Cockney Rhyming Slang

October 25, 2011

in Writing Style

A Cockney is someone born within earshot of the bells of St Mary le Bow church in Cheapside, London. Commonly, this is known as being born within the sound of the Bow Bells. Opinion over why cockney rhyming slang was developed is divided. Some say it enabled thieves to speak among themselves without being understood, others say market traders invented the language to speak among themselves to secure a better deal from customers. There is even a theory that the language was invented because of the pollution in London; market traders could speak this lingo out the side of their mouths and not have to inhale as much bad air.

Cockney rhyming slang is still alive and well in the East End of London, and indeed across other parts of London. The slang was given a global stage thanks to the popularity of East End gangster movies such as Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels and Rock n’ Rolla.

Cockney rhyming slang replaces words with words that rhyme. Often there may be no obvious link between the rhyme and the original words, making it impossible for a person to work out what is being said. Here are some common examples:

  • Boat race = face
  • minces (mince pies = eyes)
  • plates (plates of meat = feet)
  • Barnet (Barnet Fair = hair)
  • apples (apples and pears = stairs)
  • Trouble  (trouble and strife = wife)
  • tea leaf = thief
  • jimmy (Jimmy Riddle = piddle – pee)
  • dog (dog and bone = phone)
  • whistle (whistle and flute = suit)
  • china (china plate = mate)
  • Pony (pony and trap = crap)
  • Adam and Eve = believe
  • Rosie (Rosie Lee = tea)
  • rabbit (rabbit and pork = talk)
  • bacons (bacon and eggs = legs)
  • cream crackered (= knackered – tired)

Other Cockney rhyming Slang phrases include:

  • have a butcher’s (butcher’s hook = look)
  • use your loaf (loaf of bread = head)
  • porkies (pork pies = lies)
  • cobblers – rubbish (cobbler’s awls = balls)
  • donkeys (donkeys’ ears = years)
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