Cockney slang ‘crucial to London’s identity’

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‘Apples and pears’, ‘weasel and stoat’ and ‘bread and honey’ are just some of the terms those staying at London hotels during the Olympics this summer.

The phrases, meaning ‘stairs’, ‘coat’ and ‘money’ respectively, form part of London’s cherished cockney rhyming slang, which originated in the east end of the city where much of the Olympic action will be taking place.

And according to a new survey by the Museum of London, most people in and outside of London (66 per cent) see cockney slang as a vital aspect of the city’s cultural identity.

But while many people are familiar with the more common rhyming slang terms, their usage in modern language is declining.

Apples and pears was the most well-known cockney phrase (78 per cent) but only used in the last six months by nine per cent of respondents.

‘Porky pies’, meaning ‘lies’, is the most-used piece of cockney slang with 13 per cent using it in recent times.

“For many people, Cockney rhyming slang is intrinsic to the identity of London. Portrayals of cockney Londoners from Dickens’s novels to East Enders characters have popularised the London cockney,” said Alex Werner, head of history collections at the Museum of London.

“However this research suggests that the cockney dialect itself may not be enjoying the same level of popularity.”

Modern slang words are frequently replacing or adding to the traditional cockney terms, the research found, with the most common examples including ‘OMG’ ‘innit’ and ‘jel’.

But according to Mr Werner, this represents the continuation of the natural evolution of the cockney dialect and identity that has been going on for decades.

“Cockney slang reflects the diverse, immigrant community of London’s east end in the 19th century so perhaps it’s no surprise that other forms of slang are taking over as the cultural influences on the city change,” he said.

“Indeed not many people know that Cockney slang has changed massively from the days when it was characterised by back-to-front phrases like ‘on doog’ meaning ‘no good’.”