Just wondering as I always use it and people often ask me what I'm talking about. So it got me thinking that it might just be a British thing, or maybe even just a thing people from the country commonly use? I'm use to people questioning phrases I commonly use, as I was brought up using cockney rhyming slang and half the time I don't even realise that nobody understands what I am on about. But I didn't think 'haven't a clue' was a cockney thing? or maybe I am just overthinking and everybody uses it?

EDIT: I know cockney isn't from the country. Half my family are Londoners and the other half are country.


It's certainly a common expression. "I haven't a clue" is a slightly abbreviated form of "I have not got a clue". Said in response to a question you do not know the answer to, it literally means that, not only do you not know the answer but neither do you know anything which might act as a clue towards the correct answer.

It might well be considered an idiom, although strictly speaking, an expression is an "idiom" when its meaning as an expression cannot be determined by analysing the individual words alone. The meaning seems pretty straightforward to me.

I wouldn't really think of it as slang either for the same reason - it isn't replacement language - although as you point out, in some 'cockney' London accents (and probably others too) it is heavily abbreviated, dropping the "I" and simply saying "haven't a clue". That could fit the definition of slang as "words and phrases that are regarded as very informal, are more common in speech than writing, and are typically restricted to a particular context or group of people".

Shortening it that way might be typically British English, but as an expression it isn't restricted to the UK. US English speakers may favour the word "clueless" (the title of a 1995 US movie), or the similar "I don't have a clue" (the title of a book by US author Sarah Cortez), which again go to proving that "haven't a clue" isn't strictly an idiom because it's meaning is tied to its component words and can mean the same formatted differently.


There’s no slang here; “clue” has its normal dictionary meaning. But the verb has an important caveat:

I haven’t a clue.

This sounds somewhat BrE to my AmE ears. I know what it means, but I’d say:

I don’t have a clue.

AmE doesn’t allow contracting “have” as a main verb, so we add auxiliary “do” and contract that instead. The meaning is the same.

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