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People have been sending me a lot of questions about the origin of certain phrases. I'll post all of the questions here and if you have the answers please contact me with as much information as you have. 

In answer to the many questions I've received, here is the Cockney Alphabet (a new window will open - just close it to return here).
It would seem that Snatch is a very popular film and I get at least 3 letters a week asking what "minerals" are. They are, simply, testicles. Slang for testicles is "stones", so when he says "You haven't got the minerals" he means "You haven't go the stones". The implication is that he lacks the nerve, that he isn't man enough.

John asks: "I heard Alexi Sale say "Trout and Toolbox" on an episode of "The Young Ones", but for the life of me I can't figure out the ryhme, nor can I find it on line in any Cockney Slang dictionary. Do you have any ideas?


In his book London Born, Sidney Day says, "I got a deever a day to go round with a tray of sweets."  Sue Allen would like to know how much a deever is.


Ron writes that his mate is learning to sing "My Old Man", but in the second verse is the line "But I soon got over that, What with two-out and a chat".  And what exactly is a two-out he would like to know???


From Michael: “Shrewsbury and Talbot” were a company of Hanson Cab makers c. 1890. Does anybody know if this has ever been cockney rhyming slang for anything?


Lincoln asks: I came to work here in the UK about 9 months ago, and since then have often heard reference to "wide boys." While I understand what the meaning is from context, what is the origin of this term?


Terry asks: My cousin recently used the term 'Joe Railers' when explaining to his son about telling lies and fibs.  I've tried to find the origins of the term but without success.


Scott wrote to me asking why there aren't any slang words for airplanes, clouds, the sky, airports, etc.  Rubbish, I thought.  Then thought some more and realized that he's right...  I don't know any.  Do you?


David writes: Years ago, my father named our sail boat the “List O Kent” based on something my Cornish grandparents used to say. They’re all gone now and I can’t find any reference on-line to what this means.  Any thoughts?


Maggie asks: My father-in-law used to sing a cockney song about ''Them old red flannel drawers that Maggie wore'' Does anybody know this?-I only know a couple of lines-e.g. She threw 'em on the mat and they paralyzed the cat Them old red flannel drawers that Maggie wore. and She hung 'em on the line and the sun refused to shine...  Does anyone know the complete lyric???

  1. Thanks to Pam, you can find them here (a new window will open).

Victor recalls that spectacles were call 'bins' and would like to know the origin of this.

  1. Sam says - The word Bins comes from Binoculars when used to describe glasses. Not sure, but it may have been from the military originally.
  2. Philip confirms Sam's answer.
  3. Dave Maugham says: I heard that it was from "Bins and Receptacles" for spectacles

Has anyone heard the expression "salt & martini" used when speaking to a girl?  Karen would love to know the answer to this.

  1. Andy says: Salt & martini is a margarita, and I remember something about the word margarita referring to a girl, but I can't remember that piece of the connection

Wik has heard the expression "Emperor" being using to mean a certain sum of money.  Can anyone help?

  1. Heard from Michelle who says it comes from Emperor Ming and rhymes with "ka-ching", the sound a register makes.  Emperor can refer to any amount of money.

David would like to know the origin of "Bob" for shilling.

  1. John Hutton says: According to one book (which I probably saw about 25 years ago), it's short for Robert Dillon. I don't know whether there was a real Robert Dillon. Maybe someone else will be able to elucidate.

Bronwyn asks if anyone know the reference "Screaming Alice" as slang for Crystal Palace?  I believe it's just a convenient rhyme with no meaning, but I've been wrong so many times...


Jeanie would like to know the etymology of "pork sausage" (as in "What's the difference, me old pork sausage, you're coming with me" from Dickens).  It is a reference of no great respect, sort of a "Come with me, little man", but if it is rhyming slang I can't figure out the rhyme.  Any ideas?

  1. From Tony: It isn't rhyming slang. As terms of affection, food is often used in provincial English. For example my grandmother used to call me and my cousins and siblings "chicken". Some people may use "chucky egg" or "sausage". It isn't just the English either, a term of endearment in France is "Mon petit choux" or "my little cabbage". God alone knows why that would be seen as affectionate but that's the French for you!

Maggie asks what the word "kite" in the old music hall song "Boiled Beef and Carrots" refers to.  The song is:

Boiled Beef and Carrots, boiled beef and carrots,
That's the stuff for yer Derby Kell
Keeps you fit and keeps you well.
Don't live like vegetarians on food they give to parrots.
From noon to night blow out your kite
On boiled beef and carrots.
 
Am I missing the bleeding obvious here (I'm thinking it refers to light, meaning 'don't got to bed hungry') or is there some mysterious interpretation?  Any thoughts?
  1. An anonymous visitor wrote: "Kite" means stomach, or belly. There is also an expression "Blow out" which means having a good time/feed etc. - you get the drift.
  2. Tony adds: "Kite" is a reference to "nose". I have no idea why it does, but my dad has used that term all my life "You've got a snotty kite", "get you finger out of your kite" or "wipe your kite". I was a very grubby boy.

Has anyone heard the expression "Dirty Nead" or Dirty Ned"?  Mick would like to know what it means.

  1. H answers: Dirty Nead is deed.......doin' the dirty

An unidentified reader would like to know the etymology of the word 'blunt', meaning money.  Any thoughts?

  1. An equally anonymous reader suggests: A blunt is a joint made of a cigar. That means it is made with hashish (or hash) --> "a blunt with hash" rhymes to "cash" = "money".
  2. Raphael Mankin says this expression originated in the 18th century and has no reference in rhyming slang.

Trev would like to know the origin of the expression "strike a light", usually used as an exclamation (as in, "Strike a light, I though he was dead.")

  1. H thinks he has the answer: Strike a light = shite.  On this note... one had to light a lamp if one had to go to the outside lavvy if one was caught short after dark........one could pee in the po' that was kept under the bed and throw the contents in the morning but anything else required a visit to the cludgy.
  2. Colin suggests that this refers to someone lighting a match to help foil the malodorous effects of someone breaking wind.  Sounds a bit dodgy to me, but...

Ray was watching Only Fools and heard the expression, "Me old april was going like a moped".  He assumes april refers to heart but would like to know the origin.  Any thoughts?

  1. Heard from Bob who kindly pointed out that the answer to this one is in the English to slang table - April in Paris meaning arse.  Bob feels the bit about the moped probably refers to the characteristic pop pop noise they used to make. He goes on to add that a similar expression from the same era is "The old ariss was going half-a-crown thr'penny bit".

Walter would like to know where the phrase "a couple of salts", referring to girls, comes from.

  1. Bob says the expression is "sorts", not salts, and refers to women who are particularly generous with their favours, under the right circumstances.  That leaves us trying to find the expression "a couple of sorts".

Debra asks if anyone is familiar with the expression 'Brixton' having a slang meaning.

  1. Paul says he believes the expression is from Brixton Prison -> reason.  As in "Give me a brixton for doing that".
  2. H feels the rhyme would most probably be "Brixton Hill", but doesn't know the slang.

Laurie wrote to ask if the expression "arseholed", meaning very drunk, was derived from the expression "aristotle" -> bottle.  I'd never heard this expression used for this particular meaning (although my brother-in-law says he can't drink liquor because everyone turns into an arsehole and it becomes his job to tell them) but Laurie persists, saying he heard the expression "aristotled", meaning very drunk, on The Eastenders.  Has anyone heard either aristotled or arseholed being used to describe the extremely drunk or can anyone verify the the origins of the expression?

  1. Heard from Bob from Ilford who says that this expression meant VERY, VERY [his capitals, not mine] drunk.
  2. H says Arseholed meaning very drunk.........simply means one can no longer stand up and is sitting or lying on ones arse in the gutter.....
  3. Tony points out that whilst the Eskimos have 1000 words for snow, the Brits have 1000 words for being inebriated.  Sounds about right.

James asks if anyone knows the origin of the expression "Gone for a burton", meaning not working or no longer with us.

  1. John wrote that he heard the following on the radio: When a corpse was laid out for burial it was normal practice to dress the body in their best clothes. Typically it was their suit from Montague Burtons. Hence anyone who had died was described as having gone for a Burton.
  2. Lee comments:  The phrase "Gone for a Burton" derives from a pre-war advertising poster campaign for beer - Burton's best bitter - which showed a crowded workplace with someone obviously missing. The strapline was: "He's gone for a Burton", implying the person had skipped off down the pub for a quick pint.

    In World War Two, during the Battle of Britain, the phrase was revived by RAF officers as a piece of black humour. Noticing blank spaces at their mess tables in the evening the RAF types would joke of their lost comrades: "He's gone for a Burton".

    It later came to be applied to any situation where something was either missing or broken or busted.

  3. John Amiry adds:  I was told that this phrase originated in the First World War referring to a Burton no 1 Field Dressing, the largest wound bandage available. If you needed this field dressing. your chances of survival were very slim, you would probably die, hence Gone for a Burton.

From Claire: I've always been familiar with the phrase "bone idle" and never gave a thought to what it really meant or where it came from. Today I was reading a George Orwell essay (Such, Such Were the Joys....) and a character says "The whole trouble with you is that you're bone and horn idle". Sounds like Cockney rhyming slang to me - bone and horn = born, but you don't have it in your dictionary. What do you think?


