Rhyming Slang

Rhyming Slang

‘Cockney’ Rhyming Slang is a major source of confusion, and interestingly, that was its original intent.

‘Cockney’ rhyming slang is usually attributed to 19th Century market traders (or ‘costermongers’) who would use their own slang words to communicate between themselves while potential customers were kept in the dark as to what was being said.

The term ‘Cockney’ means someone who is born within the sound of bow bells, however these bells are not those of Bow Church in East London, but those of St Mary Le Bow, close to St Paul’s Cathedral  in the City of London. The church was rebuilt by Sir Christopher Wren after the great fire of London in 1666, and was damaged by German bombs in 1941. The bells weren’t replaced until 1961 so strictly speaking there were no cockneys borne between those years.  It has been suggested that the bells could be heard over a radius of about six miles, which would encompass much of London’s ‘east end’ (the traditional home of cockneys, but also much of London’s ‘west end’, Westminster and even Belgravia.

There are many examples of rhyming slang, but they are rarely used in full, or together. You will never hear a Londoner say ‘Taking the duchess of fife down the frog and toad to the rub a dub.’ for ‘taking the wife down the road to the pub’.  The first half might be used – and that’s how you might here the odd word dropped into conversation, like ‘taking a butchers’ (butcher’s hook – look), or do you fancy a ruby?’ (Ruby Murray – curry). Indeed my parents were both from the east end, and some words like ‘titfer’ (tit for tat – hat) were used in conversation, and it wasn’t until I was a teenager that I cottoned on to the origin of the word.

Rhyming Slang is constantly evolving, despite the best efforts of Don Cheadle in Oceans11, I have never heard anyone use the term ‘Barney Rubble’ for Trouble. I have heard suggestions of “Shall we go for a few Britneys” (Britney Spears – Beers) or “Can you lend me an Ayrton?” (Ayrton Senna – Tenner).

There are a million websites offering ‘translations’ but some of the more common Rhyming Slang terms include:

  • Adam and Eve – Believe – “Would you Adam & Eve it?”
  • Boracic lint – Skint – “I’m Boracic until payday.”
  • Brass cart – Tart (prostitute) – “She looks like a brass”
  • Bristols  – Bristol City’s (breasts  – you get the drift) – “Look at those bristols”
  • Cream crackered – knackered (exhausted) – “I feel cream crackered’
  • Oscar Wilde – mild (a type of beer) “I’ll have a pint of Oscar.”
  • Pork pies or porkies – Lies – “He’s telling porkies.”
  • Ruby (Murray)  – Curry – “Fancy a Ruby?”
  • Tom (foolery) -Jewellery – “She’s wearing some tom tonight.”
  • Whistle (and flute) – Suit – “Nice whistle you’re wearing today.”