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

bishop“That’s what she said” is thought to have been around since the 1970s with the earliest known 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.

Accross the pond from Saturday Night Live’s studios, a much older equivalent double entendre inspired phrase had been around for nearly a century- “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.

“Said the actress to the bishop” is thought to derive from the fact that, during early English theater, actresses very commonly used prostitution to supplement their stage income. In fact, their performances on stage often worked very effectively as a form of advertisement to men in the audience, who could generally request an “audience” with a given actress via so-called “orange-girls”- scantily clad young teen girls who sold fruit to audience members. Because of the so-called “loose morals” of the actresses, clergymen spent a lot of time with them…

…trying to get them to turn from their sinful ways.

Thus, it was a common occurrence for actresses to confess their sexual sins to the bishops. Somewhere along the line (and nobody knows exactly where or when), it became common 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.

“Said the actress to the Bishop” became a near extinct phrase by the 1970s, but saw a huge resurgence in common usage relatively recently due to Ricky Gervais, playing the character David Brent in the British The Office, frequently using this wellerism.

In homage to 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.

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

Bonus Facts:

  • 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*
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  • 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. 😛

  • 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”….

  • 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.

  • […] 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” #all #featured #language […]

  • That’s what she said.

  • 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 🙂

  • 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”.

  • 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

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

  • No the british equivelent is No shit Sherlock

  • 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…

  • 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”

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

  • Pissedoffenglishguy

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

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

  • And apparently Alfred Hitchcock used a slightly different version of the British phrase in a screen test,

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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?

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

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

  • 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.

  • “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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

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

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

  • The Real English

    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

      @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. 😉

  • 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.

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

  • 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.

  • 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….

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

  • picard2bridge

    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.

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

    • Daven Hiskey

      @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.

  • 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

  • Fascinating comments. I am nearing 70’ish and my whole life we have invoked the Actress and the Bishop in our conversations for a bit of fun. As an Aussie this is very standard in our conversations. Our English friends understand the same usage. Perhaps it’s a generational thing?
    I do like crumpets though, but sadly no fire.

  • New link for the Alfred Hitchcock screen test using the phrase variant “as the girl said to the soldier” (the old link is dead)

    Watch how the young woman reacts. We’re certainly much more jaded these days.

  • Canadian author Mordecai Richler was all over this gag in “Solomon Gursky Was Here,” and had one character using variations of it in almost every chapter in which that character had dialogue. A few choice quips:
    “We thought you’d never get here!”
    “Said the curate to the go-go dancer.”

    “I thought the whole thing was thoroughly immoral from beginning to end.”
    “Said the prioress to the traveling salesman.”

    “My father loved Canada and everybody in it.”
    “Said the call girl to the judge.”

    Although I’d heard “that’s what she said” before, I had never seen this predecessor of it before reading the book. It certainly is more…imaginative, I guess.

  • Your title is all wrong. “That’s what she said” is the American equivalent of an old, established English phrase. Very common when I was growing up. Perhaps less so now with bland transplants propagated by Hollywood and US TV replacing the local colour. Another one of similar meaning that you also probably don’t hear much now is “As they say in the Good Book”.