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Ill-Timed Sneeze

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One of the worst possible times for a hay fever attack.

"If you get us caught because you sneeze, we are officially the worst spies in the world!"

Sneezes and coughs often happen at the most unfortunate moment, usually when everything is going so well. Have you managed to sneak into the Big Bad's fortress and you're now listening as he explains his evil plan? Atchoo! All the guards are after you now. Have you created a very convincing Totem Pole Trench and fooled everyone? Atchoo! The Disaster Dominoes start toppling, and you're in a world of trouble now, matey. And don't expect to get off scot-free by saying "gesundheit?", 'cause it won't help.

A Dead Horse Trope would be the Anti-Sneeze Finger, which is holding one's finger under one's nose to "stop it." ...which it might, for a few seconds. Still, it's not much help — once it starts, an Ill-Timed Sneeze cannot be stopped by any means known to man.

Often caused by an allergy to the rarest substance known to man to which you will be exposed only at such a time, or something completely uncanny tickling your nostrils. And sometimes it comes with no reason at all—since people in real life sneeze at random moments all the time, the Ill-Timed Sneeze can function as a universal Diabolus ex Machina.

See Pepper Sneeze and Hiccup Hijinks. If the sneeze itself is dangerous, it's a Sneeze of Doom. Contrast "Aww"-choo for a very different sort of sneeze.

May be connected to Plot Allergy. Very frequently results in So Much for Stealth.


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    Anime & Manga 
  • In one episode of Cardcaptor Sakura, Sakura and her friends are trying to capture the Silence card, which will teleport them away if it hears any noises. They look to be going well on their third attempt- until one of them sneezes, which the Silence hears.
  • Jewelpet Sunshine: Subverted. In episode 16b, the gang is trying to get past a security laser system to steal their summer vacation homework. Labra nearly sneezes, but Kanon's friend stops her... only for her to trigger the lasers herself in the process.
  • Snow White with the Red Hair: Kirito sneezes on an impromptu camping trip while everyone present is trying to pretend to be asleep to give Shirayuki and Zen a moment together. The sneeze also cuts the camping trip that Kirito really wanted to go on short since Ryuu and Shrayuki realize immediately that he's getting sick.

    Asian Animation 
  • In Pleasant Goat and Big Big Wolf: Joys of Seasons episode 25, the goats are in the grass hiding from Wolffy, who is flying around in his bee costume to look for them. Paddi realizes there's a flower right in front of him and sneezes, which causes Wolffy to notice where the goats are.

    Comic Books 

    Comic Strips 
  • Calvin and Hobbes: Hobbes catches hay fever and becomes unable to stalk Calvin.
    Calvin: Hayfever season isn't all bad.
    Hobbes: You thig id's fuddy, bud id's dot.

    Fan Works 
  • Dimensional Gate Screwover: Despite making an escape, Beast-tamer Farris and her Prinny companion York have to break back into a prison facility to rescue two of their allies. Unfortunately, York outs them with a sneeze, alerting a patrol and causing a fight to break out.
  • Kedabory's Muppet Mania: In "Muppets' Funniest Home Videos", one of the clips is of some Muppets going on a nature walk and crossing a log over a stream. When it's Beaker's turn to cross, he sneezes halfway through, knocking himself off balance and falling right into the water.
  • Little Hands, Big Attitude: Obsidian fails to fight off a sneeze while Commander Walters interrogates Maddie in a surprise "visit". Sonic tries to cover for him by saying he was the one who sneezed because of allergies, but unfortunately the sneeze draws attention to all the other stuff they wanted to hide in the house.
  • In Love Means Never Having To Say You're Sorry Ron sneezes while he and Harry are under the invisibility cloak spying on what Snape does during Saturday evenings.
  • Happens twice in a PAW Patrol fanfic called Pups in Disguise, where the pups perform a Totem Pole Trench to sneak into an award ceremony that Ryder is attending.
    • In Part 1, when they first encounter Ryder in their disguise, Chase (at the head) sneezes off his fake mustache. This is when Ryder discovers it's really the pups.
    • In Part 2, while the pups are having an encounter with another person, Skye (in the middle) let's out a very audible sneeze. Fortunately, the guy doesn't act suspicious about it.
  • Invoked in This Bites!. While Cross and Soundbite are hiding from Miss Friday in a bathroom stall, Soundbite sneezes. Friday then opens fire on the other stall, giving Cross a chance to escape. Soundbite reveals his sneeze was a Batman Gambit. Because he knew the Unluckies weren't trusting their sense of hearing anymore after having fought the ventriloquist Voice Changeling before, he knew she'd assume the sound was being projected to throw her off.
  • In Timing is Everything Harry sneezes while hiding in a hollow tree from Dudley and his gang.
  • The Ultimate Evil: A subverted example occurs when Valerie Payne ends up in Valmont's office by chance and hides in a cupboard. Her barely audible sneeze almost gives her away to Valmont, but Shendu (who's at the time a statue and been aware of her presence the entire time) snaps his attention back to their current discussion because he wants to figure out his still mysterious connection to Valerie without anyone's interference.

