Something the writers want to keep secret from the audience may be referred to using only pronouns or, when necessary, sufficiently ambiguous nouns, ignoring that this sounds ridiculous. A favorite tactic of some shadowy councils
. Can occur no matter how secret the discussion is
from other actual characters.
Often such pronoun substitutes become emphasized by characters using it, conveying that they're aware of what they're doing and that they're not simply continuing an earlier conversation. Despite the lack of context, other parties to the talk have no trouble figuring out just what "that" or "him" is being referred to.
The Japanese language makes it possible to drop subjects and objects from sentences entirely, making this a popular trope in anime (but headache-inducing for the translators).
Subtrope of Cryptic Conversation
. Whenever Vagueness Is Coming
-er- this trope is usually invoked.
See also Unspoken Plan Guarantee
, Pronoun Trouble
, and The Scottish Trope
. Contrast As You Know
, when the conversation is more
expository than it would be in real life.
Anime and Manga
- In the 1960s and 70s there was a series of commercials for Schweppes Tonic featuring an M-style spymaster who would only ever refer to the product as "Sch... you know who". Later on it was revealed that the "Secret of Sch..." was "Weppes".
- In Detective Conan, we are privy to the child detective's thoughts, following his deductions to the last, where we are treated to a "Aha, so the culprit is that person." Who "that person" is isn't revealed until after Conan sets up the proof and makes his accusation.
- This is often accompanied by a "that explains why that person made "that strange statement" just now" This usually causes readers to go back and reread everything to try and figure out who said something unusual.
- This gets a bit silly when Ran refers to her mother as "that person" in her head just because the author doesn't want the reader to know who she is meeting yet. Though this does sound much more natural in Japanese, where 'ano hito' is at least as common a way of expressing the equivalent ideas to 'him' and 'her' as the actual third-person pronouns of the language.
- Both the Excel♥Saga anime and Guilty Gear have characters who are officially named "That Man".
- Excel♥Saga has (including That Man) a total of six characters named like this (That Man There, This Man, That Man Over There, That Man Over Here, and This Man Over Here).
- The second half of Mermaid Melody Pichi Pichi Pitch had "that one". "Him" would have worked, but throughout the actual run of the series, most people were convinced it was another character, one that was female. The English version of the manga replaces it with "the Great One" so as to sound less stilted and still confer a scary aura of deference.
- In the first novel of the Kino's Travels series, the main character is revealed as a girl in the fifth chapter. Up until that point, a studious avoidance of gender pronouns leaves her sex up to the reader's assumptions (though at this point, new readers probably know this in advance).
- The phrase "That guy" (or "That jutsu" or other possible variations) comes up a lot in Naruto, especially during the Chunin Exams and Invasion arcs. Characters tend to use this phrase even in internal monologues.
- Fullmetal Alchemist features the homunculi referring to "that person" in the beginning of the series, and later referring to "Father," although it is still some time after that before we meet that character and learn the reason behind his title.
- The Big Bad of Code:Breaker was always called "The One Being Sought", "That One", "That Man" or "Him." Even after he showed up as an actual character and the protagonists fought with him and it was revealed that Rei had a history with him, they still didn't give him a name beyond those aforementioned examples.
- His title, in fact, is "The One Who Seeks" (sagashi mono can mean both "the seeking one" and "the sought one", though it wasn't revealed which was it until he was called Code:Seeker), and Ōgami referred to him as "Him" (yatsu, though when he's facing him he calls him koitsu "this person"). This got messed up in the scanlations though, with pretty much everybody calling him "Him".
- Used in most episodes of Hime Chen Otogi Chikku Idol Lilpri when the girls transform using "that" card none of them question what "that" could be referring to and all agree to it being a great idea then going off to transform using the card of the day.
- Used in Pokémon sometimes when Ash gets some of his old Pokémon from Oak's lab. "Professor, can you send me that Pokémon?"
- We are told early in the first book that the villain of the Harry Potter stories is Voldemort, yet right through the rest of the books he is widely called either "He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named" or "You-Know-Who". In the last book, when he gains power over the Ministry, he makes it a crime to say his name, and casts spells to locate anybody who does. Since his followers, more cowed enemies, and neutrals don't normally say the name anyway, he's hoping to catch those who have always had the nerve to say his name in a slip, as they must be his bravest enemies.
- Presumably, since he constantly refers to himself in the third-person, apparently made it so that the Death Eater's Dark Marks burn upon hearing his name, and the fact that the sixteen-year old version of him intended for the name to be feared, Voldemort probably forbade his name to be spoken during the first war, and ordered his minions to kill or maim any who used his name openly.
- Parodied in John Moore's Heroics for Beginners. Lord Voltmeter is known as He Who Must Be Named, because Lord Voltmeter dislikes when people use pronouns to refer to Lord Voltmeter.
- Also parodied in Sluggy Freelance. When Torg enters the Harry Potter parody setting, people keep referring to "You-Probably-Don't-Know-Who". No-one will say who this actually is, but apparently the answer lies in "The-Story-We-Can't-Tell". (Later this is revealed to be because the Voldemort parody in question accidentally wiped himself from history and people's memories, but the parody works better with the original unexplained absurdity.)
- Another Potter example is Dementors, which various characters just fearfully call "Azkaban guards" until after Harry encounters one in person. Their "upgrade" from what could just be some intimidating Ministry wizards to horrifying Emotion Bomb creatures is sort of the inverse of Voldemort's becoming more of a mere man by getting a name.
