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I'll Pretend I Didn't Hear That

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Captain Peacock: Would you please hurry about your business and get back to the storeroom?
Mr. Harman: You've got no authority over me, so get stuffed.
Captain Peacock: I didn't hear that.
Mr. Harman: You've got no authority over me, so get stuffed!

There are times when an authority figure has to be flexible but still maintain their authority. In these times, many use the following tactic to make clear that they have noticed an activity by commenting on how they haven't noticed it. This way, they're able to draw attention to the fact that the activity is prohibited while still allowing it to happen.

This is not willful ignorance; the authority figure is making it known that they are aware of the situation but for some reason feel that drawing further attention to it might be a problem. This usually carries one of two messages:

  1. : "I don't want you to be doing that, but I'll give you one warning." Example:
    Sergeant: Go home, Private, before I have to notice you being drunk and disorderly.
  2. : "I wanna turn a blind eye, but I also wanna warn you not to mention it again because the next person who overhears might not be as sympathetic." Example:
    Sergeant: It's a good thing I can't see you doing that graffiti, Private, or I'd have to report you to the C.O.

Related to Could Say It, But.... See also Fake Static, Suspiciously Specific Denial, Stepping Out for a Quick Cup of Coffee and You Didn't See That. Also compare with Selective Obliviousness, where a character may pretend not to hear or notice something because they simply don't want to or know they can't deal with it.


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    Anime & Manga 
  • Bleach: After overhea... sorry, NOT overhearing a conversation between Iba and Ikkaku regarding Ikkaku's secret Bankai, Komamura excuses himself by claiming to suddenly be deaf.
    Komamura: Rest easy. Unfortunately, my ears are not working well today.
  • Jaco the Galactic Patrolman in Dragon Ball Z: Resurrection 'F'. His job is two things: preventing the Saiyans from reaching Earth and preventing time travel. He failed utterly in both and just writes it off by saying he never saw it. This is equally good since all of the "offenders" are much more powerful than he is.
  • One Piece:
    • As Luffy and Koby part ways, a Marine officer asks Koby if he's Luffy's crewmate. Koby tries to deny it at first, aware that being associated with pirates would end his dream of becoming a Marine, though he finds the decision painful due to having become friends with Luffy after he rescued Koby from Alvida. But when Luffy decides to bring up Koby being press-ganged into being her cabin boy, Koby punches him in the face to shut him up; Luffy retaliates by beating up Koby until he can't stand, leaving the Marine officer in question to determine that Luffy and Koby aren't affiliated after all, before demanding that he and Zoro leave the town. He later makes it clear that he's aware that Luffy goaded Koby into punching him on purpose, but keeps the whole thing under wraps because he wants to discreetly thank Luffy for getting the local Marines rid of Axe-Hand Morgan. He even salutes Luffy with Koby and the rest of his men as he sails off, before declaring that a Marine saluting a pirate is considered a breach of conduct, and therefore everyone present will be punished by going without food for the next few days. Absolutely no one complains.
    • "I don't hear anything." For context, the Straw Hats learn that Usopp wants to rejoin their crew after previously quitting, and a few of them plan to go find him and patch things up. Zoro, however, insists that Luffy can't simply let Usopp rejoin without the latter first apologizing, since it would be allowing a crew member to disrespect him; if the first thing Usopp says when he returns is an apology, that's fine, but if not, they need to leave without him, to which Luffy agrees. When Usopp does come back while the crew is trying to escape from the Marines, the first several things he says are decidedly not apologies, instead trying to sidestep doing so and claiming that him quitting the crew was a joke with his usual swagger. Each time, Zoro and Luffy pull this when the others point out Usopp's presence by claiming "I can't hear anything", and eventually the rest of the crew follows suit. It's briefly subverted when, after giving him multiple chances, he still hasn't said he's sorry, and they start to escape without him; however, it's then double subverted when Usopp, upon seeing this, breaks down in tears, apologizes for being stubborn, and begs to be allowed to rejoin, at which point Luffy gladly lets him back in anyway.

    Comic Books 
  • At the end of Batman: Year One, Gordon realizes that the man who just saved his son must be the same Batman who the Gotham Police have been hunting. Given that he's standing close enough to hand Gordon his son, and Gordon had previously met Bruce Wayne, the implication is clear.
    Gordon: You must be wearing some armor under that jacket.
    Bruce Wayne: Yes.
    Gordon: You know, I'm practically blind without my glasses. Sirens coming. You'd better go.
  • Heavily implied in Identity Crisis (2004) to be the way Superman and Batman (tacitly) handle knowing Batman was mind-wiped by the League. As some of the veteran members put it, Superman hears what he wants to hear (said with Superman in the background of the panel) and Batman's just too good a detective to not work things out.
  • In the Scooby-Doo story "The Phantom Of Youth" (Marvel, 1978), a millionaire hires Scooby and the gang to help him find the Fountain of Youth. The gang suddenly changes their course when Scooby disappears. When the millionaire tells them to forget Scooby, Fred tells him "I'm going to pretend you didn't say that."
  • In a Star Wars comic, Darth Vader is on a seedy planet in search of rumors of a Jedi woman. A gang of mercenaries decide to try to assassinate him while he's alone. Boba Fett happens to be on the planet at the time and when he arrives on the scene, hesitates only a moment before standing with Vader as the two slaughter the thugs together. After the battle is won the woman reveals herself, and clarifies that she is no Jedi - she wants Vader to train her to be a Sith. She tells Vader that she knows that he wants to overthrow the Emperor, and with her power, they can do it together. note  Fett quips that he's going to pretend he didn't hear any of that, and suggests they leave. Vader and Fett indeed depart after Vader effortlessly kills the woman and Vader gives Fett a backhanded compliment commending his skill at reading the odds.
  • In Top 10, when Irma Geddon and Joe Pi go to arrest Atoman, she makes a careless remark about how Atoman's long lifespan will mean a prison sentence would just be a slap on the wrist, and that he deserves something a lot worse. (Bear in mind they have damning evidence that he's a pedophile and an accomplice to murder.) Joe laments that he's "accidentally" destroyed his inbuilt audio taping system with his "typical machine clumsiness", so he wouldn't have any evidence if a fellow police officer were to, hypothetically, suggest doing anything illegal. He then tricks Atoman into committing suicide.

