Poor Communication Kills

Everything About Fiction You Never Wanted to Know.

"It is all that is left unsaid upon which tragedies are built."

Anthropologists posit that one of the turning points in human development was a growing ability to communicate. In fiction, one of the turning points in dramatic development was the ability to not communicate.

Sometimes this poor communication can be entirely legitimate. After all, miscommunication and misunderstanding happens all the time in real life, and some stories are written with this point in mind. This often happens in mystery stories, such as Detective Conan episodes, in which a murderer kills an innocent victim due to a misunderstanding.

But frequently, a situation arises where the author wants the plot to go a certain direction, but for it to do so one or more characters have to misunderstand each other. Common enough in Real Life, so it should be no trouble to pull off in fiction, right? Well, there's a few problems... the misunderstanding is pretty easy to clear up, and the characters are pretty good speakers who are on good terms and speak frankly to each other without needlessly holding back.

So what's the author to do? They have the coolest plot twist or Climax Boss fight, but it absolutely hinges on these guys being, however briefly, unable to articulate their point. To solve this problem the author reduces the characters' verbal skills to those of three-year-olds. Shy three-year-olds, with a stutter. And then we see that Poor Communication Kills.

All the characters involved go out of character for a moment so that they can't (or won't) tell their side of the story, or creates a false urgency because there's "No Time to Explain", or just plain making them act like a disgruntled loner and telling their friends to Figure It Out Yourself when cooperation (or at least non-interference) is infinitely preferable. No matter which reason, it seems that at least half of the people involved have simultaneously gotten hold of the Idiot Ball, if not everyone.

Or to summarize: Poor Communication Kills is when a misunderstanding is entirely implausible and against the characters' previously exhibited communication skills, personality and relationship, and any normal person could clear up the misunderstanding in less than 30 seconds and solve the plot. (However, those rarer instances when in-character poor communication kills can count, too.)

Though similar, this trope does not include things like Selective Obliviousness, You're Just Jealous, or Sarcastic Confession as those are failures to listen rather than speak; though honestly authors can nerf even that ability when they need the Reasonable Authority Figure to become a useless adult.

On the other hand, there are some times when poor communication is completely within character for the story, and it does end up killing (or at least harming).

Compare Dramatically Missing the Point. Open Mouth, Insert Foot.

Contrast: Just Eat Gilligan, Amnesia Danger.

Common ways to NOT get the point across are listed on A Failure to Communicate, some of which are subtropes of this trope.

Examples of Poor Communication Kills include:

Anime and Manga

  • In Gakuen Tengoku, Oshino's inability to articulate the fact that he's a new teacher got him his ass beat.
  • Higurashi no Naku Koro ni takes a very... er... literal angle on this due to the fact that most arcs are One Side of the Story, and that the series in general contains proliferation of Cryptic Conversations and characters who Cannot Spit It Out. In fact, the latter point becomes a major Aesop of the series. In some cases the use of this trope is mildly justified by the fact that the 'main' character hasn't really known the rest of the cast for that long—and the things they're not talking about are often rather more serious secrets than is usual for this trope. Like, say, the fact that you just murdered someone.
  • One Detective Conan case had an injured American tourist recuperating in a Japanese household and falling in love with a young woman. Because of a mouth injury, at first he could only communicate by writing out Japanese phrases phonetically. As he was leaving, the young woman asked if he loved her, and he wrote down the word "shine", referring to his earlier words that he wanted a "shining bride", but which she quite naturally interpreted as "shi-ne," which happens to be Japanese for "die". The woman committed suicide after he left, and when he came back he ended up murdering her father and a family friend in revenge. What an Idiot!.
    • Another one: A handsome singer is killed by his manager after he started treating her badly after she got plastic surgery. What she didn't know was that he liked her the way she was and only learned the truth after she killed him and took another listen to his last song.
    • Only barely averted in a more recent story about a wife who tends to go overboard and her fed-up husband who thought she was ruining his relationships with his workmates by emailing them with her suspicions she was actually thanking them for taking him out on camping trips but to be careful because of his rare blood type; because they didn't want to accidentally hurt him they stopped asking him out. Unfortunately he didn't realize this until after he tricked her into attacking him to cure his hiccups so he could kill her. Fortunately she survived and even forgave him -- after all they're going to be parents!
  • Monster sometimes relies on this trope. The show is full of characters who know bits and pieces of the overall puzzle; two of them will often unknowingly meet up, but fail to say the right things. Examples include Tenma's first meeting with Grimmer and Nina's first meeting with Lotte (who even mentions her friend Johan, just never by name).
  • Elfen Lied is also a noteworthy offender. The good guys have almost enough information to explain the whole plot and background story, but never get the idea that any of their friends might be interested in their personal side adventures.
  • Most trouble in Binbou Shimai Monogatari stems from the two sisters simply not talking with each other about what's bothering them.
  • This was Colonel Badass Sergei Smirnov's Fatal Flaw in Gundam 00. His inability to reach for his son Andrei after the death of his mom Holly, leads to Andrei growing so embittered and hateful that he ends up killing his father in battle, believing him to be a traitor on top of responsible for Holly's death.
    • In The Movie finale to the series, the ELS attempt to understand humanity by absorbing and assimilating them, apparently not realizing that doing so is killing the humans they're trying it on. They also attempt to contact Innovators and proto-Innovators telepathically, but the sheer amount of information they transmit sounds like screaming to these telepaths, and basically Mind Rapes them.
  • In Gundam SEED:
    • A significant amount of the angst had Kira (or anyone else on the Archangel) felt the need say to ZAFT something along the lines of "Hey, there's about 30 civilians on board this ship". Then again,Yzak would most likely just shoot them anyway, believing them to be fleeing soldiers.
    • Athrun telling Nicol that the pilot Strike was a friend of his whom tragic circumstances forced him into reluctantly fighting, and not evil and hell bent on slaughtering them would have likely saved Nicol's life later on. Instead Nicol suicides into Strike in a vain attempt to save Athrun's life, which was never in danger because Kira would likely have just left Athrun alone.
  • In Appleseed Ex Machina the government advices the general public to hand over very handy Connexus-devices telling that they've been "deemed harmful". Instead of simply saying: "These devices turn you into insane cyber-zombie and may force the police to shoot you." Needless to say, few listen.
  • My-HiME....ohhhh yes. My-HiME. Let's count the ways, shall we?
    • Mai gets involved with the HiME Festival by being told she'll have to risk the most important thing to her. She assumes it's her life. Not quite.
    • Nagi informs the HiME that the HiME Star is descending and will continue to do so until someone gains its power. The earthquakes and weather shifts caused by its movemement make the HiME consider that it will destroy the world otherwise. Not really, but the perceived time crunch forces several of the more impulsive HiME into actions they might've waited before taking otherwise.
    • Yukariko blames Nao for attacking her after the above revelation, in reality an illusion projected by her CHILD. Nao, already a bitter, cynical girl by nature, assumes the HiME coming to confront her about attacking Yukariko are attacking her first, and loses an eye in the resulting fight, firmly shoving her from Anti-Hero into an antagonist slot.
    • Yuiichi has no idea how deep the feelings his Unlucky Childhood Friend, Shiho, are. Naturally, she ends up trying to Murder the Hypotenuse multiple times, and her defeat in the end causes his death.
    • Mikoto's training and arguable brainwashing at a young age repeatedly spawn Diabolus Ex Machina, killing Takumi and Yuiichi both.
    • Shizuru's failure to inform Haruka she was leaving the school to look after her grievously hurt best friend leads to Haruka tracking her down, seeing Shizuru's private actions while Natsuki is asleep, and jumping to all the wrong conclusions. Her eventual accusations of her molesting Natsuki while she slept, in Natsuki's hearing, cause Natsuki to react...poorly to Shizuru's attempts to reassure her, and the perceived rejection causes Shizuru to have a psychotic break and kill lots of people that "could threaten Natsuki", ending in the deaths of Haruka, Section 1, Nao's mother, and Shizuru and Natsuki themselves in the final showdown.
  • In the manga Saitama Chainsaw Shoujo, the main character is a bad speaker with self-confidence issues whose only two friends suddenly stop talking to her after a transfer student joins the school and steals her boyfriend. She doesn't take it well, feeling crushed and friendless, and soon decides that revenge followed by suicide is the only option she has left.
  • The entire series of Ranma ½ is made of this trope. This is lampshaded at least once, after Akane beat up Ranma who was trying to get a scroll with a secret technique, which was incidentally in the Hotspring Akane was in. After Akane's father explains she says Ranma could have just told her. His rather accurate response is "And just how often do you listen before clobbering me?"
  • Parodied in Hayate the Combat Butler. There is an episode that has Hayate spending the night at Hinagiku's house; then Hinagiku end up bumping with Ayumu, Hayate's other love interest and Hina's new friend as well. That's when she says this is bad, and the narrator detailedly explains this trope, commenting that Hinagiku fears that Ayumu will find out somehow that Hayate is inside the house, then will run away and get frustrated because of a misunderstanding. And then it happens.
    • Although it hasn't killed anyone yet, Hayate seems to be a master at this. The entire story was started because he couldn't articulate himself correctly.
    • The time it nearly resulted in someone getting killed was in Izumi's arc. Her father asks him if his child, Izumi loves him, and he answers 'yes' Kotetsu. Hayate ends up having to fight in a lava pit, what is supposed to be a fight to the death. Izumi gets closer to dying because she's wearing silk.
  • Code Geass' Lelouch, in his arrogance, is guilty of this multiple times. The best (or worst) example is when he's informed by his enemies that their Ace Suzaku is carrying a weapon of mass destruction on board his mecha, but fails to tell any of his subordinates. When Lelouch's top pilot Kallen confronts him, Suzaku, despite not wanting to use the weapon, is forced by the command to "live" that Lelouch placed upon him to fire it, which killed 35 million people.
    • Lelouch could be forgiven, considering no bomb had ever been that powerful before, and destroying your own city is considered a really bad idea, in theory.
    • Not to mention that Lelouch was convinced Suzaku had just lied to and tried to betray him, so he really thought that Suzaku was lying about the bomb.
  • In Sekirei, the protagonist's sister gets a Sekirei named Shiina. His goal is to find Kusano, his sister (whether they're actually related is unknown, but Shiina is #107 and Kusano is #108). Yukari proceeds to heartlessly beat any Ashikabi she comes across (she's become a massive bitch in the process somehow, even though some of her victims deserved it) and then ask them where Kusano is .
    • Kusano is one of her brother's Sekirei.
      • Even if she thinks she can't call him (you're not allowed to talk about Sekirei to Muggles, and she doesn't know he's an Ashikabi), visiting Izumo Inn would have resolved this whole subplot and now she's been kidnapped by Higa.
    • There are numerous small scale incidents of this, mainly because everyone likes to keep everyone else Locked Out of the Loop, especially Minato.
  • Near the end of The Vision of Escaflowne, Van attempts to kill Dilandau and Allen leaps to his rescue, apparently having never bothered to let Van in on the fact that Dilandau is actually Allen's younger sister who has been sex-changed and driven psychotic by Zaibach. Rather than explain, "Hey, don't kill him, he's my kid sister, Allen tells Van that Allen himself should be held responsible for all of Dilandau's crimes. And rather than ask for further explanation, Van's response is along the lines of, "Okay, sure, then let's fight to the death."
    • It could be argued that they just really, really wanted to beat the crap out of each other. Both knew full well that Allen's statements were "crazy" and begging for explanation, but further discussion would take away their long-awaited excuse to fight.
  • This happens often in Seto no Hanayome, most notably the time when Nagasumi was Mistaken for Cheating with Lunar (he was drying her off), and nearly killed by her father as a result.
  • The entire "White Devil incident" from Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha StrikerS and a good deal of angst on Teana's part could've been avoided with either more feedback from Nanoha or a single mention from Teana about Nanoha's own training (presumably leading to her learning about the latter's Heroic RROD earlier).
    • Poor communication leads to at least three-fourths of the fights in this series. The antagonists usually have very good reasons for their actions, it just takes a few Starlight Breakers before they're willing to talk about it.
  • In the Pokémon movie Pokémon: Lucario and The Mystery of Mew, poor communication between a few non-villainous scientists and a kleptomaniac Legendary who supposedly could have read their minds at any time resulted in a giant tree nearly killing half the cast and Lucario Killed Off for Real.
  • In a filler arc of Naruto ended with the 6 Tails being captured, likely entirely because no one decided to warn him about the Akatsuki.
    • Well to be fair, they didn't know he was a Jinchuriki since he never bothered to tell them.
      • This is Justified: who wants to tell anyone they have a demon sealed in their guts, especially without good reason.
      • No it's not, because Naruto should have noticed the demonic chakra emanating from Utakata during the battle, never mind that giant slug transformation. As Naruto himself showed during the Wave Island arc, a jinchiruuki actually drawing on the chakra of their sealed demon is a chakra signature that any person who can sense chakra at all can pick up all the way from across a battlefield, and that pretty much any veteran ninja—or any random genin who has ever worked with a jinchiruuki before—cannot mistake for anything else. Hell, Gaara could sense that Naruto was a demon container just by looking at him. The sealed demons are very aware of each other's presence whenever in close proximity.
  • Eureka Seven's Holland. If you take a shot for every time he conceals important information from other people (especially Renton), don't expect to be awaken by the end of any given episode. No, nobody necessarely dies because of it, but he was the source of much pain and frustration for everyone just because he wouldn't talk.
    • Possibly one of the best examples: at a point in the series, Eureka tries to "return to the earth" due to her Realian nature; after that, her body goes through mild modifications and she gets comatose. Nobody wants to tell Renton that Eureka is not human, so nobody tells him anything. This reaches the stupid level when Holland decides to go on a LFO to find a priest who could help her. Renton practically begs for him to tell him what's happening to Eureka. Any normal person would simply say: "Eureka's sick. Rare disease. Gonna get a doctor". Holland, on the other hand, goes "SHUT UP, BRAT!" and punches Renton in the face. Smooth.
  • Kanade Tachibana in Angel Beats!. Bad enough that it's caused a war with a nearly 100% death toll for all its participants, regularly. It's a good thing nobody stays dead there.
  • Maison Ikkoku features a lot of this, while playing with or subverting it at other times. Godai attempts to explain himself several times, but the situations he finds himself in are often so outlandish that Kyoko doesn't believe him. It's played straight for Coach Mitaka and his potential fiancee Asuna by the end, though- it ends up removing him from the picture entirely.
  • In Not Simple, the protagonist Ian commits suicide after hearing that the woman he loved (and whom he planned to run away together with once they reunited) died since he last saw her three years ago. This was told to him by a girl named Irene, whose mother had recounted the story of Ian and her Aunt to her since the Aunt died. However, it all turned out to be a mistake, as Irene was unaware that it was actually her mother who had met and planned to run away with Ian... she was just lying to protect her daughter's feelings.
  • In Katekyo Hitman Reborn, the newest conflict with the Shimon Family could've been completely avoided if not for an important note that was blown into a bin by a convenient breeze.
  • Used heavily but then averted in Heroic Age, in that the aliens attack and war against humans without warning, but when several actions make it clear they have a hard time understanding each others' motives, both sides enter negotiations and call a truce.
  • The two major conflicts in Mahou Sensei Negima could theoretically have been mostly avoided, had the Big Bads just sat down with everybody else and explained the situation and proposed solution, rather than causing massive amounts of trouble and not telling anyone why they're doing what they're doing. Case in point, If Chao and/or Fate would have taken the time to explain that Mundus Magicus was in danger of collapsing rather than going freelance and causing tons of collateral damage, they probably would have solved the problem by now.
    • In later chapters (300+), Negi seems to have understood this, but most of his opponents are too pissed off against him to listen. He's also been pretty vague about what he's going to do about that, so it at least goes both ways.
  • In Bleach, a filler villan spent the majority of his lifetime becoming a captain so that he could kill Yamamoto for killing his father, spending countless years researching and acquiring a bakoto, which his father had told him about in his last words, and he assumed Yamamoto had killed him for using one to become more powerful. Then it turns out his father's last words were "Beware the Bakoto," telling his son to STAY AWAY FROM the things which had killed him. Because Shuuske didn't hear ONE WORD, he completely misinterpreted the meaning of his father's last words, and died. Yep.
    • Another filler villain got his master sealed away for a hundred or so years because their relationship deteriorated, causing him not to be able to hear his call, and come to his side. So Muramasa spent a century and a half trying to recruit a force to free his master Kouga.. Only to be stabbed to death by said master because the fact that Kouga was a Jerkass to him before he got sealed away meant that Muramasa couldn't hear him calling him. Again, yep.
  • This is a Running Gag with Princess Vivi in One Piece. She constantly forgets to inform the Straw Hats about very important things from Baroque Works agents to the Alabastian Desert Wildlife until they have already happened.
  • The Stand user Tizziano from JoJo's Bizarre Adventure can actually invoke this with his Stand Talking Heads. It attaches to it's victim's tongue and makes them say the opposite of what they intended. This also extends to writing and gesturing.
  • In Mayo Chiki this happens a lot, mainly something to due with Kinjiro trying to hide the fact that Subaru is a girl.
  • Tsukigasa would have no story if it weren't for this trope. Nobody remotely discussed what exactly happened when Azuma cut Kuroe's arm off or their feelings for each other, leading to everyone having a completely different idea of what went on and who regretted what. When Kuroe comes back it still takes them a long time to finally come out with the truth. Kuroe is also nearly arrested by Tatsumi because he was too stubborn to reveal he wasn't actively a criminal in front of Azuma.
  • In Kanon Aizawa Yuuichi used to visit his aunt Minase Akiko and cousin Nayuki in their quiet little town every holiday, but one year something happened and he left for seven years. The entire plot would be brought to a halt if not for this and There Are No Therapists.
  • THE iDOLM@STER - The Producer doesn't clear Miki's misconception about her entering the Idol unit that Ritsuko created, wich almost ends up with Miki quiting being an Idol for good a few episodes later.
  • The main character in Steins;Gate apparently doesn't think it's worth mentioning to anyone that one of the people they know is a spy and is going to murder one of them and kidnap the rest. He goes through countless iterations without it ever occurring to him at any point that he might want to discuss the situation with his friends, who are directly endangered by their own ignorance. Worse, this means that if he ever screws up, he won't be able to change the past to reverse it and have another attempt; if he made sure to tell a friend on each iteration, they could reverse things even if he were killed.

