A little information is a dangerous thing. If a character overhears an acquaintance saying about them, "I'm gonna slaughter that bastard tomorrow..." and walks away before they finish, "...at basketball," well, they've missed a pretty important bit of context that drastically affects the meaning of that statement. And if they assume that this acquaintance literally means to murder them and start taking precautions as if that were the case, they're going to wind up looking very foolish at the absolute least.
This trope is a Narrative Device in which an eavesdropper hears part of a statement or conversation out of context and leaps to the wrong conclusion. It is a very specific aversion of Exact Eavesdropping which was popularized, on television at least, by Three's Company, but is Older Than Dirt. Often Lampshaded or Subverted, but just as often played straight, making it a bit of an Undead Horse Trope.
Often a form of Contrived Coincidence. A common source of Third-Act Misunderstanding. Compare One Dialogue, Two Conversations, a similar trope without the eavesdropping, and Poor Communication Kills, where the speaker and not the listener is at fault for the misunderstanding. See also: Bathroom Stall of Overheard Insults, One Side of the Story, Funny Phone Misunderstanding, Not What It Looks Like. Can result in half or more of the entries on the Mistaken for Index. The Moving Experience can often happen because of this. Compare Twisting the Words.
- The tie-in manga for the Confession Executive Committee ~Love Series~ song "A Solution for Jealousy" had Akari overhear her close friend Natsuki confess to Haruki. The full scene shows that they were doing a practice confession for her actual crush, Yuu, but Akari's being upset about the whole ordeal makes even more misunderstandings than probably intended.
- In Fate/kaleid liner PRISMA☆ILLYA, Illya and her friends overhear a teacher warning their teacher Taiga that if her students lose an upcoming dance contest, she will have to give him her "meat". Since the guy sounded really perverted and Taiga was so distressed, the students assume he'll force her to have sex with him if they lose the contest, so it fuels their resolve to win. They win the contest, only to be annoyed when they learn that the two teachers had made a bet that one would have to give the other a lot of meat for cooking and eating based on the results. Taiga was so distressed because food is Serious Business for her.
- In episode 1a of Jewelpet Sunshine, Ruby overhears a conversation and thinks her class's dolphin teacher has only one year to live, leading to her and the other Jewelpets going out of their way to make Dolphin-sensei's last year enjoyable. That conversation was referring to one of the school's computers, not Dolphin-sensei.
- Monthly Girls' Nozaki-kun:
- Nozaki and Sakura are in a clothes store looking for clothes as references for Mamiko. A couple of shoppers come across them, assuming they're on a date and that Nozaki's looking for clothes as a gift to Sakura... then they overhear Nozaki asking if he can take photos of Sakura in a stereotypical Sailor Fuku, and conclude they're in a cosplay club. Made hilariously worse in the manga, as they conclude that Nozaki and Sakura belong to a fetish club.
- Miyako's fellow college students are unaware she's a Sequential Artist, so when one of them takes a look at Miyako's notes she thinks she's got a boyfriend. Later, when her friends overhear Miyako, Nozaki and Sakura talking about their manga ideas, they assume that all three are lovers. And since mangas thrive on romantic entanglements, the conversation makes their relationship sound very twisted.
- In Chapter 53, Miyako and Nozaki's manga discussions are overheard again, this time by Seo's older brother Ryousuke (who had unhelpfully heard about the rumours of Miyako's "high school boyfriend"note ), as he misunderstands Miyako's brainstorming ideas as cosplay proposals.
- In Chapter 44, Ken's asked Nozaki to come up with a mascot for Let's Fall in Love! ♡ merchandise. Sakura, thinking this is along the lines of Maeno and his tanukinote , asks what sort of animal Ken likes. Nozaki remembers him saying he likes salmon... which results in Sakura imagining Mamiko carrying a salmon everywhere she goes, and telling Nozaki "I tried thinking about it rationally, and I really don't think sleeping with a fish is a good idea." Sakura's classmates have no clue what the hell she's talking about. The conversation moves on a little, and the next line the classmates overhear from her is "I tried thinking about it rationally, and I really don't think it's right for fish to eat people."
- Mikoshiba asks Miyako whether she prefers breasts or butts (for manga work). Haru tunes in just in time to hear Miyako telling this younger boy she prefers breasts. Similarly, she misunderstands when she hears Mikoshiba asking Miyako if she's okay with confinement (again for manga work), and is unsettled by how cheerfully Miyako agrees to it.
- Wakamatsu sees Kashima talking about the beach trip with Seo and Sakura, and assumes that Kashima is Seo's boyfriend. He's shocked to hear that they're all staying in the same room, not knowing that they're all girls. Things get even more awkward when he follows them to the swimsuit store.
- Nagasarete Airantou: First, Mikoto partially overhears a conversation between Ikuto and Ayane and assumes they are going on a date so she and Suzu spies on them for the day. When they eventually end up at Ayane's room, Mikoto assumes they are finally doing "something better than kissing". And they overhear Ayane telling Ikuto to be more gentle with wrapping his hands around something he finds softer than he thought. They were making rice cakes for Suzu.
- Negima! Magister Negi Magi has a couple of these.
- Most obviously when a bunch of the girls overhear Friendly Neighborhood Vampire Evangeline requesting that Negi pay for that day's training session, which goes something along these lines:
Evangeline: Hurry and whip it out, boy!
Negi: But Evangeline-san, we already did it, it's too much!
Evangeline: I told you, call me master.
- By the way, the payment was sucking blood from his arm.
- Later on, Chachamaru nearly causes Chisame's head to explode with this poorly worded statement about Negi's martial arts training.:
Chachamaru: I have been serving as Negi's partner every night and he seems to be happy about it.
- Most obviously when a bunch of the girls overhear Friendly Neighborhood Vampire Evangeline requesting that Negi pay for that day's training session, which goes something along these lines:
- Ranma ½: In the "Tunnel of Lost Love" OVA episode, Ryouga teams up with Ukyo; in another attempt to split Ramna and Akane. The plan backfires due to Ryouga repeatedly defending Akane from the spirits inside, which causes Ukyo to become upset with him and leads Akane to misinterpret it as jealousy. This sets up the scene where Ryouga apologizes and is dragged off by Ukyo; so they can speak in private. Akane then tells Ranma her suspicions about Ukyo's feelings for Ryouga, prompting them to follow and eavesdrop, in time to overhear the following exchange:
Ryouga: (to Ukyo;) Please, I give you my word of honor!
