I honestly can not think of any examples that cannot be countered. Perhaps something like if a person brought a weapon out in the open to an airport - no one actually thinks it would be a weapon because that would be so ridiculous, no one would do that.

Or a student bringing alcohol in a vodka bottle to school, but having the vodka bottle out. No one would suspect it to actually be vodka, they simply assume its to be a joke.

  • 26
    When I was in sixth or seventh grade, our history teacher gave us a surprise test. I was unprepared and had nothing to lose, so I just put the textbook in front of me and started copying. When she got to my desk to check if I was cheating I proudly said: "I'm clean, see, I have nothing to hide" and lifted the open textbook to let her see I was hiding nothing underneath. It worked :D Commented Mar 15, 2015 at 19:42
  • 9
    Double bluff approaches this, but I'm not sure it's quite it. The observers assume that the student's vodka bottle is a bluff, but it isn't; The student is playing on the expected reaction (It's a bluff), making it actually a bluff of a bluff, so a double bluff. Commented Mar 15, 2015 at 22:48
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    The Spanish Inquisition?
    – Pharap
    Commented Mar 17, 2015 at 5:28
  • 7
    Please note that when it comes to weapons at the airport, security WILL assume it's a real weapon, even if it's just a toy. And there are enough gullible people at the airport to run away in panic at the first sight of your weapon.
    – Nzall
    Commented Mar 17, 2015 at 8:17
  • 7
    @NateKerkhofs: You can't rely on it one way or another. Police assuming that the toy gun held by a 12-year-old in a playground is real and shooting the boy on the one hand. Kids on a medieval fair telling me the sword I am grinding out at the moment, making audible metallic noise, is plastic because "you wouldn't be able to hold it up if it were metal", on the other hand. Sometimes you really have to scratch your head...
    – DevSolar
    Commented Mar 17, 2015 at 9:40

14 Answers 14


Sounds like something "hidden in plain sight," that is, something so obvious, but unexpected, that it is overlooked and almost invisible.


• That at some point in time seems to be hidden, but actually is not hidden and is easy to be found. see, Your Dictionary Link

In certain respects (though not all) the perceptual (or, lack thereof) phenomena OP describes dovetails with research conducted by the psychologists Daniel Simons and Christopher Chabris, referred to as "inattentional blindness."

Inattentional blindness, also known as perceptual blindness, is a psychological lack of attention and is not associated with any vision defects or deficits. It may be further defined as the event in which an individual fails to recognize an unexpected stimulus that is in plain sight. The term was coined by Arien Mack and Irvin Rock in 1992 and was used as the title of their book of the same name, published by MIT press in 1998

Defining criteria

The following criteria are required to classify an event as an inattentional blindness episode: 1) the observer must fail to notice a visual object or event, 2) the object or event must be fully visible, 3) observers must be able to readily identify the object if they are consciously perceiving it, and 4) the event must be unexpected and the failure to see the object or event must be due to the engagement of attention on other aspects of the visual scene and not due to aspects the visual stimulus itself.

Individuals who experience inattentional blindness are usually unaware of this effect, which can play a subsequent role on behavior.

Invisible Gorilla Test

The best-known study demonstrating inattentional blindness is the Invisible Gorilla Test, conducted by Daniel Simons of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and Christopher Chabris of Harvard University. This study, a revised version of earlier studies conducted by Ulric Neisser, Neisser and Becklen in 1975, asked subjects to watch a short video of two groups of people (wearing black and white t-shirts) pass a basketball around. The subjects are told to either count the number of passes made by one of the teams or to keep count of bounce passes vs. aerial passes. In different versions of the video a woman walks through the scene carrying an umbrella (as discussed above), or wearing a full gorilla suit. After watching the video the subjects are asked if they noticed anything out of the ordinary take place. In most groups, 50% of the subjects did not report seeing the gorilla (or the woman with the umbrella). The failure to perceive the anomalies is attributed to the failure to attend to it while engaged in the difficult task of counting the number of passes of the ball. These results indicate that the relationship between what is in one's visual field and perception is based much more on attention than was previously thought. See, wikipedia inattentional blindness

