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Hesitation Equals Dishonesty

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"Would Sonic the Hedgehog please report to the security office? Repeat, Sonic the Hedgehog please report to the security office. We've found your — er... your keys! That's it, we've found your keys. No need to be ready for a trap, since we only wish to return your keys!"
Doctor Eggman, Sonic Colors

The lovechild of Law of Conservation of Detail and Realistic Diction Is Unrealistic, Hesitation Equals Dishonesty is ubiquitous to the point of being unnoticeable. Whether engaging in Blatant Lies or making sure to Let Them Die Happy, any time a character visibly hesitates when relaying information (rather than, say, making an emotional appeal) to another character, it's even money or better that they're being dishonest, and are trying to barely avoid Saying Too Much.

Performance-based works will often use this trope even when the audience knows that the character is lying to avoid a Seamless Spontaneous Lie. If the character tells a lie without any indication of effort, they'll suddenly look like master manipulators, which might be out of character. The trope can also be used on the assumption that Viewers Are Morons. If the character's delivery doesn't scream "lie," the audience might get confused and think that either the character believes what they just said or that their statement is actually true.

Expect a Tsundere to engage in this. Every time they deny having any feelings for their object of affection, they will repeatedly stutter and hesitate. Often said object of affection will not understand the implications of such hesitation.

The trope extends to video games, even to the dialogue of the player characters: Even if Statistically Speaking the PC is an excellent liar, there's a good chance the writers will mark his Blatant Lies with the all too subtle "Why, yes.... I AM the assassin you've ordered".

Sadly, belief in this in Real Life makes things even more difficult for those of us who aren't perfect communicators. Fridge Logic should indicate that the person with the perfectly rehearsed story is probably lying their ass off (or is extremely well-spoken, but there's a noticeable difference between the two), rather than the one who occasionally pauses to collect their thoughts. Also, anything from being very anxious/suffering a panic attack (which can be induced in some situations where the truth is demanded — for example, the mere presence of police officers is a massive trigger for some forms of anxiety and panic) to being sleepy, drunk/high, or simply unsure and wanting to tell the truth but not sure of what the "truth" is can lead to hesitation and even confusion. Subtrope of You Can Always Tell a Liar. Compare Seamless Spontaneous Lie.

Compare/contrast with Suspiciously Specific Denial, where Saying Too Much suggests you're being dishonest. Also see Incriminating Indifference.


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    Anime & Manga 
  • In Asteroid in Love, Megu asks Ao if Moe is getting along with the girls from the club, and Ao pauses as she thinks of all the embarrassing things Moe did with them. Ao says, "I think she's fine," with an aside that Moe is "having a lot of fun," but Megu skeptically says "That pause just now..."
  • Mostly inverted in Bakemonogatari. A good rule of thumb in this series is the more straightforward someone seems to be, the bigger the lie they're concealing. Nadeko is hesitant and lacks self-confidence, and her "big secret" is that she likes Araragi (secret only to Araragi, really); on the other hand, Suruga is quite forthright with her sexuality but no so much with her violent hatred towards Araragi for "stealing" Senjogahara from her. As it turns out, her provocative teasing of Araragi is probably a ploy to get Araragi to forget about Senjogahara, even if that means potentially having to seduce him.
  • In Kaguya-sama: Love Is War, during Chapter 275, Fujiwara pauses a long-time before making the bald-faced lie that she chose to be campaign speaker for her friend and kohai Iino's opponent in order to test Iino, rather than because she lost a game of mahjong. It only works because Iino is rather gullible, especially when it comes to Fujiwara.
  • This is used in the unaired episode of Kodomo no Jikan. When Reiji asks Rin what she and her friends were doing (making a birthday gift for Aoki), she hesitates a few times when trying to claim they were doing schoolwork. He actually notices it, but either believes her when she says she isn't lying or decides to let it go.
  • During the Mahora Festival Story Arc of Negima! Magister Negi Magi, Haruna flatly asked Yue if she got jealous when the former kissed Negi. When Yue tried to deny that accusation, Haruna noted that she took a fraction of a second too long to answer and that the old Yue would have smacked her for being an idiot immediately. Busted.
  • In StrikerS Sound Stage X of the Lyrical Nanoha franchise, Teana asks Runessa if she has heard of Toredia Graze, and after a surprised pause, the latter says no. Teana does some more investigation into this as a result of noticing Runessa's reaction, and eventually learns of her past connection with Toredia and eventually arrests her for her role in the Mariage killings, pointing out that the way Runessa responded was what tipped Teana off.

    Comic Books 
  • Relentlessly used in the Silver Age comics, but only when the reader knows it's a lie. A lie that is part of the twist ending (and thus not known as a lie to the reader) will be delivered blithely, while if we know the character is lying, every sentence will begin with "Um...".
  • In the first issue of The Tick, a man on the street asks Tick if he's the guy who just broke out of the insane asylum (he is). Tick stutters for about half a page before coming up with the answer "No."

    Comic Strips 
  • Mark Trail plays this ludicrously straight. Begin your sentence with "um" and you're the villain.
  • Invoked on a Peanuts strip, where Lucy asks Charlie Brown if he thinks she's beautiful. But before he can answer, she notes that he didn't answer immediately, and takes it as an insult. This exchange is famously included on A Charlie Brown Christmas.
    Lucy: You do think I'm beautiful, don't you, Charlie Brown?
    Lucy: You didn't answer me right away. You had to think about it first. If you really had thought I was beautiful you would've spoken right up. I know when I've been insulted! I know when I've been insulted!
    Charlie Brown: Good grief.

