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Open Secret

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Top. Secret. note 

Suzuha: You're called the Future Gadget Laboratory, right?
Okabe: H-how do you know!? I don't remember telling you. Don't tell me, are you an Organization spy—!?
Suzuha: ...It was written on your mailbox.

This trope is when a particular piece of information is officially declared to be secret... but it is widely known by everyone anyway. The characters might as well not even attempt The Masquerade, because all the civilians around them know who they are and what they are up to. And that super-secret bit of gossip that no one can ever know? Hate to tell you this, but everyone knows it already. But at the core of the trope, is the fact that even though everyone is fully aware everyone else knows about the secret, it will still be treated as a secret; no one will ever openly admit to knowing it, and it is a common understanding that it should remain unspoken. Sometimes the occasional knowingly wink and nod will be shared, at most vague allusions or euphemisms might be used, but any and all open discussion and acknowledgment of the secret is completely out of the question. To do so will be viewed as a mild faux pas at best, and an outright cardinal sin at worst. As a result, the Naïve Newcomer or the Fish out of Water will often mistake it for an actual secret, as they don't know that most people already know. In smaller social circles, a common variant is "everyone knows, but they don't know how many other people know until they start comparing notes one day", at which point the real secret is that it isn't one.

Overt Operative is a Sub-Trope. Related to Not Cheating Unless You Get Caught, and commonly paired with Could Say It, But... Compare Everybody Knew Already, where someone genuinely believes their "secret" is actually secret right up until they tell everyone. The Transparent Closet is when the secret relates to sexuality. See also Everyone Can See It. Not to be confused with Public Secret Message, which is out in the open but not obvious in its existence.

Example subpages:

Other examples:

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    Asian Animation 
  • In Catch! Teenieping, Romi needing to hide her true identity or the existence of the Teeniepings isn't necessary. The people in the town are caught off guard more by encountering a Teenieping at all rather than discovering that Teenieping exist.

    Films — Animation 
  • From The Emperor's New Groove: "Yzma's got that 'secret' lab."
    Kuzco: Yzma's got that "secret lab". [he makes Air Quotes] I'll just snap my fingers and order her to change me back!
  • Robin Hood (1973) has this: it seems that everyone in Nottingham except for Prince John and his lackeys knows how to get to Robin's hideout in Sherwood Forest.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • In Bloodsport, the Kumite is a secret martial arts tournament held under a particularly dangerous part of Hong Kong. A secret martial arts tournament that its participants openly talk about, and the police know full well the location of.
  • Ghost Busters 2016: At the end of the film, the government hires the Ghost Busters to monitor, track, study, and capture ghosts and other paranormal phenomena on the condition that they keep their activities a secret as they are a clandestine agency that deals with something that officially does not exists, and the public must not know about. Despite the fact that all of New York City saw the ghost invasion, and shows their appreciation to the Ghost Busters for stopping the ghost army.
  • In Good Night, and Good Luck. there is a subplot dedicated to Joseph Wersha and his wife as they try to keep their marriage secret or risk getting fired. Naturally, at the end of the movie, it is revealed that everyone in the office already knew they were married and just didn't care. But they still have to leave because of budget cuts and are asked to walk, which they agree to.
  • James Bond:
    • Bond's status as a 00 Agent is supposed to be classified. Pretty much everyone on Earth with any sort of connection to a government, a terrorist organization, or an intelligence agency knows about him, though. Maybe because he always uses his real name and introduces himself as Bond, James Bond to absolutely everyone he talks to.
    • James mocks Felix Leither over this in Quantum of Solace. Evidently James, at this point a Rogue Agent of sorts, is able to find the phone number of the CIA-operated business front that Felix is working out of by asking a local cab driver.
  • In Johnny Dangerously, the fact that nightclub owner Johnny Kelly is secretly the titular mob boss is known to everyone in the world other than Johnny's mother and little brother. This is pointed out to Johnny by the Pope.
  • The documentary that is aptly-named An Open Secret discusses a particularly insidious problem in the movie industry — that there are a number of pedophiles, child molesters, and child rapists working in there and few protections for child actors. The scary part is that a number of these offenders are well-known individuals, hence the title of the film. Even worse is that the few people who are convicted for their crimes usually get off under fairly minor sentences.
  • Stardust: Captain Shakespeare is seemingly a closeted gay, but only in the privacy of his cabin on his flying ship. He puts on an act for his crew, but after Septimus's altercation with him and his crew leaves him outed and despondent, they cheer him up by mentioning that they'd figured it out long ago and - a little insensitive phraseology aside - have absolutely no problem with it and maintain their fierce loyalty and respect for him.
  • Star Wars: It's heavily implied (and outright stated in the Expanded Universe, such as the Dark Lord novel) that Padme's relationship with Anakin and her resulting pregnancy was one towards the end of the Clone Wars. They worked hard to pose as being Just Friends, but it didn't take much to notice their obvious mutual attraction, nor the fact they were frequently alone together. And while Padme wore senatorial robes in public to conceal her growing belly, smart senators quickly noticed that she wore them constantly. Because Anakin and Padme were both heroes of the ongoing war, who also enjoyed the favor of the increasingly powerful chancellor Palpatine, it’s possible those senators calculated that outing the couple would not be in anyone’s interest. Towards the end of Revenge of the Sith, Obi-Wan bluntly asks Padme if Anakin is the father of her child in a resigned tone that makes it clear he already knew what the answer would be, and he doesn't even blink when she confirms his suspicion with an ashamed head nod.
  • In Creepshow, the fact that Bedelia Grantham bashed her father Nathan's head in with a marble ashtray is well-known inside the family, and it's no wonder: her sister and the family's maid helped her get away with it by making it look like an accident. We aren't told how thoroughly the authorities looked into the matter, but since no one is in jail, probably not too thoroughly.

