Tag Archives: cockney rhyming slang

So THAT’S what you think about Britain?

Being British in America can sometimes be akin to life as a happy-go-lucky labradoodle – everybody thinks you’re very sweet, but they don’t really understand you, and they’re often shocked to find out that you really do exist.

The problem is that as soon as you tell someone that you’re British, people jump to certain assumptions. As far as some Americans are concerned, everybody has met the Queen, and quite possibly have had tea with her. I know I still miss my weekly cup of darjeeling and occasional chocolate hobnob with Her Majesty, as do most expats I’m sure, but that doesn’t mean that I’ve also met Harry Potter, David Beckham, or that kid from the Twilight movies.

For clarity’s sake, fish and chips is not the only food we Brits eat, contrary to popular opinion. We also eat black pudding on Tuesdays, and tripe on the second Sunday of every month.

And yes, absolutely every single one of us is stark raving posh. Whether we’re from a dilapidated estate in Newcastle, or a country pile in the home counties, each and every one of us was born with a plum and/or silver spoon in our mouth, and is the heir to a fortune built off the exploitation of children in the (former) colonies. Quite.

Of course, my insistence that “we’re just like you, you know” generally falls on deaf ears. And mostly that’s probably down to language. A lot of that might be our own fault. After all, if – as I did this weekend – you use the phrase “I’ve been running around like a blue arsed fly,” you’ve got to expect that people are going to regard you as being a bit different.

That said, Americans (whether cosmopolitan New Yorkers or sheltered West Virginians) love to perpetuate a stereotype as much as the next man, and never more so than when it comes to the British.

Last week, Metro newspaper published an article entitled “Be prepared for a second Brit invasion” regarding a marketing accord between London and New York, to drive locals in each city to visit the other one. Helpfully, Metro offered five “terms to know” for anyone hoping to either go to London, or understand the hordes of Brits apparently about to descend on New York. For your delight and edification, I list them below:

1. “Footie: Means football, as in “I’m off to watch the footie.”
If you’re a football fan, you should know that the first rule of being a football fan is “never refer to it as footie”. It’s marginally more acceptable than soccer, but only in the way that maiming is more socially acceptable than murder.

2. “Bladdered: Means drunk. ‘I am so bladdered, I couldn’t gargle another pint.'”
Words fail me. I have never once in 35 years heard someone use the phrase “gargle a pint”. Even Dick van Dyke would have rejected it as too unbelievable. The irony, of course, is that most American beer tastes worse than mouthwash.

3. “Meat and two veg: Slang for male genitalia.”
Now, I’m no expert, but I struggle to be able to think of a situation in which an American in London (or a New Yorker talking to a Brit over here) is going to need this phrase. Anyone believing that “fancy a sample of my meat and two veg” is part of the essential lexicon of love, with the ability to win the heart of a passing Brit faster than any Shakespearean sonnet, should probably think again.

4. “Trainspotter: A dork. The kind of guy who keeps a log book of train schedules. The British love their trains.”
Show me someone who believes that the British love their trains, and I will show you someone who has not been to Britain. The sad thing being that American trains make their British equivalent look world-class.

5. “Brad Pitt: rhyming slang for defecation.”
Maybe I missed a meeting, but last time I looked, rhyming slang for ‘defecation’ was Eartha Kitt. That’s showbusiness for you. And there was me thinking that Brad Pitt was rhyming slang for “actor with marginally less talent than he thinks, with a penchant for screwing leading ladies’.

So, if this Metro piece is to be believed, Brits spend all their time drinking, shagging, shitting and watching football. Or trains. Thanks for the resounding vote of confidence in our collective personality, guys!

Still, at least we don’t believe that universal healthcare means an inevitable march towards Hitler death camps, eh?

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…