Dennis: I know that, man. You don't grab.
Mac: You don't grab from behind!
Bob has something important to tell Alice. She's busy and focused on something, and he's been told never to interrupt her... but this is important! Surely she won't mind... He taps her on the shoulder.
"Hey, Alice, I- " POW!
Alice punches Bob across the room the moment he touches her. Then she realizes who it was. "Bob! I told you not to sneak up on me like that!"
This trope is about any instance where a character attacks someone accidentally, just because they were taken by surprise. If it's being Played for Laughs, the attacker will usually utter some variation of the trope's title. However, if the victim is seriously injured (or killed), it usually leads to My God, What Have I Done? and Cradling Your Kill instead.
One common variation is for the victim to be playing a prank on the attacker by dressing as something they don't like, without considering that fear may lead to violence. Or it may be a subversion of Cooldown Hug, where it fails to have the desired effect and just angers the huggee even more (possibly leading to a Deadly Hug).
- Kenichi: The Mightiest Disciple
- This is a reflex conditioned into Miu through years of martial arts training: she always throws anyone who touches her (or, God forbid, grabs her) from behind.
- However Rimi Kokorone from Yomi has demonstrated the ability to sneak up on Miu (and frisked her as well) without the latter being aware of it until after the former had already left.
- In Naruto, when Naruto lost control of the Kyuubi, Sakura tried to calm him down and got slapped with a Hellfire-imbued tail for her trouble. She didn't really sneak up on him, he was just berserking and attacked her because she presented herself as a target.
- In Mobile Fighter G Gundam, Rain Mikamura flips Chibodee over her shoulder one-handed when he taps her on the shoulder in a dark, creepy system of underground tunnel ruins.
- In Mobile Suit Gundam Wing this happens if a pilot loses control of the ZERO System. It's a combat system, so one has to maintain absolute focus; if you start thinking about your girlfriend or that Bus Full of Innocents over there, the System will tell you the best way to kill them, which tends to lead to a slippery slope right down into a Freak Out!. In at least one instance the response to such a Freak Out! was to have the pilot's allies clear the area.
- In Elfen Lied, Bando punched a woman with that excuse, and, by extension, Kicked a Dog.
- In Kill Me Baby, when Yasuna sneaks up on Sonya, Sonya inflicts crippling injuries on her. Yasuna never learns her lesson.
- Golgo 13. This is a Berserk Button for the normally stoic and professional Golgo 13. The very few occasions when he makes a mistake usually involve his Reflexive Response to this. He always stands with his back to the wall when meeting new clients, and when someone came behind him during one meeting, he shot the guy. It was his client's assistant.
- Red Robin: When Tim is distancing himself from Dick and preparing to leave in order to track down more clues as to Bruce's location after Bruce's "death" Stephanie sneaks into his safe house and approaches him from behind without announcing herself and ends up getting kicked into some shelving for her trouble.
- In the first issue of Scooby Apocalypse, when Velma arrives via a well hidden entrance In an attempt to expose Project Elysium Fred mistakes her for an attacker and knocks her out.
- Yorick's reunion with his mother in Y: The Last Man went more or less "She contemplates another night in a lantern-lit White House office two months after the Gendercide, he steps out of the shadows behind her with a crack about security, he ends up on his back via adrenaline-fueled shoulder throw."
- Bloom County, "The Great Bloom County Snake Massacre". Several main characters set out to kill a snake at the local swimming hole. In one strip Binkley was carrying a club when the groundhog Portnoy came up behind him, touched his shoulder and said "See anything?" Binkley, scared out of his mind, started wildly swinging the bat around and knocked Portnoy unconscious.
- In The Problem With Purity, as Head Girl, Hermione gets a bedroom all to herself. After she got used to no longer being in a dormitory, she didn't expect anyone to enter her bedroom. So when she was moping inside and felt an intended-to-be-comforting hand on her shoulder, she was so startled she cast a wandless wordless stunning spell on the person who had entered.
- In X-Men, Rogue tries to wake up Wolverine during a nightmare and he attacks her. Good thing he can heal and she can steal his powers...
- In Dead Snow, a man flooded with terrified adrenaline after being cornered by zombies is working it off by savagely hacking the remaining one to pieces. His girlfriend decides that the best thing to do in this situation is to walk up and tap him on the shoulder, and gets an axe in the neck for her troubles.
- In The Descent when Juno kills Beth with an ice pick to the neck, cringe.
- In Charlie's Angels this happens a lot to Alex's boyfriend.
- Several times in Edward Scissorhands. Kinda comes with the territory of having razor-sharp shears for hands.
- The Days of Our Years. Remember, use gentle pressure to get someone's attention. Or they'll burn out your eyes with a welding torch.
- This happens in Servant: The Acceptance by Lori Foster.
She jerked. Still held by the bellicose nostalgia, she reacted on instinct. Grabbing her confronter, she put him in a deadly hold—and heard a choking laugh.
"God, Gaby, I've missed you," the strangled voice said.
