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I have found that I had to explain what "the man on the Clapham omnibus" means to someone.
I had taken it for granted that the phase was in standard usage, as my parents used it when I was a child.

So what is a good and short way to express the same concept in a way that "the man on the Clapham omnibus" can understand?

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It's the first I've heard of it. Is it a regional phrase? –  FrustratedWithFormsDesigner Jul 15 '11 at 15:21
    
@FrustratedWithFormsDesigner - it's a British legal expression, basically "an ordinary person"/"the man on the street". "Man on the street" is probably more common day-day term –  mgb Jul 15 '11 at 15:41
    
@Martin - I don't think it's a legal expression. It is pretty archaic now I would say - if you see it used now I'd say it's with a deliberate attempt to sound a bit quaint or old-fashioned. As you say "man on the street" is more common now. –  AAT Jul 15 '11 at 16:53
    
@Martin Beckett - Put that in an answer and you get +1 from me. –  T.E.D. Jul 15 '11 at 17:46
    
'The man IN the street' is what I know it as. –  Barrie England Sep 5 '12 at 7:42
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2 Answers

up vote 10 down vote accepted

It simply means the ordinary man on the street. It was introduced as an example in a trial in Britain in 1933 - although the phrase is older. Presumably though only dating back to the introduction of the Clapham bus service!

It does now have a definite legal meaning. You might for example have a contract with a supplier which is allowed to have more detailed and complex terms than one with a regular member of the public, "Would this be understandable by the man on the Clapham omnibus" is the test. Think of a typical software Eula.

When it was first used, Clapham was a lower middle class (in modern terms) area of London in commuting distance to the city (financial district) so mainly clerks, junior office workers etc. So the test was actually pretty specific to somebody who could read and write but wasn't a professional lawyer/accountant/stockbroker. Since then London property prices mean that the man on the Clapham omnibus now almost certainly IS a professional lawyer/accountant/stockbroker.

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It's "the man on the Clapham omnibus".

No, I don't think this phrase is familiar to many people today.

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