Jackie says:  My father used the expression "comic singers" referring to Sausages.  Anyone heard of this before.? He was a seaman and used rhyming slang a lot.

  1. H suggests: Comic singers -> fingers............for sausages .......maybe, but i don't know why comic unless funny looking fingers......fat fingers look like half a pound of sausages..........?

Les asks:  Does anyone know what is meant by part of a monkey's leg in a currency form which related pre 1971. I know that a monkey is £500. But is there another expression for part of a monkey's leg?  Ta

  1. Mike wrote in to say that it would be "ape knee"...  ha'penny.  Did Les and Mike work together to get a bad joke on the page?  You be the judge!

Steve has asked a great question:  Slang for £200 is bottle.  His question is why?  Why bottle?  Any and all thoughts would be appreciated.

  1. Graham suggests it might come from 'Bottle of Glue'.

Cab would like to know who Kate Karney (slang for army) was.  Any ideas?

  1. Paul says:  I believe she was an old Music Hall star.

Pam says her mum always referred to a rug as the brussels.  Anyone know the origin of this?

  1. Sparky replies:  There is such a thing as a Brussels carpet, a machine-made carpet consisting of small, colored woolen loops that form a heavy, patterned pile.  Don't know if this is the reference or not.

John would like to know what a "hot lennie" is.  Never heard of it, but you lot seem brighter than I am.

  1. I've heard from Phil who says: A "hot Lennie" is an unrefrigerated or warm Leinenkugle (beer).

Jean wonders if anyone knows a slang phrase for 'boy' or 'lad'?  There are plenty for kids in general and a few for girl, but I'm not familiar with a phrase specifically for 'boy'.  I found a listing for "Rob Roy" & "San Toy" but neither of these are commonly used.  Any ideas?

  1. From Tony: A modern one would be a Paul Weller - Feller [I've never heard it used in this context, but Paul Weller is used as a rhyme for Stella Artois (beer)]
  2. Roger points out that yobbo is backslang for boy.  But it's not rhyming slang!
  3. And Slash has found "Pride & Joy", "Mothers Joy", "Rob Roy" & "Saveloy" (therefore, pride, mothers, sav and Rob Roy all referring to a boy.  I've never heard these used but Slash says they are in other references.

Jade would like to know if anyone has heard of a cockney expression meaning well-endowed (ie. well hung), as in a male with more than just an eye for the ladies.


Greg asks:  John Wilson of angling fame refers to ...." I can't give this any more teddy" when playing a fish and is exerting side strain through the rod to the fish. Any ideas.


John wrote and said that they always referred to keys as 'twelve's'.  I wasn't familiar with this slang and asked that he let me know if he ever found the reference.  Clever dick that he is, he provided the following.

  1. The Twelve Keys was work by a monk called Basil Valentine penned during the15 century, hence the term 'twelve's' for keys.
  2. And Dan offers: There are 12 keys to an octave on a piano and twelve frets to an octave on a guitar. Could this have any relevance?

Françoise asks:  I heard in Eastenders something like "He looks as if he comes out of Room 101".  Any thoughts?

  1. Nathan says:  I think this was the number on the interrogation room from 1984 where Winston Smith was reprogrammed.
  2. Sparky agrees:  Room 101 is the dreaded torture room that Smith is sent to.  Wow, that's an obscure reference for Eastenders!
  3. And Mark weighs in with:  In answer to the question raised by someone on an Eastenders' reference to Room 101, it is taken from George Orwell's book "1984". Room 101 contained a person's worst fear! If applied to a person (as in the question) it usually implies somebody really ugly.
  4. David offers:  This is an English TV programme, in which celebrities dump their hated objects into a bin. To suggest something looks like it comes from room 101 would mean that it is rubbish.
  5. And from H: Room 101 is the TV programme about throwing out stuff........for sure!!

Leon asks about the phrase "Stepney".  Says it's from a Victorian comic sketch and is used as in "I just looked into her eyes - at least I should say eye - the other was just a stepney.  I found a reference to Stepney referring to a spare tire but this seems too recent to be appropriate to the era.  Any thoughts?

  1. Completely ignoring my thoughts that this reference might be too recent (it's all right - I'm married and used to having my thoughts ignored), H submits: Stepney meaning spare tyre would be Stepney Spire I would reckon... the church spire.

Nick is looking for the origin of the term "rozzer", meaning police.

  1. Josh says it comes from a P. G. Wodehouse book, but he can't remember which one.
  2. Anonymous suggests that rozzer is the Yiddish word for pig (can anyone confirm this?)

Steve has asked about the origin of the phrase 'tanner' for sixpence.

  1. Sparky says:  Tanner comes from Sigismund Tanner, who designed the old head version of the George II sixpence.

John asks if anyone knows the origin of the term "bever", local slang for tea break.  He writes:  My boss said that French prisoners of war during the Napoleonic War were kept in the Middlesex/Hertfordshire border and that it was a corruption of "boivre", to drink. I never knew if it was true, or he was pulling my leg! Do you know? 

I should note that it rhymes with beaver - I had suggested it might just be short for beverage, but with this pronunciation that doesn't seem likely.

  1. David says:  I would suggest that this is simply a distortion of the word breather. To have a breather would be to stop work and catch your breath.
  2. Scott feels it's just short for beverage.

Maria asks:  Could you tell me in what fiction books examples of cockney rhyming slang can be found.

  1. Kevin suggests: Anthony Burgess's "The Doctor is Sick" is a brilliant book on every accord.
  2. David says: My wife is currently reading "Maura's Game" by Martina Cole and she is constantly asking me to interpret cockney rhyming slang that appears in this book.

I was told that the word "quid" derives from Scottish/Irish Gaelic and fell into use where fishermen from those countries would sell a "quid's" worth of their catch on English quaysides.  The Gaelic word "cuid" (pronounced "quid") means a "share" or "portion", hence "that is a quid" became, in English, a unit of sale and ultimately a reference to a unit of currency or a pound.  Don't have any other confirmation as to the truth of this, be nice to know if any others can verify.

  1. Sparky says the Guardian has run this question on their "Semantics Enigma" column.  You can find readers comments at http://www.guardian.co.uk/notesandqueries/query/0,5753,-22239,00.html (link will open a new window).
  2. From The Word Detective (www.word-detective.com/122099.html#quid) - The "pound," of course, is the standard unit of currency in the United Kingdom, and used to be known as the "pound sterling" because it was legally exchangeable for one pound of real sterling silver.

    Now the word "quid," as I'm sure we all remember from our first-year Latin class, means "what" or "something." Most of us in the U.S. only know the word in the phrase "quid pro quo," meaning "something for something" ("quo" being the ablative case of "quid"), or, to put it in politician-speak, "You scratch my back and I'll scratch yours."

    "Quid" has been used as slang for "pound" since the late 17th century, but no one really knows why. It may be that "quid" was adopted as a bit of clever slang based on its Latin meaning of "what," perhaps as a shortened form of an oblique slang phrase such as "what one needs" (i.e., money). Or it may be that it comes from a misunderstanding (or humorous spin on) the phrase "quid pro quo" (as in "Here's your quo, where's my quid?"). Personally, I lean toward the second theory, but we may never know for sure.

  3. Julian Porter writes: The term "Sterling" was derived from the Hanseatic League, which was principally made up of Baltic Traders, who, in the Middle Ages , had significant power over our Kings who were always looking to borrow money. They were given certain rights and privileges to trade and became known as the Easterling, which became shortened to Sterlings. The principal form of international currency in the period was the Mark, as in the forerunner of the former German currency. Fines in the Middle Ages were in Marks, as were monies left in Wills and other such legal notices. We also used to call the 2 shilling bit a Florin, which was because it was the same value as the Dutch Florin or Guilder as was the Bezant, minted in Florence in 1252, from where the term Florin originally derived.

 


Denise would like to know if anyone knows what the phrase "She's more R than F" means.

  1. Kevin says:  It means, 'She's more reverse than forward'.  If a girl is forward she makes all the moves and might be considered a bit easy.  Saying the opposite, that she's reverse, is just a joke meaning she's hard to get.
  2. And Bruce adds:  "More R than F" is evidently to be found in a British music-hall song. It stands for "more rogue than fool".
  3. Rob agrees with Bruce:  More Rogue than Fool.  Applies c.1860-1910 to one who is "More Rogue than Fool", especially to a servant that seemed foolish.  From Dictionary of Unconventional English, 8th edition. Edited by Eric Partridge. McMillan Publishing Company.  Coincidentally, the expression "More R than F" is the title of a music hall song written in the 1870s. I am searching for the sheet music. Perhaps you could mention this when you post the response? I would appreciate the help as it is proving very difficult to find.

Rob has asked a question that completely mystifies me yet I feel I should know the answer: Why is a bird called a bird, that is, why are women called birds? I have an idea or two but I don't really know. Any thoughts?

  1. Steve, who apparently has recently been through the grinder, suggests that they are called birds because they crap on a chap from great heights!  I'm pretty sure this isn't the real answer, but I still like it.
  2. David adds:  It is a reference to the "birds and the bees" which is what you tell your children when they ask about sex.
  3. And Andrew weighs in with:  I believe the word “bird” is a derivation of the middle-English word byrd which meant maiden (i.e. a virgin). So calling a woman or girl a bird is in fact a compliment !!
  4. An anonymous (I'm assuming male) writer say it's because women are flighty.
  5. Dave says it's from the 19th century fashion of wearing Ostrich feathers.

