To err is human. Most people are aware of this, and recognize that we are all prone to the occasional act of clumsiness. Hence, when someone accidentally spills a drink, or steps on a foot, or knocks something over, most people are willing to forgive and forget if an apology is given.
This also means that people can, on occasion, do something generally mean-spirited to someone else in public, and potentially get away with it if it appears to have been a mistake. Of course, sometimes the person doing this wants everyone, particularly his or her victim, to know it was done very deliberately, and will communicate this by issuing an insincere or flat-out sarcastic apology.
Whether or not the character engaging in this behavior chooses to cover it with a sincere apology may depend on whether or not the character believes his or her audience will sympathize with the action. For example, if Alice is a particularly vicious and foul character who is not well liked, Charlene might choose to issue a sarcastic apology after dropping a plate of tartar sauce on her cleavage; her audience will smile because they all know that Alice had it coming, and they are pleased with Charlene's courage, knowing full well it wasn't really an accident. On the other hand, if Bob is a major Jerk Ass who is not especially well liked, he may attempt a sincere apology after "accidentally" tripping the much kinder and sympathetic Charlie; he knows that those watching don't like him, and the apology works as a pre-emptive defense. Of course, if Bob is very powerful, he might decide not to put any effort into making the apology sound sincere, since he really doesn't care what everybody thinks since there's nothing anybody can do about it.
This type of deliberate accident is often motivated by spite or revenge, although not always. Sometimes it's a necessity to divert someone's attention, gain someone's attention, plant a Tracking Device, steal something, or just get someone worked up. The key to this trope is that an action is being presented as a mistake on the part of the person doing it. Since there's no point in holding up such a pretense if alone, this is something that will be done in public, even if all that's available is an audience of one.
Usually this action is more of an irritant than anything that's likely to cause serious injury or death, but not always.
Common variants of this trope include, but are not limited to:
- The Drink Spill: A character spills a drink or some kind of food onto another character or him/herself.
- The Foot Crunch: A character steps on another character's foot or spears it with a cane.
- The Fragile Object Knock-Over: A character bumps or pushes something brittle and sends it crashing to the floor.
- The Trip: A character sticks out a foot and trips someone.
- The Finger-Slip: A character "accidentally" pushes a button or some other device that activates a device that should not be activated.
See also: The "Be Quiet!" Nudge, in which a character punches or kicks someone and pretends it was an accident, in order to get the other character to stop talking.
- A non-comedic example of this is in Mobile Suit Gundam 00 wherein the Child Soldier Nena bombs a wedding party, killing almost everyone there. When questioned about it, she giggles and says she accidentally pressed the wrong button. The reason she bombed the party was because they were having more fun than her.
- In Kozo Omori's manga adaption, however... it WAS an accident, and the setup and aftermath from Nena's perspective was actually treated comedically, although everything else remained serious.
- In Kitchen Princess, the heroine has made friends with a rich girl who also happens to be a rich model. Her name is Akane, and she seems nice, but she's actually a Bitch in Sheep's Clothing. While eating lunch together, she purposely knocks the heroine's lunch onto her dress, then gets upset and causes her friends to turn on the girl.
- In a second season of Darker Than Black, one scene shows the depraved Genma having his partner Mina conduct moxibustion on him, which is the "payment" for using his powers. He makes a perverted comment, and Mina, who Does Not Like Men, accidentally-on-purpose burns him.
- In the third episode of Samurai Champloo Jin and Mugen have left Fuu to fend for herself, she wanders through an alley where two men are watching her, they stick out a vase to make her bump into and break, she apologizes and they tell her to pay up and she tells them she doesn't have any money, they then proceed to kidnap her and stuff her into a sack.
- In Dragon Ball, Shen weaponizes this sort of behavior, seemingly accidentally dodging everybody's attacks while inflicting damage through perceived incredible clumsiness, attributing his outcomes to amazing luck. He makes it to the last rounds of the 23rd Tenkaichi Budokai and defeats Yamcha but is then taken out in the semifinals by Piccolo, after breaking his façade by using a Dangerous Forbidden Technique—he entered the competition specifically to stop Piccolo because he knew Piccolo was a threat. Shen is actually God possessing an ordinary businessman as a disguise and is strong enough to not have to take any of his opponents seriously until Piccolo.
- Soul Eater: As Death the Kid holds a practice battle against Black Star and Soul, the latter two injure each other and make up with a ridiculously drawn-out Man Hug. Annoyed, Kid shoots them both, then sarcastically excuses himself with "My finger slipped".
