Cockney Rhyming Slang
When I was a boy, I occasionally used a strange type of slang language despite not even realising when I was using it. This is because I might have told a friend to ‘use his loaf‘ if I was telling him to think more, or I might have heard my Mum say she was ‘just having a butchers‘ while looking around a shop.
This strange slang is known as cockney rhyming slang. A person is often called a ‘cockney‘ if they are from East London or simply if they have the cockney accent which is common in East London and some surrounding areas. I grew up a bit further away from this area, and my accent is not at all cockney – however, a few slang words like the examples I gave above, made their way into my English! Cockney speech uses a lot of slang, but the most famous slang is the ‘rhyming slang’, which we will look at now.
Part of the reason that I didn’t realise I was using cockney rhyming slang, is because I wasn’t making any rhymes! Or, at least, not knowingly. This is because cockney rhyming slang generally uses a shorter version of itself, and the longer version is slowly forgotten. For example, when I said ‘use your loaf‘ – the loaf referred to a loaf of bread. And it was that bread that rhymed with head. Confused? I don’t blame you.
- non-slang = ‘use your head‘
- rhyming version = ‘use your loaf of bread‘
- shortened rhyming version = ‘use your loaf’
Today, many people who use ‘loaf’ for ‘head’ may not even realise that this originates from a rhyme using ‘loaf of bread’.
“Have a butcher’s” or “take a butcher’s” are synonymous to “have a look”, or ‘look for something’. The solitary word butcher’s is a shortened version of ‘butcher’s hook’ – the large metal hook that butchers use to hold pieces of meat. As always there is no connection between a butcher’s hook and the act of looking – other than the rhyme!
- Non-slang = ‘Have a look‘
- Rhyming version = ‘Have a butcher’s hook’
- Shortened rhyming version = ‘Have a butcher’s’
Here are some other examples of cockney rhyming slang that are commonly used in East London and some surrounding areas:
- Apples = Stairs // origin – ‘apples and pears’
“ Fred, go up the apples and grab me screwdriver would ya?”
2. Jam = Car // origin – ‘jam jar’
“Nice jam, Douglas!”
3. Plates = Feet // origin ‘plates of meat’
“My plates hurt from walking all day”
4. Dog = Phone // origin – ‘dog and bone‘
“He’s always on the dog!”
5. Mincers = Eyes // origin – ‘mince pies‘
” Ow! I’ve got something in my mincer!”
It is difficult to imagine how cockney rhyming slang began. Particularly because the only way to know the ‘rhymes’ is to have heard them before! To English learners I would say that cockney rhyming slang is a fun novelty to learn, but shouldn’t be attempted in speech. Not only because it would seem very fake for a foreigner to use this type of slang, but more importantly, because outside of a small area in the East of London it is unlikely people will understand!
If you have any questions about cockney rhyming slang, or know any similar occurrences in other languages, let us know in the comments section below.