Ruth would like to know the origin of the phrase "playing gooseberry", usually referring to someone who tags along with a couple (a fifth wheel).

  1. To play gooseberry now means to be an unwelcome third party at a lovers' meeting. In the past it was used somewhat less specifically and meant any unwanted third party. In the old days Gooseberry was one of the many euphemisms for the Devil, who was naturally not welcome in most company.

Don would like to know if there is any rhyming slang for the bagpipes (be kind, he's a player).

  1. CurlyLad says: a chap who lives by me plays them and his mate says "Listen , he's playing the Erics again" Eric Sykes - Bagpipes !

Carl is a septic working in London and has heard a few of his mates refer to windows as "tommies". Anyone ever heard of this?

  1. Vince has the definitive answer. The reference is to a music hall performer, Tommy Trinder. Using your best accent, say his name (Tommy Trinda) and then say window (winda) and SNAP - you have a match.
  2. James confirms this information.

Mark asks: Whilst standing at a military bar, a recruit ( I know to be from East London ) referred to another recruit as a "Lang Toff". Any Ideas?

  1. Robert says that "Long toff" is computer jargon, meaning a long turn-off time.  OK, I don't know what the reference might be either, but it's the closest answer I've seen.

Bill writes: I'm reading a novel called "They Used to Play on Grass," about football. One of the players, a Londoner, is asked by a TV interviewer what he does to relax and he replies that he likes a lager and a gamble. The other players laugh because this is apparently quite offensive when translated. But the author never translates it!

  1. Martin has part of the answer:  'Lager' is a 'lager shandy' - handy - masturbation. So to lager is to have a wank.

Huw has heard the word "jump" used to refer to the bar in a pub. Do you know where this comes from?

  1. Sparky says that the following is Irish slang: Johnny-jump-up (n): pint of Guinness mixed with Bulmers (cider)

Gary has heard the phrases "cherry ripe" and "Pompeii Whore" used. Any thoughts on what they might mean?

  1. Buzzing says that Pompeii Whore refers to a door.
  2. Sparky confirms that Pompeii Whore refers to a door, but is hardly ever used. [Note that since it isn't in common usage it is not included on the main slang lists]
  3. Phil from Portsmouth says: When playing cards, a pair of fours is known as a pair of Pompeys.
  4. Don adds: I think Cherry Ripe means Tobacco Pipe or Wooden Pipe. To my knowledge, cherry is a hard wood, which once dry and formed into a pipe, it would hold up to the tobacco burning and cleaning of the item. The kind of wood would also make for a nice looking piece.
  5. And James weighs is with Cherry Ripe -> pipe and Pompeii Whore -> law (police).
  6. And Chippie says Cherry Ripe has always meant tripe (as in nonsense). "Listen to her - never heard so much cherry".
  7. And Brian wades is with: Cherry ripe means "ready for plucking" and is not strictly rhyming slang. As in: When cherries are ripe their ready for plucking, When girls are sixteen their ready for ****.
  8. And Jim notes:  ... should be Pompey Whore. Pompey is the general nickname for Portsmouth, on the south cost which is the Royal Navy's main base, and therefore full of sailors and their...er...camp followers.

Ulrich has me stymied by this one. Maybe one of you recognizes it: What is the meaning of the following Question - "Is he like kiff lekker grafting now ?"

  1. From Claire I received the following: I have never heard the phrase before, but in South Africa 'Kiff' is slang for 'cool'. 'Lekker' is Afrikaans for 'nice'. 'Grafting' is slang for 'working'.
  2. Oliver responded with exactly the same translations so this one seems to be solved.
  3. And Valerie offers: This word meaning "really good, fantastic" was used by children when I was growing up in Morpeth, Northumberland in the 1950's.  It could be Germanic in origin as we have a lot of such words in Northumbrian dialect and would explain the occurrence with Afrikaans.

Dan has raised an excellent question: What is the origin of the phrase "I should cocoa", meaning "I should think not".

  1. Brian has responded that this the common phrase is "I should say so", therefore cocoa -> say so. Makes sense.

Ever wondered about the origin of the expression "the full monty"? Click here. This was sent to me from Hamilton, Ontario, Canada.

  1. Sam East writes: It actually comes from the English General Montgomery's love of full English breakfasts which to his troops became 'the full monty', meaning the whole thing!
  2. And Ed offers the following: thought you might like my version of the meaning of "the full monty". I am 53 years old, was born in Sunderland Co. Durham. As a kid we used to say "giz a monty" meaning "give me a look" or "show me" when we wanted someone to show us something. As so many other words in the N.E. or Geordie dialect originate from the French I assume the root of "monty" comes from the French - "montrer" meaning "to show". As in the N.E. we say "ploating down" if it's pouring with rain. The French for rain is "pleut" as in "il fait pleut", meaning "it's raining".
  3. Andrew adds: on a BBC Radio 4 prog a few years back, they defined this as 'holding nothing back' e.g. an all-out assault, as launched by Montgomery at El Alamein. Sounds more plausible to me than a big breakfast - not a lot of bacon in the desert....

Jim sent the following: Ever since I was a boy in London - a long time ago! - the word "cabbage " was understood to refer to a "party". I have asked all my relatives and friends over the years - but to no avail. How did the word "cabbage" come to be used as an expression for a party? Many thanks in anticipation of your help.

  1. Ian Crossley replies: Cabbage was a term used in the rag trade meaning all the bits of material you could save by cutting very carefully. This was called cabbage and any money made from this was for enjoying yourself at your bosses expense.
  2. And David adds:  This was indeed a phrase for left over material when cutting garments in the rag-trade. This would then be used by workers to make themselves clothing or bed-spreads by patching the pieces together. My elderly mother tells me that her mother (my grand-mother) used to make her rag-dolls with the material she got from the factory that she worked in. These were my mothers cabbage-patch dolls.

Bob would like to know what, in terms of the old money, a joey was. Can you help him out?

  1. Heard from Patrick who says that in Liverpool a joey was a three penny bit.
  2. This is confirmed by Ida.
  3. Wendy found a site (http://www.24carat.co.uk/commoncoinnames.html) that confirms this.
  4. And Eric adds:  It is the old silver threepenny (pronounced thripney) bit that used to (i.e. up to the 1950's) be put into Christmas puddings and that one might break one's teeth on when biting into the pudding. Although I grew up in the 1940's-1960's, I remember having a number of these silver coins but never actually receiving them as change, let alone spend them. (Up to 1946, all silver coins had about 40% silver in them; thereafter none.)  I cannot tell you anything about the term's linguistic origin and would like to know it myself. However, it is amply referred to in George Orwell's book, "Keep the aspidistras flying", which appeared in the 1930s. See Chapter 4."He was as happy as you can be when you haven't smoked all day and have only three-halfpence and a Joey in the world." ... "A half of bitter, threepence halfpenny (thripence ha'penny). He had fourpence halfpenny counting the Joey. After all, a Joey is legal tender." The irony is, according to Orwell, that the Joey was a coin that you did not actually spend and would be too ashamed to tender to, say, a barmaid, and towards the end of the chapter, Gordon (the anti-hero of the story) "took the threepenny-bit from his pocket and sent it skimming away into the darkness".

Maurice is wondering about the word "samoleon" meaning money. We've all heard the expression (that'll cost an extra samoleon) but does anyone know the source?

  1. Barbara got this from The Word Detective (http://www.word-detective.com): I can tell you a few things about "simoleon," which is how the word is usually spelled. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the origin of "simoleon" is "obscure," which is a polite way of saying "we don't know." The Oxford folks do specify that "simoleon" means one dollar, and seems to be U.S. slang that first appeared about 1896. The OED also notes that there may be a connection between "simoleon" and the Napoleon, a French coin worth 20 francs issued by (who else?) Napoleon Bonaparte in the early 1800s.

    Another ingredient in the simoleon stew may be the fact, reported by the late etymologist Eric Partridge, that "simon" was slang for a sixpence in Britain in the 17th century. Although the origin of this slang "simon" itself is unknown, we know that by the late 19th century inflation had taken its toll and "simon" meant a dollar. It does not seem impossible that someone, perhaps in New Orleans where French currency was common in the 19th century, invented "simoleon" by combining "simon" and Napoleon." And given that there are so many "origins unknown" floating around this topic, that "not impossible" is the best we can do at the moment.


Ronnie has an enquiring mind and wonders: Where does the term "Charlies" ( referring to a woman's bosom) come from and is it cockney or something else?

  1. David offers:  Charlie was a slang term for a girls slip or petticoat. If it was showing from under a skirt the girl would be told that "Charlie's dead". They seem to think that the term was then used to mean any sort of ladies underwear. So to show your Charlie's would be to show your underwear. It seems a natural progression from there to breasts.
  2. And Sharon adds:  It means that the 'flag' (ie. slip) is flying at half mast out of respect for deceased Charlie. It would be said in an aside to a woman to alert her to readjust her underpinnings!
  3. And Laura has an interesting comment:  There is a program called "Ground Force" we get through the cable from the BBC. On the show there is a woman named Charlie, and she never wears a bra. Since she does a lot of digging and planting, her bosoms wiggle around a lot. Hence the reference.  It may not be true but it is a funny coincidence in the least.

Barry asks: Where did the word "Piker" (meaning loner or gypsy) come from?

