Whenever tales are spread mouth to mouth, particularly among Gossipy Hens, every speaker adds something of their own, going as far as changing a bar brawl into a raging war between the four largest nations of whichever world the story is placed in.
This trope is mainly about the process, but also describes the outcome, even if the process wasn't shown on screen. Shrouded in Myth is the outcome when this is used to exaggerate a character's badassitude to epic levels. Of course, this process must have taken place to produce the legend; spreading false rumors about oneself in order to gain respect/fame/money/hot babes/whatever the character wants does not apply here. Malicious Slander, alas, also develops through this.
The process is similar to a children's game which goes by many names, such as Broken Telephone, Silent Post, Chinese Whispers and many more. In this game, one person in a line whispers a sentence into the next person's ear, and by the end of the line, the sentence has evolved into something unrecognizable, and probably lewd, too. When Played for Laughs, the line will typically be incredibly small, such as around five people, while the final rumor will have nothing in common with the original.
Painfully common among certain political circles who shall be collectively known as "low-information voters", and beloved of the demagogues who rely on them for their paychecks. (The political leanings of said voters and demagogues are all over the map.)
- Aggressive Retsuko: To hide the fact that she is thinking of quiting her job, Retsuko lies to Kabae that the reason why she is unusually happy is because she was finally able to poop after five days of not being able to. This story quickly evolves into Retsuko having just had a baby.
- An early chapter in Mahou Sensei Negima! had an overheard conversation regarding Negi finding a Partner quickly evolve into a rumor about Negi being a visiting prince! More than 200 chapters later, this turned out to be Foreshadowing.
- A Mobile Fighter G Gundam audio drama has the cast attending a movie (loosely) based on their exploits. Within the movie, The Team and Master Asia engage in the standard shouting match...except that the latter is standing on Tokyo Tower's observation deck while the former is 150 meters below at the tower's base. Because of this, the banter quickly degrades into confusion.
Movie!Chibodee: I said, "After this, we're coming for you! Prepare yourself!"Movie!Master: What?! Did you say "crazy balding shitty old man"?!
- This is part of Shonen Bat's M.O. in Paranoia Agent — as stories of him spread and mutate, he becomes more firmly entrenched in Tokyo's collective consciousness, making him all the more dangerous.
- Rurouni Kenshin: Kenshin Himura, better known as Hitokiri Battousai, actually is as fearsomely skilled as all the stories say. However, people look at the body count he's racked up and assume he must be this huge, intimidating, bloodthirsty hulk of a man, when he's actually a short, skinny Technical Pacifist who wants nothing more than to atone for all the lives he's taken.
- When Mitsuhide of Sengoku Otome wants to help Nobunaga's reputation she sends her subordinates to spread rumors about how benevolent and kind she is, especially to children, and that these are her words. Now people are telling each other about how they must bring her the children to eat. The only thing that goes unchanged is that Mitsuhide is the one who started it.
- In Fairy Tail, after Lucy defeats a few bad guys with some luck and her friends' help, rumors soon spread that she's an unstoppable One-Man Army. She has no idea how people can be so mistaken about her.
- Seiji's friend from Midori Days spreads stories about how tough he is but it sometimes gets out of control. He explains Seiji's bandaged hand (hiding Midori) because he smashed it on a car that almost hit him.
- Kitano from Angel Densetsu is made of this. His fearsome appearance lead people to assume all sorts of things about him that turn him into an inhuman monster.
- In Berserk, one of Guts' more famous feats during his time leading the Hawk's Raiders is his killing of somewhere around one hundred Tudor mercenaries in one night, earning him the nickname "Hundred-Man Slayer". Later in the story, Isidro gushes about how badass the leader of the Hawks' Raiders was (unaware that Guts and this man are one and the same), and says he once killed one thousand men in a single night. Guts silently remarks "It's been exaggerated".
- In one Himouto! Umaru-chan story, Umaru overhears some girls discussing rumors about her, such as her brother is handsome, her father is German, and there's a library in her house. Umaru isn't quite sure how those rumors started, but realizes after spending the day with Sylphin that all the rumors apply to her and got turned around such that people think they're about Umaru.
- One Yo-Kai Watch episode revolves around a yo-kai, Mr. Blockhead, who invokes this. It begins with Eddie gossiping about how Bear's sister is coming home from abroad. This soon warps into "Bear's sister looks like a mini, female version of him" and "Bear has a sister named Bearmie who is like his clone". The same happens with Nate when Katie spreads gossip about a small stain on his pants; it soon warps into "Nate pees himself every day at 3PM". The rumor about Bearmie is actually true
Whisper: "He's the yo-kai responsible for simple hearsay getting blown up into crazy rumors and hare-brained runaway gossip. So, for example, you tell a girl you like her new haircut. Next thing you know you whole school thinks you two are getting married in an exotic wedding in a tropical paradise. Blame it on Mr. Blockhead!"
- In Durarara!!, while in the hospital, a bored Izaya decides to spread some rumors about Shizuo for the lulz. It's obvious that he intentionally made them as unflattering as possible for Shizuo while still appearing legit. However, it is also clear that the public has decided to 'expand' on them. The rumors involve Shizuo having been gravely injured after fleeing from the yakuza, while also having become involved with a woman and fathering a kid. What the real kicker is that people actually believe them after seeing Akane and Vorona around Shizuo. This also leads to numerous delinquents thinking that Shizuo is now an easy target and try to kidnap Vorona, Akane, Mairu and Kururi. It goes about as well as one might think.
