For almost two years, I appeared on a live radio show in Kansas City (The Walt Bodine Show) as part of a panel to discuss the Origins of Everyday Sayings. It was a fun time for me as many listeners called in and asked for a definition of a particular word or expression they had perhaps heard in a movie or read in a book. Later, I wrote a column for a weekly newspaper entitled Origins and once again people contacted me in regard to cockney rhyming slang. Since there seems to be an interest in this topic, I've decided to post one of my columns from 2005 today.
"This week, I thought we would look at slang and in particular, Cockney Rhyming Slang. Over the years, I have had many people ask me the meaning of this or that – perhaps they have read or heard a particular phrase or saying that has completely stumped them. In the following column, I will try to address some of the more common Cockney rhyming slang words and sayings and how they came about. By the way, to be born a “Cockney” one has to be born within the sounds of Bow Bells Church located in the East End of London.
Cockney rhyme began as a means for the working class to “talk” to each other without the upper class having a clue as to what was being said. Needless to say, the unsavory characters of London also adopted the language in an attempt to baffle the police force. In any event, sometimes the origin of the saying is hard to follow and is convoluted, but after all, that was the idea!
To help understand how the slang was used, I have used them in a sentence.
Trouble and Strife = wife. I’m going home to the trouble and strife (wife).
Porky pies = lies. You're telling me porky pies again (lies).
Butcher’s hook = look. He was giving me a good butcher’s hook (look).
Apples and pears = stairs. The toilet is up the apples and pears (stairs).
Whistle and flute = suit. That’s a smart whistle you're wearing (suit).
Daisy roots = boots. I like your daisy roots (boots).
Skin and blister = sister. Hands off her; she’s my skin and blister (sister).
Barnet fair = head of hair. The girl has a beautiful barnet fair (head of hair).
Mutton Jeff = deaf. The poor man used to hear well, now he is mutton deaf (deaf).
Bowler hat= rat. I once thought he was my friend, but then he turned into a bowler hat (rat).
North and south = mouth. She has a right ‘ol north and south (mouth).
Tom and Dick = sick. I have to leave work because I’m Tom and Dick (sick).
Artful dodger = lodger. I need help paying the rent. I’ll have to take in an artful dodger (lodger).
Brown bread = dead. He was all right when I left him, then I found out he was brown bread (dead.)
Bakers dozen = cousin. No, he’s not my brother; he’s my baker’s dozen (cousin).
Bill and Ben = writing pen. I don’t have a pencil, but I do have a Bill and Ben (pen).
Often several slang terms were used in conjunction such as: “I was wearing my best Whistle, walking down the Apple and Pears when this Bowler Hat whom I used to consider a Baker's Dozen, asked if I’d been Tom and Dick because he hadn’t seen me for a while. I told him I needed to get home to the Trouble and Strife because she had a real North and South and if I wasn’t careful, I could end up as Brown Bread.”