- In The Five Red Herrings, Dorothy L. Sayers uses this trope purely for audience-taunting purposes. Lord Peter decides the artist Campbell couldn't have died accidentally, but must have been murdered, because a certain object is missing. According to Sayers, sufficiently intelligent readers will already know what the object is, so there's no point in telling you. We finally find out about two pages before the murderer is revealed.
- In The Bible, the Book of Revelation 13: The Beast requires people to have a mark of either his name, or the "number" of his name. Rather than write the Beast's name, the writer instead puts that "those who have wisdom" can calculate it from the number 666 (in Greek) or 616 (in Latin). The problem is, of course, that this applies to very many names.
- For pragmatic and personal reasons, John Marsden never names the country that invaded Australia in The Tomorrow Series. The books' characters always refer to them as 'the enemy' or 'them'.
- In The Day of the Jackal, the three OAS members who hire the Jackal have his dossier but refer to him only as "The Englishman" even before his codename is agreed, but have good enough name and address information to send a representative to his flat at short notice. A look at the name (even if fake) and address in the dossier, would have removed a major subplot from the reader, of the English police trying to work out his identity.
- In LOST the other inhabitants of the island are officially known as "The Others", and refer to a mysterious "Him"
- Used in Torchwood to cover up the real name of Jack Harkness: during a flashback to his childhood, his parents refer to him only as "son", even while continually calling his brother, Gray, by his real name. Essentially ignored in the second series finale, where said long-lost brother, upon reuniting with Jack after many years, also uses his fake name rather than the one he would technically have known "Jack" by.
- Word of God says that Captain John Hart told Gray about Jack's new name, but it still seems a bit ridiculous for Gray to use it.
- In Doctor Who, the Doctor and the Master always refer to each other by their chosen nicknames even if they're the only ones around, despite the fact that they're heavily implied and almost certain to know each others' real names.
- An early episode of JAG took place in Cuba (a US Navy Tomcat fighter jet was damaged in a storm and had to make an emergency landing there). A few times, they run into a number of locals who don't like Fidel Castro, but never refer to him by name (perhaps due to fear of being overheard). Instead, when they refer to him, they scratch their chins, as if they had beards.
- The Brendan Nolan song with lyrics to be found here. "Whatever you say, say nothing/when you talk about you know what/For if you know who could hear you/You know what you'd get..."
- In the "Weird Al" Yankovic's song "Albuquerque", he talks of growing up in "the house half a block down the street from Jerry's Bait Shop... you know the place."
- Ace Attorney has at least once used 'that piece of evidence' to allow you to hear Phoenix's thoughts about presenting evidence without actually telling you what evidence you should use.
- Ace Attorney Investigations does this with Phoenix himself. Whenever anyone refers to him, they do so in the vaguest way possible.
- When you eavesdrop on Grubba's monologue in Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door, he refers to his machine as "that". It sounds a bit... off.
- This could be because he has been caught before. Still comes across rather awkwardly, though.
- At the beginning of Super Paper Mario, a Toad tells the Mario Bros. that Princess Peach has been kidnapped. Luigi comes up with the first theory. "Bro, this must be the work of that guy! That bad guy!" True, Bowser has trouble remembering Luigi's name, but the other way around?
- At one point in the first Mega Man Battle Network game, the hint button will give you this spectacularly useless response from MegaMan: "A former WWW agent... it must be that guy!"
- The Big Bad of the Guilty Gear series is always referred to as "That Man." Guilty Gear 2: Overture lessens the effect, if only slightly, by occasionally referring to him as the "Gear Maker" instead.
- In Xenogears, the Gazel Ministry speaks almost entirely in these. As do just about everyone else making exposition about anything else to a lesser degree.
- In BlazBlue, whenever the enigmatic Phantom who's heavily implied to be Nine of the Six Heroes, brainwashed appears, the characters will go "You!?" and afterwards might say something like "Was that...?" or "Could it be...?" Nobody ever finishes their sentences.
- Zunari, the semi-suspicious salesman from The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker, must be one of the most genuinely charismatic entrepreneurs around. After all, he manages to sell his last available item to Link for 80 rupees while utterly refusing to reveal what it is until he's already bought it. Odder still, it's a ship's sail, a useful product in a flooded world and one that Link was specifically visiting town to purchase in the first place. What reason did he have to constantly refer to it as "that"?
- Girlchan in Paradise!!'s deliberate stressing of "thaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaat X" has caused some fans to use it to parody instances of this trope in other series, such as the repeated instance of "thaaaaaaaaaat jutsu" in Naruto.
- Spoofed in Nodwick, which featured at one point She Who Must Be Obeyed stealing That Which Man Was Not Meant To Know and taking it to The Lands Which Know No Name. Nodwick lampshaded the distinct lack of proper nouns.
- Also parodied in this Worst Of The Time Lords comic. Please specify which evil alien you are before trying to scare the crap out of him.
- Parodied in one Order of the Stick strip. "That must be the eleventh He Who Must Not Be Named!"
- "Not to mention the four who Must Not Be Looked At, the two who Must Not Be Spoken To, and the one who Must Not Be Toilet-Trained."
- Him, an Expy of Satan from the Powerpuff Girls is called "Him" because his name strikes fear when it is mentioned.