Screenshot of video used in "The Invisible Gorilla Test

Gorillas in the Midst

  • Inattentional blindness does not really fit. The OP's examples violate criteria (1) and (4). The objects ARE perceived, but misjudged. And not because of the high degree of attention to the rest of the scene, but because of the objects themselves (their "obviousness"). Commented Mar 16, 2015 at 17:24
  • The gorila video has little relation to OP's question. In the video, you simply don't see the gorilla. In the “bring vodka to school”, everyone sees the bottle. They just don't expect to actually contain vodka. Commented Mar 19, 2015 at 13:37
  • The "Gorilla Test" makes a lot of sense and is exactly what happens when you are preoccupied with your daily routine. Good analogy.
    – Centaurus
    Commented Jul 26, 2015 at 14:40
  • @Centaurus, thanks, do you know how I can delete a comment in chat?
    – user98990
    Commented Jul 26, 2015 at 14:43
  • @Centaurus, thank you, it was too late to get the X, you've only got 2 minutes, then the post becomes undeletable, but I've requested mod intervention.
    – user98990
    Commented Jul 26, 2015 at 15:37

How about under one's nose:

Right there, in plain view, as in Your keys are on the table, right under your nose. This expression is generally a reminder that something one cannot find is actually there. [ c. 1600 ]



Depending on the application I think you can also use SEP. If anyone has read Hitchhiker's guide to the galaxy they will understand completely.

Somebody Else's Problem (also known as Someone Else's Problem or SEP) is a psychological effect where people choose to dissociate themselves from an issue that may be in critical need of recognition. Such issues may be of large concern to the population as a whole but can easily be a choice of ignorance by an individual. Author Douglas Adams' comedic description of the condition, which he ascribes to a physical "SEP field", has helped make it a generally recognized phenomenon. Somebody Else's Problem used to capture public attention on matters that may have been overlooked and has less commonly been used to identify concerns that an individual suffering symptoms of depression should ignore. This condition has also been employed as trivial shorthand to describe factors that are "out of scope" in the current context.[1]


Also the story used in the book about moving a mountain would explain the idea perfectly. They have the jist of it in the fiction section of the wikipedia link also.

  • 1
    Sounds very similar to the "Bystander effect". The bystander effect, or bystander apathy, is a social psychological phenomenon that refers to cases in which individuals do not offer any means of help to a victim when other people are present. The probability of help is inversely related to the number of bystanders.
    – Zack T.
    Commented Mar 16, 2015 at 14:56
  • 2
    It might sound like it, but it is very different. A SEP unlike the other words here is also sometimes done intentionally. So for that reason I think it captures the OP's idea the best considering his example of the vodka bottle.
    – Neil
    Commented Mar 17, 2015 at 2:26
  • SEP sounds like somebody willingly ignoring something that has been recognized as an actual problem, right? I don't think your answer really applies in this case. The OP is talking about people not believing that what they see is actually what is happening.
    – Zack T.
    Commented Mar 17, 2015 at 15:53
  • 1
    +1 For being funny and insightful, even though it's not the real answer to the question.
    – Dronz
    Commented Mar 18, 2015 at 20:58

These are all great takes on why somebody wouldn't or did see something, but I'm trying to work out an angle on the "no one expects it" aspect, which is slightly different. (Let me know if I'm hair-splitting too fine here, OP!)

I'm thinking: "Disarm the pissed off gunman in a hold-up by simply stepping forward and taking the gun out of his hand." It's not that no one would notice it happen, but that of all the contingencies and possible outcomes running through everyone's mind in that situation (including the gunman's presumably), that solution would have been reflexively dismissed ahead of time without sincere thought because it was "too obvious". [Everyone: "Obviously he/I'd see you coming and just shoot you before it worked." Reality: He might be so startled he just freezes in pure surprise or while he's trying to work out your "real" (better/sneakier) plan or angle, reflexively refusing to believe you would do something so obvious.]

