Member only
Episode
140

Cockney Rhyming Slang

Mar 12, 2021
Languages
-
16
minutes
History of language
London
Life in the UK
The Victorian Era
Great Britain

It's a dialect from a small area of London's that might sound impossible to understand.

In this episode, you'll learn what "apple and pears" means, what you should do if a friend asks if you want to go to the "battle", and who your "trouble and strife" might be...

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[00:00:00] Hello, hello hello, and welcome to English Learning for Curious Minds, by Leonardo English.

[00:00:12] The show where you can listen to fascinating stories, and learn weird and wonderful things about the world at the same time as improving your English.

[00:00:21] I'm Alastair Budge and today we are going to be talking about Cockney Rhyming Slang, the dialect or perhaps even language used in the East End of London.

[00:00:33] This is the second part of our mini-series on language invention, creation, and discovery.

[00:00:39] The first episode, which you can find exclusively on the website, leonardoenglish.com, was all about Invented Languages, and the people who construct their own language.

[00:00:51] Today’s episode is part two, on Cockney Rhyming Slang, and the third part will be all about the Rosetta Stone. Again, you will be able to find that on the website next week.

[00:01:02] Before we get right into today’s episode, let me quickly remind you that you can follow along to this episode with the subtitles, the transcript and its key vocabulary, so you don’t miss a word and build up your vocabulary as you go, over on the website, which is leonardoenglish.com.

[00:01:19] The website is also home to all of our bonus episodes, including the first and the last part of this mini-series, plus guides on how to improve your English in a more interesting way, and our amazing member-only community.

[00:01:33] So if you haven’t yet checked that out, then the place to go to is leonardoenglish.com.

[00:01:40] Ok, Cockney Rhyming Slang.

[00:01:43] Cockney Rhyming Slang is a particular type of slang, of informal language, that is used by some people in a very small part of East London.

[00:01:54] I’m not from East London, so I’ll let some real East Londoners give you some examples of Cockney Rhyming Slang.

 [00:02:01] Cockney Speakers: [00:02:01] Dog and bone, Pony and trap, Ruby Murry, Plates of meat, I'm going for a Brad, Dickie Dirt, Cock and hen, Apples and pears. Rosie Lee, Doily cart, Worry and strife or trouble and strife, A Richard the Third.

[00:02:16] Alastair Budge: [00:02:16] So, to repeat a few of the things they said.

[00:02:21] Mince pies, Dog and bone, Apples and pears, Ruby Murry, Rosie Lee, Richard the Third, Trouble and strife, Pigs Ear.

[00:02:32] Now, even if you might understand the literal meaning of these words and phrases, the actual meaning in Cockney Rhyming Slang is completely different.

[00:02:42] For example, ‘trouble and strife’ means ‘wife’.

[00:02:46] Dog and bone means ‘phone’.

[00:02:48] Ruby Murry means ‘curry’.

[00:02:51] And a pig's ear means ‘beer‘.

[00:02:55] In Cockney Rhyming Slang you have a phrase, of normally two words, and the last word of that phrase rhymes with the word it replaces.

[00:03:06] So, instead of saying “I am going up the stairs”, you might say “I'm going up the apples and pears”. Stairs has been replaced by “apples and pears”.

[00:03:18] In most cases, the phrase used in Cockney Rhyming Slang has absolutely nothing to do with the actual meaning of the word.

[00:03:28] Pigs Ear has no connection to beer, right?

[00:03:32] A dog and bone has no connection to phone.

[00:03:36] And nor does apples and pears with stairs.

[00:03:40] There is, occasionally, a connection, and it’s often a funny one, one that pokes fun at the meaning.

[00:03:48] So, ‘trouble and strife’ means ‘wife’. Strife means ‘conflict’ or ‘fighting’.

[00:03:54] The fact that the expression for ‘wife’ in Cockney Rhyming Slang literally means difficulty and fighting is obviously a bit of a stereotypical thing that some men might say jokingly about their wives.

[00:04:09] To make life even more difficult for someone trying to understand Cockney Rhyming Slang, the final word in the phrase, the one that rhymes with the true meaning of the word, is often dropped, it isn’t said at all.

[00:04:25] For example, the expression ‘barney rubble’ is Cockney Rhyming Slang for trouble.

[00:04:32] But, people don’t always say ‘barney rubble’, they just say ‘barney’.

[00:04:37] So, they’d say ‘we had a bit of a barney’, we had a bit of a fight. But given that the final words of the phrase, ‘trouble’, has been dropped, it is very hard to understand if you didn’t know the full phrase to begin with.

[00:04:52] And to make life even more complicated, in many cases the Cockney Rhyming Slang rhymes with a word that is slang itself, the word it is replacing isn’t even an official, standard word in English.

[00:05:08] For example, battle cruiser.

[00:05:11] Now a battle cruiser is a war ship, right, it’s a big navy ship.

