Cockney Rhyming Slang

cockney rhyming slangRhyming Slang Origins

In East London, a special slang developed in the middle of the 19th century. The slang expressions combine usually two or three words, with the last word of the expression rhyming with the word the expression stands for.

Usually, only the first word of the expression is used in Cockney rhyming slang and the expression itself is unrelated to the intended meaning.


Secret Communication

Cockney rhyming slang used to be a form of Pidgin English, difficult for those outside of ‘the know’ to understand. It formed a kind of coded communication or a secret language.

It is not known exactly how it came about. Some people think this special slang was a way for traders to communicate with each other or for use between criminals.

It may also have been simply a way to bond a community together by the use of a special kind of English or private language.


Some of the slang has died out of common usage but many of the expressions are still in use in London and many have become a very common part of English throughout the whole country.

The slang term is usually a two or three word phrase, but in common usage, usually only the first word of the expression is used.


Common Cockney Rhyming Slang Phrases

Butcher’s hook: look

In context: ‘Take a butchers at that!’

Meaning: ‘Look at that!’

Pork pies: lies

In context: ‘I think he’s telling porkies’

Meaning: I think he is lying

China plate: mate

In context: ‘lend us a tenner, me old china’

Meaning: Please lend me ten pounds, my friend/mate


Ruby Murray: curry

In context: ‘I fancy a ruby tonight’

Meaning: I’d like to eat a curry tonight

Whistle and flute: suit

In context: ‘He looks dapper in his new whistle’

Meaning: He looks smart in his new suit

Adam and Eve: believe

In context: ‘Could you Adam and Eve that bloke?’

Meaning: Could you believe that man?


Boat race: face

In context: ‘With a boat like that no wonder you put her off’.

Meaning: With a face like that it is no surprise she was discouraged by you

In context: ‘Put a smile on your boat (race)’

Meaning: Smile!

Trouble and strife: wife

In context: ‘I’d better get ‘ome to the trouble (and strife)’

Meaning: ‘I will go home now to my wife’

Syrup of figs: wig

In context: ‘Look at the syrup on ‘im!

Meaning: Look at the wig he is wearing

Joanna: piano

In context: ‘He plays a good tune on the ol’ Joanna’

Meaning: He plays a good tune on the piano. (Piano sounds like ‘piana’ in the cockney accent)


Brown bread: dead

In context: ‘This time next week he’ll be brown (bread)’

Meaning: This time next week he will be dead

Barnet Fair: hair

In context: ‘Take a butchers at his barnet!’

Meaning: Look at his hair

Bread and honey: money

In context: ‘You got any bread?’

Meaning: Have you got any money?


Cream crackered: knackered (tired/broken)

In context: ‘I’m cream crackered’

Meaning: I’m really tired

Loaf of bread: head

In context: ‘Use your loaf’

Meaning: Use your head / Think about it


Plates of meat: feet

In context: ‘Get them plates moving’

Meaning: Get your feet moving / Get walking

Sky rocket: pocket

In context: ‘That will put some money in your sky rocket’

Meaning: That will put some money in your pocket / That will earn you some money


Tea leaf: thief

In context: ‘She took me purse, the little tea leaf’

Meaning: She took my purse, the thief

Dog and bone: phone

In context: ‘Get on the dog and tell him about it’

Meaning: Use the phone and tell him about it


Boracic lint: skint

In context: ‘I can’t go out tonight , I’m boracic’ (pronounced: ‘brassic’)

Meaning: I can’t go out tonight because I don’t have any money

Apples and pears: stairs

In context: ‘Get up those apples, quick!’

Meaning: Climb the stairs, quickly!

Share your thoughts on Cockney rhyming slang

A fun EFL lesson could involve asking students to invent their own rhyming slang phrases and practise chatting using this fun way of speaking.

What phrase do you think would be a good addition to a rhyming slang dictionary?

What are your favourite Cockney rhyming slang phrases?

Have you heard any rhyming slang phrases you don’t understand?

Let us know your thoughts on Cockney rhyming slang in the comments!


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7 thoughts on “Cockney Rhyming Slang

  1. what about “take a shifty at those birds” – not cockney rhyming slang. and when did “bird” become synonymous with girl or woman?

  2. Hi goodyme,

    Thanks for your comment. The Oxford dictionary of Word Origins says the modern use of the slang word ‘bird’ to mean a young woman took off in the 1960s. However, it first came into the language back in the Middle Ages as early as 1300, where ‘burde’ meant ‘young woman’.

    The phrase ‘have a shifty at’ is actually ‘have a shufty at’. This comes from the Arabic word ‘shufti’ which means ‘have you seen?’ The word was brought into the English language by British soldiers serving in the Middle East and is used as a slang expression for ‘take a look’.

    There are lots of slang expressions and phrases that come from the military – check out our Late Modern English section in our History guide for more military phrases in common use.

    There are also quite a few English slang phrases that mean ‘have a look’, such as ‘have a butchers’ and ‘have a gander’. Can any readers think of any more?

  3. In addition to ‘have a shufti’, ‘have a butchers’ and ‘have a gander’ is ‘take a decko’ which comes from the Romani word ‘dikker’ which means to look. My Dad, who was born in North London, served in the Middle East during WW2 and he used both ‘have a shufti’ and ‘take a decko’.

    German bands = hands
    Derby kelly = belly
    titfer (tat) = hat
    mutt and jeff ( reduced to mutton) = deaf
    jam jar = car
    dustbin lids = kids

  4. Thanks for sharing, Angela. How interesting that decko comes from the Romani word ‘dikker’. So much slang made its way to the UK from those serving overseas in the military. I had never heard of German bands = hands!

  5. A Real intellectual=I’m a homosexual.
    Small Rodent=I am impotent
    Where’s me bruva?=I’m attracted to my mother
    That’s the date=In love wif me mate.

    In a sentence it’d be like, “Oy, I’m a real intellectual like. Shame about the small rodent, sunshine. Now where’s me bruva, ’cause that’s the date!”

    Translation: “I am a homosexual, but sadly I’m impotent. Despite being bizarrely attracted to my own mother, I am also in love with my best friend, who is also a man. I hope he doesn’t mind that I am impotent if he reciprocates my love.”

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