inverted in an episode of The Nanny in which Fran picks up an old piece of paper from Maxwell's desk: it's from an original Shakespeare manuscript, specifically "Hamlet, Prince of Denmark". Fran's reaction is "If he wants Danish ham, why can't he just say so?" and she goes shopping with the MS page as her list. And gets mugged.
Variation in Wizards of Waverly Place episode "Future Harper". Max reads a printout from a writer who is writing books that feature the Russos' life story: "Bread... eggs... milk... this is the worst story ever."
Marshall: [looking for his password] Jelly beans, fluffernutter, gummi bears, ginger snaps- this is a grocery list.
Robin: For who, a witch building a house in the forest?
Marshall: Sugar helps me study.
Barney: This is the kind of shopping a ten-year-old does when he's alone for the weekend.
Lily: Who leaves a 10 year old alone for the weekend?
Barney [Sarcastically]: Oh, and your mom was perfect.
An episode of Welcome Back, Kotter had Mr. Kotter accused of sexually harassing a student. (Actually, she fainted due to a fad diet she had been on and Mr. Kotter was just trying to help her get up.) The Sweathogs wanted the girl in question to sign a confession stating that Kotter hadn't done anything. Horshach wrote the confession on the back of a grocery list and read that to her at first.
At the beginning of one episode of M*A*S*H, Blake asks Radar to read a list of everything the camp is running low on because their supply line got cut. After Radar finishes the list, Blake tells him to brief the other officers on what areas of rationing they'll be in charge of, and he starts reading the first list again. Then he stops, flips the top page of his clipboard out of the way, and reads the real second list.
In another episode, Colonel Blake is directing Trapper out of a minefield using what he thought was a map of the mines - but actually turns out to be a map of WWII Germany. Cue an Oh Crap moment when they realize that Trapper is inches away from stepping on a mine.
In the episode of The Slammer where the Governor loses his memory, he introduces the next act as "a pint of milk, a bag of bin liners and three scratch cards". His nephew then tells him to turn the card over.
In Kenan & Kel when the Hammer escaped prison and wanted revenge on Kenan.
Police: We found this list in his cell.
Kenan:(Reading the list) Number one: Get out of Jail. Number two: go to the laundry. Number three: get Kenan.
On Teen Wolf, Scott, Stiles and Allison need to find the bestiary that Allison's family keeps of everything they've ever hunted, without getting caught by her parents or grandfather, but at first they don't know where it is or what it looks like. Stiles thinks it's probably an old book, and Allison remembers that she's seen her grandfather with a book like that. They go to great lengths to get ahold of it, only to discover that it is, in fact, a cookbook. The real bestiary turns out to be on a flash drive.
Scott:(leafing through the book) Salmon. Moutarde. Creme Fraiche. What is this?
Allison:(sighs) A recipe. It's a cookbook.
The immortal Anna Russell used this in her "Introduction to the Concert (By the Women's Club President)", in which her character introduces "that magnificent pianist, Miss ... er ... Miss Hamburger." It's well worth listening to, if you can find it.
When Rush got inducted into Canada's Music Hall of Fame, Alex Lifeson's speech consisted of "Uh-oh...three dozen eggs, two liters of milk and about 150 Valiums."
A "Graham and the Colonel" sketch on The D Generation breakfast show (later included on The Breakfast Tapes album) featured the Colonel reading a list of ingredients for a recipe: "Milk, eggs, bread, dish washing liquid, squegee... Oh wait a minute, this is my shopping list".
In the episode "The Canal" of The Goon Show, Henry Crun attempts to read helpful advice to Neddie after he falls in the canal, and gets halfway through a cake recipe before realising he's got hold of a cookbook instead of the Lifesaving Manual. It's typical of the series that the still-drowning Neddie's response to this realisation is to wonder what he should do with the cake batter he's just made.
In The Musical Comedy Of Murders Of 1940, Elsa von Grossenkenueten talks about her grandfather's great achievements in the Kaiser's secret police. She asks her houseguests if they've heard of various historical espionage documents. She begins with the Dreyfus Papers, lists a few more to the complete incomprehension of the others in the room and ends with "the von Emmett Shopping List!?!?
Subverted in All The Great Books (Abrdiged) where a certain character, angry at having been given another character's grocery list instead of his poetry, tears it up. Turns out his poems were on the back.
In the spoof play Murder In the Magnolias, the lawyer who comes in to read the will for the deceased land owner initially reads off a recipe for gumbo, going on for a while until someone points it out to him.
