The British Equivalent of “That’s What She Said”

Daven Hiskey 47
bishopToday I found out there is a British equivalent to “that’s what she said” that’s been around for over a century, namely, “said the actress to the bishop”.  This phrase is thought to have its origins as far back as the Edwardian period (around 1901-1910), though it didn’t appear in print until “The Saint” novel “Meet the Tiger” was published in 1928.

This phrase derives from the fact that, during early English theater, actresses were poorly paid and often used prostitution to supplement their income.  Because of these “loose morals”, clergymen spent a lot of time with these actresses… trying to get them to turn from their sinful ways.   Thus, it was a common occurrence for actresses to confess their sexual sins to these clergymen (bishops).  Somewhere along the line (and nobody knows exactly where or when), it became common then to say “as the actress said to the bishop” or alternatively “said the actress to the bishop” any time someone uttered a phrase that could be taken sexually, if viewed in the correct light.

If you liked this article and the Bonus Facts below, you might also enjoy:

Bonus Facts:

  • “Said the actress to the Bishop” became a near extinct phrase by the 1970s, but saw a huge resurgence in common usage recently due to Ricky Gervais, playing the character David Brent in the British The Office, frequently using this wellerism.
  • In homage to Ricky Gervais, Steve Carrel adopted the American equivalent of “that’s what she said” for his corresponding American The Office character.  Similar to how the British The Office caused a resurgence of “said the actress to the bishop”, the American The Office spawned a huge resurgence of “that’s what she said”, which had fallen out of common usage after its peak in the 1990s.
  • “That’s what she said” is thought to have been around since the 1970s with the earliest documented case of the phrase showing up on Saturday Night Live, spoken by Chevy Chase in a weekend update skit in 1975, which also happened to be the first season of SNL.  “That’s what she said” was later hugely popularized thanks to Wayne’s World skits on Saturday Night Live and later usage in the movie “Wayne’s World”.
  • Both “that’s what she said” and “said the actress to the bishop” are used to turn seemingly innocent phrases into phrases with sexual connotations.  The innocent phrase itself, such as “I can’t do it; it’s just too hard”, is called a “double entendre”, which basically means it’s a spoken phrase which can be understood in two ways, with the first meaning being straightforward while the second is generally either ironic, inappropriate, or risqué.
  • “Said the actress to the bishop” is also commonly reversed, if it fits the double entendre better.  Such as “Don’t grip it so tight!” *said the bishop to the actress*

Expand for References:

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47 Comments »

  1. Here Be Answers! May 23, 2010 at 11:19 pm - Reply

    Haha.. Interesting to know the alternative phrase, and it’s history. But I think it’s still convenient to use the simpler phrase “That’s What She Said”, especially so in my country where people would be rather confused if I uttered the latter one. :P

  2. James May 28, 2010 at 4:11 am - Reply

    I guess you have not yet made the link to the double meaning of “Bishop”, the most phallic of chessmen. Ever heard of “bashing the bishop”….

  3. sofakingwetar May 28, 2010 at 10:13 am - Reply

    Weird this is the first time I have ever heard of “That’s What She Said” as being a phrase, I have heard the phrase “as the actress said to the bishop” in use (may be not common) for the last 30 years.

  4. Steve May 28, 2010 at 4:14 pm - Reply

    [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by pops, Today I Found Out. Today I Found Out said: Today I Found Out The British Equivalent of “That’s What She Said” http://goo.gl/fb/OdX2u #all #featured #language [...]

  5. minime March 3, 2011 at 11:34 am - Reply

    That’s what she said.

  6. Jessie March 8, 2011 at 11:16 pm - Reply

    Even though my guy friends have used the phrase “That’s what she said” conversationally at least once per hour for the last 15 years or so, and I knew it was an SNL reference, and from Wayne’s World, I guess I just didn’t realize all the various connotations. And yet, I still find it funny now that I know :)

  7. MSavage March 9, 2011 at 2:56 am - Reply

    Is there something similar in other languages? In The Netherlands we use “Dat zei mijn vrouw vannacht ook” which means something like “That’s what my wife said last night”.

