Don’t think that just because your living in London that you can speak the lingo. There is a peculiar and fascinating dialect of the English language that has been used for hundreds of years in the East End. If you’re a Cockney, then you speak Cockney Rhyming Slang and you live in the East End. These days it’s not just natives who use Cockney rhyming slang, you’ll find that many different cultures have embraced this way of speaking and it is alive and thriving in many areas of East London.
Don’t be surprised when you’re first living in London if you really struggle to understand the English language. You’ll have to get your ear get attuned to the various accents and the way that English people speak. The only way to get into the heart of London and start understanding the way that the English speak English, is to get out of your new rental and meet as many people as you can.
Cockney rhyming slang was developed as a type of Pidgin English so the people on the streets could talk without other people understanding what they meant. It did much for the solidarity of the east End of London which historically has been at odds with the rest of the city. In essence the way to speak Cockney rhyming slang is to figure out what you want to say and then find rhyming words which have no connection to what you want to say and say them instead! To make it even more confusing the two or more rhyming words are usually truncated and just one is used.
Some common Cockney rhyming slang words that have made it into main stream English:
The original phrase: Barn Owl; What you say: “Barney”; What you mean: Argument
The original phrase: Bottle and Glass; What you say: “Bottle”; What you mean: Arse
Barnet Fair: “Barnet”: Hair
Butcher’s Hook: “Butcher’s”: Look
And it goes on and on!
The most important aspect of living here as a foreigner, or as an American moving, is the opportunity to learn as much as possible about your new city and the culture, customs and community.