Any time something is mistaken for deep, intelligent, or artistic, but it's clearly not. This could be for many reasons. Sometimes it's about differing perspectives on the meaning of what is said/done. Sometimes people lack the full context of what they are mistaking. Sometimes there is no reason other than Rule of Funny.
What happens next can also vary. The mistaken person may never be found out (and he/she may just go with this). Sometimes it causes problems for the mistaken person. Sometimes the mistaken thing is revealed to be what it is almost immediately after being praised (often by a character who is The Ditz, so it's pretending to be Dumbass Has a Point and then subverting it).
- An Israeli McDonald's ad where a girl tells her friend she and her boyfriend broke up with a Defenestrate and Berate moment... then she looks at his face and decides that she overdid it, that she should reconsider it, and calls the boyfriend right away... In reality, the guy's expression is from the advertised product.
- In Medabots, a man sitting on the street selling chicks (baby chickens) keeps trying to peddle his birds to protagonist Ikki. Ikki always interprets the man's sales pitches as words of wisdom pertaining to whatever problem he currently has. Occasionally, other characters pass him by when they have trouble and treat him and his speeches the same way Ikki does.
- In Tiger & Bunny, Keith is going through an emotional slump when he happens to meet a pretty girl (actually a malfunctioning Robot Girl) in the park. As he explains his problem she continually responds "Why?," which he takes to mean that he needs to look deeper inside himself for answers. He gets over his slump and returns to his usual bombastic self, ironically by destroying the robot when she goes berserk.
- My Hero Academia makes this a minor Running Gag with Tenya Iida, due to his extremely straightforward and honest personality. When he's first introduced he doesn't like Izuku Midoriya, thinking that the latter isn't taking U.A.'s entrance exam seriously enough. However, Izuku manages to pass the field test by scoring "rescue points" for saving another student in danger, something the students weren't even told about. Iida jumps to the conclusion that Izuku caught onto the Secret Test of Character and is far cleverer than he realized, apologizing for his earlier rudeness and eventually becoming one of Izuku's best friends. Later on, during the Summer Camp arc, when the teachers tell the students that they'll have to make their own meals, Iida assumes it's another form of trainingnote and gets the other students fired up despite being exhausted from the day's physical exercise. The latter case is lampshaded by Aizawa-sensei thinking to himself "Sometimes Iida's pretty useful to have around."
- One-Punch Man, In his attempts to be a "teacher", Saitama will often say things that will be taken for this from Genos.
- There was an issue of Green Lantern in which Hal Jordan, while living as a drifter, was working temporarily as a seasonal farmhand. One of the other farmhands was a hippie who told Hal that he mostly "follow[ed] the Dead," which Hal thought was poetic until the man explained that he followed The Grateful Dead on tour.
- Mass Effect: Clash of Civilizations: As part of a team exploring a space station built by a never before encountered species (the UNSC).
(...)Liara (...) was utterly intrigued with the architecture. (...)Every now and then she would see words written on hanging signs, above doorways, and on walls in some strange alien language. Perhaps they were words of great wisdom or knowledge.
'Dining to the Left (Kids eat free!)'
'Do not spit over docking ledge. Thank you'
- White Sheep (RWBY): Happens with Jaune a lot, between him having No Social Skills and trying to hide the fact that his mother is an Evil Overlord.
- Jaune mentions that his mother says "Strangers are just friends you haven't met yet." Ruby finds this cute. Jaune doesn't mention that the full quote is "Strangers are just friends you haven't met yet or people you need to quickly capture and put in the torture chambers until you know them better," and that his mom generally threw them to the Beowolves once she was done with them.
- When Jaune bumps into Weiss, she admonishes him for bothering his "betters." Jaune says his mom said no one is his better. When Weiss is offended, Pyrrha defends him, saying that his mom obviously meant everyone is equal. Jaune mutters that he's pretty sure that's not what his mom meant.
- When the girls ask Jaune how his mom rules her "company," Jaune says "fear." When he realizes they're horrified, he backtracks and says she uses love instead. They think he only said fear to shock them and make them more likely to listen to the second part.
- Jaune says that his mom always told him he could rule the world if he tried—after he conquered the world, of course. Pyrrha thinks this is a cute joke about how you can do anything if you put in the work. The truth is that his mom just wants him to conquer the world.
- Brian from Monty Python's Life of Brian, who gained devoted followers that saw anything he said or did as profound, even if they didn't agree on what he meant by them.