    Fan Works 
  • In Ancestor, Keitaro is trying to convince Kanako that she still needs more training under Hina before he can train her, thus she can't come live with him at the Hinata Inn.
    Kanako: What if I gave up learning our style?
    Keitaro: (suddenly very serious) I'm going to pretend I didn't hear that Kana-chan. Because if I did hear that, I definitely wouldn't let you come live at the Hinata-Sou. We do not allow students of our style to quit halfway through their training. Do you know why? Because they are too dangerous. A student at your level has skills that are deadly but not the self-control to use them correctly. If we did allow them the death toll would be unacceptable.
  • In Brought Together, a rookie cop spots Batman on the security cameras breaking into the evidence room but is stopped from calling it in by his sergeant who tells him that if Batman is stealing something, he's going to be saving a lot of lives by doing so, and he should just ignore it. Unfortunately, Batman's been mind controlled by Poison Ivy and is stealing some plants for her.
  • By the time Atropos reveals she murdered Sophia Hess/Shadow Stalker in A Darker Path, the PRT understands that going against Atropos is suicide both literally and metaphorically, especially as Atropos clearly laid out exactly why she killed Shadow Stalker. So they officially declare that Atropos is lying for attention and continue with their working theory that the murder was carried out by Othala and Cricket. Unofficially, Shadow Stalker brought it on herself by screwing with the wrong person and not backing down when warned.
  • The protagonist in Food Scandal is nearly killed when the man she's questioning realizes he just incriminated himself in poisoning millions of Stormtroopers and is only saved by her body armor. During her debrief, Darth Vader deliberately pretends she let the attack happen to solidify the case as opposed to simply forgetting to have the area searched for weapons.
  • In For Love of Magic, Amelia Bones makes it clear to Harry that she knows he's behind the recent disappearances of exonerated Death Eaters but isn't too interested in actually investigating so long as only Death Eaters disappear.
  • For The Honor of the Regiment: While Taylor Hebert is at the police station being questioned about a convenience store robbery in which she killed one robber and restrained the other, the Merchants attack. Even though the police see her shoot and kill several of the Merchants and each one killed is done so via the exact same almost impossible shot, the entire police force pretends they have no idea who did it and promptly "lose" any evidence pointing towards her. One officer lampshades that her actions could count as self-defense "depending on how much you squinted" and that since she just saved his life, he was prepared to squint an awful lot.
  • In My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic fanfic Little Deceptions, Master of Disguise Blank Slate has made it all the way to the vault and is pretending to stand guard outside, dressed in guard armor. Everything has gone according to plan, until Princess Celestia shows up, sits down next to him, and calls him by his real name.note 
    "Good evening, Cuckoo Cloud. I'm glad to see we have an extra-vigilant guard on duty here tonight. It's an important position, protecting the treasures of our nation. Especially these days..." She sighed quietly, looking away, the shining afternoon clouding over. "I’m sure you’ve heard that there have been many unfortunate thefts lately throughout the city. It’s... very unfortunate. Equestria is a wonderful nation, but despite my best efforts, there are still some ponies that need to turn to crime to survive. We do our best to help them whenever possible. But there's nothing that disappoints me more than knowing that there are ponies who turn to crime without truly needing to... hurting other ponies without real reason. It's something I've always found hard to understand. And if there was anything I could do to discourage it further, I would. But I want you to remember – no pony is beyond redemption. There’s always another chance, always a better way to use their talents. Do you agree?"
    All he could do was nod his head, the actual message too huge to truly take in. She's... not going to...?
    And she gave him another smile, the sunlight breaking through the cover once again as she gazed down at him proudly, warming him down to the tips of his hooves. "I’m glad. Good luck, Cuckoo Cloud." She stood. "But I don’t think you’ll need it. I don’t think there will be any problems at the vault with somepony like you standing guard, will there?"
  • Lampshaded in Old Soldiers Never Die when Harry's Sergeant Rock tells him that "a good officer needs to know when to go for a walk, and a good sergeant needs to know when to take a prisoner behind the rocks."
  • Pandora AU: When Sonic accidentally lets slip that there's something specific in the basement that he is looking to reach, Manic decides to overlook it.
Sonic: Whoa... It really just takes you right to it- I mean, right down there.
Manic: Gonna ignore that poorly covered slip-up, but yeah!
  • This Bites!:
    • When first informed by Smoker, Tashigi, and Hina of their planned coup against the corrupt government, T-Bone starts walking out of the room, loudly talking to himself about meeting Smoker for the first time the next day.
    • On the eve of the Marineford war, Commander in Chief Kong tries to talk Sengoku out of his pending retirement by invoking the memory of Sengoku's dead son. He's promptly knocked out by Sengoku's haki, and when he regains consciousness Sengoku very calmly asks if he was saying something; Kong takes the hint and changes the subject.
  • Luffy tries to get Franky to join his crew in To Protect Everything by pointing out that he'd be required by Marine code to inspect the materials his ship is made out of. If he found out it was illegally made out of Adam wood, Luffy would be forced to scrap the ship and arrest the one who built it. But if said shipwright was a crewmate, Luffy could just take him at his word that the ship doesn't contain any illegal materials.
  • Lampshaded in A Year Too Soon when a prefect warns Harry not to get carried away when he "has a word" with Draco because said prefect doesn't want to "Inform Lord Malfoy why [he] was looking the other way while his 'dear son' was cursed."
  • In one Sherlock Holmes ficlet by KCS, one of the constables, Randall Cummings, brings Lestrade in to look at things when Holmes attacks a prisoner. Despite Cummings pointing out that Holmes could be liable for assault, Lestrade just answers, "Only if one of us books him for it". Given that the prisoner is a killer who tried to stab Watson, neither of them feels particularly inclined to do so.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • In Are You Being Served?, when Captain Peacock tells Mr. Harmon to get off the shop floor, he is told to "get stuffed". Captain Peacock remarks he didn't hear that in an attempt to wave off his insolence, so Mr. Harman shouts it again.
  • In The Guilty, Asger calls Bo and tells him to send a dispatch to Michael's home to look for clues as to where he's taking Iben. Bo asks whether anybody is at home, to which Asger replies that he doesn't know, but that they'll have to break in if nobody is. Bo says he didn't hear what Asger said. Asger repeats himself only to get the same answer before he catches on.
  • In Lock, Stock & Two Smoking Barrels, Big Chris demands that JD sign over his pub to settle his son's gambling debt:
    JD: I do know your reputation. So I choose my words very carefully. You tell Harry... to go fuck himself.
    Big Chris: Now, I'll put that down to shock. Only once.
  • Inverted in The Man from U.N.C.L.E. (2015). The CIA spymaster says he knows Boxed Crook Napoleon Solo is making money on the side, "but do not make the calamitous error of mistaking my deliberate short-sightedness, for blindness."
  • When K climbs on top of the Apollo 11 rocket in Men in Black 3, this exchange takes place among the crew.
    Buzz Aldrin: If we report this, they'll scrub the launch.
    Neil Armstrong: I didn't see anything.
  • In the first Starship Troopers movie Rico resigns from the military (which precludes ever being allowed to re-enlist). The same day, his hometown is destroyed in an alien attack, so he begs to be allowed to fight for revenge.
    Sgt. Zim: (holding up Rico's discharge form) Is this your signature, soldier?
    Rico: (reluctantly) Yes, sir!
    (Zim looks at his commanding officer, who conspicuously looks away)
    Sgt. Zim: Doesn't look like it to me. (tears up the form) Carry on, Private!
    Rico: (relieved) Yes, sir!
  • Inverted in Terminator Salvation: when John Connor gets in an argument with General Ashdown over the radio, the general orders John relieved of his position, then signs off. Two of John's men who overheard the argument immediately say that they didn't catch the general's last order, indicating that they'll help with John's plan.
  • Bend It Like Beckham: Jess lies to her parents about staying with a cousin so she can sneak off and join her football team on a trip to Germany. When she explains how she got away to her coach he replies that he didn't hear that and lets her on the bus.

