Said the actress to the bishop

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The phrase "said the actress to the bishop" is a colloquial British exclamation, offering humor by serving as a punch line that exposes an unintended double entendre. An equivalent phrase in North America is "that's what she said".[1] The versatility of such phrases, and their popularity, lead some to consider them clichéd.[2]

History and variations[edit]

The term, or its variant "as the actress said to the bishop", is British in origin. It supposedly originated from a conversation between the actress Lillie Langtry and the Bishop of Worcester. They were at a country house weekend party and on Sunday morning before church, they went for a stroll in the garden. On their walk, the bishop cut his finger on a rose thorn. Over lunch, Lillie enquired about his injury, asking: "How is your prick?" To which, the Bishop replied: "Throbbing", causing the butler to drop the potatoes.[3] Its form is well known as a "Wellerism", acquiring that name from Charles Dickens' character Sam Weller, who regularly employs it in The Pickwick Papers. The phrase was in popular usage in the Royal Air Force c. 1944–47, but may originate from the Edwardian era.[4]

The phrase is frequently used by the fictional character Simon Templar (alias "The Saint") in a long-running series of mystery books by Leslie Charteris. The phrase first appears in full in the second Saint novel Enter the Saint, published in 1930; abbreviations of both the phrase ("as the actress said on an auspicious occasion") and of the alternative version ("as the bishop said") appear in the 1928 Meet the Tiger.[1]

The version "as the girl said to the soldier" appears in a recorded sound test for Alfred Hitchcock's 1929 film Blackmail.[5]

Kingsley Amis uses the line in his 1954 novel Lucky Jim, where a woman offering relationship advice to Jim Dixon says "I can't show you, as the actress said to the bishop."[6]

The title character on the US TV show Archer, after several seasons of using "phrasing!" to draw attention to double entendres, briefly toyed with "...said Ripley to the android Bishop", a reference to both this phrase and the 1986 film Aliens.[citation needed]

British comic artist Brian Bolland did a comic about these two characters since 1985.[citation needed]

That's what she said![edit]

By 1973, "that's what she said" had already been characterized as an "ancient one-liner".[7] In the early 1990s, it was a recurring joke in the Saturday Night Live sketch "Wayne's World". In the movie of the same name, the character, Wayne Campbell, uses the phrase after his partner Garth says, "Hey, are you through yet? 'Cause I'm getting tired of holding this", in regard to a picture he is holding.[8]

In the original BBC version of The Office, Ricky Gervais's character David Brent frequently used the phrase "as the actress said to the bishop" as an inappropriate joke. When the show was adapted for American audiences, also under the title "The Office", the phrase was translated to "that's what she said" for Steve Carell's character Michael Scott. "That's what she said" (with an emphasis on the word "she") became a catchphrase of The Office and was used for the show's "That's What She Said" Sweepstakes.[9][10] On several occasions, the phrase was adapted to "that’s what he said".

Matthew R. Meier of West Chester University of Pennsylvania and Christopher A. Medjesky of the University of Findlay have argued that "such off-hand, common remarks such as 'that's what she said' jokes are deeply entrenched in modern society, and contribute to humorizing and legitimizing sexual misconduct."[11]


  1. ^ a b Hiskey, Daven (30 December 2010). "The British Equivalent of 'That's What She Said". Retrieved 6 January 2021.
  2. ^ Bans, Lauren (3 August 2010). "That's What She Said? Yeah, Give It A Rest". GQ. Retrieved 6 January 2021.
  3. ^ White, Roland (2 August 2020). "Chancellor got up the king's nose". The Times. Retrieved 6 January 2021.
  4. ^ Partridge, Eric (1982). A Dictionary of Catch Phrases (2 ed.). London: Routledge. p. 31. ISBN 1134929986.
  5. ^ Graham, Nicholas (10 June 2010). "Hitchcock's 'That's What She Said' Joke Is Its First Known Recording! (video)". HuffPost.
  6. ^ Amis, Kingsley (1998) [1954]. Lucky Jim. London: Penguin. p. 121. ISBN 0-14-027870-2. OCLC 60220440.
  7. ^ Addeo, Edmond G.; Burger, Robert E. (1973). EgoSpeak: Why No One Listens to You. Chilton Books. ISBN 0801958938. Retrieved 28 September 2012. The cheapest shot of all, of course, is the ancient one-liner, "That's what she said." This reply can be used after virtually any remark, however innocent, and the speaker can summon up some hint of double-entendre.
  8. ^ Spring, Corey (15 February 2007). "International 'That's What she Said' Day". Newsvine. Archived from the original on 17 February 2007.
  9. ^ The Office US (15 July 2017), Every That's What She Said Ever - The Office US, archived from the original on 22 December 2021, retrieved 27 November 2017
  10. ^ Diaz, Glenn (16 February 2010). "The Office Launches 'That's What She Said' Sweepstakes". Buddy TV. Retrieved 13 September 2022.
  11. ^ "Do commonplace jokes normalize sexual misconduct experiences?". AlphaGalileo. 13 November 2017.

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