Columbia Road flower market in London's East End

Guide to Cockney Rhyming Slang

Cockney Rhyming slang is a die-hard part of East End London culture. It has been around since the mid-19th century and will always be part of the fabric of the city.

There are many theories as to how Cockney Rhyming slang started. Some say it was a linguistic mutation and accident, others speculate that it was the result of a widespread game. Some say it was devised by criminals to trick the police, others say that it developed as a secret language to confuse non-locals passing through.

It's also been suggested that traders used it with each other to bargain without the customers knowing. 

For those unfamiliar with this dialect, the language has formed through two rhyming words with a common household word. However, over time this has mutated; so on occasion the slang really does sound like another language! 

Map of London's East End

To make it easier for you – here’s a list of the top 10 classic rhyming slang that you might hear if ever you venture East past Hackney. To practice, just watch an episode of Only Fools & Horses or Eastenders to get a feel for it... 

Apples and Pears = stairs

This might have roots in the traders' stalls who stacked their fruit and vegetables in "steps and stairs" in front of their stands in an arresting display.

Apples and pears

Bees and honey = money

This is a more cryptic literal link, referring to bees that produce honey which can translate into workers producing money. The result of both is sweet!

Bees and honey make money

Bottle and stopper = copper

Copper is a slang term in itself for a policeman. In this case, there are two meanings; a bottle would hold the contents –  like police would in jail, or the stopper would prevent someone or something from happening.

London police hat

Butcher’s hook = look

The butcher's hook was the double-ended hook that hung up in butchers to display the meats they had on show. This phrase probably originated in Smithfield Meat Market, near Farringdon.

Smithfield Meat Market

Duck and dive = hide

Ok so not quite an exact rhyme, but, as a duck would dive under the surface of the water, this phrase means something the same, as in to remove oneself from the situation and to hide.

Ducks in London

Dog and bone = phone

We’re not sure where this one came from other than it rhymes and is a brilliant one to slip into everyday conversation!

Dog and bone

Kettle and hob = watch

This is a confusing phrase as it doesn’t rhyme with its modern-day meaning. The term means watch, which stemmed from a 'fob' watch, which was a pocket watch attached to the body with a small chain. The kettle used to boil on the hob of a stove... hence the rhyme.

Kettle on the hob

Mince pies = eyes

This is a term used widely in London even to this day, usually to describe a girl's features. Her eyes would be described as Minces, an even more slang term from the original mince pies.

Mince pies

On the floor = poor

This was a colloquial term for housewives who would find themselves temporarily out of pocket, and without any money.

On the floor

Porky pie = lie

To tell a porky is something everyone’s been accused of as a child – and perhaps even older! A fib or a lie; to tell a pork pie means to fabricate something and it has to be one of the all-time favourite phrases in the Cockney Rhyming slang dictionary.

Porky pies

Experience everything London has to offer with The London Pass®

There's plenty more of these cultural words to be found so fill your boots with as much as you can while you're in East London.

If you fancy a trip out into East London, The London Pass® has endless attractions for you to visit whilst you embark on this Cockney Rhyming slang adventure. Why not take a tour of the Olympic Stadium in Stratford, built for the London 2012 Olympic Games. You'll get amazing panoramic views and a behind-the-scenes look at features like the players' tunnel and indoor running track.


ArcellorMittal Orbit

Or, stop off for some shopping at Westfield Stratford, check out Brick Lane or visit Spitalfields Market. Keep an ear out for these Cockney Rhyming slang terms! 

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