The writers put in a joke (almost always a pun), but never make or put in a Punch Line or explicit statement, hiding it in the set up of the joke. Some percentage of the audience will "get" the joke, but the rest will know it was there and be going, "What? Why didn't you say it?" There can be several reasons.
- It's naughty or otherwise not appropriate for this timeslot, in which case this serves the same purpose as a Last-Second Word Swap.
- It's only remotely funny when realized later; using it in-story would grind everything to a halt.
- Telling the punch line would keep our lawyers busy for months, so we'll just leave a blank here and let you do the copyright infringement.
- The pun is in the middle of a song, poem, or other rhythmic verse, where using it fully would break the meter.
- The pun is a form of Foreshadowing, and the audience won't get the joke until later. (It's probably also a spoiler.)
- The pun doesn't fit the tone of the work, and making the joke explicit would cause Mood Whiplash.
- Or simply because they're being clever, or at least trying to.
The form can range a bit from a "fill in the blank" stand-up-style jokes to cases where the plot and setting form a pun that you only realise when you try to summarise the situation later. If you're on the Internet, expect someone to respond with, "I see what you did there".
Also, as this page is about puns that are intentionally obscured in-work, it is one of the few times when it is good form to explain the joke. Use your judgment to avoid far-reaching examples; almost anything can be turned into a pun with enough thought. We want the ones that were likely intended by the creators.
Compare Visual Pun, another form of subtle punning and Subverted Punchline, for when the audience thinks they know what's coming. See Don't Explain the Joke for the complete opposite. Sister Trope of Orphaned Setup.
Examples with subpages:
- Anime & Manga
- Comic Books
- Comic Strips
- Fan Works
- Film Animated
- Film Live-Action
- Live-Action TV
- Professional Wrestling
- Puppet Shows
- Real Life
- Stand-Up Comedy
- Tabletop Games
- Video Games
- Web Comics
- Web Original
- Western Animation