- Akagami no Shirayukihime: While Lata claims he has managed to avoid balls and parties for so long he's forgotten how to dance he hasn't, nor has he forgotten how to make a girl step on his foot while making it look like she misstepped during the dance so that he can excuse himself from the event and escape to treat his "injury". He mentions deadpan that most noblewomen in the kingdom hate him for this.
- Early in the training session in Slam Dunk, Sakuragi threw a ball to Rukawa to prevent him to show him how to properly do an alley-oop, since Sakuragi is annoyed at him. Twice. And with the same excuse too: His hand slipped. After that, Rukawa threw a ball to Sakuragi's head and used the same excuse in a more deadpan tone. Sakuragi one-ups this by tossing a whole group of basketballs from a steel basket right onto Rukawa, saying his whole body slipped.
- The drink spill variant was done in Thorgal by some random viking, to humiliate the protagonist, who is a beggar at that time (due to Angst Coma after he thinks his wife and child have died) and can't defend himself.
- This was done twice in one issue of Top 10, both times by Ferro-American Deadpan Snarker Joe Pi:
Joe Pi: with typical machine clumsiness, I seem to have disabled my inbuilt audio taping system. This mean that if, for instance, a fellow officer should suggest something illegal, I won't have a record of it.
Joe Pi: We have to get back to the station. I have to report my poor performance as a siege negotiator.
- A few pages later, after he "accidentally" convinces a fugitive suspect to commit suicide instead of surrender and be treated as a sidekick-molester in prison, he then says:
- Superman: Clark Kent does this all the time. Usually it's to save someone without compromising his secret identity.
- Aaron Stack in Nextwave:
- In an old Disney comic (by Carl Barks), in which Scrooge and Donald Duck go to Saudi Arabia, a bad guy bumps into a sheik (who, not surprisingly, looks like a duck), slipping a listening-bug onto his robe. (The bad guy apologizes, and the sheik says, "You're a clumsy oaf!")
- Batman: In his civilian identity, Bruce Wayne has been known to do this. For example, in Robin: Year One, he intentionally spills his drink on an important control panel.
- One strip had Dilbert at a cocktail party and two women holding an impromptu "spill stuff on him" party. The final panel shows Dilbert back at home wearing the rags of his shirt, after they'd hit him with lighter fluid.
- In the book Dogbert's Clues for the Clueless, Dogbert examines the conundrum of being seated in public next to a man who spreads his legs too much. Dogbert recommends "accidentally" spilling a drink in the offender's lap. "Oops! Something bumped my leg."
- Pinocchio: Honest John gets Pinocchio's attention by tripping him up with his cane.
- The Emperor's New Groove: As Kuzco and Pacha try to get the potion that will turn Kuzco human, Yzma knocks over the other potions so they can't tell which is which, saying "Oops, clumsy me!" as she does.
- Oliver & Company: When Jenny discovers that Oliver is missing, Georgette takes Oliver's dish and drops it in the garbage with a sarcastic "Whoops!"
- In the '80s movie Just One Of The Guys, the Jerk Jock dumps an entire tray of food onto the lap of the male protagonist, the main course of which was spaghetti, and gives him a sarcastic apology. The victim, in this case, was wearing a brand new outfit.
- A jealous call girl in the movie Coffy spills an entire tray of drinks onto the lap of the title character's white dress, then sincerely insists it was an accident when called out on it. A big Cat Fight ensues.
- In Mission: Impossible III, a kidnapping target is spilled on, to force him into the bathroom. He is then abducted through the vents.
- K-20: Legend of the Mask: Yoko tries to delay Akechi by pretending to trip and spill a plate of food on to him. Akechi offhandedly catches the plate and the food on it without looking.
- Cliff Secord does in The Rocketeer, when he's at the South Seas Club, where his girlfriend Jenny is with Neville Sinclair, who's looking for the rocketpack. He "accidentally" spills some champagne on Jenny just before she tells Neville about him and how he's got the rocketpack.
- Not Another Teen Movie plays with this classic "teen movie" trope. Janey is in a dress, already wet from jumping the pool, and the Alpha Bitch, Priscilla, sarcastically feigning clumsiness, spills a bottle of water on her. Janey reacts with humiliated tears, and other characters react similarly:
Random Party-goer: That's gonna stain!
- In the The Karate Kid (2010), Cheng knocks over Dre's lunch tray and then says "Sorry!"
- In the movie UHF, one of the jerkasses from the competing television station trips the camera man for the title station, and sarcastically chimes "Oopsie!" after. Later, the victim of this action enacts his revenge by doing the same thing to the jerkass, except this time, the trip ends in a mud puddle.
- The first Back to the Future has an example of the "accidental" trip; Marty McFly trips Biff Tannen when they're in the diner in 1955 Hill Valley, California.
- Used in Roman Holiday, with not even an attempt to disguise it, along the lines of "Oh, look what you just did to yourself."
- In Gosford Park, after a man posing as a servant reveals himself to be an actor and moves from "below stairs" to "above stairs". To punish him for his deception, one of the maids spills tea in his lap. Her fellow servants quickly hide their smiles, his fellow nobs shrug and keep on keeping on.
- A variation is seen in A Fish Called Wanda when Otto, angry with Wanda, picks up a framed photo of her and smashes it with his fist. He then hands it to the owner, and flatly says "Oh, sorry".
- A human deliberately steps on Rumbo's tail in Fluke. Fluke bites his leg as payback.
- In Legally Blonde, a woman awkwardly tries to flirt with a man by dropping a pen on the floor and then bending over to retrieve it. However, it becomes actual clumsiness when she accidentally headbutts him while standing back up, breaking his nose.
- In Sorcery & Cecelia, or, The Enchanted Chocolate Pot, Cecelia disposes of the titular chocolate pot by pretending to "accidentally" spill it. It helps that she already had a reputation for clumsiness.
- In Robin McKinley's Chalice, one of the primary antagonists uses a very malicious form of fake clumsiness to set the demesne's Master up for a Morton's Fork: he "trips" within the Master's reach, forcing the Master - a former priest of elemental fire - to choose between catching and involuntarily burning him (an insult) or letting him fall (also an insult).
- In Aunt Dimity and the Deep Blue Sea, "Harry Peters" Peter Harris in disguise knocks over a table in an Erinskil pub, spilling Lori's tea into her lap so she won't blurt out his real name when she recognizes him.
- Late in A Brother's Price, Jerin has been disarmed and his lockpicks confiscated. He "accidentally" blunders into the woman who took his derringer and palms it with sleight of hand while she enjoys it, then repeats the "mistake" with the woman who took his lockpicks.
- In the fourth book of A Series of Unfortunate Events, this happens to Klaus (the tripping kind). However, this turns out to be a trap to let Count Olaf make his next move.
- In Millennium, Louise tries this for two reasons, by spilling coffee onto a tape recorder: she wants to divert attention from the tape being played and is hoping to do enough damage that information she wants hidden can't be retrieved. It doesn't work, for either.
- 2 Broke Girls: Caroline "accidentally" spills a bowl of borscht on a girl who took a shirt Max was interested in at Goodwill.
- A non-trivial one in Breaking Bad: Walt "accidentally" swerves Hank's car into oncoming traffic to stop him from investigating a laundromat for meth operations.
- In Better Call Saul episode "Five O", Mike hires Saul to spill coffee on a detective so Mike can swipe his notes.
- Friends: Chandler "accidentally" pokes Janice in the eye while breaking up with her.
- In Burn Notice, this happens a lot. Usually it's done to create a distraction or plant a bug.
- Used all the time by El Chapulín Colorado, who claims "all of my moves are throughly thought!" whenever he gets hurt (Which is often).
- Doctor Who:
- "Love & Monsters": Jackie Tyler used the drink-spill variant rather overtly to try and get Elton to stay over for the night.
- "The Family of Blood": The Doctor uses it against the titular Family, pretending to still be human while covertly setting their ship to self-destruct. The Family fall for it because they see all humans as idiots.
- Game of Thrones:
- Pycelle intentionally drops a message to force Tyrion to pick it up in "Mhysa".
- Arya drops a coin to catch an enemy off his guard when he stoops to get it in "Mhysa".
- Good Luck Charlie: In an attempt to destroy an Irrevocable Message he and Emmett accidentally sent to a bully, PJ "trips" and drops the bully's phone in a chemistry beaker. He even follows with a shrugged "I guess I'm the boron now!".
- In an early episode of House, the title character decided to make a point about how he's treated as a handicapped person by jamming his cane into a woman's foot as he passed her. He apologized in a sincere fashion, and watched as the woman apologized back for snapping at him.
- On Just Shoot Me!, Jack gives Dennis an ugly vase he made in pottery class. To get rid of it, Dennis "accidentally" drops it, but the vase proves to be indestructible.
- In The Stinger of an episode where Hawkeye, BJ and Charles were on a promotion committee, they evaluated prospective promotees and gave their recommendations. Private Igor, who works in the mess tent chow line and was not promoted, tosses a scoopful of mashed potatoes on BJ. "Oh, I'm sorry. But what do you expect from a dumb private?"
- A flashback in one episode showed Father Mulcahy "accidentally" tucking a tablecloth into his belt and upstaging the meal of a visiting general who was causing a holdup in the mess tent.
- Parodied along with Shame If Something Happened in one episode of Monty Python's Flying Circus. A couple of Mafia types try to shake down an army base commander, eventually leading to the famous fourth-wall breaking line "Stop that! It's silly!"
- An angry Prince George does this to his brother, King Richard, in The Palace. They're practicing cricket. George pitches the ball really hard, hitting the door behind Richard. "Sorry. Sorry — slipped from my hand." The second time, he hits Richard in the arm before revealing his annoyance in words.
- Sabrina the Teenage Witch: In the pilot episode, Alpha Bitch performs the drink spill variant to Sabrina. Later, when she does it again, Sabrina uses her magic to make the drink tilt back towards her.
- In an episode of Wizards of Waverly Place, Alex exposes T.J Taylor as a wizard by knocking off his books and sarcastically says "Sorry I'm a clutz" as she does so.
- In one episode of Scrubs, Elliot was in a crabby mood and tossed her drink on the ground right in front of Janitor, sarcastically saying "oops" as she walked past.
- On The Sopranos Paulie Walnuts drops Valery's universal remote and gives a sarcastic oops after Valery tells him sternly (in his thick Russian accent) that "remote goes on docking station".
- The Suite Life of Zack and Cody has one episode where the winner of Employee of the Month will get an all-expenses-paid trip to a Tipton hotel of their choice, anywhere in the world. This causes no end of trouble born from competing employees, including one instance where Maddie's cart collapses, spilling candy everywhere. Patrick, the waiter for the hotel restaurant, denies doing anything to sabotage an employee, and then (looking down to see where his feet (in the middle of the spilled candy) are positioned) begins stomping on the candy while screaming "Never! Never! Never!" Maddie, being one of the only sane people in the hotel, isn't fooled.
- Zorro: Whenever Don Diego de la Vega is given a sword, he generally makes a big show of how inept a fencer he is, to better contrast with the Implausible Fencing Powers of his masked alter ego.
- In The Musical Merrily We Roll Along, Beth is the victim of a drink spilled down the front of her dress by Gussie "in her haste, or perhaps deliberately to get rid of her" (to quote the stage direction). Gussie thereupon makes a big scene about insisting that Frank's wife go upstairs and get herself a change of clothing so, of course, she can be alone with Frank.
- In Final Fantasy VII: Machinabridged, Aerith asks Cloud if she can look at the Shiva materia that just helped them out of a pickle. Upon getting a hold of it, she immediately shatters the materia.
- In the Strong Bad Email "record book", Strong Bad finds an embarrassing entry for himself in "The Record Book of World Records", and "accidentally" dumps coffee, eggs, and bacon all over the book.
- In the first few pages of Ratfist, Ricky throws his wine all over Gina so she won't notice that he's turning into a rat.
- In MegaTokyo, Kimiko performs the drink spill variant on four people at the same time. Although her motive is more justifiable than most, there is a small measure of revenge in her actions.
- A more malicious example happens later, after Kimiko unwittingly gives herself a serious popularity boost in the otaku community after defending fanboys on a radio interview. She goes to work to find the place mobbed with fans, and Piro disguises himself as a busboy to help her out. As the night goes on, he realizes that the fanboys are using carefully-hidden cameras to catch upskirt pictures of Kimiko. He proceeds to "accidentally" kick the cameras out of the way while waiting on the tables, leading to the fans realizing that he too is a "fanboy" (since otherwise he wouldn't realize what they were up to) and believe that he's "selfish" in keeping them from them all having access to Kimiko, as they believe they're entitled. To get back at him, one of the fanboys trips Piro so that he lands under Kimiko's skirt and then self-righteously accuses him of trying to be a pervert towards her. Since Kimiko finds one of the hidden cameras immediately after, she's not fooled.
- In Homestuck, Kanaya threatens Vriska with such an unfortunate accident of spilling a load gaper (their filthy commoner speak for "toilet") over Vriska's head if she doesn't make ramps for Tavros to travel around his house.
- In Slimy Thief, Azamat "accidentally" spills a bucket of water on Aisha for being too helpful to a customer by pointing out flaws in some of the products. Aisha doesn't buy it for a second and promises him a spanking later.
- In Endtown, two waitresses do various stunts with insincere apologies in order to torment their new co-worker.
- Terebithia of Girl Genius puts up pretense of accidentally breaking the Queen of Dawn's "delicate" blaster after disarming her, but she's not really trying to get anyone to believe she did it on accident and instead is using it as a subtle threat.
- The "accidental" spill variant was used by Vicky the babysitter in The Fairly OddParents!. She doesn't just spill a drink, though. It is a significant amount of water, enough to drench the other girl. The reason for it was one of the little men in her brain, "Jealousy", was doing his job by being a petty asshole.
- The Simpsons:
- In "There's No Disgrace Like Home", the family is supposed to solve their problems with electroshock therapy. At the beginning of the exercise, Bart accidentally-on-purpose shocks Lisa, claiming his finger slipped. Lisa shocks him back saying, "So did mine."
- Bart also uses the "My finger slipped" excuse in a "Treehouse of Horror" episode, where Lisa's science experiment turns into a miniature civilization.
- Freakazoid! had a villain named Arms Akimbo who ran an "Oops insurance" scheme, "accidentally" knocking things over with his elbows until the owners give in. The damage gets more and more ridiculous with each scene, until we see Stock Footage of a building blowing up, followed by Akimbo saying "Oops!"
- On Family Guy, after seeing Jillian's boyfriend accidentally trip a waiter and immediately spring into action to prevent him and his drinks from spilling over, Brian tries to do the same in order to impress his former girlfriend, by deliberately tripping the next waiter to walk by. The waiter falls, his drinks crash, and he questions why Brian would do something like that. Adding insult to injury, the waiter had just recovered from recent hand surgery, and was told he should not have come into work that day, but Jillian's boyfriend massages his hand and makes it better.
Meg: I heard a noise! Is something wrong? Are we being robbed? What's going on?(Peter stares at Meg for a good 3 seconds, then hits her with his baseball bat)Meg: AHH!! WHAT THE HELL?!Peter: Oh, Meg, you startled me!Tin Man sways unsteadily from side to side before landing on top of the ScarecrowTin Man: Oh, look what happened by accident!
- Also this exchange:
- The Powerpuff Girls: In "Moral Decay", Buttercup upon learning that the tooth fairy gives you money for teeth at first tries to knock off more of Bubbles' teeth and repeatedly says "sorry" after each attempt.
- In the Duck Dodgers episode "The Fowl Friend", Dodgers is insanely jealous of how efficient his own Robot Buddy is, and plots his death. When Roboto makes a Heroic Sacrifice, Dodgers seems to have learned his lesson, until IQ High says We Can Rebuild Him, and Dodgers blatantly throws Roboto's brain on the ground and jumps on it, while saying "Oops! Clumsy me!"
- In the Phineas and Ferb episode "Phineas and Ferb-Busters", Norm purposely spills hot coffee on a giant robot that is trying to kill Dr. Doofenshmirtz.
- Kaeloo: In one episode, Stumpy trips Kaeloo by sticking out his leg during a game of musical chairs so he can reach the chair first.
- My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic: In "Rock-Solid Friendship", Pinkie Pie "accidentally" sets off some explosives in order to trap herself, her sister Maud, and Starlight Glimmer in a cave, all in a largely-unnecessary effort to get Maud and Starlight to bond.
- Bob's Burgers: In "Topsy", Louise's science teacher thoroughly wrecks her project for it not having to do with Thomas Edison, whom he has a unhealthy obsession with.
- Ed, Edd n Eddy: In "A Case of Ed", Ed and Eddy lock themselves in the latter's house to avoid a vengeful Kevin, but Edd, looking to get back at them for tricking him into thinking he was terminally ill, produces Eddy's spare house key in front of Kevin and "carelessly" drops it.
- In Gravity Falls, Stan gets put on a pillory to publicly humiliate him for going against Pioneer Day. Lil' Gideon comes along carrying a basket of tomatoes and taunts him before "accidentally dropping" his tomatoes (i.e. throwing his tomatoes at Stan).