How Cockney are you?

Victoria Eggs

Posted on April 10 2016

"Can you Adam and Eve it, mate?"

To most people living outside London, the term Cockney simply means a Londoner, but traditionally to be known as a ‘true’ Cockney you have to be born within earshot of the Bow Bells from the Church of St Mary Le Bow in Cheapside, the East End of London.

Linguistically, cockney English refers to the accent or dialect traditionally spoken by working-class Londoners, we’ve heard it made famous by the likes of Michael Caine, Ray Winstone and Barbara Windsor and in the musicals My Fair Lady and Oliver!

Cockney rhyming slang is unique and can be traced back to the early part of the 19th Century. It’s said that it was used by locals so they could speak in front of the local bobbies (police) in this obscured code like way, without being understood!

It remains unknown for certain if the slang was developed intentionally to assist criminals or to maintain a particular community, but whatever the origins, many cockney expressions have passed into common language and are well known and still used today. Although not so often heard in Central London these days it’s much more widely heard in the outer London boroughs, suburbs and across South East England.

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Cockney Rhyming works by replacing the word to be obscured with the first word of a phrase that rhymes with that word. Many of us know that "apples and pears" is rhyming slang for stairs, "barney rubble" for trouble, and "bubble bath" for laugh. It’s not always as simple as replacing a word for another however, in some cases, the rhyming word is omitted, for example the word “look” rhymes with “butcher’s hook “, but you won’t find too many Londoners having a “butcher’s hook” at something, but you will find a few having a “butcher’s”. There is no hard and fast rule so you just have to know whether a particular expression is always shortened, never shortened, or can be used either way! 

So how ‘Cockney’ are you really? To see how much of a Del Boy you are, take the quiz below and tick off how many expressions you know. 

Above 40 and you are cockney china. 30 – 39 we may Adam and Eve you understand the lingo. 20-29 this quiz was a Cadbury’s Flake. Under 20 and you haven’t got a Scooby.

1. Adam and Eve

2. apple and pears

3. ball of chain

4. Barnet Fair

5. Barney Rubble

6. bees and honey

7. boat race

8. bottle (short for bottle and glass)

9. bubble (short for bubble and squeak)

10. bubble (short for bubble bath)

11. butcher's (short for butcher's hook)

12. Cadbury's Flake

13. chalk (short for Chalk Farm)

14. cheese and kisses 

15. china (short for plate)

16. city slickers 

17. currant bun 

18. custard and jelly

19. daisy roots 

20. dog and bone 

21. dog's meat 

22. dustbin lid 

23. fireman's hose 

24. frog and toad 

25. Gregory Peck 

26. Hampsteads (short for Hampstead Heath) 

27. Hank Marvin

28. Irish jig

29. jam-jar

30. Joanna 

31. loaf (short for loaf of bread) 

32. mince pie 

33. Mutt and Jeff 

34. north and south 

35. plates of meat 

36. porker, porky (short for pork pie) 

37. rabbit (short for rabbit and pork)

38.Rosy (short for Rosy Lee)

39. rub-a-dub 

40. Ruby Murray

41. sausage and mash

42. scooby (short for Scooby Doo) (inkling, as in "I haven't got a scooby.")

43. skin and blister 

44. tables and chairs 

45. tea leaf 

46. titfer (short for tit-for-tat) 

47. tomfoolery 

48. trouble and strife 

49. two and eight 

50. whistle and flute 

(for the answers see below)


Here’s a list of true original Cockney’s, some well-known and others not so!

Michael Caine (born in Rotherhithe)

Charlie Chaplin (born in Walworth)

Ray Winstone (born in Hackney)

Adele (born in Tottenham)

Barbara Windsor (born in Shoreditch)

Sir Alan Sugar (born in Hackney)

Mark Bolan (born in Hackney)

Phil Collins (born in Chiswick)

David Beckham (born in Leytonstone)

Dizzee Rascal (born in Bow)

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Brush up on your cockney, here’s the top ten most popular Cockney rhyming phrases:

Apples and Pears - Stairs

"Up the Apples and Pears to Bedfordshire"

By far the by the best known phrase but in fact Apples and Pears is almost never used in real Cockney speech today. It's simply the slang's most famous example and if it is used, it’s usually shortened to "Apples"

Kettle and Hob - Watch

"Nice new Kettle you're wearing mate."

