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 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 else, the villains began to use a verbal code known only to them but as the years rolled by it fell into common usage by Cockneys and 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 the original slang, there are new phrases coming 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 due to a young tennis player becoming famous. "You must be having a Steffi, mate!" (Having a Steffi Graf -
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. Before you start Emailing 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.
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 years ago when I was running my pub. A bloke asked me to (and this is true, I swear) “Sausage a Gregory” for him. It didn’t take long to work out -
There I was, sitting on my arris in the rubba with a sky full of bread from a win on the cherries. In walked the trouble and strife with the saucepans. Good job I wasn’t sitting anywhere near the old brass in the corner, that would have caused a bull and cow.
I’m having a ball of chalk up the frog to get some shopping she said. “I haven’t got time to bunny, just give me some cash to get little Jimmy a new pair of daisies”, she said.
I gave her the money from my winnings, with a bit of rifle for the kids, and got myself another pigs.
I sat looking at the linen draper when an old china walked in and bought me a Tom Thumb. “Cheers mate” I said, and slung it in me north and south. My farmers started playing up a bit so I stood on me plates for a while to ease the pain in my kyber. I asked why he was wearing a whistle and a new Dickie.
He said his skin and blister just got married. That’s why he’d cut his barnet, had a shave and changed his almonds.
Click on the links in the story (left) to get a translation, but here’s a brief idea of what went on:
I was sitting in the public house feeling wealthy after winning a wager on the Greyhound racing. 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 friend 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.
Here is the late, great Ronnie Barker giving us a taste of Cockney rhyming slang in a novel way.
|Kings and Queens|
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|A - Z of of Companies|
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