  1. Got this from Paul: As far as i know it's not rhyming slang or even London slang, it comes from Kent. If you go down there, there's a lot of gypsy's because of the summer hop picking and the locals use the word liberally. I grew up in SE London the Kentish part and only ever vaguely heard the word. We had some gypsies at school but called them gypo's. I learnt pikey from some Kentish mates who interestingly tell me pikies and gypsies are different and refer to some as gypsies and some as pikies. It seems anybody can be a gypsy but a pikey is the genuine article. In other words pikies are the ones who go back to the romanies and gypsies their modern Irish imitators. So the film Snatch is incorrect, it's not in wide spread use in London and Brad Pitt's mob were gypsies not pikeys.
  2. And from Carl: This term is of course offensive, and is a derogatory word for travelers, or gypsies. The term is supposed to originate from their nomadic existence on the roads. The main roads in England during the early 19th and 18th centuries were known as Pikes, or Turnpikes. A Pikie was someone who made a home of these. In Hertfordshire they are also known as Diddycoys. Just as squaw is highly offensive in the native American tongue, so is this, having a similar
    meaning in the Romany tongue.  Incidentally the Romany gypsies originated from northern India in the 6th century, and spread westwards throughout the whole of East and West Europe. Modern Hindi, and the Romany dialect apparently have very similar words.
  3. And someone going by the name of PaleRider adds:  ... there are quite a few gypsy or travelers sites around here. Around here the polite term for gypsy's is travelers and the insult term used much in the way the word honky and spick are used is pikey. Pikey is mainly used as an insult or to refer the rogue element among them that always seem to trouble the locals. For example if you were just referring to a gypsy in general you would use the term Traveler, If you had been burgled by one you would generally say you'd been drummed by Pikeys.
  4. And Justine says:  You are right that the term Pikey is generally used by people from Kent, BUT....you have it around the wrong way. GYPSIES are the people with Romani descendents, and Pikeys can be anyone. Gypsies acquired this name as they were thought to be from Egypt, historians later finding out they they were originally from the North Of India.  I would say I am quite well informed on the topic as my dad is Romani Gypsey, DEFINITELY completely different from the "Pikeys".  The correct term to call a Gypsy is by what they actually are, "rrom" for males or "rromni" for females, or Romany if referring to either . Traveler, although supposed to be "polite", is actually ignoring the fact that many Gypsies don't actually travel anymore. Now that they have settled in countries, they generally integrate themselves, and the only distinctions usually is the physical appearance (often to be like Indian people) and different customs and traditions.
  5. David says:  Pikers are in fact Pikeys and it is a derogatory term for gypsies or anyone from a very low class background
  6. And H says: I was told that there are levels of society amongst the Gypsy Kingdom.......with Gypsies being at the top and pikes next, going down to tinks or tinkers........which were the lowest level.......Gipsies, pikes and tinkers.......I think.  Tinkers used to come around and sharpen knives.
  7. From John: Occasionally Irish Travellers have been confused with the Roma or Gypsies in England, who despite centuries of coexistence, cultural interchange and limited intermarriage, remain a distinct people.

    There are a number of theories as to the origin of the Irish Travellers. Their secret language, Shelta, and the evidence of various historical references to them would seem to indicate that they are the remnants of an ancient class of wandering poets, joined by those who were pushed off the land during different times of social and economic upheaval such as Cromwell's campaign of slaughter, the Battle of the Boyne (1690) and the Battle of Aughrim (1691). Many of the Travellers may also be the descendants of people who were left homeless as a result of the Irish potato famines of the nineteenth century."

    I've no idea if "Piker" refers to them as well.


Bergeron asks: Would really appreciate if anyone could give me some information concerning the expression "Hazel Gazel". A guess is that it may mean "crystal" as in a crystal ball. (I did a quick check around and nobody has ever heard this phrase. I did find that both words are alternate names for Hawthorne which is used as a medicinal herb. Don't know if this will provide any clues...)

  1. David reports that both Hazel and Gazel are synonyms for Hawthorne.  Both can be found in the dictionary.

Patric asks: What is the meaning if any of the following phrase used by Cockney Wanker in VIZ while answering a knock at the door: "Cattle a Lady who's this Sir Anthony".  Since he's looking for information, I'm sure he meant "Cockney Wanker" in only the nicest possible way.

  1. I've heard from Colin who says "Sir Anthony" is a reference to Sir Anthony Blunt - the rhyme from this is obvious.
  2. And Brian confirms this meaning, adding that cattle is from the rhyming slang cattle truck (again, the rhyme should be obvious) and lady is from Lady Diana -> piano, hence "F--k a piano, who's this c--t".

Pat asks: Anyone know what the Rhyming Slang "Wembley" might mean ? It was used in a cartoon years ago, and had something to do with someone feeling unwell.

  1. Sparky says it's rhyming slang but probably not Cockney rhyming slang.  The word rhymes with trembly (I'm feeling a bit trembly), meaning your legs are a bit wobbly.

Gareth would like to know if there is rhyming slang for yob (hooligan).

  1. Ken points out that Yob doesn't mean hooligan, Yobbo means hooligan. Yob is backslang for boy, a boy who may or may not be a hooligan.
  2. David disagrees:  A Yob is a hooligan, not merely a boy.

Angela points out that there are plenty of slang expressions for a wife but none for a husband. Doesn't seem very fair does it? Does anyone know if any such slang exists?

  1. AJ has provided Dudley Moore (Dudley = Hubby) as in "Me Dudley's gone to the jack for his tucker".

Graham (and I) would like to know the origin of the phrase "You haven't got the bottle" as in "You haven't got the nerve". Any ideas?

  1. Jean responds: I am reliably informed that this comes from 'bottle & glass = arse' with arse being the equivalent to 'balls' these days.
  2. Em confirms this answer.
  3. Simon agrees - You ain't got the bottle=You'd shit yourself
  4. Brian has a different idea - he feels this could be a reference to John Courage Amber beer, so the origin would be "bottle of Courage".
  5. And Brian then confuses the issue by saying he heard on Minder someone threaten someone else by saying "...if you think he's bad now, you want to see him when he's lost his bottle". Brian wonders if this could simply be a reference to a babys reaction if you nicked it's bottle.
  6. And John weighs in with:  It is from the expression "to lose your bottle", i.e. the contents of your arse.
  7. And David says: Not rhyming slang but more of a reference to the courage or bravery gained from alcohol. i.e.: you need the bottle to do something.
  8. Peter says: In Victorian London a really daring theft, particularly in pick-pocketing, was called a 'whizz'. This became 'bottle', from bottle of fizz (the old term for pop/lemonade). From this, the slang 'bottle' developed as it's used currently.
  9. And from H: Bottle as far as I know is Bottle of verve...........nerve..........verve = spirit
  10. Sparky says it's from Bottle and Glass, rhyming with Class.  People with a bit of class can handle things better than them what ain't got it.

On a seasonal note, Tricia would like to know if there is slang phrase for "Christmas Log".

  1. Rikki has come up with Old Mans Dog.

Koos asks: I'm not sure if this is really rhyming slang, but on the Ian Dury album Mr. Love Pants there's a song called Mash It Up Harry where every chorus ends with the phrase "and he wants a bit of Wembley up his....". From the context of the song I reckon Harry might be a homosexual, but I really can't think of an explanation of the Bit Of Wembley.

  1. Jon replies: In response to a question concerning Ian Dury referring to 'up my Wembley' is not slang as such but comes from the route (or passage) from Wembley station to the stadium, Wembley Way.
  2. David Alexander MacDonald says:  Actually, the line in "Mash It Up Harry" is "He wants a bit of Wembley --" with various ending bits, such as "He wants a bit of Wembley up his Ponder's End" and "He wants a bit of Wembley up his ai-ai-ai." The chorus in the coda gives it up, though -- "We're on our way to Wembley/ We're on the Wembley Way" sung in the football song style.  From that it's a tiny jump to get the meaning: Wembley (way) = Gay. Dury was very fond of wordplay as well as using real and invented Cockney rhyming slang.

Tom asks: I was watching The Bill the other night and Frank Burnside used the expression "...and don't give me any toffee...". He was in the process of taking a look around a casino that had just been done over and the manager wasn't being overly co-operative. I therefore suspect the slang has something to do with making Frank's job difficult or giving Frank the shits.

Does anyone have an idea on this one?

  1. Aubrey says: I believe this refers to toffee apple slang for waffle. A broad cockney accent helps here.
  2. Doug says: I believe this phrase is supposed to mean "don't give me any stick", ie don't give me any hassle. The connection with toffee and stickiness is obvious. Not technically rhyming slang, but cockney nonetheless.

Paul would like to know why coppers are referred to as cozzer's. I know that they are, but have no idea of the origin.

  1. Sparky says cozzer is a derivation of the Hebrew "chazer", meaning pig.
  2. Joe says the word he knows is Rozzers, not cozzers.
  3. Nick seems to be on the right track - he says "Kennington Police Station (the new one) is opposite Cosser Street. The old Kennington Nick used to be on Cosser Street itself.
  4. Mikko confirms:  the term ‘rozzer’ for police comes from Hebrew ‘chazer’, which means pig. Also known as ‘cozzer’.
  5. Raphael adds: The Yiddish, actually Hebrew, for a pig is "chazzir" (hard "ch" as in Scottish "loch"), with the accent on the second syllable. In Yiddish it is usually pronounced as "chazzer" with the accent on the first syllable. The association of rozzer/chazzer is commonly made, but I have severe doubts about it. "Rozzer" goes back to the 19c, before Yiddish was spoken in Britain.

