Cockney Rhyming Slang: A Comprehensive Guide

Cockney rhyming slang is a unique and fascinating aspect of London’s culture. Its origins are shrouded in mystery, with some theories suggesting it was a game, a code, or a way to confuse outsiders. Regardless of its origins, it has become an integral part of London’s identity, and understanding it can be a fun and rewarding experience.

In this article, readers will learn about the history and common usage of cockney rhyming slang. They will also be introduced to the London x London cockney slang dictionary, which provides a comprehensive guide to speaking like a local. With this guide, anyone can learn to distinguish their “loaf of bread” from their “Khyber Pass” and impress their friends with their newfound knowledge of London’s unique dialect.

Key Takeaways

  • Cockney rhyming slang is a fascinating aspect of London’s culture with mysterious origins.
  • The London x London cockney slang dictionary is a comprehensive guide to speaking like a local.
  • Understanding cockney rhyming slang can be a fun and rewarding experience for anyone.

How to Speak Cockney Slang Like a Local

To speak Cockney slang like a true local, it’s important to understand that the first word of the rhyming phrase is often used instead of the whole phrase. For instance, ‘apples and pears’ which means ‘stairs’ in Cockney slang, is shortened to just ‘apples’. Similarly, ‘plates of meat’ which means ‘feet’, becomes ‘plates’. This can be confusing for non-locals, but it’s a common practice among true Cockneys. So, if you want to impress the locals, try using these shortened phrases in your conversations.

Cockney Slang in Common Use

Cockney slang is a dialect of English that originated in the East End of London. Although it has declined in recent years, some phrases have made it into common parlance in London and beyond. Here are some of the most common cockney slang words and phrases that you might hear in the South East of the UK:

  • Barnet Fair – This is a slang term for hair. It is usually shortened to ‘barnet’ and is a really common cockney slang word. For example, you might hear someone say, ‘Did you get your barnet done?’ or, ‘Look at the state of his barnet!’

  • Boat Race – This is a slang term for face. Often just ‘boat’, as is the tradition.

  • Brass Tacks – This is a slang term for facts. When someone wants to talk about the nitty gritty of an issue, they’ll say ‘let’s get down to brass tacks’, or ‘what are the brass tacks’. This phrase could be a useful one for any dodgy business dealings you get involved in down the market!

  • Bread and Honey – This is a slang term for money. This phrase has caught on in many ways, so feels quite intuitive. For example, you might hear someone say, ‘I need to earn some bread and honey’.

  • Bristol City – This is a slang term for breasts. A little lewd, admittedly, ‘Look at the Bristols on her’ would probably have been heard in many a pub a few years ago. Hopefully, people are a little more respectful these days, but at least you’ll know what it means if you hear it.

  • Brown Bread – This is a slang term for dead. If you’re an anglophile you will have heard this before – ‘he’s brown bread’ is a favourite of gangster movies and gritty East End period dramas alike.

  • Bubble Bath – This is a slang term for laugh. Used more in a derisive, irritated and threatening tone than when cockneys are having fun, ‘You’re having a bubble mate, meaning, ‘You’re having a laugh,’ or ‘You must be joking!’ is something said day to day in East London and beyond when someone can’t believe the cheek of you.

  • Butcher’s Hook – This is a slang term for a look. ‘Have a butchers at that!’ said literally every cockney at some point, when showing a mate something interesting.

  • Half-inch – This is a slang term for pinch. Hopefully you won’t find yourself around a whole lot of actual thievery in London, but you might have someone asking to ‘half inch one of your chips’ if they want a bite of your dinner. Half inch means pinch, which means to steal something.

  • China Plate – In cockney rhyming slang, ‘me old china’ means a really good friend. So, if someone refers to you as their china, you’ve done well.

  • Cream Crackered – This is a slang term for knackered. ‘I’m cream crackered’ is often said after a long day, and now we’re writing it down it seems pretty silly… but you’re bound to hear it in London all the same.

  • Pork Pies – This is a slang term for lies. This one is so popular it’s used all over the English speaking world. In some places, it has become porkie pies or even porkie pines.

These are just a few examples of the many slang words and phrases that are used in the South East of the UK. While some of them may seem strange or unfamiliar, they are an important part of the cultural heritage of London and the surrounding areas.

Cockney Rhyming Dictionary

Cockney Rhyming Slang is a form of language that originated in the East End of London. It is a playful way of speaking in which a word is replaced by a phrase that rhymes with it. This language is still used by some Londoners today, and it can be quite confusing for outsiders. Here are some of the most common Cockney phrases, organized by category.

