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By Jim Rhodes
An old friend in Australia, a retired writer and editor, sends me letters now and then (yes, old-fashioned letters written on a typewriter and folded into an envelope with a postage stamp, enclosing one or two newspaper clippings he thinks I might find interesting, and sent by post). He sometimes signs off with a note at the bottom, saying, “Best to the Trouble and Tins.”
Perhaps I’d better explain for those of you who are unacquainted with Cockney rhyming slang.
The artform is said to have originated on the streets of East London in the 19th century, and was used by pickpockets, thieves and vagabonds as a street-code to outwit police informers. The usage later blossomed in Australia (remember that Australia was originally a penal colony settled by convicts, a large proportion of whom were East Enders).
Put simply, rhyming slang is a form of word substitution, in which you replace one word with a pair of words, the second of which rhymes with the original. For instance:
Seems easy, right? But wait a minute.
To make it harder for the cops to guess the meaning, they introduced a new wrinkle, dropping the second word – the one that rhymes with the original. Hence, road becomes simply frog (short for frog and toad). Likewise:
And pint of ale is ship, and drink is kitchen.
Here are a few examples, which I found in my well-thumbed volume of Willard R. Espy’s The Game of Words (1971).
Now that you’ve got the general idea, here’s your final exam. See if you can translate this passage.
So I was takin’ the London fer a ball up the frog when I bumped into an old china. We popped into the rubber for a kitchen. We ‘ad a pint or two of pig’s and then a few needles. Twarnt long before we run out of bees, and we wuz both elephants so the Guv’nor called a smash. ‘E chucked us into the back of the jam, and sent us to me Pope. We stumbled up the apples an’ found me trouble in the Uncle readin’ the linen. She had some choice dickeys for us. And where’s the London, she arsked, and don’t give me no porkeys. Oh, oh, sez I, and that’s when she chucked a lion’s that caught me on the side of me loaf, and knocked me off me hams. Me life’s been utter ding dong ever since.
Hint … If you need help, you may wish to consult the convenient Cockney Rhyming Slang Dictionary online at http://www.cockneyrhymingslang.co.uk/.
Want more? Try Keith Park’s seminal work Bible Stories in Cockney Rhyming Slang, published in 2009 and still available at the usual online sites.