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English language, Cockney rhyming slang

With a keen interest in British politics this writer is never afraid to share her opinion

(C) Keith Park

(C) Keith Park

Cockney rhyming slang is traditionally spoken by those Londoners within the sound of Bow Bells, or so I believe. I live far away from London in Yorkshire and although I have visited this capital city know little about cockney rhyming slang. However, in common with most other British people I do know a few cockney slang phrases. So let's see what I can dig up on this subject.

Chas and Dave classic Cockney humour

Some of the most common cockney rhyming slang phrases that seem to be almost universally known are:

  • Up the apples and pears: STAIRS
  • Mince pies: EYES
  • Pony and trap: CRAP. Pardon the language please.
  • Would you Adam and Eve it: Would you BELIEVE IT.
  • Your boat race: FACE
  • Tea leaf: THIEF
  • The trouble and strife: THE WIFE
  • Luvverly jubbely: ALL'S WELL
  • Syrup of figs: WIG
  • Farmer Giles: PILES or hemorrhoids.
  • If you are brown bread: You are DEAD
  • Battle cruiser: BOOZER, which is another name for a pub.

Now I have written those few samples I guess they may not be universally known. However, at least a few should be known around the UK. With comedy shows such as Only Fools and Horses examples of Cockney rhyming slang, real and fake, are often heard. A classic from the is series was a Ruby Murray which meant a CURRY.

So where did all this strange talk come from, I hear you ask?

With no definite history written it generally seems to be thought that cockney rhyming slang was the talk on the streets in years gone by. In fact it appears that it was the slang of thieves and rogues. In other words cockney rhyming slang was a type of secret language. Messages could be passed to the intended recipient without fear of being overheard. If someone did overhear they had no idea what the conversation was about.

Very clever really, and certainly crafty.

This cockney language was particularly useful when it was invented in the 19th century for use in front of police officers or coppers, as they were often called. Instead of saying a word out loud a word that rhymed with was used instead. With time parts of the phrase were dropped which caused more confusion to non cockneys. However for cockneys it helped confidentiality. An example of this is Daisy Roots which means Boots. These days cockneys would tend to say Daisies for Boots.

Confused? Well hopefully not too much so. Here are some more phrases which you may find entertaining. I have tried to stay clear of expletives or words that some may find offensive but I cannot guarantee this.

  • Jam jar: CAR
  • Cream crackered: KNACKERED
  • Dicky bird: WORD
  • Dog and bone: PHONE
  • Currant bun: SUN
  • Donkey's ears: YEARS
  • Bacon and eggs: LEGS
  • Whistle and flute: SUIT
  • Weasel and float: STOAT
  • Lemon squeezy: EASY
  • Loaf of bread: HEAD
  • Rabbit and pork: TALK
  • Jimmy Riddle: PIDDLE which is another word for urinate.
  • Bread and honey: MONEY
  • Barnett fair: HAIR
  • Army and navy: GRAVY
  • Artful Dodger: LODGER
  • Butcher's hook: LOOK
  • Richard the third: TURD

Of course the lists above are by no means exhaustive.

In order to cope with modern day life new cockney phrases are being created all the time. Even the old phrases are adapted at times. It is quite common for a couple of Cockney rhyming slang words or phrases to be strung together. Take for example:

  • Get yer Bacons up the Apples and Stairs: Get your legs upstairs. In reality this could mean go or come upstairs.
  • Me jam jar's cream crackered: Me car is knackered. In reality this would be my car has broke down.

Finally Cockney rhyming slang was used for describing various notes and coins of the realm. English currency was not called such mundane names as a five pound note and the like. Instead they were:

Archer = £2000
Bag of Sand = £1000
Grand = £1000
Monkey = £500
Ton = £100
Carpet = £30

Pony = £25
Macaroni = £25

Apple Core = £20
Score = £20

Speckled Hen = £10
Uncle Ben = £10
Nigel Ben = £10
Paul McKenna = £10
Ayrton (Senna) = Tenner = £10

Lady (Godiva) = Fiver = £5
Taxi Driver = Fiver = £5

Nicker or Quid = £1
Ten Bob Bit = 50p piece
Oxford = 5 shillings

Lord of the Manor = Tanner (sixpence)
Tanner = sixpence

Some of the coins are no longer valid. Decimalisation changed the face of British currency forever. However most of the note denominations still exists.

