Cockney Rhyming Slang

When you visit London, you might overhear people talking like this and feel extremely confused. However, don’t despair! You haven’t lost your ability to understand the English language. Yes, we did teach you real English at Scrambled Eggs!

This is ‘Cockney rhyming slang’, an English dialect that originated in the capital city during the early 19thcentury. Although it is rarely used day-to-day in contemporary times but it remains a unique part of London’s history and culture.

The word ‘Cockney’ originated as a pejorative term for Londoners in the 14thcentury but nowadays generally refers to a native or long-time resident of the city. Traditionally this has been defined as someone who was born within earshot (three to six miles distance) of the bells at the St. Mary-le-Bow church in London’s East-End.

Cockney rhyming slang’ developed in the slums of London and was used by the poorest social classes as a flamboyant form of expression and to converse in code. It was also a useful mode of communication for criminals wanting to evade the law! It has since come to be viewed as a language of the people and a symbol of the city of London.

The dialect combines common words and cultural references into rhymes and non-sensical phrases to form a new vocabulary. Often the second word in a rhyme will sound like the word it intends to mean. Perhaps one of the most famous is ‘apples and pears’, which means ‘stairs’. Sometimes, a part of the phrase is used to convey meaning. For example, ‘butcher’s hook’, which means ‘look’ can be used as ‘have a butcher’s’, which means to inspect something.

So how does a listener understand what a speaker is saying? Well, you have to learn the definitions of Cockney phrases and rhymes by heart. With that in mind, ‘let’s have a butcher’s’ at some useful Cockney rhyming slang for your next trip to London.


Cockney Rhyming Slang | Match

Match the Cockney phrases with their definitions.

So how did you score?

0-2 correct – ‘Please sir, can I take the test again?’

3-4 correct – ‘Pretty Polly’

5 correct – ‘Cor, blimey guv’nor!’

Cockney Rhyming Slang | True or False

Decide if the statement is true or false.

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