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(Here Lord Peter Wimsey told the Sergeant what he was to look for and why, but as the intelligent reader will readily supply these details for himself, they are omitted from this page.)
Dorothy L. Sayers, The Five Red Herrings

Something the writers want to keep secret from the audience may be referred to using only pronouns or, when necessary, sufficiently ambiguous nouns, ignoring that this sounds ridiculous. A favorite tactic of some shadowy councils. Can occur no matter how secret the discussion is from other actual characters.

Often such pronoun substitutes become emphasized by characters using it, conveying that they're aware of what they're doing and that they're not simply continuing an earlier conversation. Despite the lack of context, other parties to the talk have no trouble figuring out just what "that" or "him" is being referred to.

The Japanese language makes it possible to drop subjects and objects from sentences entirely, making this a popular trope in anime (but headache-inducing for the translators).

Subtrope of Cryptic Conversation. Whenever Vagueness Is Coming, it -er- this trope is usually invoked.

See also Unspoken Plan Guarantee, Pronoun Trouble, and The Scottish Trope. Contrast As You Know, when the conversation is more expository than it would be in real life, and "Burly Detective" Syndrome, when flowery, descriptive epithets rather than vague nouns are used instead of names.

Not to be confused with You Know The One Where, which formerly described this wiki's Trope Launch Pad.


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    Anime and Manga 
  • In Case Closed, we are privy to the child detective's thoughts, following his deductions to the last, where we are treated to a "Aha, so the culprit is that person." Who "that person" is isn't revealed until after Conan sets up the proof and makes his accusation. Though this does sound much more natural in Japanese, where 'ano hito' is at least as common a way of expressing the equivalent ideas to 'him' and 'her' as the actual third-person pronouns of the language. This is often accompanied by a "that explains why that person made "that strange statement" just now" This usually causes readers to go back and reread everything to try and figure out who said something unusual. This gets a bit silly when Ran refers to her mother as "that person" in her head just because the author doesn't want the reader to know who she is meeting yet.
  • The second half of Mermaid Melody Pichi Pichi Pitch has "that one". "Him" would have worked, but throughout the actual run of the series, most people were convinced it was another character, one that was female. The English version of the manga replaces it with "the Great One" so as to sound less stilted and still confer a scary aura of deference.
  • Used in most episodes of Spellbound! Magical Princess Lil'Pri when the girls transform using "that" card none of them question what "that" could be referring to and all agree to it being a great idea then going off to transform using the card of the day.
  • Used in Pokémon: The Series sometimes when Ash gets some of his old Pokémon from Oak's lab. "Professor, can you send me that Pokémon?"

    Film — Live-Action 
  • Batman Begins: Dr. Crane/The Scarecrow and Carmine Falcone constantly refer to their anonymous boss as "he". Turns out, it was Ra's al Ghul/Henri Ducard.
  • Godzilla: King of the Monsters (2019): In the opening, Emma and Madison don't refer to the ORCA as anything other than "it" nor do they allude to its function when bringing it up, enabling the next sequence to introduce the device and its purpose proper.
  • North By Northwest: The American spies have a meeting where they discuss "our agent" in the field, and do so without ever using a single gender-specific pronoun, in order to avoid tipping off the audience.
  • Star Trek: First Contact: Whenever the crew talk about humanity's First Contact with aliens they never actually mention what species the aliens are. The Reveal at the end of the movie is that they're Vulcans. (Who else?)

  • In The Day of the Jackal, the three OAS members who hire the Jackal have his dossier but refer to him only as "The Englishman" even before his codename is agreed, but have good enough name and address information to send a representative to his flat at short notice. A look at the name (even if fake) and address in the dossier, would have removed a major subplot from the reader, of the English police trying to work out his identity.
  • Harry Potter:
    • In Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone, when the eponymous stone is first introduced Hagrid refers to it as "the you-know-what in Vault Seven Hundred Thirteen" (or "Vault You-Know-Which" in the movie) to hide the fact it's the Philosopher's Stone.
    • Prior to the reveal of their name in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, the Death Eaters are referred to only as You-Know-Who/Voldemort's followers, or "The Dark Side". After their name is revealed to the audience, however, they're called Death Eaters almost exclusively.
    • Likewise, La Résistance against Voldemort, the Order of the Phoenix, is never named until its proper introduction in the 5th book, to which it gives its name.
    • The Dementors are called fearfully by various characters as just "Azkaban guards" until after Harry encounters one in person.
  • Lord Peter Wimsey: In The Five Red Herrings, Dorothy L. Sayers uses this trope purely for audience-taunting purposes. Lord Peter decides the artist Campbell couldn't have died accidentally, but must have been murdered, because a certain object is missing. According to Sayers, sufficiently intelligent readers will already know what the object is, so there's no point in telling you. We finally find out about two pages before the murderer is revealed.
  • Old Kingdom: In Sabriel, recently-released Human Popsicle Touchstone, after being told by Mogget how long he's been in magical suspension, asks about "the family". It is later revealed that the family was the long-thought-extinct royal family of the Old Kingdom, and the one who should be beyond the Final Gate is the Big Bad, who is also The Evil Prince. Some of the vagueness comes courtesy of a Tongue-Tied spell that prevents people from talking about one of the major causes of the Kingdom's problems, to boot.
    "The family?"
    "All dead and past the Final Gate, save one, who should be. You know who I mean."
  • For pragmatic and personal reasons, John Marsden never names the country that invaded Australia in The Tomorrow Series. The books' characters always refer to them as 'the enemy' or 'them'.