Slightly confusing because the connection of Kettle to the word "watch" is unclear - until you know a little bit about the history of watches - Kettle is the shortened form of Kettle and Hob - when pocket watches first became fashionable, they were held against the body by use of a small chain. The watch then slipped into the pocket and could be easily extracted without dropping it. These were called fob watches, and it's from this expression that we get Kettle and Hob for watch.

Adam and Eve - Believe

"Can you Adam and Eve it?"

Adam and Eve is a popular expression and still going strong today, used all over London and widely recognised throughout the UK.

Butcher's Hook - Look

"Give us a Butcher's at your paper mate."

It's a straightforward rhyme with no humorous intent - Butcher's Hook simply refers to the double-ended hook with which butchers would hang up joints of meat. One place where the expression may have originated or taken firm root would have been Smithfield Meat Market - near Farringdon in the Cockney heartland. Smithfield’s has been a wholesale meat market for a thousand years and trade continues today.

Trouble and Strife – Wife

"Me Trouble and Strife's at home with the Bin Lids."

It's got all the very best elements of the genre. A great rhyme, a double meaning, and a splodge of wicked humour.

Ruby Murray - Curry

"Let's go for a few pints then a Ruby"

Incredibly popular and well used across London where Indian food is so enormously in favour, Ruby Murray has become so synonymous with curry, that many London Indian restaurants are named simply "The Ruby”.

A la Mode - Code

"We've got to talk a La Mode round by the dustbins."

Barnet Fair - Hair

"Look at your barnet! Council cut it for yer?"

Jack Jones - Alone

"I've bin sat 'ere all on me Jack Jones"

Dog and Bone - Phone

"Who's that on the Dog and Bone then?"


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Find out how much of a Londoner you are! Even if you weren't born in the East End, Bethnal Green, Stepney, Shoreditch, Whitechapel, Finsbury, and Hackney then you’re not officially a legitimate cockney, but can you still pass our test? 

Above 40 and you are cockney china. 30 – 39 we may Adam and Eve you understand the lingo. 20-29 this quiz was a Cadbury’s Flake. Under 20 and you haven’t got a Scooby.

Answers below >

 Adam and Eve — believe

 apples and pears — stairs

 ball of chalk - walk

 Barnet Fair — hair

 Barney Rubble — trouble

 bees and honey — money

 boat race — face

 bottle (short for bottle and glass) —arse (audacity)

 bubble (short for bubble and squeak)— Greek

 bubble (short for bubble bath) — laugh(noun)

 butcher's (short for butcher's hook) —look (noun)

 Cadbury's Flake — mistake

 chalk (short for Chalk Farm) — arm

 cheese and kisses — missus (wife or girlfriend)

 china (short for china plate) — mate(friend)

 city slickers — knickers

 currant bun — sun

 custard and jelly — telly (television)

 daisy roots - boots

 dog and bone — phone

 dog's meat — feet

 dustbin lid — kid

 fireman's hose - nose

 frog and toad — road

 Gregory Peck — neck

 Hampsteads (short for Hampstead

Heath) - teeth

 Hank Marvin — starving

 Irish jig — wig

 jam-jar — car

 Joanna — piano (pronounced "pianna"in Cockney)

 loaf (short for loaf of bread) - head

 mince pie — eye

 Mutt and Jeff — deaf

 north and south — mouth

 plates of meat — feet

 porker, porky (short for pork pie) — lie (untruth)

 rabbit (short for rabbit and pork) — talk

 Rosie (short for Rosy Lee — tea

 rub-a-dub - pub

 Ruby Murray — curry

 sausage and mash — cash

 scooby (short for Scooby Doo) — clue

(inkling, as in "I haven't got a scooby.")

 skin and blister — sister

 tables and chairs — stairs

 tea leaf — thief

 titfer (short for tit-for-tat) — hat

 tomfoolery — jewellery

 trouble and strife — wife

 two and eight — state (of upset)

 whistle and flute — suit (of clothes)

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