    Films — Animation 
  • Balto: At one point on the sled dogs' journey, Balto's tail accidentally tickles Star's nose, making him sneeze, which triggers an avalanche and forces the dogs to take shelter in an underground cave.
  • Minor example in Robin Hood: As Skippy sneaks into the castle grounds to retrieve his lost arrow, his sisters Sis and Tagalong and friend Toby watch from outside the gate. Just as Skippy meets and befriends Maid Marian and Lady Kluck, little Tagalong sneezes, which alerts Lady Kluck to the other three children's presence. Fortunately, both she and Marian are very kind and welcoming.
  • Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs: Sneezy always seems to sneeze at the worst possible times, like ejecting Dopey from the top of a Totem Pole Trench, blowing Dopey's chance of getting a kiss from Snow White, and of course, putting him and his brothers at risk of getting caught by a burglar. The fact that his sneezes are usually powerful enough to blast the other dwarfs across the room makes things worse.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • When the two partisans hide in the attic in The Ascent (1977), one of them cannot prevent a sneeze which alerts the Germans and leads to their capture.
  • Subverted in Babe: When Babe and Ferdinand are trying to steal the Hoggetts' alarm clock without waking Duchess the cat, Ferdinand (who is allergic to cats) almost sneezes – and this makes Babe so anxious that he drops the alarm clock and it rings, which is what wakes the cat. We only hear Ferdinand finally let the sneeze out offscreen after chaos ensues.
  • Tom and Huck: Tom accidentally sneezes while trying to take the map from a sleeping Injun Joe, waking him up. He and Huck barely manage to hide before Joe can spot them.
    Huck: Ya had to sneeze, didn't ya?
  • The Little Rascals: Another example is in the 1937 short "Rushin' Ballet", where after Spanky and Alfalfa incur the wrath of the neighborhood bullies, Butch and Woim. They manage to hide in the basement of a ballet studio disguised as mannequins, and while the two bullies are looking in the laundry basket for them, Alfalfa sneezes and almost gives them away, but Spanky throws a shoe at the clothes rack and temporarily distracts them.
  • In The Matrix, the Gang is given away by Cypher while descending the wetwall to escape the agents. (May be a lampshade though as he intended to give them away.) Well, technically, this was a cough of doom, not a sneeze of doom.
  • In Mission: Impossible, everything is going smoothly, too smoothly. Right on cue, the character acting as support has his allergies messed with by nature.
  • In Thunderbirds, Fermat gives them away by sneezing, but the children escape to the Thunderbird launch bays. Seemingly subverted at first, as Brains, one of The Hood's prisoners, manages to cover for him. Then Fermat mentions his allergies, so you know another one's coming...
  • Doctor in Love: When Drs. Hare and Burke are hiding from Professor MacRitchie in Dawn and Leonora's bathroom, Dr. Hare lets out a loud sneeze which alerts her to their presence, causing them to flee from the window.
  • Up the Front: When Lurk and Captain Nigel are hiding under the table during Colonel von Gutz's conference, some snuff brushed under the table causes Lurk to sneeze and send the table upwards, giving away the two's position.

  • Older Than Radio: In The Adventures of Tom Sawyer the sheriff sneezes while sneaking up on Injun Joe, alerting him.
  • The novelization of Annie (1982) inverts this trope with a helpful sneeze. When the orphans are locked in a closet, they form a Human Ladder with Duffy on top to try to escape through a trapdoor leading to the roof: Duffy can't get it open at first, but then she sneezes, which jolts her head against the trapdoor and knocks it open. (This doesn't happen in the actual film, however, where the girls use a shelving unit as a ladder and Pepper opens the trapdoor with a broom handle: presumably the book reflects an earlier screenplay draft.)
  • Goblins in the Castle: William has the misfortune to sneeze while carrying the goblin king's head, causing him to wake up and realize he's been stolen.
  • Happens occasionally in Goosebumps.
    • In The Horror at Camp Jellyjam, Wendy secretly follows the camp counselors to their hideout in the woods, and spies Buddy mind controlling the rest of the counselors to serve King Jellyjam. Then after it's finished, Wendy suddenly sneezes. She tries to hold it in, but it comes out anyway. This causes Buddy to point in her direction, alerting the other counselors, and she is forced to hide someplace else. It turns out that the place she chose to hide into is the passageway to King Jellyjam's lair.
    • In The Blob That Ate Everyone, Zackie and Alex sneak into an empty and destroyed antique store, and come across a typewriter. Zackie wants to take it with him, but then the owner of the store comes in looking for them. The two are forced to hide, and they wait there in the darkness, soon wondering if the coast was clear. But then Alex sneezes, which alerts the store owner to their hiding place, and she grabs them.
    • The Series 2000 book Be Afraid — Be Very Afraid!! features this. When Connor and his friends are hiding in a haystack from monsters, the three are quickly swarmed by bugs, seemingly intent on forcing them out of their hiding place. When one crawls up Connor's nose, he sneezes and gives them away.
  • Inverted in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. Harry and Ron are sneaking out of bed, and Ron stubs his toe near Professor Snape. Snape happens to sneeze as Ron swears in pain, so they avoid detection.
  • In Jurassic Park (the novel), Lex's coughing causes a second T-Rex chase at the river.
  • The Edward Eager book Magic By The Lake actually acknowledges this trope when the children are hiding from pirates. "Katharine, like so many heroines in other stories, chose this time to sneeze."
  • Nancy Drew, while hiding in a closet in The Secret Of the Old Clock, ends up sneezing and alerting the bad guys to her presence. She is then locked in said closet.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Blake's 7:
    • In "Ultraworld", Dayna sneezes causing a Menial to turn to face her... only to do nothing, even when she waves her hand in front of his face.
    • Played straight in "The Keeper". Vila hides in a rocky crevice, but sulfur fumes emitting from the crevice make him sneeze, drawing the searchers down on him.
  • Charmed: In the episode "Ms. Hellfire", Phoebe's sneeze gives her and Piper's position away as they're hiding from a Brainwashed and Crazy Prue.
  • Lampshaded in an episode of Chuck, as he and Sarah are hiding in a dust room:
    Sarah: If you get us caught because you sneeze, we are officially the worst spies in the world!
  • CSI: NY: In "The Ripple Effect," a hunter is sitting in a tree in a park perfectly aiming at the prize deer he's been after for a while when, out of nowhere, he has what Mac describes as an "ill-fated sneeze." His arrow goes flying astray and pierces the neck of another man who had just been almost choked to death. The shot finishes him off.
  • Doctor Who:
    • Subverted in "The Space Museum" when Vicki does indeed sneeze at the wrong moment—but it turns out not to matter, as nobody can see or hear them anyway.
    • In the episode "Doctor Who S32 E3 "The Curse of the Black Spot" The Curse of the Black Spot", the Doctor sneezes, which prompts the Siren to aim a fireball at him. Not wanting to get burned, the Doctor rapidly talks his way into figuring out what the fireball is for and how to deflect it away from him before she launches it.
    • In "The Power of Three", Amy, Rory, and The Doctor are hiding under King Henry VIII's bed when The Doctor sneezes.
  • Subverted on Even Stevens. After Ren ruins one school picture, she nearly sneezes during her retake photo, but this time the finger under the nose works.
  • In Lois & Clark Lois and Dr. Hamilton are hiding in a closet from the cloned gangsters he created. Bonnie Parker's perfume sets off Hamilton's allergies and he gives them away.

