And the Telegraph gets Cockney horribly, horribly, wrong

Quiz: Do you know your Cockney rhyming slang?

For example, they ask:

“Loaf of Bread” means “head” or “bed”?

“Whistle and Flute” means “suit” or “boot”.

That’s not how it works at all. My knowledge of it is a bit archaic (like any slang it changes over the years) but the basic point still stands.

Loaf means head, whistle means suit.

The rhyme is unsaid. To work out what a word means you’ve got to work out what a common phrase would be which starts with that word, then look for the rhyme with the second word.

For example, we want to construct a slang word for “face”. What rhymes with face, hmm, race. What’s a common phrase that uses race in it? “Boat race”. Thus “boat” means “face”. “Apples” means “stairs” via “apples and pears” (both of those I have had used at me in real life).

To walk around asking what “whistle and flute” means is to entirely miss the point of the patois in the first place.

18 thoughts on “And the Telegraph gets Cockney horribly, horribly, wrong”

  1. Apropos this article, I’ve all but given up visiting their website now. Its turned into Tit-Bits.

  2. Indeed, you say “take a butcher’s” not “take a butcher’s hook”. You’d expect foreign newspapers to fuck this up, but the Telegraph? Well, nowadays, yes you would.

  3. So Much For Subtlety

    Personally I prefer Dimwell Arrhythmic Rhyming Slang.

    Although it took me a little while to work out backwards what he was taking the mickey out of. Calling someone a cup-and-plate for instance.

    Why does anyone bother with the Telegraph? It is just the Guardian for the elderly.

  4. @Machiavelli

    The dog whistle of insults. You can use it and it’s too high pitched for most to understand…..

  5. Run by a bunch of Berkshires* these days, don’t you know. So unlike the saintly Conrad.

    *Yer Berkshire hunt, innit.

  6. Andrew C & JP Indeed. I often wondered how it remained an acceptable staple, even a mild rebuke, in radio and TV comedy in 60s.
    We did have Julian and Sandy using Polari though. Lord knows what the Telegraph would do explaining that these days.

  7. The only time I’ve heard Cockneys use rhyming slang is when they’ve forgotten that it is rhyming slang as Machiavelli points out.

  8. As yer ach’ll cockney – born within’ the sound of Bow Bell as opposed to Estuarine Essex – JM has it about right. They’re just alternative words we have, others don’t. The rhyming bit doesn’t figure. There’s some expressions I use, I know they must be rhyming slang. But how you get to them from the conventional word, I haven’t the vaguest. You don’t learn them that way.
    Like most cockneys, there’s also a lot of Yiddish. Useful, because English doesn’t have the words. Even the concepts. How do you translate kvetching FFS?

    Listening to the contrivances of Mockney is painfull.

  9. @ Machiavelli. Realised the other day that I hand’t looked at the Telegraph website for a couple of months. Dan Hodges and, to a lesser extent, James Kirkup were worth the effort, but Dan has gone to the Mail, and I ain’t reading that. His replacement, Tom Harris, isn’t quite in the same league as a Corbyn-hater.

    One bit of good news, the spread of drivel and listicles is even beginning to drown the Graun. Check out the bottom of the Media Graun web pages and there are listings for all sorts of things, sponsored posts with 27 flavours of crap and etc. Hah. They were made for each other.

  10. Born within the sound of Bow Bells ? From my experience of the Royal London maternity unit, Bengali rhyming slang would be more likely.

  11. Upvote for Corvus Umbranox.

    Does anyone still use this rhyming stuff? I mean for real?

    It all sounds a bit too music-hall for me to believe they do.

    And yes I come from not too far from there as well…

  12. “Does anyone still use this rhyming stuff? I mean for real?”

    Too right. Going for a Ruby followed by a desperate need to go for a pony is a regular occurance around here.

  13. Bloke in Costa Rica

    Twenty-five+ years ago when I was at Uni one of my classmates was an actual Cockney. He was very, very bright and played trumpet professionally as a side gig (and made about 40× what we impecunious grant holders got), but he spoke the lingo unconsciously and unaffectedly. He used to call everyone ‘bladder’, and his favourite description of an idiot was cattlin’ berk (cattlin’ as in cattle truckin’). He was a riot.

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