Rachel would like to know if anyone has come across "swiftly morgan" and if so, what does it mean?

  1. I think Swiftly Morgan should be Shifty Morgan- My parents would say it for any shifty looking character.

Shawn would like to know the origin of the phrase "shirty", as in "Don't get shirty with me, mate!"

  1. Dick answers: The expression "shirty" probably refers to the high and mighty attitudes of the wealthy at the turn of the century. Well dressed, in clean, white, boiled shirts; many of the rich were very condescending toward the less fortunate.
  2. John says:  True saying is "all right keep your shirt on!", meaning don't start a fight.

Simon would like to know the origin of the phrase "Derby Kelly", the slang term for belly.


Siobhan, who was a Met detective and should know stuff like this, would like to know why, when the police go around searching houses it's called "going on a spin".

  1. John replies:  A residence is known as a gaff, pad, or drum.  When you "turn over a gaff", you are also "spinning a drum".

Keith, one of our more well-read visitors, would like to know the meaning of "Brummagem buttons" and "kersey", both found in The Pickwick Papers. I understand the meaning of Brummagem Buttons to refer to counterfeit coins but I'm not certain and I don't know the reference.

  1. Ian wrote to say that Brummagem is an adjectival form of Birmingham. He also mentions that kersy is a type of cloth that originated in the village of Kersey.
  2. Rob confirms the Brummagen -> Birmingham reference.
  3. Andrew writes:  there was a Royal Mint producing coinage in King's Norton, Birmingham in the 19th century. Perhaps Londoners saw them as inferior to those from the capital.

Alan would like to know the origin of the phrase "cor luvva duck". While the literal translation is fairly clear, does anyone know where and how this expression originated?

  1. Ivan wrote to say that this phrase, God loves a duck, is from the Victorian times. It was originally meant to imply that God loves all of his creatures, even the lesser ones, and that this expression might be used as a condescending comment towards a simple man. These days, of course, it is most often used to express amazement or wonder.

Andy Wyllie asks about the origin of the word "moody", meaning dodgy or stolen property. I'm not familiar with this one, but if you are let me know.

  1. An unidentified contributor tells me that the origin of the word moody is Old English and means brave or bad tempered. Don't know how this fits in here but it's a start.
  2. Sam adds:  I think "moody" is, as stated bad tempered. But 'bad tempered'/moody sky is overcast [overcast, therefore shady]... Or in other words shady - dodgy... so nicked/stolen.

Rebecca is playing Nancy in a production of Oliver. Her character Nancy comes on stage shouting "Plummy and Slam". Any ideas?

  1. Laurence says: When I played the part of Bill Sykes many years ago, I was told that this was simply the password that Nancy and her young helper friend (can't remember her name now) would shout up into Fagin's den so that he would know it was them approaching.
  2. Bob agrees: In response to the question relating to the phrase 'plummy and slam' in the stage show of Dickens' Oliver Twist, I would like to confirm that chapter 8 of the novel quotes Dodger using the phrase when he is challenged upon entrance to the 'den'. The next sentence reads: "This seemed to be some sort of watchword or signal that all was right"

Jim would like to know if "diamond geezer" is rhyming slang or just a bit of London dialogue.

  1. Simon says this is just another word for geezer. No rhyming slang here.
  2. David adds:  Diamond geezer is a man who is an OK sort of chap (a rough diamond), geezer implying that he is one of the lads.
  3. Tom says that, since diamonds are renowned for their hardness, a diamond geezer is a hard bloke.
  4. And Slash weighs in with, "A diamond geezer is a good friend and therefore as valuable as a diamond."

Pat would like to know the origin of the phrase "a bit of how's your father", meaning having it off with someone (i.e. a sexual dalliance as he called it).

  1. Ian says the phrase simply means all right (from the standard question & answer "How's yer father" "All right."). And since having it off with someone is always all right, there's the answer (a bad day of sex is always better than a good day of work).

Stephen has heard the phrase, "What's the crack?" meaning "What's going on?" Anyone familiar with this one?

  1. Antony says this is an Irish phrase, not rhyming slang. He adds that there is another phrase, 'Having a good crack' that means having a good time.
  2. The Irish word is "craic" and it means "happening" or "scene" or "good time", depending on who you're talking to. Thanks to Benny, Derek, Jonathan and several unidentified others who provided this.

Torp writes that he saw a poster for a TV show that quoted a character saying, "don't mac me off like a two bob"... any ideas?

  1. Kim believes this is from 'two bob bit' -> twit. Then goes on to wonder about the origin of the word 'twit'. Any ideas?
  2. Sam says: In the days of English old money, there was no such thing as a 'Two bob bit' If you had one then it was bent (illegal), implying that the person was trying to pass you off as Ginger Beer (Queer). (Heard from Patrick who says there was indeed a two bob bit - he has one in his 1953 coronation set! The plot thickens)
  3. Frederick feels it refers to a watch, and at two bob it wouldn't be a good one.
  4. Sparky says twit is a diminutive of "twitter", the mindless chirping of birds. One who twitters is a twit... sounds reasonable to me!
  5. Owen has entered the match with: "As far as I am aware 'two bob' means twit, shit or similar. I'm sure there was a two bob coin; a 'FLORIN' pre 1971 , referred to as 10pence thereafter. I don't think illegal coinage and watches are the answer.
  6. And Margot joins in:  Don't mac me off like a two-bob!' This is a line shouted by Sean Partwee in the 2000 gangster-comedy film, "Love Honour and Obey." None of the characters understand what it means, and it mystified the film's reviewers.  I believe the screenwriters made the phrase up, as a parody of street slang so obscure that it is unknown outside its own neighborhood. In the context of the film it means, "Don't treat me with disrespect," so the phrase might be translated as "Don't treat me like a two-bob whore (who gives hand-jobs under your mackintosh, perhaps?)".  The notion that two-bob pieces were phony is a real red herring. There certainly were two-bob florins for many years--even after the decimal pound. A 10p florin with George VI and the words 'two shillings' was still being issued in the 70s, and I was finding them in my change in London as late as 1997.
  7. Stephen says: The complete expression is "Don't make me off like to two bob watch" and it means "Don't treat me like a cheap watch", the character is demanding a bit of respect.  There was an old expression "to go like a two bob watch" which meant to work or perform badly.
  8. Martyn comments on Margot's comment that there were two-bob florins for many years: Not that many years - the florin, or two-shilling coin, was only introduced into British currency in the middle of Queen Victoria's reign, supposedly as the first step towards decimalisation (which did not happen for another century ...)

Benjamin would like to know the origin of the phrase "dressed up to the nines", meaning well turned out.

  1. From The Word Detective (http://www.word-detective.com): [There are] a whole slew of possible origins of "dressed to the nines," meaning to be dressed in an elegant or elaborate fashion. One theory is that it came from an Old English saying "dressed to the eyes," or to please the beholder, which, in the peculiar spelling of Old English, would have appeared "dressed to then eyne." Through a process called "metanalysis," in which letters from one word migrate over time to a neighboring word, "then eyne" might have become "the neyne" and then "the nines." A similar metanalytic process transformed "a napron" (related to "napkin") to our modern "an apron."

    On the other hand, the number nine holds an exalted place in numerology, and might have been adopted in the distant past as a synonym for "superlative." "Dressed to the nines" would thus be equivalent to our modern "dressed to the max."

    It's also possible that the phrase come from an old jeweler's phrase "nine nines fine," referring to gold of 99.9999999 percent purity, or that the phrase refers to the nine muses of classical mythology, or to the spiffy uniforms of the 99th Wiltshire Regiment in England...

  2. And Pam provides: Since I studied linguistics in college, all aspects of language interest me so I’ve spent quite a bit of time today looking over the slang as well as the explanations for the origins of several of them. I have one comment on an item. I’ve heard that the expression “dressed to the nines” comes from the days when you either made your own clothes or went to a tailor/seamstress to make it for you. A full suit would require 9 yards of material to be made properly, which meant some waste, something only wealthy people could afford. Lesser garments would cut the waste (and the cost) but would not be “to the nines”.

Julie writes: My son is learning the song "any old iron" at school. In one of the verses it says "dressed in style, brand new tile, fathers old green tie on". Could you please tell me what a "tile" is.

  1. Derek reports that a tile is a hat... it goes on your roof. Simple, init.

Rutt says: In the song "Who are you" by The Who, there is a line that says "back to the rolling pin"; it is one of the lines about him going home via the tube/underground. Does anyone have any ideas?

  1. Trevor says that rolling pin refers to wife. It's from the old image of someone's missus meeting him at the door wielding a rolling pin after he's been out on the town, a la Andy Capp.
  2. Derek confirms this answer.

Nick wrote to me with the following slang for the page: Goosey Gander => look. To complete this I have to know the origin of the phrase "gander" meaning to look at something (Here, take a gander at this). I know I've read this somewhere but I can't find it now. Can anyone help?

  1. Antony says he believes Goosey Gander was a crook, therefore Goosey Gander -> crook -> look.
  2. Sparky says it's from Old English/Middle English - gandra meaning to look or glance.