  • Childish Gambino's "That Power" is about making all details of his life into this trope, so they can't be used against him.
  • Annapantsu and Chloe Breez's cover of "Unholy" makes it clear that even though the partners haven't been caught, pretty much everyone knows they're cheating on each other with various other people.
    Everyone knows that they're getting hot
    Never getting caught
    Doing something unholy

    Newspaper Comics 
  • Retail: Cooper and Val are dating for most of the comic (and eventually marry), and most of their fellow employees are aware of it, but all of them pretend they don't in order to maintain their plausible deniability toward the one person who isn't aware of it-and more pertinently, the one person who can punish them for it-Stuart. (Cooper and Val's relationship is technically in violation of Grumbel's policy of 'no workplace romances', and if Stuart had found out, he would have happily fired Cooper, who he hates, over it.)


  • Welcome to Night Vale: Most of Night Vale's secrets are this way. Things that the general populace isn't allowed to know about are routinely read in as radio announcements or presented in Suspiciously Specific Denial fashion (Angels, the antics of the Sheriff's Secret Police, etc.). Yes, nobody actually believes the official version… OK, maybe some people believe some parts of it, but they're the exceptions. (At least one person got a panic attack because someone else dared to call the "white-robed, winged, glowing persons with trumpets" "angels" and he isn't allowed to know about those.) And the Faceless Old Woman Who Secretly Lives In Your Home is frequently discussed on the radio and once ran for mayor. Very secret.

    Print Media 
  • All the proper columnists in Private Eye write under pseudonyms. Sometimes this is because their work (or possibly even safety) would be genuinely hindered if people knew who they were. Other times it's just because it's traditional. This sometimes leads to oddities like the "Medicineballs" column, which is written under the pseudonym "M.D." ... except that anyone who cares is well aware that it's by Dr Phil Hammond of Trust Me, I'm a Doctor and 28 Minutes to Save the NHS.