Comic Books

  • In 9 Chickweed Lane, Official Couple Amos and Edda broke up mostly because she wouldn't tell him what was upsetting her (his dreamy ramblings about the concert violinist they'd watched) and it never occurred to him A) to ask what was wrong or B) the answer might be him. They do reunite... without ever actually resolving the issue that split them up. This has become a running theme in Edda and Amos' relationship: Edda reacting to an emotional moment by freaking out and bolting, then cluing Amos in long after the fact (and then only when a third party points out the inappropriateness of her actions).
  • G.I. Joe, late in the series. Cobra has captured a bunch of G.I.Joes. Cobra Commander, off-site, says to let them go. Unfortunately he conveys this as 'Get rid of them'. The officers on site dither and whine. Instead of calling back to ask 'You mean shoot them?' they agree to let a mook do it. Several Joes get their heads ventilated. GRAPHICALLY. Yikes.
    • To be fair, Cobra Commander is historically very very impatient with people who call him back to ask him questions. As in 'shoot this idiot for wasting my time' impatient. The main flaw in this sequence is Cobra Commander's original phrasing of his order, which is epically counter-intuitive.
  • In an issue of X-Factor, where Siryn is trying to tell Jamie she's pregnant and Jamie thinks she leaving the team. Following a brief argument after which Jamie storms off, Monet points out to Siryn that rather than Jamie being an insensitive ass, he obviously didn't know what she was trying to say.
  • Oh Jason, if only Batman had told you he loved you. How much trouble, trauma and violent murder could have been avoided? Possibly justified in that Batman thinks his love for his boys is perfectly obvious. And Jason probably wouldn't have believed him anyway.
  • In Jango Fett: Open Seasons, the Mandalorians and Jedi fight a pitched battle that leaves all of the Mandos except Fett dead and most of the Jedi still in the snow, as well. This happened because Fett's archnemesis implicated the Mandalorians in mass murder of civilians and the Jedi reacted accordingly. However, the Jedi are Jedi: they tell the Mandalorians to surrender and promise that they'll be treated fairly. If Fett had surrendered and tried to clear up the misunderstanding, things might have ended differently. Granted, a massive force of clearly hostile Jedi stepped into his camp and told them to surrender, and Fett knew that his archnemesis was behind it.
    • All the more reason to explain it to them. Jedi or not, no one likes beiing manipulated. 10 minutes of talking and he could have had the jedi on his side instead of loseing his whole army.
  • Almost in Promethea. The titular character is trying to get a badly injured friend to the hospital but her unfamilarity with modern society makes things tense. Can she even recognize a hospital? Fortunately the closest one uses a cadecus as a symbol of healing, which she herself uses.

Fan Works

  • In-character poor communication: In With Strings Attached, because the four detest the Hunter and get into a pissing match with him as they travel, they don't tell him crucial things about their worldview, notably that they're Actual Pacifists and don't kill, and that they can easily protect themselves. Thus, when they're set upon by a pack of Poison Wolves, the Hunter immediately springs into action and kills about half of them, causing Paul to nearly attack him and to have a Heroic BSOD later, partly because he knew very well that their lack of communication both doomed the animals and almost made him a murderer.
  • In Connecting the Dots, the Konoha Twelve, who speak authentic Japanese, are dumped into the DCAU, where most of our heroes don't know English. Due to worries of an invasion, aggressive headbutting on either side, and the aforementioned Language Barrier, many battles take place before J'onn comes in and telepathically implants English into the ninjas' heads to let them talk things out.


  • The movie 28 Days Later, opens with a group of environmentalists attempting to break open cages of seemingly abused monkeys. A scientist tries to stop them and is given a chance to explain why they shouldn't torture him like he (seemingly) has done to the monkeys. His answer? " [They have] Rage." He doesn't try to explain that the Rage he is talking about is not just an emotion, even though there's a large enough of a pause to do so. Instead, he, for some reason, expects these people who have not worked in his lab, nor understand that the monkeys are sick, to comprehend a word that apparently now has two meanings.
    • The environmentalists are also equally guilty. After seeing the scientist go into a panic at the idea of releasing the chimps, they never think to clarify what he's talking about, ask why he's panicking or even do enough research to know if the chimps are infected with any dangerous diseases.
      • They'd possibly done this sort of thing before, and may have heard a few half-hearted justifications like that one first appeared to be. Remember though, a crazy, animal torturing scientist going on about how you need to kill your best friend within the next 10 seconds or they'll become a zombie isn't going to be that convincing no matter how well you phrase it.
  • In Revenge Of The Sith, Master Yoda helps get the entire Jedi Order put to the sword because he couldn't get across to Anakin how important it was to be clear-headed when he tries to change what his visions show him. He just told Anakin what to do, expecting either that Anakin would simply do what he was told or that he would respect Yoda's wisdom. Yoda does this rather than take the time to explain that if he was so terrified of losing someone, he would be willing to do anything to save them, no matter how far-fetched, dangerous, or self-destructive. And that this is a bad mental state to make any kind of decision in.
    • The novelization is even worse at this. The Jedi act cold, distant and shifty towards Anakin; even commanding him to spy on Palpatine (who is a close friend of his) without a proper explaination. On the other hand, Padme is having secret meetings with other Senators to prepare a plan in the case Palpatine does not relinquish his emergency powers after the end of the war; and does not tell a word to Anakin in fear she may offend him. Of course that, being a Magnificent Bastard, Palpatine takes advantage of these facts to trick Anakin into believing the Council is plotting to take over the Republic and Padme is having an affair.
      • In both cases the problem is a matter of trust. The Jedi Council, with the exception of Obi-Wan who dislikes the Dirty Business, doesn't fully trust Anakin because he is close to Palpatine. Padme doesn't tell Anakin about the Senators' plan because she doesn't trust him with it—again, because he is close to Palpatine.
    • They used to work with very young pupils. "Give me the child for the first seven years, and I will give you the Jedi", so to speak.
  • Return of the Jedi had a Rebel fleet suffer from this, due to one silly mistake in planning. The ground team is supposed to go and disable the shield on a moon of Endor. The Alliance fleet is supposed to attack… but only after the ground team disabled that shield. A simple plan. Of course, they need some way for the fleet to know as soon as possible whether the ground team already did its part, failed or had an unexpected delay (but still can pull it), right? Or at least some way to test it repeatedly before they commit… Oh. There aren't any. They got sensors, but this would help only if the enemy cooperated by being too lazy to turn jammers on.
    • To be fair, this is because interstellar communication is impossible in the setting without either a trained Force-sensitive on both ends (there are exactly two Force-sensitive people in the Rebellion, only one is trained, and they're both on Endor) or a transmitter installation that barely fits on an Imperial Star Destroyer, let alone a shuttlecraft. Also, as seen in the movie the fleet did know that the shield was still up almost immediately after arrival - because while the enemy was jamming their sensors, the Rebels were easily able to deduce that the Empire would have absolutely no reason to be jamming those sensors unless the shield was still up.
  • The Finnish film Tali-Ihantala 1944 has a scene that shows the tragic results of a language barrier between the Finnish troops and Swedish volunteers. One of the Finnish veterans is instructing the volunteer troops on using a panzerfaust, stressing the fact that the weapon releases a lethal tail flame upon firing. However, he tells this in Finnish, which the Swedish troops do not understand. Later, during an ambush against Soviet tanks, one of the volunteers gets killed by the tail flame. One of the Finnish soldiers tries to warn him not to hold the weapon against his shoulder while firing, but since the warning is again in Finnish, he does not understand it and fires anyway.
  • In John Carpenter's The Thing, the movie begins with a man chasing after a dog with explosives and a rifle, trying to warn the others that the dog is a monster in disguise and must be destroyed. The man's warning is unheeded and he is shot and killed because he was speaking Norwegian while the main characters were American and couldn't understand.
    • As mentioned in the 28 Days Later entry, it's hard to imagine the main characters reacting any different no matter what language the guy had been speaking.
      • Actually, not so much. Using immediate lethal force to prevent apparent cruelty to animals is a bit over the top.
  • Subverted in Mars Attacks!!. At first it appears that poor communication is the cause of the Martians' attacks on the humans. Later it's made clear that the Martians intended to invade and destroy humanity anyway.
  • In The One, the protagonist routinely tells other police officers about his sociopathic alternate-universe duplicate with the words "He is me," instead of "He looks exactly like me." While it's possible that the police might not have believed him, he never seems to make any effort to tell the mundane cops about his doppelganger, so he has to fend them off as well.
  • As The Self-Made Critic points out, this could have cleared up a lot of confusion in the movie Daredevil:

Electra: "You killed my father!"
Daredevil: "No I didn't. That guy did. Over there. The Bad Guy".
Electra: "Oh. I didn't see him. OK. My bad. Let's go get him".
Daredevil: "Aces!"

