Cockney rhyming slang is a humorous slang first used by cockneys in the east end of London and now understood widely in London and throughout Britain. It was invented in London in the 1840s by market traders, costermongers (sellers of fruit and vegetables from handcarts) and street hawkers. It was probably first used as a cant – a language designed to disguise what was being said from passers-by.
Today, cockney rhyming slang phrases have entered the British lexicon, and many are still used in London and indeed all around Britain.
How does cockney rhyming slang work?
Cockney rhyming slang works by using an expression which rhymes with a word instead of the word itself. For example, the word “look” rhymes with “butcher’s hook“. In many cases the rhyming word is omitted – so you won’t find too many Londoners having a “butcher’s hook” at this site, but you might find a few having a “butcher’s”.
You ‘aving a Giraffe mate?
The rhyming word is not always omitted so cockney expressions can vary in their construction, and it is simply a matter of tradition which version is used.
Rhyming slang often includes humour. Many phrases make sarcastic or ironic references to their subjects. Examples include Trouble and Strife (for wife), Fat Boy Slim (for gym).
There are a few phrases which don’t follow the typical rhyming pattern, but are simple rhymes in themselves but are still widely understood as cockney rhyming slang. An example is Giraffe for laugh – “Are you ‘avin a Giraffe mate?”.
What’s a cockney?
St Mary Le Bow church in Cheapside, London
A true Cockney is someone born within the sound of Bow Bells. (St Mary-le-Bow Church in Cheapside, London).
However the term Cockney is now loosely applied to many born outside this area as long as they have a “Cockney” accent or a Cockney heritage.
The Cockney accent is heard less often in Central London these days but is widely heard in the outer London boroughs, the London suburbs and all across South East England. It is common in Bedfordshire towns like Luton and Leighton Buzzard, and Essex towns such as Romford.
Some Cockney rhyming slang for parts of the body
In this list of example Cockney slang for parts of the body, you’ll notice that some expressions omit the rhyming word but others do not. There is no hard and fast rule for when the rhyming word should be omitted. It’s just tradition.
(Full list of slang for parts of the body)
Who uses Cockney Rhyming Slang?
Cockney Rhyming Slang originated in the East End of London. Some slang expressions have escaped from London and are in popular use throughout the rest of Britain. For example “use your loaf” is an everyday phrase for the British, but not many people realise it is Cockney Rhyming Slang (“loaf of bread: head”). There are many more examples of this unwitting use of Cockney Rhyming Slang.
Television has raised awareness of Cockney Rhyming Slang to far greater heights. Classic TV shows such as “Steptoe and Son”, “Minder”, “Porridge” and “Only Fools and Horses” have done much to spread the slang throughout Britain and to the rest of the world.
Is Cockney Rhyming Slang dead?
Not on your Nelly! Cockney Rhyming Slang may have had its highs and lows but today it is in use as never before.
In the last few years hundreds of brand new slang expressions have been invented – many betraying their modern roots, e.g. “Emma Freuds: haemorrhoids”; (Emma Freud is a TV and radio broadcaster) and “Ayrton Senna”: tenner (10 pound note).
How is Cockney slang developing?
Modern Cockney slang that is being developed today tends to only rhyme words with the names of celebrities or famous people. There are very few new Cockney slang expressions that do not follow this trend. The only one that has gained much ground recently that bucks this trend is “Wind and Kite” meaning “Web site”.
Cockney expressions are being exported from London all over the world. Here at cockneyrhymingslang.co.uk we get loads of enquiries from folks as far afield as the USA, Canada and Japan, all wanting to know the meaning of Cockney expressions.
We’re continually adding new slang to the dictionary. Why not contribute some yourself?