[00:05:17] If I asked you if you wanted to go to the battle cruiser, or even if you wanted to go to the battle, would you have any idea what I was talking about?

[00:05:27] Probably not.

[00:05:28] I’m talking about a pub, battle cruiser is pub.

[00:05:33] But, you will have no doubt noticed that cruiser does not rhyme with pub, so what’s going on here?

[00:05:41] Cruiser does rhyme with another slang word for pub, which is boozer, a place which sells booze, a slang term for alcohol.

[00:05:51] So, battle cruiser, boozer.

[00:05:54] Confusing, right?

[00:05:56] It’s even confusing for native speakers. Sometimes you can figure out the meaning through context, but often the word is so far removed from the actual meaning that it’s incredibly hard.

[00:06:11] And this brings us nicely on to the question of….why?

[00:06:15] Why is there this impossible-to-understand-unless-you-know version of English? It doesn’t seem to serve any purpose - indeed, it’s more confusing, the phrases often are longer than the original ones, so you aren’t saving any time, there doesn’t seem to be any logical, linguistic, reason for its existence.

[00:06:38] One of the mysteries about Cockney Rhyming Slang is that there isn’t complete agreement about where it actually comes from, and why it was invented.

[00:06:49] We know it started in the mid 19th century, with the first evidence of it in the 1840s.

[00:06:57] It originated in, or very near to the East End of London, a small area about 2 km across, it’s the historical centre of London that is now quite far to the east of where you might think the centre would be.

[00:07:12] One theory about why it was created is that it was as a way for people who lived there to have their own, secret language so that the police couldn’t understand what they were saying.

[00:07:24] If you are engaging in activities that the police would like to stop, well, it’s quite a useful thing to be able to speak out loud in a language that your friends can understand but is completely unintelligible to someone who doesn’t know the secret code, the way to translate what you’re saying.

[00:07:43] Now, this is one theory, but it doesn’t stand up to a huge amount of scrutiny, it doesn’t make complete sense when you think about it.

[00:07:52] The policemen working in London’s East End would have normally grown up in the area, and been part of the families living there.

[00:08:01] Cockney Rhyming Slang might be difficult to understand at the start, but once you figure out what different phrases mean, it’s not so hard.

[00:08:11] Presumably even if it was created for this reason, so that criminals could talk without the police understanding them, then that wouldn’t have lasted for long.

[00:08:22] There’s another theory that it was created by Irish dockworkers, Immigrants who came over from Ireland to London to work on the docks so that they could have a secret language to use between themselves.

[00:08:35] But again it probably wouldn’t have remained secret for long, and they could have just spoken Irish between each other - many would have spoken Irish, so why bother creating your own version of English just so people in London couldn’t understand you?

[00:08:51] And there’s a final theory, which is normally considered the most plausible, the most believable, that the town criers, people who would stand on street corners and recite news and tell stories might have started to use this type of slang for a bit of fun, to develop an audience, and it developed from there.

[00:09:14] From a utility point of view, Cockney Rhyming Slang isn’t hugely useful.

[00:09:19] But what it is a lot of fun, people like using it, it makes language more interesting, and creates a shared sense of community.

[00:09:28] One can imagine these town criers making their speeches more interesting by using these weird and wonderful phrases to describe something else, perhaps explaining it to their audience, who might think it was clever and witty, and then they would start using it themselves with friends and family.

[00:09:49] And this theory would explain how Cockney Rhyming Slang has developed over the years.

[00:09:55] Unlike the invented languages that we heard about in Part 1, Cockney Rhyming Slang wasn’t the product of one or a small group of people, it was something that was developed by a wider group, and has been continually added to ever since, there are new Cockney Rhyming Slang phrases every year.

[00:10:15] Although this is one of the beauties of Cockney Rhyming Slang, it makes actually trying to study it, and to write it all down, very hard.

[00:10:25] It now exists in pop culture, you’ll see it in films, TV series, on social media, but there is no single organisation that is responsible for it, nobody saying what is and isn’t Cockney Rhyming Slang.

[00:10:40] It’s in many ways a beautiful example of how languages develop, how different branches of languages emerge, why they do, and what this actually tells us about our own relationship with language.

[00:10:54] Firstly, it shows us that there is just an awful amount of fun that you can have with language.

[00:11:01] People don’t speak Cockney Rhyming Slang instead of English, they replace certain English words with Cockney Rhyming Slang.

[00:11:09] So everyone who speaks Cockney Rhyming Slang can speak English, they might just choose to use Cockney Rhyming Slang to describe something because it’s more fun, perhaps because it comes more naturally to them, and to create a shared sense of belonging, of community.

[00:11:26] This is of course not unique to Cockney Rhyming Slang, it’s one of the reasons to continue to speak any dialect when there is another more dominant language you could speak, but Cockney Rhyming Slang has the unique quality that it uses English words in a different way to convey meanings in English.

[00:11:46] If you had to compare it to another type of slang, it’s probably most similar to something like Verlan, the French slang where you invert the French word, you take the last part of the word and put it at the front of the word.

[00:12:03] So, to quickly explain to the non-French speakers out there, ‘femme’, the word for woman in French, becomes ‘meuf’, Francais, the word for ‘French’ becomes ‘céfran’.

[00:12:17] In both the case of Cockney Rhyming Slang and Verlan, the slang uses the main language but changes it in a way that is hard to understand unless you know the code, you have the key to translate the meaning.

[00:12:32] In both cases, they are exclusive languages, or rather dialects.

[00:12:37] If you know how to use them, and in Cockney Rhyming Slang’s case if you are from the small area of London where Cockney Rhyming Slang is spoken, you are part of a small, close knit community brought closer together by a shared use of language.

[00:12:54] And if you don’t know Cockney Rhyming Slang then you’re excluded, you aren’t part of this exclusive gang.

[00:13:01] Now, if you are wondering whether you need to know Cockney Rhyming Slang if you go to London, and if you are worried because you have just found out about an entirely new part of English that you never knew existed, fear not.

[00:13:16] There is absolutely no need for you to learn it, most Brits wouldn’t be able to understand most of it either.

[00:13:22] If you were to go into a pub in London’s East End and ask for Two King Lears and a Philharmonic, which is two beers and a gin and tonic by the way, I imagine the person behind the bar would look at you with a slightly strange face. And they might not even know what you were talking about either.

[00:13:41] But if you do want to learn more about Cockney Rhyming Slang, then you will find a load of fun resources if you just google Cockney Rhyming Slang. From dictionaries to video clips, it is a lot of fun to learn, and it is a veritable rabbit hole, it’s easy to waste hours learning Cockney Rhyming Slang.

[00:14:01] And this really is one of the great things about learning any language - that it will be easier and you’ll progress faster if it’s fun and interesting.

[00:14:11] Even if you have a particular goal in mind, getting a new job, getting a particular score in the IELTS, or just being able to speak with your next-door neighbour, sometimes it is a lot of fun to just get caught up in the magic of fun parts of language.

[00:14:28] And although Cockney Rhyming Slang really isn’t very useful for your day-to-day life, it is a huge amount of fun.

[00:14:35] And if that isn’t a reason to learn some Cockney Rhyming Slang, then I don’t know what is.

[00:14:42] OK then, that is it for today's episode on Cockney Rhyming Slang, part 2 of our three part series on unorthodox language invention, creation, and discovery

[00:14:54] As a quick reminder, part one was on invented languages, and part three is going to be on The Rosetta Stone. You can listen to both of those exclusively on the website, leonardoenglish.com.

[00:15:07] And on that subject, here’s your quick final reminder that you can become a member of Leonardo English, listen to all of our bonus episodes, plus get the transcripts, the subtitles, and all of the key vocabulary over on the website.

[00:15:21] You’ll be joining a community of curious minds from over 40 countries now, doing meetups, exchanging ideas, and generally improving their English in a more interesting way.

[00:15:32] So, the place for that is leonardoenglish.com

[00:15:36] And if you are already a member of Leonardo English, thank you - you’re amazing. I’d love to know what you think of this episode, and I’m going to share a little quiz on Cockney Rhyming Slang over in our community.

[00:15:48] So, see you there, at community.leonardoenglish.com.

[00:15:52] You've been listening to English Learning for Curious Minds, by Leonardo English.

[00:15:58] I'm Alastair Budge, you stay safe, and I'll catch you in the next episode.

[END OF EPISODE]


Continue learning

Get immediate access to a more interesting way of improving your English
Become a member
Already a member? Login

[00:00:00] Hello, hello hello, and welcome to English Learning for Curious Minds, by Leonardo English.

[00:00:12] The show where you can listen to fascinating stories, and learn weird and wonderful things about the world at the same time as improving your English.

[00:00:21] I'm Alastair Budge and today we are going to be talking about Cockney Rhyming Slang, the dialect or perhaps even language used in the East End of London.

[00:00:33] This is the second part of our mini-series on language invention, creation, and discovery.

[00:00:39] The first episode, which you can find exclusively on the website, leonardoenglish.com, was all about Invented Languages, and the people who construct their own language.

[00:00:51] Today’s episode is part two, on Cockney Rhyming Slang, and the third part will be all about the Rosetta Stone. Again, you will be able to find that on the website next week.

[00:01:02] Before we get right into today’s episode, let me quickly remind you that you can follow along to this episode with the subtitles, the transcript and its key vocabulary, so you don’t miss a word and build up your vocabulary as you go, over on the website, which is leonardoenglish.com.

[00:01:19] The website is also home to all of our bonus episodes, including the first and the last part of this mini-series, plus guides on how to improve your English in a more interesting way, and our amazing member-only community.

[00:01:33] So if you haven’t yet checked that out, then the place to go to is leonardoenglish.com.

[00:01:40] Ok, Cockney Rhyming Slang.