- In episode 15a of Tamagotchi, Memetchi teaches Safetytchi a lesson about spreading gossip by doing just that, coming up with a rumor that Safetytchi's hair is made of cotton candy. By the time Mametchi and his gang see people chasing Safetytchi down, the rumor has changed into Safetytchi's hair containing a special lucky clover, and Mametchi explains to a confused Memetchi that people must have changed details in the original piece of gossip every time they told someone else.
- Happens in the story "Suzanna" from the Belgium comic book series Sarah And Robin. Early in the story, a couple of hippies/gypsies enter the village in their van, and accidentally cause a man to fall of his bike. The gossip about the newcomers and what they did soon spreads, and by the end has turned into an outright lie stating that the gypsies are violent murderers who recently robbed an entire retirement home and killed all its inhabitants.
- In Archie Comics, a social experiment involves the lecturer whispering a simple story to one of the students, who would then relay it to another, then to another; the lecturer says that the story will be muddled up for each student it passes. Except the last student in line is Big Moose, and he happens to repeat the story word-for-word to the lecturer, impressing him.
- In The Smurfs story "The Reporter Smurf", Fisher Smurf's story about simply losing his catch of the day evolves into a story about him fighting a monster in the lake when the story gets passed around from one Smurf to another.
- Ultimate Spider-Man
- The other girls in the school said that Peter threw up on Mary Jane's shoes during the spider incident at Oscorp. He didn't. But hey, that's what they say. They even call her "spew shoes". MJ retorts that this is "almost clever for them."
- Flash picks a fight with Parker, who tries to elude him as best as he can. He finally lands a punch, and Peter tries to stop it. But, with his increased strength, he breaks Flash's arm. We can see him in tears, whispering "I told him... I said... I didn't want to fight". Harry wasn't present, so Kong explains what happened. According to him, it was awesome! And Peter shouted "Next time, I'm gonna kill you! It's payback time!" after doing it.
- Dungeon Keeper Ami features a rather interesting case. Though the tales of Mercury's brilliant and innovative magic, as well as her prowess in battle, are rarely exaggerated (possibly because those defy understanding or belief in the first place). She somehow cannot for the life of her escape the ever-evolving-rumors of her supposed sexual deviancy. Of course, it doesn't help that she has many enemies that can benefit from any and all damage to her reputation.
- An Invoked Trope in First Try Series, where Barako paints herself as incredibly worried over her daughter, Sakura's safety in the hands of her teachers and team in hopes of it escalating. Subverted as Danzo quickly puts a stop to it and plays it straight by ruining Barako.
- In A Delicate Balance, one of these is responsible for Rainbow Dash believing that a love triangle is forming between three of her friends. Then subverted, as when Rarity hears the rumor she traces it back to the source and confirms the inaccuracy.
- In The Great Alicorn Hunt, this turns out to have been behind the CMC's Person of Mass Destruction reputation. Basically, they seemed to always be present when something went into disaster, ponies had selective memories and gossip tarnished their reputation beyond easy repair. Given that those same Gossipy Hens did absolutely nothing when Diamond Tiara and Silver Spoon mercilessly bullied them, the trio ain't happy.
- Hard Being Pure:
- Carol, Alvin and James are guilty or spreading exaggerations around, although Carol does try to control more or less the way the gossip evolves.
- Becky's version of the incident with Floyd is quite different from the version Carol heard through her gossip channels.
- In Blessed Blood the rumors concerning Harry's rescue of Ginny and defeat of Tom Riddle's memory and the basilisk become wilder and wilder.
"No, I'm telling you that I heard it from Zach, who heard it from Blaise, who heard it from Vince, who heard it from Dean, who overheard Ginny! Harry was teleported to an underground fortress and dueled the Lord of Giants. He was forced to defeat the monster in a series of tasks, the last of which was how far one could throw a boulder! That is why the ground shook that day... duh..."
- Fairy Tail:
Chinese Whispers was a fun game in theory, but [Harry] had seen it in action throughout Privet Drive, and it forced poor Mr. Drivenger to move away. Someone found out he used to be a priest before retiring. Somehow in the space of a month, 'Mr. Drivenger was a priest before he retired', became 'Mr. Drivenger got caught molesting the choir boys as a priest and forced to retire'.
- Mr and Mrs Gold: Given the unusual nature of their relationship, people all over Storybrooke have formed their theories on the nature of the Golds' marriage, from mail-order brides to paying off Mr. Frenchs debts to her being a Gold Digger. Naturally, Emma does not believe any of them.
The story of Fred, George, and Angelina's departure became legend quickly, being retold over and over each time with new additions. One day the twins were said to have dumped a bucket of hippogriff dung over Umbridge, other days they set her on fire, but each story was told with pride and a whisper of mutual rebellion.
- To Judge A Book:
Harry: Can anybody clue me in on why I was welcomed like a member of royalty?
Hermione: As grandiose as Hogwarts is, at the end of the day it is still a boarding school and as such, full of teenagers who just love to gossip. Dumbledore tried to hush up the whole thing but whispers started spreading and I think it got to the stage where you rescued another student, tore the head of the troll off with your bare hands and drunk the blood from its skull.
- Bequeathed from Pale Estates: This is how Joffrey got his Embarrassing Nickname, "The Prince of Tongues". After hearing about the incident that led to it, Robb Stark coined it and wrote it in a letter to his half-sister Lyarra Martell. Lyarra promptly told her husband Oberyn, who then slipped it to Monford Velaryon (a well-known Targaryen loyalist). After that, it was all over King's Landing and to the rest of Westeros. Ned is exasperated when he finds out.