  • In Terminator Salvation this is what caused General Ashdown to kick John Connor out of La Résistance. Of course, what Ashdown didn't know was that John Connor wanted to save someone vital to Tech-Com (his father, Kyle Reese, then a teenager), and even though Connor didn't give the full details to his own unit, the whole unit rebels against Ashdown by siding with Connor so he could save Reese. (Of course, Ashdown doesn't know about the rebellion until after he learns that the attack on Skynet wouldn't go forward until Connor gave the order, thereby deposing Ashdown mere minutes before he gets blown to smithereens.)
  • The Spiderman movies. This trope should be called 'Don't Tell Harry'...
  • In the recent film Tucker and Dale vs. Evil, the college kids inherrent belief that Tucker and Dale are murderous backwards hillbillies leads them to believe that they kidnapped one of their friends, rather than helping her out of the lake as they had actually done. Then again later when this mindset causes them to all start dying from their own stupidity. If at least one of them had bothered to take two seconds and simply talk to Tucker or Dale about their friend then gory hijinks would not have ensued.
    • Though to be fair quite a bit did stem from the twos decidedly poor communication skills. I mean if someone comes out of a rundown cabin swinging around a chainsaw, your first thought isn't going to be 'He looks like a nice non-homicidal sort of guy' is it?
      • OTOH, the guy was too distracted by the angry swarm of bees stinging the hell out of him.
    • Their de facto leader Chad is also egging on the other college kids with his us-against-them mentality since he's very prejudiced against hillbillies.


  • Harry Potter's godfather Sirius Black was a valiant and caring daredevil who would willingly give his life for his friends, but boy, did he SUCK when it came to explaining his innocence.
  • Dracula, where the excessively gentlemanly heroes deliberately choose not to tell Mina Harker about their vampire hunt so as not to distress her, thus making her the perfect target. Ironically, once the damage is done and they must let her in on it, she copes rather better than her husband did.
  • PG Wodehouse's Jeeves and Wooster novels: Almost everything bad that ever happened to Bertie Wooster. The rest of it seems to be blackmail.
  • Every....single...protagonist in Robert Jordan's The Wheel Of Time series appears to suffer from this. Seriously.
    • Luckily, the antagonists have the exact same problem, and while the protagonists have a long-term scheme and may be able to at least put aside their differences, the antagonists are busy squabbling over who gets to be The Dragon.
      • Unluckily, the Big Bad can (and does) give concrete orders that will be carried out. The side of good has... about 50 chronic arguments? At least?
      • Considering the whole Aiel vs. the Whitecloaks vs. the Rebel Tower vs. the White Tower vs. Elidia vs. the Asha'man vs.... well, everyone the Dark one could probably just sit back and wait for the good guys to kill each other off, although at least half of the disputes arise or are at least made worse by agents of the Dark one amongst them.
        • Hah, don't even worry about "factions" in the sense of the various armed forces. Just stick to the protagonists: Rand doesn't tell anyone anything about anything. He doesn't want his idyllic hometown or his lovers targeted by his enemies, people think he's a dangerous lunatic, and he's trying to fight several Chessmasters at once. Mat hasn't told Rand what he's been doing for the last five books partly because he likes avoiding responsibility, but mostly because he would need a channeler's help to do it and he doesn't trust or want to be indebted to them. Perrin hasn't told Rand anything for the last four books because it's taken him that long to accomplish what everyone thought would be a simple assignment. Elayne and Egwene have been keeping their distance from Rand for six books because being seen in contact with him would subvert their own political power. Nynaeve and Min don't tell anyone anything because they're worried about Rand's fragile mental state and don't want to do anything he could possibly interpret as a betrayal. Any one of those might make sense, but all of them together... especially considering how many problems the reader knows the lack of communication has caused...
        • And then Brandon Sanderson takes over with the most recent book and Bam! Communication starts happening again and half the tangled loose ends clear up.
  • In The Republic Of Trees, Isobel tells Michael that she broke up with her previous boyfriend because he wanted something from her that she wouldn't give him... he wanted her to stop cheating on him As the result, Michael learns the truth at the worst possible moment and the already unstable situation spirals out of control to Lord of the Flies proportions.
  • In The Ruins, poor communication literally kills, as the Mayan-speaking locals are unable to effectively warn the main characters away from the titular ruins. Why they don't speak Spanish is not explained.
    • Because it's very common for Mayans in the poor rural areas of Mexico to speak no or very little Spanish.
  • In the second book of A Song of Ice and Fire, Robb could have avoided a whole mess of trouble if he'd just confided in his underlings a bit more. He goes off to fight the Lannister's western army and leaves his uncle Edmure to hold Riverrun. When the Lannister eastern army starts harrying Riverrun's borders, Edmure rides off with his army and succeeds beating them back to a full retreat. Cue celebrations and parties... until Robb returns and, after publicly honoring his uncle's success, browbeats him in private for disobeying his orders. Turns out he had planned to lure the eastern army into attacking Riverrun so he could come in from the south and crush it between his army and the castle.

"But I was never told of this!"
"You were told to hold the castle. What part of that did you fail to comprehend?"

  • Herman Melville took this trope literally in his little-known novella Billy Budd, in which Billy, a Christlike figure whose only flaw is a tendency to stutter when he gets upset, killed the master-at-arms, Claggart, after Claggart falsely accused him of conspiracy to mutiny. He got so upset when he couldn't stop stuttering long enough to defend himself that he punched Claggart in the temple and he died. All three main characters--Billy, Claggart, and Captain Vere--die. But, then again, without it all of Melville's lovely symbolism falls apart, and we can't have that.
    • Little known? It's a favourite to all those Freud Was Right type pervy essayist, and were it not taught by high school teachers who try everything to make the students hate it, it would have a massive Yaoi Fangirl fanbase...
  • David Weber has this on a grander scale then most with his Hell's Gate series when poor communication causes two civilizations, which hadn't even known the other existed until recently, to start what is promising to be a long and brutal war.
    • And in the Honorverse, deliberately tampered with communication restarts the Manticore-Haven war. The guy who did it wanted to make the Havenite president just angry enough that she was almost ready to go to war and he could step in and save the day. He underestimates by about one degree of anger, and millions die.
      • Subverted in that he has a chance to confess and avert the war. He can even write out his confession, then get on a fast spaceship out of town before it's read, and still avert the war. Instead he chooses to accept the deaths of millions as the necessary price for maintaining his position and power as Havenite Secretary of State, and successfully does so until he dies for entirely unrelated reasons.
    • An unintentional example from that series was the attempted McQueen coup: McQueen knew that she'd eventually be considered too much of a threat by the Committee for Public Safety and would be eliminated, and so starts planning her contingency plan for when the time came. Pierre and St-Just also recognized she'd be a threat and would probably have to be eliminated so start planning their contingency plan for when the time came. A partially overheard conversation results in McQueen believing they were moving against her immediately (instead of merely planning to at some point in the future), causing her to launch her own plan prematurely.
  • In The Forever War, a war that lasts centuries between humans and an alien race turns out to be based on a misunderstanding. Considering that the author is a Vietnam vet, one need merely read The Pentagon Papers to see where he gets his idea.
  • A large part of later books in the Ender's Game series. Turns out the formics were not hostile, but simply unaware that humans were intelligent, at least on an individual level. After the second war, they tried to apologize, but were destroyed before they learned to communicate with us. In addition, the whole debate over whether two alien species can communicate and coexist is dominant, especially as a situation gets closer and closer to "Communicate with them, or commit Xenocide." Placing our heroes in the exact same situation as the formics.
    • Also, the main plot of Speaker For The Dead occurs because no one stops to ask the Piggies "Say, why exactly did you kill those two people and ritually disembowel them?"
  • Being There is a variation; the whole plot is based on characters misinterpreting most everything Chance the Gardener says (with the twist that he cannot correct them because he isn't able to understand what's going on).
  • Due to the secret nature of Dreamland ops, the characters of Dale Brown's books often find themselves going up against ostensible allies both within and without America even when there's not supposed to be overt conflict.
  • Metro 2033 with the Dark Ones, they just want to find a way to help the humans out, but the telepathy caused people to go mad and thought they were out to kill them like other mutants. Needless to say Artyom realize this a bit too late as he plants the transmitter.
  • In Arrow's Fall, part of the Heralds of Valdemar series, the novel's primary romantic tension is caused by Dirk assuming himself to be part of a Love Triangle consisting of himself, Kris, and Talia, and trying to pull an I Want My Beloved to Be Happy, when in fact both Kris and Talia are trying to get her hooked up with Dirk. Dirk's stubborn refusal to discuss the matter with either of them sends him into a breakdown, and causes the resolution to be put off until after Talia nearly dies and Kris does die.
    • And even then communication still fails, as Dirk assumes that Talia will be mourning her 'lost love' Kris forever and, even after (despairingly) confessing his true feelings, still intends to avoid Talia for the rest of his life. If Talia hadn't used her empathic powers to link Dirk's mind directly to her emotions, she'd never have convinced him he was the one she was really in love with - goodness knows no amount of mere words seemed able to get through his skull.
  • In the Agatha Christie novel Sparkling Cyanide, Sandra Farraday knows that her husband Stephan is having an affair with Rosemary Barton, is afraid Stephan will leave her for Rosemary, and is prepared to kill Rosemary to prevent that from happening. Stephan, on the other hand, has grown tired of Rosemary and realized that Sandra is his real true love, but he's afraid that Sandra will leave him when she finds out about it, and is prepared to kill Rosemary to prevent the affair from becoming public. Technically, poor communication didn't actually kill in this case, since neither Stephan nor Sandra was the murderer, but it very easily could have.
  • The Key to Rondo could plausibly have instead been titled: Poor Communication Kills: The Novel.
  • In The Elenium series, an Eshandist leader had a speech problem and at one battle he yelled "Fall on your foes!" but mangled it and his followers heard "Fall on your swords!" He spent the next several years wondering why he lost.
  • In The Onion Our Dumb Century, all the casualties of World War I turn out to be this. Archduke Fraz Ferdinand wasn't assasinated he just went on vacation; when he finally returns, sees what happened, and explains the misunderstanding, the war is called off and the survivors go home mildly embarassed.
  • In a Star Wars novella, Imperial officer Kyle Katarn defects to the Rebel Alliance after he finds out that the Empire recently killed his father. He embarks on a black ops mission to recover part of the Death Star schematics, but is, naturally, monitored by the rebels to see if his turn was legitimate. When he's seen meeting with another Imperial, Mon Mothma gives the order to agent Jan Ors to kill him. What they don't know is that the officer was an old friend of Kyle's whom Kyle had persuaded to help him. Jan and Kyle end up in a Mexican Standoff, and if Jan hadn't found it impossible to kill the man that she was developing feelings for, the scenario would have ended in tragedy.
    • Actually, there have been some terrible cases of this trope occurring across the Star Wars Expanded Universe. Arguably the biggest one was the Yuuzhan Vong invasion. It turns out that a number of people like Palpatine/Sidious, Vergere, Thrawn, and Darth Krayt knew about their existence and simply did not tell the galaxy at large - and giving vague hints to only a few people at the most. Sure, most of these people were villains and some of them were neutral, but a lot of grief (among other things) could have spared if people were simply told about it. The same things can be applied to Jacen and Abeloth, as well as Darth Bane's Sith Order and the Jedi Order.
  • In Corelli's Mandolin, Pelagia spends decades waiting for Corelli, during which time she adopts an abandoned baby (named after him, no less). Turns out that Corelli did come back relatively early on, but saw her with the baby, assumed she must've had it with another man, and stormed off without talking to her. When Pelagia asks if he didn't consider the possibility that she was raped in his absence, he admits that it probably wouldn't have made a difference to him.
  • In The Shahnameh, a series of accidents and deception both well and ill-intentioned result in Rostem killing Sohrab, the outcome neither of them wanted.
  • The Idiot. No one seems capable of actually saying what they mean—even Prince Myshkin, the most innocently outspoken character, falls prey to this tendency—and the misunderstandings and suspicions that arise from this are major driving forces on the plot.
  • In A Dirge for Prester John, John and his people have completely different ideas of what war is. He knows it means a lot of bloodshed (even if he naively also thinks of glory). His people think of the mating season of the cranes and pygmies.