  • Harry Potter:
    • Dumbledore does this in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, although in this case, Harry had already apologized for mouthing off against Rita Skeeter: "I have gone temporarily deaf and haven't any idea what you said."
    • Another more dramatic example from Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, when the trio arrives to Hogwarts, Neville recounts them what's been going on in the school, under the Carrows' rule. He told them that the teachers were supposed to send all misbehaving students straight to the two sadists for detention, but they don't send anyone, because they want to protect the rule-breakers from their Disproportionate Retribution.
  • Near the end of Holes, as Stanley and Zero are being driven home from Camp Green Lake, Zero openly admits that he committed the theft Stanley was wrongly arrested for. The driver of the car (Stanley's attorney) turns in her seat and tells him: "I didn't hear that. And I advise you to make sure I don't hear it again."
  • Discworld:
    • In Monstrous Regiment, Sergeant Jackrum says to a sentry who has left her post, "I must have bleeding good eyesight because I know for a fact you are on sentry duty over by those trees."
    • In Jingo, Lord Rust doesn't have to pretend he didn't hear Commander Vimes call him an "inbred streak of piss", because Rust is so convinced that anyone beneath his station would never blatantly insult him that he literally DOESN'T hear Vimes.
    • Vimes has been on the other ends of it, too, such as during the events of Thud!, when a fight nearly breaks out between dwarfish and troll members of the Watch over growing racial tensions. To save face for those involved, Corporal Nobbs tells an almost-plausible tale. Specifically  Vimes "pretended he believed it, and they pretended to believe he believed it."
    • By Snuff, Sybil has insisted Vimes give up cigars, and Willikins usually helps enforce this rule. However, under specific circumstances:
      Vimes: You may think you see me lighting a cigar, Willikins, but on this occasion, I think, you eyes may turn out to be at fault, do you understand?
      Willikins: Yes, and in fact I am deaf as well, commander.
    • In The Truth Harry King can't sell the Ankh-Morpork Times any paper since he's already agreed to sell his stock to their competitor. He can, however, leave a cart full of paper unguarded and pretend he doesn't notice them stealing it.
    • In Raising Steam, Angua, investigating a terrorist attack on a clacks site, pretends not to notice evidence that one of the terrorists was killed and mutilated by a conveniently missing goblin worker.
  • Robert A. Heinlein liked to use this one; as a naval officer, he'd probably been on both sides of it.
    • In Space Cadet (Heinlein), when Tex Jarman gets drunk in public, one of the cadet's instructors (who is sitting nearby) calls over Matt Dodson and warns him, "Go back and tell Jarman to quiet down before I have to come over and ask him what his name is."
    • In The Number of the Beast, the protagonists ask the Governor of the UK colony on Mars how they can exchange their gold for the local currency. He offhandedly mentions how he is glad to hear they don't have any gold, being it is illegal there for individuals to own gold.
    • Starship Troopers has a strange variation. During basic training, a recruit strikes a drill instructor. The instructor punishes him on a lesser charge, and the recruit demands a hearing anyway, which the instructor and the base commander strongly advise against. He proceeds anyway, and gives a full account of what he did. Once this is on the record, the base commander has no choice but to court-martial him and have him flogged. This is actually a light sentence, as assaulting a superior officer is normally a hanging offense.
  • In Betsy Byars's book The Pinballs, two of the child protagonists, Carlie and T.J., smuggle a puppy into the hospital to cheer up their friend Harvey. A nurse catches them doing this, but seeing that Harvey is genuinely feeling better thanks to the puppy, she tells them something along the lines of, "Now, you be careful with that puppy. Why, if I had seen it, I'd have to take it out of the room this very minute." Carlie is so impressed with the nurse's attitude that she declares later on that if she becomes a nurse, she'll act in the same way the nurse did.
  • Aubrey-Maturin: Jack Aubrey does this on several occasions, usually when Stephen or Killick is muttering something that it wouldn't do for the Captain to take notice of.
  • David Sedaris writes that when his mother was dying of cancer, he tried to end a phone conversation with her by saying, "I love you," and she responded, "I'll pretend I didn't hear that."
  • In Jerry Pournelle's West of Honor, one of the lieutenants comes across a private painting graffiti on the orderly room wall. He simply points out how unfortunate it would be if the Sergeant Major had been the one to catch him, and says that he expects to see the wall clean when he returns. He also lets pass without comment the private's explanation that "IHTFP" stands for "I Have Truly Found Paradise" (rather than "I Hate This Fucking Place").
  • The Belisarius Series has a Running Gag with Valentinian; when the latter mumbles something, typically cursing about the situation Belisarius is leading them into, Belisarius (who knows exactly what is being mumbled), asks what was said and someone, typically Anastasius, will cheerfully repeat it out loud... but since it would be insubordinate for Valentinian to say something like that, it might have actually been something else that sounds vaguely similar, even though it admittedly makes no sense.
  • Star Trek Novel 'Verse:
    • In Star Trek: Vanguard, Captain Desai (the station's JAG officer) responds to a mission request by Admiral Nogura with something akin to accusing him of trying to punt her off the station to avoid legal trouble. Nogura replies that, as a favor and for the sake of her Starfleet career, he's going to pretend he didn't hear her insubordinate remark.
    • Admiral Nechayev says it word for word in Terok Nor: Dawn of the Eagles, when Elias Vaughn explodes at her regarding the supposed peace with Cardassia, which he knows wasn't accepted in good faith by Cardassia. Instead, he insists that they both know it's just a means to give the Cardassians time to regroup.
  • The officers in McAuslan, a great deal. "It is astonishing just how often an officer's duty seems to consist of looking the other way, or maybe I was just a bad officer."
  • Played with in the X-Wing Series:
    Hobbie Klivian: Lieutenant Myn Donos. A good pilot, smart—
    Wes Janson: —smart, egotistical, self-centered, arrogant, insufferable—you know, a typical Corellian.
    Wedge Antilles: As a fair, broad-minded officer, I should ignore that. But as a Corellian, of course, I'll manage some sort of revenge.
  • Gaunt's Ghosts: A common element of Colonel-Commissar Gaunt's leadership, especially when it comes to bootleg liquor. In one noteworthy incident, he drops in on a celebration for the newly-minted Guard recruit Dalin Criid and asks point-blank if anyone brought any sacra. When it turns out they (of course) did, he suggests doling it out to the revelers "before someone sees it".
  • Ciaphas Cain, HERO OF THE IMPERIUM, uses this on occasion, such as his total ignorance to rank-inappropriate fraternization as long as it doesn't cause trouble, or his continued confusion as to how his aide Jurgen keeps finding things like meltas, extra carapace armor, the best rooms at the local billet, amasec rations, etc. (A combination of creatively misfiling requisitions and petty theft, mostly.) On the other hand, he finds it more reliable to bring the miscreants in question up on charges, and then find some bureaucratic pretext to drop the punishment. The end result is the same, of course, but he's a much more visible part of the process this way, which suits his purposes.
  • Common in The Legend of Sun Knight. Since Sun is both the leader of the holy knights and supposed to be viewed as perfect in the eyes of the people, the other holy knights are often obligated to act as though they don't know he practiced illegal magic, conspired against the king, or snuck an undead creature into their ranks.
  • In RCN, Daniel Leary's manservant and surrogate father Hogg is given to various "ne'er-do-well" activities, but because of their friendship, Leary explicitly says in narration that he doesn't ask how Hogg has "acquired" what the mission needs, because if Hogg's methods did come to light Leary would probably have to fire his mentor and best friend.
  • In the Relativity story "Payback", a little girl is kidnapped by mobsters. After she is rescued by the superheroes, the police chief, Aaron Brooks, wants her taken into protective custody (so she can serve as a witness). The superhero, Dark Flame, knows that the mob would have no hesitation in killing a little girl, and being protected by the police wouldn't do any good because too many cops are controlled by the mob. Her solution is to take the girl herself, so she would essentially disappear.
    Brooks: How the hell am I gonna explain her just "disappearing"?
    Dark Flame: Well, what if I disappeared?
    Brooks: (turns his back on her and takes several steps away) You know, I can't just let you go like that. I mean, what would they say downtown?
  • In Carl Hiaasen's Striptease, this is Orly's response when Erin (on behalf of the other dancers) requests that the air conditioning be turned up. Orly is pretending this is a Type 1 above, but is really hoping to just ignore the request until the issue is forgotten. When Erin then writes down "72 or no dancing", he adds "I'll pretend I didn't see that."
  • George MacDonald Fraser notes in the McAuslan stories that "It is amazing how much of a young officer's duties consist of looking the other way and pretending he hasn't noticed". His Author Avatar Lieutenant Dand mcNeill prefers to leave the discipline to his platoon sergeant (most of the time) on the grounds that he's better at it.
  • Journey to Chaos: Eric says something sacrilegious about the Bladi clan within hearing range of the clan's chief; explicitly, how their target should be "cut him up into cubes to make bladi-flavored ice tea". Because Eric is currently experiencing With Great Power Comes Great Insanity, Basilard says he will ignore it.
  • In The Summation scene of Murder on the Orient Express, Poirot gives Monsieur Bouc and Dr. Constantine two possible explanations on how Ratchett was murdered. The first explanation — that the murderer was an outside party who snuck on board the train and disappeared afterwards — is initially rejected by Bouc and Constantine as having too many holes in it, but after they hear the second (and true) explanation that everyone on the train murdered Ratchett to avenge the child he killed and the family he ruined, they agree with Poirot that the first explanation is definitely the right one, there's absolutely no need to mention the second explanation to the police, and there may also be one or two details about Ratchett's autopsy that need correcting.
  • The Way of Kings (2010): During a heated discussion Sadeas insults Renarin Kholin and calls him "useless". Dalinar Kholin calmly replies that he obviously didn't just hear his friend-turned-rival insult his son because if he had heard it then he would be obliged to make Sadeas pay for it.
    Dalinar: Surely you would not say that, as such an insult would demand that I summon my Blade and seek your blood.
  • Ascendance of a Bookworm: In Part 5 Volume 1, a student from the former Veronica faction tries to use the advancement ceremony to warn his parents of the upcoming purge of the faction's adults, all while only being still alive because the academy-age students are given the chance to swear fealty to Ehrenfest's archducal family to escape Family Extermination. Considering the circumstances, Rozemyne decides to ignore the incident just this once and not have it leave the Ehrenfest dormitory, as it risks affecting the extent to which that student's family will be punished, which could literally mean life or death.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Game of Thrones: Immediately after Robb takes charge of Winterfell, one of his bannermen gets drunk and attacks him. Rather than charge a valuable ally with treason, Robb puts the man down easily and agrees to pretend that it wasn't an attack.
    Robb: "My lord father taught me it was death to bare steel against your liege lord... Doubtless, the Greatjon only meant to cut my meat for me."
    • The entirety of Westeros’ nobility is doing this with Renly Baratheon and Loras Tyrell’s relationship. Officially, homosexuality is very illegal in Westeros note  and two men of their stature engaging in it is a huge crime. Unofficially, the Tyrells are a very powerful family that can very easily change the balance of power in the kingdom, so everybody just looks the other way and pretends they never heard anything, often while making it abundantly clear how they really feel about it. Joffrey makes a massive political faux pas when he publicly brings it up right in front of the Tyrells in his typical cruel and tactless way.
