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I was listening this podcast and heard/read the sentence below.

'A majority of the responses that you actually encounter, if you do encounter the public, the general public, are actually very encouraging. They're not shock,horror majority of the time, I can guarantee that. A lot of people say just 'good morning' and carry on...'

At the end one of the hosts explained the phrase.

'And when we say ‘shock, horror!’ we actually mean the opposite and mean something in not shocking or surprising – we’re being sarcastic, I guess.'

Also, from the first link attached:

shock, horror: said to mean something is not shocking or surprising

So there is a confusion here as depending on the definition given, the first expression (A majority of the responses...) should be 'They're shock, horror...' rather than 'They're not shock,horror...' as the speaker expresses that these neighbours and all these people who see another person naked just says 'hello' and carry on like it's normal.

I checked the definition on Cambridge Dictionary and it is about 'pretending.' One can mean the opposite or not when he/she is pretending. So this definition doubled my confusion.

What does 'shock,horror' mean?

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2 Answers 2

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Many things can be said sarcastically. This is not a special feature of English, the same is true in your language. When something is said sarcstically it has the opposite meaning to its literal meaning.

But when Donna speaks, she is using it literally:

The general public, are not shock, horror.

She means exactly this. When you are walking naked, and you meet other people they do not respond with shock or horror.

Georgina then uses the same expression sarcastically.

Well, shock, horror, Neil, I won’t be taking my clothes off anytime soon.

Here she means the exact opposite. You won't be shocked or horrified to learn that I won't take my clothes off to go walking.

How do I know that the first is literal and the second is sarcastic. You need to look at the totality of what Donna and Georgia are saying. Donna is saying that nakedness is normal and so people are not surprised. So when she says "people are not 'shock horror'" it must be literal.

Georgina says that she won't take her clothes off. But wearing clothes is the normal state for most Britons when in public. Would Neil be surprised that Georgina is doing the same thing that millions of other people do, do you think that Neil is horrified by Georgina wearing clothes?? Of course not! So this must be sarcastic, there is no other possible meaning.

Sarcasm isn't that hard to understand if you listen to the whole meaning.

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Apparently the phrase is British slang, but I'm British and I rarely ever hear it so do not worry.

From what I can gather, "shock horror" is an idiom that basically points out kind of ironically the fact that something is shocking.

In Britain, we have a sarcastic and dry sense of humour and this phrase embodies that. I would use it to point out something in a kind of ironic and "meta" way.

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  • It is a mocking reference to tabloid newspaper headlines. Commented Aug 11, 2022 at 6:14

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