    Pro Wrestling 
  • Prior to his officially coming out, everybody knew Pat Patterson was gay, but aside from the occasional incredibly veiled reference, it was something that just wasn't discussed. Fans used to joke that it was the second worst kept secret in Professional Wrestling, with the worst kept secret being that wrestling is scripted.
  • When Jerry Lawler's son Brian Christopher wrestled in WWE as Grandmaster Sexay, Lawler didn't want it to be mentioned on air, as he thought it made him look old. So Jim Ross kept making jokes about who his father might be.
    • Speaking of Brian, his parentage was arguably the worst-kept secret in wrestling history while he was working in his dad's Memphis-based promotions.
  • Triple H and Stephanie McMahon were an on-screen couple until they "divorced" in early 2002. They then got married for real in 2003, which resulted in various references, like Triple H telling Vince McMahon that they're "practically family" and Leaning on the Fourth Wall with jokes about who could possibly be the father of Stephanie's daughter until it was flat out stated during the buildup to WrestleMania XXV. In the process, Triple H even referred to his marriage as "the worst-kept secret in the business".
  • The "fakeness" of pro wrestling was not acknowledged on air for many years, but upon the death of Owen Hart, Jim Ross admitted it usually was fake, but that Owen's injuries were real. Ross didn't get fired because he handled the situation so well otherwise.
    • A similar situation (although with thankfully better end results) happened when Jerry Lawler had a massive heart attack during a RAW broadcast. Michael Cole reported that he'd collapsed and been taken to hospital, and that this "was not part of the entertainment" (ie, that it was real, as opposed to everything else on the show).
    • Though it helps that, predating both examples, Vince McMahon made an announcement to that effect when officially announcing the Attitude Era. He outright said that wrestling is entertainment that draws on soap operas like Days of Our Lives, cartoons like King of the Hill, and talk shows like Jerry Springer. Many wrestling fans already knew, but the ones who never watched wrestling never heard the announcement and continue trying to call out wrestling on something that wrestling openly announced.
    • And predating that was Vince telling the New Jersey state athletic commission that wrestling is indeed a work, and because it was predetermined it shouldn't be regulated and taxed like boxing and other sports. The commission basically responded with "Yes, we've known that all along, we're not stupid. Motion denied."
  • TNA's "secret" rehiring of Vince Russo in early 2014. It was very clear that he had something to do with the show, as much of Impact Wrestling! at the time had his trademark booking (at one point The Beautiful People said "SWERVE!" in reference to their heel turn during a promo), but it was rumor at best since the dirtsheets had no concrete proof, nor did TNA announce anything. Then, in a truly dumb move, Vinny Ru accidentally cc'd an email filled with commentary voiceover instructions for Taz and Mike Tenay to Mike Johnson of PWInsider, outing himself. As it turns out, the reason it was a "secret" is that many of TNA's affiliates hated him, including The Great Muta's promotion Wrestle-1 (for his racist comments about how nobody wants to watch Mexican and Japanese wrestlers), and Spike TV, who specifically instructed Dixie not to rehire him in any capacity (she did it anyway and lied about it). Spike was angry enough about it that it factored into them finally pulling the plug on TNA.

    Tabletop Games 
  • In 3rd Edition Dungeons & Dragons cosmology, the enmity between Sunnis and Ogremoch (the most powerful forces of Good and Evil, respectively, on the Elemental Plane of Earth) is one of the most violent in the Inner Planes. Sunnis lives in a palace called Sandfall, which has a waterfall of sand cascading over it, which turns into a river that eventually drains into an—apparently—bottomless pit near the palace. Many of her subjects say that she someday plans to set a trap for Ogremoch and throw him into the pit, but it's unlikely. This "plan" is too well-known among the denizens of the Plane of Earth so one would be foolish to think that Ogremoch hasn't heard it.
  • Magic: The Gathering: What House Dimir has become in "Return To Ravnica" after the Ten Guilds have officially reformed. In the original "Ravnica" block, they really were a secret, with most people believing there were only nine guilds, but having their leader Szadek publicly defeated and his plans exposed kinda wrecked that. Nowadays they only pretend there are only nine guilds unless they're directly dealing with the Dimir for one reason or another.
  • Monarchies of Mau has a general variant — cats have a psychological need to have at least one secret. Since not everyone has a suitable genuinely hidden secret, many cats maintain their secret by everyone around politely pretending not to know.
  • In the lore of Warhammer, there are famously two lies in the Empire regarding the Skaven. The first lie is that the Skaven don't exist. The second lie is that anyone believes the first lie. For the record, the Skaven themselves aren't just an entire species, but possibly the most common form of sapient life on the planet.

