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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 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.


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    Anime & Manga 
  • In Mai Hime when Akira decides to wear a mask and use her ninja skills to help defend the school from the rampaging Orphan Monsters; Akira's roommate Takumi realizes instantly, but tries to humor the whole "secret identity" thing.
    Takumi: Oh, if only there was a ninja protector who could save us!
    Akira: [rolls eyes] I'm going for a walk.
    [Takumi happily smiles]
  • Beastars: The Back-Alley Market, a market on the edge of town where people can buy and sell meat. Everybody in the town knows about it, and most carnivores use it, however, everybody collectively acts as if they knew nothing about it, with the exception being carnivores talking with each other, and Sebun mentions that a carnivore telling her about the market is something she never experienced, and everybody just pretends that the enforcing of Vegetarian Carnivore rules are working. Louis attempting to bring up the subject in live broadcast apparently breaks general rules of what the town's media can talk.
  • In the School Rumble manga, Yakumo's friends clumsily prepare her a surprise birthday party and she spends the rest of the day pretending she doesn't know. She comes home to find Tenma also preparing her a party.
  • In Fullmetal Alchemist, it seems that Ed has "I performed a human transmutation" written on his shirt. Most alchemists he meets figure it out within an episode. While his automail arm and leg aren't much of a clue (lots of people have automail, and it's implied that some people even replace fully functional limbs with it), the fact that his brother is a suit of Animated Armor tends to be a dead give-away that they have crossed a line never meant to be crossed.
  • In ACCA: 13-Territory Inspection Dept., as of episode 7, the fact that Jean is of royal blood was so secret even he didn't know it. When the characters discuss this, they talk in hushed voices and try not to let it get out. Yet, by episode 10, everyone seems to know, including the Acca employee who meets Jean when he comes to audit that incredibly secluded desert district.
  • Aruosumente:
    • The more the story progresses, the more it looks like everyone knows what happened ten years ago — except Legna, whom everyone does their utmost best to keep in the dark. Some assume he also knows already, but the Senate especially are hell-bent on keeping the truth from him.
    • The fact that His Majesty often comes to the laboratory to enjoy himself while inventing or just talking to Jasmin or Lante seems to be an open secret everyone keeps from Legna as Legna has a reputation as a joy killer.
  • In To Love-Ru, the fact that Lala is an alien is treated like this for quite a while, as everyone either already knows, or doesn't care when they find out.
  • In Naruto a law exists that forbids anyone revealing that the titular character is the vessel of the Nine-Tailed Fox. While this means that Naruto's generation and those younger are ignorant of the Nine-Tails, every person able to remember the attack knows about it. The secret becomes even more open in Shippuden where several members of Naruto's generation openly discuss the matter. As of the Fourth Ninja World War it is officially not a secret anymore. Part of the coalition's main objectives is to protect Naruto (and Killer Bee).
  • In Mobile Suit Zeta Gundam, Quattro's real identity as Char. Not only would the audience not be fooled (the same character design, the visible scar, the same voice actor) but the fact that he flies around in a custom red Rick Dias shows that he isn't exactly keeping a low profile. It even gets lampshaded when he officially reveals his identity…
    Kamille: Hmph. Some secret...
  • Ai no Kusabi has the fact that Iason Mink, the highest official of Tanagura, is sleeping with his slum mongrel Pet Riki is supposed to be a secret. Iason even admits everyone knows because of his brazen special treatment of Riki.
  • Okabe Rintarou of Steins;Gate is very insistent on keeping his time-traveling experiments under wraps lest "the Organization" discover find him out. This would be much easier if he didn't have a tendency to go on loud Mad Scientist rants about conquering time in his thin-walled "laboratory", or if SERN hadn't found him out the moment he sent the very first D-mail.
  • The use of Nen in Hunter × Hunter, the setting's effective magic system, is supposedly a secret known only to people who belong to circles that are in on it and seem to be subtly taught to hunters once they pass the Hunter Exams. However, it is also openly publicized in an arena tower that not only seems to televise the fights between powerful Nen users, also have commentators explaining what the contestants are doing in the Arena with their Nen… to a large public. It gets to a point that the only main character that should realistically be ignorant about Nen is Gon, for growing up on an isolated and morose island in the middle of nowhere. Killua should know about Nen just by osmosis from his heavy Nen-practicing family of world-famous assassins, Kurapika's deceased clan is implied to be formed of powerful Nen users as well (otherwise they wouldn't register on Nobunaga's memory. Even Uvo eventually remembers the clan and its powerful members) and Leorio's general world and history knowledge should make him aware of it as well (even if just by passing knowledge about the Celestial Arena).
  • The fact that Akina's an otaku is an open secret among her classmates in Don't Become an Otaku, Shinozaki-san!. She thinks she keeps it hidden but everyone in her class is well aware, as shown when several girls try to awkwardly strike up a conversation with her but back off because they aren't sure how to talk to an otaku. Akina's old middle school Girl Posse are also quick to realize that she has a major crush on Kaede, another thing Akina thinks she's hidden.
  • Metropolis: Everybody knows that Rock is Duke Red's Dragon, even though there are no official links between the two. Pero even name-drops this trope when discussing it.
  • In UQ Holder!, Kuromaru does his best to hide the fact that he has No Biological Sex, but he doesn't exactly do a good job of hiding it. Furthermore, it's implied that the fact is listed in his UQ Holder file and isn't that difficult to access. Basically, the only person who isn't aware of the fact is Touta.
  • Lyrical Nanoha: As revealed in StrikerS Sound Stage X when Runessa tried to access certain information, most of the details behind the Jail Scaglietti incident are a military secret, including the fact that Vivio is the clone of the last Sankt Kaiser. Or at least, it would be, if not for the fact that Vivio's a friendly Cheerful Child and the fact that said revelation is important to a lot of powerful groups. This meant that most of the Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha ViVid cast knows of Vivio's unique situation, which includes Vivio's civilian friends, all the members of the Saint Church, and practically every major competitor in the Inter-Middle that we know of. It isn't until ViVid Strike! that we get an idea of how little information about Vivio is available to the general public, as an attempt by Rinne's gym to research her brought back nothing about her Sankt Kaiser heritage.
  • In High School Inari Tamamo-chan!, Tamamo Fushimi is a high school girl who is secretly a fox spirit from the Fushimi Inari shrine in Kyoto. What she doesn't seem to realize is that though she appears to be an ordinary human to adults and cameras, her fellow students can see right through her disguise.
  • Monthly Girls' Nozaki-kun: The assistants try to keep the fact that they are working for Nozaki a secret, sometimes even from each other. Nozaki himself does not hide the fact that he is the shoujo mangaka Yumeno nor does he think that his assistants should keep their affiliations with him a secret. He is actually very open about his profession, but the majority of his classmates do not believe him.
  • In early volumes of Ranma ½, Ranma tries to keep secret the fact that he transforms into a girl when doused with cold water, mostly from his fellow students at school. (His father and the Tendos know all about it.) At some point, the secret just disappears, and everyone knows about it and doesn't care much. (Except for the particularly oblivious and denial-worthy. Looking at you, Kunou.)

    Comic Books 
  • Spider-Man's secret identity is like this sometimes, especially in Ultimate Marvel. In one issue, Daredevil (not in costume, of course) walked up to him, at school, to recruit him for a mission. In another issue, the Human Torch and Iceman showed up at school mostly because they were bored (Iceman: "Hey, aren't you—" Peter: "Don't you dare."). And finally, Kong — a jock who deduced it on his own — tells Peter to go help a friend, and when Peter looks ambivalent, he mocks him. "What do you want me to say? Should we have a code? Should I just throw up my hands and say 'Oh, if only Spider-Man were here...'!?" This was lampshaded, parodied and subverted in one issue when he's knocked unconscious and wakes up in the X-Mansion without his mask (they wanted to make sure he was OK); upon learning this, Peter engages in a very long rant about how he's trying to keep a Secret Identity here and is getting a bit sick of everyone somehow knowing that he's Peter Parker... only for them to point out that while they knew what he looked like, until now they didn't know his name. Oops.
  • Green Arrow's "secret identity" as Oliver Queen. Between his not-particularly-concealing mask and incredibly distinctive facial hair, anyone who's met them both will know that it's him. It doesn't help that Green Arrow is one of the more politically outspoken heroes, which means even his stated philosophies line up with Oliver's. In one case a policeman working with Green Arrow came to his house and, on being asked how he knew his identity, hadn't even known it was supposed to be a secret. His to-be sidekick Mia also recognized him instantly, not least because he was claiming to be a good friend of the Green Arrow. The best he could hope for is people thinking he's got a twin.
  • In his own book, Wolverine, Patch is actively concealing the fact that he is, in fact, the title superhero while he is operating in "deep cover" in Madripoor. Of course, all of his contacts know he is Wolverine, though they chose not to reveal this. They figured it is best not to delve too deeply into the private affairs of a walking blender. Not to mention the fact that the "Patch" persona adopted by Wolverine is SUCH a good disguise that apparently all Wolverine needs for this is, you guessed it, an eyepatch. Clearly, NO-ONE (I'm looking at you, Superman) can figure out his identity, save pretty much everyone.
  • When the Human Torch of the Fantastic Four, a character whom the in-universe public knows as Johnny Storm, got his own ongoing feature in Strange Tales starting in issue #101, he maintained a secret identity in his home town of Glenville — the inhabitants of which knew his sister Sue was the Invisible Girl, but ostensibly don't know who the Torch was (the four schoolmates who do know who he is are now out-of-town graduates who were sworn to secrecy). #106 had him discover that everyone knew who he really is, after all, they just respected his privacy.
  • One story in Astro City centered partly around a country superhero called Roustabout. It was blatantly obvious that he was one of the guys working for a traveling fair, and everybody in town knew it but acted as if it was a complete mystery. They do this because Roustabout is technically a fugitive (he got his powers trespassing on the secret research lab of an evil corporation, and they offered a reward for his arrest) and they like and respect him too much to turn him in. The viewpoint character of the story, a city girl staying with her aunt, considers turning him in, but then realizes something else about him: given that everyone in town knows who he is and haven't done so, what would they do to someone who did try to turn him in?
  • Daredevil: During Brian Michael Bendis' run, Matt Murdock's Secret Identity was outed. Although the accusation was "officially" fought back, since then everyone knows or at least heavily suspects Matt Murdock is Daredevil, so much so that he had to cease practicing law himself due to the fodder it supplied the opposing counsel. By the time of Mark Waid's run, even Matt himself has stopped caring and he just waves off people saying he's Daredevil with a halfhearted "I'm not Daredevil" that nobody buys. He still can't represent anyone, so he gives legal counsel to people so they can represent themselves.
  • Spider-Gwen was originally just a marketing nickname, as she was known as Spider-Woman in her own reality. Later, her secret identity is outed, and she spends a year in jail. Upon release, she discovers that Spider-Gwen merchandise exists — she's stuck with the name. Any attempt to correct people fails, prompting her to decide she needs a new name. During Spider-Geddon, Miles Morales, thinking she'd been killed, asked if she was a ghost. This inspired her ne codename, Ghost-Spider, though the name is pretty much redundant with her secret identity no longer a secret.
  • In comics where Batman is treated as an Urban Legend, his existence is often this. There's a giant spotlight that gets shined in the sky, major criminals find their way into police hands, many people have seen him, you can see people wearing Batman costumes and merch, and pretty much every superhero has either worked with him or worked with someone who's worked with him. This sometimes gets some mocking, such as in Young Justice, where Robin keeps trying to "hide in the shadows" in broad daylight while insisting he's a myth.
  • Lex Luthor's nature as Superman's most notorious rival falls into this, in stories leaning on his Corrupt Corporate Executive aspect. Pretty much everyone knows that Luthor dislikes Superman, and that any military contract he gets will go haywire and target Superman, and that he's publicly battled Superman a time or two while "under mind control", and that Superman himself has spoken poorly of Luthor, but Luthor manages to cover his tracks just enough to save himself in criminal court. One of the comics leading into Luthor's President Evil run had Luthor go into a restaurant and find that the menu included a number of Superman-based items and one incredibly disgusting Luthor one.

