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To err is human. Most people are aware of this, and recognize that we are all prone to the occasional act of clumsiness. Hence, when someone accidentally spills a drink, or steps on a foot, or knocks something over, most people are willing to forgive and forget if an apology is given.

This also means that people can, on occasion, do something generally mean-spirited to someone else in public, and potentially get away with it if it appears to have been a mistake. Of course, sometimes the person doing this wants everyone, particularly his or her victim, to know it was done very deliberately, and will communicate this by issuing an insincere or flat-out sarcastic apology.

Whether or not the character engaging in this behavior chooses to cover it with a sincere apology may depend on whether or not the character believes his or her audience will sympathize with the action. For example, if Alice is a particularly vicious and foul character who is not well liked, Charlene might choose to issue a sarcastic apology after dropping a plate of tartar sauce on her cleavage; her audience will smile because they all know that Alice had it coming, and they are pleased with Charlene's courage, knowing full well it wasn't really an accident. On the other hand, if Bob is a major Jerkass who is not especially well liked, he may attempt a sincere apology after "accidentally" tripping the much kinder and sympathetic Charlie; he knows that those watching don't like him, and the apology works as a pre-emptive defense. Of course, if Bob is very powerful, he might decide not to put any effort into making the apology sound sincere, since he really doesn't care what everybody thinks since there's nothing anybody can do about it.

This type of deliberate accident is often motivated by spite or revenge, although not always. Sometimes it's a necessity to divert someone's attention, gain someone's attention, plant a Tracking Device, or just get someone worked up. The key to this trope is that an action is being presented as a mistake on the part of the person doing it. Since there's no point in holding up such a pretense if alone, this is something that will be done in public, even if all that's available is an audience of one.

Usually this action is more of an irritant than anything that's likely to cause serious injury or death, but not always.

Common variants of this trope include, but are not limited to:

  • The Drink Spill: A character spills a drink or some kind of food onto another character or him/herself.
  • The Foot Crunch: A character steps on another character's foot or spears it with a cane.
  • The Fragile Object Knock-Over: A character bumps or pushes something brittle and sends it crashing to the floor.
  • The Trip: A character sticks out a foot and trips someone.
  • The Finger-Slip: A character "accidentally" pushes a button or some other device that activates a device that should not be activated.

See also: The Be Quiet Nudge, in which a character punches or kicks someone and pretends it was an accident, in order to get the other character to stop talking.

This trope bears no relation to the Sitcom Accidentally on Purpose.

Examples of Contrived Clumsiness include:


Anime & Manga

Comic Books

  • The drink spill variant was done in Thorgal by some random viking, to humiliate the protagonist, who is a beggar at that time (due to Angst Coma after he thinks his wife and child have died) and can't defend himself.
  • This was done twice in one issue of Top Ten, both times by Ferro-American Deadpan Snarker Joe Pi:

  Joe Pi: with typical machine clumsiness, I seem to have disabled my inbuilt audio taping system. This mean that if, for instance, a fellow officer should suggest something illegal, I won't have a record of it.

  Joe Pi: We have to get back to the station. I have to report my poor performance as a siege negotiator.

  • Clark Kent does this all the time. Usually it's to save someone without compromising his secret identity.
  • Aaron Stack in Nextwave:

  I am a clumsy robot, and the longer I hold this dress the greater the chance something will damage it. Oops. My blowtorch unit seems to have accidentally lit.

Film -- Animated

  • Pinocchio: Honest John gets Pinocchio's attention by tripping him up with his cane.
  • The Emperors New Groove: As Kuzco and Pacha try to get the potion that will turn Kuzco human, Yzma knocks over the other potions so they can't tell which is which, saying "Oops, clumsy me!" as she does.

Film -- Live Action

  • In the 80's movie Just One Of The Guys, the Jerk Jock dumps an entire tray of food onto the lap of the male protagonist, the main course of which was spaghetti, and gives him a sarcastic apology. The victim, in this case, was wearing a brand new outfit.
  • A jealous call girl in the movie Coffy spills an entire tray of drinks onto the lap of the title character's white dress, then sincerely insists it was an accident when called out on it.
  • In one of the newer Mission Impossible movies, a kidnapping target is spilled on, to force him into the bathroom. He is then abducted through the vents.
  • Cliff Secord does in The Rocketeer, when he's at the South Seas Club, where his girlfriend Jenny is with Neville Sinclair, who's looking for the rocketpack. He "accidentally" spills some champagne on Jenny just before she tells Neville about him and how he's got the rocketpack.
  • Not Another Teen Movie plays with this classic "teen movie" trope. The heroine is in a dress, already wet from falling the pool, and the Alpha Bitch, sarcastically feigning clumsiness, spills a glass of water on her. The heroine reacts with humiliated tears, and other characters react similarly:

 Random Party-goer: That's gonna stain!

  • In the The Karate Kid reboot, Cheng knocks over Dre's lunch tray and then says "Sorry!"
  • In the movie UHF, one of the jerkasses from the competing television station trips the camera man for the title station, and sarcastically chimes "Oopsie!" after. Later, the victim of this action enacts his revenge by doing the same thing to the Jerkass, except this time, the trip ends in a mud puddle.
  • The first Back to The Future has an example of the "accidental" trip; Marty McFly trips Biff Tannen when they're in the diner in 1955 Hill Valley, California.
  • In Gosford Park, after a man posing as a servant reveals himself to be an actor and moves from "below stairs" to "above stairs". To punish him for his deception, one of the maids spills tea in his lap. Her fellow servants quickly hide their smiles, his fellow nobs shrug and keep on keeping on.
  • A variation is seen in A Fish Called Wanda when Otto, angry with Wanda, picks up a framed photo of her and smashes it with his fist. He then hands it to the owner, and flatly says "Oh, sorry".