    Puppet Shows 
  • Sesame Street: Narrowly averted in 2004's "A Magical Halloween Adventure": when magicians Gilda the Great and Murray the Mediocre are hiding in a closet from the Sesame Street monsters because they think all monsters are mean and scary, Murray almost sneezes, but Gilda stops it by magicking his nose off of his face.

  • In The Matchmaker (and Hello, Dolly!), Mrs. Levi is able to reassure Vandergelder that there isn't a man hiding in the closet of the hat shop, despite Minnie seeing one there. But when a tremendous sneeze comes from inside the closet, she has to bow to the inevitable and admit that there is one.

    Theme Parks 
  • In Captain EO, a show that played at the Disney theme parks, while the crew is searching for the Supreme Leader, Hooter sneezes, which puts them at risk of getting caught, but luckily, they aren't.

    Video Games 
  • In The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim and The Elder Scrolls Online, a book titled "The Year 2920, Vol. 21" details Redoran Turala giving away her party's location after a bunch of hostile Orcs trigger her allergies.
    Roaring with delight at the horse and its confused state, they hastened past the timber where Cassyr, Turala, and Bosriel hid. The wildflowers flew into the air at their stampede, powdering the air with seeds. Turala tried to hold back a sneeze, and thought she succeeded. One of the Orcs heard something though, and brought another with him to investigate.
  • Enforced in Half-Life: Alyx. Certain Xen flora release clouds of spores that cause allergic reactions in humans, a coughing fit in Alyx's case. It's non-damaging and harmless... until you meet Jeff, a blind-but-good-of-hearing fungal zombie that Alyx cannot do anything against in combat and is forced to sneak past. Jeff is very capable of hearing and pinpointing, among other noises, coughing fits; to make it worse, he himself periodically releases those very same allergenic spores.
  • In Jak II: Renegade, when Jak and Daxter are eavesdropping on a conversation between Erol and Baron Praxis, Daxter sneezes.
  • Murder in the Alps: The ending of the chapter Forgotten Memento has a double-subversion. When Anna tries to escape the villains' hideout, she has to hide in a locker from Dhara Biguá. She sneezes, and Dhara looks around suspiciously, but seemingly shrugs it off and walks away. Just as it looks like Dhara has really left, Anna signs in relief… only for Dhara to suddenly open the locker and assault her.
  • In Ratchet & Clank: Going Commando, Angela sneezes while sneaking around the Thugs-4-Less ship, getting herself captured and necessitating a rescue mission (she also attempts to pass her sneeze off as a cat, but this doesn't work, even if she does bear a resemblance to one).
  • In Sunrider 4: The Captain's Return, the crew board Crow Harbor's dreadnought and discover him standing in an inert, seemingly lifeless state. Claude approaches him to check his vitals, only to let out a powerful sneeze which wakes him up. Cue the party beating a hasty retreat to the Maray as Crow powers up his dreadnought for a boss fight.
  • In Toe Jam And Earl, it's possible for either Toe Jam or Earl to sneeze, though it's incredibly rare, happening once every few games. It may be harmless in some cases, but if there is a sleeping enemy on screen, or if the player is sneaking up on Santa Claus, all of your sneaking goes to waste.

    Web Animation 
  • An episode of the Happy Tree Friends TV series, "Dunce Upon A Time", has Cuddles hiding inside of a pepper grinder to get away from the giant Lumpy. Naturally, the pepper causes Cuddles to sneeze, giving himself away and leading to Lumpy killing him.