    Fan Works 
  • A Cure for Love: 1) Light is gay. 2) Light and L's "secret" relationship. 3) L, the Astraea Organization, Matt... pretty much everyone but the Kira Taskforce knows that Light is Kira.
  • In Kim Possible canon, Dr. Drakken tells his mother that he's a radio talk show host. A fair number of fanfics have her knowing perfectly well that he's a Mad Scientist villain trying to Take Over the World.
  • In Heir, a Dark!Harry fic, Harry, Tom, and Draco aren't nearly as careful with their scheming as they think they are-Ron, Blaise and perhaps half of Slytherin house knows that Harry is the Heir but have so far kept quiet.
  • In The Parselmouth of Gryffindor, the average Hogwarts student might not know, but any wizard who's halfway smart has heard of Time-Turners. People still act like it's supposed to be a secret, more out of habit. Hermione is particularly non-discreet at that.
    Hermione: [to Lupin, in an open space, with a crowd nearby] I did that with my Time-Turner.
    Moody: [from a distance] Your what?
    Hermione: [shouting] My Time-Turner! But don't tell anyone! It's a secret!
  • In Origins, a Mass Effect/Star Wars/Borderlands/Halo Massive Multiplayer Crossover, the Trans-Galactic Republic runs with several of these. Repeatedly lampshaded by both its operatives and other characters.
    • There are videos of superlasers being used to pulverize a ship despite an official policy that the Spacelane Protection forces neither possess nor use superlasers.
    • That Vorknkx intelligence gathering ships exist with their attendant cloaking devices is more widely known than the Republic Intelligence Service would like. As with superlasers, it's official policy that the Trans-Galactic Republic neither utilizes or holds any such devices.
    • How much sense it makes that a supposedly-peaceful society is building huge vessels with big guns and tons of starfighters (hint: none) suggests that something's up it is, RISE goes berserk, but for good reason.
    • The Trans-Galactic Republic's leadership is fervently hoping that certain actions taken by a specific paragon aren't this. So far, it looks as though Shepard's Heroic BSoD from Fractured has fallen under a successful inversion of The Greatest Story Never Told despite the fact that Shepard's previous exploits often became cantina fodder (though nowhere close to what really happened).
  • In the Stargate SG-1 / Buffy the Vampire Slayer fan fic "Bridges", Colonel Jack O'Neill tells Xander Harris that he's assigned to "Deep Space Radar Telemetry", a statement that makes Xander laugh.
    Jack O'Neill: What's so funny?
    Xander Harris: Oh come on, Jack. A hotshot special ops operative like you assigned to something called "Deep Space Radar Telemetry"? Why didn't they just name it "Totally Not a Secret Project" and get it over with.
  • In Subtlety, apparently everyone but Danny's parents and Valerie knows he's Danny Phantom, and everyone except Danny, Sam, and Tucker know that everyone knows.
    Paulina: He's playing secret superhero, ducking into alleyways and worrying about people knowing who he is. He finally has a chance to live every kid's dream. He is Superman, and maybe he's not very good at the secret thing, but that's okay. We'll play along.
  • In Naruto: Eleven, Yugito knows at a glance that Naruto is the Yondaime Hokage's son and is honestly surprised when Naruto doesn't know and every Konoha ninja who knows acts like it's a big secret.
  • In Naruto: The Game of Life, everyone in Konoha knows where the old Anbu headquarters is. Apparently, it was disguised as an apartment building with several "very polite but firm" guards who insisted it was "private residence only" despite having a sign advertising apartments available for rent.
  • In Son of the Desert the fact that the Elric brothers are willing to help anyone Ishvalan and are Ishvalan themselves is well known in the Central and Eastern Ishvalan communities, although they don't a say of word of this around the military.
  • An Open Secret:
    • Anakin finds out that his relationship with Padmé and that she's pregnant with his children is not so secret when Aayla Secura openly asks him to be named the godmother, leading to him finding out every single Jedi but Obi-Wan Kenobi, Barriss Offee and Mace Windu had figured it out on their own. And even then, Obi-Wan knew they were closer than friends and suspected he was the father, he just wasn't sure (or knew they were married) until Anakin told him (Barriss, on the other hand, was already in jail by the time everyone started figuring it out, while Mace Windu has somehow missed everything and convinced himself Anakin fed the rumor mill and leaked it to the press to lure out traitors).
    • Also, most of the 501st Legion know about their relationship (and the ones who don't are recruits who haven't seen Anakin around Padmé yet, because, as Ahsoka points out, you'd have to be blind to miss it), even if they haven't seen Padmé long enough to know she's pregnant, to the point that when they learn of the children from the celebrity news they are surprised that they had to learn of them from the news instead than being told by Anakin. There's also a number of senators that were aware of it before it went public, even if some misunderstood the exact details (Riyo Chuchi was under the impression that Obi-Wan and/or Ahsoka were also part of the relationship, something that would have been perfectly normal on her homeworld).
  • Sam & Mickey's stop-motion Barbie comedies have Barbie try to pass off hers and Ken's illegitimate daughters as her "little sisters", but it seems rare for someone not to recognize Barbie as the girls' actual mother. It doesn't help that the "little sisters" often don't try to keep the secret.
  • In Let the Galaxy Burn, the Targaryens security is so bad that almost everyone knows about their "secret" military shipyards and projects, to the point that the only reason the Starks are starting to have trouble is that the Targaryens have started so many secret projects that the Starks don't have enough spies to keep track of them all.
  • Zig-zagged in Neither a Bird nor a Plane, it's Deku!. Izuku's keeps his Secret Identity as an alien fairly well and none of his classmates seem to suspect that he's anything but a guy with an exceptionally strong Quirk. But at the same time, virtually everyone in power knows who he is after he nearly killed Katsuki Bakugou when they were kids, prompting the government, police, and the Top Ten Heroes to learn Izuku's secret. They mostly keep it on the down low, but it isn't hard for someone like Lexi Luthor to learn Izuku's life story. The government also informs the entirety of U.A.'s faculty by the time Izuku begins taking the entrance exam.
  • New Tamaran: All the heroes seem to be aware that Killer Frost is freely allowed to torment the other prisoners at Belle Reeve. Robin/Nightwing is the only one to show any ethical objection, but not even he seems keen on doing anything about it.
  • In Brilliant Lights Will Cease To Burn, Izuku's identity as the vigilante "Deku" is unknown to the authorities and the majority of Japan, but pretty much every he knows personally picks up on his change in behavior and treat them as one and the same. The only reason why he still has a Secret Identity is that he's helped them so much that he has their trust and admiration.
  • In The Queen of Hearts, everyone in Arendelle (and several of its neighboring nations) knows that Elsa isn't the biological daughter of King Jonas. Everyone except Elsa and her younger sister Anna.
  • In A Pink Planet, the Coral Project Site is a research station commissioned by Pink Diamond as a means of finding ways to incorporate organic life into gem-kind's colonization. While activities in Coral is meant to be kept a secret, two thousand years of activity and the increasing population of humans living near the site have led to such secrets leaking. By the time Steven is born, gem-human hybrids (a product of their research) are well-known, with the other Diamonds eventually finding out about it.
  • A Young Woman's Political Record has the Battle of Duisbusch, which Tanya says was won by angry Germanian civilians who somehow got their hands on military equipment and overwhelmed the occupying Francois forces. There is no one that believes that story and it is widely known that it was Tanya and 203rd that did the deed.
  • Handmaid: Despite Henry's best and genuine efforts, everyone in court (including his wife and handmaid) are perfectly aware of his courting of Jane Seymour. While some are unhappy with the situation, the two women in question don't really care: Katherine is used to Henry's cheating, while Anne is more interested in Katherine and is happy to ignore it as long as he doesn't flaunt the affair openly. If anything, she's more insulted by the fact that Henry genuinely believes he's fooling anybody.
  • Adventures of the Galaxy Rangers uses a Fanon that nearly everyone knows Shane and Niko are a couple, but don't say anything because either they can't prove it or they don't care.
  • In Wilhuff Tarkin, Hero of the Rebellion, Anakin and Padmé's utter inability to keep their marriage secret has become a Running Gag. They're bad enough Tarkin openly wondered how bad they were when Gilad Pellaeon mentioned it... And that is years before it was revealed that two entire Stormtrooper Legions know (the 501st, that still includes many Clones that served under Anakin, and the First Legion, who recruits entirely from the 501st).
  • In Ultra Fast Pony, Rarity is into all manner of kinky, BDSM stuff, and she does a terrible job of hiding it. She keeps accidentally bringing it up in casual conversations, then tries to cover it up—as if everyone hadn't already figured it out from the last twenty times she let it slip.
    Pinkie: Yeah, okay, there is no way what Rarity does is still a secret.
  • In Darkness of Gold, Izuku never uses his Quirk because the head of the Hero Commission told him how dangerous it was for anyone to find out about it. Despite this, pretty much everyone from Bakugo to Present Mic knows about his "super secret" Quirk and comments about how amazing it is. Given that said Quirk is also the reason his mother was given a new house, a promotion, and a massive amount of money, it's a wonder they even bother pretending it's a secret.
  • The Pieces Lie Where They Fell: As discussed in the sequel Picking Up the Pieces, the existence of demons is this after the incursion that saw Gentle Step promoted to Captain-General. Before that, there were just legends, but then a number of civilian witnesses saw the demons in the flesh and spread the word to others about them being real (though not how many or what kinds there are) before the Guards could stop them. Since then, the Guards don't officially talk about it, but they don't have any way of keeping the truth hidden anymore.
  • Natural Selection: Pretty much everyone is aware that Ryuko and Mako are a couple to the point that it's a favored topic of Honnouji gossip rags, but it's not brought up in their presence because doing so guarantees that Ryuko will beat seven hells out of them at best or horrifically kill them at worst.