[00:01:43] Cockney Rhyming Slang is a particular type of slang, of informal language, that is used by some people in a very small part of East London.

[00:01:54] I’m not from East London, so I’ll let some real East Londoners give you some examples of Cockney Rhyming Slang.

 [00:02:01] Cockney Speakers: [00:02:01] Dog and bone, Pony and trap, Ruby Murry, Plates of meat, I'm going for a Brad, Dickie Dirt, Cock and hen, Apples and pears. Rosie Lee, Doily cart, Worry and strife or trouble and strife, A Richard the Third.

[00:02:16] Alastair Budge: [00:02:16] So, to repeat a few of the things they said.

[00:02:21] Mince pies, Dog and bone, Apples and pears, Ruby Murry, Rosie Lee, Richard the Third, Trouble and strife, Pigs Ear.

[00:02:32] Now, even if you might understand the literal meaning of these words and phrases, the actual meaning in Cockney Rhyming Slang is completely different.

[00:02:42] For example, ‘trouble and strife’ means ‘wife’.

[00:02:46] Dog and bone means ‘phone’.

[00:02:48] Ruby Murry means ‘curry’.

[00:02:51] And a pig's ear means ‘beer‘.

[00:02:55] In Cockney Rhyming Slang you have a phrase, of normally two words, and the last word of that phrase rhymes with the word it replaces.

[00:03:06] So, instead of saying “I am going up the stairs”, you might say “I'm going up the apples and pears”. Stairs has been replaced by “apples and pears”.

[00:03:18] In most cases, the phrase used in Cockney Rhyming Slang has absolutely nothing to do with the actual meaning of the word.

[00:03:28] Pigs Ear has no connection to beer, right?

[00:03:32] A dog and bone has no connection to phone.

[00:03:36] And nor does apples and pears with stairs.

[00:03:40] There is, occasionally, a connection, and it’s often a funny one, one that pokes fun at the meaning.

[00:03:48] So, ‘trouble and strife’ means ‘wife’. Strife means ‘conflict’ or ‘fighting’.

[00:03:54] The fact that the expression for ‘wife’ in Cockney Rhyming Slang literally means difficulty and fighting is obviously a bit of a stereotypical thing that some men might say jokingly about their wives.

[00:04:09] To make life even more difficult for someone trying to understand Cockney Rhyming Slang, the final word in the phrase, the one that rhymes with the true meaning of the word, is often dropped, it isn’t said at all.

[00:04:25] For example, the expression ‘barney rubble’ is Cockney Rhyming Slang for trouble.

[00:04:32] But, people don’t always say ‘barney rubble’, they just say ‘barney’.

[00:04:37] So, they’d say ‘we had a bit of a barney’, we had a bit of a fight. But given that the final words of the phrase, ‘trouble’, has been dropped, it is very hard to understand if you didn’t know the full phrase to begin with.

[00:04:52] And to make life even more complicated, in many cases the Cockney Rhyming Slang rhymes with a word that is slang itself, the word it is replacing isn’t even an official, standard word in English.

[00:05:08] For example, battle cruiser.

[00:05:11] Now a battle cruiser is a war ship, right, it’s a big navy ship.

[00:05:17] If I asked you if you wanted to go to the battle cruiser, or even if you wanted to go to the battle, would you have any idea what I was talking about?

[00:05:27] Probably not.

[00:05:28] I’m talking about a pub, battle cruiser is pub.

[00:05:33] But, you will have no doubt noticed that cruiser does not rhyme with pub, so what’s going on here?

[00:05:41] Cruiser does rhyme with another slang word for pub, which is boozer, a place which sells booze, a slang term for alcohol.

[00:05:51] So, battle cruiser, boozer.

[00:05:54] Confusing, right?

[00:05:56] It’s even confusing for native speakers. Sometimes you can figure out the meaning through context, but often the word is so far removed from the actual meaning that it’s incredibly hard.

[00:06:11] And this brings us nicely on to the question of….why?

[00:06:15] Why is there this impossible-to-understand-unless-you-know version of English? It doesn’t seem to serve any purpose - indeed, it’s more confusing, the phrases often are longer than the original ones, so you aren’t saving any time, there doesn’t seem to be any logical, linguistic, reason for its existence.

[00:06:38] One of the mysteries about Cockney Rhyming Slang is that there isn’t complete agreement about where it actually comes from, and why it was invented.

[00:06:49] We know it started in the mid 19th century, with the first evidence of it in the 1840s.

[00:06:57] It originated in, or very near to the East End of London, a small area about 2 km across, it’s the historical centre of London that is now quite far to the east of where you might think the centre would be.

[00:07:12] One theory about why it was created is that it was as a way for people who lived there to have their own, secret language so that the police couldn’t understand what they were saying.

[00:07:24] If you are engaging in activities that the police would like to stop, well, it’s quite a useful thing to be able to speak out loud in a language that your friends can understand but is completely unintelligible to someone who doesn’t know the secret code, the way to translate what you’re saying.

