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Cockney Rhyming Slang

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16744.  Mon Mar 28, 2005 4:54 am Reply with quote

According to Brewer:
Cockney is the middle English cokeney meaning "a cock's egg" (-ey = OE aeg, an egg), applied to the small malformed egg occasionally laid by young hens; hence applied to a foolish or spoilt child, or a simpleton. ... The word then came to be applied by country folk, the majority of the population, to townsfolk generally for their reputed ignorance of country life, customs and habits. Its restriction to Londoners, particularly those born within the sound of the bells of St Mary-le-Bow, dates from the 17th century.

St Mary-le-Bow, Cheapside, long had one of the most celebrated bell-peals in London, until an air-raid destroyed the bells and the interior of the church in 1941. John Dun, mercer, in 1472 gave two tenements to maintain the ringing of Bow Bell every night at nine o'clock, to direct travellers on the road to town. In 1520 William Copland gave a bigger bell for the purpose of "sounding a retreat from work". It is said that the sound of these bells, which seemed to say "Turn again, Whittington, Lord Mayor of London", encouraged the young Dick Whittington to return to the City and try his luck again.

This is a map which supposedly shows how far the sound of the bells used to travel. I can't tell who created it, and actually I'm not sure quite what it means - perhaps that you can hear the bells loudly in the green area at all times, clearly in the purple area at all times, and faintly in the beige area depending on the wind?

I found it at, but it has evidently been lifted from somewhere else.

Post your rhyming slang gems, real or invented, here.

16746.  Mon Mar 28, 2005 5:25 am Reply with quote

There's a pretty comprehensive list at

Melvyn (Bragg) = shag
Merchant (banker) = wanker

I was hoping that there would be a listing for

Stephen (Fry) = ?

but I guess we'll just have to make one up. I'll give it a Stephen if everyone else will.

16748.  Mon Mar 28, 2005 5:32 am Reply with quote

Or here. :-)

16750.  Mon Mar 28, 2005 5:47 am Reply with quote

D'oh - sorry, Chris.

16751.  Mon Mar 28, 2005 5:54 am Reply with quote

"Our winner this week is ..."
Our chicken dinner this bubble and squeak is ...

or, I suppose:

Our chicken this bubble is ...

16754.  Mon Mar 28, 2005 6:01 am Reply with quote

About that map:
In 1991, Dr Malcolm Hough carried out research taking into account such things as weather, wind and landscape to map where the Bow Bells could be heard. The map shown below illustrates the limits when the background sound levels are taken into consideration. Dr Hough estimated that before motorised traffic the sound levels would be in the region of 50 decibels during the day, reducing to 30 decibels at night. The equivalent reading today would be 60 reducing to 45 thus greatly reducing the Cockney area.

Source: The East End, then and now; Winston G Ramsey

16755.  Mon Mar 28, 2005 6:04 am Reply with quote

John Minsheu in 1617 in his work Ductor in Linguas gives his derivation as follows:
'A cockney or cockny, applied only to one born within the sound of Bow bell, that is in the City of London, a tearme coming first out of this tale. That a citizen's sonne riding with his father in the country, asked whenhe heard a horse neigh what the horse did; his father answered "neigh." Riding further he heard a cock crow, and said: "Does the cock neigh too?"'

The church was rebuilt by Wren, 1670-83, after the fire and the steeple is generally regarded as the most beautiful piece of work he ever accomplished. It is a triumph of the skill of Wren's mason, Thomas Cartwright, that the steeple withstood a fire inside the steeple and the crashing down of the bells during the Second World War. Only very recently have the bells been reinstalled leaving nearly two generations when no Cockneys could be created. Mind you there are those who feel that as long as you could have heard the bells if they were present then it doesn't matter if they weren't there at the time they were born.


16756.  Mon Mar 28, 2005 6:08 am Reply with quote

Apparently Hough's research
demonstrated that in the days before the motor car, the bells would have been audible all over London! (Today, with the hubbub of traffic, the peal can barely be heard on the opposite bank of the Thames)
Using this information Bow Bells would be heard only in the immediate vicinity of the Church by day in modern times and as far as Spitalfields, Shoreditch, Southwark by night. However, in the days before the advent of the infernal combustion engine they could be heard as far as Hackney Marshes, Camden, Regents Park, Lambeth and Bermondsey by night.

16770.  Mon Mar 28, 2005 8:14 am Reply with quote

We appear to have two threads called "Cockney Rhyming Slang" - is it possible for the webmaster to combine them?

16773.  Mon Mar 28, 2005 8:22 am Reply with quote

Questions could include 'why aren't there as many Cockneys as there used to be?' or 'where did all the Cockney's go for (however long the bells were missing) after World War 2?'

16781.  Mon Mar 28, 2005 9:40 am Reply with quote

I'm the moderator on this forum, and I don't know how to combine them other than by capriciously declaring this to be the live thread and posting to that effect on the other - which I will now do. So be it.

16792.  Mon Mar 28, 2005 10:42 am Reply with quote


Bloody favouritism!


18420.  Mon Apr 25, 2005 4:15 am Reply with quote

Bow Bells supposedly called Dick Whittington back to London in 1392. The tower and bells were destroyed in the Great Fire of London in September 1666, and re-built by Wren in 1677. In 1856-8 the bells were silenced by the protestations of Mrs Elisabeth Bird, "an eccentric neighbour who feared that the noise of the bells might end her life". In 1926 they were declared unringable, and fell silent until restored in 1933. They were destroyed again in an air raid in 1941 and not restored till 1961.

So periods without cockney births were: 1666-77, 1856-58, 1926-33, and 1941-61.

s: The St Mary-le-Bow website,

18467.  Mon Apr 25, 2005 6:50 am Reply with quote

I have seen it written in many places that there are no maternity wards within the sound of bow-bells - ever since Bart's wards were shut down. And hence very few (if any) true cockneys.

However, it is proving very difficult to check. The below NHS site has 8 hospitals within 3 km of St Mary le Bow, whether they have maternity facilities, I can't tell.

18472.  Mon Apr 25, 2005 6:58 am Reply with quote

Ignore that - the "many places" where i've seen that factoid need to get their facts sorted out! St Thomas' has a new maternity dept, and it's 2.48 km (1.54 miles) from St Mary le Bow.

Plenty of new cockneys coming into the world then.


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