- Midgard Legends has Luke Olson knocking his drill sergeant in basic and narrowly avoiding a grenade. A few weeks later, his friend Ray cheerfully claims Luke killed the sergeant and was unfazed by the grenade exploding in his face.
- Lila Rossi finds herself on the wrong end of this in Missing (Miraculous Ladybug) after her true nature is exposed. By the time she leaves College Francoise Dupont, the rumor mill is suggesting that she caused Marinette's disappearance, and might be involved with human trafficking. Not the kind of stories she ever wanted circulating about her...
- May or may not have happened in Finding Nemo, since we don't hear the full story when it's told the first or last time, and what we actually hear from the final version has really happened. However, it's phrased so that Marlin sounds like a total badass, when in reality he was more of an Action Survivor.
- Z's accidental kidnapping of Princess Bala in Antz becomes subject to this, and he becomes a role model for workers who want to be treated better by the colony.
- Strange Magic: The Dark Forest has mushrooms that provide intel to the Bog King but since they are immobile, they have to whisper it mushroom to mushroom until it gets to a goblin. The results are nonsensical though the Tag shows that may be because of the goblin.
- Parodied in Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa where the monkeys' relaying of Alex's message changed "She's got a gun, let's get out while we can" to "Let's have fun and take out the dam" and "No, pull up. You'll kill us. There's got to be another way" to "No pull up. Kill us. There's no other way" And "pass it on" was "basset hound".
Wallace: "I am William Wallace!"Scotsman: "William Wallace is seven feet tall!"Wallace: "Yes, I've heard. Kills men by the hundreds! And if he were here, he'd consume the English with fireballs from his eyes, and bolts of lightning from his arse!"
- By the time of the Battle of Stirling, tall tales of William Wallace's baddassery have started making it back to him:
- Later we hear the word spreading about Wallace having killed 50 men single-handedly, which turns into 100 men after some relays.
- This happens several times in Easy A, even before Olive starts to encourage it.
- Done tragically in Fury (1936). A man is arrested on flimsy circumstantial evidence for a kidnapping affair, and gossip quickly degenerates it to the point that an Angry Mob forms to lynch him.
- This is central to the plot of Gossip... unsurprisingly. In fact it deconstructs the potential damage it can cause.
- Lampshaded in the Michael Keaton gangster movie spoof Johnny Dangerously.
Prisoner: Johnny and The Mothers are playing "Stompin' at the Savoy" in Vermont tonight.Johnny: *gasp*...Vermin's gonna kill my brother at the Savoy Theater tonight!Prisoner: That ain't what I said.Johnny: No, but I know this grapevine.
- L.A. Confidential: Two police officers, Helenowski and Brown, are beaten up by a group of Mexican hoodlums. The word about what happened gets more dramatic with each telling: according to Exley, they're on leave from active duty with some bruises, but by the time the assault suspects are brought in, Vincennes is claiming that Helenowski lost six pints of blood and Brown is in a coma, while the (incredibly inebriated) cops at the Christmas party are claiming that Helenowski is partially blind and Brown is on his death bed. The cops, having already worked themselves into a frenzy, proceed to take it out on the Mexicans.
- Happens in Love Actually when a British character visits Portugal to propose - the rumour rapidly escalates from "he wants to marry Aurelia" to "he wants to kill Aurelia!"
- This happened in Sergeant York when he captures an entire German division single handed. The identity of his prisoners change with each retelling until finally everyone thinks he captured the Kaiser.
- This is what sets off the plot to the Jennifer Aniston Romantic Comedy Rumor Has It - Aniston's character Sarah hears that her mother ran off with another man a week before marrying her father, then hears that this incident helped inspire the movie The Graduate with Sarah's grandmother being personally identified as Mrs. Robinson. The movie's plot is Sarah's quest to determine if the rumor is true.
- On Moonlight Bay has the main character's father, George Winfield, be the subject of a rumor that he is cheating on his wife, Alice, with a sexy French actress. By the end of the film, people are deliberately snubbing George and pitying Alice, who are the only two people completely ignorant of the rumor.
- Lust for Gold: Happens several times with the crowd gathered round the assay office as Walz's has his ore assessed. For example, Walz's reluctance to sign the receipt gets passed along a line of people till it turns into him being unable to read or write at all.
- In one 1632 short story, titled "Other People's Money" after the film, the epontymous mutual fund is started because of two words overheard at an inn and shared with speculators.
- Played for Drama in the first book of Annals of the Western Shore when Orrec accidentally "unmakes" a whole hillside. Wild tales of his uncontrolled power spread all over the Uplands, and if disbelieved, the hillside is always offered as proof. It gives Caspromant a very intimidating reputation. Which was what Orrec's father was trying to accomplish to counteract Orrec not actually having any gift.
- This happens with Matthew Stark in Cloud of Sparrows. He kills a number of men, and is witnessed a few times. Stories grow in the telling, so that it gets to the point where people think Matthew Stark is eight feet tall with a scar across one eye, never eats and only drinks whiskey, prefers beating women to shagging them, and only shags them when he's beaten them to within an inch of their lives. In fact, the real Stark is able to move around unnoticed simply by calling himself Matthews.
- In Cooking With Wild Game, a child mentions to her family (and no one else) that a foreigner moved into Ai Fa's house. Five days later, practically everyone in that family thinks they're lovers.
- In the Discworld book The Fifth Elephant, Vimes—with help, including a trained assassin and some tactical planning—dispatches seven bandits in a shot; however, as he predicts, the rumor spreads faster and wider. Eventually, he finds himself in a building miles away from where it happens, and overhears a conversation ending with "...and a dog."
- One Diary of a Wimpy Kid book has Rodrick try to get even with Greg by spreading the word of an incident where Greg accidentally locked himself in the ladies' restroom at their grandfather's retirement home. This backfires, since the story ends up getting mutated into Greg sneaking into the girls' changing room at Crosslands High School.
- At one point in Dune Paul is with a force of Fremen warriors which is ambushed by several Imperial Sardaukar, which the Fremen decimate. Paul somberly notes that as his reputation as the Fremen's holy savior grows, the stories will say that he single handedly killed scores of Sardaukar, even though he didn't even draw his knife.
- Both the tree people and cave dwellers in the Green-Sky Trilogy are inclined to this. With no written media to speak of, nearly all communication is by word of mouth. Raamo knows himself to be a plain person, who with his friends makes some unusual discoveries — the next thing he knows his kid sister is a Holy Child and he's The One Who Was Foretold In Prophecy...
- Harry Potter:
- Inverted in Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone, when it turned out that Harry's battle at the end was "one of those rare occasions when the true story is even more strange and exciting than the wild rumors". Weirdly, at the end of every school year he gets into something very dangerous and fantastic and generally impressive to most people. He's frustrated that they think he's so special because he is usually just desperate to survive.
- Played straight in other instances, such as the Weasley twins' escape from Umbridge in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. It gets retold so often that within a week, even eyewitnesses are convinced they pelted her with Dungbombs before flying off.
- The children's book Hen Hears Gossip involves this, with Hen, who started the gossip by repeating what she "overheard," finding the message has turned into a slight against herself. Unlike in most stories, the characters follow the gossip train back to each source until they discover what the original message was.
- J. R. R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings features various examples, notably the gossip that spreads in the city Minas Tirith about the various going-ons and visiting protagonists. The one about Pippin being a prince of the halflings is (according to the appendices) helped a great deal by Separated by a Common Language: The hobbit variety of the Common Speech doesn't have the distinction between "familiar you" and "respectful you" present in other dialectsnote . So to the citizens of Gondor, Pippin was talking to Denethor as if they were at the same level.
- John Steinbeck was a war correspondent in World War II. His short story, "Mussolini" describes how the 1943 news of the King of Italy dismissing Benito Mussolini leading to rumors of Turkey joining in the fight against the Axis, Paris being liberated after a cross-channel invasion, and the end of WWII.
- "My Name is Gossip," penned by an unknown author and expanded upon in an essay by author Janet Treadway, explains the real-life results of gossip everything from broken friendships and marriages to lost jobs, toppled governments, ruined reputations and suicide often through evolution. Treadway's full essay, which takes a Christian context, can be read here, and the poem has frequently been published by advice columnists, including Ann Landers and her successor, Annie's Mailbox.
- This is the plot of the Polish children's poem Ptasie plotki ("Bird gossip"). In the beginning, a finch mentions offhandedly that she might get a cold today. By the end of the poem, news are going around that the finch has died from a terrible throat disease (much to the finch herself's consternation).
- In Hans Christian Andersen's fairy tale "It's Perfectly True!", some literal Gossipy Hens pass around what becomes the story of five hens plucking all their feathers off and dying for the love of a rooster, though it started with nothing more than one hen removing just one feather. Through Memetic Mutation this story has given rise to a common proverb in Danish: "A small feather can turn into five hens."
- At the end of the first book of A Song of Ice and Fire, Robert Baratheon is killed while hunting a boar. As seen in Arya's POV shortly after, the rumors ascribe his death to one of several things, including choking on a fishbone, being poisoned at the table, and dying by eating an entire boar and rupturing at the table.
- In Lewis Carroll's Sylvie and Bruno, why Lady Muriel's engagement was broken:
"And what reasons have you heard of for breaking off the engagement?"
"A good many," Arthur replied, and proceeded to count them on his fingers. "First, it was found that she was dying of—something; so he broke it off. Then it was found that he was dying of—some other thing; so she broke it off. Then the Major turned out to be a confirmed gamester; so the Earl broke it off. Then the Earl insulted him; so the Major broke it off. It got a good deal broken off, all things considered!"
"You have all this on the very best authority, of course?"
"Oh, certainly! And communicated in the strictest confidence! Whatever defects Elveston society suffers from, want of information isn't one of them!"
- A lot of Dante's Vita Nuova is addressed to a pretty woman he doesn't really care about so people don't find out he's really in love with Beatrice. Problem is, he writes so much cover poetry that Florence's gossipers make Dante out to be lusting after his cover woman. Not wanting to cause a scandal, Beatrice refuses even to say hello to her secret admirer.
- The Wheel of Time: Several books in the series end like this, with an omniscient narrator describing gossip versions of the main event of the book. The narrator mentions several contradictory versions of the big epic battle but one important, portentous detail that all the different rumors agree on. Something similar happens in-story several times as well, where characters hear twisted versions of events of the narration as rumors, sometimes even things the characters were present for. The rumors are usually wrong on important details, and the viewpoint characters are usually happy to know that their role in the real events remains obscure.
- In Wyrm, Mike spends days tracking down the source of a rumor about Richard Dworkin only to discover he himself started it.
- On 30 Rock, Liz and Tracy started a rumor that rapper T.I. might show up at Kenneth's party in order to get people to come. By the time it got back to them, the word was that Kenneth was going to have an epic bash with T.I., Fall Out Boy and foxy boxing. Tracy hilariously didn't recognize it as his own rumor. As word got around about what an awesome party it would be a few of the celebrities they said were coming actually showed up.
