C is for Cockney
The suggestion for this post came from one of the blog readers. I took it on board but my knowledge of this subject is not that much…
Speaking with a few friends that lived all their life in East London, I’ve learned that a Cockney is someone born within hearing distance of the bow bells (note that these bells are from St Mary le Bow church in the City of London, not Bow Church), hence my friends being Cockney themselves. Although initially believing that Cockneys and East Londoners were the same, I came to learn that Bermondsey (in South London) holds what is probably the largest Cockney community nowadays.
The most famous Cockney element known is the characteristically way of speaking in rhyming slang. “Cockney” (as usually mentioned by non-speakers) is probably the most famous slang in the world. I have once overheard a conversation in it, and it was hard to understand the words, don’t even mind the meaning!
Besides the accent, which I can now recognize but can’t reproduce, I believe the slang works in 2 ways.
One is by using words that rhyme with the word we want to say. For example, Daisy Roots stand for Boots; Dog and Bone stands for Telephone, etc etc.
The other way, is by a simple association of ideas, like Pearls, which are white and shiny, stand for Teeth.
There seems to be an interesting association between people and elements, in particular when cinema divas’ names become slang for alcoholic drinks and several male (politicians?) for bad or no so pleasant things, including swearing.
When it comes to money however, the slang goes all crazy, with Pony standing for £25 and Monkey for £500. I have absolutely no idea of how someone reached these names from the numbers (or vice-versa).
From what I was reading in the paper the other day, Cockney was used to convey messages in code, in particular between salesmen and customers so that police wouldn’t understand. Though nobody confirmed this information, it seems to make sense, as it was probably created to hide information from someone.
So now a little experiment. How to say something simple in Cockney rhyming slang. Say for example “There is beer upstairs”.
So Beer is Pig’s Ear and stairs is Apples and Pears. There’s pig’s ear on top of apples and pears… doesn’t really sound right.
One characteristic of the slang is that it not only works in rhyming but it tends to be abbreviated. This means we should end up with something more like “The pig is on the pears”. Does this sound right to you?
And what do you think of all these signs outside the “Bow Bells”?