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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. See also Covers Always Lie, Fluffy the Terrible. In gaming, this can lead to Surprise Difficulty.


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    Anime and Manga 
  • Happy Sugar Life is a psychological horror series starring a Villain Protagonist who kidnaps a child out of "love". In-Universe, Satou calls her life with Shio a "Happy Sugar Life", because she feels like her body is filled with sweetness when she is with Shio.

    Comic Books 
  • Fun Home by Alison Bechdel. Fun is short for "Funeral", and the subtitle, "A Family Tragicomic", is in small print.

    Fan Works 

    Films — Live-Action 

  • 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 — The title 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 harassement 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.
  • 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 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.

    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.

  • "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.


    Video Games 

    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.
  • The first half of the Infinity Train 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 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).

    However, his No Celebrities Were Harmed version in the musical The Book of Mormon, General Butt-Fucking-Naked, is Played for Laughs, even when he does pretty much all of the above, plus he literally shoves a copy of the Book of Mormon up Elder Price's ass. While Blahyi now goes by his given name, the character in Book of Mormon apparently either has that as his actual name or the nickname is too ingrained for him to change, since at the end of the play he introduces himself as Elder Butt Fucking Naked after he converts to Arnoldism. This was a joke that didn't go over that well in Africa.


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