In the East End of London, there’s a clot of people that refer to themselves and are referred to as “cockney.” The small group has gotten plenty of media through the years, being the center of plays like “Oliver” and “My Fair Lady,” mostly for their peculiar accents.
Most Americans are a little less familiar with the tradition of Cockney rhyming slang. It’s hard to imagine that this impressively tricky, poetic colloquialism could exist in such a brutally rough culture, but perhaps that is why it exists. It is a secret language. Something that identifies outsider from insider. Something that unifies people. Rhyming slang is the replacement of words with a phrase that rhymes with the word replaced, and it is, well, genius.
The following is a scene in which I have tried to write as many rhyming slang words into the conversation:
THE POKER GAME
TOMMY: Y’know, I heard Maria and Johnny aren’t getting along… her bacon and eggs (legs) are so sexy!
(Deals some cards.)
JACK: You’re yanking my cobbler’s awls (balls), mate!
TOMMY: Pass the army and navy (gravy), would ya’?
(JACK slides a tin of gravy down to TOMMY.)
JACK: Have ya’ seen Maria’s Bristol cities (titties)? I’d wait out their little marriage just for those!
TOMMY: Mate! So you Adam an’ Eve (believe) me ‘en?
(TOMMY starts chowing down on his potatoes and gravy.)
She’d make a hell-of-a-fine trouble and strife (wife).
JACK: She’s mine ya’ old Hampton wick (prick)!
(JACK shows TOMMY his cards. JACK wins.)
Ha-Ha ya’ old raspberry tart (fart).
TOMMY: Ya’ must be cheating! I always win! What are you hiding? Let me have a little butcher’s hook (look).
(TOMMY tries to swing around the table to see JACK’S cards but JACK turns his back to him.)
JACK: Yeah right! I beat you fair and square. If you try to peak again you’ll wind up like ole Jim.
TOMMY: What happened to ole Jim?
(TOMMY starts eating his potatoes again.)
JACK: Ya’ didn’t hear? He’s brown bread (dead), mate.
(TOMMY spits potatoes back into bowl dramatically.)
TOMMY: What??!! The poor guy! How’d he die??!!
JACK: Fell down the old apples and pears (stairs) on his way down for dinner.
TOMMY: The poor fellow. Must have broken his neck or something.
(TOMMY returns to eating his potatoes. JACK shows his cards. JACK wins.)
JACK: Ha-Ha! Ten for ten!
TOMMY: Ya’ stupid, ignorant little push in the truck.
(PS, forgive the image of Dick Van Dyke, an American actor pretending to be a Cockney chim-chim-cheree chimney sweep…)
Liam Miyar-Mullan, class of 2018