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).
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.
- In the 1960s and 70s there was a series of commercials for Schweppes Tonic featuring an M-style spymaster who would only ever refer to the product as "Sch... you know who". Later on it was revealed that the "Secret of Sch..." was "Weppes".
- 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.
- Both the Excel Saga anime and Guilty Gear have characters who are officially named "That Man".
- Excel Saga has (including That Man) a total of six characters named like this (That Man There, This Man, That Man Over There, That Man Over Here, and This Man Over Here).
- The second half of Mermaid Melody Pichi Pichi Pitch had "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.
- In the first novel of the Kino's Journey series, the main character is revealed as a girl in the fifth chapter. Up until that point, a studious avoidance of gender pronouns leaves her sex up to the reader's assumptions (though at this point, new readers probably know this in advance).
- The phrase "That guy" (or "That jutsu" or other possible variations) comes up a lot in Naruto, especially during the Chunin Exams and Invasion arcs. Characters tend to use this phrase even in internal monologues.
- Fullmetal Alchemist features the homunculi referring to "that person" in the beginning of the series, and later referring to "Father," although it is still some time after that before we meet that character and learn the reason behind his title.
- The Big Bad of Code:Breaker was always called "The One Being Sought", "That One", "That Man" or "Him." Even after he showed up as an actual character and the protagonists fought with him and it was revealed that Rei had a history with him, they still didn't give him a name beyond those aforementioned examples.
- His title, in fact, is "The One Who Seeks" (sagashi mono can mean both "the seeking one" and "the sought one", though it wasn't revealed which was it until he was called Code:Seeker), and Ōgami referred to him as "Him" (yatsu, though when he's facing him he calls him koitsu "this person"). This got messed up in the scanlations though, with pretty much everybody calling him "Him".
- 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?"
- In 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.
- In 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 Village the monsters are referred to as "Those we do not speak of".
- ... even though the villagers talk about them, like, ALL THE TIME.
- In 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.
- 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.
- Doctor Who Expanded Universe: The Enemy in the Eighth Doctor Adventures. Literally all we know about them is that they're at war with the Time Lords and they aren't Faction Paradox or the Daleks. It's suggested that what we would now call timey-wimey stuff makes it impossible to define them more clearly than that.
- We are told early in the first book that the villain of the Harry Potter stories is Voldemort, yet right through the rest of the books he is widely called either "He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named" or "You-Know-Who". In the last book, when he gains power over the Ministry, he makes it a crime to say his name, and casts spells to locate anybody who does. Since his followers, more cowed enemies, and neutrals don't normally say the name anyway, he's hoping to catch those who have always had the nerve to say his name in a slip, as they must be his bravest enemies.
- Presumably, since he constantly refers to himself in the third-person, apparently made it so that the Death Eater's Dark Marks burn upon hearing his name, and the fact that the sixteen-year old version of him intended for the name to be feared, Voldemort probably forbade his name to be spoken during the first war, and ordered his minions to kill or maim any who used his name openly.
- The Death Eater's themselves are also an example of this. Prior to the reveal of their name in the fourth book, they were 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.
- Parodied in John Moore's Heroics for Beginners. Lord Voltmeter is known as He Who Must Be Named, because Lord Voltmeter dislikes when people use pronouns to refer to Lord Voltmeter.
- Also parodied in Sluggy Freelance. When Torg enters the Harry Potter parody setting, people keep referring to "You-Probably-Don't-Know-Who". No-one will say who this actually is, but apparently the answer lies in "The-Story-We-Can't-Tell". (Later this is revealed to be because the Voldemort parody in question accidentally wiped himself from history and people's memories, but the parody works better with the original unexplained absurdity.)
- Another Potter example is in Philosopher's/Sorcerer's Stone with the earliest appearance of the eponymous Stone. Hagrid refers to it as "the you-know-what in Vault Seven Hundred Thirteen" (or "Vault You-Know-Which" in the movie) and it's wrapped in a grubby little package so we don't know it's a unique rock. Though it does come with some Foreshadowing regarding its importance considering the vault's unique security measures.note
- Yet another Potter example is Dementors, which various characters just fearfully call "Azkaban guards" until after Harry encounters one in person. Their "upgrade" from what could just be some intimidating Ministry wizards to horrifying Emotion Eater creatures is sort of the inverse of Voldemort's becoming more of a mere man by getting a name.