    Western Animation 
  • 101 Dalmatians: The Series:
    • In the episode "Home Is Where the Bark Is", Lucky, Cadpig, and Rolly make many attempts to escape from their old house (which they are trapped inside). In one of these attempts, they form a Human Ladder to get out through the chimney. However, the second after their tower was formed, Lucky (at the top) loosened some soot, which got into Rolly's nose, and his sneeze caused the totem to collapse.
    • In another episode, "Goose Pimples", while Pug and Spot are hiding from Lock Jaw, Pug mentions this trope to Spot and tells her not to do it, but he ends up doing it.
  • Anne Chan falls victim to this in The Amazing Chan and the Chan Clan episode "The Greek Caper" when she, Alan, Tom and Suzie are being chased by a masked stranger in a museum and disguise themselves as statues. Alan tries to stifle it with his finger and it works...for about half a second.
  • The Backyardigans: In the episode "Monster Detective", Uniqua accidentally exposes herself and Detective Tyrone to "Soccer" Monster Pablo by sneezing. Of course, rather than chase them (at first), he simply offers her a tissue.
  • The Beatles: Ringo's sneeze in the cartoon "Misery" gives the boys away to Count Dracula, who is haunting a wax museum.
  • In the classic Mickey Mouse cartoon "Brave Little Tailor", Mickey tries to hide from the giant in a haystack, but when the giant rolls up the hay and lights it as a cigar, the smoke makes Mickey sneeze, exploding the cigar and revealing him.
  • Bugs Bunny: In "Beanstalk Bunny", Bugs and Daffy are fleeing from giant Elmer, dropping into the pocket of a coat on a rack. Bugs hides in a snuff box and gives himself away with a sneezing fit. Daffy gives himself away with a "Gesundheit!"
  • An invocation occurs in Buzz Lightyear of Star Command. A character hiding rather transparently in a villainess' fortress sneezes on purpose to create a diversion.
  • Invoked in Code Lyoko's "Wreck Room" as Odd tries to distract the suddenly-overly-competitive clone of William into flubbing a shot at the ping pong table with Jim with a fake sneeze. It only gets the wildcard yelled at by both of them.
  • Dennis the Menace:
    • In "Dennis in Venice", Dennis and Gina follow a pair of art thieves to their hideout. Gina blows their cover with a sneeze.
    • Zig-Zagged in "Strike Up the Band"; Henry and Mr. Wilson chase a purse snatcher who hides from them in a department store by posing as a mannequin. He sneezes twice, but Henry and Mr. Wilson assume the other sneezed instead. The purse snatcher gives himself away with a "Thank you!" instead.
  • Futurama:
    • In one episode, Amy's allergy gives her and Nibbler's position away when they spy on the evil cats' sinister plan.
    • In an early episode, Leela is exposed as a human (while impersonating a robot on Chapek IX) when she sneezes in response to a kicked-up cloud of dust.
  • Odie does this in Garfield's Halloween Adventure while he and Garfield are hiding in a cabinet from some pirate ghosts. The sneeze is not only loud enough to attract the ghosts' attention, but it's powerful enough to blow the cabinet doors right open. With sheepish grins, Garfield and Odie close the doors again, and Garfield says, "Maybe they didn't see us..." Cue the Scare Chord as the pirate ghosts come through the cabinet!
  • In He-Man and the Masters of the Universe (2021), when the Masters are sneaking through Eternos Palace, Teela has to hide the group from King Randor with an Invisibility spell. The spell is a dome the Masters have to crowd into, and Cringer's swishing tail brushes against Teela's nose, making her sneeze and stagger out of the spell. When King Randor sees her, she claps her hands over her mouth, breaking her tut and canceling the spell hiding the others.
  • Hi Hi Puffy AmiYumi: In "The Ride Stuff", Ami and Yumi try to sneak Kaz onto a ride that he's too short to ride on with Yumi standing on top of Kaz disguised as a tall British lady. Just as they are walking onto the ride, Kaz sneezes because he's allergic to the fabric of the disguise, but fortunately, the guy working at the ride doesn't act at all suspicious about it; he just says, "Bless you, tall British lady's knees!"
  • Molly of Denali: In "The Qyah Ice Classic," Oscar is making a model tripod. However, Vera accidentally sneezes on it, ruining it.
  • My Little Pony 'n Friends:
    • In "The Glass Princess, Part 4", when sneaking through Porcina's castle, Gusty discovers an allergy to pigs — such as Porcina herself. Her first sneeze is interrupted before it can wake Porcina, but the second blows out Megan's torch and the third gives them away when they're trying to hide.