- In Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure, Bill and Ted decide to "recruit" Socrates by "philosophiz[ing] with him", quoting the lyrics to "Dust in the Wind" in pantomime. Socrates is stunned, thinking that the boys agree with what he was saying before they showed up, and says "Of course! Like sands in the hourglass, so are the Days of Our Lives!" He ends up being so amused that B&T are free to gently lead him back to the time machine while he's laughing his head off.
- Spoofed again in Bill & Ted's Bogus Journey, the boys are able to pass off the lyrics from "Every Rose Has its Thorn" as the meaning of life, which earns them access to Heaven.
- In Fear Of A Black Hat, Tone Def states, "Because when you take the bus, you get there." His fellow musicians think it's gibberish, but the producer is deeply impressed with this sage wisdom.
- Being There revolves around the trope. The main character, a middle-aged gardener named "Chance", who has lived the majority of his life at his employer's estate, has no experience with the outside world aside from what he has seen on television, and who may or may not have some sort of mental deficiency, is always thought of as a genius. Hell, the ending insinuates that some people want him to become the president. For example, when asked about the economy, he simply talks about the seasons in relation to his gardening experience. This is immediately inferred as some sort of profound understanding of the global economy. The best part is that he has no idea why any of this is happening. He's just a polite man making small talk.
- Forrest Gump: The title character runs for years because he felt like running, not for a particular cause. As part of the same sequence he accidentally coins the phrase "shit happens", but he was literally just referring to some dog shit he didn't see and stepped in.
- Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby: Ricky's aggressive NASCAR racing is heavily influenced by the time his Disappeared Dad told him "If you ain't first, you're last". When they meet again, the father admits that he was high on drugs at the time, doesn't remember saying it, and thinks it's a stupid idea.
- In Discworld, Witches Abroad mentions that wisdom from far off appears more profound, which explains why saffron-clad young men tend to pay visits to Ms. Marietta Cosmopolite, an Ankh-Morpork dressmaker. They take the phrases she spouts like "I wasn't born yesterday" and "When it rains, it pours" as koans, and end up inventing a martial art inspired by her that involves shouting at people and hitting them with brooms. Thief of Time reveals that Lu-Tze of the Time Monks is a follower of "The Way of Ms. Cosmopolite", but it's unclear whether Lu-Tze actually believes it to be profound or not. He seems to find a certain profundity to them, but unlike the other monks, he also knows what they actually mean (he implies at one point that the sheer practicality is why he thinks they're profound); the other monks try to parse them as koans, which makes them look silly (not that they really need Lu-Tze's help at that).
- He is doing the latter on purpose though; he wrote it all down in a book he carries with him so he can introduce the quotes with "Is it not written..."
- Many of her sayings are also coincidentally very similar to things the History Monks' founder said, although the degree varies from "more practical version of the same idea" to "malapropism". For example, she says "no time like the present" while he says "no time but the present." As Lu-Tze's importance comes from his knowing all of their tricks and wisdom while not actually being a monk (strictly speaking he's the janitor) the "old woman's common sense" version serves him better.
- In The Wastelands, Jake Chambers writes his final essay while losing his mind due to a time paradox. The result is an incoherent mess combining bits of memories from a timeline that never happened with bits of prophecy. Fortunately, his teacher is of the, "If I don't understand it, it must be brilliant" mindset, gives Jake an "A", and says she wants to talk to him about publishing it.
- The Isaac Asimov short story "The Immortal Bard" is about a physics professor who invented a time machine that can bring historical figures into the present. William Shakespeare is greatly amused at how much meaning people have managed to extrapolate from his plays where there was none, likening it to wringing a flood out of a damp washcloth. He's decidedly less amused after he takes a college class all about analyzing his own plays and fails it.
- Ursula K. Le Guin's short story "The Silence of the Asonu", part of the Changing Planes sequence, describes the titular people who, though they have a language, hardly ever speak aloud as adults (and then only to small children). As a result, some people from other cultures have built up a cult around their rare utterances, and read a great deal of mystic significance into them, even though they're as banal as saying "Very good" to a child who has made something.
- Limbo, by Bernard Wolfe. The protagonist deserts his post as a surgeon during World War III. He hides out on a island for years and on returning to the After the End civilisation is shocked to find that some bitter rantings he left in his diary—that people should volunteer to mutilate themselves instead of fighting wars—have become the basis of a worldwide ideology where people practise self-amputation as a pacifist act, and his impulsive act of desertion is assumed to be a Heroic Sacrifice to stop the war that's turned him into a martyr.
- Cheers: when Woody is running for City Council his simple statements are taken as down home country expressions and powerful political messages by reporters.