  • Madam Secretary: Jay is reporting to Bess on how stoning kills a person. He is so disgusted about an execution that the Iranians are going carry out, he yells that he wished the coup that the protagonists worked to prevent succeeded. Bess is obviously angry by his remarks, but given the nature of the topic, she tells Jay that just this once, she'll let it slide.
  • At least two instances on Battlestar Galactica (2003):
    • When Galactica has the opportunity to release a virus that will wipe out all Cylons, Helo argues that it's effectively genocide, and they should try to make peace with the Cylons instead. Given what the rest of the crew has been through, even making that suggestion doesn't go over well.
      Helo: They tried to live with us on New Caprica.
      Roslin: What did you say?
      Helo: They tried to live with us on New Caprica.
      Roslin: You weren't on New Caprica. To my recollection you never set foot there? So out of respect for the hundreds of men and women of your crew who suffered through that snakepit... I'm gonna pretend I didn't hear that.
    • After they bring up the subject of the Final Five Cylons (a taboo topic in Cylon culture) Cavil orders a number of his fellow Cylons to "take a cleansing walk" and he'll forget what he just heard them say.
  • Bones: Twice when Bones's brother Russ is arrested.
    • Russ turns himself in to Booth, with the understanding that he'll be allowed to see his hospitalized stepdaughter before being processed. When Bones thanks Booth for giving him that time, Booth responds that, officially, he's going to "happen upon" Russ while staking out the daughter's room, so that he and Bones don't get in trouble for it.
    • Later, when Bones is trying to get DA Caroline Julian to give Russ leeway with his sentencing since he turned himself in and isn't a flight risk, Julian says she didn't hear it, prompting Bones to repeat herself louder.
      Caroline Julian: (dumbfounded) Do I have this right, you're a genius? An honest-to-goodness-dyed-in-the-wool genius?
      Bones: (hesitantly) Yes?
  • Similarly in Only Fools and Horses: with the family under arrest, Del tries to bribe DI Slater to let them go. The detective replies, "I didn't hear that, Del-Boy!" whereupon Del begins to repeat the offer, more loudly, before Rodney cuts him off.
  • In an episode of Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, an attempt to find a deceased man's lover at his funeral backfires when a fight breaks out between mourners and protesters, and a number of people leave before they can be interviewed. This leads to the following exchange:
    Cragen: What did you get from the people at Reed's funeral?
    Fin: Not much. After the fight broke out, a bunch of people left before we got their names.
    Munch: (holding up a camera) Yeah, but we got their pictures.
    Cragen: Where the hell is that from?
    Munch: One of Reverend Shaw's church members, he must have left it behind.
    Casey: I didn't hear that.
    • In a later episode, a friend of Carisi's who works as a prosecutor in Queens manages to get the Queens DA (who is suffering from a carefully covered-up case of dementia) to sign off on vacating a wrongful conviction by claiming that the paper the DA was signing was a letter of recommendation for the friend's law school application. When he tells Carisi this, Carisi replies, "I didn't hear that and you did not say that — but thank you."
  • In an episode of Ned's Declassified School Survival Guide, a character starts an underground reaction to the school talent contest and one of the other characters asks the woodwork teacher for advice. His reply goes more or less "I, of course, didn't hear you refer to an event that the principal has specifically prohibited."
  • On That '70s Show, the main characters are talking about sex using thinly veiled metaphors, until Mrs. Foreman complains: "You're making it really hard to pretend I don't know what you're talking about".
  • Jim Keats, the season 3 Big Bad of Ashes to Ashes (2008) is hardly a Reasonable Authority Figure - he's just posing as one. He still breaks this one out every so often to maintain the facade that he isn't trying to bring down the entire department.
  • Happens somewhat regularly on both NCIS and NCIS: Los Angeles. Either the team needs something but don't have the time to get approval or approval would tip off the perp or Gibbs/Vance/Hetty require Plausible Deniability.
    • In one episode, a group of sailors are playing poker, with cash visible on the table. As one asks the other, "What do you got?", DiNozzo walks in, declaring, "About five seconds before the Agent Afloat sees you playing for stakes.", prompting them to scramble away.
  • On Hogan's Heroes, Sergeant Schultz frequently says "I see nothing!" because he knows that investigating would just make things worse for him.
  • A recurring exchange in the first season of The Smell of Reeves and Mortimer, whenever Mortimer tells a bad joke:
    Reeves: Oh you cheeky so-and-so.
    Mortimer: I'll pretend I didn't hear that.
    Reeves: I can't blame you. (or "I'll pretend you didn't")
  • On one episode of L.A. Law, Abby is attacked in her law office by a disgruntled client; she pulls a gun out of her purse and shoots him. In the next episode, the distraught Abby is describing the scene to a police officer. When she says she took the gun from her purse, he firmly corrects her: "Desk drawer. ...You didn't have a highly illegal concealed weapon; you had a lawful gun in your desk for personal defense."
  • Zig-zagged: The M*A*S*H episode "Some 38th Parallels" has the docs irked by a Colonel who seems to be unfazed at the death of one of his men. Hawkeye and Klinger have a sack of rubbish (which Hawkeye bought at Frank's auction for the village folk) dropped from a helicopter on the Colonel as he boards his jeep. Potter says pleasingly "I didn't see any of it but I loved every minute of it!"
    • In a later episode, Klinger asks Potter to do this after he comments that he's "not crazy" in response to Winchester suggesting to Potter that Klinger drive him to the airport as a storm is bearing down on them (meaning Klinger would have to make the return trip through said storm). Potter apparently takes it to heart (or else legitimately forgets the remark in all the chaos), as the conversation is never mentioned again.
  • Comes up frequently on White Collar.
    Peter: Pencils down. No one heard that.
  • In the Gotham episode "This Ball of Mud and Meanness", Alfred explains to Gordon and Bullock how Bruce insists on tracking down the man who killed his parents, and mentioned that he (i.e. Alfred) intended to kill the man himself to keep Bruce from getting blood on his hands.
    Bullock: We're the cops. Do not tell us stuff like this.
  • Maurice Levy of The Wire knows his way around this trope, which makes him such an effective and despicable defense attorney. For example, after a worrying set of arrests, he sits down with the kingpin and his Dragon to, in a nutshell, help them brainstorm a hit list. Once he gets them rolling, he removes himself from the conversation before anything actually illegal is mentioned.
    Levy: The less I hear of this the better.
  • ER. After Nurse Chuny lets it slip that Dr. Doug Ross immunized a child without the mother's consent (he was brought in by the child's babysitter), his supervisor Dr. Mark Greene declares, "I didn't hear that."
    • Another bit has Abby blithely admitting that she fraudulently used Carter's info to obtain her brother's medical records. Carter is stunned, but given that he doesn't say anything or turn her in, he's clearly invoking this trope.
    • Yet another has Sam telling her former employer that she shot her ex-husband—who had kidnapped her and their son, raped her, and shot and killed several people along the way, including his accomplices—while he was asleep on the ground, making her actions technically murder instead of self-defense. He looks her in the eye and declares, "I didn't hear that, and that's the last time you're going to say it."
  • Law & Order: UK. As the father of a murder suspect starts blurting out to Crown Prosecutor George Castle, an old friend of his, that he is the killer that the detectives are looking for, Castle screams at him to "Shut up! I can't hear this!", knowing that the guy is incriminating himself to someone who would be obligated to testify against him.
  • Blake's 7. In "Killer", Blake teleports down to help a Federation base deal with a deadly virus. When he informs a couple of research technicians that he's the Federation's most wanted political criminal, they reply that they can hardly be expected to remember people's names.
  • A retroactive example appears in Community after Frankie, a Bait-and-Switch Tyrant, shows up in Season 6 and begins threatening the main characters' control of the school. In defiance against her banning alcohol on campus, they end up building a speakeasy on the campus. While they think it's Hidden in Plain Sight, however, Frankie reveals that she actually knew about it all along because building a 1920s bar in the middle of a community college isn't really the kind of thing you can hide, but just let them think she didn't because it was easier than putting up with their childish, knee-jerk resistance to everything she was doing.
  • GLOW (2017): When K-DTV exec Tom Grant sexually harasses Ruth and she refuses his advances, he retaliates by putting GLOW on a dead time slot at 2:00 am. When Ruth tells Sam about this, Sam finds Tom's car and shatters the windshield with a tire iron. On his way out, Sam sees Tom's underling Glen Klitnick staring at him.
    Sam Sylvia: Glen.
    Glen Klitnick: You know, Tom pisses off a lot of people. Could've been anyone.
  • Silicon Valley: When the Pied Piper guys start talking about less-than-legal tactics, Monica states, "I wasn't in the room for that!" and leaves. In one particularly desperate circumstance, she merely steps out onto the patio and continues contributing to the conversation through the screen door.
  • Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman. The title character and her beau Sully act as spies for the Native Americans, warning them of an impending attack by the troop currently in town. After a battle in which most of the soldiers are killed, their leader asks Dr. Quinn how she came to be at the site. When she confesses that she came to warn the Native Americans, he very pointedly tells her, "No, you must have ridden out to visit a patient." When she affirms her statement, he arrests her for treason.
  • Cold Case. In "Justice", the team has determined that a Serial Rapist was shot and killed by the brother of one of his victims. As two detectives interrogate him, they subtly suggest that his actions were in self-defense (as he was only thirteen at the time). Two other detectives watching the interview ask, "Is she doing what I think?" "I'm not hearing it, are you?", and promptly turn off the monitor and walk away.
    • A similar incident (with the same two detective interestingly) occurs in "A Perfect Day", when one witness indirectly but clearly admits he killed his fiancee's abusive husband who is ultimately revealed as the killer of the primary victim, a little girl. Jeffries suggests there's no need to put that comment on the record, to which Vera replies, "Don't remember what the man said anyhow."
  • Frasier:
    • Niles is prone to using this reaction — either stated or unstated — in response to an unnecessary complication in an already convoluted circumstance or just something he'd rather not see.
      Bebe: (in a bathrobe, greeting Niles at the front door after having sex with Frasier) Good morning, Niles! What a lovely surprise! We were just bout to sit down to a big family breakfast. Won't you join us?
      (Niles gives a very frozen smile, and rings the doorbell again.)
    • Frasier himself does this when discussing TV shows with Noel Shempsky:
      Frasier: Noel, Star Trek is just a TV show.
      Noel: So was Brideshead Revisited!
      Frasier: [seething] You're angry, so I'm going to ignore that.
  • The Barrier: Several of the characters end up searching for Manuela in the Covarrubias house after she turns out to have caught noravirus. Among the handful of people searching for her, there are a couple who intend to help her get to a place where her condition may be treated more humanely than if she's handed over to the system in place to deal with noravirus patients. Rosa finds Manuela hiding in the garage moments before her allies do. When asked about her progress from another room, Rosa claims that the garage is empty, but that she heard noise coming from another part of the house. She then leaves the garage all while giving Manuela's allies a stern look.
  • The Orville: In "A Tale of Two Topas", Topa's father Klyden attacks Commander Grayson while arguing with her over her involvement in Topa discovering that she was born female and was forcibly sex-reassigned as an infant. Grayson puts him in a hammerlock and slams him against the wall, then snarls in his ear:
    "I'm gonna use my imagination and pretend that didn't just happen. And then I'm gonna let go, and you're gonna get the hell out of my office. And if you ever try to strike an officer again, I'm gonna break your goddamn arm off and mount it on my wall."