    • In "The Quest of the Princess Ponies, Part 2", when the heroes are sneaking around the walls of Lavan's chambers, the bushwoolies' sneezing alerts Lavan to their presence and allows him to find and defeat them.
  • Pound Puppies (2010): In the episode "Toyoshiko! Bark Friend Machine", the dogs make an attempt to seize an agent who is about to destroy Shelter 17. Lucky, Cookie, Niblet, and Squirt put whipped cream on their faces to make it look like they have rabies. The plan works at first, but backfires when Niblet sneezes off the cream on his face. This makes the agent realize this would make the dogs' fur coats cleaner and calls McLeash a genius for the idea.
    Cookie: At least we'll have shiny new coats.
  • In Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer (1948), Rudolph starts out trying to evade the other reindeer who tease him by hiding inside a Christmas tree, disguising his nose as an ornament. But when one reindeer sees the "ornament" moving and realizes what it really is, he tickles it with a sprig of pine needles, making Rudolph sneeze and revealing him to everyone.
  • Rugrats:
    • A helpful example occurs in in "The Smell of Success." At the climax, Tommy and Chuckie are being chased by a bully, when Chuckie's allergy symptoms, which were temporarily cured until this point, suddenly come back. He sneezes a powerful, wet sneeze onto the bully, which causes the bully to fall backward onto a nest of fire ants, which swarm into his pants and make him run away crying.
    • In "Mother's Day," when Phil and Lil are trying to think of a present to give their mother, Lil notices a dandelion puff and starts to suggest it as a present, but then sneezes, blasting all the fluff away.
  • Saturday Supercade: In the Donkey Kong Jr. cartoon "Sheep Rustle Hustle", Junior's partner Bones has sneaked into the rustler's truck disguised as a sheep. They hear him come in and investigate; they suspect nothing until a sheep tickles Bones' nose, causing him to sneeze and blow his disguise off.
  • This is a Running Gag in Scooby-Doo, Where Are You!. While hiding from the Monster of the Week, Shaggy or Scooby starts readying himself to sneeze, only to be stiffled by the other, who immediately proceeds to sneeze himself, blowing their cover.
  • Shaolin Wuzang: In "Deep Within the Mirror", when Hua tries to sneak away with the mirror, the smoke from the nearby fire makes her cough, alerting Heihu to her presence.
  • In the Christmas Silly Symphony The Night Before Christmas, as Santa Claus is playing a toy piano and the Living Toys he's brought with him are dancing, the children wake up and start to sneak downstairs. But then the youngest boy sneezes, which alerts Santa and the toys to their presence. The toys quickly put themselves in their packages and Santa leaves before the children can see him.
  • Tails in the pilot episode of Sonic the Hedgehog (SatAM) happens to sneeze just as he and Sonic are camped out in an Air-Vent Passageway above Robotnik. Not only does the noise give them away, the force of the sneeze is enough to knock the pair of them out of the vent and into the open.
  • Storm Hawks: Junko is allergic to Murk Raiders, who just so happen to use incredibly sensitive sound detecting equipment to hunt their prey.
  • The Super Mario Bros. Super Show!: Luigi just barely averts one in an episode to avoid getting caught by Mouser.
  • Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (1987): April O'Neil gets caught by the villains on more than one occasion because her sneezes give away her hiding place.
  • Teen Titans: In episode "Revved Up", Raven sneezes while she and Starfire are on a bus full of two bit villains, and Starfire's alien version of "Bless you" gets them found out. Avoided in that the two have no trouble taking over the bus thereafter.
  • Tom and Jerry: In "Mouse in Manhattan", Jerry's excursion into New York City has him landing in a puddle within an alley. His subsequent sneeze attracts a pack of hungry alley cats.
  • Totally Spies!: In "Wild Style", the girls infiltrate the lair of an evil fashion designer who is turning people into animals to make coats from. Unfortunately, they do this while Clover is turning into a feline, and Alex happens to be allergic to cats.

Alternative Title(s): Badly Timed Sneeze


Homer Kills the Dinosaurs

Who knew one innocent sneeze could kill an entire species?

How well does it match the trope?

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Main / DisasterDominoes

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