Cockney rhyming slang is a form of phrase construction commonly used by Cockneys in London. It is said that if someone is born in a place in London from where it is possible to hear the bell from the St. Mary Le Bow church, then that person is a Cockney. However, geographically and culturally the term cockney is generally used to refer to working class people from the East End, and area of London immediately to the east of the City of London.
Nowadays, rhyming slang is widely understood throughout the United Kingdom as well as in other English speaking countries, but is still associated with Cockneys. It is quite easy to understand how to use the slang if you have been living in an English speaking country for a while. Sometimes, English speakers use cockney rhyming slang without knowing that it is actually rhyming slang! Although it is now widely used, initially it was hard for outsiders to understand, history even suggests that it was a cryptolect developed by criminals to confuse the police, but no one is certain.
How does it work?
If we take the word ‘head’ for example, the cockney rhyming slang for head is ‘loaf of bread’ – ‘bread’ being the word that rhymes with ‘head’. However, generally the end of the phrase is omitted, so ‘head’ is just referred to as a ‘loaf’. This rule doesn’t always apply, sometimes both words are used.
Here are some examples:
Bull and Cow – Row
Trouble and Strife – Wife
Loaf of Bread – Head
Whistle and Flute – Suit
Apples and Pears – Stairs
Mutt and Jeff – Deaf
Boat Race – Face
Hampstead Heath – Teeth
North and South – Mouth
Dog and Bone – Phone
Barnet Fair – Hair
So, using the first 3 examples, a sentence could sound like this:
He had a bull with his trouble, so he used his loaf and decided to leave the house.
Can you tell us what it means?
The trick is to not overuse rhyming slang, often Londoners are stereotyped as people who overuse rhyming slang, but it isn’t really true. So, the next time you are in London, see if you can pick out some rhyming slang and let us know which ones you have heard.
Cryptolect – a secret language
To rhyme – when a word or sentence has or ends with a sound that corresponds with another
Stereotype – a widely understood but oversimplified image of a group of people, person or thing
To omit – to leave out or exclude
To pick out (phrasal verb) – to distinguish
Row – an argument