Now, this is the sort of obscure utterance which convinces foreigners that English is a hard language to learn. As a matter of fact, I hadn't the faintest idea what he was talking about myself, so I asked him to translate.
"It's rhyming slang," he said. "It means, `It stinks.'"
"How does `bugle' get to mean `stink'?"
"It comes from `Bugle and drum'. `Drum' rhymes with `hum'. `Hum' means to smell. So `bugle' means `to smell'."
Right. I could see the sort of twisted logic that led to this. But what was really nice was knowing that rhyming slang still existed, and ever since then I have kept my ears open for other examples of this arcane lingo.
I am not alone in this. Many American visitors also express an interest in hearing examples of this ancient sportive language. Indeed, many American visitors would rather spend a day chasing rhyming slang than going to Stratford-upon-Avon. Actually, many American visitors would rather do anything than trek out to Stratford-upon-Avon, and for them I have a message of hope - rhyming slang is not only alive and well but it is still growing and changing!
For instance, the other day I heard someone say that he had been made a Hannibal.
"A what?" I said.
"A Hannibal," he said. "The company I work for has made me a Hannibal."
Upon enquiry, it turned out he had been made a director. Hannibal Lecter is the famous character from The Silence of the Lambs. "Lecter" rhymes with "director". Company Hannibal. A new bit of rhyming slang is born.
Again, I recently heard a woman say that the very sight of Leonardo di Caprio made her come over all "Bradford". I tried to guess what this meant. Bradford-on-Avon? Shaven? Bradford City? Witty, pretty...? Sensibly, I gave up and asked her.
"Tingly," she said. "Bradford and Bingley, tingly."
Encouraged by this, over the last few weeks I have been collecting modern developments in new rhyming slang, and I list hereunder some of the fresher phrases I have come across.
Anchor loony (Anchor butter/nutter. Now that words like "loony" and "nutter" are politically incorrect, rhyming slang is an excellent way of getting round it.)
British fairway (golf). (British Airways/fairway, as in "I hit it straight down the British and on to the Mister..." See Mister, below)
David coulis. (David Thewlis /coulis. It may seem odd to find rhyming slang enter the postmodern kitchen, and they must have spent hours trying to find a rhyme for "coulis", but perhaps time hangs heavy when things aren't busy. See MOT, below)
Exchange fart. (Exchange & Mart)
Hammersmith bosom. (Hammersmith and City Line/titty. Sorry about that.)
Holland red wine. (Holland & Barrett/claret, as in "A nice drop of Holland, this telephone..." See Telephone, below.)
Janet water. (Janet Street-Porter/ water. "Is the bottle of Janet to be still or sparkling?")
Martin famous. (Martin Amis/famous.)
Melvyn flag (Melvyn Bragg/flag, as in "Rally round the Melvyn, boys.")
Mister green (golf). (Mister Bean/green.)
MOT polenta. (MOT Testing Centre/polenta, the yellow sludge which disfigures Italian cooking.)
Newbury failed heart operation. (As in, "He was rushed to hospital but died of a Newbury." Actually, I suppose this isn't rhyming slang at all - it's a dual reference to both the controversial Newbury bypass in Berkshire, and to heart bypass operations.)
Ryan cigarette. (Ryan Giggs/cigs. as in "Got a smoke, anyone? I'm right out of Ryans.")
Telephone Beaune. (There's a neat bit of reversal going on in this bit of wine-tasters' argot, since "dog and bone" is also rhyming slang for phone.)
Waterloo immigrant. (Waterloo Station/Asian)
Welcome fraud. (Welcome Break/
Zoe early morning wake-up. (Zoe Ball/alarm call. Very suitable, this one, as Zoe Ball has a morning radio show, and presumably knows all about getting ready for the dawn shift.)
So remember - if you hear anyone using these phrases, it's either a traditional Cockney, Lord love us, or an American visitor.