Understanding Cockney Rhyming Slang

Mike from the US writes with an interesting question:

I’m an American. I have a Master’s Degree. I speak 2 other languages besides English and I still have to watch Guy Ritchie and some other English movies with subtitles.

Do people who use the Cockney rhyming slang all use the same celebrities’ names? Otherwise, do they have to stop and think about what’s being rhymed with what? Or do they all use the same rhyme for a particular word?

That’s what I don’t quite get. Baffled.


We say:

The use of celebrities names for Cockney Rhyming Slang is relavtively recent – only in the last twenty/thirty years have celebrities names come to dominate. So now we get Britney Spears instead of Apples and Pears. This trend is probably developing in tandem with our celebrity obsessed culture.

Rhyming slang must be the same for both the speaker and the listener. You can’t just “make it up”. In our dictionary we allow ratings to sort the wheat from the chaff and identify the rhyming slang that is most widely used and the slang that is restricted to very small groups.

One example is “Pete Tong” for “Wrong”. This is very widely understood – in London and South England anyway. Nearly everybody will understand this to mean “wrong”.

Yes in general all speakers will use the same rhyming slang for the same word. So for example everybody will use Loaf to mean “head”. However, some words have many rhyming slang alternatives, and most people will be aware of the alternatives. An example being slang for “hand” which currently has 7 alternatives, most of which are well known.

It’s complicated Mike! Come and visit us in London and see for yourself Laughing. And don’t forget those movies don’t really reflect real life – they are highly exaggerated.



25 responses to “Understanding Cockney Rhyming Slang”

  1. Lawrence says:

    The use of celebrities names is what I’d call mockney. A pint of Nelson (mandela) Stella, I’m Lee Marvin – Starvin, Keep you Alan’s (Wickers)on -Knickers. None of this was around obviously in the 1800’s so it goes to show that the use of slang is very fluid and can be adapted at very short notice to whomever is in the public eye at the time. So what came first the term or the name? Hard to say but if a name lends itself to a phrase then it will be adapted and very quickly passed around in urban colloquial culture until it becomes widely used.

  2. Ali says:

    Hi, I take my ‘Tit for Tat’ off to you and thank you for being there on the www for people like us who; I don’t know why, fancy cockney slang and love to sometimes use it especially when I want to say something to one of my mates in a way that others can’t understand lol.
    I’d love and look forward to have more examples of the use of these cockney words; a dialogue between two different people would be a great idea, short stories (explained) would add more spice to it fer sure.
    By the way, I’m an Iraqi who loves the British English and anything related to it, I’ve been to the UK, London specifically twice and I can’t tell you how glad I was using some of these words with me friends there – I was told that hundreds or thousands of foreigners who’ve been living in the UK didn’t learn to speak English after long time and that I made them really feel glad that I often tend to speak the way they do. I’m a mimicker in this case and don’t pronounce the ‘t’ nor the ‘h’ lately lol.
    luv ya mates fank ya so very muchly fer aow interestin vis websai’ ez

  3. I’m from Miami, FL, USA. I have to agree, it’s HARD to understand but so cool. I try to mimic it, but I don’t do it well yet.

  4. john thompson says:

    Some of my family in England still speak in the style that is claimed to be exagerated; my American inlaws often demand a translation.
    To the "outsider" , some conversations are totally beyond comprehension.

  5. Jim says:

    That’s Guy Ritchie and his style I also love his movies, they are showing me a different Britain, a darker one with mobstars all around.

  6. Joe Fusco says:

    Could the term "blackberry stone" be rhyming slang? If so for what?

  7. Jim says:

    Cockney rhyming slang constantly evolves and changes. Much of what your hear and see on TV is simply made up by writers ;but it then becomes popular and itself is then adopted by those using rhyming slang. Although I will say that those who use rhyming slang away from the East End are merely mimicking it from TV.

    Apples and Pears for stairs for example hasn’t fully been used in decades in East London except by older people and those away from the East End mimicking something they want to be part of. Do Americans still call women dames and broads?

    Only Fools and Horses (Which is not even in the East End yet all non Londoners think it is) came up with the term "Jaffa" for Boyce being "seedless" like a Jaffa Cake(A brand of English cake). This is completely made up by the script writers and was never used in the East End till the programme was transmitted. Yet all those round the country (well the Home Counties) adopted it to be part of it all

  8. Palm Trees says:

    I’ve never heard the term "cockney rhyming slang" and even more embarrassing, Lock Stock… and Snatch are two of my favorite movies.

  9. pat says:

    thats so obvious it means phone!!!

  10. rick says:

    Thanks for the help in trying to understand Cockney Rhyming Slang. I’ve always enjoyed it when I’ve had a chance to hear it. But I must admit, it loses me completely. It’s like a secret handshake, either you know it or you don’t.


  11. I didn’t find Eastenders very effective but if you liked it to each his own. I agree with Rick that you either get it or you don’t!

  12. I live in london, and I only understand about 5% of it!

  13. Kevin says:

    No it’s not. It means seedless like a Jaffa Orange. Not a Jaffa Cake.

  14. Kevin says:

    No it’s not. It means seedless like a Jaffa Orange. Not a Jaffa Cake.

  15. Tom says:

    britney spears don’t rhyme with stairs does it ya barclays banker!!

  16. Admin says:

    Yeah sorry I didn’t mean that Britney Spears was INSTEAD of Apples and Pears.

    I meant in the old days an example of CRS would be "Apples and Pears".

    But instead, today, a new CRS would be "Britney Spears".

    I didn’t mean they meant the same thing. Bad sentence construction!

  17. hayley pell says:

    can somebody inform me what berlin wall means,many thanks xhayley

  18. crampton m says:

    telephone in cockney is called dog and bone not blackberry stone

  19. Rob says:

    There is no one better at publisising cocknet rhyming than Guy Ritchie. – I Could not agree more!!

  20. Steve says:

    Guy Ritchie….ha ha, not even anywhere near cockney himself!!

  21. Steve says:

    Can’t somebody do something about all the crappy spam on this site?

  22. Derek Giladjian says:

    Berlin Wall How about "He had a Berlin Wall" (Fall)

  23. JohnMiller says:

    Great blog – well done. Much of Rhyming Slang is based on Humour. Once you know THAT you can appreciate a lot more of its value. For example BOOTS can sometimes be difficult to put on – or to pull up if they’re tight-fitting. So they chose another thing that’s hard to pull up … to be Rhyming Slang for BOOTS .. DAISY ROOTS … and if you’re a gardener you’ll know how hard Daisy roots are to pull up! And RASPBERRY TART as we know can cause you to have "gas" so it became the RS for FART ! Finally, there’s DOUBLE RS like ARIS for ARSE, but NOT as obvious as it first looks … BOTTLE & GLASS = ARSE, but ARISTOTLE = a BOTTLE … so the clever Cockneys ran the two together and now it sounds much more polite to say "A kick up the ARIS" than saying a KICK UP THE BOTTLE. Enough already !

  24. jeannette says:

    My Family were all born in the sound of Bow bells, and all are REAL Cockneys, the stuff you hear on TV is made up and needs to be worked out to understand it, a real cockney will use it in his own speech, will only use the first word and still be able to understand it. Celebs only use it to be able to be the "Lundun Lad". This "mockney" is rootless.

  25. proud brit says:

    well thats typical of you ignorant yanks thinking you came up with everything , Make all, best at all, first ones but guess what u aint gov youre shit rotten cuntree is oyoung britain was and is the greatest empire ever!!!