English can be a really confusing language, but what if I told you it can get more confusing than you ever realized with Cockney rhyming slang? In a previous post, we have taken a look at all the different English accents and dialects there are in the world, however now we will be taking a look at a specific phenomenon found in the Cockney accent of London.
Cockney is an accent that is associated with the East End of London. However, not only did this region of the city develop a unique way of speaking the language, but it also developed a unique codified version of the language altogether.
In the 1840s, people living within earshot of the Bow bells of the St. Mary-le-Bow Church began speaking in a very strange slang. Though the origins of this slang are debated, it is commonly thought that this slang developed from criminals and street merchants not wanting customers and police to know exactly what they are saying. This kind of slang develops in many different languages. In english, we call it Thieves’ Cant. In Dutch, for example, it is called Bargoens.
However, Cockney rhyming slang is unique from other “cant slang” as it plays off of a rhyming slang. We will dive a bit more into how it works, but first take a look at this clip from Austin Powers Goldmember below.
This clip may seem like complete nonsense from a comedy movie, but the truth is there is a bit more truth to it than appears (though some of it may be nonsense and may actually be “mockney” as opposed to real authentic Cockney rhyming slang).
Take a look at some of the sentences below:
Some of these you may be able to guess! Like “The bathroom is up the apples and pears” means “the bathroom is up the stairs”.
Now even though it is rhyming slang, sometimes the slang doesn’t rhyme at all. Overtime the slang became so well known that the second word would be completely dropped and only the first word would be kept. This codifies the language even more. Below are some examples:
“Dicky bird” means word, but you can also just say “dicky”.
“Apples and pears” means stairs, but you can also just say “apples”.
“Scooby doo” means clue, but you can also just say “scooby”.
“German bands” means hands, but you can also just say “Germans”.
There is also a distinction between traditional, modern, and mockney rhyming slang. The distinction among these is highly debated and not entirely crystal clear, especially between modern and mockney.
An example of traditional rhyme slang could be “apples and pears” for stairs.
An example of modern rhyme slang could be “Britney Spears” for beers. However, this has been debated as also being an example of mockney.
“Scooby doo” for clue is also an example of modern rhyme slang.
Try out some fun sentences you can make using Cockney rhyming slang!