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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7 Responses to “Cockney Rhyming Slang”
Sharon Hurley Hall
Nice additions, Paul. Looks like ‘pen and ink’ can mean either ‘think’ or ‘stink’ – the latter is how my hubby uses it. 🙂
Sorry! Missed the spelling mistakes towards the end. SHOULD read “… probably ought to take a ball …”.
Always a bit of a party piece, this Cockney lark! Born in Whitechapel and working at Gardner’s Corner for some time, I listened to some really old blokes using it. Most I’ve forgotten but one expression that sticks in my mind is ‘bowl’ for a servant: “bowl of gravy” = ‘slavey’.
Still – can’t hang about rabbiting (rabbit and pork) all day. Living ‘ere in sunny Florida and being the middle of a hot afternoon, I fancy a nice cold pig’s (ear). I’ll get on the ol’ dog (‘n’ bone) to me china (plate) and see if ‘e wants t’ put on ‘is tit-fer(tat), jump in the jam jar and take a powder (and gun) down the frog (‘n’ toad) to our local rub-a-dub for a couple of pig’s (ears) or a gold watch or two. We probably out to talk a ball (and chalk) home if we have too many, what do you pen and ink?
Sharon Hurley Hall
Sounds like you’ve got the right idea, Mitch.
This is so interesting. Thanks for teaching me something new today!
I should hang out with you more. LOL
@Stephen Thorn thanks for that suggestion! My storm and strife loves Cary Grant.
(Did I do that correctly?)
I first became aware of this slang in one of my favorite movies, “Mr. Lucky,” starring Cary Grant. In that movie they said the slang was Australian, and along with Barnet Fair they used “bottles and stoppers” (coppers — police), “tit for tat” (hat), “lady from Bristol” (pistol), “I suppose” (nose), “heap of coke” (bloke — man), and “storm and strife” (wife). If you’d like to watch a good romantic comedy/drama, I recommend the movie. They run it on Turner Classic Movies on occasion, or maybe you can find it on VHS or DVD.
These are great. Though I sometimes have difficulty understanding, I love the way it sounds. I have saved this list for later. Thanks.