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Miming the Cues

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Simply, this is when Alice is standing behind Bob, and using non-verbal gestures to communicate something to Charlie, who is talking to Bob. Alice is effectively coaching Charlie on what to say.

The reasons for this generally fall into two categories:

  • Alice might need something to be communicated to Bob, but it's not possible for her to do it herself. Maybe she's too embarrassed to be the one saying it to him. Maybe Bob wouldn't listen to her, but he will listen to Charlie. Maybe she doesn't want Bob to even know she's there. Whatever the case, this is communication by proxy for Alice's benefit.
  • Charlie needs something from Bob, but Bob won't help unless he's asked in a specific way - one which Charlie doesn't know. Alice wants to help out, so she mimes what or how Charlie needs to communicate, for Charlie's benefit.

Crucial to both categories of trope examples is that Bob isn't aware (at least initially) of Alice's presence and/or efforts to communicate to Charlie. If Bob was aware that Charlie was being coached, it might ruin everything. As this is often a comedy trope, hilarity ensues as Charlie misinterprets Alice's gestures.

This is a sibling trope to Earpiece Conversation. Can lead to Non-Verbal Miscommunication. Compare Hand Signals.


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    Anime & Manga 
  • In Yubisaki Milk Tea Yoshinori do it a pair of time to Minamo, when other people ask after his alter-ego Yuki. When his best friend Wataru ask, a pair of crossed fingers mean "Don't tell him anything". While an open hand and a neutral face is used, when Nobuko shall know "Thanks. I'll go later (as Yuki)".

    Film — Animated  
  • Near the end of Brave, Elinor has to perform gestures towards her daughter, Merida, so she can deliver a speech to keep the peace between the clans. She is unable to do it herself as she has transformed into a bear.
  • In Despicable Me 2, Gru tries to get out of a date he doesn't want by trying to get Agnes to pretend he isn't there.
    Jillian: Agnes, where's Gru?
    Agnes: He's... (Gru tries to make her stop talking by zipping his lips) putting on lipstick! (waves his hands) He's... swatting flies! (gestures across his neck) He's... chopping a head off! (clenches his fists in frustration) He's.... pooping?
  • In Lilo & Stitch, Nani coaches Lilo via hand signals through a talk with social worker Cobra Bubbles about how Nani is doing as her guardian. It goes well at first, but then Nani makes the mistake of raising a fist in triumph and Lilo interprets it as "getting disciplined." Things swiftly go downhill from there.

    Film — Live-Action 
  • In Annie (1982), Grace is meeting with Miss Hannigan to discuss adopting an orphan, and Annie is eavesdropping on the conversation. She silently nudges Grace into asking Miss Hannigan specifically about any ten-year-old red-headed girls on the premises.
  • In Ghostbusters (1984), during the scene where Peter Venkman is explaining their fees to the hotel manager, Egon Spengler is subtly feeding him the numbers via hand signals.

  • Used in a Lord Darcy story, The Napoli Express. Lord Darcy was undercover, so he couldn't investigate the murder directly. When the official investigator is getting advice from Master Sean, Darcy uses hand signals to pass suggestions on to Sean, who then talks about what Darcy would do were he there.

