A correspondent recently said this in the course of an e-mail to me: “I’m not asking you to piss in my pocket…” In context, it clearly meant “I’m not asking for compliments,” but I found the phrase curious, to say the least. I looked it up in the invaluable Cassell Dictionary of Slang and found:

piss in someone’s pocket, to phr. [1940s+] (Aus.) to curry favour, to be extremely close to someone, to ingratiate oneself.

Now, I’ve always admired the Aussie way with language (see this recent post on slang), but this completely baffles me. In what context could the phrase “piss in my pocket” come to have such a meaning? Or is pissing considered a sign of respect and admiration Down Under? I am grateful in advance for any elucidation.


  1. The ‘close’ sense is obvious enough. If ever you attempt to piss in someone’s pocket (I am speaking purely speculatively here) you will find you need to stand quite close to them. I guess the ‘ingratiate’ sense is merely an extension of that.
    Of course, if you only want to piss on someone’s pocket you can do that from a greater distance and the sense is lost. This expression is somewhat gender-specific..

  2. Australians do have an interestingly upside-down-under view on things, combined with a habit of choosing the earthiest possible from any list of alternatives.
    Working together with a great guy from Queensland on a week last month in an Austrian [not Australian] village, I heard him happily saying over a cold beer on a hot day “This is going off!”. He explained that something “going off” is high praise, similar to “just right”, “hitting the spot”, “just what I needed” etc.
    In Britain, of course, “going off” means food/drink going bad, stale, sour… so almost the opposite.

  3. Interestingly, several online glossaries seem to define the phrase as “someone telling you their troubles when you don’t want them to”. It is also defined as being insincere. But the first one seems to fit best with the actual phrase. Perhaps it morphed from there through use?

  4. I have never used this phrase before (as Alan said, it is probably a gender specific phrase). However, I think that it may simply reflect the Aussie slang fixation with pissing.
    My personal favourite is “to piss in the wind”, but we have a fine selection of phrases such as pissed off, getting pissed, piss head and piss weak, applicable in an infinite variety of ways.

  5. I have often wondered about this phrase too, Languagehat. Actually a boss once said it to me and I had to ask him what it meant (I had no idea it was Australian, I assumed it was English).
    It does seem absurd, given that someone pissing in your pocket is clearly not a compliment. Then again, it is also said that a bird pooping on you is actually good luck, so…

  6. I think it’s something to do with providing warmth

  7. dung beetle says

    Aussie slang from another perpective. In the service they had a perverse sense of shock to upset the pommes, especially the toffee nose gezzers who had pototoes in their gob when speaking down their beak to us who know no better.. Payback time for Botany bay.

  8. ‘In what context could the phrase “piss in my pocket” come to have such a meaning?’
    If the, er, manly bits of you that allowed directional pissing were on fire in some way?

  9. In Arctic regions, the residents used to wear coats made of seal skin which had pockets that were mercifully watertight. When intricate repair work needed to be done, the thick mittens worn got in the way. But, because of the below-zero temperatures, there was a risk of frostbite for bare fingers so it became usual to urinate into the pockets to provide warmth for workers – who would periodically dip their fingers in the pockets to revive them. Members of the lower social orders strove to be available to provide this service to the more skilled. Hence, pissing in somebody’s pocket became a way of gaining favour.

  10. The practice was common in medieval europe.
    peasants would ingratiate themselves with the
    nobility by urinating into their pockets.
    The hands would then be warmed in the fliud.

  11. I have heard a saying “Don’t piss in my pockets & tell me it’s raining”. I wonder whether this is sort of a shortened/altered version of this which has retained the meaning? To me it might help explain the origin of that first definition that was given.

  12. Its like this…your in a crowded bar/pub/hall….you are busting for a piss…..but its so crowded and the dunnies are a hassle…and you spot someone you know but don’t particularly like, because their a pompous prick….and you realise that you can use them…use their pocket to take that piss…..but you are going to need to get close enough, get in position, and get them to drop their guard so that you can….and the way to do that is be nice and say nice things about them….that you do not really believe…but they do…and so you get in close and their guard goes down…..and you save yourself a trip to the dunny.

    Look, I got to say, be careful. You have to be quick to get away, because after 10 seconds or so the person realises that there something wet and warm running down the inside of their pants…and a couple of more seconds, and they realise thats its you….and if that person is also rather large…which could be, and drunk, which is almost certain…then there can be a bit of a blue….but thats ok….cause everyone watching, when they work out whats happened , will tend to laugh ….and take the piss out of the other guy.

  13. The voice of experience!

  14. take the piss out of the other guy

    I assume you mean “out of the other guy’s pocket”.

  15. I was told long ago in Yorkshire that pissing in his pocket was actually a corruption of the phrase pissing in his bucket. Apparently urine was collected under the cover of darkness so no one would know how poor you were. The urine was used to make gunpowder in times of shortages during wars. Each bucket had the proprietors name on it and that person paid a small sum to the pisser who took pains to be favoured with regular empty buckets.

  16. Steve Kennedy says

    Take it from an Aussie that has been using this one for 50 years. Pissing in your pocket refers to someone giving you unwarranted compliments in order to gain favor. Pissing in your pocket gives you a nice warm feeling but it soon goes cold and stinks. You end up with the same feeling.

  17. Never mind the actual origin, “Are you trying to piss in my pocket?” would indeed be a nice response to the sort of arm-around-your-shoulder sudden old friends you can acquire in bars. To be said while you keep your hands on your wallet and phone.

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