Could anyone help me find a phrase/idiom which is used to describe an ordinary person? I remember it's something like 'a man on ___ bus'. I read it several weeks ago in the Economist or the Guardian, but I can't remember exactly.


2 Answers 2


You are thinking of the man on the Clapham omnibus. In British law he is a hypothetical, reasonably educated, ordinary person you use to compare expected conduct or behaviours with when dealing with things like negligence.

Source: Too much time in the law library while my wife was in law school, and Wikipedia

  • 16
    I love the common law names for types of people. The fertile octogenarian and the precocious toddler are two very interesting concepts in common law.
    – SGR
    Commented Dec 6, 2017 at 9:29
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    Please note that this idiom is totally unknown outside the UK (and is not commonly known even there as far as I know). You may have to think about whether your audience will recognize it.
    – Tonny
    Commented Dec 6, 2017 at 11:33
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    I wouldn’t say totally unknown outside the UK (I’m in Canada) but certainly restricted to legal circles I think! Commented Dec 6, 2017 at 14:05
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    It's mostly restricted to legal circles even in the UK: the more common equivalent is "the man in the street", who is probably not necessarily as well educated as the omnibus passenger. Commented Dec 6, 2017 at 17:21
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    @Sven Yargs: that's not limited to the US. The 'eggshell-skull' is a phemonenon in UK legal circles too. Commented Dec 6, 2017 at 20:37

If you need it more colloquial:

  • Joe Bloggs (UK)
  • John or Jane Doe (US)
  • the general public
  • grassroots
  • rank-and-file

If you want to be a bit condescending (hey, sometimes we all do):

  • The proletariat
  • Hoi polloi
  • common people
  • Plebs
  • 1
    "Plebs" could go in the second list as well
    – Yann
    Commented Dec 7, 2017 at 13:57
  • 1
    @Yann As could "Joe Six-Pack" since the 2008 U.S. Presidential election primaries... Commented Dec 7, 2017 at 18:44

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