  • The Commedia dell'Arte character Pulcinella's inability to keep his mouth shut led to the expression "Pulcinella's secret" or a "Polichinelo's secret" referring to an open secret in many languages, including Italian,French, Spanish, Polish, Russian and Portuguese.

    Theme Parks 
  • In an effort to boost attendance after a dismal first year, Disney California Adventure announced on February 8, 2002, that they'd be adding their own port of Florida's popular The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror. But that was merely when Disney officially confirmed the ride. Construction had already begun in September 2001, and everyone already knew what the ride was going to be because of the September 21, 2001 edition of the Orange County Register.note 
  • To purchase the land for Walt Disney World at a lower price, and avoid a burst of land speculation, Walt Disney used various dummy corporations with names like "Ayefour Corporation", "Latin-American Development and Management Corporation" and the "Reedy Creek Ranch Corporation". In May of 1965, though, rumors began circulating that Disney was building an "East Coast" version of Disneyland. However, the Orlando Sentinel denied the rumors' accuracy based on an earlier interview with Walt Disney at the Kennedy Space Center, in which he claimed a $50 million investment was in the works for Disneyland, and that he had no interest in building a new park.note  In October 1965, editor Emily Bavar from the Sentinel visited Disneyland during the park's tenth-anniversary celebration. In an interview with Disney, she asked him if he was behind recent land purchases in Central Florida; Bavar later described that Disney "looked like I had thrown a bucket of water in his face" before denying the story... by going over why he wouldn't build a park there. His reaction, combined with other research obtained during her Anaheim visit, led Bavar to author a story on October 21, 1965, where she predicted that Disney was building a second theme park in Florida. Three days later after gathering more information from various sources, the Sentinel published another article headlined, "We Say: 'Mystery Industry' Is Disney". Walt had originally planned to publicly reveal Disney World on November 15, 1965, but in light of the Sentinel story, Disney asked Florida Governor Haydon Burns to confirm the story on October 25, though kept the official reveal on November 15th.

    Visual Novels 
  • Fate Series: In the Clock Tower, it's obvious to anyone who cares to look at the evidence that the Tohsakas and the Edefelts are recently related, something both families will vehemently deny. The story behind that started when the twin Edefelt sisters went to Japan to participate in the Third Holy Grail War, only to lose. Because only one of them would be allowed to inherit the Edefelt's magic crest, the two were expected to fight to the death so that only the stronger of the two would return. The older sister returned, but with only half of her magic crest, claiming her sister's half had been destroyed in their battle. In reality, the younger sister was rescued by the Tohsaka heir, who later married her, and added her half of the magic crest to the Tohsaka's magic crest, granting her son and granddaughter the jewel magecraft that the Edefelts were well-known for. In the modern day, Rin and Luvia resemble reach other and use almost identical magecraft, yet maintain the history that Rin's grandmother was an unknown European woman, and that Luvia's grandmother killed her younger sister during the Third Grail War.
  • Lampshaded by the title character of Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney – Trials and Tribulations during the Kurain Village exhibit in regards to the Six Leaf Kurain Sacred Writings folding screen, "the greatest of all the spirit channeling secrets".
    Phoenix Wright: (If it's so secret, why is it the most prominent thing in the exhibit?)

    Web Animation 
  • Helluva Boss: Ozzie's relationship with Fizzarolli is stated to be "the worst kept secret in all of Hell". It stops being even that after Ozzie publicly admits that he does love Fizzarolli, which becomes a trending topic in Hell's social media within seconds.
  • Puffin Forest: EVERYONE in town shops at the black market. No, it does not make sense.
  • RWBY: An In-universe example. Blake Belladonna doesn't want people to know she's a Faunus to avoid the discrimination they receive, yet lots of people know about it. She told Team RWBY and Team JNPR, Ozpin and Sun figure it out by themselves, Penny catches on so quickly that she doesn't realize it's supposed to be a secret, Oobleck's lack of surprise when overhearing her discuss it suggests he also figured it out himself, Neptune was told by Sun, and Torchwick and his mooks know since it was revealed during a fight with them. After the Fall of Beacon, however, Blake decides to discard the ribbon she used to cover her cat ears when she travels home to the Faunus haven of Menagerie. When she leaves and rejoins Team RWBY, she never returns to wearing the bow.

