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Cockney rhyming slang is dying out, a study revealed yesterday.
It may be hard to Adam and Eve, but the rhyming language so strongly associated with the nation’s capital is losing its place in modern speech.
The research, which was commissioned by the Museum of London, tested the British public on their knowledge of the slang and its usage in everyday conversation.
Of the 2,000 people studied, including 1,000 from London, just six per cent knew that ‘bacon and eggs’ meant legs or that ‘rabbit and pork’ meant talk.
Incredibly, results revealed almost eight out of ten Londoners were unable to understand time honoured East End phrases such as ‘donkey’s ears’ – slang for ears.
Gone are the days when we would sit down to a bit of tommy tucker (supper), watch the custard and jelly (telly) or spend time with the teapot lids (kids) – all featured high in the least-known cockney slang.
While it’s hard to find anyone at the Cain and Abel (table) eating loop de loop (soup) or enjoying a splash of Vera Lynn (gin).
And forget reaching into your Davey Crockett (pocket) to buy a pig’s ear (beer), because the results show it could be time for Cockney slang to grab its weasel and stoat (coat).
Alex Werner, the Museum of London’s Head of History Collections, said yesterday: “For many people, Cockney rhyming slang is intrinsic to the identity of London.
“Portrayals of Cockney Londoners from Dickens’s novels to East Enders characters have popularised the London Cockney.
“However this research suggests that the Cockney dialect itself may not be enjoying the same level of popularity”.
A wily eight in ten Brits know a tea leaf is a thief, but a quarter thought a Bunsen burner was a kettle, while a third thought it a term for a fireman – just a third correctly knew it to mean money.
The public still knows that ‘dog and bone’ refers to a phone and aren’t shy of a porky pie (lie) or a Ruby Murray (curry), while over half the study knew ‘cream-crackered’ meant being tired.
But despite running up and down their apples and pears (stairs), which was the most well-known cockney phrase, less than a tenth of respondents had used that in conversation in the last six months.
Cockney slang isn’t quite brown bread as 53 per cent knew that to mean ‘dead’ but just eight per cent use it regularly.
While it was common knowledge that ‘trouble and strife’ acts as a term for wife but only two per cent have dared utter the term recently.
The most-used cockney slang is the phrase ‘porky pies’ with 13 per cent using it in recent times, while one in ten use the term ‘cream crackered’.
Forty per cent of the study is convinced cockney rhyming slang is dying out, and a third is sad at its fading.
Nearly two thirds of respondents think the slang is crucial to London’s identity while four in ten think our language and phrases mostly come from television.
And, while rhyming phrases may not be cropping up regularly in our everyday speech, there are plenty of new phrases increasing in popularity from reality television and social media use.
‘OMG’ (oh em jee), ‘innit’ and ’jel’ all made the most used modern slang list, while ‘epic fail’, ‘totes’ and ‘bang tidy’ are also regular features.
Alex Werner added: “Although strictly speaking a ‘Cockney’ is someone who was born within the sound of Bow-bell at St Mary-le-Bow, people from all corners of London identify themselves as being Cockney.”
“The origins of Cockney slang reflects the diverse, immigrant community of London’s East End in the 19th century so perhaps it’s no surprise that other forms of slang are taking over as the cultural influences on the city change.”
“Indeed not many people know that Cockney slang has changed massively from the days when it was characterised by back-to-front phrases like ‘on doog’ meaning ‘no good’.
“How London’s dialect will continue to change in the future is hard to say, but without a doubt it will always be a reflection of the city’s population.”
TOP 20 COCKNEY RHYMING SLANG WE DON’T KNOW
- White Mice (ice)
- Donkey’s ears (years)
- Loop de loop (soup)
- Custard and jelly (telly)
- Teapot lids (kids)
- Bacon and eggs (legs)
- Vera Lynn (gin)
- Tommy Tucker (supper)
- Cain and Abel (table)
- Weasel and Stoat (coat)
- Davy Crockett (pocket)
- Bricks and Mortar (daughter)
- Deep fat friar (liar)
- Bubble bath (laugh)
- Pig’s ear (beer)
- Lady Godiva (fiver)
- Dickie bird (word)
- Mother Hubbard (cupboard)
- Bread and honey (money)
- Daisy roots (boots)
TOP 20 MODERN SLANG
- Oh em jee (OMG)
- Epic fail
- Shut uuup
- Bang tidy
- True dat
For many people, Cockney rhyming slang is intrinsic to the identity of London.Alex Werner, the Museum of London’s Head of History Collections