I’ll start with a confession: I didn’t really understand the logic behind cockney rhyming slang until about three years ago. Yes, it took me 27 years to twig that the slang words were designed to rhyme with the root word. Perhaps this is why I used to fear it, and avoid it. A lack of understanding leads to fear. Mostly in much more important sociological and psychological ways, but also in stupid everyday, just-a-bit-socially-awkward ways like this.
Anyway, it was learning that saying “haven’t got a scooby” for ‘I don’t know’ was rhyming slang that made it all click in my tiny little mind. After that, I realised that I should not be afraid of rhyming slang because I WAS ALREADY USING IT EVERY DAY. Without realising.
The Science Bit
Some say that Cockney Rhyming Slang was developed on purpose to exclude outsiders and so stall holders on the market could keep things secret from out-of-town-ers and the police. Others say it just started as a bit of a laugh. I prefer the latter explanation.
There’s lots of information about the history of Cockney Rhyming Slang, and how it actually has very little to do with Cockneys, in this article from Phrases.co.uk. There’s no doubt that the key to the very top end rhyming slang is to get rid of the rhyming word altogether – that was the reason it eluded me for so long. It’s basically a secret code. No-one told me the bloody code!
Cockney Rhyming Slang Translations
Now, there is controversy surrounding the use of CRS today. Some true Londoners are a little touchy about the newer instances that have infiltrated language under the premise of being Cockney Rhyming Slang. But I reckon we should all just calm down and get along and let everyone in the club.
Many of you will already know all there is to know about CRS. To see if you need this guide, take this quick test: Do you know where the name of the TV series/film The Sweeney comes from? If not, read on.
Here are some of my favourite instances of Cockney Rhyming Slang. As Cher from Clueless would say, “try and use it in a sentence today”.
Loaf = brain/head. As in “use your loaf of bread”= “use your head”.
Porkies = lies, via “porky pies”
“How’s my barnet” = ‘How’s my hair”, where “Barnet refers to Barnet Fair”.
“I’m so boracic” (pronounced brassic) = broke, via Boracic lint.
“Lend me an Ayrton” = “please can I borrow a tenner”, via Ayrton Senna.
“On your tod“, meaning “on your own” via a jockey I’ve never heard of called Todd Sloan.
Take a butchers at this = “have a look at this”, via ‘Butcher’s hook’.
“Me old china” = my friend, via china plate = mate.
“Fancy a Ruby?” = “Do you want a curry?”, via Ruby Murray.
“I’ve got no dough” – I am out of money, via dough = bread, ‘bread and honey’ = money. That’s a whole other link in the chain!
“Ooh, me plates” = my legs hurt, via ‘plates of meat’
Finally, be very careful if people ask you if you want a Bruce. This refers to Bruce Lee and could mean tea, pee or key depending on who’s asking.