    Video Games 
  • Inverted in Final Fantasy X. Devout Yevonite Wakka questions the involvement of Maester Seymour Guado — essentially a high priest of Yevon — in an operation that uses machines forbidden by that religion; Seymour coolly suggests he simply pretend he doesn't see them. When Wakka, shocked, protests that that's not something a Maester should say, Seymour replies, "Then pretend I didn't say it." This is one of many early clues that Seymour is Obviously Evil.
  • In Mega Man Battle Network 3, Lan, expecting to find Mayl and Yai at his door (whom he had snapped at earlier and was ready with an apology), instead meets Chaud and assumes he's there to arrest him for having planted fire chips across the net which caused fires and even sent his father to the hospital - even though he'd been duped by Mr. Match into doing so - To which he cops out during their conversation. Chaud's visit was actually about asking Lan to fetch the Forbidden Program from the Undernet for the Officials, which was followed by the confession, and the trope comes in as a favor to Lan for helping get Chaud's father away from Sunayama at the TV studio.
  • In Company of Heroes, a cutscene shows a sergeant chugging away on a bottle of French wine. An officer strolls up and says he'll "assume that's grape juice". The sergeant says as the officer walks away "Right sir, grape juice! Well, it was...'bout a year ago."
  • Mass Effect 2:
  • In The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, the Empire's hope was to do this in regards to Talos worship in Skyrim, due to the White-Gold Concordat banning it. However, the Thalmor had other plans, manipulating the "asset" known as Ulfric Stormcloak into blatantly violating the concordat, giving the Thalmor justification to force heavier enforcement by the Empire and direct enforcement by the Thalmor. In the Empire ending for the Civil War, General Tullius does one on Legate Rikke as she says her last goodbye to her old comrade Ulfric's corpse, when she said "Talos guide you".
  • The World Ends with You has a section where Neku and his partner Joshua are fighting a rhino Taboo Noise. When they can't seem to beat it, Joshua suddenly levitates and fires a laser at it, destroying it in one shot, something way more powerful than anything he did before. Unfortunately, they're seen by Kariya, who notes that what he just did shouldn't be possible for a Player — so Joshua's participating in the Reaper's Game while still being alive. He also says that by Reaper rules, he should erase them both right now — but since what they did helped him out, he says he "blinked" and didn't see it. This time. After this cutscene, that attack is permanently unlocked, but the user holds back to stay under the radar, and it's never that powerful in the player's hands.
  • Happens twice in the same scene in Persona 4. Your cousin Nanako has just been kidnapped after your Detective Uncle Dojima takes you in for questioning. After he receives the news, he takes off leaving you and your friends with his partner Adachi. When the rest of your friends come as well, Adachi says he really shouldn't allow everyone to be in the Interrogation Room, but doesn't do anything to stop it. A little while after, the team finally discovers the identity of the kidnapper and tell Adachi they need to go after him, begging him to let you leave. He then decides to leave the room.
    Adachi: I just have to hope nothing happens here while I'm gone... I didn't see anything.
  • The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild: a minor sidequest in Hateno Village introduces you to the Horned Statue, a dealer in money and power who apparently earned Hylia's wrath sometime before the events of the game. He mostly serves as a means to exchange Heart Containers for Stamina Vessels or vice versa, in a roundabout way that makes use of this trope.
    Horned Statue: I'll give you 100 rupees to take one of your Heart Containers or a Stamina Vessel off your hands. You can have one back for 120 rupees. And if it's not the same one you gave me, why, I won't tell a soul.

  • In The Beast Legion, that's what Fyre thinks when Xeus bluntly says she's hot!
    "What? I'll be spending the next four weeks filling out paperwork as it is."
  • In Girl Genius, it's more of a "I'll Pretend I Didn't See That" when Violetta, a trained Smoke Knight (spy/assassin/bodyguard) whacks her cousin over the head with a cosh and knocks him out, before he can kidnap her best friend/employer, even though it violates the rules of sanctuary of the monastery they're currently in.
    Monk: Oh! My goodness, Father Abbot, he just fell over!
    Abbot: Why, it was as though an invisible hand struck him down, Brother!
    Monk: Perhaps it was one of those legendary Smoke Knights!
    Abbot: Ah! How mysterious!
    Violetta: Yeah. We get that a lot.
  • The Last Days of FOXHOUND: While Sniper Wolf is having a breakdown as a consequence of her massive diazepam addiction and goes to Russia on the advice of her hallucinations to kill a Spetsnaz officer they're conspiring with, Revolver Ocelot rather tactlessly proposes letting the Russians just kill her. Liquid Snake uses this approach in order to give Ocelot a chance to stop digging, which naturally does not work.
    Liquid: I don't think I heard that correctly, Ocelot. In fact I know I didn't, because it sounded like you were suggesting we let them kill Wolf.
    Ocelot: Boss, we need Gurlukovich more than-[Liquid grabs him by the collar]
    Liquid: We don't play that game. Understand me? Not ever.