Cockney Phrases: The Body

  • Jam tart – Heart
  • Hampsteads – Teeth
  • Chalfont St. Giles – Piles
  • Chalk Farm – Arm
  • Plates of Meat – Feet
  • Loaf of bread – Head
  • Lump of lead – Head
  • Mince pies – Eyes
  • North and south – Mouth
  • Orchestra stalls – Balls
  • In and out – Snout
  • Life and death – Breath
  • Bottle and glass – Arse
  • Khyber Pass – Arse
  • Sage and onion – Bunion
  • Boiled beef and carrots – Claret
  • Bottle of beer – Ear
  • Fruit and nuts – Guts
  • Oliver Hardy – Lardy
  • Clothes Pegs – Legs
  • Toby Jugs – Lugs
  • Pipe and drum – Bum
  • Mickey Bliss – Piss

Cockney Phrases: People

  • Baker’s Dozen – Cousin
  • Barnaby Rudge – Judge
  • Skin and blister – Sister
  • Bricks and Mortar – Daughter
  • Cows and Kisses – Missus
  • Trouble and Strife – Wife
  • Bottle and stopper – Copper
  • Dunlop tire – Liar
  • Old bag – Hag
  • Septic tank – Yank
  • Dustbin lid – Kid

Cockney Phrases: Clothing

  • Whistle and flute – Suit
  • Tomfoolery – Jewellery
  • Alan Whickers – Knickers
  • Ascot Races – Braces
  • Dicky Dirt – Shirt
  • Daisy Roots – Boots
  • Dinky Doos – Shoes
  • Irish pig – Wig
  • Isle of Wight – Tights
  • Lionel Blairs – Flares
  • Peckham Rye – Tie
  • Round the houses – Trousers
  • Kettle and hob – Watch
  • Lucy Locket – Pocket
  • Almond Rocks – Socks

Cockney Phrases: Eating and Drinking

  • Fisherman’s daughter – Water
  • Hank Marvin – Starving
  • Loop the loop – Soup
  • Rosy lee – Tea
  • Roast pork – Fork
  • Rub-a-dug – Pub
  • Ruby Murray – Curry
  • Vera Lynn – Gin
  • Army and Navy – Gravy
  • Borrow and beg – Egg
  • Satin and silk – Milk
  • Pig and roast – Toast
  • Near and far – Bar
  • Battlecruiser – Boozer
  • Rub a dub dub – Pub
  • Give and take – Cake
  • Chewy toffee – Coffee
  • Brahms and Liszt – Pissed

Cockney Phrases: Weather

  • Currant bun – Sun
  • Mork and Mindy – Windy
  • David Starkey – Parky
  • Peas in the pot – Hot
  • Taters in the mould – Cold
  • Vincent Price – Ice
  • Weasel and stoat – Coat
  • Red’n’yella – Umbrella
  • Ache and pain – Rain

Cockney Phrases: Money and Numbers

  • Lost and found – A pound
  • Cock and hen – Ten
  • Bag of sand – A grand
  • Jeffrey Archer – Two grand
  • Lady Godiva – A fiver
  • Cow’s calf – 50 pence
  • Gregory Peck – Cheque
  • Bottle of glue – Two
  • Holy sea – Three
  • Stand in awe – Four
  • Fiddle sticks – Six
  • Exeter and Devon – Seven
  • Garden gate – Eight
  • Coal mine – Nine
  • Hell and heaven – Eleven
  • Dig and delve – Twelve
  • Letter Sorting – Fourteen
  • Muscles a plenty – Twenty
  • Greengages – Wages
  • Sausage and mash – Cash
  • Rattle and clank – Bank

Cockney Phrases: Miscellaneous

  • Cut and carried – Married
  • Cop a flower pot – Cop it hot
  • Crowded space – Suitcase
  • Lump of ice – Advice
  • Oily rag – Fag
  • Penny-come-quick – A trick
  • Bread and cheese – Sneeze
  • Once a week – Beak
  • Custard and jelly – Telly
  • Stand to attention – Pension
  • Short a sheet – In the street
  • Yet to be – Free

A History of Rhyming Slang

Pearly Kings and Queens

London’s pearly kings and queens are some of the most enthusiastic speakers of cockney slang. The pearly monarchy follows a long tradition that dates back to at least 1875, but probably much further. The legend goes that a workhouse boy named Henry Croft became fascinated by the market traders or ‘costers’ of East London. They spoke in cockney slang and followed a community leader they referred to as a ‘king’. They also lined their clothes with mother of pearly buttons to indicate how successful they were.

Over time, Croft is said to have come across a shipment of mother of pearl buttons wrecked on the banks of the Thames. This is what made the first pearly king and queen costumes. Croft’s pearly kings and queens became charity leaders, based on the caring and commitment community he admired in the costers. This was formalized over the years, and eventually, every London borough got a pearly king or queen, and many still have them today.

The pearly kings and queens of London still wear their costumes for ceremonial purposes and carry out charity and community work, including cultural education with London children. If you catch one of them in town, you can probably practice your cockney slang on them.

The pearly monarchy is an integral part of London’s cultural heritage and has contributed to the development of cockney rhyming slang. The slang originated in the mid-19th century among dock workers and market traders in the East End. Up until the mid-20th century, it was used in the East End underground in an attempt to confuse the police and non-locals alike. As it spread to South London and other areas that are now Greater London, it changed, which is why it has so much variety today, with some phrases emerging only in the last couple of decades.

Cockney slang has become so pervasive that terms like ‘barnet’, ‘porkie pie’, and ‘hag’ can be heard all over the UK and even beyond. Its popularity is due in part to its playful and often humorous nature. However, it is important to note that the rhymes work best in a cockney accent, so if something doesn’t make sense, it may be helpful to think about it with more glottal stops, dropped ‘T’s and ‘H’s, and long ‘A’s.