Ron wonders if anyone knows the English meaning for the following rhymes:

  • Smash and Grab
  1. Martin suggests that this could be a reference to a cab, but he's not certain.
  2. Benjamin confirms this meaning.
  3. And Melissa, using copious references from CATS, suggests that it means exactly what it says - smash the window, grab the loot.
  • Christmas Card
  1. Simon says it means hard, as in hard as nails. I can't confirm this one.
  • Salford Docks
  1. Martin thinks this means "on the rocks", as in "A wee bit of Whiskey for me, on the Salfords".
  2. Laurence says: Cockney rhyming slang would never use a place in Manchester to rhyme with ANYTHING!! Any cockney I know wouldn't take too long to let you know their distaste for all things Northern, especially Manchester. A more common form that I know of would be Tilbury Docks, Tilbury is a port in Essex, that bastion of former East Enders made good! Anything with docks at the end would do though, it all comes to mean Socks.
  3. And John, who is quickly becoming my expert on such matters, says that the usual expression is, in fact, Tilbury Docks which is rhyming slang for "pox".  At first this referred to smallpox but came to mean VD or any sexually transmitted disease.
  • Snow Whites
  1. Paul says this is the same as 'Pearly Whites'... i.e. teeth
  • Give and Take
  1. Simon came to the rescue again and reports that this isn't rhyming slang, it just means "more or less".
  2. Jim says it refers to any kind of barter, including emotional.  He confirms Simon's answer.
  • Dunlop Tyres
  1. Donald says this is the same as Holy Friar, i.e. liar.
  • Pillar and Post
  • Baked Beans
  1. Andy Wyllie says that this is used as singular and refers to the Queen, specifically Queen Elizabeth II.
  • Dover Harbour
  1. Mark has written to say that Dover Harbour refers to barber.

If you know any of these please pass the information along.


Pest10 writes: In the office here we are trying to find out where the phrase "show us your lil's" (as in tits) comes from. Any ideas?

  1. Alan says he believes this comes from Little Bit -> Tit. Lil would be a shortening of little (l'il).
  2. Bill says he believes the origin is from "Lilly White Tits", a phrase that appears in any number of bawdy songs.

Chaz & Donna ask if anyone has ever heard the expression 'Twentieth Century Fox' used and if they know the origin and meaning.

  1. Clive responds: This is an alternative to J Arthur Rank and to my knowledge first appeared in a play about the fifties called 'Always a Catholic' at, I think, the Wyndom Theatre.

David reports, "A young lady in our office was recently referred to as 'Treacle'. Several meanings for this were mooted but none were very complimentary! What would you suggest it means?"

  1. Chris says: I'm not certain of the context in which your questioner heard it, but it can be taken either as a term of affection or as a slight insult. I believe it comes from TREACLE PUDDING, a rather unhealthy concoction of soft pudding and golden syrup which I often looked forward to as a child growing up in working class Bristol. PUDDING is alternatively an affection term for someone or it means you're plump and stupid.
  2. But Ben has another view: Treacle Tart, not pudding. A tart is a slapper or someone who sleeps around. It has negative connotations. Also used kinda affectionately by close friends.
  3. And Julia and Antony submit that Treacle is slang for Sweetheart (Treacle Tart -> Sweetheart).
  4. And Paul says it's as simple as treacle is sweet - it's a term of affection.

Dave would like to know where the term "pikey', meaning gypsy, comes from. He says it's quoted in Lennie McLeans book The Gun'nor.

  1. I heard from Chris who says: I'd say this came from picaroon, which means thief. In Spanish, picaro is used to define someone who can't be trusted - a rouge or troublemaker.
  2. Slash offers, "I am a Man of Kent born and bred and in my little corner of the world we have always used Pikey to refer to anybody of gypsy type lifestyle who is not a true Romany(These we refer to as Gypsy's) and to an earlier correspondent who suggests the film snatch is wrong to use the term for Irish Travellers-to my knowledge they are correct. As a further note the excellent book Gypsy Jib, a romany dictionary lists the word as a Romany one originally meaning somebody who has been cast out from the tribe."

Mark heard the word 'custard' and Andy heard 'Roger Iron', both being used in connection with a TV. These have me stymied... any ideas?

  1. As Julie kindly pointed out, the answer was already on the rhyming slang list. Custard and Jelly - Telly.
  2. And from Chris:I'm guessing here, but I would be surprised if iron did not refer to leg iron and roger to receiving a message - hence the TV keeping you shackled while you receive its news.
  3. Mind you, Paul says he's always known Custard as in 'Custard Tart' -> Fart. What that's got to do with the telly is anyone's guess.

Steve asks: In my boyhood in London (late 40's to early 50s), Spiv was a commonly used term for a type of street vendor in the West End usually selling fruit and vegetables (ostensibly) from an old fashioned coster's barrow. It probably also applied to other lines of "wide boy" work. They were young men dressed in tight double breasted pinstripe suits with exaggerated jacket lapels pointed right out to the shoulder, loud ties, and trilby hats. There was always a line of them at the pavement on the north side of Oxford Street in front of a bombed site between John Lewis and Debenhams. Sales were accompanied by heavy duty Cockney banter. These coves were generally on the fiddle- under the veg might be nylons or other still rationed luxury items. Successful spivs drove new Jaguars, also suspicious given the acute shortage of new cars for the home market. Jaguars at the time were sometimes derisively called " Barrer boys' Bentleys " which amuses me given the fancy cachet the car has today, especially in the US. Last year I overheard a young woman pedestrian in Knightsbridge say " looks a bit spivvy " in connection, I think, with clothing, so the word may still be in use. I've been told that it may derive from Yiddish spoken in the old Jewish East End but have never confirmed this. I do not think it is a variant of "spiffy", which has been suggested to me. Would be interested to know.

  1. Heard from Robert who says: Possibly Romany, meaning sparrow. Used by gypsies as a derogatory term for people who existed by picking up the leavings of their betters, criminal or legitimate. Other theories include a reverse of V.I.P.'s. (these from Jonathon Green's excellent Dictionary of Slang).
  2. And David offers: One explanation is that it is acronymic - SPIV = suspected person itinerant vagrant. I think the best explanation I have heard is the Spiff link in the OED i.e. an old rag trade term for slightly under-the-counter business by young men

John was watching Minder when he heard a safe or strongbox referred to as a "Peter". Any thoughts?

  1. Gary Conway notes that a prison cell is also called a Peter - perhaps similar origins?
  2. Robert confirms that Peter is a slang term for safe - origin unknown.
  3. Chris tells us: PETER - as with almost all English slang, particularly criminal or underworld slang, this term safely made its way to Australia. The term refers on the one hand to a cash-box, cash register or till, and on the other to a prison cell. TICKLE THE PETER means to either steal from the till or to register false amounts on a cash register and pocket the difference. A BLACK PETER is something akin to a solitary prison cell which has no light or seats. These terms can be found in both The Penguin Book of Australian Slang by Lenie Johansen and The Macquarie Dictionary. The Penguin offers no origins. The Macquarie suggests the term derives from portmanteau, which is possible. This comes from the French porter (pronounced paw-tay). I have always considered this to have come from TO ROB PETER TO PAY PAUL, the till being Peter and the thief being Paul.

Josh heard one of the characters in Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels refer to something as "chicken soup", seeming to imply that everything was above board or in order. Never heard of this one... have you?

  1. Roger wonders if there might be a connection between the expression "kosher" (meaning that something is OK) and this most famous Jewish recipe.
  2. Heard from Cassie who answers this one quite nicely: The answer lies in the quotes on the soundtrack...Tom and Nick-the-Greek are discussing the heist:
"Look, it's all completely chicken soup."
"It's what?"
"Kosher, as Christmas."
"The Jews don't celebrate Christmas, Tom."
"Yeah, well never mind that..."

I'm guessing he means it's all right, will be fine and shouldn't encounter any resistance/ be any trouble. Like the food allowed by Him upstairs all those years ago.

  1. And Robert adds: Chicken soup - I have had this question before, basically Chicken soup is a common kosher starter. So it is an extension of 'kosher'.

Does anyone know any rhyming slang for either "northerner" or "cross dresser" (without the gay overtones)? Missy has an enquiring mind and wants to know.

  1. Simon reports that the phrase "geezer-bird" is in common usage, but it's not rhyming slang.
  2. And from Len: 'Geezer-bird' means a butch lesbian. As opposed to a lipstick lesbian. A 'Corporal' Pyke (Dad's Army "They don't like it up 'em") = Dyke [Lesbian] — some use NCO. A cross dresser is known as a 'Danny' [as in La Rue]. A 'No-fanny Danny' = Tranny

Trina writes: Can you please give me the translation of "soup and fish". I've read it in a PG Wodehouse "Jeeves" book and think it has something to do with clothing, possibly a suit.

  1. Steve replies: The expression "Soup and Fish" was used by my parents, ( both from Highgate in North London) to mean having to dress in a dinner jacket or tuxedo, or even white tie, and also the event which required it -" a proper soup and fish affair". It's not rhyming slang. My father thought it referred to dressing up for a real beano with numerous courses, i.e. soup AND fish before you got to the main course.
  2. And Robert adds: Soup and Fish is: 1) a kind of dinner/smoking jacket, and 2) Soup and Fish were a common part of very posh meals (of 6-7 courses) in Victorian times.

Mathew writes: I heard an expression on Eastenders recently in which Frank B threatened to give someone a '...dry slap...'. Any ideas as to what this means?

