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taking the mickey out

taking the mickey out

Postby Philip Hudson » Wed Jul 31, 2013 12:41 am

I am still having trouble with “taking the mickey out”. The Urban Dictionary says “mickey” is from the pejorative word “Mick” for an Irish Man. It defines the idiom as mocking someone in order to take the fight, gravity, etc from her/him. Then it seems to contradict itself by identifying the phrase “taking the mickey” as Cockney rhyming slang. Wikipedia also blames the word on Cockney rhyming slang. It seems unlikely to me. Mickey Bliss seems to have been an English radio performer and that seems an unlikely source for a Cockney to use in creating a slang idiom. I do not think this idiom has much if any currency in the USA. I am not sure how common it is in England.

Some languages seem to have no idioms. Some languages have idioms. English may well be the most idiomatic language. That is the impression I have gained from my ESL students. We have an idioms class in our free ESL school. It is one of our most popular classes. The teacher is content to teach the class every year so I have never had the opportunity to teach it. I usually teach Grammar IV. The lower graded lesson courses are the most difficult to teach so my course is, idiomatically, a breeze. I would really like to teach idioms, but Jim, my good friend, has, idiomatically, a hammerlock on it.

I also teach American History to ESL students. I get to use and explain idioms in that class. It is a great class to teach.

I plan to post some more idioms here. I hope others do also.
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Re: taking the mickey out

Postby gailr » Wed Jul 31, 2013 3:13 am

I can see a possible pejorative undercurrent, considering the long history of friction between the British and the Irish. However, none of the instances I have seen (over several years and from more than one country) of "taking the mickey out of X" were referent to Irish individuals, groups, culture, or history. They indicated a jibe at whatever concept filled the X spot.

Based on what I've read of its etymology and the context of its common usage, avoidance of this term for fear of cultural insensitivity is as misplaced as avoidance of the word niggardly, in the mistaken belief that it is derived from a slur.
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Re: taking the mickey out

Postby bnjtokyo » Wed Jul 31, 2013 6:25 am

I tried the ngram viewer which shows no usage prior to 1947 or so and then increasing usage beginning 1947/8 to a first peak in 1965, usage fell back for a few years and then increasing usage from 1971 to 2000 (where the ngram data base must end I guess).

On a thread from another site I found the following quotation citing one of the most respected sources on slang, slang origins and usage:
"Partridge's 'Dictionary of Slang and Unconventional English' dates this expression to c. 1950, and gives its origin as rhyming slang ('Mickey Bliss'). Mickey Bliss, thought to be BBC radio personality, has never been conclusively identified. A competing theory is that 'taking the mick' was derived from the verb, 'micturate' (to urinate)."

I find the rhyming slang argument fairly convincing because Jeremy Alderton's "Cockney Rhyming Slang dictionary page" (http://www.aldertons.com) lists "Mickey Bliss" as rhyming slang for "p*ss" This page says the Mickey Bliss character is mythical and and quotes the following explanation
"The original idea was that of deflating someone, recalling the description of a self-important blusterer as 'all p[*]ss and wind.' " It also says the phrase became common in the late 40's, which agrees with Partridge and the ngram viewer

The same definition is given on the Rice University Cockney word list:
http://www.ruf.rice.edu/~kemmer/Words04 ... ckney.html
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Re: taking the mickey out

Postby Slava » Wed Jul 31, 2013 12:50 pm

How about the two main theories both being correct? If Mickey Bliss is a fake name, and mick is presumed to be from micturate, and the idiom is for p*ss, it seems to me the two are not mutually exclusive. Mick was simply turned into Mickey Bliss, which happens to rhyme with p*ss.
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Re: taking the mickey out

Postby Perry Lassiter » Wed Jul 31, 2013 1:05 pm

Gail, your example choice is either good or bad. One of our politicians used the term niggardly in reference to some skinflint, and the online world erupted! Only briefly as I recall.
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Re: taking the mickey out

Postby gailr » Wed Jul 31, 2013 9:33 pm

^ Perry, that's why I chose that example...

It is best to understand the words one uses, and hope that one's culture is generally educated enough to share that understanding. The larger and more diverse the population, the more likely that surprises will crop up over very different associations with a particular set of sounds! Some urge using only the smallest, most general words to express concepts readily grasped by the lowest common denominator. Meh: very small ideas and very small words for very small minds...not desirable to me, nor, I think, for anyone who loves language?

