On your next trip to London how would you react if someone asked you, “Do you want some Rosie Lee?” or said to you, “That’s a fine jam jar you´ve got there”, or someone else exclaimed, “They’re telling you pork pies!” These expressions contain examples of the famous Cockney Rhyming Slang. Read on to find out what these particular expressions really mean, but first you’ll need some background information.

Cockney Rhyming Slang’s Origins

Cockneys were originally working-class people from the East End of central London (from within the sound of Bow Church bells for the purists) with a culture and a way of speaking English all of their own. Since the mid-19th century they started introducing into their already distinct dialect the use of rhyming slang. Some say as a secretive code to evade police control or to dupe unwary clients in many of London’s street markets, but nobody really knows. There are few authentic cockneys left in the centre of London now. Many of them having migrated from their poorer origins, as their fortunes presumably prospered, to settle in regions surrounding London, like Essex; taking their distinct manner of speaking with them. In this way, as well as through a number of popular T.V. programmes (see Stepstoe & Son, Til Death Do Us Part, Minder or Eastenders for example) their rhyming slang has become quite widespread in the English language, being heard often today, not just in London and the surrounding areas.

 

More About The Lingo

In Cockney Rhyming Slang a pair of words are collocated such that the last word in the pair rhymes with another word actually being referred to. Let’s see this in practice using our previous quotes:

Rosie Lee = tea                Do you want some Rosie Lee* (tea)?                       ¿Quieres algo de té?

jam jar = car                    That’s a nice jam jar (car) you’ve got there.          Ese es un bonito coche que tienes ahí.

pork(y) pies = lies           They’re telling you pork pies (lies)!                       ¡Te están contando mentiras!

*Rosie Lee was a popular 1920´s exotic dancer

To further confound the general public, cockney speakers will tend to drop the second, rhyming word in the pair. So, it’s quite common to hear, “Would you like some Rosie?” or perhaps, “You’re telling me porkies!”.

Try translating the following cockney phrases still in common use today (the answers are at the end):

How are you, my old china?

There’s something in your barnet.

Can you lend me some bread?

Take a butcher´s at that!

Try using your loaf!

I don’t Adam & Eve it!

We haven’t seen you in donkey´s.

Do you fancy a Ruby?

Modern Developments

In modern times new rhyming slang expressions have been composed, tending to focus mainly on the names of famous people, known in the U.K. or internationally. This shows that this cultural phenomenon isn’t ready to disappear just yet. Look at some examples below:

Ayrton Senna = tenner (£10 pounds)                      The famous 1970’s Brazilian Formula 1 driver.

Lee Marvin = starvin´                                                 The very popular U.S 1960´s actor.

Britney Spears = beers                                                The famous U.S girl pop-singer.

Pete Tong = wrong                                                       A popular U.K rave D.J.

Calvin Klein = wine                                                      The well-known clothes designer.

So, are you ready to rabbit like a cockney?             rabbit & pork = talk   (in English pork & talk sound the same)

You can find lots more cockney expressions at www.cockneyrhymingslang.co.uk

china plate = mate ( friend)

Barnet Fair = hair

bread & honey = money

butcher´s hook = look

loaf of bread = head

Adam & Eve = believe

donkey´s ears = years

Ruby Murray = curry  (a popular Irish singer in the 1950’s)

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