Would you Adam and Eve it? The trouble and strife’s on the custard and jelly!
To the uninitiated, and almost certainly to most Americans, such a phrase sounds like gibberish, but your average Brit would understand the expression of disbelief (Adam and Eve: believe) that his wife (trouble and strife) was on the telly (custard and jelly), slang in itself for TV. Welcome to the world of Cockney Rhyming Slang!
Where is Cockney Rhyming Slang from and how does it work?
So where does Cockney Rhyming Slang come from?
Well, the term ‘Cockney’ refers to someone from East London and Rhyming Slang is thought to have originated there in the mid 19th century. Nobody knows for sure why it came into being. Was it to confuse people from other cities? Was it a form of communication for criminals to avoid detection by the Police? Was it just creative use of language?
You’ve probably spotted that rhyming slang involves a rhyming association. ‘Bees and honey’ means ‘money’ and the rhyme here is fairly obvious. But there’s more to it than that: there is often an association between the meaning of the slang phrase and the original word. You need to work to earn money and bees represent hard work (ever heard of the expression ‘To be as busy as a bee?’). So guessing can’t be that hard: you think of words which rhyme and you have meaning and context to help you, right? Not always! To make things even more complicated, the rhyming word is often omitted, so money becomes simply ‘bees.’
How about having a go yourself? Get five out of five and you can consider yourself an honorary cockney. Answers are at the bottom, but no peeking and no googling!
- He said he was telling the truth, but I knew he was telling porkies. (Porky pie)
- It’s late! Get up the apples and get to bed! (Apples and pears)
- You’ll have to work it out for yourself: use your loaf! (Loaf of bread)
- That looks interesting! Let’s have a butchers! (Butcher’s hook)
- Open your mincers! She’s right in front of you. (Mince pies)
Using Cockney Rhyming Slang in class
Given that Cockney Rhyming Slang involves humour and trying to decipher a code, students are often very keen to learn about it. It’s a great way of getting culture into the classroom too and you can draw students’ attention to pronunciation and the different spellings of English phonemes. What activities might you use in class?
How about presenting the vocabulary with actions (going up the apples and pears, talking on the dog and bone) or getting students to research expressions themselves in an online cockney dictionary? To get them using the language, why not have students write stories with Rhyming Slang which can be translated into Standard English by the classmates? Or have them read their stories aloud? To take it to another level, how about getting your students to come up with their own Rhyming Slang: can their classmates work out what they’re trying to say? To make it EVEN more difficult, you could insist that the rhyming phoneme has a different spelling. Give it a go, there’s plenty of potential for learning and you’ll be having a giraffe too!
- Porky pie = lie
- Apples and pears = stairs
- Loaf of bread = head
- Butcher’s hook = look
- Mince pies = eyes