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I most recently heard this in the context of a business deal:

Sorry gents, looks like we'll be taking the piss on that one.

I understood that the business had suffered a financial loss, although I expected I was missing some nuance.

In entirely different scenarios, I've heard piss used in British idiomatic phrasing that suggested a lack of concern, or carelessness. Those phrases are difficult to reconcile with the previously mentioned usage. Are there multiple idiomatic meanings for this word, or am I missing some kind of unifying theme?

Updated: I might not have a perfect recollection of the quote. But given the typical meaning of the phrase, I wonder if the speaker's intention was along the lines of "We'll be laughing about this later." Or maybe I just missed the real meaning.

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Btw, I couldn't find any guidelines for a vulgarity threshold, and other questions have already used this word, so I didn't obscure it, e.g. "p*ss". –  Anguish Languish Jan 31 '11 at 16:56
    
this seems to be an unusual use of the idiom to me –  jk. Jan 31 '11 at 17:39
    
@jk01: It is, see my answer. –  Orbling Jan 31 '11 at 17:57
    
"Taking the Mickey" is indeed a sanitised version of the more bladder-related "taking the piss", but only insofar as it assumes ignorance of rhyming slang. Just as no-one would be offended if called a "berk" unless they knew the derivation of the term. During the early 19th Century, the denizens of the London docks were fond of tales of roguery and drunkenness. One local who excelled himself was an Irish immigrant called Mickey Bliss, whose exploits earned him idiomatic immortality. –  Ickidee Apr 3 at 1:48

5 Answers 5

up vote 10 down vote accepted

"Taking the piss" simply means "making fun of" in its usual context. It's a very common expression within Britain, but probably rare elsewhere. ("Taking the mickey" is a similar, slightly sanitised version, that perhaps is used elsewhere?)

The Wikipedia page gives a fairly good overview.

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Australians also take the piss –  jk. Jan 31 '11 at 17:42
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Yeah, I suppose they picked that one up from us. ;) –  Noldorin Jan 31 '11 at 17:44
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@jk01: is that a general observation, or are you saying that they also use that expression? ;-) –  Steve Melnikoff Jan 31 '11 at 21:35
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I'm Australian and yes, we use this expression a lot. –  anthony-arnold Feb 1 '11 at 2:30
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@Steve both of course –  jk. Feb 1 '11 at 9:27

That particular usage of "taking the piss", actually means "taking advantage of".

When said from the receiver's perspective it would be akin to "You have got to be joking!", "Are you taking the mick[ey]?", "Are you taking the piss?" - All enquiries as to whether they are being made fun out of, the more usual meaning, but with the implication that is not the case, and they are being taken advantage of.

In this context, said from the side of the entity taking advantage, it says "we will be taking the piss", we will be taking advantage of the other entity.

Particularly used where terms and conditions are particularly harsh, or the client is being screwed for far too much money.

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Yeah, I think you're right about the specific usage here. It's slightly non-standard though. –  Noldorin Jan 31 '11 at 17:34
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@Noldorin: Perfectly standard meaning, at least in companies I've been in, an alternate to the usual though. It is derived from that, as indicated mind, so it can get a bit confusing. –  Orbling Jan 31 '11 at 17:56
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You can see where this has come from. Both usages kind of mean mocking. If you take the piss out of ---, you're mocking them, having a laugh at their expense. In this usage, you're doing something that is so outrageous or ridiculous (not necessarily advantageous) that people may suspect you're mocking them when they find out, as Orbling said. –  gpr Jan 31 '11 at 21:58
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After about 6 years of being in total ignorance, I finally now get the idea behind Craig David's lyrics in the song "She's On Fire" where he says "she's so hot it's like she's straight taking the piss". Not sure I get it 100%, but I get what it doesn't mean now. :) lol –  Digital Architect Oct 17 '13 at 5:14
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@DigitalArchitect: Yes, that's a similar use, from the other side. She's so attractive that it's as if she is mockingly beautiful, too attractive to be true. Straight is used there for emphasis, with a sense akin to absolutely or completely. –  Orbling Oct 17 '13 at 14:55

Re the second part of your question: yes, there are many many many idiomatic uses of piss in British English! Just off the top of my head:

  • piss - urine, to urinate. (The main literal meaning, of course.)
  • take the piss out of (someone/something) - to make fun of.
  • pissed - drunk, roughly equivalent to hammered in AmE.
  • on the piss - out drinking, similar to on the town, on the tiles.
  • piss (someone) off - to offend, irritate, anger someone. (Hence: pissed off = angry, closely equivalent to AmE pissed.)
  • Piss off! - Go away! (Milder analogue of Fuck off!)
  • piss about (or around) - to mess around, do things that aren't really worthwhile.

More suggestions welcome in comments...

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"Are you taking the piss out of me?" "No mate, you're giving it away" –  5arx May 27 '11 at 19:03
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'It's pissing it down with rain.' Re: Pissed - 'pissed as a fart' –  5arx May 27 '11 at 19:04
    
"pissing hell!" used primarily in the North of England. –  5arx May 27 '11 at 19:05
    
I believe American "pissed" came from "pissed off", so I would most likely not use "closely equivalent" to describe their relationship. –  phoog Jun 24 at 4:51

My understanding of this phrase breaks down to:

  • "Are you taking the piss [out of me]?"
  • "I'm just taking the piss [out of you]."

"Piss" in this interpretation could mean something like confidence (similar to the phrase "piss and vinegar"). In other words:

  • "Are you trying to make a fool of me?"
  • "Are you trying to cut me down a notch?"
  • Or in more modern parlance, "are you trolling?"

The dialogue you describe doesn't really make sense for that use of the phrase. "We'll be taking the piss" reads more as "we'll have the last laugh" to me.

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"Are you avin a laugh?/Is he avin a laugh?", like "Are you taking the piss?", are used (in London and other parts of Britain) in situations where John McEnroe would say "You cannot be serious, man!"

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