- A less serious example occurs in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. Percy Weasley smugly refers to the Triwizard Tournament in this manner to his father in front the younger characters, since he had become a Ministry of Magic employee after graduating from Hogwarts and was privvy to the information along with the eldest Weasley family members.
- 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.
"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'.
- Doctor Who: The Doctor and the Master always refer to each other by their chosen nicknames even if they're the only ones around, despite the fact that they're heavily implied and almost certain to know each others' real names. They both consider the names they chose to be their "true" selves, as does the rest of Time Lord society.
The Master: I like it when you use my name.
The Doctor: You chose it. Psychiatrist's field day.
- An early episode of JAG took place in Cuba (a US Navy Tomcat fighter jet was damaged in a storm and had to make an emergency landing there). A few times, they run into a number of locals who don't like Fidel Castro, but never refer to him by name (perhaps due to fear of being overheard). Instead, when they refer to him, they scratch their chins, as if they had beards.
- In Lost the other inhabitants of the island are officially known as "The Others", and refer to a mysterious "Him".
- Played for Laughs in Pitch (2016), when the club manager needs to go to the dentist and doesn't have the time to put work on hold. He tells his assistant to have "Ross" come with him so they can work in the car, and when she asks him which Ross (They have two) he says that she knows the one he likes. Unfortunately, his assistant apparently switches them up, and instead of getting the experienced MIT-graduate, he gets the community college schmo who got his job because he is related to somebody else and who asks "too many stupid questions". However, there are subtle hints that his assistant did this deliberately, as this Ross manages to give surprisingly sound advice and at the end of the episode, the manager tells his assistant that this is the Ross he likes (The other Ross is shown hanging his head).
- 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 "Weird Al" Yankovic's song "Albuquerque", he talks of growing up in "the house half a block down the street from Jerry's Bait Shop... you know the place."
- 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.
- 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.
- Ace Attorney Investgations does this with Phoenix himself. Whenever anyone refers to him, they do so in the vaguest way possible.
- 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, must be one of the most genuinely charismatic entrepreneurs around. After all, he manages to sell his last available item to Link for 80 rupees while utterly refusing to reveal what it is until he's already bought it. 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. What reason did he have to constantly refer to it as "that"?
- At one point in the first Mega Man Battle Network game, the hint button will give you this spectacularly useless response from MegaMan: "A former WWW agent... it must be that guy!"
- When you eavesdrop on Grubba's monologue in Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door, he refers to his machine as "that". It sounds a bit... off.
- This could be because he has been caught before. Still comes across rather awkwardly, though.
- At the beginning of Super Paper Mario, a Toad tells the Mario Bros. that Princess Peach has been kidnapped. Luigi comes up with the first theory. "Bro, this must be the work of that guy! That bad guy!" True, Bowser has trouble remembering Luigi's name, but the other way around?
- In Xenogears, the Gazel Ministry speaks almost entirely in these. As do just about everyone else making exposition about anything else to a lesser degree.
- 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.
- Parodied in one Order of the Stick strip. "That must be the eleventh He Who Must Not Be Named!"
- "Not to mention the four who Must Not Be Looked At, the two who Must Not Be Spoken To, and the one who Must Not Be Toilet-Trained."
- Discussed in #882, as Tarquin concludes that the Order knows about Malack's vampirism since they're 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.
- Stand Still, Stay Silent:
- Onni's use of this trope is the reason for which the spirit world entity he and Lalli are wary of is only known as "it".
- One flashback to the year of the initial outbreak of The Plague shows a conversation between two people who are aware of the "turning into a Plague Zombie" complication of the disease and don't have a name for the end result yet. They hence end up calling it "that". Said end result is commonly referred to as "troll" in the comic's main timeframe.
- Also parodied in this Worst of the Time Lords comic. Please specify which evil alien you are before trying to scare the crap out of him.