Live Action TV

  • The Horatio Hornblower TV-series starring Ion Gruffudd (maybe also the original books) had a group of deserting British sailors (their ship's crew was besieging the Spanish) captured by Dominican rebel slaves (It Makes Sense in Context), and so the rebel commander rows out to the sailors' original ship, to bargain with the captain to leave the island in peace (with one of their sailors at gunpoint). The ships' Royal Marines train their weapons on the rebels, and the Captain is asked whether they should open fire. He replies with "Fire?", the others understand it as "Fire!" and shoot the rebels and their hostage, declaring an outright war between the ship's crew and the rest of the rebels. Seen here.
  • Friends is built on this trope. You can actually watch the writers become more dependent on this trope as the series progresses and they start running out of ideas. The best (worst?) example is when Chandler attempts to masturbate and Monica (his wife) interrupts him. He quickly changes the channel to a show about sharks, and Monica presumes this means he finds sharks sexually stimulating. This is, not coincidentally, the low point of the entire series.
  • In Heroes episodes 2.09 and 2.10; Mohinder utterly failed to tell Overprotective Dad Noah that he didn't need Claire, just a pint of blood to save a life and stop a plague rather than kidnap her. Instead he made it seem like he had done a Face Heel Turn and was going after this Overprotective Dad's daughter and bringing about the season's Tear Jerker episode.
    • Peter and Hiro ended up in a fight because neither was all too keen on examining why each was doing what they're doing by defending and attacking Adam respectively. And these are people who can stop time! Hiro and Peter could have had talked it out while sipping tea in Tokyo and come back with the whole thing handily resolved, were it not for "With great power goes all intelligence".
      • The Writer's Strike is probably the reason they had to speed through that. If the season was allowed to take its natural course they might have done all that (well, maybe not the sipping tea in Tokyo part).
      • According to a behind the scenes look, that scene was going to end with the plague vial falling to the floor and shattering, leading into a massive 'plague containment' arc. Which the Writer's Strike truncated. So it was going to turn out even stupider.
    • That's nothing. In the first episode of Volume Four, Claire gets word that Nathan is sending government agents out to get Peter and Matt. So she calls Peter. Reasonable enough, right? She tells him people are after Matt ... then completely fails to mention they're after Peter too.
  • Jeff in Coupling's entire personality comes from this trope. He's the page quotation provider for Digging Yourself Deeper.
  • Fans (and detractors) of Lost have commented on the characters' apparent inability to ask the right questions. In particular, they've had Juliet among them since her Heel Face Turn, but have not asked her any questions about the intentions or nature of the Others. This tendency was lampshaded in the season 4 episode "Cabin Fever," as Christian says to Locke, "So why don't you ask the one question that does matter?"
    • Not just the lack of asking "the right questions", But the lack of SHARING vital information as well, for whatever reason..
      • One (somewhat minor) example: Jack has been angsting over his deceased father since Day 1. Through a chance bit of conversation (Jack quotes a saying his father was fond of), Sawyer realized that he met Jack's father right before he died. He told Sawyer about how he wanted to patch things up with his son, but he was too much of a coward to pick up the phone. For no reason other than sheer cussedness, Sawyer decides to keep this to himself.
  • The climax of the Firefly episode "The Message" has the intrepid crew under siege and almost certainly about to die at the hands of an overzealous cop hunting down Mal and Zoe's friend, Tracey. Shepherd Book hatches a plan: the first part is surrendering to the cop and telling him they're going to turn Tracey over to him. Tracey, upon hearing this, becomes understandably upset, but it's not until after he's flipped out for several seconds, threatened the crew with a gun, held Kaylee hostage, and finally been mortally wounded by Mal that they inform him that the rest of the plan was to threaten and blackmail the cop into leaving without actually giving him what he came for. Tracey, rather than angrily demanding why they didn't tell him that in the first place, feels bad for screwing up the plan before dying moments later. Although, to be fair, Tracey didn't really give them a chance to explain before becoming violent.
    • Also mitigated in that Mal and Zoe were Tracey's superior officers in the military, accustomed to giving orders to him without a need for explanation. Given Mal's attitude about his Nakama, he may also have thought it obvious that Tracey would understand their plan, or at least their loyalty.
    • Numerous situations like this seem to crop up in Firefly, particularly around Mal's tactics. Friends new and old are asked to implicitly trust him right at the point where he has given every indication that he's changeable as the wind and about to screw them (Simon and River frequently being the subjects here—perhaps most notably in "Safe"). This generally complicates things further, as above, by making the ostensible rescuees filled with anger and suspicion.
      • Safe wasn't really like that. Shepherd Book had been shot, Simon and River had wandered off and gotten kidnapped. Mal didn't have time to look for them.
  • In Babylon 5, the whole Human/Minbari war starts because of this, mostly because they don't know each-others language or cultural traditions.
    • To Minbari, it is common courtesy to show all your weapons to other soldiers, so they can see that you have nothing hidden and mean no treachery. Which on a warship means getting all your weapons ready but leaving defenses powered down. The humans only noticed the first part and started firing in presumed self-defence, killing the Minbari's revered leader, resulting in them declaring holy war against the human race and making no attempt to communicate with the humans, neither to tell them the reason the Minbari are trying to kill them all, nor to get any explanation for the humans' actions.
    • Interestingly, when a Minbari warship shows up at Babylon 5 showing all weapons as common courtesy, the warship's captain Neroon arrogantly refuses to explain himself; the more level-headed Minbari Ambassador Delenn goes to the bridge to enlighten the Bab 5 crew about this tradition and invite them to confirm that the weapons are not powered. Apparently, even ten years after the Earth-Minbari War, all the details of the misunderstanding that kicked it off are still not common knowledge in the Earth Alliance, due to the Minbari's poor communication skills.
    • Sheridan once mentions that the need for proper communication was the first thing he learned at the Academy.
    • There's a whole lot of other unnecessary lack of communication. Just watch the end of Season 1 / the beginning of Season 2.
  • Kamen Rider, under the writing of Toshiki Inoue, tends to suffer from this. Both Agito and Kiva had near-identical situations: a member of the secondary cast (Ryo Ashihara/Gills and Keisuke Nago/IXA, respectively) is friends with the main character while despising and seeking to destroy his Rider identity (Ashihara because he thinks Agito killed the woman he loved, Nago because he thinks Kiva is an Omnicidal Maniac). Shoichi and Wataru never think to reveal their identities in order to defuse the situation, which lets the tension build. In the end, Ryo and Nago find out by accident, and they're both relieved; Ryo because he knows a good guy like Shoichi could never be a murderer, and Nago because he thinks the power of Kiva is in good hands with Wataru.
  • In "Trial by Fire", an episode from the Revival version of The Outer Limits, alien forces are hovering above the Earth, and have sent out a message to the world's leaders. The message, unfortunately, is unable to be deciphered, and the President of the US is presented with two options - Preemptive strike, or wait things out and hope they can translate the message. He eventually takes the Hawk approach and launches a nuclear warhead at the UFOs, which fails. As a retaliatory strike comes in, he's informed that they just cracked the code... by submerging the audio beneath water; it was a message of Peace. But what were you expecting? There's a reason that the trope Cruel Twist Ending was originally called Outer Limits Twist.
  • Dear Lord, Roswell. Max and Liz have a giant misunderstanding in season two that fans will never get over.
  • Happens so many times on Smallville, usually because the spirit of Jor-El in the Fortress of Solitude is a total prick and insists on talking cryptically. In the episode Lazarus, Jor-El warns Clark Kent that "a great darkness" is coming. Sure enough, Lex Luthor (actually his clone) returns. Clark defeats him and reports his success. Jor-El reveals that he doesn't really give a crap about Lex Luthor. The "great darkness" he was refering to was Darkseid , who arrives on Earth safely and unnoticed. To make this situation even worse, Jor-El just tells off Clark for the mistakes he made during the episode and shuts himself and the fortress down, without telling Clark anything about the actual threat.
  • On Torchwood, Gwen tries to keep her actual job in Torchwood secret from her boyfriend in the least helpful way. Despite Torchwood's ability to set up dummy companies, create false identities and twist the truth when the need be Gwen never uses any of this to give her boyfriend any reason to calm down about her job. Instead she is openly ambiguous about why she works such long hours and gets called away so often. Even her boss says she shouldn't let her personal life drift, but never makes any good suggestions to Gwen as to how to do so. This can get frustrating for the viewer because obviously some people on the police force know Gwen does something working for Torchwood, and people out in the world know Torchwood does something (The woman in the first episode of series 2 mutters "Bloody Torchwood" as they pass by.)
    • Rex gets aggravated by the tendency of Gwen and Jack to run off and try to handle things on their own instead of just asking for help. He lampshades this trope when Gwen receives a message through the special contact lenses that her family is being held hostage until she brings them Jack. Given the fact that the bad guys could only see whatever Gwen could see or receive a transcript of what was said while Gwen was looking at someone. She could easily have told Rex and Esther (and, you know, Jack, before kidnapping him what was going on without tipping her hand.
  • Much of the latter half of Battlestar Galactica, if not the entire series, could have been avoided if the humans and cylons had ever just sat down and compared notes, but even after the humans have cylon allies, they still don't even seem to consider sharing information with each other, despite all the half-information and lingering questions they all have about prophecies, the backstory, etc.
  • In Have Gun — Will Travel, Paladin's business card can cause some confusion over his profession that can occassionally lead to rather unfortunate mix-ups. More often than not the confusion is resolved without anyone dying, but on every now and then ...
  • If you've seen the Survivor end game...
  • This happens twice in The Cosby Show with disastrous results.
    • When the producer of a local television mentions that there is room for only one more dancer (either Theo or Cockroach), Theo repeatedly insists on Cockroach going in. At first, Cockroach objects, because Theo had the tickets. Eventually, Cockroach accepts, causing Theo to become extremely bitter about it. He starts acting like a jerk around his family until Clair tells him that it was his own fault for being dishonest.
    • A few years later, Sondra has to forfeit a night out with Elvin and two friends, but she repeatedly insists that Elvin continue as originally planned. She thinks that Elvin will make a final objection, but he caves in and accepts. Later on, she gives Elvin the silent treatment until Clair puts the blame on Sondra for not expressing her true feelings.
  • Frasier often relied on the titular character, an eloquent, educated man who could often string together the most complicated of sentences, being rendered incoherent when a simple explanation could extricate him from a difficult situation.
    • One episode played with this dynamic when Frasier's dad tried to return $40 that was mistakenly given to him by a bank's ATM. He patiently, articulately explains the situation in terms so clear even a child could understand...and the bank employees all misunderstand him and what he wants.
  • How I Met Your Mother: There's an episode where Barney runs the New York City marathon without any prior training. He finally feels the effects while riding the subway a little later: his legs lock up and he can't stand. Eventually, a pregnant woman, an old lady and a little boy in crutches enter the crowded train and ask for his seat. Instead of just explaining that his legs don't work, he simply mutters, "I'm sorry. I can't." Now, New York being New York, it's possible no one would have believed him, but the explanation would have been better than the vague thing he actually did say.


  • Used quite Anviliciously in the song "One Tin Soldier". In it a town has a "treasure" hidden under a mountain, which a valley kingdom covets. They invade, kill everyone, and find the "treasure" is just a plaque which says "Peace on Earth". Worse, when they first demand it the mountain people make a vague offer to share their treasure with their "brothers" instead of just telling them the truth.
  • Steven Curtis Chapman covered this topic in "Still Called Today," which stresses the importance of making the wrong things right before it's too late.

Tabletop Games

  • In Warhammer Fantasy Battle, the Slaans - the mage-priests of the Lizardmen - sleep most of the time, and when they wake up, they speak in very short sentences without any context. As a result, unpleasant things have happened. When the High Elves arrived in Lustria, they were brought before a Slaan who said, "They should not be here". His Saurus guards read this as "Destroy all High Elves" and killed them. Whether he actually meant "Send them home" will never be known.
  • One of the Fluff asides in Reign involves an instance of Nonverbal Miscommunication that rises to this level—the mercenary commander had a troop of mixed nationality that each knew one of three different sets of military hand signals; he'd only bothered to check that they all knew hand signals, not that they all knew the same ones. His signal to "hold up" was variously interpreted correctly, as an order to attack, or as an order to retreat, and they were routed in the chaos resulting.
  • Warhammer 40,000: Damn it, Emperor. Do you have any idea how much trouble you would have saved if you were only able to occasionally explain stuff to your kids? The Horus Heresy, for one.
    • This is also kind of one hat that the Eldar like to wear. They usually like to manipulate the other races of the galaxy into whatever situation they feel would best benefit them, often sacrificing billions to save hundreds (if that) of their own. While that's bad enough, even when they DO directly confront others, their cryptic nature ends up leading to easily half the failures of their grand schemes: for instance, "Don't go into that huge black pyramid because you're too stupid to deal with what's inside" doesn't usually work against a group being lead by someone whose literal meaning for existence is to find and exploit lost technology; "don't go inside that huge black pyramid because it's what's sealing up one of the most powerful Greater Demons of Chaos to have ever existed and unleashing him will kill this entire world" would be a bit more helpful.
      • This happens twice in almost the exact same fashion, (right down to the "pyramid containing a demon of Nurgle") in Dawn of War II and the Space Wolf novel Ragnar's Claw.
    • this is lampshaded in the Eisenhorn trilogy, when Eisenhorn says that if only the various Inquisitors would just sit down and compare notes, a lot of internecine fighting could be avoided.


