Tuesday 2 June 2009

Rhyming Slang

Along with H-dropping, another aspect of Cockney English that shows up in crosswords is rhyming slang.

Take this clue from the Times 2009 Championship Qualifier 3:

Toast a couple of mates left unfinished (4-4)

In rhyming slang, a word is replaced by another word/phrase that rhymes with it. For "mate", the rhyming slang is CHINA PLATE. The second word may even be omitted – so for "mate" just CHINA suffices.

The answer to the Times clue above is CHIN-CHIN (CHINa-CHINa unfinished).

The challenge with clues based on Cockney rhyming slang is that unless you know the slang, it is next to impossible to crack the wordplay. To the uninitiated, there is no logical association between the original word and its derivative. The clue has no indicator either to suggest the Cockney transformation.

Such clues had me stumped when I began solving British crosswords. I manage better now though I still don't have a surefire method of recognizing rhyming slang except what I've picked from solving experience. Some popular ones:

Word Rhyming Slang
feet PLATES of meat
hair BARNET fair
lie PORK pie
look BUTCHER'S hook
pinch HALF inch
stairs APPLES and pears
thief TEA leaf

Clue Examples

Times 24182:  One going to the head providing false account (4,3) PORK PIE [2]
PORK PIE is a type of hat, and also the Cockney rhyming slang for "lie".

Guardian 24682 (Paul): Criminal given bird without hearing, blowing top (3, 4) TEA LEAF
TEAL (bird) + {-d}EAF (without hearing)
TEA LEAF is Cockney rhyming slang for "thief", which fits the definition "criminal".

Times Sunday 4301: Barnet's tricky turn? (7, 4) HAIRPIN BEND
A cryptic definition that invokes the Cockney rhyming slang "hair" = BARNET.

My last resort: when I can derive the answer based on the definition and other bits, but a part of the wordplay seems inexplicable, I put in "<inexplicable wordplay> rhyming slang" into Google. Works like a charm!

Suggestions for tackling rhyming slang clues better?

Related Posts:

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xwd_fiend said...

Some cases where the second word is _not_ omitted: "apples and pears", "tea leaf", "pork pie" (except for "porkies" = lies). If there's a logical rule for deciding when the second word is dropped, I've never discovered it! You now have to watch this: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9ak5vYS0tvg

Tony Sebastian said...

Whoa!!! My introduction to Cockney rhyming slang was when I encountered this line in the movie Lock,Stock and Two Smoking Barrels - "Alright Alright, keep your Alans on". My trivia-hungry friend told me how Alans = Knickers and comes from Alan Whicker. Never knew it was used in crosswords.

That's just wicked! Thanks for that one Shuchi :)

Virtual Linguist said...

Here are a couple more that have crossed my desk, Shuchi:
Pork pie: Fabrication of hat
Half inch: Appropriate short measure

What a great blog this is!

maddy said...

Figure this out... :-)
Wotcher Shuchi, Robin one china. A bunch of april and an aristotle of pig's to you for taking the barney to ronnie such a chicken post. I had no scooby that cockney slangs were used in crossdickys also. No wonder that many british X dicky pot of glues drive me gerties as i cant make loaf or alderman's nail of them.
My familiarity with cockney rhymes is due to stevies like Austin Powers, Must warn you though - Rated PG :-) Totally radio, Butchers it at your own risk (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PgPH0tYXJrA&feature=related), and the diametrically opposite evergreen movie "To Sir with Love" (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EVeZBulV0Fw).Also fishes like Trainspotting which drove me mum and dad with its british slangs, cockney and otherwise. i adam and eve the stevie version has been modified to make eighteen to others.
That was fun....But now that i ve squandered away my entire extended tea break writing this, must get back to more mundane things in life like work :-(

Shuchi said...

Thanks for all the video links and movie references. Very entertaining. I guess I need to watch more TV/films to deal with my rhyming slang ignorance!

Maddy, after reading your comment I need a tea break myself :)

Susan, I am a regular reader of The Virtual Linguist. Thanks for visiting and linking to my blog.

Anonymous said...

Found this link. It has about 400 rhyming slangs:


Shuchi said...

Will you Adam and Eve it, a Cockney ATM!

(Thanks Susan for writing about this. Link via The Virtual Linguist.)

RUFUS said...

I have occasionally used pieces of rhyming slang in my 48 years of being a professional setter, but not so often recently as they always seem to produce adverse comment! Such as "London flight" for "Apples and pears" (solution: STAIRS), but the one evoking the most letters was "Short of capital" with solution BORACIC LINT. Many UK solvers had not heard of this rhyming slang for "skint" ("short of money"), although it does appear in Chambers (under borax).

Shuchi said...

Welcome to my blog RUFUS! I remember solving "London flight" - I thought that was very clever. Without the internet I'd have been clueless about "Short of capital" for BORACIC LINT too.

Jemes17mood said...

I’m no expert on rhyming slang but this one I can help with.
Frog becomes frog and toad = ‘road’, so talking about a frog means you are referring to a road.
The whole point of an argot is to be confusing/incomprehensible to outsiders, so the second word (the key to the rhyme) is usually dropped, making it harder to translate.