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"Suppose you're carefully warned not to mention Bill Fields' nose. You keep repeating that to yourself 'Don't mention the nose.' The words, eventually, fail to make sense. If you met Fields, you'd probably say, quite unconsciously, 'Hello, Mr. Nose.' See?"
—Professor Rutherford, Nothing but Gingerbread Left
The cast is about to meet an important person with a peculiarity or disability, such as a wooden leg or an extraordinarily large nose. One of the cast who is in a position of authority exhorts the others not to comment on the guest's unusual feature, lest the guest take it as an insult.
When the guest arrives, some member or members of the cast — usually children or ditzes — come close to commenting, but to the relief of the exhorting character they say nothing. But as soon as they are out of sight the character then turns to the guest and blurts a Freudian Slip that delivers the very insult he was afraid the others would give.
This is merely the television version of a much older joke; Louis Untermeyer's 1946 humor anthology A Treasury of Laughter includes a version dating to the 1930s (if not earlier) casting 19th-century financier J.P. Morgan (and his prominent nose) as the guest, a young Anne Morrow (the future Mrs. Charles Lindbergh) as the exhorted child, and Morrow's mother as the authority figure who embarrasses herself.
Compare Freudian Slippery Slope.
- Done in a Southwest Airlines commercial. A couple is seen heading towards a door, the wife turns to her husband "...And furthermore, Aunt Whatever is rather sensitive about her mole". Cut shot to doorbell, and the door opening.
Husband: Hi Aunt Mole! [cue Oh Crap face]
- In Wayne's World 2, Wayne and Garth encounter a man with Mismatched Eyes, and struggle to avoid mentioning it ("Yes sir, I'll remember to cross the T's and and dot the... uh... lower-case J's.").
- Sticking with Mike Myers movies, the whole thing with Number Three's mole in Austin Powers in Goldmember. Eventually, Number Three encourages Austin to just get it out of his system.
- The lampshade hanging happens right away, the very first time the gag is used.
- To continue with Mike Myers films, there's another good example in View from the Top. His character, John Whitney, has a lazy eye and when one of the flight attendants is being interviewed by him, she has a hard time not mentioning the eye at all. Finally, she slips up at the end and as a result does not get the job.
Whitney: Does anything frighten you?
- Happens in Uncle Buck, where John Candy, playing the titular uncle, goes to see the principal of his niece's school, who has a large mole. At first, he merely flubs what he's trying to say, such as introducing himself as "Buck Melanoma." But when the principal makes the mistake of insulting his niece, he drops all pretense of ignoring her mole: "Take this quarter, go downtown, and have a rat gnaw that thing off your face. Good day to you, madam."
- Happens in Steve Martin's Cyrano De Bergerac remake Roxanne: "Would you like a little wine with your nose?"
- Used in X Men Origins Wolverine, with a twist. Wraith warns Logan not to mention Dukes' extreme weight gain, as he is sensitive about it. The very first thing that Logan says is "Hey, Fat- uh, Fred!" It's clearly accidental, but as Dukes doesn't seem to care, Logan continues doing it on purpose, calling him "Slim" and the like. Logan doesn't hit the Berserk Button until he uses the word "Bub", which Dukes mishears as Blob. The joke here is that Fred Dukes is a long-standing Marvel Comics villain, who uses the identity "The Blob".
- In the first The Thin Man, it becomes increasingly obvious that the family Nick and Nora are serving dinner (for a Summation Gathering) are all a little... eccentric. Nora says one of the funniest lines in film: "Waiter, will you please serve the nuts? I mean, will you please serve the guests the nuts?"
- From The Meaning of Liff:
Wigan: (n.) If, when talking to someone you know has only one leg, you're trying to treat them perfectly casually and normally, but find to your horror that your conversation is liberally studded with references to (a) Long John Silver, (b) Hopalong Cassidy, (c) The Hokey Pokey, (d) 'putting your foot in it', (e) 'the last leg of the UEFA competition', you are said to have committed a wigan.