  • Guenevere's relationship with Lancelot in Arthur, King of Time and Space is a bit like this. Obviously, Arthur (and the rest of the court) can't officially know because that would be a scandal. So they work very hard not to officially know, despite attempts to force the issue.
  • Towards the end of Bob and George, George's secret identity in the hand-drawn continuity is shown to be one of these.
  • The Dreamer: Beatrice and Alan Warren's relationship is supposedly a secret, but his cousin Ebenezer says "…it's private to all of Roxbury and half of Boston!"
  • In El Goonish Shive this happens when suddenly Elliot becomes ill and his previously unheard-of cousin Ellen is temporarily transferred instead. Yeah, sure. Subverted when Ellen becomes a separate character via magic, and joins the main cast.
  • In Girl Genius, when Agatha learns that a royal wedding between two secret underground kingdoms has brought diplomats from all across Europa, she understandably questions in what sense these are "secret" underground kingdoms. Wooster explains that a large number of people simply refuse to believe they exist.
  • Homestuck has Karkat and Terezi's "thing."
    KANAYA: Well Didn't You?
  • Learning with Manga! FGO has the identities of various Original Generation Servants. Like many Fate stories, it is somewhat tight-lipped about their true names until they can be revealed dramatically, but the series also loves dropping hints as to who they are, and nearly every character seems to have figured out the truth (after all, Rider is an early film director with a fondness for special effects, a grudge on Thomas Edison, and an association with the moon, which kind of leaves only one option). Lancer straight-up says that she doesn't care if people know her identity, as True Name reveals tend to rarely matter anyway.
  • A Magical Roommate: The country of Umbria considers the existence of our world to be a highly classified secret. This is news to everybody, including the dragon who published books on our world and placed them in a public library.
  • In Persona 4TW, the Walking Spoiler that Naoto's a girl is rather obvious to the main cast, yet Naoto thinks it's a secret.

    Web Original 
  • Neopets treats the Jelly World this way. It is not linked to from any map, and staff often treats it as if it doesn't exist (even in-universe), but nearly everyone with an account knows that it can be accessed by entering the URL.
  • The jokey SCP Foundation story "Everyone Knows" features a number of Foundation employees discovering that the organization actually employed three-quarters of their entire home town, and then discovering that the insane secrecy and compartmentalization of the Foundation means that it hasn't kept track of how many people it has on its payroll—which turns out to number in the billions. After conferring with a number of other covert organizations, the Foundation concludes that, despite the existence of anomalies and the supernatural being a closely-guarded secret, everyone on Earth is aware of them on some level. With the sole exception of a man named Jeremiah Wuthers, who, upon being told, claims he always suspected it.
  • In Void Domain, the existence of magic is known to Muggles thanks to a revealing incident fifteen years prior to the start of the story. No one talks about it on either side of the Masquerade, leaving many mundane humans still skeptical.
  • Whateley Universe: The eponymous Superhero School, Whateley Academy, is one. While the existence of a school for mutants is public knowledge of a sort, or at least the subject of rumors — they even advertise products created by some of the students under the brand name "Paranormal Academy", though apparently, most people think that's just a marketing gimmick — few people know for certain if it is real, and only a handful actually know the name and location. Most major superheroes and supervillains — even those who didn't attend Whateley themselves — do know about it, as do The Syndicate (who are a major backer), the Mutant Commission Office, and most national and state/provincial governments. Many major metropolitan police departments have someone who is at least familiar enough with the school to know who to contact when a newly manifested mutant shows up, too. Lampshaded when a superteam in Cincinnati, which (unlike most others) has never had a mutant team member before, tries to find someone to help train an underage mutant who they'd come to be the guardians of. When someone finally asks, "Why not just send her to Whateley?", they are dumbfounded. They are then shocked to find that they are pretty much the only ones who had never heard of the school before.
  • Worm: In Interlude 15, it's fairly obvious that everyone in the Brockton Bay PRT knows instantly that Defiant, the new hero teaming up with Dragon to fight the Slaughterhouse Nine, is Armsmaster, a disgraced ex-member of the team who had escaped arrest. Triumph is the only one who attempts to say anything.

