Said the actress to the bishop

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The phrase "Said the actress to the bishop" is a colloquial and vulgar British exclamation, offering humour 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][2] Each phrase is an example of a Wellerism, exposing a second meaning of what precedes it. The versatility of such phrases, and their popularity, lead some to consider them clichéd.[3]

History and variations[edit]

Michael Scott
Fictional character Michael Scott, played by Steve Carell, popularized the phrase "that's what she said" in the notable sitcom The Office.

The term, or its variant "as the actress said to the bishop", may have been used as far back as Edwardian times, and is apparently British in origin.[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 the inaugural Saint novel Meet the Tiger, published in 1928.[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."

The usage of this term in the 21st century has been interchanged from "she" to "he" in some instances to acknowledge homosexuality, such as the phrase, "That's what he said!". This was especially used by Michael Scott (Steve Carell) in The Office as well as Donald Trump (Alec Baldwin) in a Saturday Night Live skit in November 2017.

That's what she said![edit]

By 1973, "that's what she said" had already been characterized as an "ancient one-liner".[6] In the early 1990s, it was popularized as 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.[2] An 1896 recording by Len Spencer of the song "All Coons Look Alike to Me" includes the suggestive line[original research?] "That's what she said, yeah."[7]

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.[8] The phrase "that's what she said" was more often used after his colleagues would make innocent comments such as, "that's a mouthful" and "that looks hard". It was also used after he himself made an innocent comment such as, "it squeaks when you bang it" and "can you make that straighter".

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.

Matthew R. Meier of West Chester University of Pennsylvania and Christopher A. Medjesky of the University of Findlay have recently 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."[9]

Notable usage in culture[edit]

One of the more notable usages of the phrase "that's what she said" has been used in the sitcom The Office by fictional character Michael Scott on numerous occasions, thoroughly defining his personality to the public eye. The phrase has been used multiple times throughout the latter seasons of the sitcom.[10]

"It squeaks when you bang it. That's what she said."

"You should put your mouth on that. That's what she said."

"I need two men on this. That's what she said... No time! But she did. No time!"

"That's what she said" was used in a contemporary Saturday Night Live parody involving President Donald Trump portrayed by Alec Baldwin and a dispute regarding corruption with his cabinet.

"And you were directly under her the entire time." "That's what she said." "Excuse me?"

"I'm glad we put that matter to bed." "That's what she said!"

In 2017, the terminology was used again in Saturday Night Live by Alec Baldwin who portrayed Donald Trump in "Paul Manafort's House Cold Open".[11]

"I would never do that to you" "That's what she said."


  1. ^ a b The British Equivalent of 'That's What She Said' Today I Found Out
  2. ^ a b International 'that's what she said' day. Newsvine. February 15, 2007.
  3. ^ "That's What She Said? Yeah, Give It A Rest" The Verge. GQ online
  4. ^ Partridge, Eric (1982). A Dictionary of Catch Phrases (2 ed.). London: Routledge. p. 31. ISBN 978-0-415-05916-9. 
  5. ^ Nicholas Graham (2010-06-10). "Hitchcock's 'That's What She Said' Joke Is Its First Known Recording! (video)". The Huffington Post. 
  6. ^ Addeo, Edmond G.; Burger, Robert E. (1973). EgoSpeak: Why No One Listens to You. Chilton Books. ISBN 0801958938. Retrieved 2012-09-28. 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. 
  7. ^
  8. ^ The Office Launches 'That's What She Said' Sweepstakes. Buddy TV.
  9. ^ Do commonplace jokes normalize sexual misconduct experiences?. AlphaGalileo 13 November 2017.
  10. ^ The Office US (2017-07-15), Every That's What She Said Ever - The Office US, retrieved 2017-11-27 
  11. ^ Saturday Night Live (2017-11-04), Paul Manafort's House Cold Open - SNL, retrieved 2017-11-27 

External links[edit]