One of the biggest complaints from Americans moving to London is that they cannot understand what the locals are saying. To be fair to the British people there is more than one accent and sometimes British nationals even have a difficult time understanding each other! While the British accent is pretty easy to become accustomed, the Cockney accent is another story completely. Cockney is not just an accent; it is a language unto itself.
Originally, Cockney referred to the people living in the East End of London, but as time has passed the definition of Cockney has evolved and is now bestowed upon all working class Londoners. As the people who speak Cockney have migrated out of London and integrated Londoners of other cultures (primarily from the Caribbean) , the infamous language has evolved and new dialects have been created.
Americans moving to London most often complain that they don’t understand Cockney slang which is very tricky. Unfortunately, to understand Cockney one must be Cockney. The Cockney dialect is most famous for their rhyming slang. In short, they take a word, make a two or three word rhyming phrase, and then chop off all but one word of that phrase and use the remaining word to replace the original word. Some examples of this are:
1) Stairs: apples (apples and pears ð drop ‘and pears’ ð apples) – I’m going up the apples
2) Telephone: dog (dog and bone ð drop ‘and bone’ ð dog) – Answer the dog
3) Feet: plates (plates of meat ð drop ‘of meat’ ð plates) – My plates are tired
Understanding the origins of Cockney and understanding the actual speaking of Cockney are two different things. A recommendation for all Americans moving here who will have to work with those who speak with a Cockney accent is to study, study, study. There are many websites and books devoted to the art of speaking and understanding Cockney. While no one new to London after an international relocation will be able to understand everything Cockney, learning some of the most used phrases and slang will probably come in helpful.
Cockney is just one of the many colorful accents awaiting Americans in the United Kingdom. Instead of being intimidated soon after moving here, one should embrace their ignorance and set out to learn. Those who speak Cockney are proud of their heritage and most likely will be happy to help a international relocation ex-pat learn.