    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 has this: it seems that everyone in Nottingham except for Prince John and his lackeys know how to get to Robin's hideout in Sherwood Forest.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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, though, after Septimus's altercation with him and his crew, they cheer him up by mentioning that they'd figured it out long ago and don't think bad of him for it.
  • 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. 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 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.

  • In Dragon Bones, Erdrick is extremely nervous about his twin brother's affair with the queen. However, everyone else knows the affair to be an open secret, and Beckram tells Erdrick that he was ordered to sleep with the queen by the king himself. (It is not clear whether the king's affairs with men are even an open secret, or no secret at all, as everyone in the country knows it. Everyone. Well, maybe except innocent Erdrick.) There's also the bastard offspring of the lords of Hurog—everyone knows what it means when someone is introduced as "distant cousin" of house Hurog.
  • At the end of Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone, Dumbledore knows that this trope is in full force when he says "What happened in the dungeons between Harry and Professor Quirrell is a complete secret—so, naturally, the whole school knows."
  • In Gerald Morris in The Ballad of Sir Dinadan. Tristram and Isolde have the world's least secret love affair — literally everyone but Isolde's husband knows, and he at least suspects. This is mostly because Tristram has been riding about the country telling everyone in great detail about the vow of silence he has taken and how he can never even say his true love Isolde's name. The trope also applies to Lancelot and Guinevere's affair in the first couple of books, though in this case it's treated more seriously due to the effect it has on Arthur and the court.
  • Discworld:
    • Everybody knows Carrot is the true king of Ankh-Morpork, but nobody speaks openly about it. (While Carrot would probably make a good king, everyone, including himself, agrees that Ankh-Morpork does not need a king.) The last guy who tried got skewered by Carrot himself. And the heirloom blade went through him and into the stone behind him…
    • The short story "The Sea and Little Fishes" has the townspeople of Lancre going through ridiculous contortions to find Nanny Ogg. They know where she is; she's at her secret still in the woods. But actually acknowledging this would be unthinkable, so they wander around near where they all know the still is, calling her name. When she finally comes to see what all the fuss is about, they say they thought she might be in the woods picking herbs.
      • It's mentioned that even King Verence knows about the still and maintains the secret, having long ago learned that the way to avoid the embarrassment of witches refusing to pay taxes (or in this case, excise) is never to ask them.
    • Officially, the father of Shaun Ogg, Nanny's youngest son, is her last husband Sobriety Ogg...who died about ten years before Shaun was born. Even most of the population of backwoods Lancre is bright enough to have spotted the mathematical incongruity there, though they would never mention it. Shaun himself, not the brightest bulb, may be the only person who isn't in on it.
    • There's a gap in the stone wall around Unseen University that allows students to leave after curfew to go drinking. The hole has been there for centuries, and the faculty were all students once and sometimes still make use of it themselves. This occasionally leads to awkward encounters that consist mostly of pretending not to see each other. In Night Watch Sam Vimes goes looking for it; turns out there's a sign.
  • The Pillars of the Earth makes occasional mention of priests who are officially celibate, yet have a "live-in housekeeper," a polite fiction maintained for the benefit of all concerned. The protagonist for the first half of the book is married to one such housekeeper's mysteriously fatherless daughter. Literally everyone knows what's actually going on, with senior Church officials pretending to be taken in because actually enforcing the celibacy rule would be more trouble than it's worth. This is probably Truth in Television.note 
  • A Song of Ice and Fire:
    • Cersei gets so used to everyone knowing the truth about her affair with her twin brother that she almost forgets that it's supposed to be a secret, and hardly bothers to keep it.
    • A darker example from the same series would be what Craster does to his sons (sacrifices them to the Others, the ice demons who live in the woods near his keep). All of the Rangers of the Night's Watch know about it, but because they need the help Craster gives them, they never talk about it or try to stop it.
    • Loras and Renly's gayness isn't known by everyone, but certainly more people know about it than don't.
  • A Running Gag in Death and Diplomacy. The Saloi are a Planet of Hats of people with Chronic Backstabbing Disorder. Therefore everyone knows that the truth is whatever a Saloi isn't saying, and it's almost impossible for them to keep a secret. (The one secret they do seem to keep is who their true ruler is, and they do it by treating him as the ruler, while having a minor functionary always at hand for him to "consult" with. Everyone [including the ruler] assumes it's the functionary who's really in charge… probably.)
  • In Stephen King's IT, pretty much everyone who's lived in Derry long enough knows about the 27-year cycle of violence, even if they don't fully understand what causes it. Most of them have seen the Monster Clown which is IT's preferred form as well.
  • Similarly to other instances involving the same people, the fact that Sir Lancelot and Queen Guenevere are having an affair is fairly widely known in TH White's The Once and Future King. Nobody wants to come right out and say it, because Lancelot is "the best knight that is on life" and would challenge anyone who dared bring it up to trial by combat, in which he would slaughter them. That no one dares do more than hinting about it obliquely allows King Arthur to officially pretend he doesn't know about it for quite some time. In the fourth book Candle in the Wind, Mordred's scheming finally makes it impossible for Arthur to keep up the charade and he has to officially charge Lancelot and Guenevere with High Treason in the new courts, ironically set up by Arthur himself because he didn't like how trial by combat meant the person who could afford to hire the biggest, strongest fighter as a champion got to basically do whatever he wanted.
  • In S.M. Stirling's Emberverse, the Portland Protective Association is in practice (and originally, in law) a Roman Catholic kingdom, practicing a fairly conservative version of that faith. The Baroness (later Grand Constable later Marshall) Tiphaine d'Ath is gay and in a monogamous relationship with Delia de Stafford, wife of the equally-gay Rigobert. Everybody except their confessors is quite aware of the true nature of Tiphaine and Delia's, and Delia and Rigobert's, relationships, but the attitudes of the kingdom prohibit any public acknowledgment.
  • The not-terribly-secret love between magic mentor Sephrenia and Pandion Knight leader Vanion is an Open Secret throughout The Elenium trilogy by David Eddings. It's discussed a few times quietly by other characters, but no one overtly brings it up until near the very end of the trilogy, when they're reunited following a dangerous separation and "their secret, which wasn't much of a secret anyway, went right out the window." As of the sequel trilogy, they're married.
  • In The Traitor Son Cycle, the Church tries to hide the fact that the Lissen Carak abbey is composed solely of sorceresses. After they help rescue the city from the Wild invaders, however, pretty much everybody knows that, and it becomes less of a secret and more of something that's impolite to mention in public.
  • Harry Card in Below is the real father of Ed Finch's son, and his affair with Finch's wife Maddie has been going on for years since. Because Harry and Finch are still lifelong best friends, and everyone is intimidated by Finch, everyone assumes Finch himself is the only one in the dark and no one wants to be the person to tell him.
  • In The Story of Valentine and His Brother, the fact that Dick is slightly older than Val becomes one, as Val was raised to eventually become a lord, while Dick grew up poor and is satisfied with his current job as a supervisor at a boatyard.
  • Mitch Tobin: Everyone in the fourth book knows how Jamie the murder victim cheated on his partner except for said partner and one other friend.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Black Lightning: Tobias Whale is a corrupt councilman, turned feared gang leader, who hasn't been seen for decades and now has only now officially returned — at least "officially". In truth, everybody knows that Tobias was still hiding in Freeland and running the local gang — the One Hundred.
  • Buffy the Vampire Slayer:
    • Some people believe that The Masquerade was broken early on, if not before the show started. This is made much more clear in the Third Season episode "The Prom", during which Buffy is given the "Class Protector" award. Jonathan mentions while he's presenting that everyone present knows that Sunnydale isn't like other schools, but it's an unwritten rule that no-one ever talks about it. She won the award because the class mortality rate was the lowest in school history!
    • In the very first episode:
      Buffy: Was there a school bulletin? Was it in the newspaper? Is there anyone in this town who doesn't know I'm the Slayer?
    • And when Wesley first came to Sunnydale and finds out Cordelia knows:
      Wesley: Does everyone know you're the Slayer?
    • In the seventh season, after the band, led by noted singer/songwriter Aimee Mann, finishes performing their set at The Bronze (only momentarily interrupted by a vampire being dusted in the middle of the club) Mann can be seen walking off complaining about how she hates performing in "Vampire Towns".