Ukyo: (petulantly) How can I trust you?
Ryouga: We can start over, can't we? I'll never betray you again.
Ukyo: If only I could believe you were telling the truth...
(Ranma and Akane gasp in realization and sneak away)
Akane: I knew it! Ranma they're... THOSE TWO ARE IN LOVE!!
Ranma: (dramatically amidst fireworks display) WELL WADDYA KNOW!?
- When Ranma was forced to spend a few days at Ukyo's place, Akane visits them and overhears them. Ranma appears to be struggling to finally choose something which Akane assumes to be about his fiancé, so Akane barges in. They were talking about playing cards.
- In Silver Spoon, Tokiwa overheard Hachiken and Yoshino talking about "taking responsibility" and started a rumor about them having a sexual relationship. They were talking about raising a pig.
- In It's Tough Being Neeko, Neeko overhears her parents talking about having someone named Sousuke stay in her care, since she, a NEET who stays with her parents, has a duty to help out around the house. She initially assumes they're trying to marry her to a young man with that name, but it turns out that Sousuke is a cat.
- In Tegami Bachi: Letter Bee, As Nelli gets home from a shopping trip, she finds her Delicate and Sickly brother Nello writing a letter to their friend Jiggy Pepper, who left town to become a Letter Bee. Nelli hears Nello through the window, as he sobs and tells Jiggy that he's "so angry." Nello dies a week later, and Nelli assumes that he was angry with Jiggy for leaving them behind. In reality, Nello had promised Jiggy that he'd look after Nelli, and was angry about not being able to fulfill that promise.
- Uzaki-chan Wants to Hang Out!:
- Episode 8 opens with Hana trying to pay Sakurai back for throwing up on his futon in the previous episode. They're in public, and at first the onlookers think he's extorting her, then when he mentions there was "a lot of alcohol involved" and "it was your first time (drinking)" and tells her to "forget that night ever happened", they assume he used alcohol to take advantage of her sexually.
- In episode 9, Hana's mother Tsuki misinterprets Hana and Sakurai's conversation (with her in the room!) about her cats as them talking about him being into her, and her daughter willing to help them hook up.
- Later in the episode, Tsuki overhears Hana and Sakurai in the cafe storeroom talking about aged coffee beans, but thinks Sakurai is talking about how he Likes Older Women.
- The manga version of the above scene is even dirtier: Hana accidentally rips open a bag of coffee, spilling the beans all over the floor. The way Sakurai yells at Hana makes Tsuki think they're having sex in there, and she ends upd having to ask the Master to call her a taxi.
- Boonie Cubs: In episode 32, this is what kickstarts the plot; Warren overhears Tiki and Babu describing a monster to Billy and immediately assumes there's actually a monster on the loose and inadvertently spreads a rumor about it before he can hear that it's just Coach Mac, whom Tiki and Babu mistook for a monster.
- Happy Heroes: In Season 2 episode 32, Careless S. overhears Happy S. and Sweet S. saying they want to "take over the entire world" and "take care of the doctor and that last Superman", leading him to believe the note he found saying the others have turned against him and want to kill Smart S. is true. However, Happy S. and Sweet S. are just playing a video game with Careful S., and the game's villain is called "the doctor".
- In "The Power of the Press" in Mad House Comic Digest #5 a member of a betting syndicate is accidentally run over by one of the main characters and wakes up in their apartment just in time to overhear them discussing what to do with the "dead fish on ice" - i.e., the one in the refrigerator. After escaping, he complains to his boss that "They were as casual as if they were talking about lunch!"
- In John Byrne's Batman & Captain America crossover, Private Steve Rogers has been assigned to bodyguard Bruce Wayne, supposedly because his connections to the Gotham Project make him a target for the Joker's espionage, but secretly because the Army think Bruce has a Suspiciously Clean Criminal Record and may be the mastermind behind the whole thing. After a few days of this Bruce and Dick are discussing how this hampers their activities Batman and Robin, and Cap arrives at the window just in time to hear Bruce say he's going to have to ditch Rogers because he's got an appointment with the Joker...
- Used in an infamous storyline in the Popeye comic strip: A woman overhears Olive Oyl talking about getting rid of a baby robot a home shopping channel had mistakenly sent her and assumes she's talking about getting rid of her (unborn) baby and quickly assembles a crew of her cohorts to talk her out of it. Although there was little negative feedback from readers or newspapers, the artist behind this strip was soon fired (the official reason being that the artist had gone too far in trying to include modern elements into such a legacy strip. The "abortion" strip was merely the last straw).
- In the Love Hina fic Contract Labor, Motoko overhears Kitsune talking on the phone with Haruka about how Keitaro saved Naru from getting kidnapped at knife-point by a gang, and Keitaro is currently with the police talking it over. Having only heard Kitsune's side of the conversation, and already fully prepared to believe the worst in Keitaro as it is, Motoko automatically assumes that Keitaro had assaulted Naru and attacks him with her sword when he returns to the Hinata House, only to get T.K.O.'d by Kanako in retaliation. When Motoko comes to the next morning, she meets her sister Tsuruko, who wastes no time in chewing her out for jumping to conclusions so quickly based on what little information she heard.
- The sequel to The Dark Lords of Nerima has Luna go to the Tendo Dojo to gather information on the eponymous Dark Lords. There, she overhears Ranma and Akane talking about the usual chaos that afflicts Nerima, and an upcoming meeting with the Sailor Senshi to try and sort out the misunderstanding, but since she misses key portions of the conversation, she becomes more convinced than ever that Ramna intends to take over the world and the meeting with the Senshi is a trap.
- In The Lord of the Rings fanfic At the End of All Things, Sam overhears Frodo claiming that he should have never let someone come on the quest with him, and how he wishes that they'd remained in Mount Doom. Sam thinks that Frodo is talking about him and is heartbroken (Frodo's really talking about Gollum).
- In Harry Potter and Future's Past Hermione's father overhears what he thinks is her and Harry having sex. When he bursts into her bedroom he finds her cleaning the computer screen, while Harry is playing solitaire.