- Completely ignored, Subverted and Lampshaded in A Song of Ice and Fire where if you are a bastard (born out of wedlock), everyone mentions it. If you are crippled, it won't be spoken about with sugar; and resident dwarf Tyrion mentions being short more than anyone else, especially to prove a point about being thin-skinned to said Heroic Bastard. Of course, this is what you might expect from a Crapsack World.
- In an essay from Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim, David Sedaris mentions how his older sister started wearing baggier clothes after her father-in-law, noticing her scooting away from the fireplace, asked, "What's the matter, Lisa? Getting too fat? I mean, hot! Getting too hot?"
- Emily from Emily of New Moon: "Hello, Mr. Cup. Would you like your Johnson filled?"
- Dave Barry did a version of this joke involving the mark on Mikhail Gorbachev's forehead.
- At the beginning of Piers Anthony's Mute, Knot mentions "sights" in front of a blind mutant, then quickly apologizes. Flas isn't bothered by the comment at all.
- In GK Chesterton's Tales of the Long Bow, a character wears a cabbage as a hat. Other characters slip and slide about the matter, until one woman straightforwardly observes to his face that it's mad.
- On an episode of The Golden Girls, Rose brings her date home and he turns out to be a little person. Blanche and Dorothy are both extremely uncomfortable about this, but decide to conceal that fact out of friendship. Blanche comes out of the kitchen and offers Rose's date a plate of hors d'oeuvres by saying "Shrimp?" then turns tail and walks rapidly right back into the kitchen.
- It doesn't stop there: Shortly thereafter Dorothy announces — very reluctantly — that she is serving "short ribs" for dinner.
- "Can I take your height- HAT?"
- In another episode, when Rose needs to be hospitalized, the doctor introduces himself. Upon hearing his last name, Blanche brightens up and exclaims, "Dorothy, Rose is going to be all right! Her doctor is a Jew!" Dorothy rebukes Blanche for the comment, and then immediately asks, "How is she, Dr. Jew?"
- It doesn't always have to be a physical defect. In an episode of Fawlty Towers, Basil exhorts his staff not to "mention the war" (i.e. World War II) to a group of German guests, and as the stress of the plot (and a concussion suffered earlier in the episode) gets to him, eventually finds it impossible to talk about anything else, climaxing in a memorable Hitler impression. This is so well-known that "Don't mention the war!" is a common phrase in the UK and Australia.
German Guest: Will you stop talking about the war?
- Naturally, it was a forfeit in the Germany episode of QI. Sean Lock fell afoul of it five times (including a trick question meant to invoke the forfeit), Alan Davies once, and Jo Brand once (while trying to call out Stephen for the same; she got the war wrong in this case).
- There was also a notably short lady in the episode "Gourmet Night," about whom Basil and Sybil had to struggle to avoid referencing the height of.
Sybil: What would you like to drink, Mrs. Small? Hall!
- Also, her husband Colonel Hall has a facial twitch making it hard for Basil to introduce Mr. Twitchen.
Mr. Twitchen: It's pronounced "Twychin", actually.
- In the "Hollow Pursuits" episode of Star Trek the Next Generation, Captain Picard orders the crew to stop referring to the unpopular Lieutenant Barclay as "Broccoli," and further orders Chief Engineer Geordi LaForge to work with Barclay and help raise his self-esteem. Later, after Barclay makes a breakthrough in determining the cause of various shipboard malfunctions, Picard is pleased with his progress and tells him, "I'll look forward to your report, Mr. Broccoli."
- In this scene: After Picard realizes what he's said, Jonathan Frakes as Riker does one of his trademark grins, but the look on Patrick Stewart's face is classic. I can't really describe it; you have to see it for yourself.
- On Gilligan's Island, Gilligan becomes bald for one episode. Everyone decides not to talk about it, but Mrs. Howell then says she'll have a "hard bald egg".
- Happens in one episode of The Adventures of Lano and Woodley, with neighbour Susannah's lithp. I mean, lisp.
- Truth in Television — Thpeech Impedimentth can be extremely and embarrathingly contagiouth...
- Done gloriously blatantly in Father Ted when Ted tells Dougal not to call the Bishop by his first name or mention his (illegitimate) son. What does Dougal say on meeting His Grace? "Hello Len, how's the son?"
- Spoofed in Jack of All Trades, Jack is warned urgently by Croque, not to comment on Napoleon's height. The audience is led to believe that it will lead to this trope, but Jack's tell-it-like-it-is nature turns it, and he comes right out and calls Napoleon shorty.
- A Monty Python's Flying Circus example, from episode 24.
Interviewer: From the world of the theatre we turn to the world of dental hygiene. No, no, no, no. From the world of the theatre we move to the silver screen. We honour one of the silver screen's outstanding writer-dentists... writer-directors, Martin Curry who is visiting London to have a tooth out, for the pre-molar, er... premiere of his filling, film next Toothday... Tuesday, at the Dental Theatre... Film Theatre. Martin Curry talking to Matthew Palate... Padget.
- In an episode of According to Jim, Jim and Cheryl accidentally find out that their new neighbors, a man and wife, refer to the man's penis as "Little Winston." The next time they have the couple over for dinner, Jim offers a tray of small sausages and asks if they'd care for — you guessed it — a Little Winston.
- An episode of Boston Legal had this with a witness who had a glass eye.
- On The Odd Couple when Felix photographs a family of little people, he develops a complex etiquette for his friends for fear they might offend them. However, when the time comes to take the picture he shouts: "Everybody say 'midget'!"
- In one episode of Wings, Fay helps a passenger named Tupperman with a very bad toupee. Although she's distracted by it, she manages to get through the conversation without mentioning it...until the end, when she accidentally calls him "Mr. Toupee-man."
- Kramer on Seinfeld always manages to avert this trope. For example, when Jerry is dating a woman with a very large nose, nobody says anything about it until Kramer walks in and comments on it nonchalantly.
- Frasier plays with this spectacularly in the episode "Roz and the Schnoz." Roz is pregnant, and Frasier plays host to the birth father's parents, who, unknown to anyone (including themselves), have extremely large noses. It doesn't help matters that they keep unwittingly setting up nose-related puns: "We have a couple of giant schnauzers." Just go watch it.
- The fifth season of The Office brings us a variation: After Michael is fired from Dunder-Mifflin, Dwight uses his notes on his sales clients, which have detailed notes about their families and personal lives on different colored stickers. Dwight tries to chat up a client using something in green ink — "1 son, gay" — and turns out that all of Michael's client notes are about the things he shouldn't say to their faces, in an attempt to avoid this trope!
Michael: Green means "go ahead... and shut up about it." Orange means "Orange you glad you didn't bring it up?" Pretty much every color means don't say it.
- This was a rather sneaky Batman Gambit of Michael to trip up Dwight who had been using Michael's stolen client notes. By going after Dwight's biggest client whom he remembered he had some colored notes info and taunting Dwight about it, he was certain Dwight would try and use that information, invoking the trope full force and making him lose the account.
- The first episode of Sabrina the Teenage Witch has her completely wrecking her day and thus going to the Witchs' Council to ask them to reverse the time back to the previous one. The leader of the council is Drew, and her aunt, his ex-girlfriend, warns Sabrina not to stare at his mole. It's a literal one.
- Norm's dream job interview in Cheers went exactly like this after Rebecca gave him the advice not talk about anything stupid, like his pants, lest he start apologizing about it and eventually end up singing and dancing about it. Inevitably, when he meets the president of the company, the first thing he says is "Nice pants!" It all goes downhill from there.
- The former Trope Namer was the first appearance of Sammy Davis, Jr. on All in The Family. Archie successfully keep Edith from mentioning Davis' glass eye, then promptly do so himself.
Archie: "Do you take cream or sugar in your eye?"
- During the Cold Open of the Scrubs episode "My Karma", Dr. Kelso gets his coffee splashed onto his face, and, when J. D. runs into him later on, his face is covered in splotches.
J. D.'s internal monologue: Oh, my god. Do not say 'splotchy'.
- An old Dilbert strip featured a short engineer named Les, who was defensive about his height. This led to the following conversation.
Dilbert: Hi, Les.