  8. Lia March 19, 2011 at 3:43 pm - Reply

    I really do hope that no one thinks in Britain we go around saying that ;)
    We say that’s what she said just as much as Americans do

  9. hoehlengnarf April 5, 2011 at 10:49 am - Reply

    In German, we say “sagte das Mädchen zum Matrosen” (said the girl to the sailor).

  10. Fred April 14, 2011 at 8:58 pm - Reply

    No the british equivelent is No shit Sherlock

  11. BritGirl May 4, 2011 at 2:59 pm - Reply

    I’ve been saying ‘that’s what she said’ for months! I’ll make an effort to say the british equivalent from now on =)even if I have to explain it every time I use it…

  12. DJJD May 6, 2011 at 6:12 am - Reply

    This is complete Bull.

    I live in England, we say “That’s what she said” No one in England under the age of about a hundred would say “said the actress to the bishop”

  13. Rob May 8, 2011 at 12:19 pm - Reply

    In Sweden we say “som flickan sa.” (as the girl said). You can make any sentence sound dirty by adding it.

  14. Pissedoffenglishguy May 9, 2011 at 3:57 pm - Reply

    i’ve never heard that in my entire life and i live in England, aged 30

  15. Dave May 19, 2011 at 5:53 am - Reply

    A woman walks into a bar and asks the barman for a double entendre, so he gave her one.

  16. Coffeepillow May 21, 2011 at 10:33 am - Reply

    And apparently Alfred Hitchcock used a slightly different version of the British phrase in a screen test, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zl6SMOSXa7A

  17. Lewis May 26, 2011 at 3:45 am - Reply

    Also there is another British ‘that’s what she said, its a slight change from the one you mentioned, and it goes like ‘said the tart to the vicar.

  18. Steve June 5, 2011 at 12:45 pm - Reply

    All those Brits saying “this is bull”: it’s not bull at all. I’ve heard it many times over the years. I’m guessing it’s just not said by people with a brain the size of a grape.

  19. Dunc June 6, 2011 at 11:58 am - Reply

    I’m British and have heard and used “the actress said the bishop” for donkey’s years, whereas I’ve never once heard a British person use “that’s what she said”. Clearly the latter phrase is only used by the chavier and less intelligent elements of our society.

  20. Mik June 7, 2011 at 11:52 am - Reply

    Thanks for reminding me, as a Brit in the US I’ve been using the “That’s what she said” line, now I’ll remember to use the bishop and actress line.

    Crap, does that mean I’ve become a bit Chavier?

  21. Peter Dant June 10, 2011 at 7:37 am - Reply

    as sofakingwetar said above, the usual British phrase, in my experience, is “As the actress said to the Bishop”.

  22. stop June 19, 2011 at 4:05 pm - Reply

    facepalm. NOBODY uses that phrase over here. Just stop. Stop it. Right now.

    • Daven Hiskey
      Daven June 19, 2011 at 9:26 pm - Reply

      @stop: Ricky Gervais disagrees with you.

  23. giantrobotbil October 17, 2011 at 1:06 pm - Reply

    Alfred Hitchcock, during a sound test for the movie “Blackmail,” in 1929, used the similar phrase “as the girl said to the soldier,” obviously a post war-time variant of the phrase.

  24. Duncan Hill December 4, 2011 at 4:03 am - Reply

    “Said the girl to the sailor” is also used, as well as other variations, like “as the nun said to the bishop”. Sorry, but it was never “extinct” by the 1970s, and I have heard it (more commonly the various variations which seem to vary each telling) commonly used all my life in the UK, I’m nearly 30. DJJD, stop and offenglishguy seem not to live in the UK.

  25. Reggie January 1, 2012 at 12:56 pm - Reply

    How quaint that the “as the actress said to the bishop” has been converted to such a weak form for US consumption. I’m 75 years old and have used the former all my life, not only as a joke but also to underline the condescension of those sanctimonious priests.

  26. Daniel February 22, 2012 at 2:33 pm - Reply

    You people are IDIOTS. The saying is a joke about sex scandals in the church, not a literal reference to clergy trying to save the souls of fallen women.

    • Daven Hiskey
      Daven February 22, 2012 at 4:36 pm - Reply

      @Daniel: sources?

