I'm looking for an expression (hoping one exists), for when you think someone is nodding, smiling, waving etc. to you, and you respond--but in fact they were addressing someone just behind you.

That's the "three-man version". A "two-man version" could be when Person 1 nods, smiles, waves etc. at Person 2, but P2, assuming P1 is addressing someone else, looks over his/her shoulder to check P3, only to find there's no one there, and they've just snubbed P1.

An example might be the footage of Donald Trump's inauguration. He turns and appears to say something to Melania, who beams at him, and when he turns back, she looks crestfallen. Apparently he was addressing his daughter Ivanka, who was standing just behind Melania. This may be similar to the expression "third wheel" or "fifth wheel", possibly with the verb to pass over, or to overlook? To blank is not quite what this involves. Possible examples:

He turned around and _______ Melania.

He turned around and treated Melania to _______ .

Possibly a phrasal verb.

I think most if not all of us have been there. It needn't be an existing expression; any creative suggestion would be welcome, too.

  • State how you would use such an expression, if you had it. Give an example sentence, showing a blank where the expression would be inserted. Otherwise, the question is not clear.
    – Drew
    Jan 5, 2018 at 2:40
  • I've tried to improve the question as suggested. I hope it's more helpful, although I'm not sure how it's clearer to provide examples of how something would be used that might not exist.
    – Matt S.
    Jan 6, 2018 at 3:55
  • Melania didn't realize he was looking past her and addressing his daugther.
    – Lambie
    Feb 19, 2018 at 17:30
  • I think your examples could be improved. He spoke to his daughter; he didn't mean to do anything to his wife. The problem was entirely in her perception of the situation. She must be the subject. Perhaps she just 'Trumped'? Apr 24, 2018 at 20:58

5 Answers 5


look through TFD

to ignore (a person) deliberately:

Whenever he meets his ex-girlfriend, she looks straight through him.


I’m sure there ain’t no such animal but if it brings clarity, that doesn’t seem to me related to any spare wheels nor to passing over, overlooking or even really, looking past; not at all to blanking.

This sounds like a case for a Hollywood-Western verb like mis- or discombobulate linked with something such as identity, intention or direction… which ever-so-vaguely hints at miscombobulentified.

If that wasn’t far too creative to be widely understood, it might have the same verb structure as confused.


an expression (hoping one exists), for when you think someone is nodding, smiling, waving etc. to you, and you respond--but in fact they were addressing someone just behind you.

I believe that is called, playing second fiddle.

To Play Second Fiddle: to take a subordinate position. (Familiar - the phrase is used in familiar conversation.)

OPEC will be forced to 'play second fiddle' to the US in 2018, analyst says

I'm really sick of playing second fiddle to this ignoramus...

In an orchestra the [musician] who plays second fiddle is normally junior in both skill and seniority to the lead fiddler. The prestige of the position is therefore lower and less desirable.

But if someone does that to another person, you could say they're demoting them, which is to reassign someone to a less important role or position:

He turned around and demoted Melania.

He turned around and treated Melania to a demotion.


You incidentally used the best word I can think of for this—snub. I might say Trump unintentionally snubbed Melania. I might also say he looked right past her—as literal as that is, it does convey both the literal fact and the emotional weight of what happened.

I think you're right, though—there needs to be an actual term for this phenomenon. I'll bet there are some colloquial ones among small groups of people somewhere, but there really should be some in common use. It happens so often, and is such a meaningful thing, we should have an easy way to refer to it.

  • Are you sure this is an answer to the question?
    – J. Taylor
    Feb 19, 2018 at 17:58
  • I'm pretty sure, yeah, especially given the last sentence from the OP. Why, @J.Taylor, do you not think it is?
    – spoko
    Feb 19, 2018 at 21:40
  • I simply wondered if you were answering, or also looking for the desired word.
    – J. Taylor
    Feb 19, 2018 at 21:48
  • Gotcha. No, I was attempting an actual answer.
    – spoko
    Feb 19, 2018 at 22:33

I'm not 100% certain; however, according to definitions in Merriam-Webster's dictionary (https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/pass and https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/past) it would seem the best word to use in such a phrase is 'passed' in lieu of "past".

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