I heard the phrase a while ago, it was two words I believe. The instance was a woman was approached by police and before they said anything to her she said "I wasn't soliciting" denying a crime she had not been accused of, the officer replied by telling her what she had done, using the phrase I am looking for.

Note, this was on tv, I'm not wandering places where people yell "I'm not soliciting"

  • Sounds similar to apophasis. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Apophasis – RaceYouAnytime May 5 '17 at 4:31
  • 3
    like a "guilty conscience"? – Cascabel May 5 '17 at 4:35
  • 1
    I'd like to know what the TV show was, since it's pertinent information to the question. Knowing it was on TV, I'd guess something like: "You jumped the gun." That phrase means to have a mistaken start in a race or competition that is started by firing off a blank round, meaning the person went before that round got fired (and before the race actually started). – lirmont May 5 '17 at 7:35
  • 1
    'Your words, not mine' point out the possibly self-accusatory nature of this. – Edwin Ashworth May 5 '17 at 9:49
  • 4
    "Note, this was on tv, I'm not wandering places where people yell 'I'm not soliciting'". I think it's funny that this statement is an example of your question. – John May 9 '17 at 21:52

There is a line from Hamlet by Hamlet by William Shakespeare that people use in these cases:

The lady doth protest too much, methinks.

As Wikipedia explains:

The line is typically quoted (or misquoted, as in "methinks the lady doth protest too much") to suggest that someone who is strongly denying something is hiding the truth,[2] or to imply doubt in a person's sincerity.[4] The phrase can be used this way even when the subject is male.[3]

You can look up the references at Wikipedia.

That expression would only apply if the lady in question was in fact guilty of the crime she was denying.


How about a one word answer: incriminate

to incriminate: to involve in an accusation; cause to be or appear to be guilty; implicate:

For example: He feared incriminating himself if he answered.


I bet the cop yelled, "You've incriminated yourself, lady!"


You might call it deflecting blame, or deflecting. She might be sidestepping an investigation or trying to "ward off" the inquiry.


The common human reaction of denying involvement even in the absence of a formal accusation is called the "exculpatory no." In the US, lying to a federal officer is a crime. One defense to this charge prior to 1998 is the exculpatory no. In that year the Supreme Court abolished the defense. See Brogan v. U.S., 522 U.S. 398 (1998). So, the officer could say, "that's an exculpatory no, I didn't even ask you what you were doing here."

  • But in the USA the more common, and more likely, response by someone accused of a crime would be to plead his right to refuse to answer where to answer might tend to incriminate him: a right granted by the 5th Amendment to the Constitution, and popularly known as taking the 5th. – Ed999 Feb 24 at 14:29
  • Taking the Fifth, or saying, "I want a lawyer," or even just repeating the word "lawyer" is not a denial. The issue isn't what do people say while under interrogation, the question was "What is it called when someone denies a crime despite not having been accused?" There is a certain amount of ambiguity because a policeman saying, "You killed Joe" is not a formal accusation--policeman do not file formal charges, the State attorney (or federally, a grand jury does.) When the courts analyzed the interaction, they called it an "exculpatory no." See above. – user26732 Mar 27 at 18:27
  • The suggestion that taking the 5th is not a denial is absolutely correct: everyone knows perfectly well it's an admission of guilt. Ordinary people, i.e. the sort of people who sit on juries, are rarely impressed by the legalistic hair-splitting that pretends it is not an admission. This forum is not a law forum, but a language forum, and in ordinary usage taking the 5th is an expression that is commonly used to mean: the accused is denying the charge (of which he must be guilty, because only guilty people have something to hide). Whatever the legal position, that's the common meaning. – Ed999 Mar 30 at 12:00

Okay, so... You understand that I'm making this suggestion because it was something you saw on tv.

In an episode of the American tv series Columbo, a police series, which I saw as a repeat last week, the woman said something like that to star Peter Falk, who plays the eponymous detective. And he asked her: Are you taking the Fifth, mam?

In the United States, there is a common expression, to take the Fifth, derived from the 5th Amendment to the American Constitution, which entitles a person accused of a crime to refuse to answer the accusation if the answer would tend to incriminate him.

So if the wife accuses me of watching Columbo, when I ought to have been out walking the dog, I might take the Fifth, rather than incriminate myself by an admission.

(Columbo has a dog himself, and it appears in a lot of the 1990's episodes. My dog enjoys the show, because he thinks the dog is its star! At least, that's what I ended up telling my wife...)

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.