    Fan Works 
  • This is noticeable in a I Have to Go Iron My Dog scene from Calvin & Hobbes: The Series:
    Rupert: You know, on second thought... we, um, left the, er, iron on. We've gotta go!
  • The Porre ambassador in the Chrono Trigger Fan Sequel Crimson Echoes inserts significant hesitations into EVERY SINGLE ONE of his lines. Him not being on the up and up therefore comes as a tremendous surprise to the player.
  • Five Petals (Naruto): Naruto gets knocked unconscious in the Forest of Death, causing him to miss a LOT of dramatic developments, such as Sakura pushing Sasuke away from Orochimaru and winding up with the Cursed Seal. Upon waking up to the aftermath of several of their fellow Leaf-nin genin pulling Big Damn Heroes moments, he naturally asks what happened while he was out cold. Sasuke hesitates long enough that everyone else present immediately realizes that he's about to lie.
  • In Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality, Harry spots that Draco was considering lying with this, and Draco believes that Harry is telling the truth because he doesn't stammer.
    Draco paused for a moment, weighing, and then opened his mouth —
    "I see he did," said Harry, and Draco cursed himself, he should've known better, only it had been hard to decide.
    Draco had listened carefully, but he hadn't detected any hesitation or tremor.
  • The True Blood fanfic How Could You Forget? is an AU of season 4 where the witches erased Bill Compton's memories instead of Eric Northman's. After the witches subject Pam to her rotting spell like in the show, Eric goes to Bill's house to demand help, only to be told that Bill is busy and he'll need to speak with Jessica (who has been covering for Bill while Sookie is hiding him, and has glamoured the guards to forward all intended messages to her). Jessica's attempts to backpedal when she inadvertently lets slip things she shouldn't know of are enough to tell Eric that she's hiding something and eventually press her to reveal what's really happened to Bill. (This scene is essentially the same as the scene in the actual timeline where Bill learns through Pam the truth about Eric's amnesia, but with Bill and Eric switching places, and Jessica taking Pam's role):
    Eric Northman: Where is the King?
    Jessica Hamby: He's not available right now. What do you want?
    Eric Northman: Where is he? Why is he suddenly not available? I must speak with him.
    Jessica Hamby: What is so important that you need to speak with him?
    Eric Northman: (getting into Jessica's space) That is between me and Bill.
    Jessica Hamby: Well, I am handling all of his messages for now, so either you tell me and I'll discuss it with Bill, or you can come back later when you have an appointment.
    Eric Northman: There is a problem with the witches.
    Jessica Hamby: The witches that you said were no problem?
    Eric Northman: I underestimated their abilities. After your little visit last night, I sent Pam to check on our friends.
    Jessica Hamby: And?
    Eric Northman: Pam was subjected to some sort of spell.
    Jessica Hamby: (intrigued) A spell? What kind of spell?
    Eric Northman: Some kind of rotting spell. It is very unpleasant. I would have simply killed them, but I cannot be sure that would fix the spell.
    Jessica Hamby: So she's like decomposing? Did anything else happen to her? How did they do it? [She fired the questions at him rapidly. Her excitement arousing his suspicion, but he couldn't put his finger on why]
    Eric Northman: I do not know. She said that when she arrived, several of the members were meeting, despite my instructions that they stop, they then started chanting and the one called Marnie cast some kind of spell.
    Jessica Hamby: A spell? Was it in Spanish again? Did Pam know what they said?
    Eric Northman: (getting in Jessica's face) Again? What do you mean in Spanish again?
    Jessica Hamby: I just mean... like you told me... about that other witch in Spain...
    Eric Northman: You are lying to me. You know more about this than you are telling. [grabs Jessica by the shoulders and shakes her] What other spell has been cast?!
    Jessica Hamby: Nothing, there isn't any other spell, it was just a mistake, that's all.
    Eric Northman: Where is Bill?! If you will not tell me, I will force him to tell me. (He pushes Jessica away and begins marching towards the stairs, intending to tear the house apart looking for Bill)
    Jessica Hamby: NO! He doesn't know, he doesn't know anything!
    (Her hands flew to her mouth, her eyes wide as he turned back to her. He took several slow and deliberate steps back to her, his eyes locked on hers. Oh, how he wished he had the ability to glamour other vampires.)
    Eric Northman: You will tell me everything. And you will tell me now.
    Jessica Hamby: (tearing up) The witches, they erased his memory, he doesn't remember anything.
    Eric Northman: What? When did this happen? (He backed up a step, giving her a little space, sure he had broken her sufficiently to get the answers he needed.)
    Jessica Hamby: A couple of nights ago. The night after you attacked the witches. He went to see them, and before he could even say anything, they had cast a spell on him.
    Eric Northman: Where is he?
    Jessica Hamby: He's somewhere safe.
    Eric Northman: And what exactly does that mean? Why does his staff not realize he is gone? (It clicked into place, Jessica must have convinced the staff Bill was "busy" and to send the calls to her. Eric was again finding himself impressed with Jessica's abilities. But that did not get his question answered.)
    Jessica Hamby: It means he is somewhere else, until I can find a way to help him.
    (Eric's amusement was short lived. He had his own problem with the witches to deal with, and he was done playing games with Jessica.)
    Eric Northman: You will tell me where he is, or there will not be enough of you left to help him. [He dropped his fangs and growled at her, this time, his hand around her throat. She clawed at his hand, but was getting nowhere.]
    Jessica Hamby: (stammering) He's.... He's at...
    Eric Northman: You are trying my patience.
    Jessica Hamby: ...He's with Sookie.
  • How the Light Gets In has a variation that occurs several times. A character will hesitate before answering a difficult question, and the pause is usually always long enough for the person who asked to work out the answer on their own. The person answering usually doesn't an outright lie, but typically tries to downplay the truth, or gives a non-answer. For example, when Dean tries to calm Laurel down and prevent a panic attack:
