Rhyme with no reason - an American visitor's guide to that quaint British slang

Related Topics
THE THING that really separates the British from the Americans is our use of rhyming slang. As all Americans know, the streets of our great cities are full of Cockney people speaking to each other in rhyming slang, and maybe the lanes of our great villages as well, come to that. Just as the English suspect that when they go into a Welsh pub, everyone in there switches immediately from English to Welsh, so Americans have a vague suspicion that when they wander into a group of Britons, they will immediately start conversing in rhyming slang, not so much to avoid being understood by the Americans as to seem a bit more colourful and add a bit of zest to their humdrum tourist existence.

If this is so, and I am sure it is, it is about time that American visitors were given some help in this matter. And that is why today I am addressing myself to American readers who wish to have a quick and easy entree into rhyming slang. Yes, it is quick. Yes, it is easy. All you have to remember is two basic things.

1. The people who speak rhyming slang often don't know what they're talking about either.

2. This is because the word they use doesn't rhyme with the real meaning. It's the word they DON'T use which rhymes with the real meaning. A "titfer" is a hat, because "hat" rhymes with "tat", which is the missing bit of "titfer tat". OK?

Now, rhyming slang changes and develops a lot over the years, with new words constantly coming in and old ones going out. A "Ruby Murray" or "Ruby" used to be slang for "curry", but that one has faded now, because the memory of Ruby Murray has faded. "Jimmy Wilde", going even further back, was "mild", as in mild beer, but not many people remember Jimmy Wilde, and not many people, I'm afraid to say, remember mild beer. But new phrases are constantly coming into the language, based on new celebrities and new institutions.

For instance, you may hear someone English say, "I'm going down the road for a quick Basil", and you may think in your innocence that they are going to buy the herb of the same name. Not at all. He is going down the road for a balti meal. Balti rhymes with Fawlty, and Basil Fawlty therefore means a balti meal. Drop off the Fawlty and you've got a Basil!

This will tend to confuse you if you have never heard of Basil Fawlty or, indeed, if balti cooking has not yet reached the USA. Similarly, if you have never heard of some of our politicians you may be confused by such phrases as "I'm going to Mandy's place", which means "I'm going home". "Mandy" is a nickname for a politician called Peter Mandelson, who has been put in charge of building a dome to celebrate the Millennium. So "Mandy's place" is "Mandy's Dome" which rhymes with home.

Getting there? Here are a few more. Wallace - vomit (Wallace and Grommet as in "I feel awful, I think I'm going to have a Wallace")

Edna - drink (Edna Everage - beverage)

Women's names seem inextricably linked with drink. "Vera Lynn" used to mean "gin". More up to date we have...

Germaine - beer (Germaine Greer)

Janet - water ( Janet Street-Porter)

Here, in no particular order, are some other modern rhyming slang terms.

Norman - GBH (Norman St John Stevas - grievous )

Comic - thief (comic relief )

Perrier'd - fed up (Perrier award - bored)

Cut - go ( Cut and blow)

Kiwi - suit (kiwi fruit - "Smart do tonight, so I'll put on my kiwi" )

Parked -died (park and ride)

Drophead - hairpiece (Drophead coupe - toupee; which is quite neat, when you think that drophead almost means toupee anyway)

Paul - curtain (Paul Merton - "Pull the pauls" )

Angus - Satan (after Angus Deayton; nothing rhymes with Hislop, so far as I know)

Trevor - hamburger (Trevor Macdonald) Michael - fine (Michael Heseltine; as in "I thought I was going to be sent down but they let me off with a Michael")

Barry - commissionaire (Barry Norman - doorman )

So, remember: if you hear any of these phrases in your neck of the woods this summer, it's probably an American visitor....

React Now

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: PHP Developer - Mid / Senior

£25000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This fast growing digital agenc...

Recruitment Genius: E-commerce Partnerships Manager

£50000 - £100000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a newly-created partne...

Recruitment Genius: Senior Project Co-Ordinator - FF&E

£35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Senior FF&E Project Co-ordinator is re...

Recruitment Genius: Part Time Carer / Support Worker plus Bank Support

£10 per hour: Recruitment Genius: A delightful, 11 year old boy who lives in t...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Amos Yee arrives with his father at the State courts in Singapore on March 31  

Singapore's arrest of a 16-year-old YouTuber is all you need to know about Lee Kuan Yew's legacy

Noah Sin
David Cameron and Ed Miliband officially launched their election campaigns yesterday after Parliament was dissolved  

All-or-nothing simplicities are going to blight this election

John Rentoul
No postcode? No vote

Floating voters

How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

By Reason of Insanity

Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

Power dressing is back

But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

Caves were re-opened to the public
'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

Vince Cable interview

'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

The only direction Zayn could go

We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

Spells like teen spirit

A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

Licence to offend in the land of the free

Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

From farm to fork in Cornwall

One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

Robert Parker interview

The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor