Cockney rhyming slang 101: where did it come from, what does it mean?

Thought I'd start this post with a string of aptly hilarious cockney rhyming slang phrases, eh? Not on your nelly!*

The aim of the game here is to dig out the origin of cockney rhyming slang, then serve up a helping of the most obscure and rude bits I can find. You game? Read on!


What is cockney rhyming slang?

The smart-ass answer is that cockney rhyming slang is slang used by cockneys. And it rhymes.

The smart-smart answer is that cockney rhyming slang is a type of local slang, thought to have originated in the mid-19th century, East London. There are some historians who believe cockney rhyming slang is a 'cant'—a secret lingual code developed either by criminals or local traders to exclude outsiders from conversations. Others believe the slang is simply that. Slang! Just a fun colloquial thing that got picked up and passed around.

Its first written appearance was in an 1859 publicationcalled: The Vulgar Tongue: a Glossary of Slang, Cant, and Flash Words and Phrases: Used in London from 1839 to 1859; Flash Songs, Essays on Slang, and a Bibliography of Canting and Slang Literature

Shame dude didn't use slang to shorten that damn title.


How does cockney rhyming slang work?

The premise of the slang is pretty simple: you take your word, then find a phrase which rhymes with it. For example:

Stairs = apples and pears

'Pears' rhymes with 'stairs' and the addition of apples makes a fun little phrase. Say it in a cockney accent and the fun is doubled. There are also examples in which the rhyming phrase directly relates to the object it's describing:

In and out – snout (on account of breath going in and out)

Trouble and strife– wife (nuff said)

Although there are universally known phrases (which I'll get into in a mo), you can essentially make shit up and have it become rhyming slang. My Dad and I do it all the time and it never gets old.

For example, there are roughly 6 different slang phrases for 'testicles', 9 for 'arse', 9 for 'shit' and 7 for 'homosexual'. This should give you some inkling as to the calibre of person we're dealing with here.

Shall we look at some real-world examples?


Cockney rhyming slang examples

"Chalfont St. Giles" – piles (A.K.A haemorrhoids). There were actually 7 variations for this. Says a lot about East Londoners, TBH.

"Dicky bird" – word (as in 'to have a word', A.K.A to talk to someone privately)

"Dinky doos" – shoes

"Jam roll"– arsehole

"Gypsy's kiss"– piss

"Irish pig"– wig

"Raspberry ripple"– nipple/cripple (careful how you use that one)

"Septic tank"- Yank (A.K.A an American)

"Town halls"- balls (A.K.A testicles)

"Marble slabs"– crabs (A.K.A pubic lice)

"Baked potato"– later (reigonally prounounced 'po-tay-ah', so it does actually rhyme with 'later'. Kinda.)



*Yeah bro, that was rhyming slang. BOOOOM!

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Emma Cownley