    Laurel: I used to have panic attacks?
    Dean: (long pause) Every now and then. Is this helping?
    Laurel: Yeah. Did you - Did we used to do this a lot?
    Dean: (pause) I wouldn't say a lot. Sometimes. If you needed a little help.
  • I See What You Do Behind Closed Doors Miraculous Ladybug: When Ladybug asks Plagg if he knows any way of erasing others' memories, Plagg pauses, then makes a point of looking anywhere but directly at her while reminding her that kwamis aren't meant to know any of the Guardians' formulas. This only cements her suspicion that he does know the recipe.
    • Ladybug also engages in this when asked if she's making the memory-erasing potion for Aurore. She hesitates before claiming that she is, while the one she's making for Adrien is the antidote.
  • Kyon does this in Kyon: Big Damn Hero when Tsuruya asked why he had to return to the clubroom despite his telling her before he was dismissed for the day. It turns out he had to find Mikuru to Time Travel back to the next day.
    Kyon: Well, I have to head back in anyway, since ... I forgot my shoes. Yeah. I'll see you tomorrow, alright, Tsuruya-sempai?
  • The Mountain and the Wolf: Averted in that while the Wolf won't immediately answer a question to which the audience knows the truth, it isn't interpreted as dishonesty but his about to tear the questioner's head off due to his Hair-Trigger Temper. Once he's calmed down (and given himself time to think up a plausible story) it's accepted at face value.
  • Phoenix's Tear: Reignition has a variation when Mocchi asks Hare if he really wants to leave. Hare hesitates before replying that it's not about what he wants, but what's the most logical move. He's being honest, though his estimation of the situation is more skewed than he realizes.
  • The Road Home (Past Sins): From "Kitchen and Garden", when Discord lies, he pauses, since Dramatic Irony means that the audience knows he's lying, while Fluttershy only assumes:
    "How is everypony doing by the way?" Fluttershy asked. "I trust they reached the Crystal Empire safely."
    "Oh, yes, of course. They're lounging by the crystal pool sipping crystal-coladas right now."
    Fluttershy arched an eyebrow, unable to ignore the fact that the sculpture's cheerful bouncing had paused for a moment when it answered. "Now Discord, you aren't going too far, are you?"
  • In the Miraculous Ladybug fic Spots Off, Chat Noir visits Marinette after her identity as Ladybug as publicly exposed. When she asks if he found out from the news broadcast, he hesitates before agreeing. As the reader knows, he actually found out when Nino called Adrien a couple of hours ago and told him about a viral video of her transforming, but he's not yet in a position to tell her they have mutual friends out of costume.
  • In the Daredevil fanfic What They Wouldn't Do:
    • The premise of the work is that Sarah Corrigan, a young secretary at a company that used to be part of Wilson Fisk's criminal enterprise, accidentally stumbles upon Matt Murdock's secret identity of Daredevil. Matt, after conversing with Foggy about what to do, decides to track her down and intimidate her in an alleyway outside her apartment to find out how much she knows about him:
      Matt Murdock: Alright, Sarah. Now we're going to talk about me. Do you know who I am?
      (Sarah can feel her palms starting to sweat and tries to play dumb)
      Sarah Corrigan: Y-you're... Daredevil.
      Matt Murdock: I think you know that's not what I'm asking. Do you know who I really am?
      Sarah Corrigan: I—I, um— (Matt increases his hold on her throat just slightly — not painful, but undeniably threatening)
      Matt Murdock: If you're thinking of lying, rethink it. Do you know who I am?
      Sarah Corrigan: Yes.
      Matt Murdock: What's my name?
      Sarah Corrigan: Matthew. M-Matthew Murdock.
    • It happens again later on when Sarah goes to the 15th precinct to fix a traffic ticket her dad received. Then she sees Matt and Foggy conversing with Brett Mahoney and immediately backpedals, knowing that Matt will think she's there to rat him out. Matt hastily follows her and drags her into an alleyway to interrogate her:
      Matt Murdock: You know, if you were going to try and turn me in without me catching you, it might have been a smarter move to go to a police station not in Hell's Kitchen.
      Sarah Corrigan: Okay, w-wait. I know what you're thinking—
      Matt Murdock: I'm thinking that you just broke your part in our agreement, Sarah, less than twenty four hours after you swore you wouldn't, so give me one good reason why I shouldn't do the same.
      Sarah Corrigan: I wasn't there about anything to do with you. I swear. I wasn't going to—
      Matt Murdock: We'll get to what you were going to do in a minute. What I need to know right now is what you've already done. If the police station wasn't your first stop then my friends are in danger, meaning you have about ten seconds to tell me the truth. Have you already told someone?
      Sarah Corrigan: No. No, I—I haven't. A—and I wasn't going to in there, either.
      Matt Murdock: Then why were you there?
      [lengthy silence]
      Matt Murdock: You know, when someone takes this long to answer, it's not usually a good indicator that they're about to tell you the truth.
      Sarah Corrigan: was for... personal reasons.
      Matt Murdock: "Personal reasons?" This is my life you're messing with. The lives of people I love. You can at least come up with a better lie than "personal reasons".
      Sarah Corrigan: It's not a lie! I just, I can't—I can't tell you. Why I was there. B—but it had nothing to do with you, I swear.
      Matt Murdock: Really. If it had nothing to do with me, why can't you tell me what it was?
      Sarah Corrigan: I just— you don't need to know. It's not relevant. T—to anything that we're doing.
      Matt Murdock: So you're telling me that your mysterious reason for being in the police station has nothing to do with me? Nothing to do with Orion, or why you're working there? No connection to... any of that at all?
      Sarah Corrigan: R—right. No connection.
  • Wolf in the Streets, Sardine in the Sheets: While discussing the corruption among the local police, Kurtis names Captain Gordon as one of the few good men left in the precinct. Fenrich notes that Gordon was killed during a Hostage Situation one month prior; Kurtis stammers and shrinks into himself while noting "That's what the newspaper said," hinting that there's more to the story.