  27. gurtol April 10, 2012 at 3:51 am - Reply

    No, this is an english joke. you won’t hear anyone in scotland, wales or ireland saying this

  28. rowan July 21, 2012 at 11:25 am - Reply

    As a British person i can assure you that this is a thing.

  29. The Real English August 7, 2012 at 3:30 am - Reply

    This is said only by posh people and the middle-aged – the sort of people who read the Telegraph and eat crumpets by the fire in a wooly jumper in the mid-afternoon. Normal people say “that’s what she said” just like everybody else.

    • Daven Hiskey
      Daven Hiskey August 7, 2012 at 12:44 pm - Reply

      @The Real English: You mean all English people don’t sit around by a fire with a backdrop of leather bound books, smoking their pipes and drinking their tea with their pinkies up, while tittering over the foibles of less historic nations? You’ve just shattered my whole perception of the English. ;-)

  30. Ellie September 29, 2012 at 7:59 am - Reply

    As a British teenager, me and my friends would say “that’s what she said.”

    The only person I’ve heard say “as the actress said to the bishop” is my Grandma.

  31. rick December 6, 2012 at 12:56 pm - Reply

    @Daven re: The Real English: LMFAO! Me too!

  32. Kjazzw January 29, 2013 at 5:21 am - Reply

    I’m ‘British’ and I’ve never said this in my life, nor had I ever heard it until watching The [UK] Office. Just because one modern-day icon has said it in a mockumentary and thus, ‘representing’ – in a loose manner – the standard life of a British citizen, does not mean ‘the British’ say this for a living. As far as I can remember, I – amongst every other person I’ve met who say it – always say ‘That’s what she said’ and have never heard of the alternative phrase until now. ‘Amazing what you can find out’ ..when you actually hear it from someone first-hand.

  33. Steve C February 5, 2013 at 6:26 am - Reply

    As a Brit, I’ve NEVER heard ‘That’s what she said.’ It may well be a generational thing since many US shows are given more airtime here since the spread of digital channels – mainly to a younger audience.

    There are also alternatives to: “as the actress said to the bishop:

    “as the the girl to the gunner”
    “as the girl said to the sailor”

    Where the double-entendre may be closely linked to either vocation.

    One possibility of the origin of all, may be the play known as a farce; where comic actors playing unlikely senarios with mixed partners end up in compromising situations ‘with hilarious consequences.’

    Now, if you’ll excuse me I have to check out the neighbor’s back passage….

  34. Yer Pal April 18, 2013 at 5:59 pm - Reply

    There’s a local band in my city called “The Stiff Bishops”!

  35. picard2bridge May 6, 2013 at 9:10 pm - Reply

    I’m amazed at all the Brits saying that no-one uses the actress/bishop line in the UK. Just because they don’t doesn’t mean it’s not commonplace. It is, and has been as long as I remember. I and my relatives and friends in the UK and Australia have said it regularly (at least daily) for decades, and it was very common before Ricky Gervais ever took it up.

    Also far funnier than “That’s what she said”, innit.

    So to those Poms who haven’t heard it, I suggest you get out more and use it. As the actress said to the bishop.

  36. SeemsFishy August 27, 2014 at 8:25 pm - Reply

    Rather odd that your reference is wikipedia and it’s reference is this article

    • Daven Hiskey
      Daven Hiskey August 27, 2014 at 8:50 pm - Reply

      @SeemsFishy: Ha, that is funny. I assure you, when I wrote it, it was not. But TIFO is used as a source a lot in Wikipedia these days. When we use Wikipedia as a source, we basically look at their sources and all that for a particular piece of information, as well as look for other sources to confirm. For SEO reasons, though, we don’t include the redundant sources (for some articles, there’d be like 50 links :-)), just picking the biggest one typically for each piece of information. Particularly I like the ones that give a lot of related information so if people want to read more on a topic than we mention they have the links to follow right there, so Wikipedia is almost always a great one for that.

  37. Stephen Houghton November 23, 2014 at 3:42 am - Reply

    To be honest I have never heard that phrase “said the actress to the bishop”. I am 30 and am no where close to being an unintelligent chav as some people have suggested. I believe this phrase would be used by the upper class or older generation. As I believe movie culture has most definitely solidified the use of “that’s what she said” in today’s British society. Me x

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