    Web Videos 
  • Joked about in Let's Play Grand Theft Auto with regards to Jeremy's "superhero" identity of Rimmy Tim.
    Michael: Is it, like, canon that no one knows who Rimmy Tim is, but everyone knows it's Jeremy?
    Jeremy: It's not me!
  • Malcolm's in-universe crush on The Nostalgia Critic. He asks Hyper to keep it a secret, but later on Critic teases him and Tamara is a Shipper on Deck.
  • Oxventure: During a Blades in the Dark show, Lilith remarks to Edvard that the University can sometimes find a way to procure more...esoteric ingredients for use in research. Edvard retorts that when he tried to get corpses from the "Resurrection Men", there was a lot of scandal and ethics hearings. Lilith reminds him that open secrets are still technically secrets.
  • Due to SMPLive's livestreamed nature, it's hard for players to keep secrets from each other without chatters informing them. Sometimes these chatters are simply ignored by the person the secret's meant to be kept from, for the sake of telling a more interesting narrative, and sometimes the information is used to throw a wrench in someone's plans.
  • In their Minecraft series, the Yogscast have openly admitted to finding out the secret plans of other server denizens, simply through watching their videos. This is partly the truth and partly an affectionate poke at people in the comments "leaking" information.
  • This is the case for many Japanese Virtual YouTubers who were formerly part of an agency (such as hololive or Nijisanji) but have since "graduated" and gone independent. Due to how the Japanese side of the industry works, most of these talents lose access to their previous identities and have to come up with a new one. While the new and former identities eventually get connected, the fandom tends to downplay the connection and even helps in preserving the now open secret. This also applies the other way around to independent VTubers and other sorts of content creators who join the aforementioned agencies, as well as to those who leave one agency only to be picked up by another. Some members even continue making content under their original identity if it doesn't conflict with their agency activities. Most VTuber fan communities ban disscussion of "past lives" or "roommates", as they're often called, to preserve their anonymity.
    • Dokibird, aka former Nijisanji liver Selen Tatsuki, is one notable exception to the above, due in large part to the circumstances behind her graduation. To put it simply, the Dragoons and English VTuber fandom in general were not happy with how Nijisanji terminated Selen, and many simply acknowledged that Selen had moved back to her previous indie persona Dokibird. In addition, Dokibird has been open about her previous life as Selen and the issues she faced at Nijisanji, insofar as her being willing to give closure regarding the subject before moving forward as Doki.
  • On the western side of the Virtual YouTuber industry, VShojo has a notable track record of hosting talents who once held different identities under other high-profile VTuber companies.
    • Fans of Henya, for instance, were immediately aware of who she was in her previous iteration, in large part because of the controversy surrounding her resignation. However, as far as the fandom is concerned, Henya is Henya only, and has no ties to any previous VTuber. She tried her best to suppress certain verbal tics and her distinct laugh, all of which were identified nearly immediately by the fanbase who simply pretended it was a new thing they had never heard, and were more than willing to go along with it in a new light. It's not hard whatsoever to discover this supposed identity, but if you want to discuss it...
    • Hime Hajime is another example, though her other identity isn't that of another VTuber but the in-person YouTuber Sydsnap. Her denying the connection and then blundering evidence to the contrary is a Running Gag, as is her go-to excuse of Hajime having a grandmother named Sydney.


Video Example(s):


Fizz & Oz come out

When Mammon threatens to out his scandalous relationship with Fizzarolli to the public, if he doesn't back off, Ozzie shoots that down immediately by revealing it to everyone present. It helps that it was already speculated, though Mammon ominously threatens that he'll regret revealing it before disappearing.

How well does it match the trope?

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Example of:

Main / BlackmailBackfire

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