    Films — Animation 
  • Played With in Frozen, when Anna's hair starts to turn white after Elsa accidentally curses her with her ice magic:
    Anna: Does it look bad?
    Kristoff: Uh, no.
    Olaf: You hesitated.
  • In Turning Red, Mei hesitates before telling her parents that they (and not her friends) are who she refers to as "the people I love most in the whole world". Her parents don't pickup on it.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • In the ending scene of Back to the Future, Marty asks Doc if he and Jennifer become "assholes" in the future and the Doc says they both turn out fine. The sequel establishes the Retcon that Doc was lying to protect Marty from the Awful Truth. In Back to the Future Part II, the refilmed version of that scene (refilmed to accommodate the Jennifer swap) has Doc hesitate before answering Marty's question.
  • Averted in Inside Man. When Madeline White confronts Arthur Case, asking him if it was true that he used to work for the Nazis in WWII, he hesitates for about four seconds... then smiles and says "Yes." Either he was a truly honest man, who was old and had nothing to lose, or he realized that hesitating that long before lying about it would make it obvious that he was lying.
  • Marvel Cinematic Universe:
    • Thor: The Dark World: When Loki's adoptive mother Frigga asks him, "Am I not your mother?", he hesitates for a full five seconds before he unconvincingly replies "You're not."
    • Subverted in Spider-Man: Far From Home: To cover for Peter, Ned tells Betty that the superhero in black coming to their rescue is not Spider-Man, but a European copycat he's heard off from the internet. When asked what his name is, Ned flounders and stumbles on his words, as he's trying to come up with a name on the spot, before settling on "Night Monkey". However, it ends up sounding pretty natural, looking like he's just having a hard time remembering the name, which is logical if he just glimpsed it online some time ago, so Betty fully believes him.
  • Inverted in The Lives of Others. The man interrogated in the opening scene has a detailed and coherent alibi that he's able to stick to even under repeated rounds of questioning. This tips the interrogator off to the fact that it's a story he's spent time memorising, whereas someone remembering from an actual memory would probably start forgetting details, getting things mixed up and begin hesitating due to stress and tiredness.
  • Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan: Chekov, under mind control, tells the Genesis scientists that the Reliant is going to appropriate their invention for immediate testing. His performance is so full of awkward pauses (Khan is feeding him lines offscreen) that even David, who believes the Federation to be a bunch of war-mongers, should have immediately considered it BS. Carol is at least rational enough to call for confirmation, which was Khan's plan all along.
  • Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country: Invoked by General Chang, during Captain Kirk and Doctor McCoy's trial for the assassination of Chancellor Gorkon. Inspired by the Real Life incident where US Ambassador to the United Nations Adlai Stevenson II made a similar demand of the Soviet Ambassador.
    General Chang: Indeed. The record shows that Captain Kirk once held the rank of Admiral. And that Admiral Kirk was broken for taking matters into his own hands in defiance of regulations of the law. Do you deny being demoted for these charges? DON'T WAIT FOR THE TRANSLATION. Answer me now.
  • Star Wars has an odd retroactive example with Obi-Wan in A New Hope, who has a slight hesitation before telling Luke that his father was betrayed and murdered by Darth Vader, instead of telling him that Anakin and Vader were one and the same. When the line was uttered in 1977, it was originally intended that Vader and Anakin were going to be two different people and the line was to be taken entirely at face value, but then the sequel came out and made the mother of all reveals, with the following film then having Obi-Wan's ghost reveal that his original answer was spoken from "a certain point of view". As none of this was planned during the filming of A New Hope, the hesitation in Obi-Wan's voice was just a fortunate touch thanks to Alec Guinness' acting, and it helped smooth out the moment as retroactive foreshadowing.
  • This is actually reversed in Stranger Than Fiction. After a disastrous first meeting, Harold encounters Anna Pascal on the bus, and stumbles his way through an apology, outright stating that he 'ogled' her and it was wrong. She accepts his apology... "But only because [he] stammered."