- Sherman's Lagoon: Megan tells Sherman not to mention the string of bad luck a friend has been going through.
Sherman: Please pass the hook in the mouth.
- In Safe Havens, Luis got annoyed at meddlesome Samantha always trying to do things for him. In fact, the whole reason Luis fell for Jenny of all people is that she alone ignored his wheelchair, even forgoing designated parking spaces.
- Before Jillian Hall become a Hollywood Tone Deaf singer she was MNM's publicist. In her first appearance Melina told M and N that Jillian had a mole on her face and not to mention it. Jillian comes in and we see her only from profile, and we see MNM stare at the mole — but they successfully refrain from saying anything. It is revealed later in the episode that the mole covers most of the left side of her face. Later the Boogyman ate it off her face.
- Bill Cosby had a routine in his standup about a conversation with Ray Charles, in which he kept asking Ray why he had all the lights off in his hotel room.
- In Dominic Deegan, Gregory manages to blow Luna's first impression of him by mentioning her tusks this way.
- Though really, that's just the fact that Gregory's a master of the Pun and pops them off constantly. In this particular case it was just the wrong subject to pick.
- In Freefall, just after admonishing Tangent about dog references to Florence (a sentient wolf), Niomi [promptly sticks her foot solidly in her mouth].
- General consensus among the townsfolk in The Inexplicable Adventures of Bob seems to be that Molly the Monster is a deformed human. Ms. Hatbrim even addresses her as, "Hi, Bob's Friendly Deformed Niece!" When it's pointed out that she has "claws, fangs, and a tail," the stock response is a polite, "Well we all try not to stare..."
- In Star Guys, when Neptune's parents come over to visit, he asks Earth not to comment on his mother's appearence. Turns out she has a moustache (she's a Sealeo)... [spoiler:and Earth ends up exploding from keeping comments about it in his system].
- Torg from Sluggy Freelance is famous for this, as exemplified in this strip (Zoë is wearing a wig, but she hadn't been a few minutes before, when Torg saw her without).
- Done in an episode of Family Guy, where Brian warns Stewie not to say anything about Tom Tucker's son's facial deformity (it's upside down). While they are talking, Brian inadvertently says "This whole thing has really just turned Chris' life upside-down face."
- Subverted when Tom Tucker doesn't take offense at the comment, or even seem to notice. "It's no problem of mine if it's turned his life upside-down face."
- Played with in another episode. Brian is staying with Quagmire, who goes on and on about how his girlfriend with a gimpy leg is visiting, and repeatedly tells Brian not to mention it. It's basically one painfully obvious set up for this joke. Then Quagmire leaves and Stewie shows up. After a minute of conversation between Brian and Stewie, the girl shows up and it's Stewie who says "Oh my God, what happened to your leg?" The girl runs out crying, and Quagmire follows her shouting "Dammit, Brian!"
- And again when Peter is talking to a man with one leg: "Alright well if you like movie trivia, I got one that will stump ya...aaaaah....of course you're probably not into tibia-Trivia!...aaaah...Boy, that global warming, hm? They say we lost a foot of snow last wint-aaaaah...Hey! How about another beer? I bet you like the taste of hops..aaaaah.....You only have one leg, sir."
- Subverted when Tom Tucker doesn't take offense at the comment, or even seem to notice. "It's no problem of mine if it's turned his life upside-down face."
- In South Park the school's Nurse Gollum, who has a dead fetus hanging off the side of her head, is invited to a dinner party at the Brofloskis' where this memorable exchange takes place;
Mr Mackey: (Talking about the school's softball team) I don't think they have much of a chance, the Denver team always win m'kay.
- Truth in Television, according to this article.
- Deliberately subverted by Aimee Mullins; at a TED talk she gave, she describes how she was once going to talk to a class of children and she just knew the grownups were going to hush up the kids and insist they not stare at her prosthetic legs or acknowledge them in any way, which would largely defeat the purpose of her coming to talk. So she made the teachers agree to give her ten minutes alone with the kids before the adults were even allowed in the room, so the kids could ask all the questions they wanted.