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.
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)’
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
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!