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Speak Cockney Day: the Cockney rhyming slang you need to know

 (BBC)
(BBC)

The unofficial ‘Speak Cockney Day’ is just around the corner, meaning you don’t have much time to brush up on your London slang.

Aligning with the Modern Cockney Festival, which takes place throughout March, it’s a chance for us to reflect on the wonderful world of Cockney slang and the stories behind some of these iconic phrases.

Thought to have emerged in London’s East End at some point in the 19th century, Cockney rhyming slang has become an iconic dialect associated with London’s working class.

Full of creative and sometimes nonsensical expressions, historians have linked the emergence of Cockney to people trying to hide what they were saying from others, particularly the police. Like any language, it’s also evolved into what it is today.

These days, Cockney slang is seen as a crucial and iconic part of British culture, with many phrases being used around the country to this day.

To celebrate all things East End, here’s your guide to the key cockney phrases.

Actor Michael Caine at London Airport in 1966 (PA) (PA Archive)
Actor Michael Caine at London Airport in 1966 (PA) (PA Archive)

When is Speak Cockney Day?

Speak Cockney Day is being recognised on March 3 because it is the ‘fird of the ‘fird.

While it’s not an ‘official’ holiday per se, a growing number of people are vying to get Speak Cockney Day more recognition.

The day serves to kick off the start of the Modern Cockney Festival that takes place throughout the rest of the month.

Andy Green, co-founder of the Modern Cockney Festival, said: “It’s a wake-up call to Londoners and beyond - whether you were born within the inner London Cockney heartland or part of the Cockney Diaspora - to celebrate an identity that helps people overcome adversity.

“Appealing to anyone with an affinity with the of the ‘common Londoner’, whether first, second, third generation or more, we are challenging negative stereotypes of Cockneys in the media while appealing to the Mayor of London to stop the 660-year-old identity of the ‘common Londoner’ being airbrushed out of history.”

Top Cockney rhyming slang

Apples and pears - stairs

Probably the most well-known Cockney rhyme is apples and pears. Not only does it rhyme with stairs, but reports claim it’s also said to symbolise the gradation with which fruit is often sold on a market stall.

Trouble and strife - wife

This tongue-in-cheek rhyme is used to describe your significant female other.

Butcher's hook - look

You might be familiar with the phrase “let’s ‘ave a butchers” as a way of showing you want to look or have a go at something.

Dog and bone - phone

Another classic example is Dog and Bone, which describes a phone because of the rhyme. People would commonly drop the second half of the rhyme, so dog is sometimes used to describe a phone.

Raspberry tart - fart

Interestingly, you probably use this phrase more than you realise. The term ‘blowing a raspberry’ is thought to have evolved from this Cockney slang.

Ruby Murray - curry

If you’re up for a ruby, you want to have a curry. Ruby Murray was also the name of a popular singer in the 50s, which may have led to the development of this expression.

Adam and Eve - believe

I don’t Adam and Eve this, it seems like these biblical figures have been used to describe a word about belief.

China plate - mate

If you say you’re chatting to your China, it means that you’re talking to a mate in Cockney slang.

What is a Cockney?

Like the Mancunians in Manchester or the Scousers in Liverpool, a Cockney is a name given to people based on their location.

It’s an accent loosely associated with the Only Fools and Horses cast, Barbara Windsor and Michael Caine, although not all of these stars are actually from East London.

The word ‘cockney’ is thought to have emerged in the 1300s, when it was used to describe a misshapen egg.

The term later surfaced in Geoffrey Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales, but only a couple of centuries later, it became a common description for someone from the East End in London.

Traditionally, a Cockney is a person who lived close enough to hear the bell ringing at St Mary-le-Bow church, an area formerly known as Cheapside. The Cockney slang would soon follow suit, spreading among people living in the area.

However, the phrase is now used more loosely to describe people who usually hail from London and know at least a couple of rhyming slang words.