[00:07:43] Now, this is one theory, but it doesn’t stand up to a huge amount of scrutiny, it doesn’t make complete sense when you think about it.

[00:07:52] The policemen working in London’s East End would have normally grown up in the area, and been part of the families living there.

[00:08:01] Cockney Rhyming Slang might be difficult to understand at the start, but once you figure out what different phrases mean, it’s not so hard.

[00:08:11] Presumably even if it was created for this reason, so that criminals could talk without the police understanding them, then that wouldn’t have lasted for long.

[00:08:22] There’s another theory that it was created by Irish dockworkers, Immigrants who came over from Ireland to London to work on the docks so that they could have a secret language to use between themselves.

[00:08:35] But again it probably wouldn’t have remained secret for long, and they could have just spoken Irish between each other - many would have spoken Irish, so why bother creating your own version of English just so people in London couldn’t understand you?

[00:08:51] And there’s a final theory, which is normally considered the most plausible, the most believable, that the town criers, people who would stand on street corners and recite news and tell stories might have started to use this type of slang for a bit of fun, to develop an audience, and it developed from there.

[00:09:14] From a utility point of view, Cockney Rhyming Slang isn’t hugely useful.

[00:09:19] But what it is a lot of fun, people like using it, it makes language more interesting, and creates a shared sense of community.

[00:09:28] One can imagine these town criers making their speeches more interesting by using these weird and wonderful phrases to describe something else, perhaps explaining it to their audience, who might think it was clever and witty, and then they would start using it themselves with friends and family.

[00:09:49] And this theory would explain how Cockney Rhyming Slang has developed over the years.

[00:09:55] Unlike the invented languages that we heard about in Part 1, Cockney Rhyming Slang wasn’t the product of one or a small group of people, it was something that was developed by a wider group, and has been continually added to ever since, there are new Cockney Rhyming Slang phrases every year.

[00:10:15] Although this is one of the beauties of Cockney Rhyming Slang, it makes actually trying to study it, and to write it all down, very hard.

[00:10:25] It now exists in pop culture, you’ll see it in films, TV series, on social media, but there is no single organisation that is responsible for it, nobody saying what is and isn’t Cockney Rhyming Slang.

[00:10:40] It’s in many ways a beautiful example of how languages develop, how different branches of languages emerge, why they do, and what this actually tells us about our own relationship with language.

[00:10:54] Firstly, it shows us that there is just an awful amount of fun that you can have with language.

[00:11:01] People don’t speak Cockney Rhyming Slang instead of English, they replace certain English words with Cockney Rhyming Slang.

[00:11:09] So everyone who speaks Cockney Rhyming Slang can speak English, they might just choose to use Cockney Rhyming Slang to describe something because it’s more fun, perhaps because it comes more naturally to them, and to create a shared sense of belonging, of community.

[00:11:26] This is of course not unique to Cockney Rhyming Slang, it’s one of the reasons to continue to speak any dialect when there is another more dominant language you could speak, but Cockney Rhyming Slang has the unique quality that it uses English words in a different way to convey meanings in English.

[00:11:46] If you had to compare it to another type of slang, it’s probably most similar to something like Verlan, the French slang where you invert the French word, you take the last part of the word and put it at the front of the word.

[00:12:03] So, to quickly explain to the non-French speakers out there, ‘femme’, the word for woman in French, becomes ‘meuf’, Francais, the word for ‘French’ becomes ‘céfran’.

[00:12:17] In both the case of Cockney Rhyming Slang and Verlan, the slang uses the main language but changes it in a way that is hard to understand unless you know the code, you have the key to translate the meaning.

[00:12:32] In both cases, they are exclusive languages, or rather dialects.

[00:12:37] If you know how to use them, and in Cockney Rhyming Slang’s case if you are from the small area of London where Cockney Rhyming Slang is spoken, you are part of a small, close knit community brought closer together by a shared use of language.

[00:12:54] And if you don’t know Cockney Rhyming Slang then you’re excluded, you aren’t part of this exclusive gang.

[00:13:01] Now, if you are wondering whether you need to know Cockney Rhyming Slang if you go to London, and if you are worried because you have just found out about an entirely new part of English that you never knew existed, fear not.

[00:13:16] There is absolutely no need for you to learn it, most Brits wouldn’t be able to understand most of it either.

[00:13:22] If you were to go into a pub in London’s East End and ask for Two King Lears and a Philharmonic, which is two beers and a gin and tonic by the way, I imagine the person behind the bar would look at you with a slightly strange face. And they might not even know what you were talking about either.

[00:13:41] But if you do want to learn more about Cockney Rhyming Slang, then you will find a load of fun resources if you just google Cockney Rhyming Slang. From dictionaries to video clips, it is a lot of fun to learn, and it is a veritable rabbit hole, it’s easy to waste hours learning Cockney Rhyming Slang.