- Poked fun at in The Andy Griffith Show in "Those Gossipin' Men". Andy picks up a bandage for Barney at the drugstore, claiming Barney hurt himself with his gun. Once the women of Mayberry get circulating this news over the phones, and after a good deal of Poor Communication Kills Aunt Bea believes Barney accidentally shot himself and is dead. Only to discover Barney just pinched himself with the trigger and barely broke the skin. Andy rubs it in her face how it only took an hour from getting a cut to being declared dead. Andy continues to give her a hard time about how women always spread gossip, but the tables turn when a travelling shoe salesman from New York is mistaken for a Hollywood talent scout by the men of Mayberry in a similar manner. (With Aunt Bee's help.)
- On more than one occasion, Barney convinces a lot of people, possibly even most of the town, that Andy and Helen Crump are about to elope, based on his own misreading of evidence on hand. One instance was a mixup involving Andy being cited by a game warden because he left his wallet with his fishing license at home; his request for Barney to bring it to him at the justice of the peace office in the next county, was enough for Barney to recruit a wedding party to come with him.
- In As The Bell Rings, Skipper and Brooke are discussing how Skipper's supposed to meet her at her house so that they can do their science project, but that Skipper has to be careful because she has an overprotective dog named Bear. Guess what happens next.
- In As Time Goes By, Lionel and Jean give the Upper-Class Twit "townies" a piece of their minds when they realize the ringleader had Lol the gardener beat up. The next time they visit the country, the village is wild with tales of the barbecue being put out with a fire extinguisher, the fictitious "KBM" (kicked by mule) medal Jean claimed that Lionel had becomes the Victoria Cross, and there's a debate over how many townies got thrown over the hedge. Jean "admits" that it was two instead of six just because it's fun to have a reputation.
- Done for comedy in Boy Meets World a few times. One notable went from, by way of Noodle Incident, "Topanga is pregnant" to "Cory and Topanga are looking to adopt a 14-year-old kid from China and need to overcome the language barrier". When Mr. Feeney informs Cory of this, he gives the original rumor in front of his parents, prompting Feeney to leave so that he may "inform the grocer about his misinformation." Point of reference: Topanga was never pregnant, but just going on a diet.
- Cliff Clavin attempted to demonstrate this on Cheers by telling someone about having won a few dollars, only for it to circle the bar and be totally accurate because everyone focused on 'the loser bragging about having won $5'.
- Deconstructed on Last Week Tonight with John Oliver during the segment on public shaming. John Oliver points out how too often, the supposed transgression often gets warped out context to the point that the backlash becomes highly excessive.
- Little House on the Prairie: Harriet Oleson's favorite pastime was gossip, and frequently she would take a rumor or less frequently, something that actually did happen put her spin on it (especially if the person involved was someone she didn't like) and spread the word. Examples of very negative outcomes:
- "Harriet's Happenings": She publishes a story claiming that the Erich Schiller, who defeated her daughter, Nellie, in the finals of the county spelling bee, has parents who are illiterate. Erich temporarily quits school as a result, but Charles and Erich's father convinces him to return. By the way, Erich's parents indeed couldn't read English, but were fluent in German. Later, she publishes a story claiming that Charles is Albert's biological father, which Charles quickly nips in the bud.
- "Crossed Connections": Mrs. Oleson eavesdrops on a conversation between Alice Garvey and her mother, and it is here that she learns that Alice had been married before. Jonathan is outraged and it temporarily causes the breakup of the family.
- "Sylvia": Mrs. Oleson again via eavesdropping on a phone conversation learns that a 14-year-old girl named Sylvia was pregnant. Ignorant to the truth (a rapist had impregnated her), she quickly spreads a rumor that Albert is the father. Caroline makes Mrs. Oleson see otherwise.
- "Sins of the Fathers": In her final attempt to be a newspaper writer, Mrs. Oleson publishes the unsavory past of a young woman now reformed had just started a new business in Walnut Grove. The woman quickly relapses into alcoholism and literally destroys her home.
- A MADtv sketch had a "telephone-style" version. A prisoner is trying to secretly spread the message about a jailbreak by having everyone whisper it to each other, but it quickly mutates into nonsense as it's repeated (including a person who ends up saying "Some of the guys are going to get together later tonight to read The Last of the Mohicans every single time). The prisoner eventually resorts to writing the message down on a piece of paper and passing it around, but it still changes from person to person.
- In the fifth season premiere of M*A*S*H, Radar gets told that HQ is going to order the 4077th to move ten miles down the road. Within three links, the camp becomes convinced that an entire enemy battalion is inbound. Colonel Potter addresses the entire camp to refute the rumors, only to be interrupted halfway through by a legitimate order to bug-out.
- On one episode of The Mentalist, Jane exploits this effect to flush out a suspect. Since everyone at a party knows he's working with the police, he drops a few cryptic but dark hints about an authority figure's relationship to the deceased. By the time the story gets around to him again, the authority figure has become a girlfriend-beating date-raping sexual harasser. Based on the rumors, the suspect confronted the authority figure, in the sense of physically attacking him until restrained by the police. Alas, she wasn't the killer.
- Ned's Declassified School Survival Guide to Rumors started this way. Ned was talking to Claire about his friend Moze, which Claire insisted wanted to be called Jennifer. Ned says he likes "Moze" (that is, to call his friend Moze), but this is misheard as "Ned likes Moze" and quickly evolves into "Ned and Moze are dating".
- In the NewsRadio episode "The Station Sale", Joe says that last time Robertson Communications took over a station, they fired half the staff and made everyone else take pay cuts. When Beth repeats this, she says they fired half the staff and made everyone else get haircuts. When Catherine repeats it, she says, "At the last station Robertson bought, they eliminated Half and Half and made everyone eat cold cuts!"
