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rhyming slang


rhyming slang

English Words: Structure, History, Usage, 2nd ed., by Francis Katamba (Routledge, 2004)


A form of slang commonly associated with London Cockneys--even though it has never been a major feature of Cockney usage and can be found in other parts of Britain as well as in parts of Australia and the U.S.

Examples and Observations:

  • "Rhyming slang . . . serves both the poetic function and the solidarity-with-the-in-group function. Cockney Rhyming Slang (also known as Cockney Rabbit) is probably the best-known example. The underlying principle is that the speaker decides what he or she wants to say using the words of standard English and replaces the key lexical items with words that rhyme with it.

    "Rhyming slang evolved as a secret language used by shady street traders in London's East End in the 19th century to conceal their business dealings from the authorities. Some rhyming slang words such as pork pies meaning 'lies,' pigs or pork chops meaning 'police' and bread (short for bread and honey) meaning 'money' have passed into the general lexicon of English. But many others are restricted to Cockney in the main, though they may be more widely understood thanks to the considerable media exposure that Cockney gets."
    (Francis Katamba, English Words, 2nd ed. Routledge, 2004)

  • "Rhyming slang such as 'jam tart' for Hearts football club, and 'cabbage and ribs' for Hibs, has also been included in the [Dictionary of the Scots Language], which has been compiled by the Edinburgh-based Scottish Language Dictionaries organisation."
    ("Scotland's Rhyming Slang Finds Its Voice." The Times [U.K.], Sep. 16, 2005)

  • "Some bits of rhyming slang have become so well-established that they have spread out into more general English, and people are not necessarily aware of where the expressions come from. For instance, let's have a butcher's is short for let's have a butcher's hook, which rhymes with look. Use your loaf is short for use your loaf of bread, which rhymes with head. To be on your Tod is short for to be on your Tod Sloan, which rhymes with own. That's a load of old cobbler's is short for that's a load of old cobbler's awls, which rhymes with balls."
    (Laurie Bauer, Vocabulary. Routledge, 1998)

  • "Many rhyming slang forms are found with reference to close friends or relations: for 'wife' (carving knife, fork and knife, joy of my life and trouble/worry/war and strife 'wife'; cheese and kisses, plates and dishes ('Mrs') and 'husband' (pot and pan 'old man'), for 'girlfriend' (jam(-tart) 'sweetheart'; Richard (the third) 'bird') or close friends (china, tin plate 'mate'; finger and thumb 'chum')."
    (Julie Coleman, "Phonaesthesia and Other Forms of Word Play." Language History and Linguistic Modelling. Mouton de Gruyter, 1997)
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