Do You Confuse this Word in British or American English? (30 Uses of the Word PISS)

Take the PissThis is not only one of the most COLORFUL words in the English language, it can also be very USEFUL. BUT, because of the difference between BRITISH and AMERICAN English, it can be one of the most CONFUSING and EMBARRASSING!

Apart from the literal meaning of PISS (to urinate), it can be used to talk about ANGER, INTOXICATION, JOKING, and a huge variety of other imporant uses and collocations. Even if you´re not going to use it, it´s a good idea to know how others use it.

WARNING: Although the word PISS is nearly as severe as bad words/swear words, depending on its use, it´s appropriateness is often questionable, and sometimes vulgar. Use with caution.

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PISS Literally Means to Urinate

The Oxford dictionary defines Piss  as to urinate (vb), and urine (n), and includes following examples:

  • Piss One´s Pants (to urinate involintarily. Also Piss the Bed)
  • Piss Down Rain (rain heavily)

British/American Confusion #1: Being Pissed- Angry or Drunk?

Don´t feel bad if you´ve made this mistake, as it happens to nearly every American English speaker who encounters British English for the first time, but this difference is super important to avoid embarrassment, and to make your English more international.

The typical story I´ve heard at least a few times is the innocent American going to a bar with a Brit or a group of British English speakers who say something like “I can´t believe how pissed I am.” The American thinks, “Oh my gosh, did I offend this person in some way?”

If he doesn´t clarify, the American English speaker will believe that the guy was angry, when the British Speaker was really saying that he was drunk.

 The British English speaker, on the other hand, is less likely to make the inverse mistake because the British are exposed to a lot more American TV and culture than the other way around.

The Top 10 Uses of Piss

To Be Pissed/Pissed Off (American): A  colloquial way to say that you´re very angry or upset about something or somebody.

  • Examples:  I´m pissed (off) at her because she made us late for the concert. She´s pissed (off) because she studied all week and still failed her test.

To Be Pissed (British): to be drunk

  • Example: The group of hooligans drank whiskey all afternoon and were obviously pissed by the time the game started.

British/American Confusion #2: Jokes or Urine?

This confusion is a lot harder to make, but it can cause confusion. In American English Take A Piss literally means to urinate, but in British English Take THE Piss  means to joke around and a British English speaker saying “I´m taking the piss out of him ” would sound very strange because the American speaker would naturally hear I´m taking the urine out of you, which wouldn´t make any sense in American English because only a medical surgeon can literally take the piss out of someone.

To Take a Piss (American):  This is quite literal and straightforward in American English. To Take a Piss is a very informal and slightly vulgar way of saying to urinate, but keep in mind that, in general, only male friends speak this way to each other. (also: take a pee, take a leak, etc)

  • Example (one male friend to another as they drive on the highway): Hey, can we take the next exit and stop at a gas station? I really gotta take a piss.. 

To Take the Piss (British): To make fun of, joke around, or tease them (also to kid somebody, or give somebody a hard tiem)

  • Example (A British Guy to an American): The U.S. plays like a bunch of amateurs. I´m just taking the piss out of you!  (I´m just joking with you) 
  • Etimology: to be piss proud is to have false pride, so the root of to take the piss out of somebody is to deflate their false pride.

Here´s an excellent video from Ronnie at EngVid that will be very useful:

[su_youtube url=”https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3O3Yb69_t9E” width=”700″][/su_youtube]

Piss Something Away: To waste something

  • Example: He was such a great soccer player, but he just pissed away his talent drinking and doing drugs.)

Pissing Contest: Literally a competition to see who can piss (urinate) further, but the figurative meaning is an argument between two people in which they´re each vehemently trying to be right, unable to compromise with the other. 

  • Example: I´m going to disagree with both of you on this one. It´s a pissing contest.

Piss your Pants: To urinate involuntarily in your pants (or any clothes). You can also say Pee your BedPiss Your Bed is to urinate in bed.

  • Example: He had to go to the bathroom so bad that he ended up pissing his pants.

Piss off: (a) as in the above example, to be pissed off is to be angry. To be pissed means to be drunk in British English. (b) When you tell somebody to piss off, you are telling them to go away (although it´s obviously rude to tell somebody to piss off, it´s a lighter version of fuck offOther synonyms include: scram, leave, get out of here)

  • Example: After she discovered that her best friend was lying to her all this time, she decided to end the friendship and tell her to piss off

Piss into the Wind: To do something in vain, pointless, or futile

  • Example: The local soccer team has already lost any hope of making it to the playoffs, so any wins they produce from here on will just be pissing into the wind

Piss Like a Racehorse: to urinate excessively (very colloquial, used among men). See the interesting origin of this expression.

  • Example: He drank so much water before starting the drive that a few hours later when they stopped at a gas station he pissed like a racehorse

More Uses

Piece of piss: Something that´s easy, without much difficulty

Piss Poor: to have no money, to be excessively poor

Not Have a Pot to Piss in: To have no money, to be broke

Piss Artist: A person who drinks an excessive amount of alcohol, has trouble handling it, and is likely to act poorly under the influence. (in American English a lightweight is somebody who can´t hold their alcohol- who gets drunk very easily).

Be Out on the Piss: To be out drinking

Piss Head: An alcoholic

Be Full of Piss and Vinegar: To be full of excessive, maybe even agressive energy

Piss in the Pickles: To ruin something

Piss or get off the pot: To stop wasting time on something. Do it or stop pretending you´re going to. (Also, Shit or get off the pot)

A Piss-up: A session of heavy drinking

Piss on them: Another way to say that a certain group of people doesn´t matter. There´s no reason to care about them.

Pisspot: Somebody who drinks a lot, particularly beer.

Pissing Down Rain: When it´s raining really hard (see video)

Piss Around/About: To act in a silly or immature way

Piss on/Over: to show dislike or contempt for.

Piss Something Up: to ruin something

Piss Proud: to have false pride about something, to think you are more than you are.

Piss on your Parade: When somebody intentionally destroys another person´s dream or happiness (it comes from the expression rain on your parade, which has a similar meaning, but isn´t so vulgar).

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7 Comments

  1. Nero on June 24, 2014 at 8:29 pm

    hehehe, thank u for the very detailed a article!

  2. Ethan on June 25, 2014 at 6:49 pm

    The first time a British person asked me if I was “taking the piss” I was so confused. Great article!

  3. rena on July 30, 2015 at 1:50 pm

    how about piss yourself?

  4. Charles Russell on June 7, 2017 at 6:35 pm

    Where I grew up (Atlanta, GA) , even “pee” was a dirty word, never used at home, school, nor of course, church.

    • Justin Murray on June 7, 2017 at 9:18 pm

      Interesting. The South is a lot more formal from what I understand. Is “pee” still a dirty word nowadays.

      • Charles Russell on June 8, 2017 at 12:39 am

        No, it seems to be okay now. And it seems to be the standard word that Atlanta doctors use now, although I counter by using “urinate,” since it still grates on my ears. But now Atlanta has lost almost all of its distinctive Southern character of days gone by, because it now has so many people from all over the country and the world. And “go to the bathroom” was nice talk for kids in the home. I was recently referred to an Arab neurologist in Atlanta, and I declined, concerned about the “alienization” of my home town and country, but more about the possibility he might be a Muslim and terrorist-sympathizer.

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