Rhyming Slang

St Mary-le-Bow church

St Mary-le-Bow Church

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!

 

Snow

Snow
at last,
lying stretched like
a pauper’s worn, old
blanket.

Scuttle and Swirl

Residue of Autumn’s fallen leaves
scuttle like rats along the road
at the behest of the gusting wind,
or swirl up in the air
like flocks of small birds
taking flight.

A Little Bird Said…

Today I’m killing two birds with one stone! This evening is my first Writer’s Group meeting since the Christmas break and the topic is ‘Holiday’ – a singularly uninspiring subject with shades of primary school days when the first English lesson after the summer break was to write a ‘composition’ on ‘What I did In My Holidays’!

Last week I decided it was time to apply my mind to the problem but I was still uninspired. Then yesterday I came to the conclusion that I had better get come up with something so I began a story which had a very loose connection to holidays. The story is a sort of criminal mystery about a missing person which the main characters have to take a holiday from work to try to solve. I have written about one and a half pages so far, but it seems to be turning into a novella rather than a short story. When I woke up this morning, realising I was obviously not going to finish it in time for this evening, I decided to abandon it.

Now what was I to do? I glumly thought again about the uninspiring primary school English ‘composition’ problem and considering the shortage of time decided that maybe a poem was the answer – I can usually knock out a silly verse for children fairly quickly and let’s face it, ‘What I Did In My Holidays’ doesn’t have to be the truth does it? So here it is, the first draft of my poem for tonight’s Writer’s Group meeting, well okay maybe second draft as I have polished it slightly:

A Little Bird Said…

…you’ve been away.
What did you do on your holiday?

What did I do?
…now let me see…

I hitched a ride on a bumble-bee,
he carried me over land and sea,
bobbing and bouncing so frighteningly
I thought I was going to fall off, you see
I had no saddle and his back was slippery.

He took me to a strange country
where the Queen of the Fairies invited me
into her palace to take some tea
while my companion, Mr Bumble-Bee
unloaded his bags, to make honey
from the nectar collected before, he’ll agree,
he kindly offered a ride to me.

The table was laid so prettily,
with dainty plates made of shells from the sea
and tortoiseshell teacups trimmed with filigree
of cobwebs, as it appeared to me,
hung with small bells tinkling merrily.
The Queen sat down so gracefully
and I did the same, less delicately.

A fairy-maid came to pour out the tea,
which tasted as sweet as sweet can be
and fairy cakes she offered me,
drizzled with honey fresh from the comb
so delicious I gave an involuntary moan.
Mr Bumble-Bee then brought me safely home.

A pack of lies, my teacher said,
I want the truth now. My face turned red;

I fell off my bike! I bumped my head
and spent the rest of the week in bed.

© Elizabeth Leaper (2017)

 

Revelry

Take down the holly and the tree,
put lights and tinsel back in store.
It’s time to end our revelry
till Yuletide circles round once more.

Denial

The days lengthen,
the cold strengthens;
Winter in denial that
the return of the sun
has begun.

Waes Hael

Wassail Bowl

Picture courtesy of Google Images

‘Waes Hael’ is an Anglo-Saxon phrase meaning ‘good health’. In modern English this has come down to us as ‘Wassail’. Since ancient times groups of people have gone out ‘Wassailing’ on either New Years Eve or Twelfth Night.

By custom wassailing can be divided into two distinct groups. One custom was to go from door to door bringing good wishes to the household and the other custom was to go wassailing in the fields and, especially in the cider producing counties of the West Country, into orchards to bless the trees to ensure a good crop for the coming year.

The wassail itself was originally a drink made from mulled ale, wine or cider blended with spices, honey and perhaps an egg or two. It could contain roasted apples and this gave it the alternative name ‘Lambs Wool’ because the pulp of the apples looked a bit like fleece floating on the drink. Many recipes for wassail, both traditional and more modern, can be found on the internet. The drink was served in a large bowl or goblet made from wood, or sometimes pewter or silver, passed from one person to the next. (Jesus College at Oxford University has a wassail bowl which is covered with silver and can hold 10 gallons!)

At each stop the ‘Wassailers’ would sing special wassail songs or carols and it is from this tradition that we now have carol singers doing the rounds singing Christmas Carols in the days leading up to Christmas. Each area of the country had its own particular wassail carols, several of which have come down to us today. In some areas the tradition only ceased as recently as the 1960’s and this is perhaps why at least two of these songs have become well-known and I learnt them both as a child.

One of these is known as The Gloucestershire Wassail. Here is the first verse:

Wassail, wassail all over the town.
Our bread it is white and our ale it is brown.
Our bowl it is made of the good maple tree;
with the wassailing bowl we drink unto thee.

There are several different versions to this song but the version I am most familiar with continues with verses wishing good health to various livestock owned by the householder, such as ‘So here is to Cherry and to his right cheek,’ and ‘Here’s health to the ox and to his right eye,’: – you get the gist.

More familiar, and perhaps more suitable for New Years Eve is simply known as The Wassail Song, or ‘Here we come a-wassailing’. For those who are interested the words and music for both of these Wassail Carols are free to download from ChristmasCarolMusic.org. Here you will also find lists of recordings of these songs – including versions from bands such as Blur and Steeleye Span.

Here now is the full version of The Wassail Song as I learnt it, again there are others:

Here we come a-wassailing among the leaves so green,
Here we come a-wandering so fair to be seen.
Love and joy come to you
and to you your wassail too.
May God bless you and send you a Happy New Year,
may God send you a Happy New Year.

We are not daily beggars who beg from door to door,
but we are neighbours’ children whom you have seen before.
Love and joy come to you
and to you your wassail too.
May God bless you and send you a Happy New Year,
may God send you a Happy New Year.

God bless the master of this house, likewise his mistress too,
and all the little children that around the table go.
Love and joy come to you
and to you your wassail too.
May God bless you and send you a Happy New Year,
may God send you a Happy New Year.

Waes Hael to one and all!

Seasons Greetings

Home made holly wreathFor the first time in ages I have made my own Christmas wreath this year. I always used to make them myself but in recent years there just hasn’t seemed to be enough time. However, they really are unnecessarily expensive to buy when my garden is full of holly, ivy, and fir trees as well as many other evergreens, so it seems rather silly to spend the money. It really didn’t take me very long to do despite bleeding all over it from holly scratches, so I thought I would share the result with you. I have also made a few other ‘natural’ decorations and hope to find time to post pictures on my ‘Words on Weaving’ blog in the next day or two.

I am taking a short break as usual over Christmas but before I go I would like to wish all my readers a very happy Christmas and hope you enjoy your winter celebrations in whatever form they take. I will, of course, be back to welcome in the New Year – see you then!

Winter Birds

Holly with berry
Hungry winter birds
feasting on nature’s bounty:
red holly berries.

Single File

Caught
in headlights,
single file across
the road – three wild
boar.

_______________________________

On our last day in France during our recent holiday, we were driving at dusk up a road that wound with hairpin bends uphill through woodland when we came to a standstill along with a car coming down the other way as three wild boar trotted across the road. What a surprise – I have never seen wild boar before.

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