The Cockney accent has charmed the world for centuries, but interesting and unique as it is, Cockney insults show how genuinely clever these Londoners are. First of all, who are the Cockneys? Aside from their popularity in Charles Dickens’ novels, Cockneys and their particular British accent come from a relatively small area of London (specifically anyone within the boundaries of St. Marie-le-Bow Church in the Cheapside area of London. The church is affectionately known to locals as “Bow Bells.”) however, due to the popularity of Cockney, and its imitators, anyone in the city who adopts the lingo or the accent is an honorary Cockney.
The Cockneys developed an interesting array of insults that are perhaps unique in that they rhyme. The way it works is that the “poet” finds a word he wants to emulate. For example, suppose he wants to talk about his wife. The phrase “trouble and strife” rhymes with it, so if the Cockney wants to talk about his wife, he completely leaves her title out and replaces it with the rhyming “trouble and strife.”
Now one might be able to make a case that “wife” and “trouble and strife” weren’t just rhymes but synonyms, but that’s the point. It’s the cleverness of the rhymes (and the sometimes not so veiled slurs) that make Cockney insults unique in the world.
If you want to get some exercise, take the apples and pears - otherwise known as the stairs. It’s cold out, so put on your almond rocks (your socks.)
You might want to duck and dive to avoid the bird lime in your flowery dell (that’s “skive,” as in trying not to get a job. The bird lime means doing time, as in going to prison. And the flowery dell? That’s your prison cell.)
Your body is also full of potential for Cockney insults. Stand up on your plates of meat, or your feet (sometimes abbreviated to just “plates” if you’re in a rush.)
Your plates are at the end of your Scotch eggs (“legs”). Your mince pies are in your loaf of bread (that is, your pies are your eyes, and the bread is rhyme for your head.)
“Use your loaf,” an abbreviation of the slang, means you should use your head. And what’s on your loaf? Why it’s your tit for tat; in other words, your hat.
Keep your north and south shut on your boat race (south is mouth, and race is - what else? - your face.)
As you can see, this can be a big complicated, but it’s also a fun way to jazz up language with Cockney insults.
If people talk to you and you don’t answer, the Cockneys in the neighborhood might say you’re a bit “radio rental” (i.e., mental, as in a little bit loony.) Or maybe you just didn’t hear, in which case you’d be “mutt and jeff,” meaning you’re a wee bit deaf.
You might want to keep the sweaty sock away from your skin and blister (that is, you’d want to stop the “jock,” or the Scotsman, from dating your blister, otherwise known as your sister.)
If you get Tom and Dick, you may become brown bread. Then, all that’s left for you to do is to hope to arrive at Cloud Seven (If you’re “dick,” you’re sick, and if you’re “bread,” you’re dead. So Cloud Seven is, for you, hopefully heaven!)
Speaking of food, use your Hobson’s voice to your waiter to order Joe Blake or knife and fork (meaning use your “Hobson’s,” or voice, to order blake/steak or fork/pork.)
Not all Cockneyisms rhyme, though they’re lovely to listen to when they do. Some are just amusing. The play “Sweeny Todd,” who was known as the “demon barber of Fleet Street” who chopped up his customers and served them in meat pies, is the nickname given to the London police.
See a bobby on the beat? You just saw a Sweeny!
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