    Web Original 
  • Not Always Learning: During a school field trip to Auschwitz, two students decided to take selfies with the watchtower as backdrop. note  The poster took their phone with one hand, and slapped both of them with the other ... in front of a teacher.
    I saw nothing. But let’s leave it at one ‘nothing’, shall we?

    Western Animation 
  • Avatar: The Last Airbender gives us the following... conversation:
    Aang: I know you can't really talk. Pretending you can just helps me think.
    Momo: [chitters]
    Aang: I'm going to pretend I didn't pretend to hear that.
  • The Simpsons:
    • When Marge becomes a police officer, she offers to turn a blind eye to Homer buying beer for teenagers as long as he moves his car away from where he's parked it across three handicapped spaces. He doesn't, instead opting to take her hat and do a mocking impersonation of her, so she arrests him anyway.
    • In "Itchy and Scratchy: The Movie", Homer tries to console Bart after he forbids him from seeing the aforementioned movie.
      Homer: I'll let you watch anything on TV.
      Bart: TV sucks.
      Homer: (agitated) I know you're mad right now, so I'll pretend you didn't say that.
  • In a Robot Chicken segment, Mickey Mouse questions the romance between Goofy and Clarabelle, to which Goofy replies there aren't a lot of dogs around for him to date. When Mickey recommends Pluto, who is licking his private parts, Goofy says this in response.
  • Star Wars: The Clone Wars: In "The Deserter", Captain Rex is badly injured, and is left by his men on a farm to recover. At evening he finds out that the husband of Suu, the woman who took him in, is a deserter clone called Cut Lawquane. After he gets to know Cut and his family, and fights side-by-side with him, Suu asks him whether he's going to turn Cut in for deserting the army. Rex answers that he has no choice in the matter, but then reminds them that "in [his] condition", surely he won't be able remember the meeting.
  • In Turbo, Whiplash does this twice.
    I'm gonna pretend I didn't hear what I clearly just heard!
  • Happens word-for-word in The Incredible Hulk (1996), when Bruce Banner and Ben Grimm get into a heated debate:
    Bruce: You don't know how it feels to be a monster!
    (tense pause)
    Ben: (coldly) Doc, I'm gonna pretend I didn't hear 'dat.
  • In a Cyberchase episode involving symmetry, the opening scene featured the core trio bickering over whether it was Matt's poorly planned cutting of the boards or Inez and Jackie's haphazard nailing that had wrecked the fence they were supposed to be fixing. Later Inez comments on the slide symmetry of the fence piece she's holding, capping her spiel by glaring at Matt, whose back is to her, and saying "Unlike some fences we know." Matt's response is a flat "I will pretend I didn't hear that." Made funnier by the fact that his reaction is still more mature than your average 11-year-old boy's would be.
  • Danger Mouse: In "The Ultra Secret Secret", in which Baron Greenback wants to team up with DM to stave off an alien attack, Penfold cracks a dumb joke, prompting Greenback to say "Penfold, shush!"
    DM: I'll ignore you stealing my line, Greenback.
  • In Batman: Mystery of the Batwoman, a criminal mook walks in on Batman as he's snooping around. They stare at each other for a long moment, and then the mook (who is sporting a black eye from a previous confrontation with the Dark Knight) just walks away and pretends he didn't see anything.
  • The Venture Bros.: Sgt. Hatred is hysterical because his darling Princess Tinyfeet might be dumping him. He encounters the raspy-voiced supervillainess Dr. Girlfriend, and asks her opinion on the matter.
    Hatred: You're a woman...I mean, you are a woman, right?
    Dr. Girlfriend [clearly annoyed]: I'm gonna ignore that...note 
  • In King of the Hill, "No Bobby Left Behind", Principle Moss tries to avoid his school failing the standardize test by putting all under-performing students in the "special needs" class, but after they cause an outcry at an Alamo Land park where they are unsupervised and drop out of (fortunately unharmed) a log flume ride, his supervisor gives him a chewing out for letting it happen. When Moss admits he only put them in the "special needs" class to keep them from taking the test, his supervisor quickly covers his ears and says: "I didn't hear that. You can't prove I heard that."
  • Molly of Denali: In "Operation Sleepover," Atsaq instructs Tooey and Molly to clean up the dogs' mess that she's pretending not to see.