- In the Mork & Mindy fanfic Mork and Memories, Mork overhears Mindy talking on the phone to her father and hears her say that things would be easier if he was a human so he makes himself forget he's an alien. Unfortunately, he accidentally knocks himself out by falling downstairs before he gets a chance to hear Mindy say she doesn't care about easy.
- In Say a Prayer Percy bursts into the Gryffindor second-year boys' dorm after hearing Hermione moan "Oh, Harry, it's magnificent." The "it" in question is actually a book compartment Harry's new magical guardian had installed in Harry's old school trunk.
- In The Peace Not Promised, Severus and Lily's breakfast conversation in the Great Hall leads Hagrid to believe that she's pregnant, and being as loose lipped as he is, he spreads the story around amongst the staff. Cue staff members keeping Lily away from alcohol, fussing about which potions she's allowed to brew, ensuring that she wraps up warmly, but never directly approaching her about it.
- In the Animorphs fanfic THX 1138, Tom overhears his dad compare Post-Infestation Affective Blunting Syndrome to the negative symptoms of schizophrenia, and assumes at first that ex-hosts such as him have schizophrenia.
- In You are Crazy, Malph!, which is a fanfiction crossover of Happy Days and Laverne & Shirley, with a bit of Mork & Mindy thrown in ( although that part was a dream), Ralph Malph hears Shirley mention a rabbit dying and Laverne ask, "Is it Carmine's?", which makes him think Shirley is pregnant but really Carmine's pet rabbit died.
- In The Day When Ron Did What Ron Does Best Ron overhears what he thinks is Harry and Ginny about to have sex. It turns out that Harry is piercing her ears.
- In Voices carry Ron overhears what he thinks is Snape and Dumbledore having sex. In actuality they're trying to put the cork back in a wine bottle.
- In Mixing It Up Harry overhears what he thinks is Hermione and Susan talking about sex, when they're really trying to decide on the cocktails to be served at Ginny's birthday party.
- In Getting Another One Ron and Ginny overhear what they think is Harry and Hermione having sex, when they're actually trying to fit a new bookshelf into too small of a space.
- In Cocksure Draco overhears what he thinks is his father, Snape and Remus comparing penis sizes, when they're actually talking about their pet cockatoos.
- In Did I Hear that Right? Harry overhears what he thinks is Hermione having sex with Fred, George and a cucumber. It turns out that the twins are painting a still life while Hermione holds a fruit bowl at the proper height.
- In Simple Misunderstandings Ron, Hermione and Draco overhear what they think is Snape and Harry having sex. In reality, Harry is giving Snape a massage.
- In this Danganronpa, Sayaka, Leon, Mukuro and Junko all hear moans of pleasure coming from Kyoko while she and Makoto are inside his room, they jump to the conclusion that the duo are having sex. In actuality, Makoto is giving Kyoko a massage.
- In Hercules, Phil overhears Hades discussing his plans to destroy Hercules with Megara, the girl Herc is in love with. He immediately leaves to warn Herc, and misses the part where Meg refuses to go along with Hades' plan anymore.
- In The Incredibles, Helen picks up the phone and hears Bob speaking to a woman she doesn't know, but misses the part of the conversation about Bob getting a new assignment and only hears his eagerness to leave in the morning to meet with her. The whole conversation might have clued her in that Bob was actually doing secret superhero work again. Instead Bob's recently changed behavior which includes him buying a new sports car and getting in shape as well as Helen having just found a long, blond hair on his tuxedo leads her to the conclusion that Bob is cheating on her.
- In the first Shrek film Shrek is about to confess his love to Fiona, when he overhears Fiona talking to Donkey, saying that no one could love a monster like an ogre. Of course, he is unaware that she is talking about the curse that turns her into an ogre, which she conveniently doesn't explicitly mention again until just after Shrek gets disgusted and leaves.
- Barely Lethal: When Liz Larson asks Megan/Agent 83- a former trained assassin trying to lead a normal life- if she's ever killed anyone, their subsequent conversation could strongly suggest that Megan is talking about sex.
- The Conversation is made of this.
- In the 1947 comedy Copacabana, Lionel and Carmen have made up a fake stage persona, Mlle. Fifi. When they decide to dump the persona, an old woman hears them joking about it and misinterprets them as saying that they murdered Fifi (who no-one else knows was just Carmen in a veil with a French accent). Hilarity Ensues.
- In Down with Love, a secretary overhears Ewan McGregor and David Hyde Pierce discussing a new kind of sock that obviates the need for sock garters in such a way as to mistake them for comparing penises. "It stays up all day long!" and "Well, how long does a man's hose need to be?" are just a few examples.
- A scene from Look Who's Talking has James pulling out a splinter from Molly's finger. Her mother overhears and assume they're having sex. When James comes out, he zips his fly.
- In Love Affair, a cop is suspicious when he hears Michel the painter's agent tell Michel that he sold one of Michel's paintings.
Agent: I sold one! The woman! I got $100 for her!
- Pee-wee's Big Adventure: Pee-wee and Simone talk about her "big 'but,'" the thing holding her back from following her dreams. Simone's eavesdropping boyfriend mistakes their conversation for pillow talk and attacks Pee-wee.
- In Shall We Dance? (1937), a policeman overhears Linda and Peter discussing the dilemma caused by the newspapers publishing "evidence" of their (nonexistent) secret marriage. Linda is suggesting that Peter marry her so they can then have a public divorce, but the policeman thinks they're talking about ... something else.
Linda: You got me into all this. The very least you could do is marry me.
[The policeman looks shocked.]
Peter: It wasn't my fault any more than it was yours.
Linda: All right, it's my fault. But you've just got to marry me.
Peter: Well, now, I'd like to think it over.
[The policeman frowns disapprovingly.]
Linda: But why? There's nothing to think over.
Peter: All right. [The policeman smiles.] But where can we get a license? Everybody in New York knows us now.
[The policeman casually strolls past them.]
Policeman: Why don't you try New Jersey?
- In This Is the End, when Emma Watson is the only female in the house, the cast discusses making sure that she's comfortable and doesn't feel like she's in danger from them. However, since she's in the next room, she can make out half the conversation so she thinks that they're discussing who gets to rape her. This leads to her violently leaving the house.