[00:14:01] And this really is one of the great things about learning any language - that it will be easier and you’ll progress faster if it’s fun and interesting.

[00:14:11] Even if you have a particular goal in mind, getting a new job, getting a particular score in the IELTS, or just being able to speak with your next-door neighbour, sometimes it is a lot of fun to just get caught up in the magic of fun parts of language.

[00:14:28] And although Cockney Rhyming Slang really isn’t very useful for your day-to-day life, it is a huge amount of fun.

[00:14:35] And if that isn’t a reason to learn some Cockney Rhyming Slang, then I don’t know what is.

[00:14:42] OK then, that is it for today's episode on Cockney Rhyming Slang, part 2 of our three part series on unorthodox language invention, creation, and discovery

[00:14:54] As a quick reminder, part one was on invented languages, and part three is going to be on The Rosetta Stone. You can listen to both of those exclusively on the website, leonardoenglish.com.

[00:15:07] And on that subject, here’s your quick final reminder that you can become a member of Leonardo English, listen to all of our bonus episodes, plus get the transcripts, the subtitles, and all of the key vocabulary over on the website.

[00:15:21] You’ll be joining a community of curious minds from over 40 countries now, doing meetups, exchanging ideas, and generally improving their English in a more interesting way.

[00:15:32] So, the place for that is leonardoenglish.com

[00:15:36] And if you are already a member of Leonardo English, thank you - you’re amazing. I’d love to know what you think of this episode, and I’m going to share a little quiz on Cockney Rhyming Slang over in our community.

[00:15:48] So, see you there, at community.leonardoenglish.com.

[00:15:52] You've been listening to English Learning for Curious Minds, by Leonardo English.

[00:15:58] I'm Alastair Budge, you stay safe, and I'll catch you in the next episode.

[END OF EPISODE]


[00:00:00] Hello, hello hello, and welcome to English Learning for Curious Minds, by Leonardo English.

[00:00:12] The show where you can listen to fascinating stories, and learn weird and wonderful things about the world at the same time as improving your English.

[00:00:21] I'm Alastair Budge and today we are going to be talking about Cockney Rhyming Slang, the dialect or perhaps even language used in the East End of London.

[00:00:33] This is the second part of our mini-series on language invention, creation, and discovery.

[00:00:39] The first episode, which you can find exclusively on the website, leonardoenglish.com, was all about Invented Languages, and the people who construct their own language.

[00:00:51] Today’s episode is part two, on Cockney Rhyming Slang, and the third part will be all about the Rosetta Stone. Again, you will be able to find that on the website next week.

[00:01:02] Before we get right into today’s episode, let me quickly remind you that you can follow along to this episode with the subtitles, the transcript and its key vocabulary, so you don’t miss a word and build up your vocabulary as you go, over on the website, which is leonardoenglish.com.

[00:01:19] The website is also home to all of our bonus episodes, including the first and the last part of this mini-series, plus guides on how to improve your English in a more interesting way, and our amazing member-only community.

[00:01:33] So if you haven’t yet checked that out, then the place to go to is leonardoenglish.com.

[00:01:40] Ok, Cockney Rhyming Slang.

[00:01:43] Cockney Rhyming Slang is a particular type of slang, of informal language, that is used by some people in a very small part of East London.

[00:01:54] I’m not from East London, so I’ll let some real East Londoners give you some examples of Cockney Rhyming Slang.

 [00:02:01] Cockney Speakers: [00:02:01] Dog and bone, Pony and trap, Ruby Murry, Plates of meat, I'm going for a Brad, Dickie Dirt, Cock and hen, Apples and pears. Rosie Lee, Doily cart, Worry and strife or trouble and strife, A Richard the Third.

[00:02:16] Alastair Budge: [00:02:16] So, to repeat a few of the things they said.

[00:02:21] Mince pies, Dog and bone, Apples and pears, Ruby Murry, Rosie Lee, Richard the Third, Trouble and strife, Pigs Ear.

[00:02:32] Now, even if you might understand the literal meaning of these words and phrases, the actual meaning in Cockney Rhyming Slang is completely different.

[00:02:42] For example, ‘trouble and strife’ means ‘wife’.

[00:02:46] Dog and bone means ‘phone’.

[00:02:48] Ruby Murry means ‘curry’.

[00:02:51] And a pig's ear means ‘beer‘.

[00:02:55] In Cockney Rhyming Slang you have a phrase, of normally two words, and the last word of that phrase rhymes with the word it replaces.

[00:03:06] So, instead of saying “I am going up the stairs”, you might say “I'm going up the apples and pears”. Stairs has been replaced by “apples and pears”.

[00:03:18] In most cases, the phrase used in Cockney Rhyming Slang has absolutely nothing to do with the actual meaning of the word.

[00:03:28] Pigs Ear has no connection to beer, right?

[00:03:32] A dog and bone has no connection to phone.

[00:03:36] And nor does apples and pears with stairs.