  • Gilbert and Sullivan were also fond of this trope, but the they actually hang a lampshade on it in the Act I finale of The Mikado, when Katisha tries to tell the people of Titipu that Nanki Poo is the son of the Mikado, only to have the chorus interrupt her every time she opens her mouth.
  • Shakespeare seemed to be fond of this trope. The most famous example is probably Romeo and Juliet, where Juliet fakes her own death, and her message to Romeo explaining the situation never reaches him, causing Romeo to kill Paris and commit suicide. Upon discovering this, Juliet also kills herself.
    • Discussed in Bells Are Ringing, where answering service girl Ella tries to explain to a policeman that "my job is to get messages to people on time" and imagines herself at "Veronaphone" passing Juliet's message on to Romeo.

"See what I could have done? Maybe I'm right! Maybe I'm wrong! But if I'd got that message through on time, I'm telling you--THOSE TWO KIDS WOULD BE ALIVE TODAY!"

    • Othello was easily swayed by Iago to believe his wife had been cheating on him and kills her. Only later does he realize that if he had bothered to verify the truth with anyone other than Iago, the stories wouldn't have matched up. Emilia at least was smart enough to figure out what was going on.

Video Games

  • About half of everything bad that happens in Tales of Symphonia or Tales of the Abyss could be averted if not for the characters' refusal to explain certain things in order to keep certain information from the player, even when it is extremly obvious and logical that they should do so. The general hierarchy of screwedness is as follows:
    • "Don't worry about it" - You should be very worried.
    • "It's not important" - It's extremely important.
    • "It's nothing." - It's definitely something. And said something is a thing that needs to be shared with the rest of the group. Now.
    • "But could that mean?... No, impossible." - Yes it does and no it's not.
    • "I'll tell you later." - They'll tell you after a sizeable portion of the world's population has died as a result of them not sharing this information. This is always somehow your fault.
  • Also shows up in the game that Symphonia is a prequel to, Tales of Phantasia, in which the entirety of the plot, with all its casualties, was the result of Dhaos not having bothered to explain that he needed a mana seed and the humans were currently using too much mana for the tree to produce one, and instead going directly to "attack humans until their mana usage drops", which proves counterproductive.
  • In the fighting game, Last Blade, three siblings end up fighting each other with bladed weapons because A) the one suspected of killing their master is too much of a loner to bother saying he's innocent, B) his brother won't stop and listen to their sister (who knows who really killed their master), and C) they both find it appropriate to thwart their sister's attempts to communicate with them by attacking her with swords.
  • A lot of problems in Touhou could be solved by talking it over. Instead they're solved with danmaku bullets. Of course everyone sits down and has a nice cup of tea together afterwards so it's allright.
    • In Imperishable night Keine attacks the protagonists thinking that they are out to attack the human village. Later on you fight either Marisa or Reimu depending on who you didn't pick to play as. Marisa is simply clueless so you end up blowing her away rather than explaining and Reimu accuses whoever you're playing as of causing the endless night (to be fair, she's right). Once you find Eirin, the instigator of the game's events, you discover that she was about to take the false moon down anyways.
    • In Labyrinth of Touhou, a whole slew of people pick on Reimu's party because they think Reimu caused the incident and wouldn't hear it any other way until they get blown up in the face. They are visibly shocked when they meet Sanae later, who claims that people must be senile to thinks someone as lazy as Reimu can cause an incident of its scale. Yukari to Rinnosuke (and the party eventually) as well, although she does have a good reason for the fact that she Cannot Spit It Out The same people are also the ones who are really straight examples of Defeat Means Friendship in the game, as opposed to most optional characters who aren't really recruited so much via Defeat Means Friendship as opposed to Defeat Means You're Coming Whether You Like It Or Not.
  • In Neverwinter Nights 2, Shadra Jerro wouldn't had had to die if she could have gotten her Grandfather line out before her grandfather Amnon Jerro blasted her for releasing the demons and devils that gave him his extra powers (and minor demon army).
    • Also, a lot of people wouldn't have had to die if Ammon Jerro had just returned to Neverwinter and tried convincing people that the King of Shadows was becoming a threat again. It is not entirely unlikely they would have taken him seriously - since he originally died fighting him. Instead he launches his own search for the Shards to remake the Silver Sword of Gith, and on his way settles a few old scores - leaving quite a few dead bodies - many of whom were on the PC's side.
      • Furthermore, while trying to get Neverwinter's support is a questionable idea, simply stopping to talk to the hero one of the many times they crossed paths would've prevented a LOT of unnecessary bloodshed. To make it worse, when they do finally team up, Ammon keeps blaming the hero for everything that's happened. It takes influence and the right words in an optional scene to finally get him to admit to some guilt over his deeds.
    • Not to mention how the conflict and bloodshed of chapter 1 could've easily been avoided if Zeearie had actually explained why she needed the silver shards.
    • While we're on the subject of BioWare RPGs, Knights of the Old Republic contains a joke the player character can tell based on this trope. A group of Sith ask the player to make them laugh, and they'll let him live in return. The player can fight, or go right into a wonderful joke (requires decent ranks in Persuade): Two Mandalorians are walking through the forests of Dxun, when they're attacked by an animal. One is critically wounded, but the other manages to kill the beast. The standing one radios back to base, saying, "My partner's wounded! What do I do?" His commanding officer responds, "Relax, trooper. First, make sure if your partner's dead." Blasterfire echoes through the communicator, followed by "Okay, now what?"
      • Though if you go to Korriban after The Reveal, while playing as a dark-side character, there is a much better example. If the inhabitants of the Sith Academy had just decided to believe you when you tell them you are Darth Revan, you would be able to take over the Academy with a whole lot less bloodshed.
        • To be fair, none of them have the remotest reason to believe you. Not only have they never met you, most of them weren't even recruited into the Sith until after you left. You went around in a full-identity-concealing mask and getup anyway. And Darth Revan was last seen being surrounded by an entire strike force of pissed-off Jedi Masters before eating a full turbolaser broadside from a starship, so nobody has the slightest reason to suspect he's still alive.
  • Partially into the second third of Final Fantasy V, the party passes through a town of werewolves led by Kelgar, a wolf who once fought Exdeath alongside Galuf. As Galuf explains that the other three party members came from the "other half" of the world, Kelgar jumps to the conclusion that they work for Exdeath and were responsible for his release. Without giving Galuf a chance to deny this (never mind that he was the one who introduced them in the first place), he challenges main character Bartz to a fight to the death, which ends with the wolf bedridden for the rest of his life. Any possible explanation of how he reached his conclusion would be appreciated, especially considering that the two halves have never been at war at any point, and that the player is meant to acknowledge that Kelgar is a hero.
  • In StarCraft: Brood War Judicator Aldaris learns that the Dark Templar Matriarch is being mind-controlled by Kerrigan. Instead of calmly informing Zertaul and Artanis upon their return to Shakuras, he incites a rebellion and babbles on like a deranged zealot. He nearly does get to tell them what's going on, but by then he wasted so much time spouting off apparent nonsense that Kerrigan manages to surround and kill him.
    • Pretty much all of StarCraft: Brood War is an example of poor communication killing, or Kerrigan taking advantage of people's poor communication. The battles between the UED and the Dominion probably could have been avoided if the UED had attempted diplomacy, and Kerrigan probably couldn't have screwed over the Protoss so badly if Zeratul and Artanis still had contact with Raynor and Fenix. As things were, by the time those guys realized that teaming up was better than continuing to fight each other, it was too late to stop Kerrigan.
    • It's stated in background info that in this universe, the United Earth Directorate is far from diplomatic...
    • In a bizarre example, your poor communication also kills. Your character witnesses Duran abandon his position and allow the zerg to overrun a UED position. In the very next mission, your character also witnesses Duran tricking DuGalle into thinking that Stukov is the real traitor. Your character inexplicably does not mention Duran's treachery.
    • Also done in the sequel. Valerian Mengsk seeks to ally his forces with Raynor's Raiders to stop Kerrigan. Yet he only waits to tell them this after they've fought their way into his ship, killing countless men in the process and causing plenty of damage. One simple transmission could have saved so much trouble.
  • Warcraft 3. Oi, you lot! Night elves! You know that big forest you've got, with the moonglades and everything? Yeah, you might want to consider putting up a sign that says "KEEP OUT or please knock in case of ancient enemy when all must unite." I know it doesn't have the style of killing everyone who "defiles these lands," but you could still do that. The sign might cut down on the actual defilement. That way if the ancient thing did show up, it wouldn't find the living at each other's throats and you'd all have an easier time. If you couldn't keep the sign in repair since you're above noticing such vulgarities as the flow of time, you could invent an alarm clock. Surely someone who basks in their own greatness as much as you do can do that. Of course, if you prefer killing people, it's not my place to judge. I was just figuring. * Ahem* Illidan Stormrage from is a bad example by night elf standards. Just about everything he's ever done, especially after he was freed from his prison, has been a terrible idea done for the right reasons, but since he never bothers to tell anyone, they assume he's evil. Specifically:
    • He consumes the Super-Oh-My-God powerful demonic artifact, the Skull of Gul'Dan and turns into a half demon, but only because that's the only way he can not only deny the Burning Legion its power, but defeat the otherwise invulnerable burning legion forces that would've conquered Azeroth. He never mentions this to anyone, so his brother tells him to go away, since he's clearly only looking after himself.
    • He uses another powerful artifact to attempt to destroy the Scourge (and Yogg-Saron by virtue of the fact that Saron's prison is well inside the line of fire), but doesn't bother to tell anyone, so everyone rushes to stop him assuming he's doing something evil.
    • He attacks the Scourge in Icecrown, trying to finish what he started, but never bothers to let his brother or any of the people with massive armies and a score to settle know, so he loses the fight.
    • He conquers Outland to raise an army not only to defeat the Burning Legion, but also to try fighting the Scourge again, but never tells anyone so we go and kill him in World of Warcraft.
    • Despite being dead, he will probably do this sort of thing at least three more times, including once in an alternative timeline. Indeed, he did it again in the novels The War of the Ancients (which actually happens before what was already mentioned), like when he joins the Burning Legion to act as a mole... but never tells anyone, so everyone thinks he really is a traitor. Or when he creates another Well of Eternity...
    • In fact, with the way he was treated in Burning Crusade, (made the main villain until Blizzard remembered that the Burning Crusade was the Burning Legion's Crusade and not Illidan's, and added Kil'jaeden as a last-minute boss) it would seem as if Illidan forgot to remind Blizzard themselves about his previous motivations. Poor Illidan. Of course, most of it is his own fault, and on at least a few occasions he was motivated to act alone by wanting the glory of being the lone hero.
    • Also, Medivh could have been a lot more forthcoming when he warned people about the approaching conflict. Its not a big shocker that King Menethil, Arthas, Antonidas et. all don't believe him when he shows up, rambles about coming catastrophe in vague terms, then flies away in a huff when he's not immediately obeyed.
  • Any online game where you have to work as a team, such as in Left 4 Dead. Things will quickly go down the drain if players fail to even tell their teammates what plans they have or what is going on.
    • In Left 4 Dead especially, this quickly reaches horrifying levels when A) you realize that the overwhelming majority of players do not own (or do not correctly use) microphones, B) your allies do have microphones but don't speak your native language, and C) for a brief period during the development cycle, Valve was planning to deliberately not include voice chat functionality (supposedly to help immerse the player in the Zombie Horror atmosphere, although this idea was implemented in Resident Evil Outbreak, which probably did not help the games sell.)
      • Even if no one uses any form of communication in Left 4 Dead, the survivor characters constantly vocalize what is going on so that everyone can understand the current situation. Despite this, some players fail to save others who are in trouble because they weren't listening.
  • This is utilized in a malicious manner by the titular Mastermind in a flash movie based off of Mastermind: World Conqueror. He uses it to confuse a superhero before pressing the Shark Tank button.

Superhero: I'm here to deliver a tall frosty glass of justice!
Mastermind: No, no, I ordered a glass of just ice!
Superhero: Just ice?
Mastermind: Yeah, a glass with only ice in it! Seriously, not a single **** ing thing gets done around here... **** .
Superhero: I'll get a glass for you, then.
Mastermind: Be a dear, won't you? [presses button]
Superhero: [Drops into the Shark Pool]
Mastermind: Evil Laugh] You stupid *** hole!