"Completely counter-intuitive" I think comes closer. There might not be anything better than "so obvious/blatant no one would/did/does expect it".

  • 1
    LoL! No, in a crowded field you have to "split hairs," in order to present a distinctive answer. I like your take on this, though it sounds rather daring? One of the things about pissed-off criminals with (presumably) loaded fire arms in the midst of committing felonies, they tend (or so I suspect) to be rather ... hyper-vigilant ... and spastic. Could work, but its quite a gamble. Are you, by chance, incredibly bored? :-) Oh yeah, +1
    – user98990
    Commented Mar 17, 2015 at 6:00

I think counterintuitive describes these situations well:

Contrary to intuition or common sense.

Particularly contrary to common sense in your examples, to the point where onlookers might ask, to put it bluntly, "Are they really that stupid?"

  • I suppose that would be a good backup, but most people associate counterintuitive with not making sense, or being difficult. The way you describe it, although correct, seems like it can be a bit of a stretch. Commented Mar 15, 2015 at 19:58
  • Things that are too obvious are not counterintuitive - it's just counterintuitive that the answer is so obvious.
    – Dronz
    Commented Mar 18, 2015 at 20:54

The situation you are referring to can be described as an absurdity :

  • something extremely unreasonable, incongruous, or inappropriate.

  • something impossible to take seriously; silly. (TFD)

  • The situation may be an absurdity, but an obvious answer itself generally isn't.
    – Dronz
    Commented Mar 18, 2015 at 20:56

There's the expression "too obvious", and the one you already used, "so obvious [no one thinks of it]". Maybe that's too obvious...


Some people think the answer is blindingly obvious. However, even if I noticed it, I might not want to indicate that I've noticed the Elephant in the Room.

  • Except the elephant in the room is a matter of not wanting to mention it, not a matter of not being aware of it. Commented Mar 18, 2015 at 3:32

I like the term Refuge In Audacity.

  • Warning: TVTropes
    – No Name
    Commented Mar 11, 2023 at 14:06

Poe's "The Purloined Letter" describes an incident in which a criminal "hides" a stolen letter (written by an important lady and containing compromising information) by leaving it slightly disguised and in plain sight. Detectives turn the rest of the criminal's home practically inside-out looking for secret hiding places the letter might be stowed in, and never manage to find it.

This story embodies the idea you're trying to describe. For this reason, I've heard and used the term purloined letter to refer to an item concealed by such a tactic.


An "Elephant in the Room" and "Elephant in the Living-Room", has been an English idiom since the early 1900's, succinctly describing exactly this situation.

The term refers to a question, problem, solution, or controversial issue which is obvious to everyone who knows about the situation, but which is deliberately ignored because to do otherwise would cause great embarrassment, or trigger arguments or is simply taboo. The idiom can imply a value judgment that the issue ought to be discussed openly, or it can simply be an acknowledgment that the issue is there and not going to go away by itself.

  • 6
    so obvious, no one expects it is not a reason EitR are "deliberately ignored".
    – Mazura
    Commented Mar 17, 2015 at 4:08

In french, we'd say "C'est trop gros pour être vrai".

It's too big to be true.

  • Yes, it's the exact meaning the OP describes. A variant is Plus c'est gros, plus ça passe. (The bigger it is, the easier it goes through.) Commented Mar 19, 2015 at 9:51

What is it called when something appears so obvious, no one expects it?

Maybe "well, duh," would work?

Jack pulled a vodka bottle out of his knapsack and started taking slugs from it at lunch. I thought it was water and him trying to be funny. But when he got the giggles during the math quiz in Period 5, well, duh, I guess it was vodka after all.

Oh -- oh -- I just got a flash -- an emperor with no clothes?



(of a person or their manner) unwilling or unable to believe something


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