14

There is this idiom that says "x is as American as apple pie", which means it is very or typically American. I wonder if there is any similar idiom for something that is typical of England or of English people.

6
  • 13
    I've always thought that an odd expression - as though we didn't make apple pies in Britain! Jan 11 at 9:16
  • 3
    @KateBunting - yeah, that’s an interesting point. “The phrase was first used in the early 1800s but didn’t become widely known until World War II, when it became common for soldiers to say “for mom and apple pie” when speaking to journalists about why they had enlisted.
    – user 66974
    Jan 11 at 9:35
  • 4
    Are you looking for something specifically English as opposed to the other nations of the UK?
    – terdon
    Jan 11 at 19:50
  • 1
    @user66974 They definitely have moms in other countries. Pretty much all of them, in fact... Jan 13 at 14:34
  • @KateBunting I think if you read between the lines, the implication of "as American as apple pie" is that being 'American' means having a Eurocentric (especially British) worldview and/or background.
    – JimmyJames
    Jan 14 at 22:14

6 Answers 6

19

I have come across as English as roast beef. On my Google ngram search this rated above any "as English as a *" results except for those involving phrases like "English as a second language". It is still far below as American as apple pie.

7
  • 1
    Very Interesting. I found many examples from Google Books, like the following one from Jake Thoene's Hands of Deliverance: "Though Dora was as English as roast beef, and Angelique as French as paté, they had grown ever closer since they had come to America together with their husbands."
    – BeatsMe
    Jan 11 at 11:32
  • This would mean nothing to me, as an American. Admittedly, I'm vegetarian, but I would assume this means it's not English at all. Jan 11 at 23:18
  • 2
    While several of the other suggestions feel English, this is the only one that I think I've heard before.
    – gidds
    Jan 12 at 10:23
  • 5
    @David: The phrase is not so common in English, it's true. But the French refer to the English as "les rosbifs" just as the English refer to the French as "the frogs".
    – TonyK
    Jan 12 at 15:50
  • 1
    @EdwinAshworth, the main one is books.google.com/ngrams/… but also see books.google.com/ngrams/graph?content=English+as+a+second+* (add this '*' by hand - as the SE formatting didn't make it part of the URL)
    – Peter
    Jan 13 at 6:36
14

There are literally hundreds you could use ("tea and scones", "a seaside town on a rainy day", "talking about the weather", "a bowler hat and a pinstripe suit") but the one you'd choose is always going to depend what other attributes besides Englishness, you want to connote. For example, you wouldn't want to say that the a car was "as English as a rainy day" unless you wanted to indicate that the car was dull; you'd say "as English as a bowler hat, pinstripe suit and an umbrella" (if the car's styling was ultra-conservative), or "as English as a game of cricket on the village green" if it was classic, a bit sportier, but still fundamentally quite comfortable. If you said "as English as a football hooligan in a St George's t-shirt" you'd be saying something quite different about it.

6
  • 1
    The idea of cricket on the village green was used by John Major to describe Britain(!) - but as a very English Tory, it's likely that his view of Britain is generally England. The village green certainly distinguishes Britain from the other cricket-playing nations, and the cricket distinguishes England from the rest of Britain. Jan 12 at 11:29
  • 1
    Thanks Toby. I'm familiar with the quote as used by John Major; he also spoke of "warm beer" iirc. I wasn't aware that he used the phrase to refer to the whole of Britain rather than just England. What a mis-step! It is 100% a specifically English image... just try changing out the word "British" for "Scottish" or "Welsh" - "as Scottish as cricket on the village green" is something only an idiot would say un-ironically. Jan 12 at 11:41
  • Actually, checking further, it seems the correct quote refers to "county grounds" rather than "village greens". Still inaccurate to make that a whole-Britain image, of course. Jan 12 at 12:52
  • 1
    @TobySpeight The local county team's cricket ground is within sight of my house, here in the Scottish Highlands.
    – Spagirl
    Jan 13 at 11:28
  • 1
    @TobySpeight It's your county team's ground that I can see! Ross County play at Castle Leod. I do not live in Castle Leod, for the avoidance of doubt... Also, I've never been to a cricket match. Skye and Lochalsh County apparently play at Plockton High, so that may be your nearest.
    – Spagirl
    Jan 13 at 12:07
9

I have heard “as English as a nursery rhyme” and “as English as a rainy day”. Ngram search throws up a few references. Here are two:

The Perfect Widow

“The windscreen wipers were beating a soothing tempo, as English as a nursery rhyme”

Hagerty

”With a name like “Doretti,” you’d think this car would have some Italian sheetmetal or even an Italian engine underneath, but the Swallow is as English as a rainy day”

The allusion to a nursery rhyme probably goes back to the days when Britain was a world power and the English upper and middle classes reared their very young children in a nursery, sometimes with a nurse. Given the British and upper/middle class dominance of the world in Victorian times, the nursery image may well have seemed to typify England rather than other places.

