Stop taking the Mickey - Sorry?
This well used and most common of English idioms left my class at a recent summer school wondering if I was speaking in ‘Klingon!’ I decided to check the origin of this fascinating idiomatic expression just to be sure I was indeed speaking English.
‘Stop taking the Mickey’ – It’s Origins
This wondrous of idiomatic expressions has taken on several terms, the earliest one being ‘taking the mike’, in The Gravesend & Dartford Advertiser of 1901. It is related to the euphemism ‘piss proud’ (1788) and ‘take the piss’ out of someone. This was used as an analogy between ‘deflating the bladder’ and ‘deflating false pride’. In order to ridicule a person for being ‘full of themselves’ you ‘take the piss out of them’; and why not! They have an exaggerated idea of their own importance. Taking liberties at the expense of others is something that is embedded in English culture and is seen among close family members, friends, work colleagues, and in parliament too!
Today, it is not intended for ridicule or bashing someone verbally speaking (although that was/is questionable at times) but is designed for light-hearted banter.
Some believe that in time, many found the idiom ‘taking the piss’ rather vulgar/explicit (I wouldn’t use this in class) and thus not the most poetic (piss or urine are hardly rhyming words) of expressions. It has had several expressions, ‘take the bliss’ (although how this became linked with ‘mickey’ remains a mystery) ‘mick’, and 'take the mike out of him.’
‘Mike’ and ‘Mickey’ replaced ‘take the piss’ probably by the 1930’s and was soon followed by ‘taking the mickey’ (capitalization is optional).
Now, some believe that ‘Mick’ is a racist term, although this is hardly substantiated by documentation.
‘Taking the Mickey’ is used extensively in the UK. Ireland, South Africa, New Zealand and Australia follow closely behind although not necessarily in that order. I have not heard of it being used as much in the U.S.A.
Why ‘Mickey’? Well, that is one we may never truly know the answer to and I’m not taking the mick either!
To sum up, the photo above was a card that my students made and gave me as a gift. If you look closely you will see the correct use of the idiom 'take the mickey'. Very smart students indeed!