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>Can a duck swim?

>Well, in a word, yes, but a book that (misguidedly) showed up for review this week is showing me that it’s a more complicated question for some. Ian Stuart-Hamilton’s An Asperger Dictionary of Everyday Expressions (Jessica Kingsley Publishers) explains that the question is “a sarcastic reply to a question to which the answer is obvious; for example, it might be the appropriate reply to the question ‘would you like to be incredibly wealthy?'” The book similarly defines thousands of “everyday phrases that must be interpreted symbolically rather than literally”–a difficult process for people with autism spectrum disorders.

Not to mention the rest of us. I especially admire the way the author manages to define these allusive phrases with absolutely no employment of figurative terms himself and with appealing directness: “Go suck an egg: A forceful request to stop interfering and/or to leave.” Each entry is marked with one, two or three asterisks to indicate the degree to which the idiom may offend. Because the book has a British slant, I’ve finally learned what it is to “go tits up” but I’m afraid I still need to see “taking the piss” used in a sentence.

Roger Sutton About Roger Sutton

Roger Sutton has been the editor in chief of The Horn Book, Inc, since 1996. He was previously editor of The Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books and a children's and young adult librarian. He received his M.A. in library science from the University of Chicago in 1982 and a B.A. from Pitzer College in 1978. Follow him on Twitter: @RogerReads.



  1. Anonymous says:

    >You’ve never heard that expression? Surely you are taking the piss!

    There, done.

  2. Anonymous says:

    >I think not. R has trouble with “taking the piss” because it’s not an American concept so when he gets too full of himself and we gently tease him, taking him down a peg or two, just taking the piss, he gets really indignant when really the whole thing is just casual, good-natured decimation.

  3. Aspie Mom says:

    >Jessica Kingsley Publishers have done some great work with books about Asperger’s. Thanks for the heads-up.

  4. >I still don’t get it. Could someone please explain it to me without insulting anyone?

    Jeanne Birdsall

  5. Anonymous says:

    >Jeanne, that’s just the trouble. That’s a very earnest request that makes me quite sure you would be incapable of taking the piss because you would worry too much about hurting someone’s feelings. You see, Americans don’t get it.

  6. Anonymous says:

    >I’m the original Anonymous poster, and I’m actually Canadian, truth be told — and I am not taking the piss.

  7. Anonymous says:

    >Well, you may be Canadian, but I don’t think you understand what it means. You need to hang out with your British confreres more.

  8. Anonymous says:

    >You know, thinking about it, Anon above, I think Americans are too fond of having the moral upper hand and Canadians are too polite, I think, really,only the British know how to take the piss. There really isn’t even an equivilent Canadian or American expression for it.

  9. saraclaradara says:

    >Author: “What? My book won the Newbery?!!”

    Prank phone caller: “Nah. I was just taking the piss”.

    (posted by dual national Yank/Brit)

  10. Anonymous says:

    >Actually Mr. Doubting Thomas @ 7:21pm, I have a PHD in Piss-Taking — and a Scottish wife.

  11. Anonymous says:

    >To a large crowd of colleagues/friends -“You know I was in Washington and George Bush came by and congratulated me on my excellent work in Uganda.”

    colleagues/friends – long silence, then one, “You know I think they are changing the stop on Elm and Oak from a two way to a four way stop sign.”

  12. Anonymous says:

    >yet, Mr. 8:22, you don’t seem to have a clue how to use it in a sentence. Remarkable.

  13. Anonymous says:

    >I think R. would be really excellent at taking the piss on the giving end – he has a great sense of irony and humor, but not so much in being on the receiving end and this is where the national temper really comes through. Americans take themselves far too seriously.

  14. Anonymous says:

    >You raise a good point, 8:27pm, as there are two types of piss-take: the good-natured sort delivered by a friend, and the needling superior kind from a smarmy stranger in a pub that makes you spill your pint leaping over the table to butt them one in the face.

    As you’ll probably now guess, I have also lived in Britain. 😉

  15. >And yet, 8:53, you still don’t know how to use it in a sentence. Remarkable.

  16. >Yes, a duck can swim.

  17. >Yawn. 9:13, this proves you’re either a moron or, more likely, English. Anyway, I’m done arguing anonymously — I just wanted to leave a joke for Roger, not lord parochial knowledge over others.

    Now go ahead, have the last word — you know you can’t help it.

  18. >Oh, dear – some people seem to be taking this far too seriously. I’m English and I live in England, so can I please try to explain, without upsetting anyone?

    ‘Taking the piss’ is essentially ‘making fun of’ or ‘mocking’ someone. You can ‘take the piss’ in a friendly way, for instance:

    ‘Come off it, you’ve never met Julia Roberts – you must be taking the piss’.

    The expression is also used when someone is being what I would call ‘cheeky’ – that is, being presumptuous or expecting too much, for instance:

    ‘You expect me to get you those papers by 9:00? You *are* taking the piss, right?’

    If anyone saw the recent film ‘The Devil Wears Prada’, when the character Andrea’s friends ask her how she managed to get a job at a fashion magazine and one of them says ‘Was it a phone interview?’ that is an example of friendly piss-taking. However, when Andrea’s boss berates her for not managing to arrange a flight during a hurricane, that is an example of cheeky, annoying piss-taking.

    Does any of this make sense to my befuddled American friends?

  19. >Great explanation, but by continuing to use the truncated version of this common expression by dropping “out of” and not specifying a subject, you risk further twisting a pair of knickers already several sizes too small.

  20. >This argument seems a demo of “taking the piss” out of someone, right?

  21. >In part, but it also falls under the category of “wind-up” to make it more confusing.

  22. Roger Sutton says:

    >Jeez, you guys, get a room.

  23. >”Great explanation, but by continuing to use the truncated version of this common expression by dropping “out of” and not specifying a subject, you risk further twisting a pair of knickers already several sizes too small.”

    I’m afraid I can’t take responsibility for the state of anyone’s knickers – I’m just using the phrase the way it IS commonly used. I’ve never heard anyone say ‘are you taking the piss OUT OF ME’. That would sound ridiculously formal. Not to mention giving scope for serious misunderstanding of the physiological terms involved…

  24. >Really? Ricky Gervais is among the first 152,000 results when you google “taking the piss out of”. It’s a pretty common variant. Another meaning of the many is ‘taking unfair advantage of’, if you believe various cockney/urban online dictionaries.

    Anyway, isn’t this time better used scribbling grammar corrections in library books?

  25. rindawriter says:

    >I can’t differentiate between the Anony-Mouses…what with all the squeaking….

  26. Elizabeth A.M. Windsor says:

    >Well, wasn’t this just the dog’s bollocks?

  27. >ooh, you ladies are SOOO funny!

  28. >Wait? Americans don’t have a term for this? Oh, admit it, you guys are just shitting me.

    new anon.

  29. >Thanks for the info on a new book, Roger. The college of ed. here has a decent sized special education program and I am always looking for new titles. I will look forward to the review.

  30. >after reading all of the above, I had to laugh when I thought to myself “what a pissing match!”

    1. pissing match:

    An argument or contest of wills, often mean-spirited and over trivial or insignificant matters. From the alcohol-induced sport of urinating for distance.

    – P

  31. >Well, I’ve been “taking A piss” all my life. “Taking THE piss” would simply be the one that was most memorable…the granddaddy of all pisses. Just one American’s thoughts. Greg

  32. shahairyzad says:

    >I now no longer need to see “taking a piss” used in ANY sentence. In fact, can’t we all just move along?

  33. Roger Sutton says:

    >Indeed, let’s move on. Next!

  34. >Thank God!

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