    • The school newspaper has a regular obituaries section. We know it's a regular item because Oz mentioned always reading it first.
  • On Criminal Minds, this happens pretty frequently, since the whole team is so good at reading body language and word choice that it's nearly impossible for them to keep secrets from their coworkers for long. They seem to have worked out some kind of deal (referenced a few times but never seen onscreen) that they'll try not to profile one another, but they're not very good at keeping it, and mostly just compromise by politely pretending not to know things they're not supposed to know. One particularly notable example is Reid's drug problem in Season 2. He meets a friend outside the group who figures out what's going on in about fifteen seconds. When Reid says that he hasn't told anyone about it, the friend's response is along the lines of "Okay, I'm a jazz musician who hasn't seen you in ten years. They're elite FBI profilers who see you every day. Good luck with that."
  • Doctor Who: In "Planet of the Ood", PR rep Solana claims this is the case with the abusive treatment of the enslaved Ood.
    "[The public] don't ask. Same thing."
  • Game of Thrones:
    • Lord Renly and Ser Loras' relationship is theoretically a secret given that the setting is based on the middle ages where homosexuality wasn't exactly approved of, but not only does nearly the whole court, (including Renly's wife Margaery Tyrell) know about it, even a couple of random Lannister soldiers halfway across Westeros from them were joking about Loras "stabbing Renly Baratheon for years, and Renly ain't dead!" in one episode. Considering that Renly's marriage to Margaery was never officially consumated and Loras is often seen entering his tent at nighttime, they really shouldn't have been surprised. This continues even after Renly's death. It's revealed in Season 3 that Jaime, Cersei, Joffrey, Tywin, and Tyrion are also aware of Renly's sexual orientation. The Tyrells are a very powerful family that can easily shift the balance of power in the kingdom, so anyone with any political savvy avoids discussing Loras Tyrell's sexual preferences. Joffrey makes a massive political faux pas when he publicly brings up Renly's homosexuality. Everyone knows about it, but only someone as thoughtless as Joffrey would bring it up in the presence of the Tyrells.
      Jaime: It's all true about Renly. His proclivities were the worst kept secret at court. It's a shame the throne isn't made out of cocks... They'd have never got him off it.
    • On the same token, much of the nobility of Westeros seems to be aware, or at the very least suspicious, that Queen Cersei is having an affair with her twin brother, and that her children are illegitimate bastards born from the incest. Except for King Robert and the twins' father Lord Tywin, all of the smarter members of the court — Varys, Littlefinger, and Pycelle — have for a long time known for sure but kept it to themselves for their own plots and benefit. However, few people are actually willing to directly challenge Cersei on the matter because of her political allies. Ned Stark learns this the hard way. Stannis Baratheon "outs" their secret when he receives Ned's missive, and it quickly catches Word Of Mouth with the commonfolk at King's Landing and different parts of the kingdom, though whether people believed it is another matter. Olenna Tyrell, who's marrying her granddaughter to the Crown, points out to Tywin Lannister that the evidence is very convincing. As of "A Man Without Honour" in the second season, even Jaime and Cersei have given up denying it. As Season 4 rolls, it is the worst kept secret of Westeros and is only tolerated for political necessity and convenience, with everyone making snarky comments about it and the rumor having spread all the way across the Narrow Sea to Essos. Only Tywin refuses to acknowledge the truth even to himself, and his denial is suggested to be because he point blank does not want to believe it since it would mean that his whole legacy and the Lannister blood claim to the throne is built on a lie. Even when Cersei herself tells Tywin outright that it's true, he refuses to believe it.
    • Lampshaded in season 8 when the truth about Jon's parentage gets around. When Varys is told and learns that he's the eighth to know, he remarks that at that point it's not really a keepable secret anymore and will soon be common knowledge.
  • Gentleman Jack: The fact that Anne is a lesbian is well-known to most of the characters, and she herself makes no real effort to hide it — she maintains just enough plausible deniability to avoid social ruin, but that's about it. The handful of characters who don't know are all portrayed as being naïve, oblivious, or in denial.
  • Get Smart: Many times when Max would ask the operator to patch him through to a 'number which she must immediately forget', she responds with, "Oh, you mean CONTROL!"
  • Downplayed in the finale of Gotham. While it certainly isn't true that everyone in the city knows that Bruce is Batman, more people than usual seem to have guessed his secret, but have just chosen not to say anything. Justified, since the entire series except the finale is a Batman prequel show, and some of the plot revolves around different comic characters befriending Bruce over a decade before he ever puts on the mask, so they might know him better than they do in the comics. It becomes apparent by the end of the finale that Jim Gordon has guessed the new vigilante's identity, and that Harvey Bullock might be close to finding out. Remarkably, two villains also correctly guess Batman's identity, but neither seem inclined to say anything, most likely because they both actually like Bruce, and used to be his friends. Selina Kyle/Catwoman doesn't even need to see Bruce's face to realize who the mysterious vigilante stalking her is, and it takes the Joker all of a second to recognize Bruce under the mask when he encounters Batman for the first time, even though part of Bruce's face is covered, he hasn't seen him for ten years, and he's standing about fifty feet away from him.
  • Subverted in House of Anubis, as the secret is a pretty poorly kept secret (only one person in the entire house at the end of season 3 never got involved) but it still manages to remain a secret. Which is odd, considering the students talk about it in the middle of the school like it's homework and not a life-threatening mystery.
  • The "Secret" Relationship of Majors Burns and Houlihan in the early seasons of M*A*S*H.
  • On NCIS, Jimmy Palmer and Michelle Lee's Secret Relationship turns out to be this, as Team Gibbs already knew about it when Palmer confessed.
  • On The Office (US), Dwight's affair with Angela becomes this. Phyllis catches her and Dwight together in the office (right after Andy proposed to Angela and she said yes) and blackmails Angela into letting her head the party committee. Phyllis eventually tells anyway and everyone at the office knows but Andy. This leads to an awkward moment when Andy serenades Angela on a sitar and declares that he will love her for the rest of his life, and everyone in the office stares at them.
  • While his alien origins are still a secret, in later seasons of Smallville, the implication seems to be that everyone knows that Clark has super-powers, it's just impolite to mention it. Given that Smallville has a rather high population of metahumans, this isn't hard to pass off.
  • Lampshaded in the Star Trek: Deep Space Nine episode "Our Man Bashir". Garak is mystified by the lavish lifestyle afforded to the James Bond expy in Bashir's holonovel. Bashir states that he simply plays the role of the rich playboy Garak assumed he was. Garak laments that he joined the wrong intelligence service. Of course, Garak is something of an Overt Operative himself.
    • Throughout the franchise, it's stated that Romulan ale is illegal in the Federation. It's no secret, however, that every other officer has a bottle stashed away. This gets appropriately Lampshaded by Admiral Ross who nearly chokes on his first glass of the ale while commenting that he's one of the few officers who hasn't indulged in it, despite the embargo.
  • Taboo: James and Zilpha's lingering affection for each other is widely rumored around London and is apparent to all who see them together, including her enraged husband. The Americans even go so far as to offer her as part of their bargain with James for Nootka Sound.
  • A Running Gag on Top Gear was for the presenters to go to a location that was deemed "Top Secret", usually an official product testing track owned by a car manufacturer. We'd get an establishing shot of the facility and a voiceover from Jeremy Clarkson reminding us that the place was Top Secret… before revealing its exact location as well as detailed directions on how to reach said location by car.
  • Torchwood:
    • In the premiere, Gwen is cleverly (she thinks) infiltrating the Hub as a pizza delivery person, only to have the group unable to keep up the charade that she's fooling them and break out laughing.
    • The eponymous organization is supposed to be a top-secret organization beyond the reach of the British government (though answerable to the Queen). Pretty much everyone in Cardiff seems to know who they are and what they do and they liaise with Whitehall on occasion. Heck, they print the name of their "secret" organization on their vans.
      Rupesh: You're Torchwood?
      Jack Harkness: [while climbing into the Conspicuous Black SUV with "TORCHWOOD" written all over it] Never heard of 'em.
    • This is only made worse by the fact that the team regularly orders pizza under the name Torchwood and has it delivered to the front door of their headquarters. Also, Torchwood's allegedly clandestine dealings with the supernatural are the worst-kept secret in the UK. The show makes hay out of how loudly everything about them screams The Men in Black, especially with some very loud alien encounters in the Whoniverse.
      Gwen: Excuse me. Have you seen a blowfish driving a sports car? [old woman points the way] Thank you.
      Old Woman: Bloody Torchwood.
  • From Yes, Minister:
    Sir Humphrey: Ladysmith House is top secret.
    Hacker: How can a seven-story building in Walthamstow be top secret?

