There's an old tradition in cartoons and comedies: criminals (mostly thieves) and bullies often whistle some tunes after doing something bad or when they are likely to be detected by police or guards.

This even happens in real life, for example we can sometimes do that in our circle of friends, when something funny but tough happens.

I'm pretty sure there must be some source of this tradition, so I thought you might have some ideas.

  • 3
    Because they want to seem cavalier\innocent?
    – Walt
    Jul 20, 2015 at 18:48
  • @Walt, that's true. But I believe there was something that popularized this way of acting
    – Uhehesh
    Jul 20, 2015 at 18:51
  • Ah, I was thrown by the title which could perhaps be clearer. So you're actually looking for the first instance of this?
    – Walt
    Jul 20, 2015 at 19:59
  • @Walt, yes, if it exists
    – Uhehesh
    Jul 20, 2015 at 20:13

1 Answer 1


TVTropes defines this as the Not-So-Innocent Whistle

In media of all types, especially comics and cartoons, the "innocent" whistle is a main staple, often played for humor. Alice, feeling mischievous, decides to, say, throw a snowball at Bob. Bob is knocked off his feet. He pulls himself up and spins around to see no one around in the area but Alice, who puts her hands behind her back and lifts herself up onto her tiptoes and back down several times while whistling. Sometimes Alice would be also be twiddling her thumbs, point her eyes upward/away, putting her hands in her pockets, or a halo would appear above her head — or any combination thereof. In comics, usually only a single note symbolizing the whistle is written. The Not-So-Innocent Whistle can also happen after suppressing a traumatic moment, or any other instance of hiding something

It cites one of the first usages as:

One of the earliest examples is in the movie M, where the child killer whistles the tune "In the Hall of the Mountain King" right before he tracks down one of his victims. He pauses and breaks it up at odd parts in the song, giving a sense of wrongness. This tic ends up being how the other criminals identify him and eventually hunt him down.

Other examples in the site are a bit more comedic...

  • 1
    Congratulations, this answer is the winner of the monthly answer challenge.
    – Napoleon Wilson
    Sep 9, 2018 at 20:12
  • Sweet! I had no idea about the challenge :) I was just browsing the questions and thought I'd chime in with this one
    – m1gp0z
    Sep 10, 2018 at 13:04

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