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Cockney rhyming slang

It’s origins and modern additions

Cockney rhyming slang - It’s origins and additions.

Many years ago, before Jack the Ripper was on the prowl, vagabonds, tea leaves (thieves) and costermongers would sit and discuss their dodgy dealings among themselves. They sat in the ale houses of the East End talking about their private business but were always careful in conversation. There were the sharp ears of the coppers narcs (police informers) eagerly trying to listen to the secrets possibly being discussed. The spies would be paid for information, and punishment for crime was harsh.

Because they could trust no one but themselves, the villains began to use a verbal code known only to them at the time but as the years rolled by it became a common language of the Cockneys and it can still puzzle some people today. Phrases have been forgotten, and added over the years, but it is still Cockney Rhyming Slang.

Although there are many of the older generation still using rhyming slang, and indeed, people in my age group throw in the odd piece of slang now and then, there are a few new phrases coMary Le Bowming along with a more modern trend. This has been the case throughout the generations. One that springs to mind, came into being a few years ago, was due to a young tennis player becoming famous. "You must be having a Steffi, mate!" (Having a Steffi Graf - laugh). It disappeared as quickly as it came!

By the way. To be a true cockney you must be born within the sound of Bow Bells. These are in the church of Saint Mary Le Bow, in Cheapside. The bells have been muffled slightly because of noise affecting surrounding offices but they could be heard for miles at one time.Yes, I know, before you start E-mailing to say they were out of action for years due to war damage, the saying goes "within the sound". This means within range of the sound, not that they had to be ringing at the time you were born.

Sausage a Gregory for me?

Everyone’s trying to get in on the act now, and there are so many modern versions of rhyming slang popping up everywhere that its impossible to keep up with them.

Even phrases like “Vera Lynne”, meaning “Gin” are relatively new, being post WWII, and are commonly used today. The worst example of an attempt to add to the vocabulary occurred when I was running my pub. I was asked by a young man if I would (and this is true, I swear) “Sausage a Gregory” for him. It didn’t really take long to work out - Sausage and mash = cash. Gregory Peck = cheque. Put them together and you get "cash me a cheque"! It took even less time for me to inform him that I wouldn’t cash a kite for the Queen of England, even if she did have a guarantee card!

The translation

Let me tell you a story

If you click on the links in the story on the left you will open up a translation window, but here’s a brief idea of what went on:


I was sitting in the local public house feeling rather wealthy after winning a wager on the Greyhound racing, when in came my dear wife and our lovely children. She was travelling by foot to the market to purchase our son James some footwear, and needed a little extra cash, which I gladly supplied while enjoying a drink.

As I perused my newspaper an old acquaintance purchased an aperitif for me, which I consumed.

A medical condition caused me to rise from my seat, and I noticed that my friend was looking rather salubrious. When I inquired why this was he informed me that he had been in attendance at his dear sister’s wedding that day, and had therefore taken more care in the selection of his attire. He had also given himself a makeover.


There are also a great many crude versions of rhyming slang which I have tried to avoid here for fear of offending some people. Most refer to body parts. Although sexual or obscene I suppose it would be be better to use the rhyming term rather than the actual word.

There I was, sitting on my arris in the rubba with a sky full of bread from a win on the cherries. Suddenly, in walked the trouble and strife with the saucepans. Blimey! Good job I wasn’t sitting anywhere near the old brass in the corner, that would have caused a bull and cow.

I’m just having a ball of chalk up the frog to get some shopping she said. “I haven’t got time to bunny, just give me a pony to get little Jimmy a new pair of daisies”, she said.

I gave her a bullseye from my winnings, with a bit of rifle for the kids, and ordered myself another pigs.

I sat looking at the linen draper when an old china walked in and bought me a Tom Thumb. “Cheers geezer” I said, and slung it in me north and south. Me farmers were playing me up a bit so I stood on me plates for a while to ease the pain up my kyber and asked him why he was wearing a whistle and a new Dickey.

He told me his skin and blister just got married. That’s why he’d cut his barnet, had a dig in the grave, and changed his almonds.

Classic cockney comedy

Rhyming slang has been used in Film and Television programmes for years, and many comedians have made it part of their act. Now that you have had the above lesson see if you can understand the sermon from the classic comedy sketch by the late Ronnie Barker (below).

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