  • Childish Gambino's "That Power" is about making all details of his life into this trope, so they can't be used against him.

  • Welcome to Night Vale: Most of Night Vale's secrets are this way. Things which 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 a 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.
  • 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 because 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 
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.

    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.

    Video Games 
  • In World of Warcraft since the Cataclysm expansion, the zone of Azshara has a secret goblin R&D facility, cleverly named the Secret Lab. Several goblin non-player characters talk about how it'll make a good tourist attraction, and there's a visitor's guide book about the lab to be read at the nearby rocketway terminal. Goblins being goblins, "secret" and "R&D lab" are not particularly compatible concepts.
  • Throughout the Hitman series, the International Contract Agency had been portrayed as an extremely secret clandestine organisation, connected to most major nations' secret services and the UN, only every operating through proxies' proxies. After their reformation in Absolution however, something changed, as they began to send large squadrons of highly conspicuous operatives in ICA uniform and marked vehicles to take over urban centres, where they cordon off streets, search houses and round up civilians like a police force. At one point, one of the ICA directors even swoops down on a South Dakota courthouse in an ICA helicopter and declares to the town's sheriff over megaphone that they're taking over. So much for subtlety.
  • 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?)
  • In Mass Effect 2, the fact that Shepard is now working with Cerberus is known by pretty much everyone. Zaeed will even lampshade it at one point, calling it the worst-kept secret in the galaxy.
  • In Mass Effect 3, it seems that everyone knows that Liara is the new Shadow Broker. The only exceptions are Barla Von and Shepard if you didn't complete the relevant DLC.
  • The Iron Bull of Dragon Age: Inquisition is supposed to join the Inquisition to spy on it for his Qunari superiors. However, he knows that the Inquisition's agents will discover his secret eventually, so in the interest of saving time he tells the Inquisitor his purpose and flat-out asks permission to send reports on their activities and in exchange, he'll give the Inquisition reports he gets from his Qunari contacts.
    • Blood Magic is illegal throughout Thedas, and party member Dorian says this is officially true for the Tevinter Imperium as well, and they put on a good show of condemning the practice. But this being a Deadly Decadent Court ruled by mages, it's an open secret that any Tevinter magister of high social/political standing engages in it.
    • On a less serious note, the best way to romance Cassandra is to pull off a Grand Romantic Gesture. She'd rather die than admit that she's a hopeless romantic, but if you go to your party members for advice about starting a relationship with her half of them will bring it up anyways.
  • Eientei is very strange about this. In Perfect Memento in Strict Sense Akyuu most definitely considers Eirin and Kaguya humans as well as Reisen a youkai Earth Rabbit, even though almost a dozen people she could have told her they were Lunarians. The fact that Akyuu later devotes a whole section to a "Lunar Capital Exposition" Eientei hosted in Kaguya's article laughs in the face of an earlier note where in Eirin's article where Akyuu thinks she may have "a deep connection to the Lunar Capital."
    • From various world-building materials, it can be said that most human populace of Gensokyo are generally ignorant of many in-going of the world, mostly because Gensokyo's power-players (read: most named characters), whether it's youkai or humans, are deliberately making it so to maintain Gensokyo's power balance between the races. Best shown in Forbidden Scrollery; Kosuzu who doesn't know these conspiracies freaks out when she finds out the Noh dancer in Hakurei Shrine is a youkai who will control the populace's mind and reporting it to Marisa, the closest seemingly neutral human power-player she has contact with. Unfortunately, to those who know the true event of Hopeless Masquerade, it's no secret that Marisa is one of those who set up Kokoro as the shrine's Noh dancer as the most non-violent mean to channel her power, instead of almost triggering a civil war between the religious factions. What Kosuzu knows as "youkai extermination" is just a staged performance of those involved power-players so there's no misunderstanding over the "controlling the populace's mind" thing, not to stop it. In short, the "secret" is open to those people we, as the fourth wall audience, often fill the exposition shoes in as player characters and main antagonists but not so much for those nameless extras who don't get into fights at the drop of a hat.
  • Played for Comedy in the Team Fortress 2 universe. The teams may think that they're being all sneaky and secretive in their dealings, but they often get spectators in the form of locals who live near their 'secret' bases, who just want to watch two teams of idiots blow each other up. It's also very heavily implied that the teams know the actual fights don't have much purpose, given that they're quite familiar with both the Administrator and Ms. Pauling, who keep the conflict going, but don't care because they like getting paid.
  • In Dishonored, everyone seems to know something about the fact that Corvo and the Empress had an affair going on and that Emily is his daughter, but either try to talk around it or are somewhat unsure. The game treats these as mostly rumors until the sequel where they're flat-out confirmed.
  • The Elder Scrolls:
    • Throughout the series, the Thieves' Guild doesn't have open guild halls like the Fighters or Mages guilds for obvious reasons. Instead, they tend to operate out of various taverns and clubs in major cities to create plausible deniability. Since their guild halls actually being secrets would be bad for business, everyone tends to know what goes on in these establishments...and if law enforcement starts sniffing around, blackmail or a well-placed bribe will usually get them to keep the "secret"...
    • In Skyrim, it's pretty much well-known that Solitude's Court Mage is a vampire in plain sight for everyone to see. Considering how loathed and dangerous vampires are, it's astonishing how she is allowed anywhere near the the local Jarl Elisif, nor does anyone ever spell out her true nature. Since she has found ways to quench her thirst for blood by feeding on Solitude's worst criminals rather than its citizens, she is tolerated which is more that can be said about other vampires in Skyrim.
  • In Final Fantasy XIV, it's revealed that the Scions of the Seventh Dawn already knew from the start that the woman they knew as Yda wasn't actually Yda but her sister Lyse. As Y'Shtola explains, they saw through it immediately, but Papalymo begged them to keep it a secret to humor her. As well, a part of her figured that they already figured it out, but just didn't want to believe it. It's unknown if the Eorzean leaders knew of this. It is however shown the Warrior of Light had no way of knowing this, regardless of if they started in 1.0 or A Realm Reborn, as the deception was already in play by the time they meet. To her credit, she apologizes for it.

    Web Animation 

    Web Comics 
  • Towards the end of Bob and George, George's secret identity in the hand-drawn continuity is shown to be one of these.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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!"
  • 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.
  • Homestuck has Karkat and Terezi's "thing."
    KANAYA: Well Didn't You?
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.

    Web Original 
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.

    Web Videos 

    Western Animation 
  • The Venture Bros.: The Sovereign is the leader of the guild, and his identity is a well-kept secret...except almost everyone knows he's David Bowie. Yes, David Bowie. A later episode then revealed he isn't David Bowie, but a shapeshifter who knew him.
  • The My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic episode "Green Isn't Your Color" had Spike confess his deepest secret to Twilight and Pinkie... His crush on Rarity. A secret everyone in town was already aware of... except for Pinkie of course.
  • A House of Mouse episode had Clarabelle about to reveal a big secret and everybody in the Club is worried it's going to be his/her secret. By asking Clarabelle what the secret is, they accidentally reveal their own secrets to Clarabelle instead: Mickey reveals he does something with his ears so they look the same no matter angle you see them from, while Donald reveals he's part goose. When it's Goofy's turn, he disregards Mickey and Donald's secrets since everybody already knows them but his secret, according to him, is bigger: He's rather clumsy. And can prove it!
  • In King of the Hill, pretty much everyone except Dale knows that his wife, Nancy, is cheating on him with her "massage therapist" John Redcorn, who is Joseph's real father. Even Bobby is in on the secret (Joseph himself seems to genuinely be just as clueless as Dale, though). It eventually comes out that Peggy doesn't know until Hank tells her, leading him to bring it up to his friends, who immediately pretend they don't know what he's talking about.
  • Kim Possible:
    • Area 51 is rumored to be a secret alien research base. The main characters eventually arrive at Area 51 to discover that it actually is a secret alien research base, but with a twist — authorities let the secret out, knowing that the public would believe it to be wild rumors, thus keeping the "secret" safe.
    • Most of the villain lairs, which are obviously intended to be secret and untraceable by the villains themselves but are easily found by a ten-year-old boy, Global Justice and/or pretty much anyone the plot wants to know. Particularly notable with Dementor and Drakken, who really push the "secret lair" schtick. In one memorable case, Drakken's lair was found no problem by his mother. Like everything, Lampshaded—this time by Motor Ed.
      Ed: Dude, seriously, what type of secret hideout is this? Everyone knows you live here, man!
      Drakken: One magazine subscription and suddenly everyone's got your address...
  • Played with in an episode of Adventure Time where Finn has acquired a stack of tapes that the Ice King is trying to hide. He and Jake decide to have a secret party to watch them, so Jake puts up a ton of fliers to announce they are having a private secret-tape watching party and nobody should come. The Ice King finds the fliers and tries to crash the party, upsetting Jake who was "very clear in the fliers" that nobody was invited.
  • The Emperor's New School continues the gag from its original film. "To the not-so-secret lab!"
  • The Simpsons:
    • In the early days of the series, big stars looking to guest-star would often go under aliases and their appearances weren't broadcasted much. The most famous are probably Sam Etic and John Jay Smith. The latter in particular had things relatively kept on the down-low and wasn't legally acknowledged as one of the most famous music stars in the country, even though pretty much everyone knew about them and the episodes they appeared in were laden with Actor Allusions.
    • The Stonecutters, the local Brotherhood of Funny Hats, are generally treated as a secret organization in the episode they appear in. On the other hand, their membership seems to include just about every recurring male character in Springfield. It makes it even sillier that it took Homer so long to find out the organization existed, when, for instance, Lenny, Carl, Moe, and Barney were all members, and that's just in Moe's Tavern.

