4

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?

  • 2
    It may be slightly out of fashion now, but it has been widely used and is certainly understood throughout England. – JHCL Oct 13 '15 at 20:55
  • 5
    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.' – Edwin Ashworth Oct 13 '15 at 23:03
  • 2
    I'd agree with Edwin. I don't find it to be always derogatory, – Margana Oct 14 '15 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. – MissMonicaE Mar 7 '17 at 14:22
  • I've certainly heard it—and Victoria isn't a colony any more. – JDF Apr 12 '17 at 17:40
2

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.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.