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Reggie: What did you do?

Joy: I made blueberry pancakes.

Reggie: You make those when you feel guilty.

Alice knows Bob very well. She can always tell what he's feeling. She'll probably say something like:

  • "You always clean when you're angry."
  • "You're only nice to me when something is wrong."
  • "Whenever you have a bad day at work, your foot shakes."

The idea is that Alice can tell something about Bob's emotional state because he is performing a significant but unrelated action. Expect Bob to deny it. Don't expect to ever see him perform this action again, even though he supposedly does it all the time.

Writers will often use The Tell to inform the audience what is going on with a character who wouldn't normally share his feelings.

See also You Can Always Tell a Liar and Pinocchio Nose for cases where Alice can tell that Bob is lying. See The Magic Poker Equation for Poker tells.

Examples of The Tell include:

Anime and Manga

  • In Maison Ikkoku, you can tell Kyoko's angry because she becomes VERY enthusiastic while cleaning(moreso than usual). That, and her tendency to break broomhandles by squeezing them.
  • In Bitter Virgin, Yuzu notices Daisuke is upset by Kazuki's unwelcome affection because he keeps holdin his forehead.

Card Games

  • Good Poker players can recognize tells.


  • In Mirror Mask, when Helena's father is trying to calm her about her mother's impending brain surgery, and unconsciously chews his lip, she blurts, "Anyway, you're worried. You only do that when you're worried!"
  • Kung Fu Panda. "You eat when you are upset."


  • It is repeatedly mentioned in the Mercedes Thompson books that Mercy bakes when she's upset. It is actually pretty consistent, and is remarked upon a few times.
  • In Princess Diaries, Mia's nostrils flare whenever she lies, although she's an excellent liar otherwise, and noone had noticed the nostrils thing before grandmere.

Live Action TV


 Reggie: "What did you do?"

Joy: "I made blueberry pancakes."

Reggie: "You make those when you feel guilty."


  "You (referring to Susan) only say apparently when you're annoyed at something"

  • In Aquila one of the protagonists' mothers realises he's upset when he begins sorting his rock collection.
  • Ellie Nash from Degrassi cooks when she's angry, according to Marco.
  • Babylon 5. Commander Ivanova knows something is up when she sees Garibaldi "eating like a man starved", but she doesn't know him well enough to be sure there's a reason behind it. It turns out it is something Garibaldi does when faced with death (in this case, a ship full of colonists he came across who were killed by Space Pirates.)
  • In Frasier, Niles' nose bleeds when he's broken his ethical code. Likewise, when Frasier has knowingly broken his ethical code, he starts having attacks of nausea.
  • House can tell when Cuddy's bluffing even when he's not in the same building.
  • In The West Wing episode "Two Cathedrals", Mrs Landingham explains in a flashback that when Bartlett has made up his mind to do something, he sticks his hands in his pockets, looks away, and smiles. If you're paying attention at the end, he does the same thing when asked if he's going to run again.
  • In The City Hunter, Prosecutor Kim Young Ju knows his ex-wife, Sae Hee, is lying about the whereabouts of The City Hunter because she draws a circle on the table with her finger.
  • In Necessary Roughness, Dani squints a lot whenever she doesn't like something or someone.

Tabletop RPG

  • Stormbringer supplement Demon Magic, adventure "Sorcerer's Isle". From the description of the pirate Janar Ra:

 When she is angry, she goes into the jungle and hacks away at trees; when she is very angry, she sullenly sharpens her axes. The rest of the pirates do not disturb her when she sharpens her axes.


Video Games

  • This is a game mechanic in Apollo Justice: Ace Attorney- when a witness is nervous while testifying they'll perform some sort of habitual action that you have to zoom in on.
  • Also a benefit of the advanced facial animation technology present in LA Noire, where during interrogations, a suspect may have a telling reaction as they wait your response to their testimony and you must gauge the correct response based on that. Some more telling than others.