- In White Christmas, nosy housekeeper Emma has a habit of eavesdropping on phone conversations. She hears Ed Harrison (an Ed Sullivan expy) planning to bring General Waverly on his show, and immediately hangs up her phone receiver to tell the Love Interest... and misses the hero (Bing Crosby as George Wallace) rejecting this scheme.
- In Rags, Charlie happens to be cleaning the hallway when Kadee, Finn, and her father are discussing how much time Kadee is spending with him. She sarcastically points out that someone like her has no reason to be spending so much time with a janitor who mops the floors she walks on, and he walks away in annoyance before she sincerely calls him cooler than anyone else in the building.
- Clarice Bean: In "Don't Look Now", Clarice assumes her family will be moving house when she overhears her mother say something about more space and an extra bathroom, but actually, they're getting their house renovated.
- In the first book Clémentine book, Clementine overhears a portion of a number of things that leads her to believe that her parents are planning to get rid of her. In fact, they're actually planning a Surprise Party to thank her for helping her father to solve "the great pigeon war."
- Diary of a Wimpy Kid: In "Dog Days", Greg overhears his dad Frank say on the phone that he'll "leave him with enough food and water for a week" and assumes he's talking about him, but really, he's talking about Sweetie the dog, who he's giving to Grandma.
- Dirty Bertie: In "Toothy!", Bert overhears his dentist Mr Filling and Mr Filling's nurse talk about putting someone who's male and seven years old to sleep. He assumes they're talking about him, but really they're talking about Mr. Filling's dog Rex.
- Harry Potter
- In Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone, Harry overhears what seems to be Snape forcing Quirrell to help him steal the Stone. It turns out Quirrell was after the Stone and Snape, suspecting as much, was trying to scare him into giving up on it.
- In Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, it turns out Snape was the one who told the prophecy to Voldemort, which led him to try to kill Harry. However, he only heard the part labeling Harry, and not why he would be dangerous, leading to his initial downfall.
- In the events leading up the original The Mysterious Benedict Society, Sticky Washington is financially abused by his parents after they learn he's a genius, forced to repeatedly enter quiz competitions to the point of exhaustion. After pretending to run away from home, Sticky overhears part of a conversation of his parents in which he hears the phrase "better off" and believes that they feel they're better off without him. This is the final straw that causes him to truly run away. At the end of the story, he learns that in fact what his parents had said was that perhaps he was better off without them because of how badly they had messed things up.
- Ramona Quimby:
- In the book "Ramona Quimby, Age 8", Ramona overhears her teacher Mrs. Whaley say something about "my little showoff" followed by "what a nuisance!". Ramona thinks her teacher believes she's a showoff and a nuisance, but in actuality, she was calling her a showoff in jest and saying that when she accidentally cracked a raw egg onto her hair, it was a nuisance for the school secretary to have to wash it out.
- In one book, Ramona overhears her mother talking in a serious voice. She only hears "I don't think", "I think we could", her name, and the words "teacher" and "school", so she believes that she is in trouble with her teacher. Really, her father is considering going back to university.
- Whateley Universe: The Good Ol' Boyz try to blackmail Phase and She-Beast with a recording of them talking about several murders. In reality, Phase and She-Beast were detailing the plot of Titus Andronicus to Dragonrider, and Phase was being overly enthusiastic and narrating in first-person. It's lampshaded later that Fantastico should have understood what they were really talking about, because he'd previously written a paper on Shakespeare's tragedies, including Titus Andronicus, so since he didn't, he obviously didn't write the paper himself, which gets him an extra punishment for handing in a paper he didn't write.
- Played very much for drama in Wuthering Heights. Heathcliff overhears Cathy say that she's resolved to marry Edgar because it would degrade her to marry Heathcliff now. He doesn't stay long enough to hear her confess that she truly does love Heathcliff as her own being, and that a key part of why she's chosen Edgar is so she can share her new wealth with Heathcliff and help him escape from Hindley's abuse. Cue Heathcliff's FaceHeel Turn and twenty-year Roaring Rampage of Revenge on everyone who led Cathy away from him and their children too.
- Justified and invoked in an Angel episode. Cordelia is magically shown several conversations her teammates have about her by the demon Skip, all of them seemingly very insulting towards her. However, Skip is actually deliberately showing her very specific parts of the conversations taken out of context for his own agenda.
- Austin & Ally:
- Austin overhears Ally and Jimmy discussing about selling his latest song which he is performing at Jimmy's Halloween party to Taylor Swift, unaware that they are actually organizing a duet for him and Taylor Swift at the party and plan on surprising him.
- Dez overhears Ally telling Trish what she will say to her childhood crush from camp ("Elliot, you were the love of my life! I've always wanted to be your girlfriend!") and rushes to tell Austin, who has just developed romantic feelings for Ally. However, Dez is unaware that Ally actually meant to say that she did love Elliot and wanted to be his girlfriend, but has changed her mind after noticing that he only talks about camp and is really planning to end their short-lived relationship.
- In the Babylon 5 episode "Rumors, Bargains and Lies", Delenn and Neroon are in private conference onboard a ship discussing how to resolve the Minbari Civil War. Delenn says that neither the Warrior Caste nor the Religious Caste should be allowed to win the war because it would unbalance society—but a Religious Caste member walks by the room and hears only the part that the Religious caste should not win the war. He thus concludes that Delenn is betraying her caste and surrendering the war to Neroon's Warrior Caste, which leads to the Religious Caste members (who crew the ship they are travelling on) to plot to sabotage the ship's life support so that it doesn't reach Minbar.
- In an episode of The Black Adder a couple of knights overhear the king talking to his wife saying how satisfied he is with the current Archbishop, and won't ever again have to say "will no one rid me of this Turbulent Priest?" Unfortunately they only hear that last part where he's quoting himself, so they go off to slay the Archbishop to get in the king's good graces. (This is parody of the fate of Thomas Becket, though that a Rhetorical Request Blunder.)
- In an episode of Bumble with An Aesop about listening, Fishy states that "it might rain or it might not". Bumble doesn't hear the "might not" and thinks it will definitely rain. He remarks "we'd better take the clothes in in case there's going to be a storm", but Boo only hears the "there's going to be a storm" part and tells Peek that there will be a storm and might be a flood, but he's distracted by playing and only hears something about a flood, so he starts to prepare for a flood.