- An episode of Roger and the Rottentrolls used this: The final product detailed the accused as declaring "I am Eric Cantona!" before kicking a sheep up the backside.
- In The Sopranos, Tony Soprano and Adriana, his cousin Christopher's fiance, are caught in a car accident late at night. The circumstances make it seem like they were having an affair, which is further complicated because both were seriously considering it. Nothing physical actually happened between the two, but when word of mouth spreads it starts out with Tony getting away from the accident unharmed while Adriana suffered a blow to the head and ends with Adriana still giving Tony head when the paramedics found them.
- The Suite Life of Zack and Cody
- London walks in on Maddie and Lance practicing CPR and mistakes it for them making out; she proceeds to tell Estaban, who tells Muriel, who tells everyone else. The rumor went from "I saw Maddie and Lance kissing in the other room" to "Maddie and Lance were making out in the other room, are secretly betrothed, and plan on running away to Vegas to have their own grape vineyard."
- The episode where they're in band class and the rumor goes from something about a guy making a move and there being some drama to them being in love, moving to Russia, and raising llamas.
- The Wire
- Stringer Bell hears that two of his men have spotted stick-up man Omar, and gives the okay for them to attack despite it being Sunday (the "truce" day). What he doesn't know is that not only is it Sunday, but Omar is taking his grandmother home from church. Both Omar and his grandmother narrowly escape, but Stringer's partner Avon mentions stories making the rounds among the other drug lords (who are all appalled by the whole thing) about their people shooting her and urinating on her church hat.
- String and Omar's deaths also become street legend. Marlo Stanfield's crew (falsely) take credit for String's death and claim he was a coward who desperately tried to bribe them into sparing him, (he was Defiant to the End) and Omar is supposedly killed in an epic Last Stand against a whole group of heavily armed killers, or even killed by the police who then made it look like Omar was killed by his fellow criminals. (He was shot in the back by a kid who used to idolize him while buying cigarettes).
- Blake's 7. The Terran Federation has been censoring news about Blake's activities, but the word is still spreading via the grapevine and growing with repetition, as every setback the Federation suffers is assumed to be Blake's work.
- The 1962 song "Do You Hear What I Hear?", written by Noel Regney and Gloria Shayne, is told in the style of Chinese whispers, and describes how word of the birth of the baby Jesus is relayed to higher upon ever higher authority, starting with the "night wind", then "little lamb", then "shepherd boy", then "king", and finally "people everywhere".
- In Open Letter on Race Hatred, a dramatization of the 1943 Detroit race riot, the news of a fight on Belle Isle Bridge becomes increasingly garbled as rumors spread, "one for black ears—one for white ears."
- In "The Rumor" from Fiddler on the Roof, Yente brings the news that Perchik, who danced with Tevye's daughter Hodel, has been arrested in Kiev. The rumor spreads, and each time a different person is said to have been arrested. By the time the rumor comes full circle, this is what it has become: "Golde's been arrested, and Hodel's gone to Kiev. Motel studies dancing, and Tevye's acting strange. Shprintze has the measles, and Bielke has the mumps."
- In 13, the song "It Can't Be True" revolves around Lucy the Alpha Bitch spreading a rumor that the Brainless Beauty, Kendra, is cheating on her boyfriend with new kid Evan. Every time the rumor passes to a new person, Kendra and Evan are rumored to have gone a little farther around the bases
- Woe from Wit: A major plot point in the classic Russian play, where the protagonist's eccentricity and nonconformism is quickly exaggerated by gossip to ridiculous extremes. Chatsky is reputed to have joined a Freemason club, drunk champagne by the bucketful, and generally gone irreparably insane, with more and more incredible details being "discovered" every minute.
- The plot of the play Spreading the News.
- In Baldur's Gate, after clearing the mines random NPCs will describe the PC's party as nine-foot tall superstrong and supermagical people. The player has the option to cop to being the heroes (they're not believed), or add that "I heard these heroes are handsome to boot."
- Dragon Age:
- Varric of Dragon Age II intentionally twists your story around, whether he's your best friend or your worst enemy. Eventually, you might hear that you managed to slay a High Dragon with a wooden spoon, while naked. It's hard to tell how much, if any of it, was exaggerated in re-tellings, though. The sheer amount of this present in the legend of Hawke, becoming more and more garbled in each retellings, means that by 9:40 Dragon, a mere three years after the events at the Gallows, the Seekers have been forced to go straight to the source; capturing Varric and forcing him to tell them the true story.
- He does it for the first game too. Take the City Elf Origin where he describes how she joined the Wardens to fight for Elven rights. Righteous slaughter to keep yourself from getting raped is certainly one way to stand up for Elven rights, a good one, but Varric clearly thought along the lines of, "Nah, too Game of Thrones."
- In Fire Emblem Fates, the Nohrian border guard Benny is a quiet Gentle Giant with a huge Face of a Thug. However, there's a lot of tall-tales and rumors about his strength and fighting skills, making him a sort-of Memetic Badass in story.
Avatar: "Well, now that you mention it... Have you ever defeated an army of 10,000 soldiers all by yourself? It seems unlikely, but... [...] I also heard that you once tossed a man so far into the sky that he never came down. [...] That...that you blew on a volcano to stop it from erupting... [...] That you forged an axe with your bare hands... [...] That you punched a bear in the face..."
- Girl Genius does this often. Most notably in the aptly named chapter "Rumor Mill".
- This Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal comic shows how we got from 'love and tolerance'note to 'God hates fags'.
