when it's at home

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when it's/he's/she's at home (not comparable)

  1. (idiomatic, Britain) (of a person) in reality; in fact; when it comes down to it.
    Who is Nelson Mandela when he's at home?
  2. (idiomatic, Britain) (of a topic) plainly; in plain English; at its most basic level.
    Feng shui? What on earth is that when it's at home?

Usage notes[edit]

This phrase is an intensifier used to communicate the fact that one knows nothing about a particular person or subject, (Haemoglobin? What in blazes is that when it's at home?), effecting a self-conscious cutesy ignorance that sometimes also carries a humorous irony, depending on context. It often implies derision for the subject, or some erudite, esoteric, overly technical, or overly political word used in the company of the speaker.


  • 1852, Charles James Lever, The Daltons; or, Three roads in life. With illustr. by Phiz, page 101
    And who is she, when she's at home?" said Dalton, half sulkily. "Lady Hester, of course, Papa.
  • 1863, James Hedderwick, Hedderwick's miscellany of instructive and entertaining literature, page 166
    And who's the Marquis of Pennywhistle when he's at home?' said the little man, evidently making the question for the purpose of preventing further words...
  • 1922, James Joyce, Ulysses, page 62
    — Metempsychosis? — Yes. Who’s he when he’s at home? — Metempsychosis, he said, frowning. It’s Greek : from the Greek. That means the transmigration of souls.
  • 1964, "A Hard Day's Night" (movie), The Beatles, dir. Richard Lester
    'And who's Susan when she's at home?' - George
  • 1966, Tom Stoppard, "Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead" (play and film)
    'What's your name when you're at home?'
  • 1970, Seán O'Faoláin, Stories of Sean O'Faolain, page 329
    'And what, pray, is wrong with Lourdes when it's at home?' 'Commercialized. I simply can't believe that this island was the most famous pilgrimage of the Middle Ages.'
  • 1996, Sue Townsend, Adrian Mole: The Lost Years, page 71
    I tried to explain to the poor woman, but she said 'What's a bleedin' ozone layer when it's at home?
  • 1999, Anthony Cronin, Samuel Beckett: The Last Modernist, page 58
    'I wouldn't suggest that GBS is not a great playwright, whatever that is when it's at home,' he wrote.
  • 2000, John Le Carre, The Constant Gardener, page 163
    "So what's the white plague then, when it's at home?" he demands, implying by his hectoring tone that Justin is personally responsible for its spread.

Other rare inflected forms: