Alright me ol’ china? Fancy a butchers at our latest post on cockney rhyming slang? You’d better Adam ‘n’ Eve it’s a goodun.

I promise I haven’t (completely) lost the plot. It is another form of language though, cockney rhyming slang. I’ve always found it really fascinating (and amusing). My Dad has used random cockney phrases for as long as I can remember, so it’s also pretty nostalgic for me. I thought I’d have a look at where it all came from, plus share a few of my favourite phrases.

In Hackney there are cashpoints that speak cockney. True story. Image by Cory Doctorow

What is cockney rhyming slang?

Basically it’s a form of language which substitutes words that rhyme with an actual word. For example ‘butcher’s hook’ means ‘look’, but often will be shortened to ‘butcher’s’, e.g. “have a butcher’s” = “have a look”.

Where did it come from?

Originally a ‘cockney’ was anyone who was born within the sound of the Bow Bells, which refers to the St Mary-le-Bow church in Cheapside in the East End of London. Over time though, the term has become more generalised to anyone with a ‘cockney’ accent, which has spread throughout the south east of England.


The exact reason for the initial invention of cockney rhyming slang is unknown, although it is commonly believed to be because criminals wanted to conceal their crimes from the police (but there’s not much evidence for that). My Nan was born in Canning Town (right in the cockney area) but she says she doesn’t remember it being used as frequently as people claim. I should think people are so amused with the quirky rhymes that it has become an entity in itself. Either way, the wit and catchiness afforded by cockney rhyming slang have ensured its upkeep for decades and has even worked it’s way into many nation-wide common phrases, such as:

  • use your loaf“- loaf of bread = head
  • give me a bell“- refers to Graham Alexander Bell (famed for inventing the telephone) = phone call/phone me

The phrases

Here’s a selection of some of the best cockney rhyming slang phrases:

  • Boat race = face
  • Elephant’s trunk = drunk
  • Pen and ink = stink
  • Barnet Fair (Barnet) = hair
  • Adam and Eve = believe
  • China plate (china) = mate/friend
  • Lady Godiva = fiver (five pound note)
  • Bull and cow = row (argument)
  • Donkey’s ears (donkey’s) = years
  • Westminster Abbey = shabby

I could go on, there’re so many! Instead, have a butcher’s at this:


What are your favourite cockney rhyming slang phrases? Let us know.

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