Problems with the trouble and strife*

They say that men and women talk different languages, but in the case of The Special One and I, that’s pretty much true. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve been forced to deconstruct a sentence in order to get to the heart of what I’ve actually been trying to communicate. And that’s just when I’m saying goodbye as I leave for work.

For more complex sentences, we generally play a high-speed version of charades. Sure, that can be embarrassing when all she’s doing is asking me whether I want whipped cream on top of my Starbucks coffee, but needs must. (Incidentally for charade aficionados out there, in this case I generally opt for a mime something along the lines of ‘one word, sounds like *performs passable impression of Steve Redgrave winning Olympic gold with oar in hand in the coxless four*’)

It’s true that I use peculiarly British phrases from time to time, such as those times I’m “gagging for a beer” or “losing my rag”. On those occasions, The Special One generally just raises her eyebrows and inwardly rues the day that she ever met me. Sometimes she’ll choose to mimic my voice instead. Sadly the quality of her British impression is such that even the mighty Dick van Dyke would give her a rueful look and advise her not to give up the dayjob.

The linguistic divide between us entered a new realm yesterday when I told The Young Ones to get their stuff together and head “up the apples and pears”. The expression cast in my direction by all three of them suggested I had just asked them to kill a litter of puppies.

And so began an hour long conversation with The Special One about cockney rhyming slang, and its importance to the vocabulary of even non-Londoners.

BOOW: “What do you think frog and toad is?”

TSO: “It’s a series of children’s books that are very highly regarded. I used to read them to The Eldest all the time when he was a kid. I didn’t really use them with The Youngest though as she was more into mer…”

BOOW: “It’s cockney rhyming slang for a road. What about pork pies”

TSO: “Are they those nasty things with the jelly in?”

BOOW: “It means lies. Septic tank is Yank, Ruby Murray is curry, and dog and bone is phone.”

At that point, The Special One tutted loudly, proclaimed that the whole thing was a load of rubbish, and muttered something under her breath about the Boston Tea Party. If she owned stars and stripes pyjamas, she’d probably have put them on too.

“Besides,” she joked, “most Americans don’t even know where Cockney is.”

At least, I think she was joking…

* ‘Trouble and strife’ = wife. After this post, mine may well be slapping me in my boat race…

13 thoughts on “Problems with the trouble and strife*

  1. Trixie Trouble

    Obviously not rhyming slang but have you ever told the ‘winks that it’s time to ‘go up the wooden hill and down sheet lane’?
    I love that.
    Oh childhood. …

  2. Sarcasmom

    So there are specific rhyming phrases for specific words? I think I am with the SO on this one. It’s like a totally second language. And it takes longer to say the same thing, which is quite the opposite of the American penchant for shortening words such as “rents” instead of parents.

  3. Mom/Mum

    This post made me laugh. Not that it’s cockney rhyming slang, but two of my American Mommy friends take great pleasure whenever I refer to my house ‘looking like a bombsite’ They want to adopt that phrase too.
    Us Brits have the best phrases, but then, I’m biased…

  4. Marmite Breath

    We are well versed in it, even though I’m a Leicester girl. In fact, my six year old is fond of saying, “OW, don’t hit me in the Granbys” after Granby Halls, a skating rink in Leicester.

  5. Brit Out of Water Snr

    Trixie – Brit Out of Water’s Grandma used to use a variation on your phrase. She would say “Up the wooden hills to Bedfordshire”.

    There’s one rhyming slang derivation that I’m always amazed has been allowed to pass into fairly common usage in the UK. If a man does someting stupid, acts inappropriately, or behaves badly, he’s said to be acting like a berk. Berk is a shortened version of Berkley Hunt (a fox hunting bunch of chinless wonders). I’ll leave the rhyme to your imaginations.

  6. Tara

    “most Americans don’t even know where Cockney is.” You couldn’t make this stuff up!
    There is modern Cockney slang now, can you believe it?
    Like Ayrton Senna for tenner and it’s all gone a bit Pete Tong . . .

  7. Siobhan

    Now, you know I’ve been here almost 9 years, and I STILL catch myself saying, “…do you say that here?” It took until about 2 years ago to realise they don’t even say tutt/tutted. I love saying “take a butcher’s” and “would you adam and eve it?”

    Sometimes I feel a bit left out not being married to a Brit, but then again, where would I get my comedy for the day?

  8. Trixie Trouble

    I love saying ‘Oh no, it’s all gone Pete’.

    Have you noticed though, that it is always “it’s all gone” Pete Tong? Things are never just Pete Tong or ‘No, that’s completely Pete’.

    Always, ‘it’s all gone Pete’.

  9. gloria

    A few years back I had a good laugh when I saw a caption underneath a photo in the NY times (online)the day after the Tartan Day Parade. Pictured in the photo was some New York big shot next to one of the Scottish bagpipers who had been in the parade. The caption gave the name of the man in the kilt as Jimmy Riddle.

  10. Mat Morrison

    @Sarcasmom No-one, in fact, uses the whole phrase. So: “the flying squad” is “the sweeny”, “yanks” are “septics” and so on.

    Something that’s just not very good is – in fact – “pony” . The “and trap” is silent, like the ‘P’ in swimming.

    If someone really told me to get up the apples and pears, I’d expect them to do a little jig, play the spoons, and say “cor blimey, guv’nor” a la Mr Van Dyke. It’s just something older people make up to scare you.

  11. Expat Mum

    I say we all speak to our kids at least once a day using something so English/British that they won’t have a clue.
    How about Geordie ryhming slang? Ah – got you there.
    “Corned beef” = deef (deaf.)
    Great post.

  12. Paul Sheffrin

    Hilarious post. I’m reliably informed that “Losing one’s bottle” which I’ve said for years (meaning failing to summon enough courage to go through with something) was in fact a truncation of the rhyming slang phrase “bottle and glass” which suggests losing control of your, erm, sphincter!

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