Fancy a cup of Rosie Lee? If you’ve no idea what we’re talking about, then you probably haven’t come across Cockney rhyming slang before. This humorous take on rhyming naturally has roots in London, UK, and has made its way to all kinds of media. It’s actually commonly used by many people living and working around London – meaning that it’s not all joking around!
If your knowledge of cockney rhyming slang starts and ends with Mary Poppins, it’s time you took a look at these interesting facts about Cockney rhyming slang. We’ll consider the history of the phenomenon, as well as a few common phrases you may or may not recognise yourself!
Cockney rhyming slang, as you can imagine, has firm roots in London, specifically, it has basis in the markets of the city, specifically fruit sellers and general vendors who would use it to direct trade towards specific stalls.
However, some historians believe that Cockney rhyming slang may traditionally have been used to cover up some of the products which were being sold. Quite why you’d want to cover up selling fruit or vegetables is a bit beyond us, mind!
The nature of Cockney rhyming slang is, on the whole, pretty tongue in cheek. For example, you’ll find that ‘trouble and strife’ means ‘wife’!
The etymology behind Cockney rhyming slang is actually pretty simple. You take a simple object, normally one word, and then swap it out for a word or phrase which is not even closely linked – apart from that it rhymes. For example, in the traditional London accent, you might ask if someone was having a ‘giraffe’ as opposed to having a ‘laugh’. Interestingly, this works just as well for northern dialects, as both words sound the same there, too.
The phenomenon of cockney rhyming slang is thought to date all the way back to the 19th century, perhaps around the 1840s, and historians are split over whether it was an intentional development, or if it was a natural linguistic evolution. Either way, the fact that it is still around to this day is nothing short of incredible!
It’s thought that some vendors may have been using Cockney rhyming slang to build a sense of camaraderie. We really don’t know for sure! It’s strange that something as fun as Cockney rhyming slang remains so mysterious! There are just some things we don’t have full records for.
If you want to refer to the Queen, you’d call her your old baked bean – but we wouldn’t recommend doing so to her face!
Heading down the stairs? In Cockney rhyming slang, you’ll be taking the apples and pears.
If you’ve ever heard the word ‘barney’ used in everyday language to mean a fight, scuffle, or another type of troublesome event, its got roots in Cockney rhyming slang. It’s short for Barney Rubble – which rhymes with trouble!
Similarly, if you ever hear a Londoner tell you that they are getting fitted for a syrup, they are actually saying they’re considering a wig. That’s because in cockney rhyming slang, ‘wigs’ translates into ‘syrup and figs’!
If anyone tells you that they are feeling a bit Hank Marvin, they’re starving – better find something to eat!
Londoners looking to try a ruby or two actually mean they fancy eating a curry – that’s because in Cockney rhyming slang, curry rhymes with Ruby Murray – see where we’re going with this? It’s not always easy to understand where some of these rhymes have come from, but what’s really interesting is how formalised they are – these words have travelled a long distance, it would seem!
The popular 70s TV show The Sweeney is actually named after a phrase from Cockney rhyming slang. It’s short for Sweeney Todd – which is Cockney rhyming slang for flying squad, aka the police!
Hiring a sherbet in London means you’re actually looking for a taxi – as sherbet dab rhymes with cab.
Make sure to help yourself to some Vera Lynn if you go to any London pubs – as you’ll get a nice shot of gin. It might not always be a good idea to start talking cockney rhyming slang to Londoners unless they approach you with it first!
Well that just about rounds up our ‘brass tacks’ on Cockney rhyming slang!
If you have any interesting or fun facts Cockney rhyming slang that we’ve missed, let us know in the comments section below!