Skip to main content
Select Source:

RHYMING SLANG

RHYMING SLANG. A form of SLANG that may have originated in the 18c, probably among the London Cockneys, as part of creative word-play and thieves' cant. It is unlikely, however, that there was ever a systematic code of rhymes used to create a PRIVATE LANGUAGE. Rhyming slang was part of the general patter of traders and others, used as much for amusement as for secret communication. It was never a major feature of COCKNEY usage, and became more widely known through its use on radio and television. There are two stages in its formation and use:

1. Creating two-term phrases.

The effect depends on the creation of a binary expression that rhymes with a single everyday word: apples and pears with stairs, ball of chalk with walk, bowl of water with daughter, Bristol City with titty, butcher's hook with look, trouble and strife with wife. The rhyme need not be perfect and is sometimes based on an existing slang usage: Lakes of Killarney/barmy, cobbler's awls/balls, where barmy means ‘mad’ and balls stands for ‘testicles’ and by extension ‘nonsense’.

2. Dropping the second term.

The second element in the pair may then be dropped: Bristol Cities becomes Bristols, as in Get a load of those Bristols (Just look at those breasts), butcher's hook becomes butcher's, as in Take a butcher's at him (Take a look at him), and cobbler's awls becomes cobbler's, as in What a load of old cobblers (What crap).

Rhyming slang may never have been limited to London and is found in other parts of the British Isles, in Australia, and in the US. It is, however, most commonly associated with London, at least as regards its origins, and much of its spread has been due to the broadcasting and other dissemination of Cockney and pseudo-Cockney usages.

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"RHYMING SLANG." Concise Oxford Companion to the English Language. . Encyclopedia.com. 17 Aug. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"RHYMING SLANG." Concise Oxford Companion to the English Language. . Encyclopedia.com. (August 17, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/humanities/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/rhyming-slang

"RHYMING SLANG." Concise Oxford Companion to the English Language. . Retrieved August 17, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/humanities/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/rhyming-slang

rhyming slang

rhyming slang a type of slang that replaces words with rhyming words or phrases, typically with the rhyming element omitted. For example butcher's, short for butcher's hook, means ‘look’ in Cockney rhyming slang.

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"rhyming slang." The Oxford Dictionary of Phrase and Fable. . Encyclopedia.com. 17 Aug. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"rhyming slang." The Oxford Dictionary of Phrase and Fable. . Encyclopedia.com. (August 17, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/humanities/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/rhyming-slang

"rhyming slang." The Oxford Dictionary of Phrase and Fable. . Retrieved August 17, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/humanities/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/rhyming-slang