Many of you will have seen the film “Lock stock and 2 smoking barrels”. And many of you will have found some of the dialogue hard if not impossible to understand. This is because of the frequent use of slang words and phrases. All languages and cultures have these linguistic formations but the one that probably caused such confusion in that film was at of cockney rhyming slang.
This ‘dialect’ is thought to have originated around 1840 in the East End of London. People who come from that area are often referred to as cockneys. The reason for its development is uncertain, possibly a language used by dubious traders to confuse customers in markets, or a way for the criminal fraternity to confuse the police or simply a linguistic accident. Over the years some phrases have disappeared and others have been adopted, but Cockney rhyming slang has spread beyond the range of Bow Bells. Bow Bells are the bells of the church of St Mary-le-Bow. Tradition has it that to be described as a cockney one had to be born within hearing distance of theses bells. The area around the church has changed greatly since it was rebuilt after the Great Fire of London in 1666. Instead of the humble dwellings of the poor cockneys it is now surrounded by smart cafes and shops. The adjacent main street of Cheapside is anything but.
Rhyming slang is constructed as follows. A common word, usually a noun, is replaced with a phrase of two or more words, the latter of which rhymes with the original word. For example, the word “place” — meaning one’s own place, home or abode. “Place” is rhymed with “drum and bass”. However, to complicate matters for the listener, in speech the word “bass” is omitted. Therefore “I will meet you at your flat (place) tonight” is spoken “I will meet you at your drum tonight.”
See if you can work this out: “The trouble told me I had to buy a new whistle, and now I am boracic.” “Never mind my old china lets go and have a cup of Rosie.”
Translation: “The trouble and strife (wife) told me I had to buy a new whistle and flute (suit), and now I am boracic lint (skint).” “Never mind my old china plate (mate) lets go and have a cup of Rosie Lee (tea).”
To further complicate matters “skint” is a slang word meaning to be without money, broke, or potless. “Potless” — another slang abbreviation — without a pot to piss in. “Boracic lint” is a type of medical dressing common during the first half of the last century, less so now but its name lives on. Pronounced “brassic”.
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