  1. Meirav says "The expression "dry slap" (or its Hebrew translation) is used in Israel to mean a slap that doesn't leave any marks, which allegedly is a technique used in police interrogation for obvious reasons. I don't know how it came to have this meaning and whether it is cockney in origin - it may very well have traveled there during the British Mandate in Palestine, as I would imagine that these interrogation methods may very well have been part of the British approach to the "natives".
  2. Simon reports that a dry slap is laying into someone without actually hitting them, giving them a good shouting at in effect. Like a regular slap, but without the "juice".
  3. And according to Rufus: I do know the origin of the term `Dry Slap`. The actor who plays Frank Butcher, Mike Reid, said in an interview that `Dry Lunch` is the Cockney ryhming slang for punch. He simply combined Slap and Dry Lunch to create `Dry Slap` an ingenious creation of his own!

Tony wants to know where "haven't got a weavers", meaning hasn't got a hope/chance, comes from. Anybody know this one?

  1. Heard from Cormac who tells me that this comes from weaver's chair => prayer.

Simon would like to know where the expression "A douce in bunce", meaning £200 in the hand, comes from. He got it from an "Only Fools and Horses" book and assumes it's rhyming slang.

  1. Paul replies that the expression is "deuce in the bounce". Deuce is the 2 in a pack of cards and refers to 200... bounce is a slang expression for money.
  2. Then Paul got all clever and checked http://www.dict.org only to discover that bunce means: a sudden unexpected piece of good fortune [syn: windfall, gravy, godsend] which would work in this expression.
  3. Laurie tells me that bunce is from the rhyming slang expression 'Bunsen Burner' meaning 'Earner'.

DL has asked what "taking the toby" means. Heard it on Only Fools & Horses and thinks it has something to do with a taxi or cab. I have received a slang submission for 'Toby Ale => Rail' which would indicate this means travelling by rail, but so far it has not been verified. Any thoughts?

  1. Roger says this is from Toby Jug => mug. The expression would be "taking me for a toby" (i.e. taking me for a mug [chump]).

BH is asking about the origin of "clocked" as in "'e's the one what clocked it", meaning he saw or found it. I've always assumed it comes from clock face, so if you clocked something you were facing it and saw what was happening. But, maybe not. Any ideas?

  1. Roger says: A motor trade expression for turning or reducing the mileage shown on a vehicle, thus making it more attractive in value terms. This is known as 'clocking', or giving a car a 'hair cut'.
  2. And from Chris: CLOCKED means realized, i.e. when the bells rings/the penny drops/the answer comes. It has the same origin as the clock - meaning bell.
  3. And Andy says: As a kid in Glasgow we used the word "Clock" or "Clocked" to refer to a punch in the face, as in; "I'll clock you one" or "it was that guy that clocked him".
  4. And Watford adds: Imagine a clock face in front of you and 12 is straight ahead then 3 is right and 9 is left. "clock that at 3" means "look over there to the right".
  5. And David adds:  This is not rhyming slang but a reference to the factory clock. Each worker had their time card and when they came to and left work the time card had a time punched onto it by the factory clock. So to clock someone, was to make a note of what they were doing and at what times => keep an eye on them. Also there is of course the punching of the clock, so to clock them is to punch them.

James was watching Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels the other day and heard the hippie dope growers from public school referred to as "sloane rangers". Any ideas where this comes from?

  1. Me own one and t'other, Tony Alderton, came to the rescue for this one! According to one source (see first item below), Lady Diana Spencer and her circle of friends were the original Sloan Rangers. A bunch of them lived on Sloane Street and thus the nickname. It doesn't refer so much to yuppies as to young, fun-loving, single people with financial independence.
See also:
http://liberty.uc.wlu.edu/~hblackme/oed/sloane2.html
http://www.ricksteves.com/ccinfo/598films.htm
http://books.realcities.com/reviews/0608/singleton.htm
http://www.addict.com/issues/1.05/Features/Elastica/page2.html
  1. And Dudley adds: As I recall it, back in the late seventies me and me mates would head up the King's Road of a Saturday to cause mischief with the Teds and Rockers of the day, and down the far end was of course Sloane Square, where all the poncy young rich birds would hang out dressed to the nines previous to heading off on a shopping spree to blow their allowance/daddy's hard earned on a load of overpriced tosh down the trendy end of the King's road. We would always walk past taking the piss and as everybody then belonged to one group or another we would refer to them as the Sloane Rangers.
  2. And Roger describes them as "Porsche driving rich kids".
  3. Jim feels that the 'Ranger' part of this expression refers to a Range Rover or equivalent. 

This ones got me stymied! Rick asks "Just wondering the origin of "bennies for dits" as a good-night expression" comes from. Let me know!

  1. Matt replied: I got to thinking about this (the structure reminded me of 'Honi Soi qui mal y pense' - 'dishonured be he who thinks ill/evil') and it reminds me of Old French - so it might be a rendering of "beni fort dits" - which might be translated as sweet dreams. Word for word it would be "blessed strong stories", but you can see how the concept of 'stories' could also in the right context mean dreams (language could be pretty flexible 1000 years ago) - the original O.F. phrase may even have been slang itself? Anyway, just a thought, and I'm prepared to have the idea shot down in flames.

Steve, Andrew and Simon are all wondering where the expression "tom" and "brass", referring to a prostitute, comes from. Any ideas?

  1. Heard from Robert who reports: brass is Rhyming slang 'brass nail' = tail. Apparently 'tom' comes from a nickname given to prostitutes 'servicing' the Mayfair area in Victorian times, although I'm not sure why the name 'tom' was given.
  2. Also heard from Jim who says: brass is common slang for someone cheeky (who could be cheekier than a prostitute) and tom is half of 'tom tit' - well, that reference to a prostitute is rather obvious.
  3. And Pete says that he always assumed this was direct rhyming from Sir Thomas Moore -> Whore.
  4. Iain says he heard that brass for prostitute comes from them wearing a brass ring on their wedding finger to sign in to hotels with their clients.
  5. And from John we get that the full expression is "brass lamp", rhyming slang for tramp.
  6. David says:  Refers to a Tom-cat. That is prowling the streets at night looking for sex.

Lisa would like to know where the expression ta-ta as a means of saying goodbye comes from.

  1. According to Sparky, ta-ta is simply goodbye in baby talk - it's been brought into the mainstream for reasons unknown (Ta-ta for now - TTFN).

Barry asks: Does anyone know what ha'penny dip and Isle of Wight mean in cockney rhyming slang?

  1. Robert replies that Isle of Wight is rhyming slang for "light" or "all right".
  2. James says that ha'penny dip is slang for tip.

Michael asks the following: Can you please tell me where the phrase 'Wonk' comes from? I understand it to mean homosexual or lesbian because of the 'Agony' programme on LiveTV but I wondered whether it was rhyming slang, and if so what is the rest of it? Let me know if you have any ideas. Thanks.

  1. Robert has suggested that wonk is simply a derivative of "wonky", meaning bent.
  2. Simon confirms that it just means bent.

Alan Mills asks: I have a question regarding the origin of a phrase I'd like an answer to. In the UK we often refer to the police force as "The Old Bill". Why? If you know this one, let me know.

  1. Mike Shepherd sent the following: It is from the Bill which went through Parliament to set up a Government run police force to replace the private and vigilante groups who were until then the only police we had.  The first of these (in the world I think) was based at Bow Street Police Station and were known as the Bow Street Runners.  Bow Street Police station closed a few years ago but the Magistrates court attached is still open.
  2. Tom says: 'Old Bill' is from the guy who started the police, William Peel. That's why the cops used to be called 'Peelers' too.
  3. And Peter adds: I hate to seem contradictory just for the sake of it but I prefer Mike Shepherd's explanation to Tom's. The Minister responsible for pushing the Bill to establish the police in the Metropolis in 1829 (through years of opposition) was Sir Robert Peel. That is why the early Met police were called Bobbies. This is a difficult one, even the police in London don't know the answer (I've asked a few of them). However given that the legislation had such a history of being downed at every opportunity both in the Parliament and in the streets until some vicious crimes and riots forced the Parliament to approve the establishment of an organized police force it would seem that Mike's explanation has some credence to it.
  4. And David wades into the discussion with: I was told by an old printer that this was derived from 'William' and the printers' habit of coding all strangers with a first name. So Germans were known as 'Eric' etc. I think this is a little far-fetched but it is a lovely story. Oh and by the way, the most common nomenclature for the police in south east London is 'the Filth'
  5. Pat Woods provides the following link that I should think is definitive: http://www.met.police.uk/history/oldbill.htm.
  6. And from John Coxon:  'Bill' for police comes from 'William' Peel. It is Sir Robert Peel (Tory home secretary whose bill led to the forming of the Peelers. Copper, I thought came from the large copper buttons on the early uniforms.
  7. And finally, Len weighs in with: Old Bill cannot be from William Peel VC (son of Robert Peel) - he died of smallpox, aged 33 [nothing to do with police]. A WWI Bruce Bairnsfather poster with a man in a police uniform entitled 'Old Bill Says' [in the Lord Kitchener style] is the most likely explanation of the police being called 'Ol Bill'.

If you think this is confusing, try finding an answer at The Guardian!


On Minder last week Phil heard "struttin' 'er aris around the gaff". Aris I understand to be arse but I was unable to find gaff in your database. I assume it to mean house ( manor ) or place but would be very interested to hear the actual meaning. Does anyone know this one?

  1. I received the following from SLRAVEN: I'm not so sure that gaff is cockney rhyming slang, it is just normal everyday Brit slang. Gaff meaning 'house' 'home' 'workshop' 'factory' - 'The police did over the gaff' would mean the police searched the premises. Any premises. 'A nice gaff you got here' would mean 'a nice place/house you've got here' - in this context (i.e.: a nice gaff) it would refer to the home only.
  2. Mike Shepherd sends the following: The Irish Navigationals of Nineteenth century Britain led tough, semi-nomadic lives, following work around the country and often sleeping in tents or rough shelters within a few yards of their immediate task. The foremen or overseers, however, were respected and educated people, and the company would always endeavour to find them lodgings near - and sometimes not so near - the job. Thus when anything went awry on the project, or more materials were needed, a worker would be sent "Up to the Gaffer", as the Irish would have it. It has been suggested that the corruption and change of emphasis came as the industrial revolution reached its height, and the "Gaffers" tended to become rich and corrupt, often staying away from work for days at a time. Thus a trip "Up to the Gaffer", or "Gaff" came to mean little more than a visit to an empty house.

    A second - and perhaps more plausible - suggestion is that the navigationals who became older and gave up the wandering lifestyle considered the purchase of a house as the key step away from their former brutal lives. They felt it a social upgrade and in an endearingly naive turn of phrase, that they could finally rest and "live like a gaff". Whether either explanation can be taken wholly seriously alone, and how the word "Gaffer" itself originated, the Navvies are certainly responsible for countless common English words and the connection here is too clear to be ignored.
  3. And from Sean: Regarding the word "Gaff". It is a Romany expression meaning 'Fairground' (place of work). Other Romany words are: "Chavie" = Boy. "Mozzie" = Girl etc...

Brendan is looking for a rhyming slang reference for lesbians. The only homosexual reference I'm aware of is Iron Hoof but this is generally used in reference to males. Anyone know of a female equivalent?

  1. Richard reports that West End Thespian is in common usage as slang for lesbian; "She's a lovely girl but she is west end you know."
  2. Barry Smith says the term "three wheel trike" (for dyke) is also found in common usage.
  3. And from Len: 'Geezer-bird' means a butch lesbian. As opposed to a lipstick lesbian. A 'Corporal' Pyke (Dad's Army "They don't like it up 'em") = Dyke [Lesbian] — some use NCO.  A cross dresser is known as a 'Danny' [as in La Rue]. A 'No-fanny Danny' = Tranny

Professor G (must be Kenny's brother) asks: If I ask a girl out, and she says, "we'll go out for a little B&B, yeah?" What is the B&B? Bar and Bugger? Beer and Bed? Or am I not as lucky as I think I am? If you have any ideas on how the Prof is doing in his social life, please let me know and I'll pass it along.

  1. I received the following from Lesley: B&B normally refers to Bed and Breakfast, so Professor G might be lucky.... the more impolite reference is a Beer and a Bunk Up (i.e. sex), but it does depend on how long Professor G has been courting the young lady.....

Kathleen asks where the expression Gordon Bennett comes from. It's used as a substitute for "'cor struth" or "bloody hell".

  1. I also got the following from Simon Gill in the Czech Republic: According to Bill Bryson in "Made in America", Gordon Bennett was in the habit of going into restaurants and whipping off tablecloths, often with disastrous effects for fellow-diners, and then paying the house lavishly for any damage caused. He was a well-known figure and hence his appearance, coupled with this habit, often led to people calling out his name as a warning when he hove into sight, hence the use of "Gordon Bennett" as a response to some kind of disaster.
  2. I also got the following from Richard Rowlands: Gordon Bennett was a Scottish editor of a US newspaper. When the Scots were expressing surprise or disbelief they shouted 'Hoots mon, would you ken it ?'. In the manner of Cockney rhyming slang, this soon became bastardized to "Gordon Bennett !"
  3. And from Jonny Morris comes: Gordon Bennet was an English Cricketer in the 20's or 30's I think - and I reckon that the expression must come from the shouts of his name when he played well. I can't be certain but its an English expression mate not a sweaty septic one!
  4. And this might be the definitive answer since the writer claims to be Peter Bennet: Gordon Bennett was in fact a goalkeeper with a football club in Northern England (Bolton I think) in the 20's and 30's. He wasn't very good. Hence a disbelieving roar of "Gordon Bennett!" from the team supporters every time he let another goal in, hence it is associated with acts of incredible stupidity, crassness, oafishness, clumsiness etc... etc....  All members of the Bennett clan absolutely hate the bastard with a passion for the enduring ridicule and jokes that we all get as a result.
  5. And Eric adds:  Gordon Bennett, i.e. GB, is a form of Gor Blimey, i.e. God, blind me. At school, we were reprimanded for saying Gor blimey and reminded of someone in the Acts of the Apostles who was blinded for his disbelief.
  6. And John says:  The website http://www.messiaen.co.uk/cable/cable2.htm suggests that Gordon Bennett (actually J Gordon Bennett) was one of two founders of the Commercial Cable Company. What he did to end up in a popular expression beats me.
  7. And the the final word (and I mean it this time) is courtesy of Andy from Lancashire who writes:

    James Gordon Bennet was born in 1841 in New York City and died in 1918, he was an American newspaper proprietor (New York Herald) who was so wealthy and enjoyed such a lavish lifestyle that his name became an exclamation. These are some facts that led to the expression he lends his name to: -

    He spent in excess of $40 million in his lifetime
    His annual after-tax income was over $1 million
    He once tipped a train porter $14,000
    In 1877 he got drunk at a party at his fiancée’s house and relieved himself in the fireplace. His fiancée’s brother then challenged him to a duel, neither man was hurt, but he fled to Paris and lost his fiancée in the process, this is recorded in the Guinness Book Of Records as the greatest engagement faux pas ever
    He once flew an aeroplane through an open barn
    Whilst in Paris his favourite hobby was smashing up restaurants and then paying for the damage
    When not smashing up the restaurants he would yank the tablecloths from all the tables he passed and then handing the manager a wad of cash with which to compensate his victims for their lost meals and spattered clothes
    He once rode a horse-drawn coach beside a train, whilst naked
    He once burnt a wad of thousands of francs because all the notes in his pocket were causing him discomfort
    He built a yacht called the Lysistrata, which boasted, among other conveniences, a padded room for holding an Alderney cow to provide fresh milk
    When in Monte Carlo he entered a restaurant and discovered that it was full. So he bought the eatery and instructed the head-waiter to always reserve a table for him
    He was the man who sent H.M. Stanley to find Dr. Livingstone (as in ‘Dr. Livingstone, I presume’) in Africa
    Married when he was 73 and then only for business reasons
    I hope that this answers the question of Gordon Bennett.


Mark asks, "could tell me what the "Edgar Allen" is (as in Edgar Allen Poe). Do you know what this means and where it comes from." Anyone have any ideas???

  1. Matt has written in and says the expression "Edgar Allen" refers to the potty (poe) people used to keep under the bed.
  2. And Jonny Morris feels that it may be slang for toe.

Jim heard the following on Minder - "He doesn't want to go back to BOOM" - referring to prison. I only presume it goes like this. Boom and Sail = Gaol. Can anybody confirm this?

  1. Mike sends the following: The 'Boom" for prison is from Boom and Mizzen.The mizzen is a kind of sail and the boom another bit of the ship. As so many terms and phrases in English come from the sea (being a small island surrounded by it) it's often a good place to start looking.
  2. T. Upton reports that it actually comes from Boom and Sail => Jail.

Mathew has written to me with the following question: What does " a right naws (spelling? gnaws? naus?) up" mean? I think it means a big mess. So what I'm trying to figure out is where did the term come from. If you have any idea please let me know and I'll pass it on. Thanks

  1. We got an answer from Ray Davis: It's short for 'nauseating bastard'. He's a right nauseating bastard = he's a right nause.
  2. And Simon got the following from http://www.takeourword.com: In the U.S. the slang word nark "policeman, informer" is often confused with narc "a narcotics agent". In fact, it is much older, being the Romany word naak "nose" (i.e. some who pokes their nose where it is not wanted). The equivalent in Cockney Rhyming Slang is norze, being the local pronunciation of Noah's, as in Noah's Ark.

Phil sent me this message: I heard what sounded like "You must be out of your tiny Chinese" on Minder last week. Any ideas what it means?

  1. Thanks to Danny O'Sullivan who advises that this phrase comes from "Chinese Blind"=>mind

I've been asked where the phrase "monkeys uncle" comes from, as in "I'll be a monkeys uncle" or "I don't give a monkeys uncle". Any ideas?

  1. Got the following from Matthew Ginn: Monkey's Uncle - Originated in 19th century London. Derived from the (Darwinian) idea that descendants of monkeys i.e. humans are more intelligent and thus that monkey's ancestors must have been less intelligent. Used as an expression of surprise.
  2. Frederick goes on to say that there are two sources here that must be considered. When using the phrase "I'll be a monkeys uncle" then the above explanation is accurate. However, when some says "I don't give a monkeys uncle" then the source is more likely to refer to money (notably five hundred pounds which got it's origins from the old Indian 500 rupee note that had a picture of a monkey on it).
 
 
 

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