A Brief Bit About Cockney Rhyming Slang

‘Allo me old china – wot say we pop round the Jack. I’ll stand you a pig and you can rabbit on about your teapots. We can ‘ave some loop and tommy and be off before the dickory hits twelve.

or, to translate

Hello my old mate (china plate) – what do you say we pop around to the bar (Jack Tar). I’ll buy you a beer (pig’s ear) and you can talk (rabbit and pork) about your kids (teapot lids). We can have some soup (loop de loop) and supper (Tommy Tucker) and be gone before the clock (hickory dickory dock) strikes twelve.

The origins of Cockney Rhyming Slang are uncertain. It’s not really a language since the words spoken are clearly English; on the other hand, it’s not a dialect either, since the speakers of this slang are also perfectly capable of not using it!  Some stories go that this slang originated in the market place so that the vendors could communicate without the customers knowing what was being said— wouldn’t want your customers knowing that you were going to lower your prices in ten minutes so you could go home early. Other stories have it that it originated in the prisons so that inmates could talk without the guards listening in. I heard from someone who said that “it was born shortly after Sir Robert Peel introduced and implemented his idea for a Police force. The criminal fraternity had never been faced with such a concerted effort to thwart them, so they developed Cockney Slang, the idea being that two or more criminals could hold open conversation, within earshot of a “Peeler,” without fear that their plans were being overheard by the police.” And Jackie says that many of the rhymes were invented by the petty thieves to rob people in the markets, allowing the thieves to talk amongst themselves without anyone knowing what they were on about. It doesn’t really matter where it comes from — the important thing is that it exists today, just as it has for many, many years, and it can provide a wonderful, colourful language in everyday life.

It is very difficult to describe what Rhyming Slang is without using an example, but I’ll give it a try. Basically, you take a pair of associated words (e.g. fish hook), where the second word rhymes with the word you intend to say, then use the first word of the associated pair to indicate the word you originally intended to say. Usually. And some slang words have more than one meaning (for example, iron can be a bank (Iron Tank) or a homosexual (Iron Hoof — rhymes with poof which is a particularly English expression for homosexuals), so context is everything!  There — clear as mud.

Let’s use an example: Let’s say you’re are talking about a book.  The rhyme is “fish hook”, so the slang expression is fish, as in “I’d like to say a word about the new fish by Len Deighton” except, of course, a real Cockney would more likely say “A dickie bird about Deighton’s new fish”; note that when using “dickie bird” for “word”, the entire phrase is used, not just “dickie”… sometimes.  Don’t know why, it just is.  Doesn’t really clear things up at all, does it? Imagine a conversation like this:
“Got to my mickey, found me way up the apples, put on me whistle and the bloody dog went. It was me trouble telling me to fetch the teapots.”

which really means,

“Got to my house (mickey mouse), found my way up the stairs (apples and pears), put on my suit (whistle and flute) when the phone (dog and bone) rang. It was my wife (trouble and strife) telling me to get the kids (teapot lids).”

Now you’ve got an idea about what is possible, why not try your hand at it!