- The Dick Van Dyke Show: In "Go Tell the Birds and the Bees", Rob and Laura get a call that Ritchie has been telling the other students the facts of life. One of Ritchie's female classmates calls him, and Rob and Laura eavesdrop, thinking that he's giving another of his lectures. He says that the process usually takes three months, but it can take almost a year if the family doesn't eat much cereal. When they ask him about it, it turns out Ritchie was just talking about sending in box tops to get a toy helicopter.
- Two notable examples in El Chavo del ocho:
- In "El cumpleaños de Don Ramón", la Chilindrina decides to prepare a surprise party for her dad and asks for Quico, Doña Florinda and Doña Cleotilde's help. Unfortunately, Don Ramón forgot that today was his birthday and starts becoming suspicious when he overhears them talking about him, so he sends El Chavo to listen in to them. Everything El Chavo hears makes him think that Don Ramón is going to die, and then that they plan to kill him to spare him the agony.
- In "Disgusto amoroso", Doña Florinda and Professor Jirafales break up, and the teacher comes to Don Ramón to ask him for help to get back together with her. At one point, Quico and el Chavo watch through the window how Professor Jirafales rehearses a love confession in front of Don Ramón, causing them to get wrong ideas about what's going on, which they relay to Doña Florinda making things even worse.
- Diff'rent Strokes: In an early episode, Willis and Arnold (black) plan to run away because they overhear their adopted father (white) saying that black boys should be put with black families, thinking that he didn't want them; but he didn't believe in that, he was telling someone else what a white social worker said to him before he threw her out.
- In the first season finale of Downton Abbey, O'Brien overhears Cora and Violet discussing hiring a new lady's maid, so she thinks she's going to get the sack and plots her revenge. Turns out, Cora was just helping Violet to find a replacement lady's maid, since hers was retiring.
- The Dog with a Blog episode "A New Baby?" has the kids misinterpret Bennett discussing getting a promotion of getting a boat for their parents having another baby.
- In Frasier, Daphne overhears Frasier talking to Eddie about his love for Daphne. He means it in the platonic sense of course, but she is alarmed that his feelings are romantic. She tells Marty that she knows Dr. Crane is in love with her (meaning Frasier). Marty presumes she means the other Dr. Crane (Niles), who has been in love with her the entire series. He confirms this and tells her to keep things quiet, adding further to the misunderstanding.
- On General Hospital, shortly after marrying Jax to force herself to get on with her life after ex-lover Sonny told her he was staying with his pregnant wife Lily, Brenda confided to girlfriend Robin that "I never realized how much I cared about him". She's referring to Jax, but Jax overhears this and thinks she's talking about Sonny.
- In an episode of Good Luck Charlie, while the parents are in the kitchen discussing Gabe's many shenanigans at school, Amy mentions a friend of hers who sent her son to Military School for also being a troublemaker. Gabe overhears them and mistakenly believes that his parents are planning on sending him to military school.
- Averted in Little Mosque on the Prairie: Fatima overhears a conversation between Rayyan and JJ — "why not do it now, we're gonna do it after the wedding anyway..." "after the wedding, I want to do it right in front of my parents!" — and correctly guesses that they're talking about when they should open their wedding presents.
- Happens during Earl's coma fantasy in My Name Is Earl. Earl is the star of a 1950's style Dom Com in his head, and he is married to a friend's ex-girlfriend that Earl was attracted to. She is pregnant, and conversing with Joy (their next-door neighbor) about a really awesome guy. Earl thinks she's talking about a gigolo...it turns out she's referring to a doctor.
- The out-of-theater plot to the Mystery Science Theater 3000 episode Mitchell revolves around this. The Mads have hired Mike Nelson to help with an inventory of the Deep-13 lab beneath the Gizmonic Institute, but they find him insufferable and decide to kill him. Gypsy overhears them plotting and comes to the conclusion that they're plotting the death of Joel and spends the rest of the episode plotting to help Joel escape the Satellite of Love. Thus did Joel leave the series and was replaced by Mike.
- Subverted in an episode of Robin of Sherwood where the villains have hired a group of thugs to impersonate Robin and the Merry Men and commit atrocities. It's hinted that Marion and Much may believe that Will and Tuck really have turned evil due to an ambiguous overheard conversation, but it turns out that they were never confused.
- In Seinfeld, a friend of Jerry overhears him tell Elaine that she should "just kill" Suzie. The thing is, Suzie isn't a real person, just someone Elaine made up at work because of reasons. Killing her off would just be an attempt to get out of her self-made web of lies.
- In an episode of Shake it Up, CeCe and Rocky believe that Gunther is moving back to the old country after taking bad advise on the girls' newest webshow when they overhear him telling Tinka that he bought a plane ticket and Tinka was very sad about it. It turns out they misunderstood the conversation because the plane ticket is really to visit a sequence convention across town and Gunther and Tinka's cousin is actually the one who moved back to the old country.
- In That's My Bush!, Laura, worried about the dry spell she and George are experiencing in the bedroom, overhears him talking about her cat (her "pussy"), describing it as old, smelly, too hairy and overall disgusting, and adding that it's about time he gets a younger one.
- This premise was the plot of roughly 2/3s of the episodes of Three's Company.
- In an episode of The Muppet Show, Fozzie keeps hearing remarks that sound like the others want to get rid of him and only Gonzo is on his side. Of course, we know that the bear in question is Gonzo's teddy bear, but Fozzie doesn't find this out until the end of the episode, when Kermit reassures him that he never intends to fire Fozzie.
- Sesame Street: In one episode, Maria is planning to see a movie titled Moving to Cleveland. When Elmo hears her say the movie's title, he assumes she actually is moving there.
- This is the catalyst for the plot of "Let It Go" from Bear in the Big Blue House. Tutter overhears Bear and Doc Hogg having a conversation about it having not rained much lately. As usual, it's Doc Hogg who's doing most of the talking and he says that it's going to get mighty dry. He says he's starting to wonder if it's ever going to rain again. Tutter takes this to mean that it's never going to rain again in Woodland Valley and spreads this around to all of the other kids of the Big Blue House. However, he didn't hear the rest of it.
Bear: (shaking his head) Oh, Doc. Don't worry, I'm sure it will rain very soon. In fact, let's see if we can get a weather report on the radio. (turns on radio, the forecaster says that there's a storm coming)
- The Men from the Ministry:
- Mr. Lamb and Mildred eavesdrop on Ministry's doctor and engineer Lambry conversing about heating system in Mr. Lennox-Brown's room, and come to a conclusion that he's dying of a disease.
