You may encounter Cockney Rhyming Slang and its many variations mainly in England and Australia. It is not very common in the US. The origins of this form of the language dates back to the early 19th century. It was originally used by traders so they could talk to each other without their customers understanding them, but it was also used in Australia by the convicts and prisoners so they could talk without the prison guards knowing what they were saying.

The way the language developed was to find a word, phrase or name that rhymed with the word that you actually wanted to use. For example, a dog and bone is a phone. The frog and toad is the road. Apples and pears – stairs. Famous names were also used such as Captain Cook for look.

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As time went on, the language evolved with it making more and more complex variations and also using new names from popular culture. Britney Spears became popular in the 90´s as a substitute for beers.

There is also a popular method of using rhyming slang by not saying the word that actually rhymes with the intended word. For example, when you say that you don´t have a Scooby, it means to not have a clue. This comes from the popular cartoon dog, Scooby Doo. Scooby Doo – Clue. So if you are not familiar with this expression it can be a little confusing.

Someone might say “How are you, my old china.” On the surface, this makes no sense whatsoever, but when you realise that it is short for “china plate”, the meaning of “mate” becomes a little clearer.

So let´s look at someone very common examples of this.

Apples and Pears – Stairs
Dead Horse – Sauce
Dog´s Eye – Pie
Frog and Toad – Road
Baker´s Dozen – Cousin
Bob Hope – Soap
Brass Tacks – Facts
Dog and Bone – Phone
Hank Marvin – Starving
Jam Jar – Car
Mince Pies – Eyes
Mork and Mindy – Windy
Rub-a-Dub – Pub
Sausage Roll – Goal
Barry Crocker – Shocker
Septic Tank – Yank (Short for Yankee or American)
Bag of Fruit – Suit
Adam and Eve – Believe
Oxford Scholar – Dollar
Scarpa Flow – Go
Rabbit and Pork – Talk

Some of these have evolved so much that the rhyming slang word has taken on a life of its own. For example, Scarpa Flow has been shortened to Scarpa which literally means to run away. I would doubt many people would even know it had rhyming slang roots. Also, to rabbit on comes from the rhyming slang of Rabbit and Pork for Talk, but must people would just use it as its own word and again would not know it comes from a rhyming slang background.

Most people who use this kind of language would probably be kind enough to either not use it in front of a person who was not a native speaker or at the very least be able to explain it to them so they could understand. If you can show them that you have the ability to use it, even a very rudimentary form, I am sure they would be impressed.

Just remember, it is a very informal way of speaking and not every English speaking person either uses it nor understands it. But a lot of people from London in England and from regional parts of Australia would understand it without too much difficulty. So next time you are on holiday, maybe you can listen out for people using it and maybe try it out for yourself.

K. Charles

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