[00:03:40] There is, occasionally, a connection, and it’s often a funny one, one that pokes fun at the meaning.

[00:03:48] So, ‘trouble and strife’ means ‘wife’. Strife means ‘conflict’ or ‘fighting’.

[00:03:54] The fact that the expression for ‘wife’ in Cockney Rhyming Slang literally means difficulty and fighting is obviously a bit of a stereotypical thing that some men might say jokingly about their wives.

[00:04:09] To make life even more difficult for someone trying to understand Cockney Rhyming Slang, the final word in the phrase, the one that rhymes with the true meaning of the word, is often dropped, it isn’t said at all.

[00:04:25] For example, the expression ‘barney rubble’ is Cockney Rhyming Slang for trouble.

[00:04:32] But, people don’t always say ‘barney rubble’, they just say ‘barney’.

[00:04:37] So, they’d say ‘we had a bit of a barney’, we had a bit of a fight. But given that the final words of the phrase, ‘trouble’, has been dropped, it is very hard to understand if you didn’t know the full phrase to begin with.

[00:04:52] And to make life even more complicated, in many cases the Cockney Rhyming Slang rhymes with a word that is slang itself, the word it is replacing isn’t even an official, standard word in English.

[00:05:08] For example, battle cruiser.

[00:05:11] Now a battle cruiser is a war ship, right, it’s a big navy ship.

[00:05:17] If I asked you if you wanted to go to the battle cruiser, or even if you wanted to go to the battle, would you have any idea what I was talking about?

[00:05:27] Probably not.

[00:05:28] I’m talking about a pub, battle cruiser is pub.

[00:05:33] But, you will have no doubt noticed that cruiser does not rhyme with pub, so what’s going on here?

[00:05:41] Cruiser does rhyme with another slang word for pub, which is boozer, a place which sells booze, a slang term for alcohol.

[00:05:51] So, battle cruiser, boozer.

[00:05:54] Confusing, right?

[00:05:56] It’s even confusing for native speakers. Sometimes you can figure out the meaning through context, but often the word is so far removed from the actual meaning that it’s incredibly hard.

[00:06:11] And this brings us nicely on to the question of….why?

[00:06:15] Why is there this impossible-to-understand-unless-you-know version of English? It doesn’t seem to serve any purpose - indeed, it’s more confusing, the phrases often are longer than the original ones, so you aren’t saving any time, there doesn’t seem to be any logical, linguistic, reason for its existence.

[00:06:38] One of the mysteries about Cockney Rhyming Slang is that there isn’t complete agreement about where it actually comes from, and why it was invented.

[00:06:49] We know it started in the mid 19th century, with the first evidence of it in the 1840s.

[00:06:57] It originated in, or very near to the East End of London, a small area about 2 km across, it’s the historical centre of London that is now quite far to the east of where you might think the centre would be.

[00:07:12] One theory about why it was created is that it was as a way for people who lived there to have their own, secret language so that the police couldn’t understand what they were saying.

[00:07:24] If you are engaging in activities that the police would like to stop, well, it’s quite a useful thing to be able to speak out loud in a language that your friends can understand but is completely unintelligible to someone who doesn’t know the secret code, the way to translate what you’re saying.

[00:07:43] Now, this is one theory, but it doesn’t stand up to a huge amount of scrutiny, it doesn’t make complete sense when you think about it.

[00:07:52] The policemen working in London’s East End would have normally grown up in the area, and been part of the families living there.

[00:08:01] Cockney Rhyming Slang might be difficult to understand at the start, but once you figure out what different phrases mean, it’s not so hard.

[00:08:11] Presumably even if it was created for this reason, so that criminals could talk without the police understanding them, then that wouldn’t have lasted for long.

[00:08:22] There’s another theory that it was created by Irish dockworkers, Immigrants who came over from Ireland to London to work on the docks so that they could have a secret language to use between themselves.

[00:08:35] But again it probably wouldn’t have remained secret for long, and they could have just spoken Irish between each other - many would have spoken Irish, so why bother creating your own version of English just so people in London couldn’t understand you?

[00:08:51] And there’s a final theory, which is normally considered the most plausible, the most believable, that the town criers, people who would stand on street corners and recite news and tell stories might have started to use this type of slang for a bit of fun, to develop an audience, and it developed from there.

[00:09:14] From a utility point of view, Cockney Rhyming Slang isn’t hugely useful.

[00:09:19] But what it is a lot of fun, people like using it, it makes language more interesting, and creates a shared sense of community.

[00:09:28] One can imagine these town criers making their speeches more interesting by using these weird and wonderful phrases to describe something else, perhaps explaining it to their audience, who might think it was clever and witty, and then they would start using it themselves with friends and family.

[00:09:49] And this theory would explain how Cockney Rhyming Slang has developed over the years.