Literature

  • In Sorcery and Cecelia, or, The Enchanted Chocolate Pot, Cecelia disposes of the titular chocolate pot by pretending to "accidentally" spill it. It helps that she already had a reputation for clumsiness.
  • In Robin McKinley's Chalice, one of the primary antagonists uses a very malicious form of fake clumsiness to set the demesne's Master up for a Morton's Fork: he "trips" within the Master's reach, forcing the Master - a former priest of elemental fire - to choose between catching and involuntarily burning him (an insult) or letting him fall (also an insult).
  • In the book Dogbert's Clues for the Clueless, Dogbert examines the conundrum of being seated in public next to a man who spreads his legs too much. Dogbert recommends "accidentally" spilling a drink in the offender's lap. "Oops! Something bumped my leg."

Live-Action TV

  • The drink spill variant was used very overtly by Jackie Tyler in the Doctor Who episode "Love and Monsters."
    • Also used (not particularly convincingly) by the Doctor against the eponymous Family of Blood, when he pretends he's still a clumsy human and stumbles around their ship triggering buttons that cause it to explode.
  • Sabrina the Teenage Witch: In the pilot episode, Alpha Bitch performs the drink spill variant to Sabrina. Later, when she does it again, Sabrina uses her magic to make the drink tilt back towards her.
  • In one episode of Scrubs, Elliot was in a crabby mood and tossed her drink on the ground right in front of Janitor, sarcastically saying "oops" as she walked past.
  • Two Broke Girls: Caroline "accidentally" spills a bowl of borsht on a girl who took a shirt Max was interested in at Goodwill.
  • Used all the time by El Chapulin Colorado, who claims "all of my moves are throughly thought!" whenever he gets hurt (Which is often).
  • Parodied along with Shame If Something Happened in one episode of Monty Python's Flying Circus. A couple of Mafia types try to shake down an army base commander, eventually leading to the famous fourth-wall breaking line "Stop that! It's silly!"
  • In Burn Notice, this happens a lot. Usually it's done to create a distraction or plant a bug.
  • In an early episode of House, the title character decided to make a point about how he's treated as a handicapped person by jamming his cane into a woman's foot as he passed her. He apologized in a sincere fashion, and watched as the woman apologized back for snapping at him.
  • Mash:
    • In The Stinger of an episode where Hawkeye, BJ and Charles were on a promotion committee, they evaluated prospective promotees and gave their recommendations. Private Igor, who works in the mess tent chow line and was not promoted, tosses a scoopful of mashed potatoes on BJ. "Oh, I'm sorry. But what do you expect from a dumb private?"
    • A flashback in one episode showed Father Mulcahy "accidentally" tucking a tablecloth into his belt and upstaging the meal of a visiting general who was causing a holdup in the mess tent.
  • An angry Prince George does this to his brother, King Richard, in The Palace. They're practicing cricket. George pitches the ball really hard, hitting the door behind Richard. "Sorry. Sorry -- slipped from my hand." The second time, he hits Richard in the arm before revealing his annoyance in words.
  • on The Sopranos Paulie Walnuts drops Valery's universal remote and gives a sarcastic oops after Valery tells him sternly (in his thick Russian accent) that "remote goes on docking station".

Newspaper Comics

  • One Dilbert strip had Dilbert at a cocktail party and two women holding an impromptu "spill stuff on him" party. The final panel shows Dilbert back at home wearing the rags of his shirt, after they'd hit him with lighter fluid.

Radio

 Barry: Our next record is an offering from...Max Bygraves. (Beat, crash, mock-horror voice) Oh no! Look what I have done! I have accidentally dropped Max's record, and stamped upon it, by mistake!

Web Comics

  • In the first few pages of Ratfist, Ricky throws his wine all over Gina so she won't notice that he's turning into a rat.
  • In Megatokyo, Kimiko performs the drink spill variant on four people at the same time. Although her motive is more justifiable than most, there is a small measure of revenge in her actions.

Western Animation

  • The "accidental" spill variant was used by Vicky the babysitter in Fairly Oddparents. She doesn't just spill a drink, though. It is a significant amount of water, enough to drench the other girl.
  • The Simpsons:
    • In "There's No Disgrace Like Home", the family is supposed to solve their problems with electroshock therapy. At the beginning of the exercise, Bart accidentally-on-purpose shocks Lisa, claiming his finger slipped. Lisa shocks him back saying, "So did mine."
    • Bart also uses the "My finger slipped" excuse in a "Treehouse of Horror" episode, where Lisa's science experiment turns into a miniature civilization.
  • Freakazoid had a villain named Arms Akimbo who ran an "Oops insurance", "accidentally" knocking things over with his elbows until the owners give in. The damage gets more and more ridiculous with each scene, until we see Stock Footage of a nuclear explosion, followed by Akimbo saying "Oops!"
  • On Family Guy, after seeing Jillian's boyfriend accidentally trip a waiter and immediately spring into action to prevent him and his drinks from spilling over, Brian tries to do the same in order to impress his former girlfriend, by deliberately tripping the next waiter to walk by. The waiter falls, his drinks crash, and he questions why Brian would do something like that. Adding insult to injury, the waiter had just recovered from recent hand surgery, and was told he should not have come into work that day, but Jillian's boyfriend massages his hand and makes it better.
    • Also this exchange:

 Meg: I heard a noise! Is something wrong? Are we being robbed? What's going on?

(Peter stares at Meg for a good 3 seconds, then hits her with his baseball bat)

Meg: AHH!! WHAT THE HELL?!

Peter: Oh, Meg, you startled me!

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