- How I Met Your Mother, "Definitions": Ted shows up to the wrong classroom on his first day as an architecture professor, and misinterprets some of his students' attempts to inform him of this as profound reflections on architecture.
Ted: Can anyone here tell me what this class is really all about?
Student: Uh, Economics?
(Class roars with laughter)
Ted: Don't laugh. He's not - he's not entirely wrong. An architect must be economical in his use of space...
- In Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Dawn brings a robot replica of Buffy to a parent-teacher conference rather than reveal that Buffy (her sole legal provider) is dead. The Buffybot naturally makes boneheaded remarks, such as "School is where you learn.", all of which are accompanied by 'yeahs!' and 'you said it!' from the other parents. ("Bargaining Pt. 1")
- In Boy Meets World, Shawn ends up sitting in on a college philosophy class. When in response to the question, "Why are you here?" he responds "just visiting," everyone takes it as an expression of his belief on the transience of life. This leads Shawn to start thinking that he doesn't need to apply himself in his high school classes anymore, since he's apparently having such an easy time in a college environment. Subverted later on when Cory, who shows up to try and bring Shawn back, tells the professor that he's "just passing through" and gets mocked for seemingly thinking he can pass himself off as profound by spouting Ice Cream Koans in class. Shawn is crushed at the end of the episode when his term paper is flunked by the professor, who points out that his lack of knowledge of the basics (Like what you learn in high school) means that his grammatically twisted, illogical and contradictory paper cannot properly express his thoughts.
- In the "Gettysburg" episode of The Office, Kevin complains about the placement of the cookies in the vending machine during a company brainstorming session. Robert California thinks it's a metaphor for a business plan, and winds up congratulating Kevin on his great idea. Everyone else is dumbfounded.
- In a The Kids in the Hall skit, Mark, Bruce, and Dave are Sitting on the Roof sharing a bottle of wine and looking at the moon. Mark tells a story about the moon watching him during a teenage romance, and Bruce spontaneously responds with an angry beat poem about the moon laughing down at violence in the Middle East. Dave gradually goes from appreciative to panicked as he realizes he'll be expected to come up with something too. When his turn comes, he just blurts out, "Gee, I wonder who owns that moon," then cringes as he waits for judgement. Bruce and Mark act as though it's deep and congratulate him. Dave just shrugs and the skit ends.
- In the Monty Python's Flying Circus sketch about the "poet" Ewan MacTeagle, everybody praises his poetry, even though it's nothing more than some letters asking for money.
- In an episode of Black Books, Fran finds herself in an office job she has no idea how to do (or even what the company does). When she is asked to give a presentation, she bluffs her way through it by spouting faux-profound business-speak cliches. She manages to impress her boss so much she gets promoted.
- In The Good Place this is revealed in the fourth episode to be what Jianyu - real name Jason Mendoza- has been doing the whole time. Accidentally put in the Good Place, he was offered the perfect cover by being mistaken for a Buddhist monk who took a vow of silence, so he just lets everyone else project wisdom on him. If he does say anything the illusion is immediately shattered.
- Little Lunch: In "The Band", everyone else in class thinks Rory is meditating and starts emulating him. He is actually suffering a Potty Emergency and his muttering "Mustn't pee my pants" to himself over and over under his breath.
- In an episode of 3rd Rock from the Sun, Harry accidentally chains himself to a tree at a most opportune time:
Protester: Hey, man, you want to sign this petition? The town's going to destroy Bates Park.
Harry: [trying to hide his plight] Uh, maybe in a little while.
Protester: There's no time. The dozers are on their way.
Harry: Okay, I've chained myself to the tree.
[protesters instantly gather around Harry]
Reporter: Sir, sir, excuse me. Is it true you've chained yourself to that tree?
Harry: Yes, that's exactly what I've done.
Reporter: So you won't free yourself even though the city bulldozers are on their way?
Harry: [looks down] No, I cannot do that.
[protesters cheer and poor Harry still doesn't understand what's happening]
Reporter: He may be an organized protester, he may be a rogue mountain man, but one thing's for sure—he may be a hero.
- Trash Heap from Fraggle Rock who gave out random bits of advice that usually worked out this way.
- In Portal 2 when GLaDOS finds inspiration in the insane ramblings of Cave Johnson, especially when he makes a rant about how when life gives you lemons, you should burn life's house down.
- In The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, Riften's court wizard Wylandriah is preoccupied with a magical conundrum. If you ask her about it, she'll ask for your opinion. As you go through the dialogue tree, you can either tell you her you don't know what she's talking about or offer nonsense. She interprets the nonsense as a fresh perspective on her problem, even if you told her to use "the blue thing."