  • While a lack of communication will cause casualties, in America's Army this trope is also subverted. When a player throws a grenade, the soldier will shout "Frag out" (albeit in a foreign language), giving away his position and alerting the enemy to the incoming grenade.
  • In Devil May Cry 3, Dante finds Arkham's dead body, and is immediately confronted about it by his daughter. She asks if Dante killed him, and in spite of having no involvement whatsoever in his death, Dante responds "So what if I did?" Cue a fierce battle between the two...
  • Near the end of Professor Layton and the Diabolical Box, we learn that the "vampire", Anton, is upset because he thought Sophia had left him for another man. Understandable, as she said something that could easily be interpreted that way! Is that really better than saying, "You're going to be a father, but I can't raise a child here. Since you can't leave, I've got to leave you."
  • In Brutal Legend, Eddie uses some very flimsy evidence and some epic conclusion jumping to accuse Ophelia of being a demon - cue a broken cutie, Face Heel Turn, and pain for everybody. Then it gets worse. All of which could have been avoided if Eddie hadn't been such a prat, and they'd spent a couple of minutes talking things out.
    • To be fair, everyone was very upset due to recent events, and many players will be thinking the same as Eddie at that point. There's a fairly good set-up of making Ophelia look guilty as hell.
  • The Proxians from Golden Sun. Though you'd have a hard time believing the civilization was acting for the greater good when their first team of warriors accidentally destroy the hero's hometown and show no remorse for it. It also doesn't help that Agatio was hoping for Prox to take over Weyard.
    • It is implied that Saturos and Menardi tried to explain the truth to the Vale elders, but when they didn't believe them, they were forced to take drastic action.
    • A second example in The Lost Age: when Sheba tells Karst about the fate of Saturos & Menardi, she simply says that Isaac killed them both. This makes Isaac seem to be a murderer, so Karst's Roaring Rampage of Revenge seems reasonable, as does her later confusion when Felix tries to defend Isaac from her. The truth is that Saturos & Menardi attacked Isaac & friends with intent to kill, and their deaths were a double-suicide after Isaac & friends successfully fought them off, nonlethally, twice. Did anybody ever explain this to Karst? No.
  • The backstory of off-beat adventure game The Bizarre Adventures of Woodruff and the Schnibble has a shining example: when humans first arrived at the Hill, the Bazouks decided to scare them off. Their means was a giant statue of an armed, armored Bazouk warrior. The humans read this as a threat, and the resulting war began a long history of mistreatment for the Bazouks.
  • The liberation of a powerfull demon in the end of Dawn of War could be averted if the Eldar knew any other way of communicating with humans besides "Stupid humans, you don't know what you're doing!"
  • Phantom of Inferno. The whole problem with Cal in Act 3 could have been completely averted if Reiji had just told her how happy he was to see that she was still alive instead of keeping it in monologue and being defensive and confrontational at every given opportunity for no particular reason. Cal even prompts Reiji to tell his side of the story several times in hopes that he'll give her an excuse to back down.
  • Storeowner Bosco's paranoia is a subplot in the first two seasons of Sam and Max games. His paranoia is somewhat justified, as he is indeed being watched by private detectives sent by his mother, who never gets over a long-past incidence when a mysterious man trashed the store. Turns out the vandal is none but Bosco himself traveling back in time. Being constantly under surveillance takes the toll of Bosco's sanity, turning him into a full-blown Conspiracy Theorist, and the mother dies because of her son's conspiracy-motivated experiment. A crazy son accidentally killing his mother: it is very depressing once the Fridge Horror sinks in.
  • The Architect in Dragon Age: Awakening is made of this trope. He is seeking ways in which the humans and the Darkspawn could coexist peacefully. One of his experiments fails, threatening the Arling of Amaranthine; he decides that the best course of action is to send a posse of hundreds of Darkspawn led by his disciple Withered to seek help from the Grey Wardens, traditional enemies of the Darkspawn. Needless to say, the Wardens interpret this as an attack, and the Withered decides to improvise, planning to kill everybody except the Wardens, so that they could be taken as prisoners to the Architect who could explain that he means no harm. It works as well as expected. And when your own character meets the Architect, he decices that before explaining anything he should do some experiments with your blood first. He truly is the king of poor communication skills.
    • He is a little better in The Calling prequel novel, but not by much. Apparently, he doesn't understand the concept of "arguing", when he simply kills Genevieve for having doubts about his plan. He does spend the time explaining to everyone his idea.
    • With the entire second game feeling kind of rushed, many of the side quests simply end in completely unneccessary masacres.
      • The worst offender would be Marethari, who tells Merrill that trying to repair an ancient magic mirror was dangerous and would only and badly. While Merrill was very convinced and even accepted exile instead of giving up, there was absolutely no reason not to tell her that the demon who told her how it can be repaired was tricking her into releasing it from its prision. While willing to risk her own life, she would never let anyone else come to harm and even if she had not believed it, there was no reason not to try explaining it. Her death can then lead the ENTIRE CLAN to attack Merril, forcing you to wipe them all out, unless you pick the right dialogue option.
  • Ace Attorney has this problem a lot. Vague letters or notes with no clear addressee on them are the most common culprits, although the entire backstory of "Bridge to the Turnabout" could have been solved by good communication without anyone dying. The last one is tragically lampshaded by Godot, who points out that the whole situation would never have happened if he had simply told Phoenix what was going on instead of trying to redeem himself.
  • In Team Fortress 2, if only the BLU Soldier and RED Demoman had just talked to each other instead of rushing at each other with rocket launcher and pipe bombs a-blazing, the whole WAR could have been averted, their friendship could have been saved, and they could be having ribs together right now.
    • Alternately, if they had talked to each other first, they could have come to the conclusion both teams were being played, convinced their teammates of this, convinced their superiors of this, and rallied both companies together, which would lead to the Administrator, Saxton, and every higher-up at Mann Co. and TF Industries collectively having more dots on their domes than any Hale could hope to survive. Machiavellian and disgusting though she may be, the Administrator had pragmatic reasons for breaking them up.

"Talking?! Friendship is even worse than I thought. No, this won't do at all. If they talk, Miss Pauling, they might talk about work. And if they talk about work... they might talk about us."

  • Kingdom Hearts:
    • The plot of Kingdom Hearts: Birth By Sleep practically runs on this. If Terra and Aqua had compared notes more often they probably could have prevented most of the disaster and would have been able to stop Vanitas and Ventus making Xehanort's weapon and if Master Eraqus had just told the three of them "Xehanort can't be trusted" they would probably be around to stop the events of Video Game/Kingdom Hearts and Kingdom Hearts II, many of which wouldn't have even happened in the first place, instead of each being trapped somewhere. That's not even considering how much could have been prevented if had told them everything else he knows about the guy. It Gets Worse when you factor in Mickey Mouse. If you remember from KHII, he had actually met Xehanort as Ansem The Wise's apprentice in the past. However, since he never met or heard about Terra OR Xehanort in Birth By Sleep, he can't get suspicious, despite his master, Yen Sid knowing about it all.
  • Kingdom Hearts 358 Days Over 2 is absolutely full of this. You have Axel witholding information from Roxas and Xion, Xion keeping secrets from Axel and Roxas, DiZ and Riku keeping Mickey in the dark as far as their plans go, and any actual cooperation between the trios at a minimum. The result of all this is bleak, to say the least.
  • This almost happens in Assassin's Creed Brotherhood, where Niccolo Machiavelli likes being so secretive and mysterious that he alienates his closest allies, which along with some circumstancial evidence leads them becoming convinced that he's a traitor to their cause. Only a happy coincidence and quick acting on Ezio's part prevent him from getting a dagger in his back. Afterwards they even acknowledge that they should actually talk with each other more often.
    • In Revelations, Ezio is asked by Prince Suleiman to assassinate the Janissary captain Tarik Barleti, both for the assassination attempt on Suleiman and for colluding with an enemy of the empire. Although Ezio successfully kills his target, the dying Tarik reveals that he'd actually been acting on his own initiative as a double agent (intending to undermine said enemy of the empire), and Suleiman later mourns that Tarik had not informed him of this.
    • In The Lost Archive DLC, Lucy Stillman betrayed the Assassins and joined the Templars because her former mentor William Miles cut off all communications with her during her deep cover assignment, effectively abandoning her for years. Warren Vidic, knowing she was an Assassin all along filled the void in her life and convinced her to join the Templars. The Assassins and their allies seem to have a real problem with this trope.
  • Half the frustration of playing Operator's Side/Lifeline, where the player has to verbally convey instructions to the character (i.e., "run", "shoot", "dodge left"). If the game cannot interpret what the player is attempting to say correctly, the character will not do what the player wants her to do. It can require a very high level of patience to put up with a mediocre game if the player tends to speak with an accent (by "accent", something that deviates from "standard English", i.e., that found in Chicago.)
  • In Free Space, the original conflict between the Terrans and Vasudans is largely sparked by the Terrans screwing up a Vasudan linguistic ritual called "The Conversation."
  • Damn near the entire plot of Arc Rise Fantasia took place because Prince Weiss never bothered to explain the setting's Dark Secrets to his brothers until it was too late and they had already both unknowingly made a Deal with the Devil, one of them having gone too far in doing so to turn back in good conscience.
  • Odin Sphere, from the first of Gwendolyn's chapters to the last of Velvet's, is built on this trope. The characters never talk about what's important before it's too late and it ends up not only killing (especially Oswald, who kills himself because he thinks Gwendolyn doesn't love him), but going the whole nine yards causing The End of the World as We Know It. Not only does Poor Communication Kills set the plot in motion, it keeps it going, and going, and going.
  • In the 1st Degree had this trope occur. Ruby knew that her boyfriend Tobin had a gun in his possession, but she said nothing about it because she was afraid (which she puts a Lampshade Hanging on). She may have a point, because Tobin was a bad boyfriend for her. Simon showed Tobin the gun Zack had locked in his desk drawer, because Simon was worried that Zack was going to kill his boss Tobin. Too bad he didn't realize that Tobin was going to kill Zack and not the other way around until it was too late. Yvonne Barnes actually has a tape recording of Tobin threatening her husband Zack, because Tobin was trying to get money as part of insurance fraud, and Zack didn't want to be part of it. She did not reveal anything about this before, because she was trying to protect her husband's reputation from being ruined by him being implicated in an art theft and insurance fraud.
  • As the various conspiracies going on in the story are too numerous to list for brevity's sake, let us just say that had the antagonists of the Metal Gear Solid games simply sat down and talked with Snake (or Raiden) then the various tragedies and unfortunate consequences of the ENTIRE series could have been avoided. I avoid using the word villain because the major antagonists like Revolver Ocelot and Big Boss actually had very good reasons to do the things that they did, and because they never share this knowledge with Snake he is left none the wiser and treats them as terrorists, this inevitably forces their plans to reach their logical conclusions much later than what was intended.
  • In Solatorobo, Idol Singer Cocona receives a letter from the Howler Sky Pirates warning her of their imminent arrival, and it's Red's job to stop them from apparently attempting to kidnap her. After fighting off a few of them, their leader explains that the sky pirates are just really big fans of hers and wanted to get some autographs. The letter was just a friendly warning about them coming over, which is hard to come across as benign, given their occupation.
  • Pretty much the entirety of Dragon Quest IX could have been prevented by someone letting Corvus know Serena was tricked instead of selling him out to the Gittish Empire. Greygnarl had already trashed Gitt and killed all the important bad guys after Corvus's capture, and whatever means Corvus used to resurrect them all and then kill God while still shackled in his prison could presumably have been used somewhat less destructively for an SOS to the Celestrians to break him out.

