That Mysterious Thing

Potamus: Did'ja get that ''thing'' I sent ya?
Birdman: No! No I didn't! I never get 'that thing' you sent me! I've never gotten that thing you sent me, and I'm beginning to wonder if you ever sent me anything! While I'm at it, if I had gotten that thing you sent me, ever, I doubt I'd be interested in what it said.

Sometimes characters will refer to an object, person, event or plan in an extremely ambiguous way, mostly just to screw with the audience. Maybe it's a Running Gag, which will never be revealed, because to do so would ruin a perfectly good joke. Maybe you're seeing events from a particular character's perspective, and because it is integral to the plot that this character doesn't know what this 'thing' is, other people with refer to it in vague terms so as to heighten the suspense and not give away the ending. Maybe it's the cake for a surprise birthday party. Maybe it's a priceless artifact another character is planning to steal. Either way, you won't know what that mysterious 'thing' really is until the most dramatic moment possible.

See Noodle Incident ("Remember 'that time' when..."), Noodle Implements ("'That thing' I plan on doing with all this weird stuff..."). May turn out to be a Chekhov's Gun, involving Foreshadowing. Occasionally related to Buffy Speak, when a character refers to something as a 'thing' due to lack of full knowledge of what said 'thing' actually is. Compare Hurricane of Euphemisms and related tropes, in which the mysterious 'thing' isn't referred to vague terms but in bizarre ones. Not to be confused with You Know That Thing Where or The Thing That Goes Doink.


Examples

Anime and Manga

Film
  • In the movie and play Doubt, characters go out of their way, understandably, to not say the words 'gay' or 'molestation'. They don't even say 'homosexual', which would be the most likely word for that time and place. The closest they really get to saying it out loud is 'the boy's nature' and 'inappropriate relations'. It's actually pretty interesting how they get everyone in the audience to know what they are talking about immediately, without actually putting a name to it.

Literature
  • In Mercedes Lackey's Owl Trilogy from the Heralds of Valdemar Series, in the second book, everyone dances around the name of the person who is going to be his mage-teacher, simply referring to him as 'your teacher' until they surprise him with the incredibly famous (or infamous) Firesong, only the most powerful mage in the freaking world.
  • In Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone, Hagrid tells the bank goblin, "I'm here to pick up the you-know-what in vault 713." It turns out to be the Philosopher's Stone.

Live-Action TV
  • Monty Python's Flying Circus did this a few times.
    • Nudge, Nudge, Wink Wink sketch is mostly about this.
    • Another sketch has the British government debating taxing "thingy".
    • In the Pirhana Brothers sketch, with a mobster being interviewed by a reporter, and trying to keep a transaction secret:
    "The Watch will be ready for you at midnight. The watch. The chinese watch..."
  • Also played with in The IT Crowd when Denholm inexplicably starts wearing ear-plugs:
    Denholm: I'M SORRY ROY, I MAY BE SPEAKING LOUDER AT THE MOMENT AS I'M WEARING EAR-PLUGS!
    Roy: [confused] Why are you wearing ear-plugs?!
    Denholm: HA HA! THAT'S RIGHT!

Music
  • "I'd Do Anything for Love (But I Won't Do That)" by Meat Loaf is often falsely quoted as an example. If fact, each verse has Meatloaf stating two things that he'll do, and one that he will not. The line "I won't do that" simply reiterates that he won't do the thing he has just said he won't do.
  • "The Thing" written by Charles Randolph Grean, with the most popular version sung by Phil Harris. The song is called "The Thing" but the word Thing doesn't actually appear in the song - it's just BOOM BA-BOOM.
  • "I Got It From Agnes" by Tom Lehrer. He was Getting Crap Past the Radar; "it" is a venereal disease, and one people got in increasingly disgusting ways.
  • "One Thing" by Finger Eleven. Apparently he'd trade it all for that one thing, whatever it is.
    • Alternatively, he's trying to find something that would be worth trading away everything else.

Video Games
  • During the Hot Springs Episode about halfway through Persona 3, the boys accidentally(Ish) stay in the hot springs during the girls' time. When the girls of the group show up, Akihiko mentions that Mitsuru would most likely "execute" them. He doesn't go into detail of what this execution is, but was apparently on the wrong end of it once. Of course, the girls do show up and Mitsuru indeed threatens them with "execution". Cut to at least half-an-hour later and the boys are sitting on a bench with their heads low, apparently scarred for life. The accepted theory is that it involves being frozen alive by Mitsuru's ice powers.
  • One of the files in the Resident Evil remake has John Toleman promising the Groundskeeper "a certain item he had always wanted to get hold on" in exchange for hiding the imitation of a key. The file hints how to find said key, but you never find out what this item is or if the Groundskeeper ever got to enjoy it before turning into a zombie.
  • The Eldan of WildStar frequently refer to a mysterious "Project" that created most of the oddities on Nexus, like giant terraformers in the Northern Wilds and Galeras, Metal Maw, a giant killer robot-fish-thing with a laser on its back, and Loftite, a mineral that allows objects to defy gravity.
  • The Infocom text adventure based on the Hitchhiker'sGuideToTheGalaxy features an item in the player's inventory called "thing your aunt gave you that you don't know what it is". When examined, it turns out to carry the informative label "Made in Ibiza". Any attempt to be rid of it fails; it immediately reappears in the player's inventory.

Web Comics
  • In Darths & Droids, Pete has a die that is this. We don't know what its made out of, but its apparently unsafe to roll indoors, must land on a metal tray, and is possibly deadly.

Western Animation

Real Life
  • In Real Life the Manhattan Project created the first atomic bomb. Most people in the Project had no idea what it was making. But for the few who did, they often referred to the bomb as "the gadget" for security reasons. Even when the first two bombs were completed, the messages sent to President Truman referred to them only as "special bombs".