Mort. "You idiot!" She loosed him with a shove of temper. "Don't you know better than to sneak up on me?"
- In the Sherlock Holmes book "The Valley of Fear", McMurdo's girlfriend sneaks up on him while he's writing a letter:
If she had expected to startle him, she certainly succeeded; but only in turn to be startled herself. With a tiger spring he turned on her, and his right hand was feeling for her throat.
- William Gibson's Neuromancer. Case forgets to knock when dropping in on Molly.
He placed his chip against the black plate. The bolts clicked. She seemed to hit him, somehow, before he'd actually gotten the door open. He was on his knees, the steel door against his back, the blades of her rigid thumbs quivering centimeters from his eyes...
- A tragic example in The Silmarillion: When Beleg Strongbow tries to rescue his friend Túrin Turambar, Túrin assumes it's another orc come to torture him, snatches Beleg's dagger, and kills him. Unsurprisingly, Túrin has an attack of guilt-induced catatonia.
- Harry Potter: Don't ever surprise Mad-Eye Moody. Although chances are he already knew you were there, if you actually do catch him off-guard... well...
- Apparently in the Mistborn series, an experienced Mistborn will flare all their metals when startled, and an experienced Misting may do this too with their one metal. However, sneaking up on an allomancer isn't easy, especially when they're burning tin, so it's unlikely for someone to sneak up on them by accident.
- Clear and Present Danger: This exact line is said by Clark when the pilot Larson walks up behind him, in the immediate aftermath of a gunfight, without warning him first, and nearly gets himself shot for his trouble.
- In Ender's Game, Ender has a reflex self-defense reaction to Valentine touching him, showing how deeply he's been changed in his years at Battle School.
- The Ethical Engineer (aka Deathworld 2) by Harry Harrison. Jason dinAlt gets his wrist broken by his Action Girlfriend Meta when he kisses her unexpectedly. She was raised on a Death World where the Reflexive Response to something unexpected is to hit it or shoot it.
- Mystery Science Theater 3000. Crow learns from The Days of Our Years that when getting someone's attention while they're blowtorching something, they should use gentle pressure. Crow forgets, startles Mike and gets charcoaled.
- In season 2 of Dexter, after her recent traumatic experience of being kidnapped by a serial killer, Deb punches a guy in the nose when he comes up behind her at a bar.
- In Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Buffy herself does it pretty often, which is excusable considering that she hunts monsters by baiting them into jumping out at her from the shadows. It's how she meets Oz, for example.
Oz: That is a tense person.
- Happens in reverse after Buffy returns to Sunnydale at the start of Season 3. Buffy sees a suspicious-looking character in an overcoat creeping along a dark alley at night. She sneaks up on him, only to step on a discarded soda can whereupon she's almost staked by a startled Xander.
- Played for Laughs when Giles is startled by his Love Interest Jenny walking up behind him while he's on patrol. He waves a cross in her face and she quips, "I get that reaction from men all the time."
- Exploited by the villains in the season 6 episode "Dead Things", who manage to make Buffy think she killed an innocent woman this way.
- Angel. Cordelia is doing her makeup when Angel (who being a vampire doesn't appear in the mirror) speaks from behind her, causing a major lipstick accident.
Cordelia: And now I look like the Joker.
- On Get Smart, after 86 and 99 got married, he'd occasionally make the mistake of sneaking up on her to give her a kiss, only to get karate chopped.
- Mac on It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia punches Dee in the face when she grabs him from behind. This is foreshadowing for him doing the same thing to Carmen in public, causing a couple of guys to chase him over what they think is a hatecrime. A conversation with Dennis suggests this is a common problem;
Mac: She grabbed me from behind. It was instinctual.
Dennis: I know that, man. You don't grab.
Mac: You don't grab from behind!
- On Cougar Town, Laurie's soldier boyfriend Wade surprises her by popping out of a recycling bin, and she reacts by punching him.
- On Teen Wolf, Derek does this to people all the time. Poor Stiles is the most common recipient, since he's human and all.
- In Happy Endings, Jane really hates surprises. When her husband tries to surprise her with a list of future surprises she elbows him in the face.
- The "Berserk" disadvantage in GURPS, in addition to everything else the disadvantage entails (rabidly attacking every enemy on hand with whatever weapon is on hand), also conveys this, treating anyone trying to restrain the character, friend or enemy, as an enemy. Earlier editions nicknamed the berserker rage "the Doom of the North" for this very reason.
- The Berserk disadvantage/complication in Champions works like this.
- This is how Ike's mother got killed in Fire Emblem: Path of Radiance, as she was trying to retrieve a medallion from her husband that turned him into a crazed berserker. She succeeded, but not without getting stabbed.
- In Assassin's Creed III Connor does this, it's hilarious.
- The Walking Dead plays with this trope more than once.
- In the main story Season Two, this happens right off the bat. Omid is shot and killed by a girl who is startled by the door closing as he entered.
- In 400 Days, Bonnie is snuck up on by one of the other central characters of this story. As a result this character is accidentally bludgeoned by Bonnie, as the two were running from a group trying to attack them.
