Don’t be a garden, feast your mince on this slice!*

How fluent is your Cockney rhyming slang? If you translated the above with ease, you’d have fit in well with the babbling brook (crook) community of the East End.

It’s widely believed that the lingo developed as a way for ne’er-do-wells to talk about their latest uncle (uncle bob – job) without alerting any nearby bottles and stoppers (coppers) or grasshoppers (grass – informant).

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The usage became so wide at one point that the Sweeney (Sweeney Todd – Flying Squad, and yes, that is where that name comes from for the TV Show) of the Met Police were issuing booklets of rhyming slang to their officers to make them aware of what was being said. Otherwise the slang would just be meaningless box of toys to the passing bottle stopper, and they’d feel a right lump of school.

A Criminal Legacy

Our Crime and Punishment collection dates from 1770 to 1934, so Cockney rhyming slang would certainly have been known to many of your ancestors in the records. The papers of the time were aware of it, and published a few articles about it. One from 1950 shows that the Cockney rhyming slang was seen as the preserve of criminals seeking to avoid detection even in living memory.

Feeling canny? Try our Cockney rhyming slang quiz

There’s also the wonderful and lesser known London back slang, in which words were literally said backwards in order to confuse listening Slops – Pols – Police. One such occurrence is recorded in the Dundee Evening Telegraph of 22nd January 1902 of a teacher working out the secret language of his students. Another article from 1890 spells this out a little more for its readers as how it’s constructed and used.

Of course, not all use of the slang was in use by brooks. A lot of it was simply part of daily life for residents of East London. There are new phrases being added into the lexicon all the time, although these are not always well received. Purists of the slang have taken to referring to it as ‘mockney’ rather than true ‘cockney’, although additions to the slang are nothing new, as this article from 1914 demonstrates:

So, the next time you’re having a cheeky tiddly wink in the near and far, why not try out some of your Cockney rhyming slang on your Chinas.


Cockney Rhyming slang: A Glossary

“Apples and pears” – stairs

"Barnet Fair" - hair

“Bees and honey” – money

“Boat Race” – Face

“Bottle and stopper” – copper

“Box of toys” – noise

"Butcher's Hook" - look

“Brown bread” - dead

“China” – china plate – mate

“Coals and coke” – broke

“Cut and carried” – married

“Didn’t ought” – port

“Elephant’s trunk” – Drunk

“Ham and Cheesy” - Easy

“Gay and hearty” – party

“Giraffe” – Laugh

“Mince” – mince pies - eyes

“Near and far” – bar

“On the floor” – poor

“Oily rag” – fag – cigarette

“Philharmonic” - Gin and Tonic

“River Nile” – Denial

“Scarper” - Go

“Short of a Sheet” – in the street

“Tiddly wink” -drink

“True til death” – breath

“Yet to be” – free

*Don’t be a fool, feast your eyes on this post