  • Alice's Adventures in Wonderland: Alice's neck has extended after eating a piece of the Caterpillar's mushroom, causing the Pigeon to mistake her for a serpent. She tries to explain herself, but is understandably a bit confused about everything after all the weirdness she'd experienced:
    "But I'm not a serpent, I tell you!" said Alice. "I'm a— I'm a—"
    "Well! What are you?" said the Pigeon. "I can see you're trying to invent something!"
    "I— I'm a little girl," said Alice, rather doubtfully, as she remembered the number of changes she had gone through that day.
  • In Aunt Dimity and the Lost Prince, Lori and Bree return to Skeaping Manor to ask the curator for the home address of Amanda Pickering. Their conversation starts off pleasantly enough, but the curator Miles Craven falls silent when Lori makes the request, then puts her off with protestations about confidentiality. It turns out that Miles knows Amanda has left to join her husband in Australia, and is a lousy liar who can't keep a secret.
  • Cradle Series: Akura Fury is one of the most powerful people in the world, quite literally considered more dangerous than most natural disasters, spoken of as an omen of war in quite a few religions, and son of a woman who is essentially a goddess. But when his niece asks him a question he doesn't want to answer, it turns out he's a terrible liar.
    "Is Sha Miara a Monarch in disguise?"
    Red eyes crawled away from Mercy.
    Fury shifted his weight from one foot to the other. He licked his lips. He looked up to the ceiling as though hoping heaven would give him the answer. Finally, he raised a hand to scratch at the back of his head.
    It was the least convincing cover-up Lindon had ever heard.
  • Both played straight and averted in Discworld. While pauses do often hint at lies, several characters, especially Sam Vimes, note that instant responses are even less honest.
  • This is inverted when Dolores Claiborne is questioned about her husband's death. She deliberately hesitates a second before answering anything because she knows answering immediately will indicate that she's too practiced and prepared.
  • The Dresden Files:
    • A fairly realistic example in Ghost Story; Butters and Daniel are impersonating Wardens to try and intimidate a low-level warlock, and it seems to work until he asks them why they don't have the Wardens' trademark swords, at which point Butters hesitates and their cover is blown. It's pointed out later that had Daniel and Butters immediately responded or completely ignored the question as below their concern, the bluff might have worked. Butters was not an experienced liar, he had not had much time to work out the cover story, he was under a lot of stress at the time, and the warlock in question had some sort of very weak innate telepathy and was exactly the sort of impulsive person who would not stop to consider whether there might be an innocent reason for the hesitation. There actually was an innocent explanation for a Warden not carrying a sword ( the person who forged them was trapped in another body that lacked her former magical talent,) but the warlock was too low down in the magical food chain for this information to have reached him yet, and was able to see through the lie when someone who was better informed would not have thought it odd that the imposters had no swords.
    • Harry hesitates in Fool Moon when it's revealed that one of his apprentices was connected to the werewolf they were chasing, causing Murphy to think he was withholding information.
  • In Fractured Stars, McCall deactivates her illegally obtained android Scipio and hides him in a closet in a locked cabin. She tells Dash that the empty cabins are "for work or, uhm, storage." Dash immediately guesses that she's hiding something illegal in one of the "storage" cabins.
  • Hercule Poirot:
    • In Murder on the Orient Express, when Poirot mentions to Hector MacQueen the letter naming Daisy Armstrong, the secretary interrupts his own reply. Poirot deduces that MacQueen is involved with the cover-up. (In this case, however, MacQueen didn't so much hesitate as he did start a sentence, stop, and change the sentence.)
    • Subverted in The Hollow which involves a group of people trying to cast suspicion on themselves in order to cover for the real murderer. This leads them to try all sorts of tricks to convince Poirot that they're lying when they're telling the truth, and telling the truth when they're lying.
  • In the Temps story "Leaks", a scientist experimenting on a paranorm whose only power is to channel other people's beer into his own glass, and insists it won't work on anything non-alcoholic, asks him "Would, ah, light ale provoke the desire sufficiently?" As the "ah" suggests, the bottle he's holding turns out to contain cold tea.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Pick a crime drama, any crime drama... Sometimes seems you can't go two episodes without this trope being the only reason a cop or prosecutor declares someone to be lying, no matter how logical or reasonable what the suspect says is.
  • Bionic Woman. Becca is suspicious about what her sister is up to, and grills her boss Jonas about her supposed job selling timeshares. Jonas is such a Consummate Liar he's able to make his hesitation look like he's thinking about the answer.
  • The Book of Boba Fett. When asked if he's ever removed his helmet, which is against the Creed, Din hesitates to answer, making it obvious he did and only encouraging the Armorer to press until he admits it.
  • Community: Jeff is normally a Consummate Liar, but devolves into this when the audience needs to know he's lying.
    Jeff: You probably just Britta'd the test somehow.
    Britta: Wait. Are people using my name as a verb to mean "make a tiny mistake"?
    Jeff: Yes.
  • Friends:
    • Explained in "The One with the Jam" where Chandler is explaining his problems with Janice which includes him pausing before what could be considered a white lie.
    Chandler: Okay, well. Janice said 'Hi, do I look fat today?' And I, I looked at her...
    Ross: Whoa, whoa, whoa. You looked at her. You never look. You just answer, it's just a reflex. Do I look fat? Nooo! Is she prettier than I am? Noo! Does size matter?
    Rachel: Nooo!
    Ross: And it works both ways.
  • Invoked on Frontline, when Brooke edits a pause into the interview of a priest accused of rape to make it look like he's thinking about his answer.
  • From Get Smart: Max's "Would you believe?" segments often included this.
  • In Heroes, when Matt tells Daphne he believes she's reformed, the poor guy is told Hesitation Equals Dishonesty, with the extra twist that the amount of time he hesitated was only significant to someone with Super-Speed.