    Live-Action TV 
  • In Lost the other inhabitants of the island are officially known as "The Others", and refer to a mysterious "Him".
  • That Mitchell and Webb Look: Them, some of the remnants of the unspecified Event (remain indoors!) which destroyed all human civilisation. However, it becomes clear the human survivors call Them by that name because they don't know anything else concrete about Them. Only that they want to get inside. They really want to get inside.
    Host: What do we know about Them?
    Peter: Only that we fear Them.
  • Used in Torchwood to cover up the real name of Jack Harkness: during a flashback to his childhood, his parents refer to him only as "son", even while continually calling his brother, Gray, by his real name. Essentially ignored in the second series finale, where said long-lost brother, upon reuniting with Jack after many years, also uses his fake name rather than the one he would technically have known "Jack" by. Word of God says that Captain John Hart told Gray about Jack's new name, but it still seems a bit ridiculous for Gray to use it.

  • The Brendan Nolan song with lyrics to be found here. "Whatever you say, say nothing/when you talk about you know what/For if you know who could hear you/You know what you'd get..."

  • In The Bible, the Book of Revelation 13: The Beast requires people to have a mark of either his name, or the "number" of his name. Rather than write the Beast's name, the writer instead puts that "those who have wisdom" can calculate it from the number 666 (in Greek) or 616 (in Latin). The problem is, of course, that this applies to very many names. One of the more popular theories is that the name referred to is Nero(n) Kaiser, which gives 666 or 616 in a common Jewish number system depending on whether you include the second n. If so there would be a very good practical reason for not making the name explicit.

    Video Games 
  • In BlazBlue, whenever the enigmatic Phantom who's heavily implied to be Nine of the Six Heroes, brainwashed appears, the characters will go "You!?" and afterwards might say something like "Was that...?" or "Could it be...?" Nobody ever finishes their sentences.
  • The Big Bad of the Guilty Gear series is always referred to as "That Man." Guilty Gear 2: Overture lessens the effect, if only slightly, by occasionally referring to him as the "Gear Maker" instead.
  • Zunari, the semi-suspicious salesman from The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker utterly refuses to reveal what the last item he's selling is until Link buys it, referring to it as "that". Odder still, it's a ship's sail, a useful product in a flooded world and one that Link was specifically visiting town to purchase in the first place.

    Visual Novels 
  • Ace Attorney has at least once used 'that piece of evidence' to allow you to hear Phoenix's thoughts about presenting evidence without actually telling you what evidence you should use.
  • Nine Hours, Nine Persons, Nine Doors: Near the beginning of the game, the Ninth Man ends up entering a numbered door without the rest of his team, dooming him to blowing up. Just before his death, he says that "he" lied to him, "he" put him in there and "he" killed him, obscuring the identity of the Ninth Man's killer until they're revealed during the Safe Ending.

  • Spoofed in Nodwick, which featured at one point She Who Must Be Obeyed stealing That Which Man Was Not Meant To Know and taking it to The Lands Which Know No Name.
    Nodwick: Let me know if we find any proper nouns in all this mess.
  • The Order of the Stick: Discussed with a side of Leaning on the Fourth Wall. Tarquin concludes that the heroes (and, implicitly, the readers) know about Malack's vampirism since Tarquin's comrades are openly discussing it.
    Tarquin: If the protagonists didn't know Malack's secret, we'd still be speaking far more circumspectly about his "condition" and such – despite the fact that everyone in the room already knew.

    Western Animation 
  • In the X-Men: The Animated Series' take on "Days of Future Past," Wolverine, Bishop, and Forge discuss a plan to prevent "the assassination of the '90s," referring to the victim only as "some egg-sucking big shot." They may actually not know who it is (Bishop says he doesn't in Part 2, but that could be part of the time-travel amnesia he has); as for the assassin, his identity is neatly obscured with a single interruption.
    Bishop: That means you're going after—
    Wolverine: I know who I'm going after!