    Live-Action TV 
  • In 30 Rock, Liz does this with Tracy, after lying to his wife that he wasn't at a strip club.
    Tracey: My cobra, Ramsey... He got sick... So I took him to the vet(Liz gives him a thumbs up and nods) Then my thumb got caught in my buttocks, I nodded my head til it came out.
  • Blackadder: In the first episode Baldrick and Percy help Edmund by hinting how many and who he should claim to have killed, as he reports his killings to Prince Harry.
  • Buffy the Vampire Slayer: The episode "Teacher's Pet" (the one with the praying mantis lady.) Buffy didn't do her homework, so when the teacher asks her to explain how ants communicate, Willow has to help her. She gets the mime for "touch" right, but she misinterprets "smell" as "B.O." The teacher, without even turning around, asks if Willow has anything else to say.
  • Parodied on Chuck, where Chuck tries to instruct Captain Awesome on the lie to tell to his wife about where he's been all night. As Awesome is a Bad Liar, he completely misunderstands what Chuck is trying to say and spirals into absurdity.
    Ellie: Why didn't you call?
    Awesome: Um... After I got off the overnight, I, I decided I needed to clear my head. So, I went for a run. In Griffith Park. No cell phones there. So... I'm running and, I just, I heard something, in a tree, and there's a, there's a cat, a hurt cat, I go to see if it needed medical attention, then I realized, ... ... ... It's a bear. Yeah, yeah! The cat's a bear! It's a bear and it jumps out at me, and it attacks and it's like it's angry at me for some reason this bear RAAARHGH Yeah! And I... cut off its head! ... Yeah, babe, I had to decapitate the bear. Self-defense. In order to survive. I'm just glad you weren't there to see it, it was really grizzly.
    Ellie: Do you honestly expect me to believe this?
  • Fawlty Towers: There are two moments of this.
    • In "Communication Problems" Basil is trying to give Polly the name of a horse he won money on (Dragonfly), since she's holding it for him and they have to quickly convince Sybil that she bet on the horse instead. Sybil knows the name, so Polly needs the right one. Basil makes flapping motions and points to Sybil, because he refers to her as a dragon sometimes, but Polly incorporates other "pet" names first, leading to "flying tart" and "birdbrain". (She does get it eventually.)
    • In "Waldorf Salad", Terry tells Basil that he cannot stay late because he has his karate class; but Polly gives him away by mentioning Terry's Finnish girlfriend. Terry briefly tries to mime karate to Polly, but Basil realises what Terry is up to.
  • In the Friends episode "The One With The Pediatrician", when Pheobe realises Mike and Joey don't know each other, she challenges Mike to say how many sisters Joey has. Unfortunately Joey holds up the wrong number of fingers.
  • An episode of Power Rangers Wild Force features Danny signalling the plot of a book Max told Alyssa he had read. Parodied in Linkara's History of the Power Rangers when he shows the clip and point out Danny's signals make no sense.
  • In one episode of The Suite Life of Zack & Cody, Zack has to fill in for his brother for an interview when Cody accidentally dyes his hair red and is too embarrassed to show himself to the interviewer. He tries to act out the words to tell Zack what to say, but he ends up misinterpreting every signal that Cody sends out to him.

  • A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum: Pseudolus pretends to be a fortune-teller, while Hysterium pantomimes the correct responses behind the subject's back. Or tries to, anyway.
    Pseudolus: You have two kids.
    (Hysterium pantomimes muscles)
    Pseudolus: A fine strong boy...
    (Hysterium pantomimes a girl sticking her hip out.)
    Pseudolus:[[Nonverbal Miscommunication...and a very strange boy.]]
  • When Annie as Florence loses her script pages in The Play That Goes Wrong, Dennis tries to act out the response she needs to give for a question he asks:
    Dennis/Perkins: Where were you when the murder was committed?
    (He alternates between pointing down and pretending to drink tea.)
    Annie/Florence: [misinterpreting] I was on the floor with a moustache.
    Robert/Thomas: That makes perfect sense; so was I.

  • In Unsounded, Jivi and Matty seek help from Rahm, but aren't exactly sure how to ask for it. As seen in the trope image, Iori stands behind Rahm and mimes the one word that she knows will ensure her husband won't be able to deny the boys.

    Web Original 
  • In episode 12 of RWBY, Jaune is asked a question in class that he does not know the answer to. Pyrrha tries to mime the answer, "night vision". Jaune answers, "Binoculars?"

    Western Animation 
  • A variation of this trope shows up in the Mr. Bogus episode "Class Clown Bogus". Tommy is struggling to come up with the right answer to a math problem, when in comes Bogus who is able to help out, by writing the correct answer on the blackboard directly behind the teacher, allowing Tommy to give the correct answer.


Video Example(s):


Henry's signals

Shawn's "psychic reading" consists of trying to understand what discovery Henry's furtively miming.

How well does it match the trope?

5 (3 votes)

Example of:

Main / MimingTheCues

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