Inverted in Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney: Justice For All where a witness tries to hide her possession of an important document by claiming "this is my top-secret list of groceries to buyyyyyyy!"
Fernswarthy's Letter from Kingdom of Loathing probably sets some kind of record, starting out as the great (but senile) wizard excoriating his pupils for digging up his body, meandering into a reminiscence about the last kid who bugged him, segueing from that to a friendly letter to someone away on vacation before finally, yes, ending with a grocery list.
Inverted in Sam & Max Season 2 where you actually have to replace a list of swear words with a grocery list to solve one puzzle. Which results in the Soda Poppers being referred to as the *bleep* Poppers for the rest of the game.
The Homestar Runner cartoon "The Interview". Strong Bad tries to interview Homestar, but Homestar at first thinks he's at a job interview and hands Strong Bad his "resume", not realizing it's his grocery list.
Then in the sbemail "Love Poems", Homestar relays a "love poem" to Marizpan, which is more like an acrostic poem full of foodstuffs.
Strong Bad: That's not a love poem! That is a lavishly produced grocery list! Homestar Runner: No, here is my grocery list: Amazing thing, amazing thing, amazing thing, amazing thing! Strong Bad: Woah, where have you been shopping? Homestar Runner: Sky Mall.
Not quite, but almost: In this installment of Scary Go Round, the Devil makes an appearance. He's evidently looking at the right note; just misreads it: "Excuse me. Ryan Beckwith? I believe you owe me your soup. Oh, wait, no, can't read my own writing. Soul. You owe me your soul."
One specific example - In one Goof Troop episode, Goofy was obsessed with writing poetry, and all his poems were spectacularly bad. When he picked a poem at random, it later turned out to be his grocery list... and it won. To be fair, it rhymed.
The villain in Darkwing Duck's "In Like Blunt" is beaten when he tries to auction off a list of spy information but Darkwing manages to swap it with a chocolate chip cookie recipe. The supervillain audience is not amused.
Kim Possible: Found in The Movie, wherein Drakken plays "the trading game" with bad guy Big Daddy Brotherson and initially receives the man's grocery list; also found in the Season 4 opener, where Professor Dementor drops his list at one location, making it easier for Kim and Ron to find him in the next.
The Critic: Subverted through overuse- When Jay Sherman's Iraqi captor intends to hand him anti-American propaganda to read on live television, he ends up giving Jay a letter to the Urkel fan club, a personal ad, and an invitation to a kegger.
In The Simpsons episode "Cape Feare," Sideshow Bob writes a list of his diabolical plans in his own blood and ends it with "Buy corn holders". Then he starts writing a letter to "Life in these United States" before passing out.
"Use a PEN, Sideshow Bob!"
Subverted by The Simpsons: When Bart and Milhouse were left in charge of Comic Book Guy's store, Milhouse read out his instructions (chocolate malt balls, doughnuts, etc). Bart dismissed this as his grocery list, but no, it was indeed his instructions.
In Arthur, Francine and the Brain are fighting, so Arthur and Buster write fake apology letters to try to get them to make up. When Arthur delivers his to the Brain, the Brain reads it and yells "This isn't an apology, it's a list of demands!" as the letter is just a list of toys and dolls preceded by "I want." Arthur quickly realizes that he wrote the letter on the back of his little sister's Christmas list.
Plankton: The secret formula is — One bottle of molting lotion, take passport photo, buy new safe, travel size?!
"A floating shopping list!" "I'm not a shopping list... I'M A GHOOOOOOOOOST!"
"Let's see... go to work, go to work, go to work, go to work... oh wait. This is my weekday list."
An example shows up in an episode of Phineas And Ferb when Major Monogram is relating to Agent P a list of suspicious items that Doofenshmirtz has purchased. As soon as he reads off "blood sausage", he cites this trope word for word.
Made more amusing by the fact that, given some of Doof's prior schemes, blood sausage wouldn't have been outside the realm of possibilities.
Grounder:(Reading from paper) "Single, 700-pound villain seeks suitable companion..."
Robotnik:(Embarassed) Whoops, uh, wrong paper, give me that. ''(Snatches paper back)
The Kids From Room 402: Freddy once accidentally brought his mom's grocery list to school, rather than his homework, and didn't realize his mistake untill Miss Graves started to read it out loud in front of the class.
It's just as well that this isn't used much in comedy anymore. Most people nowadays would probably put their grocery lists on their smartphones. And just put important stuff on Thumbdrives or in E-Mails. Of course, in the latter case, it could be sent to the wrong person...