  • In a season two episode of How I Met Your Mother, Ted is trying to catch Robin out in a lie by asking a string of questions about the wedding she claims that she had. When she hesitates answering a question about the catering, he immediately takes that as his in to accuse her of lying, but she quickly covers by saying that she wasn't sure how to answer the question as there were multiple possible answers. She's got rapid-fire responses for all his other follow-up questions about the ceremony until he gets to "Husband's name?" to which she just stammers in response. It turns out that she is lying and was never married.
  • Interview with the Vampire (2022): In "In Throes of Increasing Wonder...", after Paul inquires about the nature of Lestat's relationship with Louis, Lestat hesitates for a full seven seconds before he can formulate an answer. 1910 was a very homophobic era, so Lestat can't reply truthfully that he has been wooing Louis these past few months.
  • Judge Judy tends to assume that any answer with a pause in front of it is a lie. And don't you dare fill-in that silence with "Um"!
  • Knight Rider pulled this now and again (since at least one character can only communicate with a words, and a series of little red lights, his hesitations were usually blindingly obvious. Then there's a scene in one of the traditional smash-KITT-up-so-we-can-redesign-him-for-the-new-season episodes:
    KITT: Where are we? Everything is so dark... is it night?
    Bonnie: ...Yeah.
  • Averted on Lie to Me: characters point out that prepared lies generally cause people to answer more quickly because they have already prepared their story for questioning. The way to catch these people is to ask them to repeat their story backwards: your average liar won't bother to practice enough to get this right, but someone telling the truth will obviously be able to draw on their memory to answer. It's also mentioned, however, that hesitating is a way to make people think you're lying.
  • The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power: When an imprisoned Adar questions Halbrand about his identity, Halbrand turns his back on Adar and stops for a few moments, but then leaves without answering the question, implying that he was dishonest about his origins. The second time it happens, is when Bronwyn asks him if he is the king he was promised. He hesitates to answer and looks at Galadriel, who nods affirmatively to him, and only then Halbrand says "yes".
  • Lost's Benjamin Linus falls into the trope rather absurdly. 98% of what he says is at best a half-truth, and after several seasons it's still hard to tell which was which. But whenever he says something the audience already knows is a lie (like, say, that the smoke monster killed Jacob), he hesitates.
  • Inverted in Merlin when Gaius catches Morgana trying to retrieve the mandrake root enchantment that she's hidden under Uther's bed. On asking her if she's looking for something, Morgana doesn't hesitate for a second when she answers "my earring." However, Gaius knows full-well that she's lying, as Merlin has already told him what she's been up to.
  • On The Middle, Frankie had set up a play date for Brick that went well. Several days passed without the other mother contacting her again, so Sue called her to ask what was up. The other mother said, "My son's been... sick." Sue accepts this, but thinking about it later she wonders why the woman had hesitated, and it turns out she was lying.
  • In one episode of Monk, Monk's assistant asks him if he saw some embarrassing pictures of her. He hesitates for about a minute (no exaggeration intended), refusing to meet her eyes, before he responds "no". Then, as he walks away, he wretchedly adds, "Yes."
  • Discussed between John Weir and Hailey Winton in Rabbit Hole (2023) as he is training her in the art of deception to help him with an op. He asks her to tell him something about herself, either true or a lie. When she hesitates in starting to tell her story, he tells her that he knows that she's lying because she hesitated and that people are suckers for confidence. Later, when Hailey is actually doing the op and tells their target that she knows he's lying because he hesitated, John comms through her earpiece that now she's just showing off.
  • Jon Lovitz's "The Liar" character from Saturday Night Live. "Yeah... that's the ticket!"
  • Smallville's Clark Kent is the king of this, pausing for years before delivering a horrible explanation for something that has even the slightest correlation to his being an alien. If you're going to pause that long, Clark, at least come up with a plausible explanation, will ya?
  • Downplayed in the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode "Future Imperfect." Every time Riker asks someone a question there is a slight pause before they answer. It's so subtle that the audience might not notice it on first viewing, and Riker himself seems to take it as the person not knowing how to word an answer to a sticky question. It's when the very blunt and logical Data takes unnecessary pauses even for math problems that Riker realizes something's up. Riker turns out to be in an elaborate holo-simulation, and the pauses are the computer needing a moment to generate the proper response.
  • Star Trek: Deep Space Nine: Inverted Trope. Garak is so good at lying that he can barely tell the truth. It's an art form for him, and something he engages in so frequently and with such open joy, that he has gained a great deal of notoriety. He lies about his skills, his past, the reason why he's in exile... even when he's beaten up or so ill that he's at death's door, he still lies about what happened to him. On one occasion, his shop is blown up in an attempt to assassinate him. Constable Odo's investigation leads the command crew to the discovery that the Romulans appear to be behind it. Garak is uncharacteristically silent throughout the entire session until Commander Sisko asks him why the Romulans would want him dead. There's silence for a moment and then Garak simply says that he has no idea. Infuriated, Sisko begins to rant about how he's reached the end of his patience with Garak's constant lying only to be interrupted by Odo saying that, this time, Garak is telling the truth. They're all startled by Odo's statement until Odo points out that, if Garak was lying, he'd have already been spinning out an elaborate web of deceit.
  • Supernatural: After Balthazar rewrites history by un-sinking the Titanic, and is then forced to reset things by a very angry Fate, Castiel and the Winchesters have this exchange. The boys think Balthazar did it because he's an impulsive hedonist who hated the Titanic movie, but Castiel knows it was to create fresh souls for his war in heaven.
    Dean: Did Balthazar really unravel the sweater over a chick flick?
    Castiel:....Yes. (not meeting Dean's eyes) Absolutely. That's what he did.
  • According to David Simon this is how the viewers should have been able to tell a certain story D'Angelo tells in the first season of The Wire is not quite true.
  • Played with on the Panel Game Would I Lie to You?, where hesitating can be the sign of a bad liar ... or a panelist trying to appear to be lying.

