Originally Published: April 22, 2015

The English language, what a massive thing it is. 67 countries around the world list English as their official first language and it’s spoken commonly in over 180 countries. Despite being down in third on most lists when it comes to the amount of people that speak it (behind Mandarin and Spanish), English remains the most important language on the planet when it comes to getting by on all corners of the globe.

But what about London? Despite being the capital of England, the country which lends its name to the language, London has more languages spoken in it than any other city in the world, with over 200 being conversed in on a daily basis. What’s also happened is that over many hundreds of years, London has developed something of a language of its own, an ever-changing dialect that can render some fluent English speakers like myself confused when hearing people chat away in the bars and restaurants of the capital.

Bow Bells - cockney rhyming slang
It’s said that to be a true cockney, you need to have been born within the sound of Bow Bells…

The most famous of these dialects is undoubtedly Cockney Rhyming Slang. Cockney rhyming slang is spoken by using the first word of a phrase that rhymes with the word that it’s describing. Some of the better known terms include ‘”trouble and strife” to mean “wife” and, of course, “apples and pears” to refer to “stairs”. In these cases, the person speaking cockney rhyming slang would use the words “apples” and “trouble” when speaking about stairs and their wife respectively. Confused? That’s probably the point.

The language been featured in countless movies and songs down the years, as well as books and plays. It has even snuck into “common” English in more than a few places, surprisingly reaching the US versions of the language at times. A few examples that you may be familiar with, perhaps without knowing they came from cockney rhyming slang in the first place… Ever used the word “bread” to mean “money”? That comes from the cockney rhyming slang, “bread and honey”. Or how about “blow a raspberry”, which comes from “raspberry tart”… I’ll let you figure out the rhyme there. And who has ever called someone a “berk” in the past? Well, that one comes from “Berkshire hunt”, so may be more insulting that you realize!

Cockney rhyming slang originated way back in the 19th century, with estimates suggesting it began in the 1840s or 50s in either the East End or Seven Dials areas of London – the areas where so-called cockneys lived. It’s said that to be a true cockney, you need to be born within earshot of the Bow Bells, from the St. Mary-le-Bow Church, although most who claim to be cockney nowadays may never have even seen the church! What has happened since the dialect first started being spoken is the constant evolution of the language, with new rhymes coming into play to reflect popular culture or represent new words. One of the first examples, which is often accepted as original slang (but when you think about it, it can’t be) is the word “barney” to mean “trouble”, usually referring to someone getting in an argument. This comes from the name Barney Rubble, from The Flintstones, a show that was first broadcast in the 1960s. Another example is the word “ruby” from Ruby Murray, a 20th century singer, to mean “curry”.

eating london food tour curry
Anyone for a Ruby Murray? (curry!)

So where will cockney rhyming slang go from here? The most recent word you’ll hear in London is probably “Britneys” to mean “beers” – I won’t patronize you by explaining that. But what we seem to be lacking are some good cockney rhyming slang for food and drink beyond curry and beer. For Londoners, those are probably enough most of the time, but maybe we should now think of some more. Below are some new terms that we’ve come up with for food and drink in London; let’s start with some of the food from the East End Food Tour.

  • Fish – Satellite Dish
  • Chips – Solar Eclipse
  • Bread – Double Bed
  • Butter – Camera Shutter
  • Pudding – Rachael Wooding (ok, we’re reaching for this one; she is an English actress, but seriously, try and find something that rhymes with “pudding”!)
  • Bacon – Liam Neeson’s Taken (this is truly terrible, and for that we’re sorry)
  • Cheese – Strip Tease
  • Salt – Bank Vault
  • Beef – Coral Reef
  • Tart – Golf Kart
  • Cider – Huntsman Spider

Ok, let’s now try and explain the East End Food Tour using our new cockney rhyming slang…

You start off with a Liam sandwich, before heading to The English Restaurant for a double and camera Rachael. After that it’s time for some strip at Androuet before some classic English satellite & solar in Poppies. After a quick ruby on Brick Lane it’s time for a refreshing huntsman. Then a world-famous bagel, filled with delicious bank coral before a wonderful salted caramel golf in Pizza East to finish the tour.

So… did this work? Well, no! Quite frankly this was a disaster and perhaps just goes to show why it’s relatively rare for new words to actually make it into popular cockney rhyming slang. But don’t let our pathetic attempt at influencing one of the most diverse languages in the world put you off. Do you use any of your own rhyming slang? Let us know if you do; it can’t be worse than what we tried!

Share