Cockney rhyming slang

Cockney rhyming slang (sometimes abbreviated as CRS) is a form of English slang which originated in the East End of London. Many of its expressions have passed into common language, and the creation of new ones is no longer restricted to Cockneys. Australian English shares some Cockney rhyming slang and also has many of its own terms. Some people have speculated that this is due to a strong formative influence of Cockneys on Australian culture.

It has been noted by the Edinburgh author and journalist Irvine Welsh that rhyming slang with Cockney origin is now more likely to be used and developed in Scotland than in the East End of London, giving rise to formations that rely on the Scottish accent for their effect.

In United States some common slang seems to have had its origin in Cockney rhyming slang: "raspberry," shortened from "raspberry tart" means fart; "dukes" means fists; "duke it out" means settle an argument via fisticuffs; "bread" means money; "creamed" means beaten (interestingly, in the UK "creamed" can also mean "exhausted", from the rhyme of "cream cracker" and "knacker").

Rhyming slang developed as a way of obscuring the meaning of sentences to those who did not understand the slang, though it remains a matter of speculation whether this was a linguistic accident, or whether it was developed intentionally to assist criminals or to maintain a particular community.

Rhyming slang works by replacing the word to be obscured with the first word of a phrase that rhymes with that word. For instance, "face" would be replaced by "boat", because face rhymes with "boat race". Similarly "feet" becomes "plates" ("plates of meat"), and "money" is "bread" (a very common usage, from "bread and honey"). Sometimes the full phrase is used, for example "Currant Bun" to mean The Sun, usually referring to the British tabloid newspaper of that name. There is no hard and fast rule for this, and you just have to know whether a particular expression is always shortened, never shortened, or can be used either way.

Some substitutions have become relatively widespread in Britain, for example to "have a butcher's" means to have a look, from the rhyming slang "butcher's hook", and these are often now used without awareness of the original rhyming slang (so for example "berk" and "cobblers" are both less taboo than their etymology would suggest). However, most other actual and purported substitutions are still not in common usage.

This style of rhyming has also spread through many English-speaking countries, where the original phrases are supplemented by rhymes created to fit local needs. Creation of rhyming slang has become a word game for people of many classes and regions. The term Cockney rhyming slang is generally applied to these expansions to indicate the rhyming style, though arguably the term only applies to phrases used in the East End of London. Similar formations exist in other parts of the United Kingdom. In the East Midlands, 'Derby Road' is rhymed with 'cold', a conjunction that would not be possible in any other dialect of the UK.

Musical artists such as The Audiobullys and The Streets use CRS in almost all of their songs. It is also often used in feature films, such as Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels (1998) (which contains a glossary of Cockney rhyming slang on the United States DVD version to assist the viewer), and on television (e.g. Minder, EastEnders) to lend authenticity to an East End setting. The theme song to The Italian Job, composed by Quincy Jones, contains many Cockney rhyming slang expressions. The lyrics by Don Black amused and fascinated the composer. The schoolkid characters in the film To Sir With Love regularly utilise CRS, which their new teacher (played by Sidney Poitier) finds impossible to understand.

The box office success Ocean's Eleven (2001) contains an apparent example of Cockney rhyming slang, when the character Basher Tarr (played by Don Cheadle) uses the slang "Barney" to mean "trouble," derived from Barney Rubble. In common usage, "Barney" does not mean trouble; it means an argument or a fight. Some argue that it is derived from "Barn Owl" which (in a Cockney accent) nearly rhymes with "row" (argument).

However, the book Understanding British English, by Margaret E. Moore, Citadel Press, 1995, does not list "Barney" in its "Rhyming Slang" section. Furthermore, an old book called Slang and Its Analogues, by J.S. Farmer and W.E. Henley, originally printed in 1890 and reprinted by Arno Press in 1970, states that "Barney" (which can mean anything from a "lark" to a "row") is of unknown origin, and was used in print as early as 1865.

All slang is rooted in the era of its origin and therefore some of it will to be lost as time passes. In the 1980s, for example, "Kerry Packered" meant "knackered"; in 2004, the term "Britneys" was used to mean beers (or in Ireland to mean queers) via the music artist "Britney Spears", although the usage may not outlast her career and/or popularity. There is a set of specialist rhyming slang terms used by some members of the British disabled community to describe medical conditions. This is sometimes termed "disability rhyming slang" and shares the same style, and some of the same phrases, as the more traditional rhyming slang.


* Apples = apples and pears = stairs — e.g. "Get up them apples!"
* Barnet = Barnet Fair = hair — e.g. "What’s a matter with yer Barnet."
* Frog = frog and toad = road — e.g. "I was crossing the frog…"
* Rosie = Rosie Lee = tea — e.g. "'ave a cup of rosie."