It's just not on/cricket


Senior Member
Hi there,

I've seen "it's just not on" before and learned it meant "it's just not acceptable." Still, after reading it again in David Lodge's book Deaf Sentence, I thought I'd look it up again to see if it refers to particular situations.
Q1. Does it?

In the book, Desmond tells a young girl who would like him to supervise her PhD thesis that "it would be incredibly insulting to Professor Butterworth if I were hauled out of retirement to take over one of his research students. He would never agree to it. And the University would never wear it. It's just not on, I'm afraid."

I found this online:
They say,
So, to clarify matters, the phrase it’s not on, or it’s just not on simply means it’s not acceptable. It’s a phrase that comes from the more well-to-do end of British society – upper middle class and above – and is synonymous with other posh expressions of outrage such as it’s just not cricket and well, of all the nerve!

Then I looked up "it's not cricket" and found that "the phrase it's just not cricket is an old-fashioned British English expression used to describe situations which are unfair or socially unacceptable"

Q2. Is there any difference in usage between the two phrases?
Q3. Also, is "it's just not cricket" used less than "it's just not on"?

Thank you!
  • sound shift

    Senior Member
    English - England
    The meanings overlap substantially. I would say that "It's not on" is the more common of the two. "It's not cricket" may even be used more often for humorous purposes, in imitation of pompous posh types, than by genuine pompous posh types.

    "It's not on" may originally have been "upper middle class and above" but I don't think it is now. Perhaps it never was or perhaps it's another example of people taking their speech up-market along with their material aspirations in the credit-fuelled "boom" that came to a shuddering halt in 2008.
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    Senior Member
    English - American
    Interestingly, it's just not cricket is frequently used in AE, where we (almost universally) have no knowledge of the game. I have had people ask me what crickets (the insects) have to do with fairness. It actually has to do with the perception that cricket is a gentlemen's game (not always so) and is played by the rules (also sometimes not the case). Anything that is a violation of the everyday rules of society, especially the unwritten ones concerning fairness, is just not cricket.
    English (Midlands UK)
    However, I think the more modern meaning is that, like a garden party that has been hit by bad weather, it's been called off, it can't go on, it's not feasible. This is more objective and not at all upper-class.
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    Senior Member
    English - American
    I have always had the feeling (as an AE speaker reading BE fiction) that It's not on was an elliptical way of saying "It's not on [the list of things that will happen/are allowed/are acceptable]." I feel that it is used to indicate both things that are outrageous, and things that are impossible.

    It's not cricket (AE and BE) always seems to be about fairness or obeying the rules. To be fair, "outrageous" could be used to describe unfairness or rule-breaking if you have strong feelings about such things.

    Uncle Bob

    Senior Member
    British English
    I agree with pwmeek that the difference (slender) between "not on" and "not cricket" in that the latter is a measure of fairness (pure fiction in reality) whereas the former is a measure of social acceptability.
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