Web Comics

  • In this Order of the Stick strip, Thog is questioned by a prison guard, and gives an honest and accurate account that confirms Elan's attempt to explain that he was framed by his Evil Twin brother Nale. However, Thog's statement is chock-full of homophones (and far more elaborate than his usual speech), rendering it comprehensible (with a bit of effort) to the reader but total gibberish to the guard.
    • Elan's aforementioned attempt to explain just digs him into deeper trouble, but that isn't an example of this trope—for him, it's perfectly in character to go off on ill-considered tangents.
    • In a particularly tragic example of this, Varsuuvius in the Battle of Azure City is inadvertently discovered by fleeing soldiers who stumble upon him while invisible. They ask hir to save them with hir magic, but since s/he fled the battle because s/he was out of spells, the soldiers stand around allowing the hobgoblins to catch up and slaughter them. V might have convinced them to continue running if s/he said "I am out of spells you fools! Flee for your lives!", though doing so might have made the hobgoblins aware of him as well. V spends the next few months in a sleep-deprived equivalent state so as not to relive that nightmare.
      • V's verbosity is such a strong characteristic that this could indicate the dream was a guilt-induced distortion rather than a true flashback of the events.
    • It gets worse: when V tells hir mate that s/he made a Deal with the Devil to save hir and their children, and s/he gets angry. S/he insists that s/he doesn't know the whole story. S/he admits this, but calls hir on keeping the power she needed to save their family, and asks hir to make a choice between hir power and their family. V could have tried to explain more, if only to justify hirself and why s/he needs (or wants) to keep hir power a little longer, but instead s/he just says that s/he needs to make everything right again. An ultimatum had been issued and time was slipping away, but for someone who wants to keep both, V certainly isn't acting in a manner that will let hir do so. Though hir mental state may be justified.
      • Or, quite possibly, Varsuuvius couldn't even think of a way to weasel hir way out of this one. V knew s/he did it for all the wrong reasons and didn't want to confess that.
    • Lord Shojo's death was a literal example of this trope. While in some ways, his Obfuscating Insanity and scheming served him sell during his life, it came to bite him in the ass when the insanely overzealous Miko misinterprets his behavior as that of a traitor and with her typical yell of "smite evil", kills him. Since he wasn't evil, she loses her Paladin status/powers.
  • In Girl Genius, much bloodshed could be avoided if certain main characters (most notably Agatha Heterodyne and Baron Klaus Wulfenbach and his son Gilgamesh) simply sat down and talked to each other. Instead, distrust and misunderstandings lead to characters fighting each other and working at cross-purposes when they could be allies, while the real enemy gets away. Happened especially during the Sturmhalten story arc. Tarvek deliberately sabotaging Agatha's holographic message to the Baron about Lucrezia being the Other and having taken over her body didn't help either. Instead, the edited message made it sounds like she was accusing the Baron of being the Other. And Dimo apparently forgot his previous conviction that the Baron should be informed ASAP about the Geisterdamen with the Hive Engines leaving Sturmhalten through underground tunnels. Various characters have pieces of the puzzle, but crucial information is not relayed. If only they shared this information, they could easily resolve their problems.
    • Objection - if only they shared this information, Baron Wulfenbach would dissect Agatha, seeing as how she's possessed by the Other and all that's holding her back is a single flimsy amulet. As Gilgamesh said, let's be fair: He does have cause.
      • On top of that, every last one of them is either a Mad Scientist or a creation thereof, both classifications of individual not normally known for their ability to think on a level we usually call "normal", let alone communicate on it.
        • Exemplified in this comic, where the wrong impression is given simply because the relaying party has a different perception of the words, and thus gets the meaning wrong.
        • The root of it is probably that the Big Bad is very good at sowing deception and hostility within groups. Something, probably the Big Bad, causing Barry to mistrust the Baron, resulting in the problems caused in the earlier chapters, while the problems caused in later chapters were most definitely due to the Big Bad's moles and hidden supporters along with seceretly mind controlling first Agatha and now the Baron
      • However, they eventually could compare notes with Gil, making him the guy who knows the most about what's going on.
      • This is hopefully what will save them from an Agatha vs. the Baron war in the end (assuming that the Baron's subordiantes, running the show while he's down for the count, don't put a rush order on- Wooster slowed that down, but may not have completely scuttled it)--Gil is the only party Klaus and Agatha both have reason to trust and who would be in a position to MAKE them both listen. Especially if they come up with a dead body/captured body of Zola-with-Other and a lot of supporting testimony that the Other's not really trying to use Agatha any more. There's also the possibility Zeetha's presence can sway the Baron one way or another, once he finds out she isn't here to kill Gil.
      • A lot of grief might have been saved had DuPree actually sent a device team down to analyze Agatha's transmitter in Sturmhalten, instead of just joking about doing it and then bombing the damn thing... after the damage was done anyway.
    • Klaus immediately ordered to lock Agatha up and keep sedated when he discovered who she is, before Sturmhalten, back on the airship. Much the same for Punch and Judy. Not only does this set a bad tone in his interaction with Agatha, but together with Dr. Beetle's involvement and suspicions about Klaus in his notes[1], this adds up to a "big picture" of the setup. That is, the start of Girl Genius story is set during a late stage in escalation of distrust between Klaus and Barry, which soon blew up openly.
    • Eventually, Gil receives an uncorrupted copy of a courier clank message and discusses this matter with Tarvek.
  • "Bee" from The Perry Bible Fellowship.
  • In Panthera, Onca, who is inexperienced with her transformation, and consequently has trouble speaking in it, barely manages to convey the message that they've been tricked and are fighting the good guys instead of the bad guys to Tigris. However, in an almost comedic case of You Have to Believe Me, she fails to provide any of the evidence that led her to this conclusion, resulting in Tigris being disgusted that the villains managed to trick Onca into switching sides in a few hours. It doesn't help that Tigris views Onca as dangerously incompetent and naive.
  • In El Goonish Shive, this is averted by Justin when confronted with an angry, incomprehensible fire monster; his first response is to try and work out a way to communicate, rather than go straight to beating the tar out of it. It attacks anyway, but it's the thought that counts.
  • In Dan and Mab's Furry Adventures, Aaryana nearly kills Dan because an Oracle's vaguely worded answer strongly implied that Dan killed her beloved mentor Destania aka Dan's mother. The misunderstanding is immediately cleared up by Dan's sister before any murder happens. Later in one strip the characters wonder why Oracles are always so vague; the last panel reveals that the cryptic bullcrap act is mandated by the Oracles' Union.
  • Lightning Made of Owls has one of those, with Oliver leaving a wrong impression on page 73.

Web Original

  • A literal example in Survival of the Fittest Simon Wood mistakes Darnell Butler for a player of the game (not altogether unreasonable, as he is holding a bloodied sword) and attacks, obstentatiously to buy his girlfriend time to escape. Before Darnell can get the chance to explain, he has accidentally killed Simon.
  • Played for laughs in Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog. When Dr. Horrible tries to warn Captain Hammer about the broken Death Ray, he interrupts, saying "I have no time for your warnings, Dr. Horrible". Then proceeds to toss off a one-liner before firing. It doesn't end well
  • Doug Walker really doesn't like this cliche.

Western Animation

  • As the Kangaroo Court episode shows, Aang from Avatar: The Last Airbender does not have a future as a defense attorney. More specifically, he was put on trial for "crimes" his past life had committed, and when his friends Katara and Sokka coach him with various innocence proving facts, he sort of... spazzes out.
    • There's also the communication gap of life-or-death proportions in "The Phoenix King". Zuko is outraged at the rest of the Gaang's seemingly slacking off when Sozin's Comet is due any day. Turns out they forgot to tell him that they've figured the Fire Nation already rules the whole world so they might as well just wait until after the comet's come and gone before fighting the Fire Lord again. Zuko then tells them the Fire Nation is going to use the comet to burn the Earth Kingdom to the ground, which he's slightly more justified in withholding from the rest as he assumed they were still planning to have the fight before the comet arrived.

Aang: Why didn't you tell me about your dad's crazy plan before?
Zuko: I didn't think I had to. I assumed you were still going to fight him before the comet. No one told me you decided to wait!

    • Thankfully, though, he at least manages to bridge said communication gap, because everyone takes Sozin's Comet way more seriously after that!
  • Near the end of the second season of Justice League Unlimited, the Watchtower's energy cannon is hacked into and used to blow up the headquarters of the Government Conspiracy, also destroying a good portion of a small town, for the sake of making the League look bad. The League goes out to help the survivors, and a man asks The Flash why they're helping when they shot at them in the first place. Instead of saying "Our satellite was hijacked by an enemy," Flash stutters out, "We didn't... I..."
    • To be fair, "An unknown third-party jacked our Kill Sat" doesn't sound much better.
    • Another example was in The Terror Beyond; Solomon Grundy has been "recruited" by Aquaman and Doctor Fate to help prevent a Cthluhu-Expy from coming unsealed. Superman, Wonder Woman, and Hawkgirl come to stop them, believing they were up to no good. Rather than explaining the situation, Fate teleports Aquaman, Wonder Woman, Supes, and Grundy across the globe to have them fight it out, while he gets his ass handed to him by Hawkgirl. Great job, Doc.
      • Dr Fate can be excused for this due to the fact that a lot of his odder actions are actually the work of Nabu, the entity contained within the helmet. It will often make a decision that's best for the big picture but may end up hurting, or killing, the current wearer of the helmet.
      • In fact, all the characters can be excused for this. Doctor Fate's team is standing in for Marvel's The Defenders. The situation would make more sense in that universe, as opposed to the more optimistic world of The DCAU. For example, Aquaman, even in this show, isn't as much of a Jerkass as Namor tends to be.
    • Then there was the time Metron stopped time to warn Luthor not to continue in his attempt to revive Brainiac, but neglected to explain why. It was Darkseid he was about to bring back to life.
  • South Park combined this with Political Correctness Gone Mad once. The boys were trying to tell their parents, etc. that they were weirded out by Mr. Garrison's new lifestyle choice. The parents thought their use of "gay" as a slur aimed at homosexuals; the boys' used the word "gay" to mean Mr. Garrison is openly performing flagrant sexual acts in front of the entire class.
    • It doesn't help that when Mr. Garrison and his partner, Mr. Slave, are asked to make a speech in front of the parents, they're intentionally trying to be as offensive as possible with their homosexuality as part of a Get Rich Quick Scheme to sue the school for discrimination. He becomes increasingly frustrated as the audience can't stop talking about how "brave" they're being.
      • And just to top it off - Mr. Garrison and Mr. Slave are subsequently sent to the same "Rehabilitation Camp" as the boys had been sent to, since they "obviously [couldn't] tolerate your own behavior!"
    • There was also another episode, "Raisins", where Wendy broke up with Stan. Stan gets Jimmy to tell her that she is a "continuing source of inspiration to him". Unfortunately, Jimmy gets stuck on the first syllable of "continuing", so it sounds like he's saying "you are a cunt". Wendy is offended and walks away, and only then can Jimmy finish the sentence. Maybe not a good idea to send the boy with the ghastly stutter on this errand.
    • Subverted in "The F Word". When the boys write "fags get out!" to get rid of the obnoxiously loud Harley bikers, the town demands an explanation to why they wrote hate speech against homosexuals. The boys explain they were referring to the bikers and the whole misunderstanding is solved in about 5 minutes.
    • South Park loves to play this for laughs. There's an episode-long example in which Subway spokesman Jared confesses that he only lost so much weight because of his aides, which everyone interprets as AIDS. By the end of the episode, he's angrily muttering to himself that he doesn't understand why everyone hates him for offering to give aides/AIDS to children, while literally beating a dead horse.
  • Parodied in The Simpsons, when Fat Tony and his mob come to kill Homer in one episode, they find themselves under fire from an unknown sniper. Attempting to get a visual on their assailant, Fat Tony asks Johnny Tightlips if he saw the shooter. Unfortunately, Johnny "sees alotta things". Which isn't exactly that helpful in the current situation.
    • In another episode, Johnny Tightlips has been shot during a gunfight:

Legs: Johnny Tightlips, where'd they hit ya?
Johnny: I ain't sayin' nothin'.
Legs: But what'll I tell the doctor?
Johnny: Tell him to suck a lemon.

  • Many of the worse parts of Transformers Animated could have been avoided if Sumdac had told them about how he found their "friend" Megatron...
    • Megatron realized this too—the first thing he did when Sumdac noticed he had been reactivated was to make up a sob story about how he was ashamed of his ruined state and made Sumdac promise not to reveal his condition to his "fellow" Autobots.
  • Adventure Time: Princess Bubblegum needs the Ice King to howl with pain. She tells Finn and Jake that part, but not why. And then leaves them to guard him. She was called away at the last moment, but it wouldn't've been particularly hard to say, "A plague is affecting my land and I need his howls to cure it."
  • Invoked in the SpongeBob SquarePants episode "Chocolate With Nuts" with a character that is so insanely enthusiastic about the prospect of buying some chocolate from door-to-door salesmen Spongebob and Patrick that he scares them away for the entire episode, both afraid that they've pressed his Berserk Button instead. "CHOCOLAAATE!"
  • In The Little Mermaid II, Melody is never told why she's not to go beyond the seawall. This becomes extremely problematic once Melody finds her grandfather's gift to her.
  • In one episode of Chowder a rat that ordered a roast from the main cast burst out of his rat hole snarling and lunging at them. It's not until the very end after a harrowing car chase that he tells them that he is their customer.
  • In My Little Pony Friendship Is Magic "Party of One", Pinkie Pie interrogates Spike to find out why the other ponies are avoiding her after-party-party for Gummy. Her aggression freaks him out and he takes her demand ("tell me that my friends are avoiding me because they don't like my parties and THEY DON'T WANT TO BE MY FRIENDS ANYMORE!") literally. She takes it as confirmation of her fears and becomes bitter and miserable.
    • Similarly, in "Swarm of the Century", Pinkie actually knows exactly how to rid the town of the Parasprites, but utterly fails to explain this to anyone else (because she's too busy trying to save the town single-handedly), causing a whole slew of other problems.
    • It happens again in "Bridle Gossip", where Zecora attempts to warn the cast that they've wandered into a patch of magical plants. Unfortunately, due to the fact that she insists on rhyming everything, it ends up sounding like a threat, and when the effects of the plants kick in the cast blames Zecora for cursing them. It doesn't help that that they're already somewhat scared of her.
  • The Avengers: Earth's Mightiest Heroes episode "Everything Is Wonderful" fits this trope to a T. All Tony Stark had to do was inform business rival Simon Williams that the latter's company was going under and Stark himself was only purchasing it to save it. Instead of doing this flat-out, he remained aloof, inattentive, unfeeling, and cold as Simon was practically weeping at his feet. Hank Pym called him out on it, and even though Stark knew what he was doing, it still didn't drive him to run after Simon as he stormed out in a huff. And then Simon gets transformed into a being of pure energy, driven only to destroy Stark for his perceived callousness.
  • In one episode of Phineas and Ferb Candace jumps to the conclusion that her best friend is dumping her when she gets the text message "CYL BFF". Cryptic, but one might expect a teenager glued to her phone to know that it meant "See you later, best friend forever" and not "Candace, you loser. Bad friendships fail".
  • The relationship between Rex and his brother Cesar in season 3 of Generator Rex goes downhill because Cesar is too tight-lipped to explain why he is cooperating with Black Knight and helping her to collect the Meta-Nanites. He's planning to give that power to Rex.