- In The Adventures of Dr. McNinja, Gordito is reluctant to wake up Dr. McNinja for this very reason. The good doctor's parents apparently ingrained it into him by attacking him in his sleep, because...well...he's a McNinja.
McNinja: He fell down the stairs.
Gordito: I fell down the stairs.
- In Hanna Is Not a Boy's Name Veser meets the main characters this way in a haunted theatre. This is lampshaded on the next page.
Hanna: Hey man don't be angry. That's what happens when you run screaming through the dark, ok? Yea.
- In Something*Positive, Peejee has a fear of puppets, and broke Aubrey's hand with a hammer when Aubrey sneaked up behind her with a handpuppet.
- Nyssa from Universal Compass punches Kaustos when he walks up behind her while she was zoning out. She non-aggressively tells him she gets startled easily.
- In No Rest for the Wicked, when Perrault startles November in the woods, she takes a swing at him.
- In Grrl Power, Sydney reacts badly to the resident teleporter. She's gently encouraged to respond to surprises by putting her shield up rather than by socking people in the face.
- In Curtailed, Mandy winds up clinging to the ceiling thanks to a Fox sneeze.
- The Angry Video Game Nerd discusses the first part of this trope:
"When it comes to horror movies, it's a tradition. They always have that moment when somebody's all alone, in a dark alley or a dark room. You're just waiting for something to happen, just waiting, and then all of a sudden... oh, it's just a friend scaring the hell out of you! Though they never do it on purpose, it's not like they're playing a prank. Is that how you greet somebody? By sneaking up on them, and grabbing their shoulder?"
- Things Mr. Welch Is No Longer Allowed to Do in an RPG:
1912. No more surprise parties for the berserker.
- Occurs very early on during V4 of Survival of the Fittest when Reika Ishida approaches Kris Hartmann from behind and tries talking to her. Startled by the voice, Kris immediately responds by spinning round and shooting Reika in the chest. In v3, according to his profile Carson Baye once punched someone in the face for walking behind him. This is probably a Shout-Out to the Elfen Lied example above.
- The Venture Bros.
24: BOO!21: Dude, I was about to kill you! I have dangerous cat-like reflexes.
- Happens with Hank and Brock.
- Also with 21 and 24...sort of.
- Happens again with Doc and Molotov, wherein she kicks him into the opposite wall.
- American Dad!, naturally. Once, after being set-up with one of Francine's oldest friends, Stan's boss accidentally snapped her neck during the date, leading to Stan desperately trying to cover up the murder from his wife. Hilarity Ensues.
- Family Guy
Ninja: Ooh, sorry honey! You know you can't sneak up on me like that...
- In the Charlie and the Chocolate Parody episode, a ninja's wife gives him a hug from behind and he reflexively punches her out before he even looks round.
Meg: Dad! What is it? What's going on? I heard a noise. Is somebody downstairs?
- Played With in "The Griffin Family History" where Peter thought he heard a burglar and so is prowling the house with a baseball bat.
[Peter stares at Meg for the 5 full seconds it takes for her to say the above before clocking her with the bat]
Peter: Oh, God, Meg, you startled me, I'm sorry!
Meg: What the hell's your problem, you dumbass?!
Peter: Sorry, Brian. But what do I keep saying? Do not stand behind me, because I will get scared.
- A Cutaway Gag from "McStroke" had Peter with a horse's leg kicking Brian in the face when he appears.
Cornelia: Sneaking up on people might be okay in Meridian, but here it's just...like, rude!
- Played for Drama in Steven Universe: Since Connie has been training to save the world, when another student bumps into her in a school hallway her training takes over and she throws him, accidentally breaking his arm. Although she apologizes and he forgives her, her mistake is taken seriously and leads to her doing meditation training with Garnet.
- In the Ready Jet Go! episode "What Goes Up...", Mindy sneaks up on Mitchell as he is spying on Jet. He gets very startled. No violence is involved, since this show is for young children.
Mitchell: ...Mindy?!? Don't sneak up on me like that!
- In The LEGO Batman Movie, Alfred greets Batman when standing directly behind him. Batman's reflex reaction is to kick Alfred directly into the back of a nearby grand piano, which promptly closes on Alfred. Batman is shocked when he realizes what he's done, but Alfred apologizes, saying, "I should have known better than to sneak up on you like that."
- Don't sneak up on war veterans. Or trained fighters, for that matter.
- These people generally never go through haunted houses or other similar Halloween events for this very reason. Even prepared for the scare, they know they're prone to break whatever tries to scare them.
- This was apparently what happened when Dick Cheney accidentally shot his friend Harry Whitington during a quail hunt in 2006. Whitington had moved away from the main group and came back around to their rear and when a bird flew behind Cheney he turned and shot Whitington by accident.
- Don't approach a horse from directly behind. That's the horse's blind spot, and the horse's first instinct will be to kick at whatever is in that blind spot just in case it's a predator. This safety rule also applies to donkeys, zebras and other equines.