  • The Navy Lark: One episode had Pertwee not only hesitate, but ask Cmdr. Murray to give him a minute to think, before reeling off an improbable explanation. Lampshaded by Phillips as being not too bad, given the time he had to come up with it.

  • The characters in The Matchmaker mostly speak clearly and without errors, and in some places spontaneously produce eloquent monologues. In a few places, Mrs. Levi is written as stammering or using filler noises specifically to signal to the audience that at these moments she's making it up as she goes along.
  • Speaking in Tongues: John hesitates when he tells Leon that he got home around midnight to find a series of messages from his wife on the answering machine. It eventually turns out that he got home earlier and heard his wife's last message while she was leaving it, but made no attempt to answer the phone.

    Video Games 
  • RPGs with a Character Alignment system, such as Planescape: Torment or Neverwinter Nights sometimes allow the exact same words to be spoken as truth or lie, only differentiated by a "<Lie>" tag. With no tag, opinions and claims are assumed to be the character's genuine belief, and alignments will adjust accordingly.
  • Fallout, and doubtless many other older RPGs without much spoken dialog, use this trope to convey to the player that a particular dialog tree choice is... the gospel truth, of course. In modern gaming, tags such as "<Lie>" are included instead to indicate to the player that his character is lying.
  • At the end of The 11th Hour, you are finally able to complete your mission of saving Robin, and she even declares that she loves you... in a very restrained fashion. This is because she has accepted Stauf's deal to be put in charge of her own television network.
  • In the 1st Degree definitely plays this straight. When you question the defendant Tobin and pin him about the phone message of him threatening Zack, he says "I was trying to...persuade Zack to withdraw the claim." He's lying, you know it and the prosecutor you're playing as knows it.
  • Iji When Iji lies about the surviving Tasen in a Pacifist Run. According to Word of God, this was to make it obvious to the player that she was lying, rather than saying the same line regardless of the facts.
  • Peret em Heru: For the Prisoners: If poor Yoko is killed, Professor Tsuchida claims that they actually survived their mauling. Dr. Kuroe is clearly caught off guard by this assertation, but goes along with it... after hesitating and stammering slightly.
  • Girl Stinky of Sam & Max does this constantly. Typically when she's actually being honest.
  • Shanghai.EXE: Genso Network: When Alice wants to lie when being asked a direct question on the cruise ship, her "Um..." gives her away.
  • Eggman's public announcements in Sonic Colors are often full of these, at least whenever he's not being brutally honest.

    Visual Novels 
  • Everyone in Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc invokes this at several points. In the demo trial, when Makoto's accused of being the murderer, he stutters from shock. Leon leaps on this, insisting that proves he's responsible. Lampshaded by Mukuro-as-Junko's shocked question: "Seriously?! Stuttering makes you suspicious?!"
  • In Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney – Trials and Tribulations, when Edgeworth is cross-examining Larry Butz:
    Larry: I didn't see a s-snowmobile!
    Edgeworth: HOLD IT!...Larry! You really didn't see it?
    Larry: H-H-Hey! No need to hit your desk! I can hear you! ...I didn't see it! I didn't see a s-s-snowmobile!
    Edgeworth: ...Larry. Say "snowmobile" for me, please?
    Larry: S-S-S-Snowmobile.
    Edgeworth: If you truly have nothing to hide... then why are you stammering like you just flew over a cuckoo's nest!?

    Web Animation 
  • Princess Natasha: In "Something's Rotten in Zoravia", King Karl asks Natasha if she destroyed Lubek's weather machine. She didn't and hesitates before lying.
  • Red vs. Blue: After a converation with Tex, Church realizes the true identity of Gary, which was Gamma, the A.I. of Wyoming and accuses him of lying.
    Gamma: Lying is such a shisno concept. I mean, human concept.
    Church: You're a computer. I thought computers can't lie.
    Gamma: They can if they are programmed to lie.
    Church: Were you programmed to lie?
    Gamma: (Beat) ...No.
    Church: Goddammit.

  • Pixie and Brutus:
    • Pixie tries to get Brutus to explain what war is after hearing their owner call Brutus a "Military Working Dog", and Brutus stalls for some time and then tells her militaries play games with each other.
    • In a strip where Brutus takes down a hawk, he shows her one of its feathers. She gushes excitedly and asks him where he got it. Brutus hesitates briefly before saying he just found it lying there.
  • Stand Still, Stay Silent: In Chapter 14, Onni figures out that Reynir is lying about the entire crew being fine after the battle from Chapter 13 due to Reynir taking two Beat Panels worth of time to answer when he asks after Tuuri and Lalli.
  • In The Order of the Stick following the reveal that Julia's "message spell" is actually Eugene using an illusion to get past Roy's refusal to accept his help, you can go back and see that every time "Julia" has to get into details about how the spell works, or talk about her own life rather than what Roy needs to do, there's a pause.

