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In Reginald Hill's Dalziel and Pascoe novels, I've read the phrase: "He could [do x] for England. It is always derogatory. It is a lovely phrase!

Because I can't put my finger on a quote from these books, I'll make up some examples which capture the tone. A man might say of his wife: "She could shop for England." Or it might be said of a man with bad table manners: "Don't invite him -- he could belch for England." A person who has a bad tennis serve might be described as: "She could double-fault for England."

My question is in two parts: (a) Is this expression widespread in England, or is it confined to the region of the D/P novels (Yorkshire)? (b) Are there similar expressions in other parts of the English-speaking world?

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    It may be slightly out of fashion now, but it has been widely used and is certainly understood throughout England.
    – JHCL
    Commented Oct 13, 2015 at 20:55
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    And in my experience, it can also be used as a droll compliment: 'She could iron for England.' From The Greenparent : '... nothing ever gets ironed unless my Mum visits[ –] that woman could Iron for England I'm sure.' Commented Oct 13, 2015 at 23:03
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    I'd agree with Edwin. I don't find it to be always derogatory,
    – Margana
    Commented Oct 14, 2015 at 0:33
  • In the US, I've heard He could win an Olympic medal for belching and She's the queen of double-faulting. Commented Mar 7, 2017 at 14:22
  • I've certainly heard it—and Victoria isn't a colony any more.
    – JDF
    Commented Apr 12, 2017 at 17:40

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The literal meaning of this phrase is "he could be on the national or Olympic X team." It's not really derogatory. If X was rowing, or running, for example, it would be a compliment. The reason it often sounds like an insult is that there isn't a national belching, shopping, or double-faulting team so doing that a lot, strongly, or the like is not a good thing.

I have only heard "for England" - no other country seems to have picked it up. You could say "he belongs on the national belching team" or "he is an Olympic belcher" I suppose.

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