    Real Life 
  • Comb-overs. It's amazing how many men honestly believe that they actually fool anyone.
  • Israel's nukes. They haven't officially revealed them yet, but when then-Prime Minister Ehud Olmert accidentally (or perhaps accidentally on purpose) said (or at least implied with barely less subtlety than actually setting off one of the nukes) that Israel had nukes in a speech in 2006, the world barely noticed. Of course, there isn't much reason to keep a nuclear arsenal secret—the main point of having it is intimidating the other side not to attack, something a secret doomsday device isn't so good at. The reason for Israel going this route is strategic. Israel's potential regional enemies (e.g. Iran, Iraq, Egyptnote ) know it has nukes, and are thus deterred from military action that would threaten Israel's existence. They can't acquire their own nukes because they're parties to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), which forbids owning any (except for the US, the Soviet Union/Russia, China, the UK, and France) and subjects them to IAEA inspections. And they can't withdraw from the NPT without an "imminent threat" to their security (such as a nearby rival having nukes already), which officially doesn't exist because Israel officially refuses to confirm anything.note  In other words, it's an endless cycle of I Know You Know I Know and Selective Obliviousness on both sides. This serves the interests of both Israel and the other countries involved: the Israelis get their security and their neighbors get a good reason not to fight Israel and also keep the Middle East a nominal nuclear-weapons-free zone; the ambiguity also spares the regional powers the expense of developing their own weapons programs. (Israel's interest, by the way, does not include the fear of IAEA inspections, as many Israelis claim; Israel is not a party to the NPT and unlikely to become one in the foreseeable future, so it's not subject to inspections, and declaring its stockpile would have no effect on that (after all, both India and Pakistan, also non-NPT countries, openly have nuclear weapons and nobody's ever even tried to inspect them)—any Israeli politician mentioning inspections is just trying to scare you.)
    • It's also politically useful to Israel's main ally, the United States, to play along. US law requires special "national security" exemptions to provide military aid to a known nuclear proliferator (ie any nation other than Russia, China, the UK or France that possesses nukes), which could be controversial for a President to issue during periods when there's not an actual war going on. But since (officially) Israel isn't a known nuclear proliferator, there's no need to bother with such an exemption.
  • Israel's strategy is not unique. Pakistan had something similar. From the time Pakistan became a nuclear power note  till the first official note  test in 1998, Pakistan officially denied it had a nuclear weapon. Those strange, heavily guarded magazines which mysteriously appeared outside major bases and which looked exactly like magazines which have no use but to house nukes? Oh, just some chicken farmer's silo. The tenders given to local companies for the manufacture of special fuses which were only used on warheads? Please, it's a research project. And that's not a plutonium processing plant, it's a training center (which it actually also was). The Pakistani strategy worked like a charm. As long as Pakistan did not wave its capability openly, the US could continue to support it. Its very existence meant that New Delhi and Moscow would not try anything that Pakistan would not like. In 1998, the Indians tested and, well, suddenly Pakistan's strategy was no longer viable.
  • India did not even bother with the whole charade. They simply tested in 1974 while claiming that it was a peaceful explosion.
  • Speaking of military secrets everyone knows about, 1st Special Forces Operational Detachment-Delta, more commonly known as Delta Force. The Pentagon refuses to acknowledge its existence, even though the founder, Col. Beckwith, and an early member of the unit, Sgt. Maj. Haney, have written books about it.
  • The military installation located on the southern shore of Groom Lake in Nevada, also known as Area 51:
    • It has gone through most of its life being barely acknowledged (if at all) by the government, even when it's open knowledge that many advanced aircraft had been developed and tested there over the decades, including the first American jet fighter, the P-59 Airacomet. The secrecy around the base has, of course, fueled much debate about just what goes on there.
    • Area 51 has always hung its own lampshade. It's on Google Earth, for crying out loud. Official government policy before the mid-90s was to refuse to acknowledge in any way that the massive restricted area (with barbed-wire fences and armed soldiers patrolling it) actually contained one damned thing. It was only revealed when the base was sued for causing a horrifying and almost completely unknown disease in several workers by burning toxic waste on site rather than disposing of it properly, and refusing to give their doctors information about the unidentified substance even though it might have saved their lives. A story that almost disappeared behind claims of alien saucers. But not quite, and at that point the jig was basically up. Though that lawsuit was thrown out by executive order to prevent any details about Groom Lake appearing in court. This did lead to the CIA declassifying a number of documents relating to Area 51's history in 2013, meaning that the US Government has finally officially acknowledged that the base exists.
    • It is fairly well known at this point that Groom Lake is (or at least was) testing ground for new aircraft. Stuff like the B-2, the SR-71, the F-117…
  • It's fairly well-known that Cheyenne Mountain is the command center of NORAD. This does not tell anybody just what goes on down there, and it deflects attention from more important and more secret sites elsewhere. Misdirection, donchaknow. Just to show that they're trolling us, there is a door in Cheyenne Mountain with multiple locks on it, labeled "Stargate Command"; it leads to a broom closet. This was especially funny to anybody who worked in fast food in the nearby town. For years practically every night Domino's Pizza, KFC, and a number of other fast food joints would send a driver up the mountain trail with a massive order that they would hand off at a guarded gate to guards that officially weren't there to feed people that technically didn't exist. It does make people wonder if the people in NORAD just keep the charade going as a joke.
  • There is a real-life government facility at Raven Rock, although it presumably doesn't yet have an insane AI mainframe. As of yet, there has been no official denial.
  • The government installation at Mount Weather was SO Not-Secret that it's been handed over to FEMA.
  • Rule #1 of /b/: Do not talk about /b/. Rule #2 of /b/: Do NOT talk about /b/. To that end, expect almost any mention of /b/ anywhere on the Internet to be replied to with "Rules 1 and 2!!!!" even though pretty much everyone knows about /b/ by now. Expect that to get the response "That only applies to raids," but those, too, are likely to get leaked to Encyclopedia Dramatica within 24 hours. (Traditionally while a raid was in process, /b/ trolls would claim to be from eBaum's World, a site held in especially low regard on 4chan.)
    • In a sense, the new (created circa 2017) board /trash/. It's not on the top list and is designed as a dumping ground for everything that the other boards including /b/ can’t have (including furries and extreme kinks) and/or don't want to have (such as "generals", threads devoted to a general topic). This board is not intended for people under 18 to go to at all.
  • Tumblr's userbase adapted a similar "Do NOT talk about Tumblr, especially outside of Tumblr" meme, but it is mostly considered a Discredited Meme at this point.
  • The WikiLeaks release of US diplomatic cables falls into this category for much of the information. Everyone knows people in the diplomatic service badmouth other governments they deal with because, well, people. It's just not diplomatic to say so.
  • One of the amusing effects, such as that of the existence of Groom Lake, is that if information is classified, people covered by security laws or similar confidentiality rules are not allowed to talk about it until it's specifically declassified, even if everyone else already knows about the information.
  • At one point, the Bush Administration attempted to reclassify information that had already been released to the public.
  • In-N-Out Burger's "secret menu", especially "Animal Style" burgers and fries. They even acknowledge it on their website, though The Other Wiki has a more complete list.
  • In-N-Out is far from the only place that has a 'secret' menu or secret items. Many places have some sort of product that isn't on the menu but can still be made. Probably the most well known is the Mc10:35, a McDonald's product that combines the Egg McMuffin and the McDouble, so named because it was originally available in the short window of time between the end of breakfast and beginning of lunch at 10:30 AM (but due to the chain now offering all-day breakfast, it can now be made at any time after 10:30). Do note, however, that not every store of a given fast food or café chain will be aware of so-called secret menus, and attempting to order a "secret menu" item at your local Starbucks is something of a barista Berserk Button — you're often advised to simply list the modifications that make up the item.
  • The DiefenBunker — a massive underground complex a short ways outside Ottawa, sold to the country as a transmitting station, but actually intended for continuing government operations in the event of a nuclear strike on the Canadian government. In true Canadian fashion, it remained secret for roughly six minutes, as a suspicious reporter got in a plane and took pictures of the significant number of toilets being stocked there, ready to be taken underground. Far more toilets than would ever be needed for a simple transmission center.
  • The Kelvedon Hatch Secret Nuclear Bunker certainly counts. It also gets bonus points for its helpful tourist signs, one of which provides the page image. That being said, the bunker has been turned into a museum and so the whole "secret" thing is now just an Artifact Title, though it was a closely-guarded secret for many years… provided your definition of "closely-guarded" encompasses "most people in the higher levels of the UK Government knew about it".
  • The BT Tower's existence was officially classified and omitted from the government mapping agency's maps until 1993. This is a six-hundred-foot office building in central London; it was built in 1964, appeared in Doctor Who in 1966, and contains (among other things) viewing galleries, a souvenir shop, and a restaurant. One can only surmise that making it classified in the first place Seemed Like A Good Idea At The Timenote , and nobody bothered doing anything about it because declassifying something before its pre-arranged release date (anything between thirty years and a century) requires a small redwood forest's worth of paperwork. In the end, it was officially declassified in 1993 after Labour MP Kate Hoey "revealed" the tower's existence on the floor of the House of Commons, claiming parliamentary privilege as a defense in the (highly unlikely) event anyone tried to prosecute her for the "leak".
  • Likewise, a building in Arlington, Virginia, near The Pentagon, that handled part of the old AUTOVON network was considered a trade secret by AT&T, and at least one website was asked not to reveal its exact location despite the fact that AUTOVON had long since been decommissioned. Thing is, the building in question is a huge mid-rise tower (easily the tallest building in that part of Arlington for a long time); it's easily visible from two busy nearby streets, and even has a huge "AT&T" sign on its penthouse! Not only that, but the building also serves as a central office for Verizon, and its address is easily gotten from several places (including DSL Reports) that list the locations of phone switches.
  • When Catherine the Great of Russia ruled, it was a not-secret that she had a bastard son named Alexei by one of her lovers. Given that she treated him like a son and all but said it several times, one could argue that she didn't even consider it a secret, but it wasn't until after she died and her legitimate son took the throne and acknowledged Alexei as his half-brother that it became official.
  • The NSA. For a long time, the US government denied its existencenote , to the point where the standard joke was that NSA stood for No Such Agency. Now, they've got a website. Particularly amusing in the case of the NSA monitoring center, which does not exist. It's a giant windowless building, with no signage, covered in communications equipment, and directly next to (and visible from) a major highway. It took about 5 minutes for people to figure out what was going on there.
    • PRISM, the NSA's spying program, is still technically classified, despite the fact that the "classified" information has its own article on The Other Wiki, and the US government has admitted to running the program.
  • In 2014, we all learned the shocking truth about the NSA: they spy on people. Electronically! Lots of people had a suspicion or already knew that they were being spied by the NSA and other entities (from various nations in the world). The part people didn't know was the extent of the various programs of surveillance and data storage, which was (and is) relatively massive.
  • From time to time, a celebrity will come out of the closet and announce that they are gay, to which the media and public response with "We weren't supposed to know that already?"
    • According to interviews when Ian McKellen came out to his stepmother, Gladys, he was worried she and the rest of his family (both his biological parents were long since deceased) would reject him. Not only did they not reject him, his stepmother told him she had known for years and was happy he wasn't lying to himself anymore.
    • It was an open secret among the main cast and crew on The Brady Bunch that Robert Reed who played Mr. Brady was gay. Florence Henderson who played Mrs. Brady said she knew as soon as he kissed her for the first time in the pilot. They never talked about it but they also worked incredibly hard for it not to get out among the public. They respected his privacy but knew the show would get cancelled if the Moral Guardians found out. Reed died from HIV complications in 1992 and his daughter (he was married to a woman for several years after he graduated from college) would later confirm that he was indeed gay.
  • Everyone throughout Congress and the administration knew that Franklin D. Roosevelt was completely disabled in his legs from polio. The press corps knew as well but they weren’t allowed to take photos of him getting in and out of cars. The public knew he was “limp but not an invalid” (his words) because he developed a system to feign being able to walk that convinced people he could. note  There’s only a few clear photos of him in a wheelchair. Whether or not people knew and didn’t care for whatever reason or if it was kept out of public eye as a product of happening before most families had televisions is unknown.
  • Pretty much everyone in the world knew of the existence of MI6—heck, it's the subject of one of the world's most popular film series—but the British government didn't acknowledge its existence until 1994, when an Act of Parliament gave it official status.
  • In WWII when British intelligence was more of an Old Boy Network, MI6 agent Nicholas Elliott was undergoing a routine security vetting.
    Security Officer: Does your wife know what you do?
    Elliott: Yes.
    Security Officer: How did that come about?
    Elliott: Well she was my secretary for two years and I think the penny might have dropped.
    Security Officer: Quite so. What about your mother?
    Elliott: She thinks I'm in something called SIS which she believes stands for Secret Intelligence Service.
    Security Officer: Good God! How did she come to know that?
    Elliott: A member of the War Cabinet told her at a cocktail party.
    Security Officer: Then what about your father?
    Elliott: He thinks I'm a spy.
    Security Officer: So why would he think you're a spy?
    Elliott: Because the Chief told him in the bar at White's.
  • Anyone working in a top-secret position is not technically supposed to acknowledge their place of employment. However, those who live near these locations know who the major employer is because word gets out quickly. If you're making decent money, have a degree in fields relevant to these agencies, and live within a certain radius of said agency, the locals will generally assume you are employed by them.
    • The secret is even more open during job interviews, especially for those that work for contracting companies, where neither the company nor applicant are technically allowed to mention to the other that they contract with said agency. When you show up to a job interview with a defense contractor with a resume listing a top secret clearance, years of experience working for places known to contract with a top-secret agency, and a list of skills utilized exclusively with said agency, there is very little doubt who one is contracted with. To get around the inconvenience of not being able to directly mention the contracting agency, the interviewers usually will say things such as "so are you still in government spaces" or "do you work down the hill", or some other blatant stand-in for the agency they can't technically mention.
  • A variation comes when police talk to the media about suicides, especially murder-suicides, but don't confirm that the incident was one. It becomes this when their official statement is something like "The death of the members of this family was clearly homicide. No, we're not looking for anyone. No, no one else is at risk."
    • In a similar vein, any obituary that uses the phrase "died suddenly" or "died unexpectedly" without anything more specific is highly likely to be about a suicide.
  • The Church of Scientology has several of these, but the most notable is the OT-3 material (the notorious "Xenu story"note ). Ask any Scientologist, and they will claim never to have heard of the story in question. Officially, only long-time Church members can have it "revealed" to them after paying for a certain number of auditing sessions, and the Church's public relations department refrains from mentioning or acknowledging it in any statements to the general public about their doctrine and practices. This is despite the fact that the Church has discussed it in court, their current leader David Miscavige alluded to it in an interview on Nightline, recordings exist on YouTube of L. Ron Hubbard discussing it, countless books and television programs have discussed it without libel action being taken, and literally every ex-Scientologist who reached OT-3 confirms it. So much has already been leaked to the public and spread by word of mouth that it's now the only thing that many people know about the religion.
  • Likewise, Mormon temple rites, as represented by the garments that members wear, termed "magic underwear" by non-Mormon wags. They're meant to be hidden at all times and not discussed with non-Mormons (if they're visible at all, it's supposed to be a sign that the wearer's clothing isn't modest enough), but the advent of the internet has blown the secret right out of the water. This is especially true now that there's a Church-produced video on YouTube explaining it.
    • Subverted in the sense that, like some other aspects of the LDS faith, it's not really "secret", but members are reminded that they are "sacred". The difference is that "secret" implies that it's only meant for a small number of people to zealously guard against ever being known, which is not the case. Rather, members would like nothing more than for everyone to meet the requirements and learn more about them.
    • Officially the church didn't admit in public that it practiced polygamy until 1852 (about a decade-and-a-half after it started, and 38 years before the practice was given up), but it was widely known and a major source of the persecution that led them to flee to Utah in the first place.
  • It was an open secret on the internet that Josh Duggar of 19 Kids and Counting had molested several girls (some of whom were his sisters) since 2007. The previous year, The Oprah Winfrey Show had filmed an episode with the family but pulled it after receiving an anonymous email that Josh was a "pedophile". Oprah's production team contacted the state of Arkansas who started an investigation. Josh confessed (he'd confessed to his parents several years beforehand) but since the statute of limitations had expired, he wasn't charged. Allegedly one of the girls had told a friend about it. The friend wrote something about it down, stuck the note in a book, forgot about it, and then lent the book to someone who found the note and told an adult, who contacted Oprah. In 2007, someone posted to a message board under a pseudonym claiming the molestation was the reason the Oprah episode hadn't aired. The rumors continued for years until the tabloid, InTouch Weekly filed a Freedom of Information Act request with the state of Arkansas and got the police report in 2015.
  • Drones attacked people in Pakistan near the Afghan border. No one admitted to operating these drones, but everyone knows that the United States did it.
  • Guinea secretly aided some rebels in Liberia's civil war, but journalists reported this as an open secret.
  • Lawyers defending the Guantánamo detainees who are being tried have complained that they're not allowed to mention in court that their clients were tortured (as such information is still considered classified) even though this is common knowledge and everyone, including the current and former presidents of the United States, have acknowledged that waterboarding had been used.
  • Composer Yoko Kanno has long collaborated with a reclusive singer named Gabriela Robin. It is an open secret that Gabriela Robin is really Yoko Kanno's singing persona; nevertheless, Kanno refuses to officially comment, though she finally outed herself somewhat by performing Gabriela Robin's songs live in 2007.
  • Britain's Ordnance Survey maps are rightly acclaimed as one of the best, most accurate and most detailed representations available anywhere. This leads to several rather contradictory situations brought about by the military origins of the OS—the maps were first created for military use, hence the name—and the fact they have evolved over a century of refinement and differing priorities. For instance, the location of Britain's special forces bases is officially a secret, but anyone buying the relevant map section will see an Army barracks with virtually all its buildings faithfully represented and even named as Stirling Lines. Anyone looking for the Aldermaston nuclear research base, or the American spy station at Menwith Hill, however, will just see rolling empty countryside with no apparent sign a large military installation is there. Despite the fact that locals will happily point you to the radomes and buildings and razor wire fences.
  • Within the Touhou music arrange circle Yuuhei Satellite, there's vocalist senya, who keeps her true identity hidden with a mask whenever she's out in public as part of the group. Those who follow the BEMANI music scene know her better as BEMANI vocalist Mayumi Morinaga. While neither Yuuhei Satellite nor Konami has officially said anything on the matter, it's quite obvious to those who listen to her songs, especially given that Sound Voltex has a number of Yuuhei Satellite songs and beatmania IIDX features the song "Torikago no Houou", a collaboration track between the group and L.E.D. (with whom Mayumi also does songs with), with "senya" credited as the vocalist.
  • A lot of cycling transfers are this. The UCI rules state that a rider transferring from one ProTeam (World Tour) to another team is not allowed to conclude (i.e. sign) a contract before the 1st of August, and the rider and new team are not allowed to talk about it in the media, while the old team can state that the rider will leave after the season. This leads to high profile transfers being open secrets. Everyone knows that rider A transfers to team X (e.g. Landa to Sky for the 2016 season), but it's not officially known before the late stages of the season.
