Cockney is a dialect of British English. Although it originated in London, it’s generally associated with the working class on the outskirts of the city. The pronunciation and rhyming slang make it an interesting dialect, but difficult to understand.
“True" Cockney is associated with those living in the east end of London. People outside the region might have a Cockney accent or understand Cockney insults, but their version of Cockney may not be considered true Cockney.
An interesting rule of Cockney is that an individual must be born within hearing distance of the bells of Saint Mary-le-Bow to be considered a true "Cockney.” If you’re new to the dialect, you’ll certainly need a Cockney translator in the early days. Here are some wonderful resources.
Online Cockney Translators
With these translators, all you have to do is type in a word of phrase and they’ll turn it into a Cockney expression for you. If you bookmark one of these pages, you’ll be sure to survive an afternoon in the east end of London where the dialect takes quite a different turn.
- Whoohoo Translator - Here, you can pop your expression into the box provided on the left hand side of the screen and click the “translate” button. Or, as they put it, “Hairy Biscuits and Cheese type a phrase into the Charles Fox on the left, and learn 'a ter Rabbit and Pork like a true Londoner!”
- Cockney Rhyming Slang - This is another translator where all you have to do is type in what you’d like to say in standard Engilsh and they’ll turn it into a bonafide Cockney expression.
- The Dialectizer - This is a site that’ll translate a phrase, same as the above, or even an entire website for you. They offer other dialects, too, but you’ll certainly find Cockey in the dropdown menu.
- Kiat Cockney Translator - Like the others above, this site encourages you to “use this and you'll bleedin' speak loike a bloody Brit.”
Features of Cockney
Some people think Cockney is just jumbled English. That’s far from true. There are very specific features that make the Cockney accent different:
- The sound of many vowels is said in a deeper tone.
- The “th” sound in words tends to morph into an “f.” For example, “mouth” may be pronounced as "mauf."
- The letter “t” often disappears from words. This is also known as a glottal stop. For example, “water” becomes “wa'er” and “city” becomes “ci'y.”
- The letter “h” is often dropped at the beginning of words. For example, “house” becomes “'ouse.”
One of the most interesting features is Cockney rhyming slang. This combines two words into one. For example, "apples and pears" becomes “stairs,” and "plate of meat" becomes "feet."
Examples of Cockney English
The Guardian is a British daily newspaper. Of course, they’ve expanded into global news these days, but their roots are in London. Figuring they’re considerable experts on the topic, we plucked a few expressions from their ultimate guide to Cockney slang. The Guardian not only defines a lot of popular expressions but also provides a brief history behind these popular sayings.
Here’s a sampling:
- “Basin of gravy” refers to a baby.
- “Bees and honey” refers to making money (a sweet, sweet thing).
- “Brown bread” refers to the dead.
- “Bubble bath” means you’re having a laugh.
- “China plate” refers to a good mate, or friend.
- “Coals and coke” means you’re flat broke.
- “Cut and carried” means you’ve gotten married.
- “Duck and dive” means it’s time to hide.
- “Lion’s lair” refers to an armchair.
- “Lump of ice” refers to the giving of advice.
- “On the floor” means you’re poor.
- “Scotch mist” means you’re highly upset.
- “Tumble down the sink” refers to an alcoholic drink.
- “Weep and wail” refers to the telling of a tale.
If you’re ready for some fun, take a look at Learn the Cockney Accent with Jason Statham on YouTube. Spoiler alert: they couldn’t afford the real deal. Instead, you’ll learn from a Cockney lookalike in this video.
The Wonders of London
The wonders of London never cease to abound. It’s a vibrant, bustling city where, from the east to the west, you’ll have to adjust your ears to a very different dialect, depending where you go. Ready for one more dialect? Another intriguing accent with flair is the Brummie accent. Here’s more on the Brummie vs. Cockney distinctions.
No matter which side of town you make your home base, we’ve developed a list of British slang definitions that should help you immerse yourself into the culture. Along with that, you might like to study these common UK expressions on the plane ride over. Wherever you go, we hope you’ll be “ave’n a bubble” all the way through!