Awareness of pejorative words -- and attitudes -- is necessary to minimize causing or increasing conflict. That can be a constantly moving goalpost, requiring an ongoing awareness of and interest in the associations words or behaviors have outside one's closest group. When the intersection of two groups is congenial, both sides are enriched by the encounter. Perhaps that is how occasionally widely divergent meanings developed in certain PIE reconstructions.

When that intersection isn't congenial, it can lead to friction and/or dismissing all attempts at what started as good manners with the particular pejorative sneer of "PC." A population with a taste for exciting brouhahas over (mis)perceptions can foster a culture of chronic offender meeting chronic offended.

My original intention was to substitute a more "family-friendly" term for an earthier one. It has inspired agorans to independent research -- always desirable, I think? -- and started an unexpected conversation. I thought everyone knew that term; now I have to find a new euphemism...
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Re: taking the mickey out

Postby Slava » Wed Jul 31, 2013 9:44 pm

While I am aware of this phrase/idiom, I don't believe I have ever encountered it with the "out" bit. It's always been, as I recall, "Are you taking the mickey?"
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Re: taking the mickey out

Postby Philip Hudson » Thu Aug 01, 2013 12:15 am

Red Neck is great. White Trash and Honky are pejorative. Gringo is neutral. Have you read, “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings” by Maya Angelou? Mega pejorative of White Trash.
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Re: taking the mickey out

Postby gailr » Thu Aug 01, 2013 8:40 pm

I thought it a fine book; it's in my library.

Then again, I have a SIL who refers to herself, steadfastly, as "white trash" even though they have a very comfortable life. I think she's thumbing her nose* at equally comfortable neighbors who shudder at the thought of the unwashed masses.

Slava wrote:While I am aware of this phrase/idiom, I don't believe I have ever encountered it with the "out" bit. It's always been, as I recall, "Are you taking the mickey?"
You are correct. Apparently I've been mentally adding a prepositional phrase ... to make it more grammatical ....

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
* How's that idiom? :wink:
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Re: taking the mickey out

Postby Philip Hudson » Thu Aug 01, 2013 11:19 pm

Maya Angelou is a talented poet and writer. I am not showing disrespect for her accomplishments. It is just that in "I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings" she bemoans her childhood poverty. Compared to my childhood, she was living in the lap of luxury. Her grandmother owned a grocery store and her absent father sent home money. I do sympathize with her for some of her problems, but not for her poverty. I just don't think she was ever a caged bird. Point of views differ. Her book is in my library also.

Then there's the old song, "She's Only A Bird In A Guilded Cage ".
See: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5EN_wsQwfd4
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Re: taking the mickey out

Postby Audiendus » Fri Nov 29, 2013 10:02 am

Slava wrote:While I am aware of this phrase/idiom, I don't believe I have ever encountered it with the "out" bit. It's always been, as I recall, "Are you taking the mickey?"

In British English, you can either simply "take the mickey" or "take the mickey out of" someone. But not just "take the mickey out".

Less common variants: "taking the mick" and "taking the Michael".
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Re: taking the mickey out

Postby Philip Hudson » Fri Nov 29, 2013 2:00 pm

I see some inconsistencies in some of the discussion here. If we are talking Cockney rhyming slang, consider the word micturate. While I am sure there are some educated Cockneys, I don't see them creating rhyming slang. So it is unlikely that the Cockney population would be familiar with this word. The transfer of micturate to Mickey seems unlikely. I don't believe that more than two percent of English speakers know the word micturate. I know I have never heard anyone say it and have hardly ever read it in non-technical literature.

If we can write micturate why can't we write and say p*ss without the asterisk. When used as a common word for micturate and not as a "dirty word" it has no bad meaning. My grandmother, who was a righteous an old lady, used the word for a bodily function. Also, what will I call the little ants that ball up by the thousands, float in a pool of water, and stink of formic acid? P-asterisk-ss ants?

We have had a good ride during the discussion of “taking the mickey out”. It speaks well of the erudite membership of the Agora.
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Re: taking the mickey out

Postby Perry Lassiter » Sat Nov 30, 2013 3:54 pm

P*ss, as you also quaintly write it, is rapidly becoming an acceptable word, even in polite society. Indeed I have noticed that as language gets rougher, the rising tide lifts all baby cuss words into respectability.
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