  • At one point the Italian government's way of keeping the locations of their military bases secret was to just black out the areas of the map they could be found on. While this did indeed keep the precise location of the bases' secret, it certainly provided a good starting point for finding them.
  • Isaac Asimov once called the longbow England's "unsecret weapon": their rivals knew how to make them and how to train people to use them, but the training took a long time, and they didn't want to let commoners become that valuable when they could just teach them to use crossbows instead.
  • Most Juggalos know who the members of the Psychopathic Rydas really are note , even though the members wear bandannas over their faces in all of their public appearances, and they refrain from publicly acknowledging their identities. Because most of the group's songs use beats lifted from other artists, the producers at Psychopathic Records release their music under a separate label to avoid legal trouble, and they don't officially acknowledge that the Rydas are all popular Psychopathic artists.
  • The idea that the UK even had a MI5 was never officially acknowledged until the 1989 Security Service Act. Four years later, Stella Rimington was the first person to be officially identified as MI5 Director-General. But everyone knew MI5 existed and had an idea of what it did.
  • Rituals of Freemasons. Masonic lodges started to operate openly in 1717 and the first Masonic exposé was published in 1724. Conspiracy nuts and the just plain curious love to publish (and read) the so-called "secrets", but members still refuse to discuss them with outsiders because they have promised not to and Masons consider themselves as men of their word. Also just reading the ritual instead of participating in it cannot give proper context.
  • Sia's face. Just look at her Other Wiki page.
  • Celebrities and models owe their good looks and flawless physiques to nothing more than good genes, rigorous dieting, and fanatical fitness regimes. There are not any wigs, weaves, toupees, botox injections, collagen injections, breast implants, facelifts, liposuction, dental work, or other cosmetic procedures performed on any of these people. There are not private resorts where celebrities can go to have work done and remain out of the public eye until the healing is complete and the swelling and bruising is gone.
  • Celebrities who behave badly in public and get called out for it are always having a bad reaction to perfectly legal prescription or over-the-counter drugs or just exhausted. They are not intoxicated or taking anything illegal. Likewise, celebrities who have posted embarrassing or inflammatory things online have always just had their Facebook / Twitter / iPhone hacked/stolen/compromised. It wasn't them, and they have no idea what happened or who might have done it.
  • Spy satellites are usually classified by the countries that produce them, with everything up to the fact that spy satellites exist being a secret. This is despite the fact that all it takes to detect a spy satellite is to... look up. Amateur star watchers can easily detect them, and a catalog of all satellites in space, including those used for spying, has been produced and recorded. The more tightly held secrets, as to what kind of data each satellite collects, may not be known by average citizens, but all major governments will have collected satellite emissions trajectories and from this generated a rather accurate estimation of exactly what the satellite is being used for. Politically every government will pretend none of these satellites exist; in reality, it's generally assumed every government is fully aware of their existence, and generally what is being collected by every one of them. The only real secrets these satellites possibly hold are how accurate their instruments are, and how closely the government is looking at the data they get back.
  • The identities of high school mascots are generally well-known to the student body thanks to the mascot's closest friends, but it is not allowed to be revealed in any school-sanctioned publication or at a school-sanctioned event. It's more difficult with college mascots, as colleges are usually too big to get the secret out, or with professional sports teams, where there isn't a closely-knit school community that the info can be distributed to.
    • One notable aversion of the trope in this specific context is West Virginia University's Mountaineer mascot, a student dressed in frontier costume and carrying an actual musket. Since the Mountaineer's face is visible to the public, there's no point in even trying to keep his (or, in one year, her) identity secret, so WVU holds open auditions for the position and publicly announces the winner.
  • Often, on film and TV productions, actors, especially those who aren't the leads, are absolutely sworn to secrecy. However, it can be easy to figure out in some cases that someone is working on a certain project even when they're being tight-lipped.
    • For example, this interview from April 2018 with East Coast actress Amy Rutberg, who plays Foggy Nelson's girlfriend Marci Stahl in Daredevil (2015). During the interview, the interviewer asked Rutberg what her future film and TV projects included, and she said one of them was "a super secret project I’ve been working on since November that will be out later this year" that was not Daredevil, considering that the season had begun shooting in New York City in mid-November 2017. Closer to the wrap date in mid-May 2018, the veil of secrecy lifted and Rutberg was able to officially confirm her role in Daredevil through interviews and her social media pages (posting photographs of yourself with your co-stars Charlie Cox, Deborah Ann Woll and Wilson Bethel certainly helps).
  • The Netflix Marvel shows use working titles for the film permits issued to their production companies by the NYPD, ostensibly to make it harder for spies and leakers to follow them. Just for the record, "Ringside" is technically not Daredevil (2015), "Violet" is technically not Jessica Jones (2015), "Tiara" is technically not Luke Cage (2016), "Kick" is technically not Iron Fist (2017), "Group Therapy" is technically not The Defenders (2017), and "Crime" is technically not The Punisher (2017).
  • Dubai is notorious among Asia (and often their diaspora cousins) to have been built off what is effectively modern-day slavery, but you can't criticize it IN Dubai because dissenters will be punished. There's even a huge article titled "human rights in Dubai" that details the human-rights VIOLATIONS that Dubai has constantly been criticized for, the near-absolute censorship that keeps journalists from talking about it in most of the city, and the massive corruption in law enforcement that allows the first two to take place.
  • "Third-party" Transformers, essentially toys created to resemble Transformers but made on higher budgets by independent companies with no affiliation to Hasbro. Despite the design similarities being very obvious and intentional, the toys go under different names, lack faction symbols, and often even come with comics or similar material to characterize them. So officially, for instance, Howling Meteor is an original character created and owned by the company Maketoys, and any resemblance he has to Starscream is at most a homage and more likely coincidence. But who are we kidding?
  • When Machine Robo received a new toy of the Bike Robo, it came with a removable face, as well as several other pieces of plastic in a separate bag that, coincidentally, could attach to the face region. That these pieces, when in place, caused the figure's face to resemble that of the Challenge Of The Go Bots character Cy-Kill, who used the same toy as the Bike Robo but whose rights are split up among several companies, is strictly happenstance.
  • There is no porn on Youtube, Facebook, or Instagram. None. Especially not BDSM or fetish porn that could get around automated censors by not showing intercourse or nudity. And there are absolutely no ways to download these videos for later use in case they're taken down...
  • Whenever a Drag Queen is selected to compete on RuPaul's Drag Race or any other drag reality show, they're sworn to non-disclosure clauses until the cast is officially revealed. However, if the queen has a large enough following in her local scene and/or social media, her fans will note that she has suspiciously gone missing during the months that the season is filming. Even queens who weren't selected will sometimes go dark during that time, just to drum up hype that they might be appearing on the show.
  • The existence of unrecognized states. For all diplomatic purposes, it's not "The Republic of China in Taiwan," it's "Chinese Taipei," and it's not "The Republic of Kosovo," it's "Kosovo, the state within Serbia." For pretty much every other meaningful purpose, Kosovo and Taiwan are independent countries and have been for decades: they negotiate on their own terms, have their own governments, embassies, and militaries, are not meaningfully incorporated in the governments of Serbia and China, and Taiwan even competes in the Olympics separately from China. But because certain powerful countries refuse to acknowledge them and other powerful countries don't want to torpedo their relationships with those countries, most official negotiations and maps refer to them as if they're incorporated territories. (For a few decades, the situation with China and Taiwan was even reversed; the UN treated Taiwan as the true Chinese government and ignored that 95% of its landmass and population was under control of a different power.)
  • The Hitachi Wand is one of the most famous vibrators in the world, but for decades it was officially "just" a personal massager, as the Japanese company didn't want to be known for making sex toys. For a brief period in 2013, Hitachi ceased production of the Wand altogether for this reason. Eventually their North American distributor, Vibratex, convinced them to continue making the product and to simply omit the Hitachi name from the packaging, at which point Vibratex became a lot more straightforward in marketing the Wand as a sex toy.
  • The "Inspector Sands" PA system codeword used at British football stadiums to alert staff that the fire alarm had been set off. It was originally devised so that people wouldn't run for the exits and potentially cause a crush, but it wasn't terribly hard to guess what it meantnote  and most of the time the alarm would be traced to somebody ignoring a "No Smoking" sign anyway.
  • When Mobile Suit Gundam 00 aired, fans noticed that the character Ribbons Almark sounded a lot like Tohru Furuya, who played Amuro Ray in Mobile Suit Gundam and its sequels. However, the credits listed Ribbons' voice actor as Noboru Sogetsu, and when asked Furuya would deny any involvement (other than jokingly saying that he'd gladly step in if any of the actors needed a substitute). However, it was pretty obvious all along, especially when it was later revealed that Ribbons was cloned from the DNA of a man named "E. A. Ray". Eventually both Furuya and Sunrise admitted the truth, explaining that they didn't want the return of "the original Gundam protagonist" to overshadow the series' actual stars, and later they even referenced the situation in official materials like Gundam Build Fighters Battlogue.
  • hololive is an organization filled with VTubers, and the idols' true identities are a closely-guarded secret both to maintain the Kayfabe and to protect their privacy. However, enterprising fans have actually had a relatively easy time finding the truth on their own: Since Cover Corporation (owner of hololive) requires all hires to have a background in content creation, people have been able to compare the idols to other livestreamers using unique quirks like voice, personality, type of content, and whatever pieces of real lives information they offer up during streams. That said, the fandom takes the idols' privacy quite seriously, especially since Generation 5's Aloe Mano ended up retiring after barely a month due to getting accidentally doxxed and harassed by anti-fans and trolls. In open discussions, the most you'll hear is vague references like "Oh, she used to play that game all the time on her old stream"; actively fishing for the information or worse, just posting it straight out, is a good way to get banned from most forums.


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