- Terminal Lance gives readers the Marine version of the grapevine, "Lance Corporal Underground", complete with warping the actual message between its origin and final destination as a nod to the Norman Rockwell painting, and its sequel, "Lance Corporal Underground II", which references reporter Wolf Blitzer's coverage of the tunnels from Gaza to Israel.
- In Flintlocke's Guide to Azeroth, our heroes "sneak" into Horde territory, killing someone on the way. Once he respawns he shares his story about "five or six" alliance, which quickly evolves into "a dozen alliance guilds on a raid".
- Played for laughs in A Simple Thinking About Blood Type, where a minor character's admission that he now has a girlfriend who works as a kindergarten teacher somehow evolves into a nasty rumour that he is molesting kindergartenders, leading to his arrest.
- Homestar Runner: According to the Strong Bad Email "myths & legends", one of Strong Badia's national symbols, the Bear Holding a Shark, was created this way. Long ago, two of the "Seven Elemental Spirits of Strong Badia", the Fish Wearing a 'Fro Wig and the British Long-Distance Runner, teamed up against the other five spirits. It became the Bear-Plus-Shark we know today through "years of bad storytelling and the telephone game".
- In the Orange Islands arc of We Are All Pokémon Trainers, a Funny Background Event about Silent's Masquerain hunting a Sewaddle builds up into a story about an evil Pokémon that goes around eating Bug-type mons. Upon reaching the other side of the archipelago, the story is somehow about either a Grass-type fire-spitting monster, or a giant wooden monster, that ate an entire island of Pokémon and forced countless others to migrate. For added benefit, there are actual fire-spitting Grass Pokémon and wooden monsters completely unrelated to either news.
- Broken Picture Telephone (now defunct) and Drawception are two websites which allow visitors to participate in a version of this trope; Person A provides a statement, Person B has ten minutes to draw a depiction of said statement using the tools provided by the site, Person C describes the resulting picture, Person D draws their ten-minute interpretation of this statement, and so forth. Hilarity often Ensues.
- In the Avatar: The Last Airbender episode "The Great Divide", two feuding tribes each think that their ancestor was betrayed by the others' one hundred years ago. Aang, who was alive at that time, tells them that said ancestors had been simply playing a game together, and were siblings who got along great despite their differences. This allows the two tribes to reconcile and continue their journey together. This turns out to be an Invoked Trope, as Aang made up the story entirely - nobody involved had any real way of knowing what actually happened, so he decided to convince them that this trope had occurred and neither version of the story was accurate in order to get them to drop the issue.
- Batman: The Animated Series, "The Man Who Killed Batman": Harmless Villain Sidney "The Squid" Debris seems to have killed Batman. Even when Sid claims it was an Accidental Murder, being an Extreme Doormat, he just let the Mooks treat him as their hero. Mere hours after the explosion, Sid is called a mastermind at jail for being able to fool The Joker regarding Batman's fate. One day after that, Rupert Thorne, with true information about Sid being a Bumbling Sidekick, believes Sid is a Magnificent Bastard.
- In Disney's "Brave Little Tailor", Mickey's misadventures start when he brags about killing seven flies with one swipe, but the time the King hears about it, it has become "killing seven giants in one stroke".
- The titular character from Doug has a rumor that goes from Vice Principal Bone putting out a "supernova" cherry bomb science project... to Doug's science project (a model of a volcano) blowing up the entire science lab. Doug even thinks he's going to go to jail for it.
- Garfield and Friends: U.S. Acres has Sheldon telling Booker about a scary story he heard from Orson, and this eventually turns into a rumor about a monster loose on the farm, which leads to Orson changing to his "Power Pig" alter-ego and attacking a scarecrow. At the end of the episode, Orson says he's going for a walk in the country, which leads the others to believe he's going to a country, like Spain, and then they think he's moving to Spain forever. The episode's song is even about not starting rumors, because this trope runs the risk of happening.
- One episode of Handy Manny revolved entirely around this, replacing the "broken telephone" with a broken drive-thru speakerbox, which lead to spoken food orders winding up as completely mangled gibberish by the time they reached their destination.
- On Jimmy Two-Shoes, Lucius asks for Jimmy and Beezy to come to his office. This message gets passed onto several Misery Inc. workers before reaching Beezy, who tells Jimmy "Smell cheesy and bum to my crawfish". After a moment of confusion, it turns out that Beezy made that from scratch, then repeats the message perfectly.
- Done in King of the Hill's pilot episode which leads to the plot. A couple of women spot Hank's anger with Buckley and his son with a black eye (caused by a swung baseball) at the Mega-Lo-Mart. The gossip is spread to other women thinking he's an abusive father and assaults clerks and inform child protective services.
- Looney Tunes: The news that Sylvester the Cat has inherited a fortune ("Heir Conditioned") is passed on from alley to alley by a series of cats. By time it reaches the final cat, the inheritance has inflated from a simple fortune to five million dollars.
- In a story on PB&J Otter, Flick panics when his Mama Duck tells him that his cousin Billy is coming for a visit, because he remembers Flick as a bully who once sat on him for "like, four minutes" when he was really little. As the tale spreads, it ends up becoming "four months" and everyone panics about Billy being such a bully. As it turns out, Flick's memory is faulty, so even his account was exaggerated. Back when Flick was really young, he insisted that Billy ride him piggyback, even though Billy didn't think it was such a good idea. Billy accidentally squashed him for maybe two seconds at most.
- The 1944 Private Snafu short Rumors begins with Snafu being informed that it looks like a good day for a bombing, taking this to mean that they're about to get bombed, and spreading to others who in turn spread it until it becomes a rumor that they're about to lose the war. (In a nice touch of visual metaphor, the passage of the rumors is represented by baloney flying out of people's mouths.)