- After Lennox-Brown and Lamb have an argument over an ill-fated Stilton cheese purchase, he and Mr. Crawley hear Lennox-Brown and Mildred discussing about killing a mouse which pests the office, which they interpret as Lennox-Brown and Mildred trying to kill Lamb.
- In The Duchess of Malfi, Bosola accidentally kills his ally Antonio without recognising him in a dark street, after overhearing an ambiguous conversation between Antonio and another character that gave him the impression that Antonio was an assassin hired to kill him.
- The titular character of Othello hears what appears to be Cassio bragging about sleeping with Othello's bride. Cassio's actually talking about his mistress, Bianca. A justified use of this trope as Iago was talking to Cassio at the time and deliberately guiding him to talk about his mistress.
- Granblue Fantasy: When Medusa eavesdrops on the girls chatting about Valentine's Day and hears Io's remark about how "looks [of the chocolates] are important too.", she just assumes that meant everyone has to dress up in fancy clothes for the occasion. She did sport a new outfit for the event.
- Detention: the plot is kicked off by Ray hearing an out-of-context conversation and deciding to act on her own instead of discussing it with anyone. As a result, she inadvertently gets all members of the book club arrested, forces Ms. Yin to flee the country, and gets Mr. Chang killed, and, upon realisation, kills herself in remorse. Poor Communication Kills at its finest.
- Mega Man Battle Network 4 Blue Moon: What leads AquaMan to completely flood the net with his crying, when the discussion he heard was really about his operator looking to get rid of a washer, not her Navi.
- The Order of the Stick: Miko overheard Lord Shojo discussing the fact that he told his paladins some lies, and concluded that he betrayed the city. He actually told those lies because the paladins are so traditional, they wouldn't let him do what he thought was needed to save the whole world.
- In Scary Go Round, Desmond overheard Shelley and Amy talking (jokingly) about how Ryan ought to leave, and misunderstood them as talking about him, causing him to run away. (Link)
- StacheBros: In "Mario & Luigi's Delfino Dilemma", Mario and Luigi hear Bowser from their hotel room say he's happy together and that he has everything he's ever wanted, making them think he kidnapped Peach somehow. They break into his room to confront him, but it turns out he was only talking about his room's jacuzzi.
- Aladdin: The Series: In "To Cure a Thief", Abu runs away after a nasty falling-out with Aladdin, and he is soon partnered with a thief who wants to rob the palace. As he roams the halls, he overhears Jasmine and Genie trying to cheer up Aladdin, who denies that he misses him.
Aladdin: I didn't ask Abu to leave! I-I'm glad he's gone! He can just stay away forever!(Abu, feeling betrayed, lowers his head and sadly walks away)Aladdin: (sigh) Who am I kidding? I miss that furry little guy.
- American Dad!: In the episode "Old Stan on the Mountain," Stan, having been hexed to become an old man after expressing his disdain for the elderly in front of one, assumes that climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro will break the hex, with Steve and Hayley agreeing to help him. While Stan is relieving himself, Steve and Hayley squash a bug and talk about how they should "put him out of his misery" and that they're sure "he'd rather die than live like this." Stan's hearing aid only picks up those parts, and he quickly assumes that they took him out to the mountains to kill him.
- In "Stannie Get Your Gun", Roger tries to trick Steve into thinking he's adopted, which Steve doubts at first until he hears his parents arguing about his sister Hayley's anti-gun views.
Stan: As far as I'm concerned, we only have one child! It's like someone left the other one on our doorstep!Steve: (gasps and starts sobbing)
- In "Stannie Get Your Gun", Roger tries to trick Steve into thinking he's adopted, which Steve doubts at first until he hears his parents arguing about his sister Hayley's anti-gun views.
- In Arcane Powder spies on Vi and Mylo arguing about her after she lost their loot from a robbery, and runs off upset when Vi agrees that there are a lot of things she can't do. Had she stayed a little longer she'd have learned Vi was building up to listing, as things Powder "can't do", the ways Mylo had messed up the heist himself, such as boasting about their haul thus instigating the fight where Powder lost it.
- Deconstructed: This becomes less of a one-off and more of a defining character trait, as Jinx's bitterness and insecurity lead her to repeatedly spy on the people close to her, and misinterpret their words or actions uncharitably, always leading her to personal tragedy.
- In the Arthur episode "Arthur and the Real Mr. Ratburn", Arthur and Buster, upon overhearing Mr. Ratburn talking on the phone where he states he needs "boys' heads", thinks that he actually wants boy's heads. It's not until after they follow him around and into a carnival that he meant heads to make puppets for his show.
- In "House of Mirrors" from the PBS The Berenstain Bears, Sister Bear overhears Lizzie's mother telling her that Sister Bear has "big ears" in warning her not to speak so loudly about the surprise she's planning for Sister. Sister Bear only hears the part about the "big ears" and takes it literally, resulting in her being down about self-image.
- In "Butterbean's is Closing!" from Butterbean's Cafe, Cricket overhears Butterbean on the phone saying that she's closing the cafe. Butterbean only means to close for the afternoon to surprise her staff with a picnic that afternoon, but Cricket gets it in her head that she means to close forever. She then ends up spreading it around to everyone else, even though Butterbean had asked her to keep the closing a secret.
- In an episode of Clifford the Big Red Dog, Cleo overhears Sheriff Lewis mentioning that he and T-Bone will be moving soon. She assumes this means they're moving off the island, but it turns out he was just talking about moving a few blocks down the street.
- An episode of Dexter's Laboratory has Dexter and Dee Dee listening in on their parents having an argument, and they conclude that Dad was cheating. It turns out they were playing a game of Scrabble.
Dad: Well, how about the last time I caught you cheating?! How easily you seem to forget who dealt the cards then!Mom: That was different! I told you that the jack of spades was wild!Dexter: Who is Jack?Dee Dee: Whoever he is, he must be more exciting than Dad.
