In my previous article, I spoke about Appalachian English in America’s Appalachian mountainous regions. For this next dialect, I thought I’d take a skip across onto the next continent–namely England, more specifically the East End of London. This specific language is called “English slang”. The first time I heard it was when watching Only Fools and Horses with my mother. She loves that show and now I’m addicted, too.
Alot of this language’s expressions and vocabulary have now become a part of the language. In fact creating new phrases is no longer something only Cockney speaking people do. Before you think Britain was the only country to have this influence. Right up until the 20th century, this particular slang was used in Australia, too. Due to the almost code-like manner of this dialect, people used to think that it was used by salesman or criminals to convey secret messages. Some even held that it was a community’s way of discriminating from outsiders.
In Cockney rhyming slang words are replaced by phrases that rhyme with the words. For example the phrase “Adam and Eve” refers to “believe” and “plates of meat” refers to “feet”. In Cockney rhyming slang there is no hard and fast rule with this dialect. Words can be phrases or they may be shortened (e.g. bottle & glass/plaster). As an outsider, this will make it incredibly difficult to learn this dialect of English. This version of English is mostly spoken by working class Londoners. Cockney speaking people are born within hearing distance of the bells of St. Mary-le Bow in Cheapside, London.
The word “Cockney” is derived from the Middle English word “cockenay” or “cockeney” in the 14th century where this referred to “cocks’ egg”, “milkshop” or “cockered child” meaning a spoilt or pampered child. There are 150 terms often referred to as “Argot” or some type of coded language. As I mentioned above, this coded language would make it awfully difficult to understand and thus was the perfect language for communicating something in confidence with another person. If you were to look into these phrases you would see that a lot of them have their roots in history and this seems to strongly influence the various phrases. Instead of some covert criminal language, these phrases have become innocent nicknames. In the 1950s many working-class Londoners would use this language, changing it as they pleased. This vocabulary has become a reflection of pop-culture (TV shows such as Faulty Towers and Only Fools and Horses). However the arrival of rap/hip-hop/text messaging/young slang have become a threat to this now-dying language. In an effort to save it, Museum London has launched a campaign by which they teach East End Londoners to speak it and have now begun to recognize it, out of the 100+ languages in England, to recognize it as an official dialect. Thereby saving this beautiful and fun dialect.
If you are Cockney, please please PLEASE DM me on Instagram or even get a hold of me on Twitter. I love your dialect.
God bless everyone, stay safe