I read recently that Cockney Rhyming Slang is in danger of dying out because young people today have no interest in it. Now I’m not a Cockney, you have to be born within hearing distance of Bow Bells (the church bells of St. Mary-le-Bow) in the Cheapside district of London’s East End for that. The bells can be heard for a maximum radius of about six miles. I’m not even a Londoner, having been born in the north-west midlands, not far from where I now live, although I have moved around in the intervening years. However I have always been a rhymester, rhyme fascinates me and so rhyming slang fascinates me.
The explanation given for the development of this form of slang is supposed to be that the East End market traders could hold a conversation with each other in this coded language and casual customers or bystanders would not know what they were talking about. So in the interests of keeping this tradition alive I share with you here a list of some of the rhyming slang terms I am familiar with. I assure you there are many others as a Google search will demonstrate.
North and south – mouth
Todd Sloan – alone
Apples and pears – stairs
Daisy Roots – boots
Butcher’s Hook – look
Porky Pies – lies
Skin and blister – sister
Barnet Fair – hair
Trouble and strife – wife
Loaf of bread – head
Whistle and flute – suit (of clothes)
Titfer-tat (ie tit for tat) – hat
Lionel Blairs – flares (flared trousers. Lionel Blair was a dancer/entertainer)
Plates of meat – feet
Half inch – pinch (as in steal)
Johnny Horner – corner
….and last but not least…
Jimmy Riddle – piddle (ie a comfort break!)
Typically these phrases would often get shortened, so you might say ‘Let me have a butchers’ for ‘let me have a look’, or ‘Nice titfer’ if you admire someone’s hat. ‘You’re telling porkies’ means you are telling lies, ‘on my tod’, means on my own and the ubiquitous ‘use your loaf’ means use your head, think about it, apply brain.
As I have said, there are many more such phrases to be found on the Internet in addition to those above, and even some alternatives to those I have given. Let’s keep the tradition alive!