A Look At Cockney Rhyming Slang

A Look At Cockney Rhyming Slang

Studying another language in its native country can be difficult, especially when there’s such a wide spectrum of strange accents and odd phrases. So, if you’re going to study English in London, you might want to use your loaf and prepare yourself for the locals who sahnd like they’re from Landaaan!

So what does cockney mean?

The original use of the word ‘Cockney’ is referring to anyone who is born within earshot of St. Mary-le-Bow’s Church bells. However, the bells were destroyed by German bombings in 1945. So who is a cockney now? Usually, anyone from East London, but the cockney accent and related characteristics tied to a cockney is now found in many people throughout the outskirts of London and even the rest of South East England.

Maybe its because I am a Londoner

Flamboyant and carefree, Cockney’s are the life of the party, and their individual dialect can be a language in itself to the unknowing. Since the mid 19th century the Cockney’s have created their own phrases from replacing a common word with a short (and funny) rhyming phrase of a few short words. Then they will confuse you completely by omitting the part of the phrase that rhymed with the original word… making listeners who are non-the-wiser with no clue to the origin or meaning of the phrase. We call this Cockney Rhyming Slang.

Confused? Ok, we’ll give you some classic examples:

  • The word stairs is replaced with apples and pears, but in conversation Cockney’s will drop the ‘and pears’ and refer to stairs as apples.
  • Look becomes butcher’s hook, but Londoners will be having a butcher’s.
  • Barnet Fair is rhyming slang for hair. But we’d just call it your barnet.
  • Your eyes become your mince pies, but in London you’ll be using your mincers.
  • Someone might knock you off your plates, so they’d be knocking you off of your feet = plates of meat.
  • You’re havin’ a bubble ain’t ya? Bubble bath = laugh.

The rhyme isn’t always omitted. Quite often the rhyme can be a little more obvious with the whole phrase, for example:

  • Ruby Murray = Curry “Fancy a few pints and a Ruby Murray later?”
  • Trouble and Strife = Wife “I’ve got to get home to the trouble & strife”
  • Dog and Bone = Phone “Who was that on the dog and bone?”
  • Jack Jones = Alone “I was sat there all on me jack jones!”
  • A La Mode = Code “We should talk a la mode round the back”
  • Brown bread = Dead “You’re brown bread, sunshine”

Is cockney something I should worry about when studying English in London?

It can take a long time to become completely tuned in to Cockney Rhyming Slang- even most British people wouldn’t understand the whole Cockney vocabulary! Try watching some cockney shows like Eastenders, Only Fools & Horses, Minder, Porridge or The Bill, which have all raised national and international awareness of this English linguistic creation. So, next time you’re with some of your china plates, try out some cockney natter to see if they understand a dickie bird of what you’re sayin’!


If you’re staying in accommodation in London or studying English language courses in London then its very likely that at some point you will come across cockney rhyming slang. You may not even notice but it’s out there more commonly used between Londoners you may overhear it being spoken by others rather than being directed at you personally. Being from London I can testify to its existence however none of the people I know would use it to deliberately confuse someone. For those studying English in London I wouldn’t concern yourself with learning it but you may pick up a few choice phrases.

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