[00:09:55] Unlike the invented languages that we heard about in Part 1, Cockney Rhyming Slang wasn’t the product of one or a small group of people, it was something that was developed by a wider group, and has been continually added to ever since, there are new Cockney Rhyming Slang phrases every year.

[00:10:15] Although this is one of the beauties of Cockney Rhyming Slang, it makes actually trying to study it, and to write it all down, very hard.

[00:10:25] It now exists in pop culture, you’ll see it in films, TV series, on social media, but there is no single organisation that is responsible for it, nobody saying what is and isn’t Cockney Rhyming Slang.

[00:10:40] It’s in many ways a beautiful example of how languages develop, how different branches of languages emerge, why they do, and what this actually tells us about our own relationship with language.

[00:10:54] Firstly, it shows us that there is just an awful amount of fun that you can have with language.

[00:11:01] People don’t speak Cockney Rhyming Slang instead of English, they replace certain English words with Cockney Rhyming Slang.

[00:11:09] So everyone who speaks Cockney Rhyming Slang can speak English, they might just choose to use Cockney Rhyming Slang to describe something because it’s more fun, perhaps because it comes more naturally to them, and to create a shared sense of belonging, of community.

[00:11:26] This is of course not unique to Cockney Rhyming Slang, it’s one of the reasons to continue to speak any dialect when there is another more dominant language you could speak, but Cockney Rhyming Slang has the unique quality that it uses English words in a different way to convey meanings in English.

[00:11:46] If you had to compare it to another type of slang, it’s probably most similar to something like Verlan, the French slang where you invert the French word, you take the last part of the word and put it at the front of the word.

[00:12:03] So, to quickly explain to the non-French speakers out there, ‘femme’, the word for woman in French, becomes ‘meuf’, Francais, the word for ‘French’ becomes ‘céfran’.

[00:12:17] In both the case of Cockney Rhyming Slang and Verlan, the slang uses the main language but changes it in a way that is hard to understand unless you know the code, you have the key to translate the meaning.

[00:12:32] In both cases, they are exclusive languages, or rather dialects.

[00:12:37] If you know how to use them, and in Cockney Rhyming Slang’s case if you are from the small area of London where Cockney Rhyming Slang is spoken, you are part of a small, close knit community brought closer together by a shared use of language.

[00:12:54] And if you don’t know Cockney Rhyming Slang then you’re excluded, you aren’t part of this exclusive gang.

[00:13:01] Now, if you are wondering whether you need to know Cockney Rhyming Slang if you go to London, and if you are worried because you have just found out about an entirely new part of English that you never knew existed, fear not.

[00:13:16] There is absolutely no need for you to learn it, most Brits wouldn’t be able to understand most of it either.

[00:13:22] If you were to go into a pub in London’s East End and ask for Two King Lears and a Philharmonic, which is two beers and a gin and tonic by the way, I imagine the person behind the bar would look at you with a slightly strange face. And they might not even know what you were talking about either.

[00:13:41] But if you do want to learn more about Cockney Rhyming Slang, then you will find a load of fun resources if you just google Cockney Rhyming Slang. From dictionaries to video clips, it is a lot of fun to learn, and it is a veritable rabbit hole, it’s easy to waste hours learning Cockney Rhyming Slang.

[00:14:01] And this really is one of the great things about learning any language - that it will be easier and you’ll progress faster if it’s fun and interesting.

[00:14:11] Even if you have a particular goal in mind, getting a new job, getting a particular score in the IELTS, or just being able to speak with your next-door neighbour, sometimes it is a lot of fun to just get caught up in the magic of fun parts of language.

[00:14:28] And although Cockney Rhyming Slang really isn’t very useful for your day-to-day life, it is a huge amount of fun.

[00:14:35] And if that isn’t a reason to learn some Cockney Rhyming Slang, then I don’t know what is.

[00:14:42] OK then, that is it for today's episode on Cockney Rhyming Slang, part 2 of our three part series on unorthodox language invention, creation, and discovery

[00:14:54] As a quick reminder, part one was on invented languages, and part three is going to be on The Rosetta Stone. You can listen to both of those exclusively on the website, leonardoenglish.com.

[00:15:07] And on that subject, here’s your quick final reminder that you can become a member of Leonardo English, listen to all of our bonus episodes, plus get the transcripts, the subtitles, and all of the key vocabulary over on the website.

[00:15:21] You’ll be joining a community of curious minds from over 40 countries now, doing meetups, exchanging ideas, and generally improving their English in a more interesting way.

[00:15:32] So, the place for that is leonardoenglish.com

[00:15:36] And if you are already a member of Leonardo English, thank you - you’re amazing. I’d love to know what you think of this episode, and I’m going to share a little quiz on Cockney Rhyming Slang over in our community.

[00:15:48] So, see you there, at community.leonardoenglish.com.

[00:15:52] You've been listening to English Learning for Curious Minds, by Leonardo English.

[00:15:58] I'm Alastair Budge, you stay safe, and I'll catch you in the next episode.

[END OF EPISODE]