Taking the piss

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Taking the piss is a Commonwealth term meaning to take liberties at the expense of others, or to be unreasonable. It is often used to mean (or confused with) taking the piss out of, which is an expression meaning to mock, tease, ridicule, or scoff.[1] It is also not to be confused with "taking a piss", which refers to the act of urinating. Taking the Mickey (Mickey Bliss, Cockney rhyming slang) or taking the Michael is another term for making fun of someone. These terms are most widely used in the United Kingdom, Ireland, South Africa, New Zealand and Australia.


The term sometimes refers to a form of mockery in which the mocker exaggerates the other person's characteristics; pretending to take on his or her attitudes, etc., in order to make them look funny. Or it may be used to refer to a ruse where a person is led to believe something is true that is not (usually a fairly unbelievable story) for the purpose of ridicule of the subject.

The phrase is in common usage throughout British society, employed by headline writers in broadsheet gazettes[2] and tabloids[3] as well as colloquially. It is also used in English speaking countries such as Australia.[4][5]

In colloquial usage, "taking the piss" is also used to refer to someone or something that makes a claim which is not in line with a recognised agreement e.g. an invoice that is double the quoted price with no explanation for the added charge could be said to "take the piss", or likewise if something consistently misses a deadline.

The term can also mean to take unfair advantage. For example, if someone has a food buffet and one guest clearly takes more than their expected share. It can also relate to an abuse of trust, such as "You can use my 'phone, but don't take the piss!"


"Take the piss" may be a reference to a related (and dated) idiomatic expression, piss-proud, which is a vulgar pun referring to the morning erections which happen when a man awakens at the end of a dream cycle (each about 90 minutes in length throughout the night) or may be caused by a full bladder pressing upon nerves that help effect erection. This could be considered a 'false' erection, as its origin is physiological not sexual, so in a metaphoric sense, then, someone who is "piss-proud" would suffer from false pride, and taking the piss out of them refers to deflating this false pride, through disparagement or mockery.[6][7] As knowledge of the expression's metaphoric origin became lost on users, "taking the piss out of" came to be synonymous with disparagement or mockery itself, with less regard to the pride of the subject.

"Take the mickey" may be an abbreviated form of the Cockney rhyming slang "take the Mickey Bliss",[8] a euphemism for "take the piss." It has also been suggested that "mickey" is a contraction of "micturition,"[6] in which case "take the micturition" would be a synonymous euphemism for "take the piss." The phrase has been noted since the 1930s.

Alternative theory of origin[edit]

One theory is that during the age of the canals in Britain, urine would be brought up the canals to the wool mills in Northern England (particularly to Yorkshire), as urine was used in the process of fixing dye to wool. This was particularly the case for the dyeing items blue with indigo or more traditionally with woad, before synthetic dyes were invented or made commercially available.[9] Being in the business of transporting urine was much less lucrative than transporting wine, so when the boatmen were questioned what they were carrying they would lie and say "I'm taking wine" and the response would be "No, you're taking the piss" to express disbelief.[10]


  1. ^ Roberts, Chris (2006). Heavy Words Lightly Thrown: The Reason Behind Rhyme. Thorndike Press. ISBN 0-7862-8517-6. 
  2. ^ Thorpe, Vanessa (2007-11-18). "Taking the Mickey out of Saatchi". The Guardian (London). Retrieved 2010-05-24. 
  3. ^ "Are Jordan and Peter taking the Mickey?". Daily Mail (London). 2006-03-23. 
  4. ^ "Taking the Mickey". The Sydney Morning Herald. 2003-04-21. 
  5. ^ "To mitigate Gibbs outburst is simply taking the Mickey". The Age (Melbourne). 2007-01-17. 
  6. ^ a b "The Origins and Common Usage of British Swear Words". BBC. Retrieved 2011-01-07. 
  7. ^ Quinion, Michael. "Take the piss". World Wide Words. Retrieved 2011-01-07. 
  8. ^ Martin, Gary. "Take the Mickey". The Phrase Finder. Retrieved 2008-01-30. 
  9. ^ "Taking the piss". Blog.dgwbirch.com. 2009-12-19. Retrieved 2012-03-16. 
  10. ^ "Dying Art". History.uk.com. 2009-02-01. Retrieved 2012-03-16. 

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