Coming to London as a non English speaker and conversing with the locals is one thing, but understanding Cockney Rhyming Slang (even as an English speaker) is another challenge entirely.  What is this strange dialect (if, indeed it is a dialect at all)?  Where does it originate? This article investigates these questions further and hopefully provides the answers, as well as an interesting and entertaining list of examples.  So – don’t get yerself into a two and eight thinking you have to struggle along on your tod, use yer loaf and read on:

What is Cockney rhyming slang?
Cockney rhyming slang is when a word or phrase is replaced by a rhyming word or phrase, this word or phrase then often being abbreviated to its first syllable or syllables, or its first word. The word chosen as the rhyme often (but not always) shares attributes of the word that it replaces.
It sounds more complicated than it is – here’s an example:
Bobble (Bobble hat and scarf) – laugh.  “You’re having a bobble”, would mean, “you cannot be serious”.
See – simple!

What are Cockneys?
Cockneys were – and for the most part still are – working class Londoners.  A true Cockney is someone born within the sound of Bow Bells (St Mary-le-Bow Church in Cheapside, London).  Nowadays, the term Cockney is loosely applied to many born outside this area as long as they have a cockney accent or a Cockney heritage.

Why was it invented and how has it developed?
The origin of Cockney rhyming slang is uncertain.  Whether it was a linguistic accident, invented as a game, or a code developed intentionally to confuse non locals remains a matter of speculation.  If deliberate, it may also have been used to maintain a sense of community. It is possible that it was used in the marketplace to allow traders to talk amongst themselves in order to facilitate collusion, without customers knowing what they were saying.  Another suggestion is that it may have been used by criminals.   It would certainly have been an effective code, being completely incomprehensible to anyone eavesdropping in on a conversation.

These days people mostly just use it for a laugh.  Words and phrases are being made up all the time and in many cases the rhyming word is omitted – so you won’t find too many Londoners having a “butcher’s hook”, but you might find a few having a “butcher’s”.  This isn’t always the case, though so Cockney expressions can vary in their construction, and it is simply a matter of convention which version is used.  Over the years, cockney rhyming slang has merged into the mainstream English language – and some of us use its’ words and phrases all the time without even realising it’s rhyming slang we’re using!

Dictionary of Cockney words and phrases
Here’s the part you’ve been waiting for – a list of cockney rhyming slang expressions and meanings.  It is by no means a full list – just an alphabetical selection of the more interesting expressions, including many that have entered everyday language . There are no rude words, derrogatory terms or swear words in this list – despite the fact that these seem to be very popular(!) – we felt it would be inappropriate to include them here, just in case we have any younger readers!:

