Would you Adam and Eve it? An Introduction to Cockney Rhyming Slang

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Apples and pears, dog and bone, china plate. You’ve probably heard of London’s famous Cockney rhyming slang, but unless you’re familiar with it, it’s bound to fly right over your loaf. 

The Concept

The concept is fairly simple: replace a word with another word or phrase that rhymes with it. But to complicate things, the rhyming part of the phrase often goes unspoken, so unless you’re in the know, the meaning of most phrases won’t be immediately obvious. For example, someone might affectionately call you “me old china” and you could be forgiven for not realizing they’re referring to you as a friend (china plate = mate).

Some phrases may not even appear to rhyme, particularly if you don’t have a Cockney accent. You would struggle to rhyme “Aunt Joanna” with “piano” when speaking the Queen’s English (pronounced “pianna” in Cockney).

The Origins

Rhyming slang first came about sometime around the mid-nineteenth century in the East End of London. No one knows for certain why it was invented, but one theory is that it was intended to be a secret code, so people could talk to each other without outsiders being able to understand. On the other hand, it might just have begun as a silly game. Many of the phrases have found their way into the vocabulary of the average English person, regardless of how close to the East End they live.

The Growth

Some rhyming slang has even fallen into use in other English speaking countries, such as the word “bread” to mean “money”, from “bread and honey”, or to “blow a raspberry” (raspberry tart = fart!) There are still new phrases popping up today, often using celebrities’ names. Celebrities’ names have long been a part of rhyming slang and can change with the times, meaning they could be anyone from Vera Lynn (gin) to Britney Spears (beers). Newer rhymes are often referred to as “mockney”, deriving from “mock” and “Cockney”, i.e. not genuine “traditional” Cockney.

Confused? If you want to have a go at picking up some rhyming slang, here are some popular examples to get you started:

Rhyming Slang

Meaning

Example

Apples and pears Stairs “I’m off up the apples, to bed.”
Dog and bone Telephone “Who’s on the dog and bone?”
Loaf (of bread) Head “Use your loaf!”
Butcher’s hook Look “Let’s have a butcher’s.”
Mince pies Eyes “I couldn’t believe my mince pies.”
Adam and Eve Believe “Would you Adam and Eve it? The dog ran off with the sausages.”
Todd Sloane Alone “I’m all on me Todd.”
Donkey (ears) Years “I haven’t seen you for donkeys!”
Tea leaf Thief “Come back here, you little tea leaf!”
Pork pies Lies “Somebody’s been telling porkies!”

Which other codes, slang dialects and made up languages have you heard of? Were they intended for keeping big secrets or having a bit of fun? Or is the English language just too confusing for you at times?

If you’d like to brush up on your English skills (whichever version of tickles your fancy), contact us to find out more about courses in your area. 

DEATH Merryfield/Horses cast file  television ; only fools and horses