    Real Life 
  • Someone demonstrating a home-made flame thrower was approached by an off-duty cop and informed that had he been on duty, the officer would have had to arrest the user for having a weapon of mass destruction. The user immediately yanked the fuel supply out and both pretended that it was a lighter. Fun fact: In most of the United States, you don't even need a license to own a flamethrower, though it varies on a state-to-state basis. Among other things, they are used for clearing brush, and in some cases are used to deal with africanized bees.
  • In Wikipedia it's a written rule. On the user level, offenses are excused for the first couple events without penalty, and those first couple events can happen many times if spaced far apart. On the article level, they have a number of rules and even a pillar saying in almost as many words "If it sounds right, it doesn't have to follow the rules." If we don't like what you're saying though, there are no shortages of rules and clauses it can be attacked with.
  • In 1949, sailors of the Royal Canadian Navy staged a minor mutiny over various general grievances. In general, the naval staff were very lighthanded and sympathetic, refusing to call it a "mutiny" as that introduced various legal complications. When the commander of HMCS Athabascan was negotiating with his crew, he was given written demands; incontrovertible proof of mutiny. The captain hid the legal faux pas under his hat.
  • In general, the response "What did you say?" (or variations such as "Excuse me?" or "I beg your pardon?") to an outrageous or offensive statement is an offer to let the speaker retract what they said under the pretense that the person they're talking to just didn't hear them correctly.
  • Everton FC legend Bill "Dixie" Dean was once leaving the stadium after a match when a rival supporter accosted him and started making racist threats (Dixie wasn't black, but did have a dark complexion, hence his nickname). When a police officer came over to see what the matter was, Dean assured the officer he'd take care of it and then floored the man with one punch. The officer complimented the punch, then added, "But I never saw it"; otherwise, he would have had to arrest Dean for assault.
  • In the UK, a lot of fish-and-chip shops use Non-brewed condiment, a vinegar substitute, in their food since it's cheaper and faster to make than real vinegar. While it's illegal for these shops to label Non-brewed condiment as vinegar, food inspectors usually turn a blind eye to this since it's a very minor offense, most people can't tell the difference between the two, and they'd rather spend their time on more serious violations.
  • Jim Butcher had a long-standing official position of "there is no Dresden Files fanfiction" as if he knew about the existance of said fanfiction, he'd be obligated to have it taken down and he doesn't want to do that.


Video Example(s):


Impersonating a Soldier

Z tries to have Weaver switch places with him so he can become a soldier ant in order to get closer to Princess Bala, but Weaver tries talking him out of it, saying that just talking about impersonating a soldier ant could land him in serious trouble. The other soldier ants are eavesdropping on their conversation, but when Weaver says that even listening to someone talk about impersonating a soldier could get them in trouble, the soldier ants go back to sleep as if nothing happened.

How well does it match the trope?

4.64 (11 votes)

Example of:

Main / IllPretendIDidntHearThat

Media sources: