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

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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....

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