The comparison with a rainy day is less secure. There are many rainier places than England but, nevertheless, many coming to England from sunnier or drier places regarded raininess as typical of England. (Having lived in west Scotland, it is easy for me to surmise that these travellers never went further north to experience Scottish west coast rain!)

The English themselves may resort to cosy thoughts such as:

Seventy times Seven

“Vicars, pillars of the community, as English as tea and cake and cricket on the village green, but times are changing.

Although tea and cake outside in good weather may be common throughout Britain, the mention of cricket distinguishes England from other parts of the country where it was or is less popular.

2
  • 5
    Your expressions are really interesting, but I don't think many native speakers have ever heard of them.
    – BeatsMe
    Jan 11 at 11:05
  • 1
    I agree. Your interesting question provoked a rummage through many dusty memories of my life in Britain. I suppose if there were a more common saying we would know it more easily.
    – Anton
    Jan 11 at 11:14
5

The only entry of the form "[as] English as" that appears in Frank Wilstach, Dictionary of Similes, second edition (1924) is this one:

English as Piccadilly. — ANON.

A Google Books search finds a dozen or so matches for this expression, from as early as 1882, but mostly from the first half of the twentieth century. An instance from 1900 amplifies the expression to "as English as Piccadilly or the white cliffs of Dover"; and a few Google Books matches—from as early as 1933—deploy "as English as the white cliffs of Dover" on its own.

Elyse Sommer, Similes Dictionary, second edition (2013) offers a greater array of "as British [or English] as" similes:

As British as roast beef —Anon

As British as tea and scones —Elyse Sommer

The variations to this are virtually limitless; to cite just a few: "English as the changing of the guards at Buckingham Palace," "English as clotted cream," "As English as Piccadilly," "As English as Trafalgar Square."

I'm not sure how far to trust Sommer's authority, however, given that (1) she attributes one of these similes to herself; (2) she refers to "the changing of the guards" rather than to "the changing of the guard" at Buckingham Palace; and (3) in her coverage of "as American as," she cites "As American as cheesecake" but not "as American as apple pie."

5
  • 1
    Clotted cream, and tea and scones, seem to be the most charming of all the bunch. (I don't know about which are the most common....) Jan 12 at 2:00
  • I think you've hit it on the head. Englishness or Britishness is not expressed by the English or British in phrases of the type "As English as…" but in other more subtle constructions, which is very British if you think about it. I personally think it's a combination of attitude of mind and social class. We don't think about being British, which is why we don't have to fly the Union Jack (unless we are football hooligans or latter-day fascists).
    – David
    Jan 12 at 14:49
  • As British as roast beef? The expression is the "The roast beef of old England" and was coined in 1731. But it doesn't fit the formula of the question.
    – David
    Jan 12 at 17:15
  • youtu.be/znmjnEMqHeg
    – gidds
    Jan 12 at 18:27
  • I like the idea of sticking with food items and being as British as Piccalilli.
    – Spagirl
    Jan 13 at 11:30
3

If you're open to terms referring to British and not English, specifically, there's as British as the Queen which is relatively common. I found several uses in Google Books, and 26,900 hits on Google. You can also find as English as the Queen (88 results on Google for me), but that is less common.

Of course, the term is also not especially accurate since the British monarch isn't particularly British and has ancestors hailing from various other countries. On the other hand, you could argue that this makes the expression even more accurate since modern Britain is a very diverse nation comprised of people from many different ethnic and national backgrounds.

Be that as it may, the expression exists and is in use, albeit nowhere near as common or idiomatic as the American equivalent you mentioned. I can certainly confirm that I have heard it used in the UK today.

14
  • 5
    As a native Brit, I've only heard "as British as the Queen" to mean "not actually that British at all".
    – Vicky
    Jan 12 at 7:41
  • 1
    @Vicky as a non-native Brit, I have heard it used both ways. I suspect this may have a something to do with whether one's social circle is mostly pro or mostly anti monarchy. I tend to hang out with people who're at best lukewarm about the idea of monarchy as a form of government, so I assume that's why I've heard it used ironically as you describe. I have certainly heard it used to mean very British as well though and that's what most (all?) of the examples returned by my searches linked to in my question seem to mean.
    – terdon
    Jan 12 at 18:01
  • 2
    @Vicky I am reminded of an exchange from Blackadder Goes Forth: "I'm as British as Queen Victoria!" "So your father's German, you're half German, and you married a German?"
    – Carcer
    Jan 12 at 19:57
  • 1
    Might work today, when England is one (or more than one including the whole Commonwealth) of the only places that still has a queen. Back when monarchy was more commonplace, it wouldn't really work, since lots of countries had queens (reigning or otherwise). Jan 13 at 14:45
0

John Bull

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Bull John Bull is a national personification of the United Kingdom in general and England in particular, especially in political cartoons and similar graphic works. He is usually depicted as a stout, middle-aged, country-dwelling, jolly and matter-of-fact man.

And more at https://www.historic-uk.com/CultureUK/John-Bull/

Also, in some parts of Britain straight John Bull.

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.