Rhyming slang

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Rhyming slang is a form of phrase construction in the English language, and is especially prevalent in dialectal British English from the East End of London which also gives it the name Cockney rhyming slang. The construction involves replacing the common word with a phrase of two or three words, and then in almost all cases, omitting the original rhyming word, in a process called hemiteleia,[1][2] making the origin and meaning of the phrase elusive to unfamiliar listeners.[3]

The most frequently cited example, although it is almost never said by current users,[2] involves the replacement of "stairs" with the rhyming "apples and pears"; following the usual pattern of omission this would then be used only as "apples". Thus the spoken phrase "I'm going up the apples" would indicate "I'm going ['up the stairs'/'upstairs']".

In similar fashion, "telephone" is indicated by "dog" (= 'dog-and-bone'); "wife" by "trouble" (= 'trouble-and-strife'); "eyes" by "minces" (= 'mince pies'); "wig" by "syrup" (= 'syrup of fig"), and "feet" by "plates" (= 'plates of meat'). Thus a construction of the following type could conceivably arise: "It nearly knocked me off me plates: he was wearing a syrup! So I got straight on the dog to me trouble, and said I couldn't believe me minces...".

In some prominent examples, the meaning is further obscured by adding a further iteration of rhyme and truncation to the originally rhymed phrase. For example, the word "Aris" is often used to indicate the buttocks. This has been subject to a double rhyme, starting with the original word "arse", which was subsequently rhymed with "bottle and glass", making "bottle" the slang term. "Bottle" was then rhymed with "Aristotle" and truncated to "Aris".[2] (The similarity between the second-iteration result "Aris" and the original word is coincidental.)

The use of rhyming slang has gone beyond pure dialectal use and some words have made their way in to the mainstream British English lexicon, although many users may be unaware of the origin. One example is the word "berk" a mild pejorative, widely used across the UK, and not usually considered particularly offensive, although the rhyming slang origin is as a contraction of "Berkeley Hunt", as the rhyming couplet of the significantly more offensive "cunt".[4]

Contents

History

Rhyming slang is believed to have originated in the mid-19th century in the East End of London, with sources suggesting some time in the 1840s.[5][6][7]

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