I'm looking for an expression that would describe a statement that's too obvious, making it work against its intention.

An example would be to tell someone you didn't steal something, before anyone even asked.

  • 5
    Sounds like Hamlet's mom Gertrude 'protesting too much.' Jul 5, 2017 at 18:25
  • Among children there was the expression "he who smelt it dealt it" .. suggesting that it is a sociological concept we learn very early in our human experience.
    – Tom22
    Jul 5, 2017 at 19:27
  • 2
    "a guilty conscience" is a related term. You might explain to another "he sure sounded like he had a guilty conscience when he made that denial out of no where."
    – Tom22
    Jul 5, 2017 at 19:30

5 Answers 5


My first thought is protest too much which comes from Shakespeare's Hamlet. The line in Hamlet (Act 3 Scene 2) is:

The lady doth protest too much, methinks

The quote comes as a response to a question about a character in a play-within-the-play and, as one author wrote,

...the only criticism she has to offer is that the Player Queen's protestations of love and devotion sound too fulsome to be convincing even to the fatuous Player King

So, by protesting (denying or espousing something) too much, one appears to believe the opposite.

  • 3
    Often paraphrased as a modern expression in the form "methinks thou dost protest too much", heard relatively commonly today. Jul 5, 2017 at 19:54

You have the famous Latin saying:

Excusatio non petita accusatio manifesta:

  • an excuse that has not been sought [is] an obvious accusation

More loosely, "he who excuses himself, accuses himself"—an unprovoked excuse is a sign of guilt. In French, qui s'excuse, s'accuse.


  • 9
    "Famous" is relative, I guess.
    – Casey
    Jul 5, 2017 at 20:40

TV Tropes calls this one the Suspiciously Specific Denial.

A False Reassurance works because the speaker is being vague and non-specific enough to pull the wool over someone's eyes. A Suspiciously Specific Denial, on the other hand, fails because the speaker is Saying Too Much. This may be unintentional, such as when the speaker is panicked, is a Bad Liar, or perhaps just a little stupid.

  • 3
    But from the scarcity of Google hits for this string other than those referring to TV Tropes, it would not seem to be idiomatic. Jul 5, 2017 at 21:14

I'm not sure if this would work in the context you have in mind, but how about "the guilty dog barks first"? I think the meaning is basically self-explanatory, and you can see it is common enough to appear in 33 books in this Google search: https://www.google.com/search?tbm=bks&hl=en&q=%22guilty+dog+barks+first%22

  • There is also the similar playground saying: "He who smelt it, dealt it" (making the claim that whoever smelled/complained about a fart was the one who farted.) Jul 5, 2017 at 20:50


"You'll know he's guilty if he says he's innocent before you've even mentioned the crime. That's his tell."

from Google definition

an unconscious action that is thought to betray an attempted deception.

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