Adam and Eve – believe (‘would you adam and eve it?’)
Alan Wickers – knickers
Apples and pears – stairs
Attila (Attila the Hun) – two-one (an upper 2nd class UK university degree)
Barnet (Barnet fair) – hair
Barney (Barney Rubble) – trouble, now also means argument
Basil (Basil Fawlty) – balti (curry)
Battle Cruiser – Boozer (public house)
Bird (bird lime) – Time (prison)
Boat (boat race) – face
Bobble (Bobble hat and scarf) – laugh (“you’re having a bobble”, ie., you cannot be serious)
Bowler Hat – Cat
Brass Tacks – Facts (‘let’s get down to brass tacks’)
Brassic (boracic lint) – skint (penniless)
Bread (bread and honey) – money
Brown Bread – dead
Bubble (Barf/Bath) – laugh (‘you ‘avin’ a bubble?..’)
Bubble (and Squeak) – Greek (a Greek person), or a magistrate or judge (beak) or wife (based on rhyming bubble with trouble, from trouble and strife)
Bull and cow – row (argument)
Butcher’s (butcher’s hook) – look (‘give us butcher’s..’)
Canoes – shoes
Chewy toffee – coffee
China (china plate) – mate (‘me old china’)
Christmas crackered – knackered (worn out, exhausted, broken, etc)
Cloud seven – heaven
Coco/Cocoa – say so (see variations below)
Crust (crust of bread) – head
Daisy Roots – boots
Desmond (Desmond Tutu) – two-two (2ii, a lower 2nd class UK university degree)
Dickie Bird – word
Dickie Dirt – shirt
Ding dong – sing song (now evolved to mean argument or fight)
Dog and bone – phone
Duch (duchess of Fife) – wife (‘me old Duch’)
Duke of Cork – talk
Dunlop Tyre – liar
Dustbin lids – kids
Earwig – twig (understand, to catch on – now evolved to mean eavesdrop)
Elephants (elephants trunk) – drunk
Flounder and dab – cab
Frog and Toad – road
Gary (Gary Glitter) – Bitter (the beer, as in ‘a pint of Gary’)
Geoff Hurst – first (a 1st class university degree)
German band – hand
Greens (greengages) – wages (money)
Half inch – pinch (steal)
Hampstead Heath – teeth
Harry Wragg – fag (cigarette)
Hillman Hunter – punter (customer)
Hit and miss – kiss
Holy ghost – toast
Irish (jig) – wig
Jack Jones – alone, (on your own – ‘On your Jack’)
Jackanory – story (tall tale)
Jam jar – car
Jimmy Choos – shoes
Joanna – piano (cockney pronunciation of piano would be ‘piana’)
Joe Soap – dope (stupid man)
Kettle (and hob) – watch (fob watch )
Lady Godiva – fiver (£5)
Lionel Blairs – flares (flared trousers)
Loaf (loaf of bread) – head (‘use your loaf’)
Marbles (marbles and conkers) – bonkers (mad – probably the root of the expression ‘lost your marbles’ meaning gone mad)
Mother’s ruin – gin
Minces (mince pies) – eyes
Moby Dick – sick
Mutton (Mutt and Jeff) – deaf
Nelson Mandella – Stella (the lager beer, typically ‘a Nelson’ would equate to a pint of Stella)
North and south – mouth
Nutmeg – leg (leading to the soccer term ‘nutmeg’, meaning to play the ball between your opponent’s legs)
Oily rag – fag (cigarette)
Old bag – hag (horrible woman)
On the floor – poor
Oxo (Oxo cube) – tube (the London Underground train system)
Peckham (Peckham Rye) – Tie (as in necktie)
Pen (pen and ink) – stink
Plates of meat – feet
Pipe your Eye – cry
Poppy (poppy red) – bread
Porky (pork pie) – lie (fib)
Rabbit (rabbit and pork) – talk
Razzmatazz – jazz (evolved to mean general excitement)
Rhythm ‘n’ blues – shoes (shortened to ‘rhythms’)
Rosie (Rosie Lee) – tea (‘cup of rosie’)
Rubber/rubber dub (Rub-a-dub-dub) – Pub (or club)
Ruby (Ruby Murray) – curry
Sausage and mash – cash
Scarper (Scapa Flow) – go, run away
Skin and blister – sister
Sky rocket – pocket
Sweeney Todd – Flying Squad
Taters (potatoes in the mould) – cold
Tea leaf – thief
Tiddly (tiddly wink) – drink (now evolved to mean drunk)
Thora Hird – third (3rd class university degree)
Titfer (Tit for tat) – hat
Toby jugs – lugs (ears)
Tod (Tod Sloane) – on your own, also alone (‘on your tod’ means on your own)
Tom (tomfoolery) – jewellery (‘Tom’ now means any stolen goods)
Tom and Dick – sick
Trombone – phone
Trouble (trouble and strife) – wife
Turkish bath – laugh
Two and eight – state (‘in a right old two and eight’)
Uncle Dick – sick
Vera Lynn – gin (or skin, meaning cigarette rolling paper)
Weasel (weasel and stoat) – coat
Whistle (whistle and flute) – suit