- Similarly, when impersonating the Gourmet, you can instruct the chef Gianna to add ingredients such as vampire dust, a giant's toe and a gold coin to the stew, to which she interpenetrates as creating a distinct flavor.
- In Fallout 3, you can encounter Harold, an FEV mutant who's effectively become a living tree and is worshiped as a god by a group of environmentalists. When the Lone Wanderer shows up, Harold is just happy to meet someone who actually listens to what he says instead of interpreting all his words as some kind of existential riddle. Especially since what he's been saying for ages is "Please kill me."
- Leisure Suit Larry 6: Shape Up or Slip Out!: Shamara takes basically everything Larry says or does as if it were infinitely deeper and more thoughtful than it actually is.
- This strip of The Non-Adventures of Wonderella.
- In Koan of the Day, this has happened in several koans.
- The audience at Pat's performance in this strip of Achewood.
- In Penny Arcade, Gabe's password recovery question "What is delicious?" seemingly causes Tycho to through an existential crisis...while Gabe remembers "It's candy. Candy is delicious."
- The Powerpuff Girls: In "Impeach Fuzz", Mayor is running for reelection, spouting his usual, tired lines even though he always runs unopposed. Fuzzy Lumpkins gets tired of Mayor's shouting to the crowd interrupting his sleep, so he yells "SHUT UP!", and people act like it's the best campaign slogan ever. Cue Fuzzy geting elected mayor and making a mess of Townsville.
Mr. O'Neill: Now, why do you think it is that Tolstoy felt he had to make War and Peace so darned...unpleasant? Daria?Mr. O'Neill: (thoughtful) Hmm...
- This happens relatively often, usually only between the least intelligent members of the cast. For example, Kevin and Brittany telling each other how smart they are, Sandi telling Quinn that she's deep, and Mystic Spiral lyrics.
- One episode, "Quinn the Brain," centered around most of the school deciding that Quinn was smart and deep, and her trying to act that way as a result (and thus annoying Daria to no end). There was a Reset Button at the end, though ironically Quinn would legitimately go on to gain a boost of intelligence in later seasons.
- Daria herself can get this, oddly enough, when she makes a sarcastic comment that people take literally (or as a suggestion for some school activity):
- The Simpsons:
Capt. Tenille: Tell me, young man, what do you want out of life?
- In the episode "Bart's Inner Child", self-help guru Brad Goodman convinces the entire town of Springfield to copy Bart's mantra of "I do what I feel like".
- Also in "Simpson Tide", where Homer enrolls in the Naval Reserve and his captain takes an immediate shine to him, inviting him to eat at the captain's table.
Homer: (reaching for a bowl of peas) I want peas!
Capt. Tenille: We all want peace! But it's always just out of reach.
Homer: (sadly) Uh huh...
Capt. Tenille: So, what's the best way to get peace?
Homer: (uses his knife to retrieve some peas) With a knife!
Capt. Tenille: Exactly! Not with the olive branch, but the bayonet! Ha, ha, Simpson, you're like the son I never had.
Homer: And you're like the father I never visit.
- On King of the Hill, Peggy's father is a senile Montana cowboy whose meaningless ramblings Hank takes as "cowboy wisdom."
- On The Grim Adventures of Billy & Mandy, Fred Fredburger has to cast the deciding vote about whether Billy or Mandy is Grim's true master. He replies yes, which the judge takes as profound wisdom about how the two friends shouldn't be forced to split up in the first place.
- The entire premise of the Taz-Mania episode "Ask Taz".
- In the South Park episode "The Tale of Scrotie McBoogerballs", the boys are excited to read The Catcher in the Rye after hearing it used to be banned, but are left disappointed when they don't find the book very controversial or offensive at all. So they decide to write their own book, one that deserves to be banned, intentionally crafted to be the most disgusting and most offensive piece of literature ever written. It's so disgusting that when the adults read it, none of them can make it through a single sentence without violently puking their guts out. However, the adults all have the mindset that Everyone Is Jesus in Purgatory, and misinterpret all of the disgusting imagery as extremely profound symbolism (that just so happens to align with their own political views), and the book is regarded as the most brilliant piece of literature ever written.
- In Phineas and Ferb:
- A bunch of goth kids mistake Doofenschmirtz's line "there's a platypus controlling me" as a metaphor for whatever is keeping you down, when he really means there's a platypus controlling him.
- In She's the Mayor, Candace wins the Mayor for a Day contest because the judges assumed "Why My Little Brothers Should Be Busted" was a political metaphor.