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I have seen this in a few films. I first noticed it in "The Truman Show" when Truman is pulling weeds or something in the yard, and his faux wife says to him "You missed a spot!" while smiling. I've also heard it in a few other places on TV and film.

The odd thing is, it is apparently supposed to be funny (people laugh, or canned laughter is played). It's odd to me because I don't understand the reference. It is either something that only people with certain DNA "get" or else it is an "in" joke and I am not part of the "in" crowd.

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It's not really a matter of a hidden meaning in the language or an obscure idiom. It's simply the juxtaposition of the cheerful delivery and superficially helpful nature of the comment with the lack of any actual helpfulness of simply standing there and pointing out a minor missed spot out of a large and thorough job. So it's not really an English language issue it's just that the joke isn't very good and is rather mean spirited, which may be the entire point given the nature of "The Truman Show". – smithkm Aug 28 '13 at 23:54
Usually the joke is followed by (or presumed to be followed by) the exhasperation of the individual who "missed a spot". The humor of the joke is in the extreme laziness of the individual calling out the 'spot' that was missed, while the individual doing the back-breaking work is still in the process of working, and thus hasn't actually 'missed' it yet. Our sympathy is supposed to be with the hard-working individual, who gets no appreciation, and instead is criticized for their work. – Zibbobz Aug 29 '13 at 13:41
Also worth noting that the humor inserted into Truman's life is writen as rather flat and tired, so that the joke isn't actually funny is deliberate. – Jon Hanna Sep 11 '13 at 9:25
up vote 1 down vote accepted

The three earliest occurrences in Google Books search results are from the late 1950s, and they seem quite random.

From American Flint, vol. 47 (1957):

Changes are being made every day around the plant—it sure seems good to see a clean and clear floor space. Hey Gerald, sweep over in that other corner—you missed a spot.

Well, enough stuff this time. Next time more. Remember to buy American, think American, and don't ever forget that you are an American, and darn proud to be so!

From Finlay McDermid, See No Evil (1959) [two occurrences]:

It scared the hell out of me when a voice called down from the oak tree, "You missed a spot, boy." I couldn't have been more startled if I'd seen the real Cheshire Cat when I jerked my head up, instead of a grinning little girl...


"You missed a spot, Benjie. Run your mower over toward me."

From The Gopher: Annual Publication of the Student Body of the University of Minnesota, vol. 72 (1959):

You missed a spot, pledges. See that you stay alert and complete your projects with greater precision in the future. Service projects receive more than the usual collegian's attention from the members of Phi Epsilon Pi fraternity.

As these examples suggest, the phrase "you missed a spot" tends to come up in the context of a nit-picking supervisor looking for a shortcoming in a subordinate's work as a basis for teasing or criticizing the subordinate. (For some reason, military service seems like a natural environment for the phrase to flourish in.) The supervisor may be actual, in which case the fault-finding is likely to result in demerits of some kind levied against the subordinate, or pretend, in which case the phrase is usually jocular.

Having said all that, I don't think that using the phrase is funny, either.

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In England, when you're (say) up a ladder painting your house, it seems to be almost obligatory for passing neighbours to shout either "You've missed a bit!" or "You can come and do ours next!" It's one of the few times when I've wished it was easy to buy a gun in England ... – David Garner Dec 9 '15 at 16:56

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