Dean Owen

5 years ago · 2 min. reading time · visibility ~100 ·

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Learn a New Language in One Day! (But this one ain’t gonna help your Career!)

Do you know what Terence Stamp, Adele, Michael Caine and Leona Lewis have in common?

If you guessed they are all British, you’d be right.  But to be more specific, they are all Cockney, born within the sound of a particular set of bells on top of a church tower in London.

The church is St. Mary-le-Bow in the Cheapside district of London.

Originally burnt down in the Great Fire of London (1966), the church was rebuilt by architect Sir Christopher Wren, best known for his work on St. Paul’s Cathedral.

The 12 bells in the tower ring every quarter hour, and in the now noisy streets of London, can probably be heard not much more than a few miles away.

Anyone born within earshot of the bells can be called a Cockney.

There are not many hospitals in the area, and even fewer maternity wards, but having been born in one of them, St Bartholomew’s, by definition, I am a Cockney.  I was born “within the sound of Bow-bells”, but in reality, being born to immigrants and lacking the specific dialect, I have never considered myself a Cockney.

Cockney Rhyming Slang

Perhaps originating in the fruit and veg markets of the East End, Cockney rhyming slang to the uninitiated will sound like a completely foreign language.

Appearing most likely in the mid-19th Century, there are some theories that it developed as a means to code conversations from the police, or just to any outsiders. Others have suggested that it was the Irish immigrants to London who first started using it so the English could not understand them (not that they needed code to begin with!)

Cockney English rhyming slang is essentially the replacement of everyday words with phrases that rhyme with that word.  But it is not quite as simple as that.

The word for “phone” in Cockney is “dog and bone”.

(“phone” rhymes with “dog and bone” but you might or might not drop the “bone”)

The word for “wife” in Cockney is “trouble and strife”

(here you do not drop the “strife”)

Confusing right?

So if a cockney says: “The trouble and strife is on the dog”, now you know he means “Your wife is on the phone”.  Get it?

So can you guess what a guy means when he says “Had a bull and cow with the trouble and strife last night” ?

You got it!  He had a row with the wife last night.

Just to add a bit more confusion to the mix, the watch you wear on your wrist might be referred to as your “Kettle and Hob”.  This is because back in the day before wristwatches, your pocket watch was tethered to your button hole with a small chain called a fob, so the “Kettle and Hob” refers to your fob watch.

In addition to rhyming slang, you now need to add the accent, so the word governor (used to describe your boss) is pronounced guvnah, and  “what are you thinking” is pronounced more like “wat are you finkin”.

So lets end with a few common Cockney rhyming slang phrases:

Adam and Eve  - believe

Cain and Abel - table

Apples and pears (also referred to as dancing bears)– stairs

Butcher’s hook – look

Danny Glover (yes the guy from Lethal Weapon) – lover

Garden tool – fool

Sandy Lyle (yes, the golfer) – smile

Saddam Hussein – insane

Raspberry Ripple – nipple

Easter Bunny – funny

Lara Croft – soft

Fawlty Tower – shower

Queen Mum – bum

Boat race – face

Bread and cheese – sneeze

Captain Kirk - work

So now you have got the gist of Cockney English it is time to wipe that Sandy Lyle off your boat and get back to Captain Kirk!

Dean Owen is the Co-Founder of Quimojo, a revolutionary new concept in Global Campus Recruitment.

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