    Web Videos 

    Western Animation 
  • On The Fairly OddParents!, Timmy's parents become convinced he's stealing when he can't immediately answer their questions about a recent string of robberies. Of course, he is lying, but it's because he's covering the existence of his fairies.
  • Parodied as well in The Looney Tunes Show, when Daffy accuses Porky of this due to his stutter when trying to get out of paying a littering fine. No one buys it.
  • The Simpsons:
    • Parodied/subverted: Bart's announcement of, "Well, I'm doing a presentation on... fireworks!" is met with his mother saying, "Bart, I wish you wouldn't lie like that" before confiscating said fireworks. Cut to Springfield Elementary, where Skinner is announcing a fireworks show, courtesy of Bart.
    • Also subverted when Marge asks Homer where he's going, and he replies 'I'm just going outside... to stalk... Lenny and Carl', which is exactly what he was planning to do.
    • Played straight (And very noticeably so) when Homer asks Marge whether she thinks he's smart or not. It veers into Overly-Long Gag territory:
      Marge: (after a very long pause) Yes.
      Homer: Thanks, honey. (beat) Waaaait a minute. How come you hesitated?
      (long pause)
      Marge: No reason.
      Homer: Oh, okay. (beat) Waaaait a minute. Are you humoring me?
      (long pause)
      Marge: Yes.
      Homer: Oh, okay. (beat) Waaaait a minute. That's bad!
    • In "Diatribe of a Mad Housewife", Homer does this when Marge asks him is he read her manuscript. Each pause is accompanied by Homer's pupil darting back and forth.

    Real Life 
  • Richard Dawkins was asked in an interview if he could "give an example of a genetic mutation or evolutionary process which can be seen to increase the information in the genome" — a question that, he later said, "would only be phrased that way by somebody who doubts that evolution happened." He famously paused for eleven seconds before answering, and the tape was used by creationists to claim that evolutionists don't have all the answers. Dawkins explains he had actually just realized that the documentary being filmed wasn't what he thought it would be, and was trying to decide whether to throw them out or not.
  • This Cosmo article is doing its best to make the belief more prevalent. Note that it counts both significant hesitation and simply SWALLOWING while having a conversation. Ruthlessly mocked by Cracked here
  • Military recruiters. Hesitate for any reason, and they automatically assume you're a liar.
  • Ever hesitated to answer a question your mother asked you? She'll automatically assume that the worst answer must be true regardless of the answer you do end up giving.
  • Police interrogations, similar to the military recruiters example above. Most reasonable people would give you a few moments to ponder the question "where were you last night between 20:00 and 23:00?" as it's information you wouldn't usually keep accurate tabs on unless you knew it would be important later. Unfortunately, the end goal of an interrogation is to coerce a confession - and any detail that pushes things in that direction is to the interrogator's advantage.
    • Statement analysis of the things said by many criminals have noted that they often repeat the questions that they have been asked—"Where was I last night?", "What time did I leave?", etc. This is because they are sensitive questions and repeating them allows the person to hesitate and think of an answer without making it obvious that they are doing so.
      • These analyses will also note that people won't simply say "Yes" or "No". For example, Bill Clinton's infamous—and indeed, false—denial of his affair with Monica Lewinsky was "I did not have. . . ", rather than just "No, I didn't.", essentially putting as much distance as possible between themselves and the lie.
      • Even written statements can display this, with analysts noticing extra space between falsehoods and none between truthful comments.
  • Invoked by Adlai Stevenson II during The Cuban Missile Crisis, when he demanded that Valerian Zorin, the Soviet Ambassador to the United Nations, say whether or not they were installing nuclear missile sites in Cuba. In this case, invoking the trope for someone being asked a question in a foreign language, making for a darkly humorous play of this trope despite the serious topic.
    Stevenson: Don't wait for the translation, answer 'yes' or 'no'!"note 
    • The Soviets were in fact placing nuclear missiles in Cuba, but Zorin refused to answer the question. Unfortunately for him, Stevenson had brought surveillance photographs of the missile sites.
  • This trope is likely part of why introverted people are often distrusted by extroverted people. As this article says, an introvert usually thinks before he/she speaks, while an extrovert tends to speak as he/she thinks. Because saying their thoughts aloud right as they come is natural for an extrovert, they assume that anyone who doesn't do that is trying to hide something.
  • Inverted with the baseball player, Jackie Robinson when Brooklyn Dodgers team owner, Branch Rickey, interviewed him to break the color line of Major League Baseball. When Robinson was offered a chance to be that breakthrough player, which is bound to have a lot of vicious white resistance, Robinson pondered the opportunity for a few minutes in silence. To Rickey, that was a very good sign that Robinson was taking the matter seriously; had he facilely accepted and brushed off the difficulties to come, Rickey would have feared he would not be ready to take the challenge on.


Video Example(s):


Chocolatey ate Pinecone

Chocolatey accidentally eats Pinecone in her sweets craze, then in the stinger she's asked where he is, and she says that she has no idea.

How well does it match the trope?

5 (2 votes)

Example of:

Main / HesitationEqualsDishonesty

Media sources: