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Deceptively Silly Title

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A very common trope used mostly by children's novels, and sometimes by young adult novels. In an attempt to appeal to kids, many authors or often publishers will give books silly titles that have nothing to do with the actual content of the book, which is often a realistic drama. Executives apparently assume that kids (or parents) will only buy something that they think is funny, but actually genuinely enjoy it if the story turns out to be a Tear Jerker.

As a result, what is essentially a bait and switch is pulled. Lure the kid in with the humorous title and possibly cover art, but once the kid is reading, the book gradually turns into more and more of a drama. Sometimes a very depressing one, at that.

Often deliberately invoked with horror films, as well, in which case, it's not so much a case of Covers Always Lie as it is a comparable trope to the Ironic Nursery Tune.


In the examples, please list what the book is actually about in addition to the title and what it might refer to. Books that actually are silly obviously do not fit this trope. For this reason, it tends to be used in works running on Surprise Creepy.

Sister trope of Trivial Title and Sarcastic Title. See also Covers Always Lie, Never Trust a Title, Fluffy the Terrible. In gaming, this can lead to Surprise Difficulty.



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    Anime & Manga 

    Comic Books 
  • Fun Home by Alison Bechdel. Fun is short for "Funeral", and the subtitle, "A Family Tragicomic", is in small print. It's actually an autobiographical comic about the troubled relationship between Alison and her father Bruce, a high school teacher and funeral home director, and the events leading up to Bruce's death.

    Fan Works 

    Film — Animated 
  • One would normally expect an animated film named Princess to be something cute and whimsical, probably akin to the Disney Princess films, instead of the bleak revenge tale it actually is. "Princess" is in fact, the "artistic name" of a porn actress whose brother goes on a Roaring Rampage of Revenge after her death, assisted by her five-year-old daughter.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • The Bye Bye Man is about three college students haunted by a spirit who curses people with madness if they say his name.
  • Candyman is a horror movie about a murderous ghost who operates a lot like Bloody Mary.
  • As above, woe betide you if you mistake Hard Candy for a film about confectionery. It's about a sociopathic teenage girl torturing a pedophile.
  • A more adult example with Mumsy, Nanny, Sonny, and Girly. The title is ironic and reflects the whimsical and childlike state of the characters, but does nothing to convey that they are actually sadistic, Ax-Crazy kidnappers.
  • Christopher Nolan's first film was a black and white three-minute short about a skinny, insane guy obsessively hunting his apartment for some small scurrying creature so he can kill it with a shoe. Said creature turns out to be a miniature version of himself (who is in turn searching for something to squish). He finally manages to kill it with the shoe, only to be squashed himself by a giant version of himself with a giant shoe. The film's title? Doodlebug.
  • Donnie Darko, sounds silly at worst, ambiguous at best. Lampshaded by Gretchen, who says it sounds like a superhero name.
  • The Torture Porn film The Bunny Game.
  • Another Torture Porn film series is called Guinea Pig, although its subtitles are usually full of Gory Deadly Overkill Title of Fatal Death.
  • Child's Play is about a murderous toy. However, this isn't likely to fool anyone who isn't looking at a list of only names, though, since the posters, trailers, DVD covers, etc., make it quite clear what genre the movie is in. It's definitely not a case of Covers Always Lie.
  • Beetlejuice sounds like it could be a Judy Blume novel, and it is a comedy — but much of the humor is mined from very grim subjects: death, Purgatory, exorcism, spiritualism, suicide, and all-around angst.
  • The Game (1997) is about a mind-game — and not a fun one, either.
  • Funny Games, a film about two guys who decide to murder a family just because they can in 4th wall breaking fashion, is not that funny.
  • Home Sweet Home (2005) is actually a horror film revolving around a family whose only son gets abducted by a monster from a local urban legend.
  • Dr. Giggles, a horror movie.
  • The Brown Bunny is a long and rambling road movie, infamous for an unsimulated blowjob scene.
  • The "Mr. Babadook" book from The Babadook (a Nightmare Fuel Colouring Book about infanticide). And arguably the film itself, a very effective horror movie with a rather goofy name.
  • The Candy Tangerine Man sounds like a children's story about a magical being. It's actually a crime thriller about a pimp.

  • There's a Boy in the Girls' Bathroom by Louis Sachar — This book is sad! The title comes from one scene in which a boy actually does go into the girls' bathroom and ends up discovered when he tries to sneak back out. The story itself is about a friendless kid with learning disabilities who is also a bit of a bully, and the help he receives from a counselor who turns his life around. It doesn't help that the book cover frequently shows a comical image of the titular boy being chased by some furious females.
  • Blubber by Judy Blume sounds silly, but it's actually the mean-spirited nickname given to an overweight girl by her bullying peers. The book is a harshly realistic look at bullying.
  • Robert Cormier's The Chocolate War — Yes, there is a war about selling chocolates, in a sense. But it's actually about a high-school student's attempt to assert his individuality and the harassment he receives from a clique of students that practically runs the school.
  • There's also An Ice-Cream War by William Boyd. It is set against the background of World War I in German East Africa.
  • Another Cormier book, I Am the Cheese, could fit here too; one might conclude from the title that the story inside is rather lighthearted, except when one finds out that the story is about how the protagonist's family has to go into the Witness Protection Program to avoid being murdered by the mob. The title is a reference to the nursery song "The Farmer in the Dell", and the ending reveals he is "the cheese" which "stands alone" at the end of the song because his parents were killed and he's been spending the last few years in a mental hospital while agents of some kind of Government Conspiracy tries to unearth his memories.
  • Al Capone Does My Shirts is a deceptively childish title for a book which explores issues such as family and living with an autistic sibling.
  • A Boy and His Dog by Harlan Ellison. While it is a story about a Boy and his Dog, it takes place After the End and is NOT for children.
  • The Earth, My Butt, and Other Big Round Things by Carolyn Mackler. Despite the silly title, it's about an overweight girl who feels like she doesn't belong in her own family, and whose brother later gets suspended from his college for date rape.
  • Hans Christian Andersen's The Rose Elf (The Rosebush Elf in some translations), the title of which suggests some sweet fairy story, is one of his most depressing and goriest tales, with the villain, in particular, chopping off the hero's head, which the heroine later takes as a keepsake. The ending features the villain torturously killed by flower spirits.
  • The Rabbit novels by John Updike fall into this, since their titles - like Rabbit, Run - make them sound like they're for kids. They're actually about a man whose nickname is Rabbit, and he has some very child-unfriendly experiences.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Peaky Blinders sounds like the name of the tomboyish girl next door in a Nickelodeon cartoon, but it's actually a pretty intense crime drama. The name comes from the way the central gang use their signature weapon, a peaky cap with razorblades sewn into the brim, to blind people who stand in their way by cutting out their eyes.
  • Squid Game is a very intense semi-dystopian suspense thriller about desperately-poor people getting baited into signing up for a Deadly Game.