Real Life

  • There is a (false) urban legend about Napoleon standing over a mass of prisoners. His men asked what to do, and Napoleon coughed, said something about it, and all the prisoners were killed. Apparently, the words "Ma sacrée toux!" (My damned cough!) sound a lot like "Massacrez tout!" (Kill them all!) Oops.
  • A real life example of this trope occurred during the Crimean War, during the infamous Charge of the Light Brigade, immortalized in the famous Tennyson poem. Poor communication, mutual jealousy and just plain incompetence among the British commanders led to the slaughter of hundreds of brave soldiers, sadly enough. Incidents like this led critics to later describe the Crimea as a "war of lions, led by donkeys."
  • The anime industry in the US and UK. Unless it pertains to them being awesome, most companies will say absolutely nothing in regards to their shows and often any issue that happens will hit fans square in the chops where there was a perfectly decent about of time for someone, say, ADV to say that they had lost the rights to something.
    • This was also one of the contributing factors to the end of the UK's Anime Central on TV.
  • The aviation industry uses a standardized vocabulary, English is used even when the pilots and controllers aren't native speakers, and air traffic instructions must be repeated by pilots to ensure mutual understanding. Many crashes and incidents have been caused because someone ignores, misunderstands, or assumes wrongly what someone else said, the most notable being the 1977 Tenerife airport collision. Investigations focused around several misunderstandings in communication, especially the Dutch co-pilot saying "We are at takeoff" - a phrase the controller interpreted as 'we are ready' not 'we are taking off'. Even worse, the controller answered just with "okay".
    • The book "Airport Intl." closed a chapter with an incident where the pilot called for "takeoff power"—putting the engines at takeoff power—and his co-pilot interpreted it as an order to "take off power", and crashed the plane. "Fortunately, these strangers met on a simulator."
    • The 1996 Charkhi Dadri Mid Air Collision is attributed to the Kazhak Pilots' poor English skills which led them to descend well below assigned altitude to that of the Saudi 747. Worse, ATC had no radar capable of measuring altitudes to warn them.
    • A midair collision in San Diego was caused in part by a critical misinterpreted word: the copilot on an airliner reported that he thought they'd passed by a small plane already, however a burst of static made it sound to the ground controller that they were passing the plane, leading the controller to assume they had the plane in sight and knew where it was relative to them: if he'd heard the word in the past tense, he might have realized they didn't know where the plane was as his radar clearly showed it was still in front of them.
    • Which speech act is being performed on which word is so important that you can't even say the T-O word over the radio anymore unless you're granting or revoking clearance to "depart", which means take to the skies. It's called "suppletion", the same thing that means "goed" and "runned" aren't words. You have to use an entirely different root just to carry this information with words in which suppletion has taken hold. You can read more about it on Wikipedia. Usually it only carries information such as tense and some/more/most and so forth, rarely if ever speech act, but apparently they had to change the English language itself just to learn from this one tragedy. I never knew the word "suppletion" before, and I never before realized suppletion had value.
  • Preventing this sort of situation is why modern militaries and other organizations make such a big deal about communicating in specific ways: NATO armies have a standard method to issue orders, air traffic control and pilots (and submarine and ship crews) acknowledge instructions by repeating them back, and so on.
    • It has been claimed that bad communication is the number one cause of major military disasters. From the top of my head, Gallipoli counts, and the Bravo Two Zero and the Black Hawk Down incident as well. The Grenada invasion of 1983 was full of communication snafus, but was saved due to the incompetence of the defenders.
    • Much of the butchery on the first day of the Somme was due to this: word of initial lodgements in the enemy front line with requests for urgent reinforcement prompted dispatch of said reinforcements, which is good military sense ("reinforce success"). By the time the message got through (no walkie-talkies in those days), the picture had changed and the reinforcements were massacred; the advancing barrage couldn't be called back to deal with unsuppressed machine guns; etc. etc. The tragedy of an industrial war in which communications technology lagged behind everything else. The British eventually fixed the problem by de-emphasising initiative and dash in favour of carefully rehearsed and scripted advances onto limited objectives and improvements in artillery technique, to the point where the last 100 days of the First Word War was a series of unbroken victories over the Germans.
    • The War of 1812, at least for the British. Especially as the long travel period required to carry any message between the British and American governments caused the Battle of New Orleans, the largest battle of the war, to be fought two months after both sides signed an armistice. The signed copy just hadn't gotten to the British commanders or the American government yet. The entirety of the war was this in some sense. America declared war due to several reasons stemming from the Napoleonic wars, such as blockading of ports and the impression of their sailors into the British navy. The law which had allowed the impression of sailors had been repealed just prior to the American declaration of war, but with the travel time across the Atlantic nobody knew one of the major reasons had been eliminated.
    • Tom Brodie, when reporting the situation to an American superior in The Korean War described his regiment's situation (Battle of the Imjin River) as "a bit sticky". The American didn't understand that was typical British understatement, told them to stay put (and did not promise reinforcements), and it didn't end well.
  • The Lydian king Croesus, thought to be the richest man of his age, went to the Oracle of the Delphi to ask what would happen if he invaded Persia. After being told that he "will destroy a great empire", Croesus went ahead and launched the invasion. Things did not go well for him, and he narrowly escaped being burned alive by Cyrus the Great. Later he sent another emissary to the Oracle asking for an explanation. Her response: Croesus had destroyed a great empire - his own.
    • The assumption though is that this was deliberate poor communication on the part of the Oracle so they could claim they were correct no matter who had won.
  • Henry II and the Archbishop of Canterbury Thomas Becket had disagreements over the rights and privileges of the Church. Four knights recently returned from the crusades overhead Henry saying "Who will rid me of this turbulent priest?" and interpreted this as a royal command. On December 29, 1170, they arrived at Canterbury and killed Becket when he refused to leave the cathedral. Henry soon after undertook public penance for his part in the murder, both because Becket was a friend (even if their friendship had been strained to the breaking point), and because his knights did murder the Archbishop of Canterbury, on what they assumed to be his orders.
    • Actually, what Henry really said was even more likely to accidentally spur his knights into rash action. It was something along the lines of "What miserable drones and traitors have I nourished and brought up in my household, who let their lord be treated with such shameful contempt by a low-born cleric?"
    • Nicely spoofed in the first series of Blackadder, when two knights overhear the King merely quoting Henry II in midst of a discussion about how glad he is not to have the same trouble (the King is actually very pleased with the job Edmund is doing as the new Archbishop). Of course, it doesn't help that the King is played by Brian Blessed and so everything that comes out of his mouth sounds like an angry command.
      • Or that the person he was quoting to wasn't paying attention, so he got frustrated and had to yell it more than once.
  • The Japanese High Command responded to the American demand for a surrender prior to the atomic bombings using the word mokusatsu as the operative phrase. Mokusatsu has a spectrum of meanings, from the intended "we are ignoring this as we are totally deadlocked on a response" to the literal translation which would be akin to "to kill with silent contempt". The Americans assumed the meaning was the literal version and bombed Hiroshima and Nagasaki. This has been used by the NSA as a textbook example of never assuming what the intended meaning of an ambiguous phrase is while translating.
  • There's a reason that in the US armed forces (and possibly other english-speaking NATO allies) you will have your ass chewed for requesting that someone "repeat" their last transmission. The proper request is "say again" because when "repeat" is used as a proword it means to send another artillery or naval gunfire barrage to the previous coordinates. Fire discipline is a wonderful thing.
  • "The world wonders" - during the Battle of Leyte Gulf in WWII a part of cryptographic padding (essentially a nonsense text to throw off enemy cryptographes) caused William F. Halsey of the USN 3rd Fleet to stop pursuit of a fleeing carrier group that was used as a decoy. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_world_wonders
  • Ever heard of the Shiloh Baptist Church Panic? It's widely considered to be one of the most bizarre disasters in U.S. history. On September 19, 1902, the predominantly African-American church in Birmingham, Alabama was hosting a convention with Booker T. Washington as the keynote speaker, and had recently moved to a new building, which featured a steep, narrow stairwell with brick walls on either side that led from the front doors to the sanctuary. During Washington's speech, the choir director and a man in the audience got in an argument over a vacant seat. Someone egged them on, yelling "Fight! Fight!" Unfortunately, the crowd—2,000 strong—misheard it as "Fire!" They rose en masse and made a mad dash for the stairs, pushing, shoving, tripping at the top of the stairs and falling, while others fainted out of sheer fright and were trampled. Eventually, the only way out of the church was blocked by a screaming wall of people 10 feet high. 110 people died from suffocation and internal injuries, and many more were injured.
  • During World War 2 a joint Navy/Air Force operation to supply the besieged island of Malta came to grief (or nearly so) because of a misunderstanding over the distance RAF airplanes had to cover to get there after taking off from an aircraft-carrier. The Royal Air Force always used statute miles and therefore thought the number was given in statute miles, but the Royal Navy had, as it always did, given the distance in nautical miles (1 nautical mile = 1.151 statute miles).
  • The San Bernardino train disaster, involving a cargo train taking a heavy load down a steep incline and going out of control, was caused by two of these.
    • First the cargo manifest wasn't filled out properly, leaving out the weight of the cargo, so a clerk did a quick visual inspection to guage the weight. The clerk didn't know that the cargo was heavier than the coal the cars were designed for, so he filled out 2/3 full, when they were actually at their full weight.
    • Second, the main engineer asked for two extra locomotives to help with braking, knowing that some of the existing engines had faulty brakes. However, he was never told that one of the additional engines also had faulty brakes, and the engineer on those engines never mentioned it, thinking the lead engineer was already told about the braking problem.
  • When the Mars Climate Orbiter was built, Maryland contractors built it under the assumption NASA was using the imperial system. NASA was actually using metric, so all the calculations for the Orbiter were off - with the result that a $330 million piece of technology vanished completely once it hit Mars' atmosphere.
  • Imperial/metric's been a common case of these across many disciplines. Probably too long a list to even start.
    • One flight across African desert was only saved by the onboard engineer who ignored the navigator's fuel calculations (where the navigator thought miles to be kilometers, which would naturally give you about half the required load) and just filled full - hilarity reinforced by "complicated" nature of the TU-134's fuel gauges. Far into the flight, after several minutes of total angst in the cabin when the navigator relaized his mistake, the engineer presented them with real fuel loads and commented: "Your fuel's gone, now we're flying on mine".
  • The Space Shuttle Challenger disaster was full of poor communication, some of it intentional. The company responsible for one of the most critical components of the shuttle (the O-rings that sealed the joints of the SRBs) had not tested them properly in very-low-temperature conditions. What information they had suggested that anything below about 40F would cause them to not function properly. The weather on the day of the launch was 31F, with an estimated temperature of about 8F around the O-rings. The company responsible for these critical components (Morton Thiokol) stalled for hours before lying to NASA and telling them to go ahead with launch and that the parts would hold. The reasoning after the fact by the engineers responsible for why they didn't do more to prevent the disaster is that they kept silent in protest of their employer's actions, knowing that the launch would inevitably fail and being unable to stop this because their employer would not risk the loss of business by telling NASA to hold back the launch. It didn't help matters that NASA put a great deal of pressure on Morton Thiokol to see the shuttle launched on time, giving them the impression that they would lose NASA's business if they didn't launch.
  • Russell Peters talks about a variant of this in one of his routines. He says that when a Filipino girl asked if he wanted to see her "susu" (breasts), he was confused because to Indians, "susu" means "pee-pee". So he tells the girl "Eww, no, flush it!", but the girl just thinks he's really kinky.
  • William the Conqueror's coronation was greeted so loudly outside Westminster Abbey that his soldiers thought a riot had erupted and proceeded to massacre everyone. A similar thing happened at Richard the Lion Heart's coronation but only Jews were killed.
  1. so far it's known only second hand, without details