- The Fairly OddParents:
- In one episode, "The Grass is Greener", Timmy overhears his parents say that they'd be able to afford so much more nice things if they didn't have a son, but missed the part where they said despite that there's nothing that would make them wish they didn't have Timmy. Later, he sees what they're up to through a magic mirror, which is throwing all of his clothes and stuff away; Timmy promptly smashes the mirror and walks off in a huff just before his parents reveal that they threw all of his stuff out so they would have room for much nicer new stuff they bought for him.
- Another episode, "Big Wanda", has Timmy and Cosmo overhearing some fairies talking about "taking Wanda out", and that they were going to use a butcher and it was going to be expensive. At the end, it's revealed that the fairies were just taking Wanda out to dinner at the butcher's restaurant, where the food is expensive.
- In the Donkey Kong Country episode From Zero to Hero, Bluster Kong has an X-ray, which reveals something wrong with the machine. Bluster overhears Cranky, Donkey and Diddy Kong talking about how they just got Bluster's X-ray and "doesn't look good" and they'd "give it a week". However, Bluster leaves before he hears the context, thinking that he is the one they were talking about and that he is going to die soon.
- The Garfield and Friends episode "Arrivaderci, Odie" had Garfield break Jon's vase and attempt to make Odie take the rap. After Garfield is out of sight, Jon does believe Odie broke the vase, but doesn't get mad at Odie and proceeds to drive the dog to Dr. Liz Wilson when Odie starts sneezing. A bit later, Jon finally gets rid of a fly that was bugging him at home by taking Liz's advice of opening a window and waiting for the fly to get out. Garfield wakes from his nap to see that Odie isn't present and overhears Jon gloating over the phone of finally being rid of an insect, which causes Garfield to assume that Jon got rid of Odie for breaking the vase.
- In Gravity Falls episode "Dreamscappers", while inside Grunkle Stan's mind, Dipper finds a memory of Stan mumbling to Soos "I can't stand him", "He's a failure", and "I just want to get rid of him", leading Dipper to believe that Stan was talking about him (hence the reason he makes Dipper work so hard). After coming across the memory again, Dipper hears that Stan was actually talking about how people used to treat him, leading up to Stan revealing that he actually cares for Dipper and is merely toughening him up.
- Happens a few times in Hey Arnold!. In one episode Arnold mistakenly thinks his teacher is in love with him when she's actually talking about her fiance with the same name, and another time he and Gerald think Mr. Green the butcher's life is in danger when a few people say they're going to "get him" (they're actually planning a birthday party for him).
- In an episode of The Hive, Buzz Bee thinks Miss Ladybird (his teacher) is leaving school the following day because he saw her looking sad and saying the words "sad", "leaving", "school" and "tomorrow" in that order. It turns out she really said that Clara Bee, the school janitor, was leaving.
- In Kim Possible, Ron Stoppable breaks into his girlfriend's house, then her closet, steals her super battle suit, joins the football team as star quarterback, gets caught with the suit and controlled by a villain, ends up in a physical and emotional fight with Kim, then ends up on the team anyway (and is still a star player just in a different position), all because he thought Kim was going to take Bonnie's advice about "trading up" to a socially acceptable jock boyfriend. Ron then overheard Kim talking with Monique about trading up and agreeing with Bonnie. Turns out they were talking about a new mobile phone.
- King of the Hill: Bobby is chafing under his dad's miserly nature (and Hank really is a stick-in-the-mud about it) when he overhears Hank jokingly brag to Peggy that he "made $1,000 today." Bobby does some quick calculations under the belief he makes $1,000 every day and figures that his dad should have well over seven million dollars over twenty year. He then goes on a spending spree with his father's emergency credit card. What he doesn't realize is that Hank was telling Peggy about his annual bonus—it's a one-time thing, not a regular wage.
- Lilo & Stitch: The Series: In the episode, "Shush", Lilo and Stitch find an experiment that allows them to hear private conversation. They pass by Mertle's house and overhear her apparently making rude comments about her friends Yuki, Teresa, and Eleana (aka the "Yeeeah" girls) to which when they run into the three, Lilo relays what Mertle said about them causing a fallout between Mertle and them. It's only later it's found out that Mertle was taking about her old dolls that she was intending to throw out.
- An episode of The Loud House has Lincoln and his sisters overhearing their parents argue about Dad's 11 novelty neckties, and they think that they want to get rid of their kids. And after everything is cleared up at the end, it appears that it's going to happen again.
Dad: What do you mean you've got a bun in the oven?!Lincoln: (gasp) YOU GUYS!!!Dad: You know I'm gluten-free!
- Milly, Molly: In "Aunt Maude is an Alien", Humphrey thinks Aunt Maude is planning to zap everyone because she mentions "zapping them all", but she's actually talking about pests in her garden.
- On a Muppet Babies (1984) episode, the kids overhear Nanny talking on the phone saying, "I must get rid of one of them." The kids think she is talking about them, but it turns out she was talking about an old chair.
- In the My Friends Tigger & Pooh episode "Tigger Goes Snowflakey", Rabbit complains that his stripy nightshirt is too itchy and he never wants to see it again until he finds two snowflakes that are exactly alike. Tigger thinks he's talking about him.
- My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic:
- In "Party of One", Pinkie Pie overhears everypony else in the Mane Six planning something without her, and they even say at one point "If Pinkie Pie finds out, everything will be ruined!" She concludes that they don't want her as a friend anymore, but they are really just throwing a surprise party in her honor. There's also the line "Can you believe she was planning on throwing a party today? Obviously this will be so much better," which plays to the impression that they don't want to come to a second party in a row, but it really meant "Can you believe she's planning on throwing some random other party on her own birthday?" (which she had totally forgotten about).
- In "For Whom the Sweetie Belle Toils", Sweetie thinks her older sister, Rarity, deliberately upstaged her at her own birthday party: when Sweetie made her big entrance to the party, the guests were all distracted by cake and party favors that Rarity had just handed out, and they were saying "Who even needs the birthday girl?" Sweetie Belle only discovers the context years later: the guests were bored from waiting for Sweetie's entrance, so Rarity passed out the cake and party favors as a last-ditch effort to keep them from leaving, and when the guests praised her, she responded that the party swag were all Sweetie's doing.
- In "Bridle Gossip", the six lead ponies all think Zecora the zebra (who they've barely met) plans to eat Applejack's little sister Apple Bloom after hearing her describe a pot of something as the "perfect temperature for ponies", then ask where the filly is. In actuality, she was planning to give the ponies a bath with ingredients mixed in with the water that would cure them of a plant's ill effects they'd earlier experienced. She was talking about the bathwater being the right temperature.
