Cockney Rhyming Slang
Cockney Rhyming Slang has been moving around the world, thanks to the popularity of East End gangster movies such as Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels and many others. It’s a series of words and phrases used by Cockneys and other Londoners. Originally, a Cockney was someone born within the area where they could hear the bells of St Mary le Bow church in Cheapside, London. (This is known as being born within the sound of the Bow Bells). However, an increasingly mobile society means that this label applies to anyone with Cockney heritage or accent.
Rhyming slang consists of replacing a word or phrase with another that rhymes with it. To make it more confusing, the rhyme may be hidden, so that there’s no obvious link between the slang term and the original word or phrase.
No one is quite sure where the slang originates. Some speculate that it was designed to help thieves speak without being understood by others after a crackdown on crime in the heart of London. Others suggest that market traders created the slang so they could discuss matters among themselves while securing a good deal from their customers. What is known is that Cockney rhyming slang is alive and well, with new phrases entering the lexicon all the time.
Some phrases have entered common British speech and are used daily without any awareness of their Cockney origins. Examples include:
- use your loaf (loaf of bread = head)
- have a butcher’s (butcher’s hook = look)
- cobblers – rubbish (cobbler’s awls = balls)
- porkies (pork pies = lies)
- donkeys (donkeys’ ears = years)
Other traditional expressions which are perhaps less widespread include:
- apples (apples and pears = stairs)
- plates (plates of meat = feet)
- Barnet (Barnet Fair = hair)
- Boat race (= face)
- Trouble (trouble and strife = wife)
- Pony (pony and trap = crap)
- Adam and Eve (= believe)
- dog (dog and bone = phone)
- china (china plate = mate)
- Rosie (Rosie Lee = tea)
- rabbit (rabbit and pork = talk)
- whistle (whistle and flute = suit)
- bacons (bacon and eggs = legs)
- cream crackered (= knackered – tired)
- minces (mince pies = eyes)
- tea leaf (= thief)
- jimmy (Jimmy Riddle = piddle – pee)
The Cockney Rhyming Slang site also lists several examples of modern slang expressions, including:
- Ayrton (Ayrton Senna = tenner – ten pound note)
- A la mode (= code)
- Anneka Rice ( = advice)
- Adrian Mole (= dole – unemployment benefit)
- Abergavenny (= penny)
These are just a few examples. The BBC provides a long list of Cockney Rhyming Slang and there’s another extensive list here.
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