These days the term cockney is often used about anyone living in London, which is strictly speaking not true. If you visit our capital city though try not to bandy about cockney rhyming slang unless you are confident of the company you are keeping.

This content reflects the personal opinions of the author. It is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and should not be substituted for impartial fact or advice in legal, political, or personal matters.

© 2010 Ethel Smith

Comments

tastiger04 on July 16, 2013:

Interesting hub, found this rather amusing!! Voted up :)

htodd from United States on November 26, 2011:

That's really great ..Nice

Ethel Smith (author) from Kingston-Upon-Hull on October 03, 2011:

Yes Titfer could be an odd one lol

Jeff Berndt from Southeast Michigan on September 21, 2011:

Came across this while surfing around the hubs. Very interesting stuff. I could have used this knowledge some years ago when a fellow I once worked with looked at what I was wearing on my head and said, "Nice titfer." At first I thought he was trying to make fun of me, but he explained, "Tit for tat: Hat."

Voted up and interesting.

Ethel Smith (author) from Kingston-Upon-Hull on June 03, 2011:

Good luck with it Hunar

Hunar Muhaamed on June 03, 2011:

I've been fascinated with the cockney rhyming slang. I just wanna get more about it because every day am gonna use cockney language. Even I don't let a bit to forget about it. Thanks for your ''Hub Pages'' site.

Ethel Smith (author) from Kingston-Upon-Hull on June 29, 2010:

knell well direct them in the direction of this hub please and get them to click on an ad lol

knell63 from Umbria, Italy on June 28, 2010:

Hi Ethel, loved the hub. I have tried time and again to explain Cockney Rhyming slang to my Italian students but they think I am making it up. My personal favourite is Chicken Oriental - Mental.

Ethel Smith (author) from Kingston-Upon-Hull on June 09, 2010:

Thanks Sandy

Sandy Mertens from Wisconsin, USA on June 08, 2010:

Interesting hub. Thanks for sharing.

Ethel Smith (author) from Kingston-Upon-Hull on June 08, 2010:

Many thanks to you all. Those who are not English-I am glad it is something new to you.

HH yes that can be the problem with such communities if you are not quite in the thick of it.

Shinkicker-Minder is back on TV currently. Enjoyed your Scottish slang, perhaps a hub would be good?

H P Roychoudhury from Guwahati, India on June 08, 2010:

It is learning lesion for non-British people.

James A Watkins from Chicago on June 08, 2010:

I didn't know a thing about this. I appreciate the education. It's quite interesting. And well told by you. Thanks!

Shinkicker from Scotland on June 07, 2010:

Hi Ethel

A fun read

I used to love watching Minder and I think they made some rhymes up.

I remember my favourite was 'Vera and Philharmonic' for gin and tonic :-)

We have some in Glasgow, unique to us like

'corn beef' = deef

'Hampden' (= 'Hampden Roar") = score

'Alan Hansen' = Dancing

'Jungle Jims' = Tims = Celtic fans

'Cream Buns' = Huns = Rangers fans

'Greyfriars Bobby' = jobby

They call it Jockney :-)

Katie McMurray from Westerville on June 07, 2010:

WOW did I ever learn a lot, this is very interesting and really impressive, you my dear ethel are the English Cockney rhyming slang whisperer... very nice change of pace ;)

Hello, hello, from London, UK on June 07, 2010:

Although they are a world of their own and sometimes a bit hard to be around but I love them. My ex lived near Ilford and from Stratford till Barking was nothing but Cockney area. Now you go there is nothing but Bangladesh people there I was shocked. I remember how clingy they were. They are all gone. I couldn't believe it. I love Chas and Dave.

Ethel Smith (author) from Kingston-Upon-Hull on June 07, 2010:

Better not Mick lol. I liked the Chas and Dave videos although I am not really a fan.

Thanks angelllite. No probs I am always glad of a visit thankjs

Angelllite from United States on June 07, 2010:

Really enjoyed this hub, trying to find time to read your others.

MickS from March, Cambridgeshire, England on June 07, 2010:

Watcha Ethel,

excellent bit of work, and you did manage to avoid the rude ones, especially berk, and pin, but we won't go into them.

best

Mick