Narrator: That's right, exaggerate it! Stretch it! Multiply it! Now shoot off your face, and baloney is flying all over the place!
- The Simpsons
- In the episode "Grade School Confidential", Principal Skinner and Mrs. Krabappel are caught kissing in a closet. The event undergoes gossip evolution as each child tells their parents:
Milhouse: ...and then Bart opened the door and Principal Skinner and Mrs. Krabappel were kissing — and swearing!
Pahusacheta: Father! Uncle Apu! A teacher was in the closet with the principal and he had as many arms as Vishnu and they were all very busy.
Lisa: I was in the library at the time, but Janey told me that Principal Skinner and Bart's teacher, Mrs. — what's her name?
Lisa: Yeah, Krabappel. They were naked in the closet together.
Marge: Oh, my goodness.
Ralph: Mrs. Krabappel and Principal Skinner were in the closet making babies and I saw one of the babies and then the baby looked at me.
- Another (particularly hilarious) example is in "The PTA Disbands", where Bart tries to prolong the teachers' strike by spreading the rumor that Skinner has been saying that the teachers will crack any day now. By the time it reaches Ms. Krabappel, it is entirely unchanged... except it incongruously includes the words "purple monkey dishwasher" at the end. Mrs. K vows that they'll show Skinner, "especially for that purple monkey dishwasher remark!" The words "Purple Monkey Dishwasher" have even become somewhat of a meme.
- Yet another example is in "The War of the Simpsons": After Homer catches and releases the legendary catfish General Sherman, we hear the resulting rumor.
"Went by the name of Homer. Seven feet tall he was, with arms like tree trunks. His eyes were like steel: cold, hard. Had a shock of hair, red, like the fires of Hell."
- In the episode "Grade School Confidential", Principal Skinner and Mrs. Krabappel are caught kissing in a closet. The event undergoes gossip evolution as each child tells their parents:
- Star Wars Resistance: In "The Recruit", Literal-Minded Neeku Vozo hears the tail end of Kazuda Xiono talking about how he imagined himself as the greatest pilot in the galaxy, and misinterprets it as Kaz claiming he is the greatest pilot in the galaxy. The news spreads very quickly across the Colossus, and by the time Kaz and Poe Dameron make it to Aunt Z's Tavern, everyone's talking about him and he has an entire fabricated history of races.
- One VeggieTales movie features a "Rumor Weed" who thrives on spreading malicious gossip, resulting in one character making a joke about having to "recharge his batteries" when he's tired and the whole town eventually believing that he's a Killer Robot.
- This trope is instrumental in the creation of Urban Legends. Some urban legends start off as real stories which are exaggerated through multiple retellings into something more shocking and memorable. This is also why documented urban legends have different versions.
- The children's game Telephone, aka Chinese Whispers, is built on this trope. Hilarity Ensues.
- A Russian-Jewish joke: "Did you hear that Rabinovich just won a car in a lottery?" "Why, yes. But that wasn't Rabinovich but Tzipperovich, that wasn't a lottery but a card game, that wasn't a car but a dacha, and that wasn't a win, that was a loss".
Caller: Is it true that in Moscow, Mercedes cars are being given to citizens?
- Russian Humour is fond of these in general, often putting them in the form of Radio Yerevan jokes, usually with implications of censorship as well:
Radio Yerevan: Yes, but it is not Moscow but Leningrad, not Mercedes but Ladas, and not given to but stolen from.
Caller: Is it true that comrade cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin's car was stolen in Moscow during the celebrations?
Radio Yerevan: In principle yes, but it was not in Moscow but Kiev, and it was not his car but his bike, and it was not comrade cosmonaut Gagarin but comrade high school teacher Gagarin, and his first name was not Yuri but Leonid...
- Various online fandom and meta communities are notorious for this, often with huge doses of Accentuate the Negative, Demonization, and Twisting the Words at best and the Abomination Accusation Attack at worst. For example, someone who paid off an organized criminal 20 years ago to save their life or their career will become a current full-fledged mob kingpin, or the details of a squicky or tragic incident that could happen to anyone will be exaggerated to put all the blame on one person. While none will be named to avoid the likely Flame War, everyone from creators and artists to other fans can become a target to the extent that people who have never even had any bad experiences with them or who do not even know someone who has in any meaningful way can and will hate them solely on the basis of the community consensus.
- It's been suggested that the tradition of Saint Lawrence of Rome being killed in a giant grill originated in a transcription error that changed the word "martyred" to the morbidly specific "roasted". The two words are one letter apart in Latin.
- The French historian Marc Bloch described this as an occupational hazard of historiography:
"[The historian] is as if at the rear of a column, in which the news travels from the head back through the ranks. It is not a good vantage-point from which to gather correct information. Not so very long ago, during a relief march at night, I heard the word passed down the length of a column in this manner: 'Look out! Shell holes to the left!' The last man received it in the form, 'To the left!', took a step in that direction, and fell in."
- The story of Galileo dropping items off the Leaning Tower of Pisa was probably made up from whole cloth by his biographer (his notes suggested he definitely proposed it as a thought experiment, but whether or not he actually made the drop is dubious), and over five hundred years since has expanded from "just dropping stuff off" to Galileo making a bombastic speech to a heckling crowd of thousands, and dropping specific weights of specific objects, with each new biographer adding a new touch.
- Similarly, the story of Sir Isaac Newton coming up with the theory of gravity after seeing an apple fall from a tree came from a sarcastic anecdote by him mocking the people who were expecting an Eureka Moment, and somehow evolved into the apple falling onto his head.