- The Owl House: In "Eda's Requiem", Eda overhears Luz and King discussing King's decision to "le-", which, in the context of their conversation, leads her to believe that King is planning on leaving her when he finds his biological parents. This causes Eda to suffer from premature Empty Nest for most of the episode. At the end it turns out he wanted to le... gally change his name to King Clawthorne to officially become part of her family. Cue Tears of Joy.
- In an episode of PAW Patrol, the pups are watching an episode of Apollo the Super Pup and laughing about how incompetent and silly the bad guy is. The only one not present is Marshall, who, after having a bad day, overhears these comments and believes that they're about him, causing him to temporarily leave the PAW Patrol and setting into motion the objective of the episode: finding him.
- Phineas and Ferb had an episode where Dr. Doofenshmirtz believes that his daughter Vanessa overheard him say he would rather have a son than a daughter when he was just venting to a fellow scientist and spends the episode trying to wipe her memory of the ordeal. It turns out, Vanessa didn't even hear him because she was wearing headphones.
- The Powerpuff Girls: In "Little Miss Interprets", the girls overhear the Professor ranting about how poorly he made three cakes intended for a party he's throwing for them; from what they hear, they believe that he wants to get rid of them and make new Powerpuff Girls from scratch. Things get more intense when they hear the Professor talking to other characters, and they assume that they're in on it.
Clown: So you want me to throw them out just like that? Why don't I just eat 'em?Professor: Eh, be my guest.(Bubbles faints from the implications)
- Recess had the episode "Bachelor Gus" in which Gus overhears his parents talking one night and assumes that his family is moving again when he hears his father mention "operation relocation". He then runs away from home and moves into the jungle gym but gets scared from living on his own. His parents find him and he learns that they were actually just going to move Gus into a different room.
- In a Richie Rich Riches cartoon, Richie and Gloria overhear a phone conversation in which Richie's father says he's "wiped out". Thinking that his family is suddenly in financial trouble, Richie organizes a fund-raising campaign, only to find out that Mr. Rich was talking about his surfing lessons. Upon learning this, Richie and Gloria work together to bring the whole campaign to a halt, though they also had to deal with Richie's cousin Reggie van Dough taking advantage of the whole situation for his personal gain.
- The Simpsons
- The page quote comes from "Eternal Moonshine of the Simpson Mind", where Homer takes snippets of a conversation between Marge and Duffman and believes they are having an affair, though the situation is a little different. Homer actually had heard the entire conversation in context, and understood what was really happening, but in order to keep the surprise Marge worked so hard on, he drank on of Moe's forget-me-shots to forget the event, and could only remember snippets.
- In the episode "My Pods and Boomsticks", Homer, who is prejudiced against the new Muslim family, hears the father talking about his demolition job. Unfortunately, the parts of the conversation that Homer hears makes it sound like he is a suicide bomber.
- In another episode, Marge listens in on Bart and Milhouse playing a card game and thinks Bart is dealing drugs. Lampshaded, where she mentions that she listened to it out of context.
- Lisa in the episode "Dude, Where's My Ranch" overhears her cowboy crush talking to a girl named Clara and thinks she's his girlfriend. She finds out the truth, that Clara's his sister... but not before her jealousy gets the better of her and she sends Clara down a dangerous trail.
- In The Smurfs episode "Smurf Me No Flowers", Brainy goes to talk to Papa Smurf about Lazy's problems with insomnia when he overhears Papa Smurf saying, "Oh, what a pity...if only he had come to me sooner, perhaps I could have helped, but now I'm afraid it's too late." Brainy thinks it's Papa Smurf talking about Lazy's problems being a prelude to something worse and goes to tell his fellow Smurfs about it, but in reality it's Papa Smurf talking about Vanity's withered plant.
- Spongebob Squarepants:
- In the episode "Model Sponge", SpongeBob overhears Mr. Krabs talking about how it's time for him to "let the little guy go", and assumes he's getting laid off from the Krusty Krab. After SpongeBob leaves the restaurant to find a new job, however, the audience sees that the "little guy" Mr. Krabs was referring to is actually a scallop. SpongeBob, of course, doesn't know this until he returns to the Krusty Krab near the end, asking Mr. Krabs not to fire him.
- The earlier episode "As Seen On TV" has SpongeBob (who had just recently appeared in a TV commercial and was letting it go to his head) overhearing part of a conversation between two fish as he was cleaning the restrooms: "Well, I knew this guy's acting was good, but his singing is phenomenal! I'm telling you, if this guy were to cut a solo record, it would be a hit!" He assumes they were talking about him (thus letting his fame go to his head even more), but they were actually talking about someone completely different.
- Another episode titled "Stuck in the Wringer" has SpongeBob yelling at Patrick for ruining his day by gluing him in the wringer. The Bikini Bottomites overhear this and take this out of context in believing SpongeBob was bullying Patrick as the latter runs off in tears. They then tell off SpongeBob by saying he deserves the predicament he's in.
- In the Star Trek: Lower Decks episode First First Contact, Tendi walks into sickbay to see that shes being removed from the manifesto for the Cerritoss medical crew. After Rutherford confirms this, they both believe shes being kicked off the ship. At the end of the episode, she talks to Dr. TAna and finds out shes being moved to senior science officer crew because she was too good for grunt medical work.
- The Thomas & Friends episode "Percy's Big Mistake" had Percy overhearing The Fat Controller say something about scrap and thought it meant he was to be scrapped (he's a steam engine). The Fat Controller actually said that Percy was working to hard recently and so after taking some scrap metal to the smelters he would be given the somewhat easier job of carrying the mail for a week.
- In "Pickle's Smelly Socks" from ToddWorld, Pickle overhears his friends talking about said socks and think they don't want to be his friend anymore when really they just can't take the smell of his socks anymore.
- Top Cat:
- The main plot of the episode "The Late T. C." is kicked off when Dibble overhears a conversation between T. C. and a doctor, and mistakenly thinks that Top Cat only has a week to live.
- "Dibble's Birthday" has Dibble overhear his superiors discussing their (old, out-of-date) police cars, and thinks they're talking about him.