  • "Scherzo", the Italian word for joke, became a generic term in classical music for fast movements in 3/4 time. While many classical scherzi are indeed boisterous and light-hearted pieces, others, such as Frederic Chopin's Scherzo in B minor (Op. 20), can be stormy and even terrifying.
  • Vocaloid: Hatsune Miku's "This is the Happiness and Peace of Mind Committee" by UtataP makes people think this song is about a committee that makes everyone happy. Wrong, this song is actually about a Happiness Is Mandatory society, where unhappy people are offered a choice of "how do you want to die? Hanged alive? Cooked alive? Decapitation?, etc."


    Video Games 

    Visual Novels 

    Web Original 
  • Some of David Lynch's online projects have names like this.
    • Rabbits' title, while not outright deceptive (it is about rabbits) belies the series' unsettling tone and general air of dread.
    • Dumbland is a grotesque piece of Deranged Animation about a foul-mouthed psychopath's life in a nightmarish version of suburbia. It's very funny, but more than a little disturbing.

    Western Animation 
  • Parodied in The Simpsons episode "Any Given Sundance", where Marge goes to see the independent films Regularsville and Candyland, which are about poor people and druggies respectively. She eventually gets the gimmick that the title means the opposite of what it is, which makes her think she'll like Chernobyl Graveyard (she doesn't).
  • The title of the Star vs. the Forces of Evil episode "Bon Bon the Birthday Clown" refers to a clown whose spirit Star and Janna try to contact with a seance a century after he died in a tragic accident. This isn't even the real focus of the plot, which is Star's growing feelings of jealously about her best friend dating another girl which ends with Star breaking down in tears after losing a vital heirloom and an important ally to her enemy.
  • Infinity Train:
    • The first half of the episode "The Ball Pit Car" lives up to the silly name. The second half? It involves The Conductor showing up, appearing to kill Atticus, Kate Mulgrowl the Cat, and One-One, turning Atticus (who's a talking corgi) into an Eldritch Abomination after appearing to kill him, and giving Tulip a Breaking Speech saying it's her fault her friends were put in danger.
    • Book 3's "The Color Clock Car" is about the group of Grace, Simon, Hazel and Tuba navigating a color changing labyrinth. It ends with Simon letting Tuba fall to her death to be ground by the wheels of the train and Hazel transforming into a turtle creature.

    Real Life 
  • The 1980s "Ice Cream Wars" in Glasgow, Scotland sound almost silly, reminiscent of a lighthearted comedy drama involving the sale of that well-loved dessert. In fact, the ice cream vans in question were being used as a front for drug sales and other criminal activity, and the violent criminal rivalry underpinning this resulted in the deaths of six members of one family in an arson attack.
  • The term "Banana Wars" sounds like a bunch of wars that were literally being fought with bananas. It was actually a series of military interventions and occupations by the United States in several Central American countries done primarily to protect the monopoly of its fruit companies in the region, which included unrestricted access to the cultivation of bananas (this is where the term "Banana Republic" also comes from).
  • The "Flower Wars", or "Wars of the Blossom", of the Aztec Empire did not feature Mesoamericans hitting each other with bouquets of flowers. Rather, they were ritualized battles staged for the purpose of acquiring prisoners so they could be taken back to the victors' capital and sacrificed to the gods. (Of course, the sacrificial victims got to attend a feast held in their honor before their deaths, so it wasn't all bad.)
  • The similarly named "War of the Roses" was a series of civil wars fought over control of the English throne, so named because the two factions, the Yorks and the Lancasters, had a white rose and a red rose, respectively, as their family symbol.
  • The 1739-1748 "War of Jenkins' Ear" between Great Britain and Spain (part of the War of the Austrian Succession) might have a silly name and a questionable official reason behind the declaration of war. But for the 20,000 dead, wounded, missing, or captured on the British side alone, it was most likely far less amusing.
  • Swedish history gives us episodes like "the Håtuna games," "the Nyköping banquet," "the great Dalecarlian dance," "the Cudgel War" and the churchbell-rebellion. These were all nasty episodes of rebellions and coup d'etats.
  • "Defenestration" is an Inherently Funny Word, and arguably counts as Amusing Injuries, but really it isn't very funny if it happens to you.
  • General Butt Naked, the nickname for Joshua Milton Blahyi, who would lead his Butt Naked Brigade clad exactly as the name suggests, for the benefit of Liberian Warlord Roosevelt Johnson. Said actions including the willful sacrifice and cannibalism of child soldiers, genocides of entire tribes, and at least two confirmed cases of forced female circumcision (and probably many more).